Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day Present From My Daughter - Cubs Jersey!


My daughter got me a Cubs Jersey with my name on it for Father's Day!  Ok, it's Addison Russell, but hey... it's still my name!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker - 22.5 Inch Smoker


I added a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker - 22.5 inch smoker to join my 18.5 inch smoker!

I purchased it used on Craigslist for $225 including 5.5 bags of 18.6 lb Kingsford Original charcoal.  Not a bad deal overall!  I washed it off and cleaned the grates... it's all good!

I'll likely update the access door with a new stainless steel Cajun Bandit door like you see on the 18.5 inch smoker. Other than that, the smoker is in great condition!

I'll use this larger smoker whenever we do ribs or whenever we have family events.  Approximately 40% more space is afforded to the larger 22.5 inch smoker compared to the 18.5 inch smoker.

Edit Note:  Upgraded the door and latch on the 22.5 inch smoker:



Best Selling Kitchen Items

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Arlington Park Racetrack


Today at Arlington Park racetrack... third race. We learned to pan our cameras. Good times, but hot. Glad we had a breeze though! Thank to everyone who came to learn and practice with me!

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker




Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Seventh Smoking With The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker - Country Style Ribs with Apple Wood Smoke



Still on my smoker kick! This time, Country Style Ribs!
Smoked with apple wood with only rub on the country ribs at 225 degrees for 1.5 hours and then removed and placed into an aluminum foil pan and sauced up with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce. Aluminum foil was used to cover the pan up tight and then returned to the smoker for another 1.5 hours. Finally, removed the country ribs from the foil and returned to the smoker's grill grate for 15 minutes.
Not bad! I had to do these country ribs since my very first use of the smoker dried out the country ribs a little too much since I didn't know the smoker yet. But since then, every cook for the last six times have been getting better and better! I'm getting used to smoking now.

I have to say, the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker is really nice.  It is actually easier to do smoking than grilling on my Weber Spirit E-310 propane gas grill.  With the gas grill, I have to stand and keep and eye on the grilling all the time.  But with a smoker and a remote thermometer, I don't do anything except spray some apple juice every now and then, go out and wrap the meat and unwrap it in an hour.  One last trip to the smoker's grill grate and it's done!  It may take longer, but it's really easier on the long run.

Friday, June 09, 2017

The Sixth Smoke With The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker and ThermoWorks Smoke Thermometer/Alarm - Baby Back Ribs





A lot of "firsts" on this cooking of ribs!

I got to use my new ThermoWorks Smoke 2-channel thermometer / alarm.  It worked perfectly!  I was able to stay inside and monitor the entire cooking process without having to run outside and open the smoker to take a temperature.  Every time you open the lid to the smoker, you lose heat and smoke.  By having the remote, I could easily tell how the meat was doing and how hot the temperature of the smoker was at the grate level.

I also got a new access door for the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker too!  Made by Canjun Bandit, this new door and latch is a huge improvement over the standard door from Weber.  Made of a thicker gauge stainless steel, the door helps cut down heat loss and smoke loss.  Through the access door, I got to use my new Panacea Products fireplace poker too.  It worked great by pulling coals towards me when needed.

As for the ribs, I used my fishing buddy Jim's secret recipe again, but this time, we cooked the baby back ribs without wood smoke!  My family decided that the wood smoke actually is not a desired component to this particular recipe, so we used the smoker strictly as a slow barbecue pit.  The ribs came out just great!  Still had a "smoke ring" too!  I suppose it was due to the charcoal.

I am getting better at cooking this way.  The thermometer makes it a lot easier to keep track of the cooking process.  Well worth the money in my opinion.

    

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Panacea Products 15347 - 30" Black Fireplace Poker



Never thought I'd blog about a fireplace poker (especially in June!) but I have to say, this Panacea Products 15347 - 30" Black Fireplace Poker is extremely well made!

I needed something to move the coals around in my Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker.  I first used a long wooden dowel rod because that's all I had available at the time.  Bad idea since the coals started burning the dowel rod!  I decided that the best thing would probably be to look into a fireplace poker, so I went to Amazon and searched and found this high quality, inexpensive poker.

I have to say, it is so well made for an item that's under $17 including shipping!  It's all one piece so nothing detaches or can be broken or lost.  It does the job well too!  The small hook at the end of the poker allows me to pull coals towards me or push it to another location.  The hook on the other end allows it to be hung on something too if I want.

I've put a link to the poker if you need one.  Click on it and order one if you have a wood fireplace or a smoker!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Sabiki Rig Fishing - Catching Bluegills and Crappie at Lake Zurich, IL



I went fishing at Lake Zurich today at 7:30 AM.  I caught a 9.5 inch crappie around 10:20 AM. I also caught a bluegill. My fishing buddy Jim caught a bluegill as well. All fish were caught on a sabiki rig.  I've included a couple of Amazon links to sabiki rigs if you need one.  Great rig to catch small fish that are hanging around the pier!  Seems these small fish can't help but bite on the rig!  

Last year, we did the same thing and caught a number of bluegills on it.  If you are a salmon fisher out of Lake Michigan and want to catch alewife as baitfish, use a sabiki rig!!

  

Monday, June 05, 2017

ThermoWorks Smoke - Cooking Alarm


Just received my new ThermoWorks Smoke cooking alarm with remote!

I've been anxious to get my hands on this item since getting my new Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker last week!  This two-channel thermometer alarm has a wireless remote that can go 300 ft (line of sight) from the main control unit.  This means I can now monitor the temperature of the smoker as well as the meat that is being smoked while staying inside my home instead of having to run outside to check on the thermometer on the smoker.  Plus, I won't need to even open the cover to the smoker to check the temperature of the meat either!

The base unit updates the remote every 15 seconds.  This is often enough.  If it were to constantly update it in real-time, it would eat up battery power faster.

I'll pass the two heat resistant probes wires through the rubber grommet that is on the side of the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker.  I won't need to close the top of the smoker on the probes because of this.

I'll have an update as soon as I do another smoking in about six days!  My next smoking will be another brisket!  I hope to do a full brisket this time.  Last time, I only did the flat of the brisket and not the point.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Fifth Smoking - Rib Smoke Off on the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18.5"



Today I smoked up three full racks of ribs to see which recipe for ribs was best for my family.

I used the 18.5" Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker with Kingston Original charcoal (blue bag) for fuel and Pecan wood chunks for the smoke.  The ribs were cooked for 3 hours and then removed and wrapped in aluminum foil and returned to the smoker for another 2 hours.  While other people recommend an additional hour on the smoker unwrapped, my family and I decided that the ribs were cooked long enough, so we skipped the last step of the "3-2-1 ribs" technique.

One rack of ribs had the secret recipe that was given to me by my fishing buddy Jim.  Another rack of ribs had Pork Barrel BBQ's All American Seasoning & Rub sprinkled on it with yellow mustard as a binder for the rub with Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet & Spicy barbecue sauce added after the ribs were wrapped with foil.  Finally, the third rack of ribs had yellow mustard as a binder and Costco's Flavor Connection Rib Rub & Seasoning on it only.

The photo of the ribs have Jim's rib recipe on the bottom right, the Sweet Baby Ray's ribs on the left and the rub only ribs on the top of the plate.

We all agreed that Jim's Ribs were the best, followed by Sweet Baby Ray's and finally, the ribs with only the rub coming in last.  This is not to say that any of them were bad.  We just had to rank them in order of preference.  However, we did think some modification needed to be done to Jim's ribs.

Jim's ribs has flavor by itself and did not need smoking.  We believe that the smoke from the Pecan wood added its own flavoring that changed the ribs beyond what it should have been.  In the future, we believe the best way to do his ribs would be to use his sauce recipe on the smoker with charcoal, but NO SMOKE from wood.  Essentially, this would be like indirectly barbecuing!

The other two ribs benefitted from the smoke.  The smoke added the quality you'd want in a smoked rib.  Sweet Baby Ray's sauce added a lot to the quality of those ribs.  The rub only ribs while good, just did not compete as well as the other two versions that had sauce on them.  In our opinion for ribs, you need sauce!!

Next week... more brisket!

    

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Fourth Smoking On The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker - Pulled Pork






My fourth smoke with the 18.5 inch Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker was a 5.5 hour cook of a 5.75 lb pork butt.  I've always wondered why this cut of meat was called a butt because it actually is the upper shoulder portion of the pig, not an actual butt.  Whatever... it's what many of us use to make "pulled pork".

I had watched a lot of YouTube videos describing how to smoke a pork butt and it seemed the key was to smoke it at 250 to 275 degrees at one to one and a half hours per pound.  Internal temperature should reach at least 195 degrees to 210 degrees.

I used Hickory wood for the smoking and the usual Kingsford Original (blue bag) charcoal for the fuel.  The seasoning was another rub that I purchased at Costco... Pork Barrel BBQ's All American Seasoning and Rub.  It was less colorful as the Costco rub I had been using for the past three cooks, but it seemed to taste essentially the same to me.  I used yellow mustard as a binder to help the rub stick.  It has been said that you won't taste the mustard after the cooking is done.  So far, I think that's a true statement.

I was able to maintain the temperature of the smoker at 250 to 275 degrees throughout the 5.5 hours.  I suppose I am getting better at regulating the bottom vent's air flow with practice!  It was less windy today however.

I basted the pork butt with apple juice at the first and second hour but by 2.5 hours, I decided it was time to wrap the meat with aluminum foil.  I added additional apple juice to let the meat stay moist in the foil.  I kept monitoring the temperature for the next 3 hours.  I also put some Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce in a cast iron skillet and heated it up in the smoker for about 1/2 hour.

After the smoking was done, I took the butt out of the smoker and placed it on a cutting board and let the butt sit for at least one half hour to let the juices get back into the meat before attempting to pull the meat apart.  The bone from the butt came out easily without any meat on it... a true sign that the butt was done.  The butt came apart really easy.

I guess I'm getting better at smoking!  In a few days, I'm going to attempt three different styles of ribs on the smoker!

     

Monday, May 29, 2017

Smoking A Brisket on the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker







Today was the third smoking using the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker!  It was my first time smoking brisket!

The brisket was only about 4-5 lbs. I used Kingston Original charcoal and positioned the briquettes using the Minion method of putting hot coals in the middle surrounded by unlit coals.  Because the meat was not a full brisket, the cook time was a lot less time than what some experts need for a full brisket. The rub was applied about a day and half in advance only because I didn't get a chance to cook it yesterday! I used Costco's Rib Rub and smoked with Apple wood.  Initial cook time was 2 hours and I sprayed the brisket after the first hour with apple juice and also at the second hour when the brisket reached what is called the "Stall" at 195 degrees where the meat doesn't seem to get any hotter.  I took it off the smoker at this point and put it in aluminum foil and let it rest for 1/2 hour inside of a cooler.  After putting the brisket back on the smoker, it stayed there for a total of two more hours.  From start to finish, the time was 4.5 hours.

The pit temp was ranging between 225 degrees and 325 degrees!  Since there was direct sunlight on the smoker, the temp rose as high as 325 degrees, but I was always able to bring that temperature down by closing down the lower air vents.  I tried to keep it as close to 250 to 275 degrees.  I can't wait for my new ThermoWorks Smoke thermometer / alarm to arrive.  With it, I will know when temperatures of both the pit and also the meat go above or below preset temperature levels.  The remote will allow me to stay indoors and still monitor the temperatures.

I took the brisket off the smoker and opened up the aluminum foil and let the meat rest for at least 1/2 hour.  My nephew Frank and his family came over and he sliced the brisket.  Frank has been smoking meat for quite a while now and has successfully used his Traeger pellet smoker for many family occasions.  He said the brisket wasn't bad for a first attempt!  However, I believe I could have left the brisket on for perhaps another hour if I wanted it more tender.  There was plenty of juice in the meat to have kept it going.

Many barbecue fans say that doing a good brisket is the test of the skill of the cook.  I can see that we'll be doing this more often!   

   

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Second Smoking on the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker - Chicken Drumsticks






I was planning on smoking brisket today for my second use of my new smoker, but too many other things got in the way. So instead, I decided to smoke chicken drumsticks since they were on sale for $0.39 / lb!

This is the second smoking on the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker! Smoke time was 2.75 hours. There is another rack of drumsticks below the rack of drumsticks you see in the photos. You can see a ThermoWorks RT600C Pocket Thermometer sticking into the side of the smoker through the rubber gasket to check internal temp of the smoker.  I am doing this until my new ThermoWorks Smoke remote thermometer/alarm comes in this coming week.


Chicken was cooked to 165 degree internal temperature.  Smoker temp was 225 degrees.  Once again, I used Costco's Rib Rub & Seasoning with three chunks of Apple wood for the smoke.  Kingsford's Original briquettes were used for the fuel.


I had some used briquettes left over from the cook of the country ribs from two days ago so I decided to use them in addition to some new ones.  I found that the used briquettes burned off a lot quicker and after the 2.75 hours, the burn was already diminishing.  Luckily, the chicken did not need more than 2.75 hours, so it all worked out.  But I think if I am going to smoke something like brisket that requires really long cook times, the only way to go is brand new, fresh briquettes!


Home Depot (along with other retailers) had two bags of 18.6 lb Kingsford Original briquettes for only $9.88 for the Memorial Day weekend.  I purchased 14 bags (7 packs), so I have plenty of fuel for the summer!


   


Friday, May 26, 2017

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker - 18.5 inch





After much research and agonizing over which smoker would be best for my family, I decided on the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker - 18.5 inch version!

I was debating to get either a Traeger pellet smoker or perhaps a Masterbuilt electric smoker, but decided that to get that real smoke flavor, I needed to go to charcoal smoking with wood chunks added.

My nephew has a Traeger and the quality of his food is top notch!  But I also read that some of the Traegers had issues with the auger not pushing the pellets consistently and that it could clog.  Also, some Traegers were running heat way above the settings on the electronics and causing all sorts of problems.  While this has not happened to those whom I know have one, it has happened to others.

The electric smokers to me seemed more like an outdoor electric oven more than anything else and that the small wood chips used just would not be enough to get that barbecue flavor that we all want.

In the end, after researching the various charcoal smokers out there, the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker smoker made the most sense to me.  Flare ups are controlled by the water pan that separates the coals from the food and maintaining a constant 225 to 250 degree temperature seemed rather easy to do with the three vents on the bottom of the cooker.  In addition, I didn't see any negative reviews from those who owned this smoker compared to the numerous negative reviews I had read about other smokers.

After picking up the smoker at Home Depot, I built the unit (very fast and easy... it's just attaching the legs and the internal rack holders and the top handle) and got to smoking country ribs.  I used a Weber chimney starter to get the briquettes going and within about 45 minutes, I was up and running with a decent temperature in the smoker.  I used the "minion style" of charcoal positioning to guarantee a longer burn if needed.

In the end, the country ribs achieved a nice smoke ring and flavor from the Costco rub and also apple wood chunks (three) on the Kingsford briquettes.

I'm very happy with the flavor and results.  Next?  Brisket!!

   

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Doyle Dykes at Cream City Music - Brookfield Wisconsin


Spent yesterday with my friend Jerry at a Doyle Dykes concert in Brookfield, Wisconsin! Doyle is an internationally renown guitarist currently sponsored by Godin Guitars. He could not go out with us for dinner yesterday like we usually do after his concerts, but we’ve been spending this morning texting back and forth and sharing photos with each other.

Anyway, here's a photo of him taken with my Nikon D4 and Nikon 24-70 f2.8 lens. Guitarists always close their eyes when they play!

Doyle hired me to photograph his daughter Holli's wedding many years ago. Flew me out to Chatenooga Tennessee to shoot it! The most intimate wedding I have ever shot with only 18 people (including me) at it. Family only!! I was honored to do it and finally got to meet his whole family. We are all Facebook friends today!  Click here to see some photos of the wedding!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Field Trip to The Chicago Botanic



Today's field trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden was great!  The temperature was around 62 degrees and we had nice blue skies with some nice clouds.  Students got to practice HDR, shallow depth of field shooting, setting up custom white balance and taking photos of a waterfall.  Couldn't ask for a better day!

Images taken with a Lumix DMC-LX5 camera.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother's Day!


Happy Mother's Day!

Ribs on the barbecue, getting ready for a bunch of relatives to stop by for dinner tonight!  I'll be frying up egg rolls on the wok and also frying up tofu!  The rest of the food is up to everyone else.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Three Racks of Barbecue Ribs!



Using the secret recipe of my fishing buddy, I barbecued three racks of ribs for tonight's dinner on my Weber Spirit E-310 grill! Photos are the ribs before starting the barbecue process (marinated overnight)... and the finished product! Perhaps the best ribs I've barbecued to date! 3 hours and 15 minutes grill time!

Images taken with an Apple iPhone 6s+

Dinosaurs - Milwaukee Public Museum


It's tough to be a dinosaur!  From this year's Milwaukee Public Museum field trip.  Image taken with a Lumix DMC-LX5 four thirds image sensor camera.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Backyard Umbrella Installed!



Installed an umbrella in the back yard! The black bag in front of the grill is covering a portable propane wok burner. Four 30 lb concrete slabs hold down the base of the umbrella. Two 70 lb tube sand bags reinforce the concrete slabs. That umbrella is not going anywhere!  
Now it won't be so hot when grilling or using the outdoor wok!

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

First Catch of the New Fishing Season - Kenosha Wisconsin



My fishing partner and I went to Kenosha Harbor today to try our luck at fishing again.  Last time we went, it hailed on us!  So today, we decided to arrive later in the day at 8 AM instead of our usual 5:30 AM!

Jim caught a 3 lb Brown Trout just moments after we got there.  Nice!  But I didn't get anything at all until the very last moment.

I had just said, "Hey Jim... time to go home now..." and then I followed up immediately with, "right after I catch this fish!"  Lo and behold, I had a 28" pike on my line!  Both Jim and another fisherman there were laughing that at the very moment of announcing we should leave, the fish hooked up on my line!

I released the pike because I thought the fish was not big enough.  But after checking the Wisconsin Fishing Regulations, a keeper size would be 26 inches.  Mine was 28 inches so it was legal to keep.  Oh well.  Jim kept the Brown Trout since there's no size limit on those fish.  Great day!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Blue Crabs





First time cooking Blue Crabs!

I've eaten blue crabs all my life, but I've never prepared them and cooked them myself!  I did it the Chinese way... ginger, scallions, soy sauce, water, black pepper and salt.  After cleaning the crabs, I stir-fried them in my outdoor wok.  It was a lot of fun!  Gotta do it again.

Plenty of smoke and flame generated from the wok helped give the crabs a nice "Wok Hei" flavoring.  Wok Hei means the "Breath of the Wok."  It's what gives Chinese food that restaurant quality flavor that you can't seem to get when cooking on your own stove.  Constant moving of the wok to get the flame onto the food is what creates that smoky Wok Hei flavor.

In the past few years, my interest in cooking seems to have taken off.  But I only like cooking in my cast iron skillets, dutch oven, or in this wok!  I'm a "gadgets" kind of guy in that I need gadgets to fiddle with.  These cooking tools make cooking fun for me.  If I had to just cook with regular teflon pans on a gas stove, I don't think I'd be as interested.

I like the concept of doing something that's a bit difficult for others to do.  Cooking with cast iron is relatively easy and non-stick, but unless you know how to do it properly, many people end up with food that just sticks to it.  With wok cooking, there's a technique to it as well.  If you want that Wok Hei flavor, you have to know how to do it.  I'm not 100% there yet, but I'm getting closer every time I try cooking something on the wok.  Playing with the right temperature, tossing the food with the right amount of oil and water as well as timing seems to be a key to success in wok cooking.  I'll get there eventually.

This website has a good explanation on how Wok Hei is achieved.  Click here.