Italian Meatloaf

Italian Meatloaf cooked on the BGE

Italian Meatloaf cooked on the BGE

     Mrs. G has been off in Atlanta doing her work thing for the past 8 days. On one of our last conversations, she asked if I would cook up some home cooked food for her return and who could blame her? I like eating out now and again just like everybody else. But 8 days in a row, three meals a day? That can get a little old quick. The only question was what to cook for her?

     When I think of home cooked meals, one of the first things that pops into my head is meatloaf. I’ve been wanting to take ordinary meatloaf and put a little bit of a spin on it for a while now and I figured this would be the perfect time to try my hand at making an Italian Meatloaf. I scoured the ole interweb looking for ideas, took a few from here and a few from there and came up with our own version.

All the palyers into the bowl to be mixed up.

All the players into the bowl to be mixed up.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs of ground beef (80/20. You don’t want to go leaner unless you like dry meatloaf. 20% fat is key.)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup of parsley, chopped fine
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup of Italian breadcrumbs
  • about 15 oz of marinara sauce, 1/2 cup for the meatloaf + 1/4 cup to glaze the top*
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano (drained)
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tsp each of Italian seasoning, oregano, basil, salt and fresh ground black pepper

* You can use your own home made marinara if you have the time and/or inclination. For this recipe, we used Giovanni Rana Marinara sauce. Generally, we would use Buitoni if we weren’t making it from scratch, but the store was out. *

Directions

  1. Set up your grill for an indirect cook and preheat to 400. For how to set up your grill, see the section on Setting Up Your Grill at the bottom. If using an oven, preheat to 350.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix until uniform. Don’t overmix as it will make the meatloaf dry.
  3. Measure out two sheets of aluminum foil about the size of a cookie sheet and lay on a cookie sheet. Take a knife and poke small holes in the aluminum foil to allow the grease to drip out. (The purpose of the aluminum foil is to allow easy transfer onto and off of the grill. You can skip this step if so desired.)
  4. Remove the meatloaf mixture from the bowl and handform into a loaf shape on the aluminum foil. Refrigerate for 30 minutes prior to cooking to help the loaf hold its shape.
  5. Place the meatloaf on the grill and cook until the internal temperature reaches 150 . If desired, add wood chips at this time per your grills instructions (We opted for orange wood just because I happened to find them at the store for the first time and wanted to give them a shot). Go easy on the wood, however, as ground beef will absorb the smoke like a sponge.
  6. Once the meatloaf has reached 150, glaze the top with about 1/4 cup of the reserved marinara sauce and continue to cook.
  7. Once the meatloaf has reached 160, remove from the grill and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Italian Meatloaf on the Big Green Egg

Italian Meatloaf on the Big Green Egg

Total cooking time should be around an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, but remember, you want to cook to temp not time. Use the time as a rough guideline, but going by temp will ensure that you don’t end up with a dry, overcooked hunk o’ beef.

Finished

Finished

Resting your meatloaf is just as important as resting a steak or brisket. Let it sit and cool off a bit and allow the aromas to perfume your house. Take a load off and enjoy a nice, refreshing glass of your beverage of choice or use this time to put the finishing touches on your side dishes.

Plated up with a side of pasta.

Plated up with a side of pasta.

     I was torn on whether to serve this meatloaf with the traditional side of mashed potatoes or go with pasta. I really wanted mashed potatoes, but offered the choice, Mrs. G choose pasta. No big shocker there, and since she had been out of town for over a week, we cooked some linguini we had laying around and used the last of the marinara sauce to top it off. I’ll just have to get my mashed potato fix later this week.

     For some reason, it never dawned on me until Mrs. G took a bite and said, “This tastes like one giant meatball! In meatloaf form!” I mulled over her statement for a few seconds and had to agree with her. It has all the ingredients you would typically find in a meatball, but in a loaf instead. I was really pleased with how it turned out. The flavor was phenomenal and the meatloaf was juicy, tender and moist.

     If I had the time and inclination, next time I might make my own marinara sauce to add into the meatloaf and to glaze the top at the end, but you will be pleased using a store bought version that you enjoy. Sometimes, you just have to take those short cuts in life.

Setting Up Your Grill

My set up on the Egg for this cook was to use the Adjustable Rig from The Ceramic Grill Store with the oval ceramic stone (wrapped in foil for easy cleanup) on the bottom level and the oval grid on the third level. If you do not have the AR, I recommend using the plate setter legs up (wrapped in foil for easy cleanup) and the original grate resting on top of that. For a charcoal grill, bank the coals on one side and cook the meat loaf indirectly on the other side with no coals. For a two burner gas grill, light the grill on one side and cook on the other unlit side. For three burner or more, light the outer burners and leave the center off. Cook the meatloaf in the center above the unlit burners.

A Few Projects We’re Working On

We don’t have any new recipes to share with you today, but I thought I would give you an update on some of the things we are working on right now and some of the projects we will be taking on this year.

Often touted as the Bible when it comes to Charcuterie

Often touted as the Bible when it comes to Charcuterie

     A while back, and I don’t even know how long ago, I got a copy of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Poleyn’s Charcuterie. I had every intention to dive right in and make some home made bacon and Canadian bacon. You know what they say about the best of intentions? I pulled it off the bookshelf, dusted it off and have now committed myself to finally attempting some of those recipes.

Just about 5lbs of raw pork belly

Just about 5lbs of raw pork belly

     At some point, I must have mentioned to my brother, the other Mr. G, that I didn’t know where to find pork belly. He told me to try an Asian market. Later on, he brought me right around 5 lbs of pork belly which got dumped into the freezer and lost.

While I wish it was one solid slab, I'll work with tehe4 smaller ones I have now.

While I wish it was one solid slab, I’ll work with the 4 smaller ones I have now.

     Getting into Charcuterie was one of my New Year’s Resolutions. From what I have heard, store bought bacon does not even compare to the stuff you can make at home. It does require curing the meat for around 7 days with a basic cure of Kosher salt, sugar and Cure #1.

Ingredients for the Basic Cure

Ingredients for the Basic Cure

I’m thinking that since I am doing smaller slabs instead of one big slab and since there will be more surface area, the cure won’t take the full seven days. I’m hoping to pull it Saturday, rinse it, rest it overnight and cold smoke it on Sunday. We’ll see how that goes…

A Book Review!!

A Book Review!!

     The other thing I need to get underway is a book review of Sausage! by Johan Akerberg and Jesper Lindberg. The nice folks at Skyhorse Publishing contacted me back in November and offered me the opportunity to review this new book. Unfortunately, the holidays got in the way, but now that things are returning to normal, I’m looking forward to diving into it. They gave me permission to reprint two or three of their recipes, so I’ll be scouring the book looking for the ones that most appeal to me and I’ll share them with you. The pictures are very appealing so it might be hard to pick, but I’m leaning towards one of their pork sausages, a duck sausage (if I can find some duck) and possibly a seafood sausage.  They have one they call Moules de Mer, crab and lobster sausage with moules mariniere (a bowl of mussels) and French fries. I know Mrs. G will be a fan of that one.

Moules de Mer - I know Mrs. G is going to love this one.

Moules de Mer – I know Mrs. G is going to love this one.

     The authors have also included quick and simple recipes for sides (such as sauerkrauts, pickled red onions or German potato salads to name a few) and home made condiments (mustards, ketchups, curry sauces and more) to go along with each sausage. I am really excited to get started on some of these right away.

The Flame Boss

The Flame Boss

     Don’t think we’ve forgotten about the Flame Boss. We’ve used it a few times here and there and so far our initial impressions have been really postitive, but we are going to really put it through its paces now. Expect a thorough review of how it performs and what we like and/or don’t like about it.

     Along with dabbling in some Charcuterie and stuffing some sausages, we will strive to bring you new and fresh recipes this year including grilled foods, smoked foods and even some prepared solely in the kitchen. And we’ve got a few reviews that will be coming up early in the year of some new products that I am excited to try out. So that’s what we’ve got planned. As always, we love hearing from each and every one of you, whether it’s you sharing your opinions with us, offering us suggestions or asking questions. If you have any ideas or recipes that you would like us to try, feel free to tell us about them. If you have a recipe that you would like to share with us and possible see here on the blog, send it our way. We love interacting with you, so make sure to leave us a comment. Here’s to a bigger and better New Year in 2014!

 

Disclaimer: Michael Ruhlman and Brian Poleyn’s Charcuterie was purchased with our own hard earned dollars. We have had no contact with either of them or their publishers and have received no monetary compensation from them. The publishers of  Sausage! and the makers of  Flame Boss contacted us and sent us their products free of charge. There has been and will not be any monetary compensation from them for reviewing their products. We have always been and will continue to be a non-profit blog, doing it for the love of it and not in the pursuit of money.

Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie with Brisket

Cottage Pie with Brisket

     A few weeks back, a guy named Doc Eggerton on the Egghead Forum made a cottage pie. Seeing his pictures started a craving that I just couldn’t put off any longer. Even though I love cottage pie, it’s not something I’ve tackled much. I think I’ve tried cooking it one or two times. Years ago. I seem to recall trying to use jarred gravy. Yeah…that doesn’t fly around our house anymore. So it was off to the good ole interweb to scour for recipes.

     And while searching for recipes, why not dig up a bit of history? I know lots of people will tell you that shepherds pie contains lamb and cottage pie contains beef. Makes sense, shepherds tend lamb, it’s readily on hand, why would they use beef? Contrary to popular belief, that is not quite correct. Seems like the term cottage pie was coined in 1791 and the dish was a means of using leftover meat of any kind. The term shepherds pie didn’t come around until 1870 and since then it has been used interchangeably with cottage pie. It has only a recent trend to specify shepherds pie with lamb and cottage pie with beef. And while we’re on the topic of recent trends, the use of previously uncooked meat is a new addition as well. So call this cottage pie. Or call it shepherds pie. I don’t mind which one you decide to go with.

Half a pound of leftover brisket, cubed.

Half a pound of leftover brisket, cubed.

     Since the main focus of this blog is barbecue and grilling, and it just so happened that I had some leftover brisket that I smoked overnight Friday, why not incorporate that into our cottage pie? I wasn’t 100% convinced that this would be a good idea due to the smokiness of the brisket and how it would turn out texture wise. Most of the recipes I was seeing called for 1.5 lbs of ground beef. Something in my brain kept saying “Use half a pound of brisket. You know you want to. Just do it.” Who am I to argue with myself? And wouldn’t that look silly anyway? I know it would probably confuse the dogs who are always staring at me while I cook, hoping that a choice morsel will get dropped.

     And what about vegetables? What vegetables should or should not be included in cottage pie? I wasn’t really able to dig up/finally gave up looking for information on that. Considering it was probably invented by frugal peasant housewives looking to serve leftover meat, it only makes sense that they probably used whatever vegetables they had on hand. Whatever was in season. We just happened to have carrots, peas, corn and mushrooms, so that is what we used.

The filling simmering away.

The filling simmering away.

Ingredients

For the potatoes:

  • 2 lbs  russet potatoes (about 4 medium)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the meat filling:

  • 2 T canola oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb 93% lean ground beef
  • 1 lb of leftover brisket, cubed
  • 4 oz cremini mushrooms (Baby Bellas) chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp concentrated tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp Marsala
  • 1 1/4 cup beef broth
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 3 green onions chopped + more for garnish if desired
  • salt and pepper to taste
Who doesn't love creamy mashed potatoes?

Who doesn’t love creamy mashed potatoes? You can make the mashed potatoes ahead of time or prepare the filling while the potatoes are boiling.

Directions

For the potatoes:

  1. Peel the potatoes and dice. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water, bring to a boil. Cook until tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Drain and return to burner for approximately one minute to cook off any excess moisture.
  2. Remove from heat and mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Stir in the butter.
  3. Mix the milk, heavy cream and egg yolk together and add to the potatoes. Add the scallions and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the saucepan until you are ready to top the dish.
The meat filling spread evenly in a casserole dish. Now would be a good time to taste and adjust any seasonings.

The meat filling spread evenly in a casserole dish. Now would be a good time to taste and adjust any seasonings.

For the meat filling:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F
  2. Pour the canola oil in a 12 inch skillet and heat over medium high. When hot, add the onions and carrots and cook approximately 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook an additional minute.
  3. Add the ground beef and cook until browned through. Next, add the brisket, mushrooms and rosemary and thyme. Cook an additional minute or two.
  4. Sprinkle the flour onto the meat mixture, stir and cook for about a minute. Add the tomato paste, Marsala, Worcestire sauce and beef broth and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly.
  5. Add the corn, peas and green onions and cook for an additional minute or two. Spread evenly into a casserole dish.
  6. Spoon the potatoes on top of the meat filling and spread evenly with a spatula. Try to create a seal around the edges to prevent the mixture from bubbling out while cooking.
  7. Place on a cookie sheet (to prevent any messes if it bubbles over) and into the middle rack of the oven for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown.
  8. Remove and allow to cool 10-15 minutes before serving. Garnish with extra green onions if desired.
Scoop the mashed potatoes on top of the meat filling

Scoop the mashed potatoes on top of the meat filling

I found using a large spoon to scoop the potatoes onto the filling worked best. Try to spread them around evenly.

Spreading the potatoes out

Spreading the potatoes out

A rubber spatula worked wonders in getting the scoops of potatoes spread out evenly.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Do your best to seal the edges up with the potatoes to prevent the mixture from bubbling out while it cooks. You could probably spend a lot of time doing this. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.

Resting after 25 minutes in a 400F oven

Resting after 25 minutes in a 400F oven

I had a feeling I was going to have some leakage on that back edge. Oh well. It’s not like its going to kill anybody. Fight back that urge and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Ready to eat. Can you see those cubes of brisket hiding in there?

Ready to eat. Can you see those cubes of brisket hiding in there?

     This dish takes quite a bit longer to prepare than a lot of our other dishes, especially if you consider smoking the brisket as part of the process, which I don’t (BTW, if you don’t have leftover brisket on hand, just use 1.5 lbs of lean ground beef). It’s not so much that any of it is hard, there is just a lot of prep work and a lot of steps, but it is so worth it in the end. I think I started around 5pm and we were sitting down to eat around 6:50-7ish. Granted, I took my time and that is from start to finish including emptying the dishwasher, getting the ingredients out, cleaning dishes along the way, total cook time in the oven and allowing it to rest afterwards. Still, it was very rewarding.

     My original fears about the smokiness of the brisket and the texture were proved wrong. The brisket did add a note of smokiness to the dish, but it was subtle. And as for the texture, the brisket was soft and melt in your mouth tender. The gravy beats any store bought jar stuff hands down. Rich, complex and beefy. And creamy mashed potatoes? How could you not like a dish like this? Perfect for anybody in your life who is a meat and taters kind of guy. Not to mention it slips some vegetables in their diet as well.

     I almost cooked this on the Egg, or at least the final baking. Almost. I’m sure it would have been fine, but I didn’t want the mashed potatoes to absorb any smoke flavor and thereby add more to the whole dish. Not to mention I just didn’t want to add that extra step of lighting the Egg and getting it stabilized. If I had, I would have set up the Egg for an indirect cook, with the plate setter legs down and then placed the casserole dish on spacers to allow air to flow underneath it. Cook temp at 400F. For other grills, light the coals or burners under half the grill, preheat to 400F and set the casserole over the unlit side. You may need to turn it 180 degrees halfway through. Cooking time should be roughly the same. Honestly, I don’t think this dish would really benefit from being cooked outdoors on a grill.

Flame Boss Pit Controller – Unboxing

Unboxing of the Flame Boss

Unboxing of the Flame Boss

     Back in October out of the blue, I was contacted by Michael Collins of Flame Boss.

Hi, I am the manufacturing a new product, Flame Boss, a temperature controller that works with BGE. Would you be interested in reviewing it? I welcome your honest feedback.”

     I had never heard of Flame Boss before, but I was floored that somebody would want my feedback on their and of course who doesn’t like new BBQ toys? Some of you may be scratching your heads. What’s a pit controller? Why would I want one?

Flame BossTM manufactures digital temperature controllers for your charcoal or wood burning smoker or grill. The controller monitors the temperature of your smoker and controls a blower that manages the amount of air flowing to the fire, which controls the size of the fire and thus the amount of heat it generates. Flame BossTM uses this mechanism to make your smoker work like an oven. Just set the temperature you want and Flame BossTM will take over. It also functions as a meat thermometer and timer, two tools commonly used by pit masters.

     Flame Boss is a newcomer to the world of pit controllers having just started in 2013. Now, I am no expert when it comes to pit controllers. The only one I have used is the Auber Instruments Pit Controller, but there are quite a lot of players out there ranging from the simple  and inexpensive PartyQ, iQue110, Auber Instruments and NanoQ all the way up to fancy and complex ones like the DigiQ II, StokerWiFi or CyberQII that will control more than one pit and allow you to monitor and control your pit remotely over the internet. It just depends on what you want to do and how much are you willing to spend. Do you want just the basics and start out at around $140? or is the techno geek inside you drooling away at the more impressive and complex ones that you can drop upwards of $500 dollars on? Flame Boss has positioned themselves right in the middle of this market, offering a few more bells and whistles than the simpler ones and coming in at $289 at the time of writing this.

Uh oh!!

Uh oh!!

     When I opened the box that the Flame Boss was shipped in and inspected the package, I noticed that the meat temperature probe was sticking out of the packaging. Not the kind of thing you want to see right away. If I went to a store to purchase one and saw that, I would skip over it and take the one hanging on the rack behind it.  It did appear to be fine and damaged in no way that I could see once I did open the package.

Back of package

Back of package

     The back of the packaging explains some of the features of the Flame Boss. Right away you notice that it has two temperature probes (one for the pit and one for the meat), Open Lid feature and a Ramp Down feature. Those are things that not all of the basic pit controllers offer.

Items included with the Flame Boss

Items included with the Flame Boss

     Once you open the package, you will find the Flame Boss Controller, a 110-240 volt AC power adapter, a pit temperature probe, meat temperature probe, a blower and two separate adapters for your smoker.

Fan controllers side by side

Blower Side by Side Comparison

     Since I already own the Auber Instruments Pit Controller, I thought I would do a side by side comparison of the two units. Keep in mind that the Auber is two years old and has seen some use and abuse, not to mention that their controller has undergone some changes. Whether those are just cosmetic or not, I have no idea. But, it’s what I have and what I can compare it to.

Blowers

          Upon inspection, the blowers from both companies appear to be identical. The one on top is the Flame Boss and the bottom one is from Auber. If you want to get nit picky, the nuts holding the blowers together are different, but the Auber is two years old. The one from Auber is rated at 6.5 CFM (cubic feet per minute). Although not listed on their site, Flame Boss told me that their blower is also rated at 6.5 CFM. They also informed me that they have designed their own housing and have ordered tooling to manufacture it, so expect changes to come once they get up and running

Score: Tie (awaiting new design from Flame Boss)

Pit Temperature Probes

Pit Temperature Probes Side by Side

Pit Temperature Probes

     Both units came with a K type thermocouple to measure the temperature of the pit. They have an alligator clip to attach them to the grate near your meat. According to Auber instrument’s site, their pit probe has a maximum working temperature of 550F. No information was included with the Flame Boss. Wary of burning out a probe, I sent them an e-mail and got a quick response later that same day. They assured their probe is rated to 550F, which they say is probably a conservative number and that it will be addressed on their website and future versions of their packaging. Flame Boss showed great customer service to me with that e-mail.

Score: Tie

Power Adapters Side by Side

Power Adapters Side by Side

Power Adapters

     Power Adapters. They supply the power to the unit. Not much to say about them. They both have little green LED lights so you know they are working. They were interchangeable to both units. Not really something to judge either one on.

Score: Tie (even if not very important)

Mounting Adapters

Mounting Adapters Side by Side

Mounting Adapters    

     Mounting adapters are exactly what they sound like…an adapter that allows you to connect the blower to your smoker. In the picture above, you can see the adapter for Auber Instruments on the left (a bit dirty from years of use) and on the right are the two that come with the Flame Boss. With Auber instruments, you select the smoker you own and they send you the adapter you need. Flame Boss sends you two adapters that allow you to use it on a Medium, Large or XL Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe’ Big Joe 18 and 24 or Primo’s Oval and Kamado Grills. The adapter for the Auber and the one on the bottom for the Flame Boss are identical. If you happen to own multiple ceramic grills from different manufacturers, having two different adapters would be nice.

Score: a slight advantage Flame Boss

Meat Temperatures Side by Side?

Meat Temperature Probes Side by Side?

 Meat Probes

     So in the side by side comparison on the Meat Temperature Probes…wait just a minute. You don’t see two meat temperature probes? Maybe that’s because the Auber doesn’t include one. In fact, the Auber doesn’t have the ability to monitor the temperature of the meat at all.

     The meat probe from Flame Boss appears to be well made, but with no technical details to go on, it’s kind of hard to say much about it. We’ll see how it holds up once we get it up and running.

Score: major advantage Flame Boss

Controllers Side by Side

Controllers Side by Side

Controllers

     I think it would be unfair to compare my Auber controller to the Flame Boss, at least as far as looks go. I don’t know when they did it, but Auber has since undergone a design change. I don’t know if it is just aesthetic, but it no longer looks the same. You can check out their website to see what it looks like now.

     The Flame Boss had a nice, slick black case.  It appears to be well made and sturdy. I’m sure it will get dropped plenty of times and we’ll see how it holds up. There are three buttons on the front, a Menu button and a + and -. Should be simple enough even for a techno-phobe to operate. The buttons feel solid and not cheaply made. IMHO, the Flame Boss just feels more sturdy, durable and well made.

     Maybe its just the guy in me, but personally I don’t care much how something looks. As long as it works and I know it works. All that being said, for looks and quality, I gotta give it to Flame Boss.

Score: Flame Boss

Bottom View

Connector View

Connectors  

The connectors for the Auber are on the bottom when it is lying on a flat surface. From the above picture, you can see that the Auber has three connections. They arent labeled, but the pit probe obviously goes on the right (orange to orange). The probe does have a wide and a narrow pin, so make sure you plug them in accordingly. While the blower and power adapter connectors look similar, the plugs on both are different and are not interchangeable. No worries that you might accidentally plug the wrong one in the wrong spot.

     The connectors for the Flame Boss are in the back when it is sitting flat on a surface. The Flame Boss obviously has one more connector than the Auber since it has a meat probe and all connectors are labeled. Unlike the Auber, the connectors are labeled for easy connection. As with the Auber, no worries about hooking anything up wrong, however. The two temperature probes are not interchangeable and neither are the power and blower.

Score: Flame Boss

Powered Up

Powered Up

Display

     When powered up, you can see that the Auber Instruments Pit Controller has a red LED display. When functioning normally, it only shows one number, the temperature of the pit (Scrolling through the menu, other items will be displayed such as target temperature). Below that, there are two LED indicator lights. The one on the left, OUT(AT) lights up to indicate that the blower is on. The one on the right, AL, lights up when the alarm sounds.

     Flame Boss has a backlit LCD screen featuring a green background and black characters. In addition to alerting you to the temperature of your pit, it also tells you the set temperature, the temperature of the meat and how hard your blower is working (%). More info is definitely a bonus.

View in the dark

View in the dark

     A majority of my cooks that I use a pit controller for are overnight cooks. It only made sense that I would have to take a compare the displays of both units in the dark. Sometimes, I peek through the windows or poke my head out the door to check on how things are going (even though I know there is no reason too). The Auber is easier to see in the dark and from a distance with its bright red LED light. While you can see the green LCD screen of the Flame Boss, making out any information from far away requires much better eyes than I have

     Even though the Auber is easier to see in the dark, I feel the amount of information displayed by Flame Boss makes it a winner in the display category.

Score: Flame Boss

Summary

     So I’ve unpacked the Flame Boss and I’ve looked it over. I’ve compared it to Auber. While they both have very similar appearing blowers (as of right now), pit probes, mounting adaptor and power adaptors, I have to say that the Flame Boss takes the edge. The amount of information on the display far outweighs the ease of read of the Auber’s display. The inclusion of a meat thermometer, I believe, is almost a necessity and the look and feel of the controller wins hands down.

     Don’t get me wrong. The Auber is a great little unit and you can get your hands on it for $134.50 + S&H (as of the time writing this post). A great low-cost, basic entry level controller. No bells. No whistles. Just controls your pit. If that’s all you want, you won’t be disappointed in it.

     But look at some of the other features you can get with the Flame Boss. A Learning PID controller, open lid detect, variable speed blower, meat temperature alarm and a ramp down function (all of which we’ll discuss in a later post). Is that worth the extra $154.40 (Flame Boss comes in at $289.00 + S&H)? That’s something only you can decide.

     I know what you are probably thinking. Yeah, its great reading all that stuff and learning about it, but how well does it work? To be honest, I’ve only used it once so far, but I was impressed. I don’t feel like I’ve used it enough to really form an educated opinion on it yet, but first impressions were positive. If it performs half as well as I think it will, I wouldn’t be upset to see this sitting under my tree on Christmas morning.

     Friday night will be the big night. I’ve got an Angus Choice full packer brisket sitting in the fridge right now, ready to take on the challenge of the Flame Boss. We’ll see how it works and report back to you next week. As of right now, I am totally confident that it can get the job done.

Auber Instruments

Flame Boss

**Disclaimer – I was not paid in any way to write the above review. I have no links or ties to either Auber Instruments or Flame Boss. In fact, Flame Boss offered to include a return shipping label so that I could send back their unit after reviewing it if I felt keeping it would compromise my judgement or make me feel impartial.

Barbecue Pork and Pepper Jack Twice-Baked Potatoes

Pulled Pork Twice-Baked Potato

Pulled Pork Twice-Baked Potato

     So, you smoked too much pulled pork? I don’t call that bad planning. Hell, I call that good planning!! You went through all that effort and time to cook the perfect pulled pork, who wouldn’t want some for leftovers? Truth be told, if I’m going through all that effort to cook a pork butt, I’ll go ahead and cook two. It doesn’t take anymore time, effort or charcoal and it freezes beautifully.

     What to do with all that extra pulled pork? We’ve covered Pulled Pork Nachos before.  You could always do Pulled Pork Tacos or Pulled Pork Quesadillas. But we were looking for something a bit different for last night’s dinner.

The lowly potato.

The lowly potato, often overlooked and underestimated.

     So we were sitting around brainstorming, when Mrs. G ran across a recipe for Twice-Baked Potatoes Four Ways in the November 2013 issue of Southern Living. Pulled pork? Pepper jack cheese? Sounded like a winner to me.

Potato Filling

Potato Filling

Barbecue Pork and Pepper Jack Twice Baked Potatoes

(adapted from Southern Living, November 2013, p.126, serves 8)

Ingredients

  • 4 large russet potatoes
  • 4 oz 1/3 less-fat cream cheese, cubed and softened (1/2 of an 8 oz package)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups chopped barbecue pork (about 1/2 lb)
  • 6 oz pepper jack cheese + 2 oz for garnish
  • 1/3 cup minced green onions + more for garnish
  • 3 tsp Ranch Dressing Mix
  • your favorite barbecue sauce (we used Stubb’s BBQ Sauce)
Ready For The Oven

Ready For The Oven

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° and line the bottom rack of your oven with aluminum foil. Pierce potatoes several times with a fork. Rub potatoes with canola oil and sprinkle on coarse sea salt. 
  2. Bake directly on oven rack 1 hour or until potatoes reach 210F. (Baking directly on the rack keeps skins crisp and firm to hold the filling.) Cool 10 minutes.
  3. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise; carefully scoop pulp into a large bowl, leaving shells intact.
  4. Mash together potato pulp, cream cheese, milk, chopped barbecue pork, 6 oz pepper jack cheese (1.5 cups), green onions and Ranch dressing mix.
  5. Spoon mixture into potato shells, and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Top with remaining pepper jack cheese (.5 cup).
  6. Bake at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated and cheese is melted.
  7. Top with your favorite barbecue sauce and green onions if desired.
After baking 15-20 minutes

After baking 15-20 minutes

     Did you know that 210 is the perfect temperature for baked potatoes with a crisp and golden skin and light and fluffy on the inside? I had heard that before, but never paid much attention to it. I’ve just always baked my potatoes as 400F for an hour. A few weeks ago, Mrs. G went out with some of her girlfriends and I stayed in and grilled a steak and baked a potato. Now, I know that my oven temperature is a little off on the low side, but I figured an hour would be fine. Not so much it turns out. The potato was way undercooked. Last night, I used a thermometer and one hour was not long enough. Two potatoes took an hour and ten minutes and two of them took an hour and fifteen minutes. I always say cook meat to temperature, not time. I guess I should start applying that to other foods as well.

When finished, drizzle a little barbecue sauce on top and garnish with green onions.

When finished, drizzle a little barbecue sauce on top and garnish with green onions.

 Twice-baked potatoes of any kind are a wonderful side. And one of the great things is that they can be made ahead of time. Just prepare the potatoes through Step 5 and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake them for the second time. Or you can freeze them for later. Just place in the freezer for one hour until firm and then place in a Zip-lock bag or vacuum seal them. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight when you are ready to eat them. Then bake at 45 minutes at 350F or until hot.

Could be served as a side, but we made them as our entree.

Could be served as a side, but we made them as our entrée.

     As I said, these could be served as a side, but with the chopped pork they made a perfectly filling entrée for us. They were smooth and creamy and had a subtle hint of smoke from the pork shoulder. The sweetness of the pork was offset nicely by the faint heat from the pepper jack cheese. And the tang from the bbq sauce was a nice addition to the taters. what else can I say but these twice baked potatoes were out of this world good. The next time you cook too much pulled pork and are looking for something to do with it, I hope you remember these twice baked potatoes and give them a try and let me know what you think.

     Don’t think you have to stick to this exact recipe either. I’ve already got ideas running through my mind about how to incorporate leftover barbecue chicken or chopped beef into the next batch of twice baked potatoes. Maybe some different cheeses? Maybe adding in some vegetables? The sky is the limit with what you can do with these babies..