Category: Grilling

A Flight Deck Picnic on the USS America, and The 2010 Grilling Season Begins

Click on either photo for a larger version.

It’s now the beginning of the 2010 grilling season here in the midwest and I’ve finally been able to grill a couple times without having to wear a parka. Any time I start worrying about how many people I’m cooking for at any given meal, I think back to the day these pics were taken. I wasn’t a cook on the aircraft carrier USS America (I was just a technician in one of the electronics repair labs on the ship) but I saw how hard the cooks worked in feeding a crew of over 5,000 men four meals each day. (As ships operate 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, with two shifts, there’s a fourth meal around 1 a.m. for the night shift.) I took these pics almost exactly 18 years ago on May 22, 1992. We were making the passage from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and the Captain had designated that day “Ditch Day”, a common name for such events. There was BBQ chicken, burgers, baked beans, corn, cole slaw, tossed salad, potato salad, dill pickles, and plenty of canned Coca-Cola for everyone. The day was rather hot, so there were massive water balloon fights and a few somewhat “leaky” firefighting hoses strewn about the deck. Note the band to the left of the first picture. How the drummer managed to get his kit onboard a combat vessel is beyond me.

Before anyone asks, the ship is no longer afloat:

In $22 million worth of “experiments that will last from four to six weeks,” the AP reports, “the Navy will batter the America with explosives, both underwater and above the surface, watching from afar and through monitoring devices placed on the vessel.” … These explosions would presumably simulate attacks by torpedoes, cruise missiles and perhaps a small boat suicide attack like the one that damaged the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 … At the end, explosive scuttling charges placed to flood the ship will be detonated, and the America will begin its descent to the sea floor …

According to Wikipedia, the scuttling location on May 14, 2005, was 33°09′09″N, 71°39′07″W, around 250 miles (400 km) southeast of Cape Hatteras. The wreck lies in 2,810 fathoms (5139 metres or 16,860 feet).

So how many are you grilling for this weekend? Navy ships around the world may very well be conducting such a picnic as the one in these photos, with thousands in attendance on a small metal “island”. We can only hope the sailors on those vessels can have as peaceful a picnic as we did that day.

For the rest of us, outdoor cooking has come a long way from the green, boxy, stamped metal cookstoves that were seemingly obiquitous from the 1940s through the 1980s. Those particular cookstoves are still available today and are still popular in a lot of circles. But with today’s cooks watching more cooking shows on television and having more experience with professional-grade equipment, equipment design has taken huge strides towards providing the same grade of equipment in considerably lower-cost packages.

In the summer of 2008 whan I ran the beachhouse concession here in Luna Pier, Michigan, next to the public Lake Erie beach I offered just a bit of breakfast for a while. I tried frozen sandwiches and breakfast burritos, muffins and danishes, and even simple donuts, but didn’t sell enough of any of them to satisfy being open for those hours. I finally shut down breakfast and instead opened the shop at 11 a.m for lunch. If I’d have had the Blackstone Four-Burner Griddle pictured above, I could have made customers complete, fresh breakfast including eggs, diner-style omelets, hash browns, etc. We could have also grilled the hot dogs for our Flint-Style Coneys like they do on the west coast instead of steaming them. All of that would have been a lot better.

If you were able to stop at our house for the City-Wide Yard Sale in 2006 or 2007 you’ll know that I enjoy deep-frying handmade corndogs in my King Kooker 18″ Rectangular Cooker. The company also makes the above Triple-Burner Outdoor Camp Stove. I can see this being used for soups, chili, cast iron skillets for breakfast in the morning … all without taking up space on the picnic table and risking burning someone on the arm. This thing would be quite versatile in any camp I’ve been part of.

As to deep-frying, I’ve seen these beasties in stores and I’ll tall you what, I’m impressed! R&V Works manufactures these deep fryers in single, double or triple configurations. Carts are avaible to double some of these up, making quad and sextuplet fryers, like the one shown above. The folks running the Lenten Fish Dinner at the American Legion Post here in Luna Pier could have used one of the six-basket units, with two baskets each for the Alaskan cod, the breaded shrimp, and the hand-cut French fries. They use three electric deep fryers for all of this, which together end up costing about twice as much as the R&V Works cart unit. And since the cart unit uses standard LP gas, its operation costs are a little bit less over the long run.

Going camping this summer? Are you involved at all with the cooking for a local Scouting troop or campground? Is there some special event you’d like to cook for? Or do you want to get a serious start on some great tailgating equipment? All of this gear, and plenty more like it, are out there in outdoor supply shops and on the internet for ordering. Get to it!

Recipe: Authentic-Style Flint Coney Sauce

This and other recipes, along with history and restaurant locations, are available on the Flint Coney Resource Site.

For years now I’ve been making my own version of the Flint-style coney sauce. During the summer of 2008 over a period of three months the kids and I sold hot dogs with this sauce, making 72 five-quart batches of my own version of the recipe. But while we all enjoy this sauce, both then and now, I’ve always had the urge to create my own version of the original sauce as served at Angelo’s in Flint.

This morning, we finally got the chance.

Back in early September I had purchased a few ingredients so I could attempt to create my own version of a Flint-style coney sauce. The ground chuck came from a grocery butcher, who handed me a package label at 2.01 pounds.

The frozen packages of beef heart and beef kidney were from Lee Williams’ House of Meats in the Toledo area, which is about as close as I can get to fresh without going to a slaughterhouse. The heart was from the Point Place location, and weighed about 4-1/2 pounds. There is a little bit of fat on it but not much. This is easily trimmed down to 1/2 pound portions and, as it’s all muscle, can easily be refrozen.

I had to get the kidneys from the Lee Williams Starr Ave. store. Each kidney is about 3/4 pound and come in packages of two. Cutting these down to 1/2 pound portions for the recipe is rather simple. You still need at least a small food scale to get the weight right. We picked up a Taylor scale with a 16-ounce capacity in at a local store for about five bucks. Using this, we were able to get the meat weights exact.

One of the great points about these meats is that they’re inexpensive. People rarely use them in recipes anymore, so the heart was $1.39/pound and the kidney was $2.19/pound.

Adam ground these lovely hunks of meat in an old-fashioned meat grinder that we’d clamped to the dining room table.

The recipe for an authentic-style Flint coney sauce is rather simple. There is tomato sauce and and water in the other version but not here. So you do need to add extra fats as there are no liquidswith these organ meats. You’ll get a little juice from the ground beef but not much.

The results? The boys loved it. Caleb, who ran the beachhouse with me last year, said it was better than what we’d made last summer. Adam just called it “excellent”. Briahna liked it … but said it was still “creepy” because of the organ meats. Mary said it was good but not as good as the beachhouse version. She also said we probably shouldn’t tell people what’s in it until after they try it.

Authentic-Style Flint Coney Sauce
1/2 lb beef heart
1/2 lb beef kidney
2 lb 80/20 ground chuck
4 Tbs shortening or lard
4 Tbs unsalted butter
2 tsp minced or granulated garlic
2 Tbs ground mustard
5 Tbs mild chili powder
Kosher salt and ground pepper

1 6-quart pot
1 meat grinder
1 8″ x 8″ glass dish

Use the meat grinder to grind the beef heart and beef kidney. Set the pot over low heat and melt the lard and butter in the saucepan. When the fats are melted, add the ground heart, kidney, chuck, the garlic and ground mustard and stir well.

Let the sauce simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t allow the meat to dry out; add a tablespoon each of butter and lard if necessary and lower the heat when necessary. At the end of the 45 minutes, add the chili powder. Also add salt and pepper to taste, then simmer the sauce another 5 minutes before serving.

For best results, serve on grilled Koegel Viennas that have been cooked over low heat (250F) so the natural casing snaps when bitten.

Don’t use garlic powder instead of minced garlic. Throw that powdered stuff away … it’s not the same. However, granulated garlic is an excellent substitute for minced garlic.

Grilling Fundraiser at the Monroe Boat Club

The community grill in the back yard of the venerable Monroe Boat Club.

When I lived in Norfolk in the early 1990s there was a man who drove himself to our church in a limousine. He was thin, impeccably dressed, and had the trimmed gray beard and black 10-gallon hat of an old-west Sheriff in his Sunday best. He owned and operated a small chain of steakhouses with what I called a “community grill”. If you were so inclined you would order your meal, then go to the “grill room”. The grill was probably 20 feet in length and 6 feet wide. You would choose your steak and foil-wrapped potato from a glass-front refrigerator and cook the food yourself. While this was an option (you could order your meals fully-cooked by the kitchen staff if you’d like) it made for a great sense of cameraderie when dining with a group.

The man himself was very unpretentious, and was an usher and greeter at that church. The restaurants no longer appear to exist but I’m sure that has nothing to do with a lack of personability on his part. It may have been partly because he was too friendly. Just because we went to church with him, he never once allowed me to pay for a meal. Maybe he simply had too many friends.

This “community grill” at the Monroe Boat Club brought this man’s restaurants back to mind. It’s the cameraderie that matters.

The gas valves on the side of the community grill.

This particular grill appears to be an older grill, possibly charcoal, that’s been fitted for gas. It’s fairly large and has a wide stainless tool surface around the edge. What’s most important however is the politeness of the people using the grill for a given meal. This, the Monroe Boat Club members have in spades.

The setting for this massive community grill is under a pavilion behind the club. Boats, some 40′ long, are moored in the channels allowing the members water access to Lake Erie and beyond. Wear shoes in that yard folks, as the club’s roof has been redone and there still might be loose nails and staples in the yard …

The occasion for the evening was a fundraiser for accessible play and recreation areas in the County and City of Monroe. We had been invited to this event by one of its supporters, city engineering firm Dietrich, Bailey & Associates. There were probably a couple hundred people there in support of the cause, the four 50/50 raffles and the silent auction.

Of course the reason I’m covering this event here is … well, the food. Selections for the entrée were steak, chicken or vegetarian lasagna. Of course I had ordered the steak and Mary ordered the chicken. When I went to the pass-through window at the kitchen I was handed this beautiful inch-thick ribeye. Mary picked up her chicken, which was three pieces of breast meat. Mike Bailey, President of DB&A, also had a ribeye steak. As the firm is also Luna Pier’s City Engineers, I grilled the meat for the three of us (seasoning the steaks with GFS’ own Canadian Steak Seasoning) while Mike and Mary chatted about city business.

My raw ribeye steak in the club’s kitchen’s pass-through window.

As the hotter end of the grill was fairly packed I was able to wander around and take some photos while Mary and Mike talked. The location is beautiful, on a peninsula off the western basin of Lake Erie in the Bolles Harbor area. There are four grrod restaurants on this peninsula: The club itself, Bolles Harbor Café, the new Harbor Inn & Ale, and an Oliver’s Pizza franchise in a convenience/fishing/convenience store/marina.

Mary and Mike are the two in the far left end of the pavilion.

Once the hotter end of the grill was partially cleared, I moved Mike’s and my own steak down there while leaving Mary’s thinner cuts of chicken in the middle of the grill. It didn’t take too long then to finish cooking off the steaks to the desired medium-well. (I could have gotten them meadium-rare if I’d have gotten on the hotter end of the grill earlier.) When the meats were done, we went back inside to finish plating the meals with baked potatoes and rolls.

My plated steak dinner.

We had a Hell of a nice evening with a lot of great people. We ended up winning a door price, $25 toward one of three restaurants in downtown Monroe. Mary also bought a micropeel at the silent auction. I don’t much about those things but Mary wants the spa to do the micropeel on my back.

Ummm … nooooooooo …

I just want one of those grills. Maybe they’ll auction one off next time. I’ll start the bidding at $30.

Waterside Dining at Boatwerks, Holland, Michigan

Every once in a while I’ll get an email out-of-the blue from Patty Lanoue Stearns. Patty is one of the more well-known food writers here in the state of Michigan, having written quite a few books on Michigan foods and authoring an even larger number of articles on the subject. One of Patty’s current gigs is that of food contributor to the coffee table mag “Michigan Blue“. This magazine focuses on living in Michigan on, or finding entertainment and activities near, one of these four Great Lakes. (Ahem … yes, I know there are five, but Lake Ontario doesn’t apply here.) Since I can look to my left at the moment and see Lake Erie, “Michigan Blue” applies to Mary and I in many ways.

A year or so ago one of Patty’s questions was this: Was there anywhere down here in southeast Michigan where a boater on Lake Erie can dock the boat and enjoy a good meal? I told her of a few places; Weber’s on Lost Peninsula, Bolles Harbor Café, and Erie Party Store, an Oliver’s Pizza franchise in a fishing shop that also owns a marina in Bolles Harbor. A lot of folks dock at the Erie Party Store and walk the thousand feet or so to Bolles Harbor Café for one of Chef Silverio’s delicious meals.

The Party Store and Bolles Harbor Café made it into the final printing, but Weber’s didn’t. That may be because of the Lost Peninsula location which, if you don’t really understand it, it’s kinda weird. Ok well, it’s kinda weird anyway … Lost Peninsula is what George Clooney would call a “geographical oddity”. While it’s not “two weeks from everywhere”, and it is part of Michigan, you can’t get there from here without going through Ohio first. You have to take Summit St. south out of Michigan where Summit splits off from I-75 at exit 2. Follow Summit into Ohio. After the bridge, turn left onto 131st St. Follow that till it turns left and you’re heading north again. Immediately after the “Welcome to Michigan” sign on the peninsula, Weber’s will be on the left. As there’s no bridge connecting the peninsula to the rest of Michigan, the Mason Consolidated school buses have to take this route to get these kids to school in a part of the state that isn’t “lost”.

Weber’s does have its own nice marina there in the Ottawa River so dockside dining is a given.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

It’s Patty’s fault that I now find myself looking for these kinds of places where a boat on the Great Lakes can be docked during dining. I don’t own a boat and so have only been on one of the Great Lakes in a boat a few times in my life. But boats are a passion of mine anyway so I’ll keep looking for these places. We found a really nice one a couple weeks ago in Holland, Michigan, over on the Lake Michigan side of the state on Lake Macatawa. I’m not sure if Patty covered this restaurant in her article in her Michigan Blue article. Seriously, I can’t find the darn thing. I think I may have left it at the Erie Party Store.

Patty may not have covered Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant in Holland as it seems to be fairly new. We spotted it from the road as we were driving by but since they had just opened for the day there weren’t many cars in the parking lot. One of the employees was going inside when I shot this photo and I actually asked her if they were open yet. Of course they were, so we went inside for a Friday lunch.

It was once we were inside that Mary asked if there was outdoor dining. We were taken through the restaurant, past the large panes of glass that made the grill area in the kitchen an exhibition, through the open boathouse dining rooms with the high vaulted ceilings, past the coffee table seating areas with boating magazines on low tables, and outside to the real waterside restaurant

Patty may not have covered Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant in Holland as it seems to be fairly new. We spotted it from the road as we were driving by but since they had just opened for the day there weren’t many cars in the parking lot. One of the employees was going inside when I shot this photo and I actually asked her if they were open yet. Of course they were, so we went inside for a Friday lunch.

It was once we were inside that Mary asked if there was outdoor dining. We were taken through the restaurant, past the large panes of glass that made the grill area in the kitchen an exhibition, through the open boathouse dining rooms with the high vaulted ceilings, past the coffee table seating areas with boating magazines on low tables, and outside to the real waterside restaurant

I ordered the ground steak cheeseburger on a toasted Kaiser bun with gouda. This was served as you see it in the first photo of this post. Those chips are handmade from whole potatoes in the exhibition kitchen. The burger itself is made from very flavorful ground meat and grilled to perfection. The bun was fresh and was toasted just the way I like it. The gouda was thick, probably 1/8″, and as it was so thick its own flavor set the burger off nicely. And those chips were rather remarkable and delightfully crispy. If I could duplicate them at home with the same flavors, I would.

Mary had the Grilled Chicken Sandwich. Souns simple, doesn’t it? The menu describes it best:

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Herb marinated breast of chicken, grilled and topped with applewood smoked bacon, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion. Served on a unique pretzel bun.

Yeah, that’s a pretty good thing, there. You can just imagine it, and then it’s even better than that. Mary thoroughly enjoyed it.

Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant is the kind of place we’ll definitely go back to when we’re in the area once again. Maybe by boat? Who knows …

2009 Memphis BBQ Network Competition, Novi, Michigan

What it’s all about; Ribs

It took me quite a while to learn how to cook ribs at home so they turn out halfway decently. What I do is pretty simple: The spare ribs get wiped down, sprinkled with a mix of Kosher salt, pepper and granulated garlic, then slow-cooked in a 200F oven for anywhere from 4 – 6 hours depending on their thickness. The pans are then drained, the ribs slathered with sauce, and grilled outside over medium-high heat for about 45 minutes, with flipping and reslathering about every 10 minutes. They then cut well into servings, fall off the bone, and are tender while still having a good “bite” to the meat.

I’d never imagined I’d be invited to be a judge at a rib-off. But a few months ago, that actually happened. It kinda threw me, particularly since the Memphis BBQ Network-sanctioned competition feeds into the massive Memphis in May competition.

Of course I accepted the invitation. The West Oakland Rib Cookoff & Family Fest happened last Sunday at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, Michigan.

One of the aspects they don’t show on documentaries of these competitions is what and how the competitors eat for other meals. You might imagine they send a team member off to the nearest fast food joint for a sack of something, which probably does happen to some extent. But this team (who, from what I understand, have something to do with a scrapyard) cooked their competition-morning breakfast on a massive trailer-based griddle made from a thick steel plate and powered by LP gas.

Something to remember here is that gas of any kind is not allowed for use in the competition itself. Smoking, slow-roasting, grilling, whatever … it must be done over wood or charcoal. The wood or charcoal may be lit via gas, but that’s all that’s allowed. So this amazing gas griddle, covered with potato wedges, bacon, sausage, eggs and an 18-inch skillet filled with sausage gravy, wasn’t used for the competition. It was just along for the ride.

As to the equipment used by the teams for the actual competition, the gear-of-choice ran the gamut from some rather high-end gadgets to some of the most basic backyard stuff. At the higher end was this beast, looking like one of the computerized environmental test chambers used in automotive R&D.

A Fast Eddy’s by Cookshack Series 300 competition smoker being used by one of the teams in Novi.

Now I have to tell you, in most cases I have no idea which of the ribs came out of which of the teams or, of course, which piece of gear. So, I have no idea if the ribs that came out of this Series 300 smoker was any good! Is this thing worth the $11,000 price tag? Don’t ask me, I don’t know …

If I were to ever any competition of this type, I might end up with something like this:

“The Party” smoker from Backwoods Smoker

With its $1330 base price tag, “The Party” from Backwoods Smoker seems just the right size for a competition like this one. I may be a certifiable geek, I may have friends at Microsoft, and I may even program industrial applications for a living. But I definitely don’t need a computer to run my smoker. When it comes to ribs and such, I like getting in there and actually doing the cooking myself. This smaller smoker, protected from the elements with a solid mechanical temperature guage on the front is something I could live with.

A custom trailer-based cook station.

If you’ve seen the documentaries on Memphis-style barbecue competitions, you’ll know there are two kinds of judging. As new judges, Mary and I could participate in the blind judging. Once finalists are selected, they’re subjected to on-site judging by more experienced judges. In this judging, competitors have to put on a “dog-n-pony show”. The judges arrive at the team’s site expecting a polished welcome, a clean cooking area, possibly a maitre’d, maybe even a story which may or may not be true. Some competitors, such as the one above, set up their area in expectation of being a finalist, and were ready for just about anything.

A simple and inexpensive charcoal cook station.

At the extreme other end of the gear are the guys who could do this stuff each and every day using the same equipment in their backyard. The first photo in this post, the photo which made your mouth water and caused you to read this lengthy post already, is simply a close-up of this pile of ribs on this cooker. And you thought you needed something expensive to create ribs good enough for competition …

The blind judging, with yours truly on the far left. The judging was blind but the judges weren’t.

In the blind judging portion of the cometition, teams bring their ribs to a collection area in containers given to them for that purpose. The ribs are checked for garnishes, which are removed, and any custom markings that will cause identification of the entry. All that can be in the container are ribs and sauce. These are then brought to the judging tables, and all are opened simultaneously. We judged on appearance first, then grabbed ribs to judge further on tenderness, flavor and overall impression.

One thing to note: If you’re ever judging one of these competitions, do yourself a favor and don’t eat breakfast.

Mary, on the far right, joined us at training in the morning to become a competition judge herself.

One aspect of this judging Mary and I really liked was that it’s what’s known as “comparitive judging”. Judges are told not to compare endtries to their grandfather’s ribs, their own ribs, their favorite ribs, or ribs they’ve tasted at other competitions. The entries are  to be judged only against other entries at the table. While this is difficult to do at first, it really makes a lot of sense.

I’ll finish this post with a look at the ribs from the Bavarian Smoke BBQ from Frankenmuth, Michigan, who used that nice “Party” Backwoods Smoker to prepare these ribs. Don’t these look good?

West Oakland Rib Cookoff & Family Fest 2009 Competition Results

1st: Pork of the North 

2nd: Smokey Rhodes 

3rd: Smokin’ Post #6

4th: Bavarian Smoke BBQ

5th: Goats ‘a Smokin’

6th: Smokin’ Studs 

7th: Terry Poster with Epoch Catering