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..

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Smoked Spiral Sliced Ham

HEB Spiral Sliced Ham
HEB Spiral Sliced Ham

     Not much of a recipe today, more of a technique for how to smoke a ham. Now, I don’t no why we don’t cook hams more often, but for whatever reason, we don’t. And as far as I can recall, this is the first one we’ve ever done on the Egg. It’s not like they are hard. And they don’t take too long. I guess we don’t do them often because we don’t have enough people to eat on them.

Smoked Spiral Sliced Ham
Smoked Spiral Sliced Ham

     This past week, Mrs. G mentioned that she didn’t want traditional BBQ type food for the Texas Oklahoma game. No traditional meats, no bbq sauces and especially no potato salad or cole slaw. So we started brainstorming and she decided she wanted a ham. I wanted a plain, smoked ham (aka naked ham which we might cover later this year), but Mrs. G wanted a spiral sliced honey cured ham from HEB. What Mrs. G wants, Mrs. G gets. Happy wife, happy life. If you aren’t from Texas and don’t have an HEB or Central Market near you, just go with whatever brand your store carries.

Spiral sliced ham
That is one pretty ham, don’t ‘cha think?

     These hams are already pre-cooked, so in reality, you aren’t cooking them. You are simply warming them up. So why bother to warm them up on the Egg or smoker? To introduce more smoke, of course! When you are ready to smoke your ham, set up your smoker for an indirect cook and stabilize it at 300F. We used the Adjustable Rig from the Ceramic Grill Store with the large oval stone (wrapped in foil for easier clean up) on the bottom level and the oval grate on the third level. If using the Big Green Egg plate setter, I would use it legs up with the original grate setting on top of that. For smoke, we decided to go with two small chunks of cherry wood and a handful of hickory.

Excuse the blurry picture.
Excuse the blurry picture.

     Allow the ham to warm up to 145F. Let me say once again, that the ham is already pre-cooked. You are just introducing smoke to it and warming it up. Once it reaches 145F, it is done. Our ham weighed in somewhere between 9 and 10 lbs and took about 2.5 to 3 hours to cook. If you are done early (which we were), simply wrap the ham in aluminum foil. Get a small cooler and line it with old towels (not the ones that are for guest or you will end up sleeping on the couch), place the ham in the cooler and place a few more towels on top of it. This will give you time to finish up your sides, or sit down and enjoy a cold beverage and hopefully watch your team whip up on their opponents. Two hours later, the ham will still be too hot to handle with bare hands, believe me.

     Once you are ready to eat, feel free to use the included glaze or make one of your own up if you are so inclined. Mrs. G took one bite of the ham and told me to forget about glazing it, that it was that good by itself. Happy wife, happy life.

     If you are looking for sides, nothing goes better with a ham than black eye peas, cornbread and maybe some scalloped potatoes and greens. That would be for another post, however.

     And once you are done eating and all the dishes are taken care of, feel free to pat yourself on the back, pour another cold one and enjoy what’s left of you day. You’ve earned it.

I love this time of year. Football and cool weather. Does it get any better?
I love this time of year. Football and cool weather. Does it get any better?

     Hopefully, you didn’t invite to many people over and there will be plenty leftover for sandwiches the next day. I know we have pleny leftover. I wonder what we could do with that this week? Hmmm….

Spicy Ranch Chicken Wings Updated 11/4/13

Spicy Ranch Chicken Wings
Spicy Ranch Chicken Wings

     I know what you are thinking…another wing recipe? What can I say? I love wings. And since my birthday was this past weekend, I decided I wanted to cook some wings. I was trying to come up with a new recipe and I remembered some spicy ranch wings that I got at a wing place called Pluckers. They were ok, but I figured I could find a better recipe that incorporated that ranch flavor into the wings. These came out nothing like Pluckers, BTW.

Calibrating my thermometer in boiling water.
Calibrating my thermometer in boiling water.

     Before I got started, I decided to calibrate the dome thermometer on my BGE. Lately, some of my cooks have been taking longer than usual. I started boiling some water and placed the thermometer in the pot. In the above picture, the water wasn’t even boiling and it was already reading over 300F. For those who don’t remember their science classes, water boils at 212F at sea level. My thermometer was reading about a 100 degrees too hot, that could explain quite a bit! If you are running a Tel-Tru thermometer (and possible some other ones), you will find a nut on the back of the thermometer. Using a wrench to turn that nut, you can adjust the needle so it reads 212F when placed in boiling water. Always a good idea to check your thermometers a couple of times a year.

Wings in a Zip-LOck bag with the marinade.
Wings in a Zip-LOck bag with the marinade.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs chicken wings
  • 3/4 cup hot pepper sauce (we like to use Franks)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1  envelope ranch dressing mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

Directions:

  1. In a gallon-size resealable plastic bag, combine hot pepper sauce, melted butter and vinegar.
  2. Add chicken wings, seal bag and toss to coat evenly.
  3. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours.
  4. Set up your grill for an indirect cook at 400F. If using a BGE, set it up for a direct raised grate cook.
  5. Mix together the ranch dressing powder and paprika.

    Ranch dressing mix and paprika for the rub
    Ranch dressing mix and paprika for the rub
  6. Remove wigs from marinade and sprinkle liberally with dressing mix and paprika.
  7. Grill  for 35-40 minutes. Wings can be cooked higher than chicken breasts and I usually take them to 175-180. More of the fat renders out and they become crispier than if you pull at 165.
Raised grate on the Egg at 400F
Raised grate on the Egg at 400F

     The wings should take 35-40 minutes to cook, but keep an eye on them. You may want to flip and rotate them if you have hot spots on your grill to prevent them from burning and to ensure they cook evenly. If desired, add some wood chips to give them a hint of smoke flavor. We really like a touch of mesquite with our wings.

Done
Done

     The wings are done and separated into flats and drums. Is there a picky eater in your house that prefers one over the other? In our house, Mrs. G likes the drummettes and I prefer the flats, so it works out perfectly.

Plated up
Plated up

     Plated up (or should I say basketed up?) with some steak fries, celery and ranch dressing. This was a first for us. Although the marinade is pretty close to a classic Buffalo Wing Sauce, I’ve never marinated them in it before. Usually I just toss it on at once the wings are done. Not sure that it really added any extra flavor. I did get a nice twang from the ranch dressing powder that was sprinkled on before grilling. I really liked that added flavor to the wings and can see doing it again. Didn’t catch much, if any, flavor from the paprika, however. Nor was there much heat. For a “spicy” recipe, this one fell short of the mark. Overall, I’d say it was a very good recipe, the name was just misleading. Buffalo Ranch Chicken Wings would have been more accurate. Maybe I’ll throw in a bit of chipotle powder into the rub next time just to give it some heat and really make them Spicy Ranch Wings.

Update

     This past weekend, I attended the Plano Outlaw Eggfest. A decision that was made at the last minute. Not having much time to plan, I decided to cook these wings, but changed the recipe to address the lack of heat. In addition to the ingredients listed above, I added:

  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp chipotle chile pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 1/8 tsp chile powder
  • 1/8 tsp of white pepper

     I really think it helped out quite a bit. It gave it more of a complex flavor, more depth and increased the heat, but not so much that your mouth was burning. I’d say it came out just right and people were asking me for the recipe all day so that says something.

 

My “McRib” Sandwich

My version of the "McRib". At least you know what's in it.
My version of the “McRib” (At least you know what’s in it)

     Is there anything more unnatural than the McRib Sandwich? McDonald’s should never have anything to do with BBQ (although for some strange reason, I do like their BBQ sauce on nuggets, but let’s not tell anybody that). Stick to making inferior hamburgers and leave BBQ alone!! (I’ll probably catch some grief for that considering the cultish following of the McRib.)

     Let’s start with the “patty”. Not a single rib bone to be found. Heck, it’s not even rib meat. No, it’s a “restructured meat product” and according to a 1995 article “contains a mixture of tripe, heart, and scalded stomach, which is then mixed with salt and water to extract proteins from the muscle. The proteins bind all the pork trimmings together so that it can be re-molded into any specific shape — in this case, a fake slab of ribs”. I don’t know about you, but man am I getting hungry.

     What about the ingredients? Fairly simple. Pork, bread, sauce, pickles and onions. 5 things, right? No, try over 70 ingredients including azodicarbonamide, an agent often used in the production of foamed plastics. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Leftover Ribs
Leftover Ribs

     My sandwich came to being out of a two part necessity years ago. One was having leftover ribs after a large cook out. Yeah, I know, leftover ribs? How’d that happen? Overestimating on my part. The second was rib trimmings. You remember us talking about how to trim spare ribs down to St. Louis Style way back in May of last year right? No, well you can refresh your memory with our post on CherrySmoked Ribs. Once you’ve trimmed your ribs, what do you do with all that extra meat? Throw it away? That would be wasteful. Sometimes I save it and grind it up when I am making sausage, but usually I smoke it alongside the ribs and snack on it while the ribs are cooking. This is often called ” the chef’s treat” in BBQ circles. Sometimes I like to smoke it and use it for my version of the McRib.

Leftover meat from ribs and rib trimmings. What a shame that would be to throw away.
Leftover meat from ribs and rib trimmings. What a shame that would be to throw away.

     There really isn’t much of a recipe for my McRib. It all depends on how much rib meat you have leftover and how much of the trimmings that you didn’t eat while smoking the ribs. Sometimes it will make a few sandwiches, sometimes it will only make one. As you can see above, this time there was quite a bit since I had the trimming from two racks of ribs. You want to make sure to remove any bones, cartilage or excess fat from the ribs while pulling and chopping it up.

Into a skillet with sauce
Into a skillet with sauce

     Next, heat a skillet up to medium/medium high heat. Dump the leftover meat in and add some BBQ sauce. If its your own home made BBQ sauce, extra points for you.  If not, use your favorite bottled sauce. This time I tried out Aaron Franklin’s Texas Style BBQ Sauce (which is now available in 150 HEB stores in Texas). Can’t rightly say how much sauce you will need, because it depends on how much meat you have. You want enough to coat all the meat. Next, add in a splash of water to thin the sauce a bit, cover and let  heat through. Stir every so often and add more sauce if necessary.

     Once your kitchen has taken on the wonderful aroma of BBQ and your meat is heated through, its time to construct your McRib. Take a hamburger bun, ciabatta bun, hoagie roll or bread of your choice (I like to toast mine just a bit. I feel like it helps hold up better with the sauce, but that’s up to you),  and top with the warmed up rib meat. Add some pickles and sweet onions, more sauce if you like it messy, and you are ready to eat.

Now doesn't that blow away any silly fast food McRib sandwich?
Now doesn’t that blow away any silly fast food fake bbq rib sandwich?

     Way better than McDonald’s, that’s for sure. You know you are actually getting rib meat and not some weird combination of various pig parts and unpronounceable chemicals. Just five ingredients: meat, bread, pickles, onions and sauce. Ok, the sauce has more ingredients, sue me. But at least this version has real smoke flavor like BBQ should. So next time you smoke some ribs, save those trimmings and any leftover ribs and treat yourself to what a McRib should really taste like. I’m willing to bet that you will never eat another McRib again.

Old School Brisket (with Aaron Franklin’s BBQ Sauce)

Brisket...it's what's for dinner!
Brisket…it’s what’s for dinner!

     I’ve found my new method of cooking brisket and its “Old School”!! If you’ve listened to bbqers talk brisket, or read any bbq forums, you’ve probably found out there are a ton of ways to tackle this troublesome hunk of cow. Low and slow or turbo? Wrap during the cook or leave alone? If you wrap, aluminum foil or butcher paper? Inject? Marinate? What kind of rub? What type of wood for smoke? Sauce or no sauce? (Personally, I prefer not to have sauce on my brisket, maybe some on the side. Make sure to check out the sauce recipe at the end of the post if you must have sauce).  So many ways to approach it, it could make your head spin. What’s a fella’ to do?

5.46 lb full packer brisket, 100% grass fed...I'm just following the Doc's orders. ;)
5.46 lb full packer brisket, 100% grass fed…I’m just following the Doc’s orders. 😉

     My Doc recently told me that if I was to eat beef, it should be 100% grass fed. Seems that most beef is fattened up the last few weeks of their life on corn. Basically, they are turned into diabetic cows. It does something to the meat, something to do with changing the amino acids. Or something. I can’t quite remember. What I did get out of it is that it’s not good to feed diabetic meat to a diabetic…or anybody for that matter, but I’ll let you decide what’s right for you. So following the Doc’s orders, last weekend we went down to the Dallas Farmer’s Market in order to procure ourselves a 100% grass fed brisket from North Star Ranch. We’ve cooked a brisket from them, but it was years ago. Their briskets tend to run on the small size. This one was 5.46lbs. And yes it was a full packer. I know most full packers run in the 12-14lb range, some going down to 10lbs others going up as high as 18lbs. I believe it has something to do with being grass fed and that they slaughter them younger and smaller. Whatever the reason maybe, they are excellent briskets and 5.46lbs is more reasonable for two people anyway.

Brisket ready to be trimmed.
Brisket ready to be trimmed.

I “borrowed” one of my wife’s Diet Cokes to give you a size comparison of this brisket.

The briseket has been trimmed and rubbed down.
The brisket has been trimmed and rubbed down with salt and pepper.

     I’ve cooked brisket many a ways in the past. I was thinking about how I wanted to tackle this particular one and it came to me. Why not go back to the basics? Why not go old school? Nothing fancy, no special rubs, no mustard slather, no wrapping it during the cook. No, this was going to be plain Jane, good ole fashioned brisket. Nothing but a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. The inspiration came from watching some videos of Aaron Franklin online last week. If you haven’t heard of Aaron Franklin, he’s a relatively new up and comer in the bbq world and the briskets he has been putting out at Franklin’s in Austin have been touted as the best in the world. Don’t believe me? Go check it out. Watching his videos, I learned that all he puts on his briskets is salt and pepper. If that is good enough for him and good enough to be called the best, well then is certainly is worth me giving it a shot.

The BGE coming up to temperature.
The BGE coming up to temperature.

     Look at that smoke pouring out of the Egg. Think its time I replace the gasket on it? Part of that is due to the fact that I was using a pit controller and the fan was whirring away trying to bring the Egg up to temperature. Still…that’s more than a little leak. By the way, for smoke we used a combination of mesquite wood chips and pecan and hickory chunks. I wanted to use strictly mesquite but come the morning of the cook I realized I had no mesquite chunks and chips by themselves just wouldn’t cut it.

Brisket on the Egg
Brisket on the Egg at 11am.

     I took this picture for me. Sort of a reference of which way the grain was running. Sometimes it can be hard to tell after the cook and the bark has formed. When slicing a brisket, you want to cut it against the grain. On this particular one, you can tell the grain is running from the bottom left corner to the top right corner (///). So when you slice it, you would want to slice it like this: \\\. At least on the flat, the grain usually changes direction when you come to the point.

Sausage added near the end.
Sausage added near the end of the cook.

     Continuing on with the “Old School” theme, for this cook I went with 250F at grate level for my temperature. I wasn’t real sure how long it would take. Generally, the rule of thumb is between an hour and an hour and a half per pound. I wasn’t real sure if that applied to grass feed beef as well, but we didn’t have any plans for the day. Bbq, and especially brisket, is ready when its ready. You can’t rush it. It would either be done in 5.46 hours, or it would be done in 8.19. The nice thing about the BGE is that it really needs no monitoring once it has stabilized. I was able to mow the yard, do some yard work. I even went up to the Richardson Farmer’s Market and the pharmacy while this was cooking. Try doing that with an offset smoker.

Finished!
Finished!

     This particular brisket went on at 11am. We finally pulled it once it had reached 196F and a toothpick slid in like butter with no resistance at 6:30pm. Seven and half hours later. Not too shabby. An easily managed cook. So first thing you want to do is cut into it, right? Wrong!! Just like a steak, if you cut into it now, all the juice is going to run out leaving you with a dry hunk of meat. You have two options instead. Either loosely tent it with foil for 30 minutes, or go with the “FTC” method. Foil, towels, cooler. What this means is wrap your brisket in heavy duty aluminum foil. Take a small cooler and line the bottom with towels. Make sure they aren’t the good guest towels, or you might find yourself sleeping on the couch. Place the wrapped brisket in the towel lined cooler and then add more towels to fill it up. If you do this method, you can hold your brisket for as little as 30 minutes up to 4 hours and it will still be steaming hot.

Sliced
Sliced

Is your mouth watering now?

The flat.
The flat.

This is a slice from the flat. It is the leaner portion of the brisket and does not contain as much fat.

The point
The point

     This is a slice from the point. Even after being in a cooler for 30 minutes, it was so hot that I couldn’t hold it and snap a picture without a paper towel. You’ll notice that it is juicier and has a different texture. To me, the point is the best part of a brisket. In fact, if I could get just the point, I don’t think I would ever cook a full packer.

Plated up with some sausage and creamed spinach
Plated up with some sausage and creamed spinach

     Smoked brisket! In my mind the perfect meal. We served it up with some boracho beans (drunk beans), creamed spinach and the sausage. Heavenly. Even though we did not achieve the desired smoke ring (I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out that one), this brisket came out great. Not under cooked where it would be tough, not over cooked where it would fall apart, but perfectly fork tender. Great smoke flavor and to be quite honest…the plain 50/50% salt and pepper rub was outstanding. A great flavor that did not compete with the taste of the meat, but complimented it perfectly. I don’t think I will ever use another rub on a brisket again, just salt and pepper. As for the sauce, it wasn’t needed at all, but once I got done doctoring it up, it was wonderful. A velvety, buttery feel and taste to it, with a hint of smoke (I added in the liquid that accumulated in the foil while it was wrapped) and just a bit of heat. Try Aaron Franklin’s sauce how he explained it on a YouTube video, but feel free to adapt it to your taste palate.

Aaron Franklin’s BBQ Sauce

  • 1/2 lb butter
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cup s ketchup (not high fructose corn syrup)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 oz light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • a little less than 1 tsp garlic powder
  • a little less than 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 lemon squeezed
  1. Melt butter and saute onions until soft and translucent.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Serve warm with bbq.

We found his sauce to be on the sweet side, so we added in some drippings from the brisket, Frank’s Hot Sauce, more black pepper, some red pepper flakes, ancho and chipotle powder. Feel free to adjust to suit your tastes. Next time, I think I’ll cut back on the butter as well.