Tag: review

Review: A Fine Swine – New Baden, IL

Today, I had to run a few errands with my bride and we found ourselves in a rural community that we don’t often visit, New Baden, IL.  As we entered town, I spotted a BBQ Joint that I haven’t been to before.  So, after we completed our errands, we circled back and had lunch there.

As we parked, I saw 2 Ole Hickory smokers under cover near the front door and there was a smell of hickory smoker in the air.  Both, a very good sign. 

Right off, I noticed a couple of very unique things about this joint.  First, the counter was a converted off-set pit.  I thought that was a very cool touch.

The other thing I noticed is a live feed of a video camera mounted directly over a butcher block table in the kitchen where they are slicing brisket, chopping pork shoulder, etc.  I’ve never seen this in another BBQ joint and enjoyed watching the staff slice my brisket before brigning it out to my table.

All of this had my expectations pretty high.  I ordered sliced brisket with a side of house chips, and my bride ordered her usual pulled pork sandwich and BBQ beans.  At first glance, it all looked good.  There was a nice smoke ring on the brisket and it had been trimmed enough that there was a just the right amount of fat along one side of the slices.  

The BBQ was decent.  The pulled pork was good, but a little bland.  The brisket was tasty, but a little chewier than I prefer.  The house chips weren’t much more than kettle cooked potatoe chips, and my wife described the BBQ beans as “the worst she had ever had”.  In fairness, her comments reflect a personal bias.  That is a bias against beans with an overpowering flavor of molasses and apple pie.  They were unique and very sweet, but not my cup of tea either.

Here’s how I’d rate my trip to A Fine Swine in New Baden, IL.

  • BBQ – B
  • Side Dishes – C
  • Atmosphere – A
  • Value – B
  • Overall – B+

If you find yourself in the area, I would recommend you give them a try.  i know I will the next time I find myself in New Baden.  

Here’s how to find them:

A Fine Swine

423 Hanover St.

New Baden, IL 62265

http://www.afineswine.com

Cheers,

Braddog

Review: Kick Ash Basket for the Big Green Egg

I’ve been cooking on my Big Green Egg for about ten years now.  During that time, I’ve gotten pretty good at managing my fire and creating pretty darned good BBQ using the Egg in it’s default configuration.

Over the past few months, I’ve begun to add a few upgrades.  I replaced my cast iron daisy wheel with the Smokeware Vented Chimney Cap a few months ago.  And most recently, I acquired the Kick Ash Basket for my firebox. 

I ran into an issue recently where I did back to back cooks and needed to reload the BGE with fresh lump charcoal while it was still hot.  Of course trying to knock the ash out of a hot cooker is tough to do.  About that sime time, I came across the Kick Ash Basket and decided to give it a shot.

You can use this with or without the cast iron fire grate in the bottom of the firebox.  So far, I’m still using the grate.  But the beautiful thing here is being able to pick up the basket and give it a good shake to clear the ash out of the bottom of of the Egg.  It sure beats stirring the old lump to knock the ash loose.

Since I’ve been using the Kick Ash Basket, I’ve noticed that my fire comes up to temp quicker as I’ve been able to remove the ash from the old lump chacrcoal more completely.

I’m really pleased with this aftermarket product and definitely consider it an upgrade.  What upgrades have you made to your BGE?  Drop me a note and let me know.

Cheers,

Braddog

Review: Qwik Trim Brisket Trimmer

I’m a big fan of trimming my brisket before cooking. This gives me a huge surface to apply seasoning and frankly I don’t like dealing with the fat on my brisket while eating it. I’ve been trimming my brisket now for a few years despite incurring a significant injury while doing so. See my previous post “How Not to Trim a Brisket“.

Rather than risk another injury like this, I jumped at a chance to acquire the new Qwik Trim Brisket Trimmer that promises to simplify the trimming process. I ordered it right away and received it just a few days before I needed to trim a couple of brisket flats for a party.

It’s really a pretty simple concept and protects the pitmater from the inadvertent slip of the trimming knife. I rinsed the brisket flats and was eager to get started.

You can see the concept in action in this photo.  It turns out that it works great for the large, cold, hard fat on the underside of a brisket.  However, it doesn’t work as well on the softer, thinner layers of fat.  I trim both from my brisket, so I still had to use my trimming knife to get the end result that I prefer.

If you’re a pitmaster that likes to leave that thinner layer of fat on your brisket, then the Qwik Trim could be a good option for you.  But, if you’re a fan of trimming all of the fat you’ll still have some work to do with a trimming knife.

Cheers,
Braddog 

Review: Fire & Smoke – O’fallon, IL

I’m going to tip my hand right away and say this about my trip to Fire-N-Smoke.  I don’t care if you trim your brisket before or after you cook it, but for the love of BBQ trim it before you serve it.  A litte fat on a brisket is expected, but this was waaaay too much.  Sorry for the rant, now let’s talk about the rest of my visit.

Fire-N-Smoke opened recently in a location that has been a couple of different restaurants over the past few years.  Luckily for them, the shopping area round the location seems to have reached critical mass and there’s enough traffic flow that they should be able to make a go of it.  Not to mention, the facility lends itself nicely to being a BBQ joint.

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Like most BBQ  joints these days it seems, the menu is a giant chalkboard and orders are placed at the counter.  I was pleased to see that they seemed to have all of the bases covered, as well as having a long list of salads, sandwiches, etc.  I ordered the 2 meat platter (like I normally do when I’m trying a new place), and the Mrs. ordered her usual pulled pork sandwich with baked beans.

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The food was delivered quickly and looked awesome.  I was pleased to seee a nice smoke ring on the brisket and see that the pork was truly pulled and not chopped.  The side dishes were served uniquely in individual sized pie tins, and the whole mess was piled on a large tray covered with butcher paper.  In the case of the platter, bread & butter also accompanied the meal.

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The brisket was my favorite, despite my earlier comments about it needing to be trimmed.  The pulled pork was good, although it suffered a little from being re-heated.  The Mrs. liked the addition of cole slaw to the sandwich.  That’s the way a pulled pork sandwich should be served after all.  The beans were good, if only dressed up canned beans, but the sweet potato dish was outstanding.  There was a thin sauce spread across the meat on the platter and a little bit on the sandwich.  My wife’s only complaint was that she’d like to have had a little more sauce, though oddly enough there was no bottle of sauce on the table.  In this day & age, most places overwhelm you with sauce choices so it was odd not to find any at all on the table. Zip, Zilch, Nada.

I was a little surprised at the light crowd at 1:00pm on a Saturday, but I think Fire-N-Smoke should do just fine.  As I said, they definitely have a good location, although there is plenty of competition from other restaurants as well.

Here’s how I’d rate my trip to Fire-N-Smoke in O’fallon, IL.

  • BBQ – B-
  • Side Dishes – A
  • Atmosphere – A
  • Value – B
  • Overall – B+

I’d recommend this place and I’m sure I’ll eat there again.  Here’s the specifics on Fire-N-Smoke.

Fire-N-Smoke Wood Fired Kitchen

1214 Central Park Dr.

O’fallon, IL 62269

Open 11:00am-9:00pm

Cheers,
Braddog

Review: Gobblestop Smokehouse

This is unique.  A BBQ joint that specializes in chicken & turkey.  You won’t find pork & brisket on the menu at the Gobble Stop Smokehouse, just poultry.  And darned good poultry too.

I headed over for lunch today after spotting it on Google Maps recently.  I found it in an older shopping plaza, like a lot of good BBQ joints these days.  It’s a pretty unassuming place, but behind the counter they’re making some magic!

I ordered one of the house specialties, smoked chikcen wings with a side order of BBQ beans at the counter.  A short while later, they delivered a plate of 8 large, meaty wings with sliced white bread, my side of beans, and a side of BBQ sauce to my table.

The wings were meaty, and smokey, and delicious!  They were lightly seasoned and smoked to perfection.  After the first taste, the sauce and sides were nearly forgotten.  However, I did get around to trying both.  The beans?  Well, they were jazzed up beans from a can.  And the sauce?  Probably right out of a bottle.

But I didn’t care.  Did I mention how good the wings were?  And the folks running the place were super friendly and took great care of not only me, but the other lunch patrons as well.

Here’s my score card for the Gobble Stop Smokehouse:

So here’s how I’d rate Hill Country BBQ:

  • BBQ – A
  • Side Dishes – C
  • Atmosphere – B
  • Value – A
  • Service – A
  • Overall – B+

If you get to north-west St Louis county, you can find them here:gobblestopsmokehouse.net1227 Castillons Arcade Plz, Creve Coeur, MO 63141(314) 878-5586

Cheers,
Braddog 

Review: Hill Country BBQ – New York City

I caught a wiff of wood smoke while I was still more than a block away, and my mouth began to water.  You see, I’ve never eaten BBQ in Texas so this opportunity to eat at Hill Country BBQ in New York City was as close as I’ve been.  

When work took me to the city, I began to scout for one of the BBQ joints that have sprung up there that I’ve read about.  Then, I realized that Hill Country BBQ was only a dozen or so blocks from where I was staying.  Immediately, I began to plot a night to myself when I could make the walk for dinner.

Hill Country BBQ – 26th St & 6th Ave – NYC

Hill Country BBQ is a tribute to the central Texas markets that began serving BBQ over the counter, by the pound, wrapped in butcher paper, and served with saltine crackers.  Just like those markets turned BBQ joints, Hill Country serves the BBQ the same way; over the counter and by the pound.

The meat counter at Hill Country BBQ

The menu consisted not only of beef, but also pork, chicken, and sausage from Kreuz Market in Texas.  At Hill Country, you order your meat at the counter and specify the amount (by weight) that you’d like or in the case of ribs, how many bones.  I opted for 1/3 lb. of lean brisket (that’s cut from the brisket flat, but you can also order “moist” brisket cut from the point) and a single pork rib.  They cut the meat, weighed it on a butcher scale, wrapped it in brown butcher paper, and handed it over with a half sleeve of saltines.

Then, I headed over to the counter where they served sides.  Sweet Potato Bourbon Mashed caught my eye so I ordered that and a side of green bean casserole.  The server was at my table when I got there and my order was complete with a glass of sweet tea.

I’ll cut to the chase and say that the food was excellent.  In fact, this is probably the best brisket (from a restaurant anyway) that I’ve eaten.  The pork rib was pretty good.  A little tougher than I expected but it had a great flavor.  And the sides?  Fuggetaboutit!  I could go  back and just eat side items.  The sweet potato dish was amazing, and I loved the comfort food style green beans.  There were plenty of other sides as well as desserts, but frankly I can’t eat that much.

Really, the only negative comment I have about my experience at Hill Country BBQ is the cost.  I mean, I know I was eating in New York City, but brisket at $26/lb?  That seems excessive.  While I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, my dinner (for only me) was ~$39.  That’s with nothing from the bar or dessert.

So here’s how I’d rate Hill Country BBQ:

  • BBQ – A
  • Side Dishes – A
  • Atmosphere – A
  • Value – C
  • Service – A
  • Overall – A-

No doubt about it, this is one of the best BBQ joints I’ve eaten at.  Frankly, I didnt’ expect that to be the case.  If you get to New York, here’s where you can find Hill Country BBQ:

30 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10010

They also have locations in Brooklyn and Washington, DC.

Cheers,
Braddog 

Review: Smokeware Vented Chimney Cap for the Big Green Egg

I’ve been cooking on a Big Green Egg for several years now.  My stand operating procedure (SOP) has always been to place the cast iron vented cap inside the hot grill when I finish and use the solid ceramic cap to extinguish my fire (along with closing the lower vent compeltely).  This allows for the cast iron cap to burn off any build up, while extinguishing the fire more efficiently with the solid ceramic cap.

Alas, I finally did what may others before me have done.  When removing my all weather cover from the egg and table, I inadvertently flipped the solid cerami cap off and busted it on the pavers in my cooking area.

Sure, I could just use the cast iron vented cap to shut the cooker down.  But I know from previous experience that it gets gummed up pretty quickly and becomes hard to use.  I could also break out the JBWeld and try to repair the ceramic.  But I know from previous experience that it would only be a temporary solution.

So I decided to just buy a new cermaic cap.  Much to my surprise, I had a hard time finding one.  Then, I stumbled onto this new SmokeWare SS Vented Chimney Cap from Smokeware.  It looked very interesting and it’s affordable enough that I thought, “Why not?”.

The product shipped quickly and I finally got around to installing it.  First, I had to clean the chimney where the new cap will sit.  I scrubbed it pretty good, but there’s some discoloration from years of use that was more stubborn than me.

Then, to ensure that the new cap is airtight a felt gasket is applied.  This is similar to the gasket between the base and lid of the Big Green Egg.

Then the lower part of the 2-piece stainless steel vent cap sits firmly agains the egg.

And finally, the adjustable cap fits on top of that.

Here are my initial thoughts on the SmokeWare SS Vented Chimney Cap .

Pros:

  • It’s affordable, yet well-made
  • It solves both the need to control air flow and the need to cover the chimney for extinguishing the fire and storing the egg
  • It’s build like the flue on your chimney such that it won’t allow rain/water into the system.  I’ve cooked under an umbrella and other unique arrangements to avoid this.
  • It sealed tight enough that I don’t think it’ll come off easily

 Cons: 

  • It’s stainless steel and it does get hot.  I wish the tab to control the size of the opening was a little longer/bigger.  If you’re not careful you’ll burn your hand, trust me I know.
  • I wish the sliding vent control had a stops for fully open and fully closed.  As it is, the vent control can move 360 degrees.  You have to be sure to position it exactly right to fully close off the air flow.

All in all, I think it’s a winner.  Check out the folks over at Smokeware.net for this and other BBQ accessories.

Cheers,
Braddog