Monthly Archives: July 2011

App Review: GrillStar – BBQ Timer and Guide

In addition to being a BBQ and grilling fanatic, I’m also a bit of a techno junkie.  It comes with the territory of working as a web and software developer during the day.  So when asked if I wanted to try out a grilling app, who am I to refuse?  So let’s dive in and take a look at GrillStar — BBQ Timer and Guide.  It’s available for 99 cents in the Apple App Store.

GrillStar Initial Screen

GrillStar Initial Screen (on the iPad)

The premise of GrillStar is to have the user emulate on the app exactly what he or she is doing on the grill, and GrillStar accomplishes this by presenting its primary interface as grill grates.  There are three different zones presented — a sear zone (denoted with a red background), a direct heat zone (yellow/orange background), and an indirect heat zone (black background).  These zones can be toggled on and off as well as be adjusted in size.

Adjustable heat zones

Adjustable heat zones

To add a meat to the grill, click the “Add” button at the bottom right corner of the app.  You’re then presented with a graphical interface to allow you to choose between traditional meats, seafood, and vegetables.  After making your selection, you can choose from various items to place on your virtual grill.  When you make your selection, you’ll be presented with the screen below.

Selected item screen

Selected item screen

From here, you can name the particular piece of meat you’re about to cook, set the flip timer (in minutes) and done timer (in minutes), and add it to the grill.  Not sure how long to set the timers?  That’s okay too.  Just click “Ask GrillStar”, and you will be given suggestions for flip and done times (as well as temperature at which to cook).  You can either accept the suggestions by the app or edit them for your food.

"Ask GrillStar" screen

"Ask GrillStar" screen

After adding items to your grill, just click and drag them onto the grill grates to start the timers for each item.  When it’s time to flip or to pull off the grill, you’ll get both visual and audio notification that time is up.  To flip an item, just double-tap on it and select “Flip item”.  To remove an item (or edit its settings), press and hold on the item until a context menu appears.

Here are five things that, in my opinion, make this app stand out from other apps:

  • Each item on the grill has its own timer, so multiple items can be timed at once.
  • The timers continue to run in the background even after closing the app.
  • There is a very good selection of meats and vegetables available in the area to choose your item to put on the grill.
  • You can “add a minute” or “add two minutes” to items already placed on the grill.
  • Even though the app is meant for the iPhone/iPod Touch, the app’s graphics upscale adequately for the iPad.
GrillStar (on iPad, upscaled graphics)

GrillStar (on iPad, upscaled graphics)

Here are two things that would add significant value (in my opinion) to the app if implemented:

  • Add the ability to take multiple items ready to be put on the grill and automatically schedule  when to place them on the grill so that everything comes off at the same time.
  • Add the ability for a user to add his or her own meats to the app to choose from.

For 99 cents, this app is a steal!  It has many features that make the app worth more.  If you are grilling multiple items and need to track when to flip each item, then this app is a must-have for your iDevice!

Review: Hubba Hubba Smokehouse — Flat Rock, NC

One of my favorite blogs to follow is Kevin’s BBQ Joints.  Earlier this year, I was reading a blog post talking about the favorite BBQ joints of Amy Mills Tunnicliffe.  When I saw Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Flat Rock, NC mentioned, my first thought was, “Hey, that’s close to my in-laws!”  Well this past weekend, my father-in-law and I decided to give it a shot.

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse

If you’re not keeping your eye out as you drive, you may very well miss this joint!  It is set off the road behind a collection of shops and eateries in Flat Rock, NC.  There is no indoor seating — instead, there are multiple outdoor seats available ranging from picnic tables to covered seating areas.  Ordering is done at one window, and food is picked up from the other.  One thing that gave me encouragement was the big woodpile.  According to the website for the smokehouse, they are supposedly one of only 30 wood-fired smokehouses in the state of North Carolina.

The wood pile

The wood pile

Watch out for the chickens!

Watch out for the chickens!

Both my father-in-law and I decided to order the pork plate — I ordered mine with cole slaw and potato salad, while he ordered his with cole slaw and baked beans.

Pulled Pork with Cole Slaw and Potato Salad

Pulled Pork with Cole Slaw and Potato Salad

The pulled pork had good flavor.  It was not overly smoky, and I could actually taste the meat and not some sauce.  The one word to describe the slaw — fresh.  The slaw had very little liquid base and almost consisted entirely of veggie goodness.  The potato salad had a very interesting flavor — it was a blend of a white potato salad and a classic yellow potato salad.

While ordering, I saw a slew of sauces at the counter (try saying that 3 times fast…).  I decided to get a sample of each and give them a shot.

The Sauces

The Sauces (from L to R: original, mustard, vinegar, chipotle, tomatillo)

I was expecting the tomato sauce to be a little bit sweeter, but it tasted fine by itself.  It gave the pork a little more flavor as well.  The mustard-based sauce is your classic SC mustard sauce and would work well on a pulled pork sandwich.  The vinegar sauce holds true to the eastern Carolina style vinegar based sauce.  The chipotle had a nice smoky kick to it — not overpowering, but enough to balance out the flavors.  The tomatillo sauce was interesting — it reminded me of some grilling sauces I’ve had in the past in terms of its fresh taste.

All in all, I enjoyed the trip to Hubba Hubba Smokehouse and would not hesitate to return there again.

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse is located at 2724 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock, NC 28731.  Their website is http://www.hubbahubbasmokehouse.com/, and they can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Review: Country Chef Grilling Sauces

I have tried many sauces that, when I taste them, unequivocally fall within a specific genre of sauce (and often do a great job of it too).  Then there are those sauces that defy being labeled as a certain type.  Today I present to you 2 of the Country Chef Grilling Sauces.

Country Chef Grilling Sauces (Original on left, Chipotle on right)

Country Chef Grilling Sauces (Original on left, Chipotle on right)

Mike Espey, the brains behind the Country Chef Grilling Sauces, touts the way that his sauces go beyond the traditional BBQ sauce. His sauces can be used as a traditional BBQ sauce, as a grilling sauce, as a dipping sauce, and even as a marinade.

He has six different sauces available, but today’s review focuses on two of those sauces — original and chipotle.  Now… on to the sauces!

Naked Observations

The first thing I noticed about these sauces is they come in a canning style jar instead of the traditional sauce bottle.  This lends credence to the feel of a home-style sauce.  I opened each of the sauces to take a sniff, and both of the sauces smelled absolutely fresh, as if the ingredients in the sauce literally came out of my garden just moments ago!

The sauces

The sauces (original on left, chipotle on right)

Both of the sauces are similar in color.  They both have an irregular texture that is indicative of fresh ingredients.  A taste of each of the sauces confirms that freshness and homemade taste.  The chipotle sauce has a touch of smoky flavor from the chipotle peppers used as well as some back heat in the sauce.

To the Meat of the Matter

As I see this as an non-traditional sauce, I decided to use it in a little different manner.  Normally I would use a sauce in the last minutes of grilling a meat.  However, I decided to take one of Mike’s recommendations and use the sauces as dipping sauces.  I had some leftover rotisserie chicken that I re-heated and wrapped in a spinach wrap.

Chicken wrap and the sauces (original on left, chipotle on right)

Chicken wrap and the sauces (original on left, chipotle on right)

When used as a dipping sauce, the flavors of the meat really sparkled and stood out!  The flavors were absolutely fresh and did not weigh down the food at all.  The chipotle sauce added an extra smoky and heat element to the chicken wrap.

I highly recommend these two sauces for use as a dipping sauce.  They would also work great on chicken and pork as well.

KCBS Judging Escapades: SC Festival of Discovery

I was really excited when I found out that I had been selected to judge at the SC Festival of Discovery.  There were several reasons for this…

  1. I knew this competition had been featured on Food Network, so it’s a very well known competition.
  2. As a result of it being a very well known competition, there would surely be some big names in competition BBQ present at the competition.
  3. Who needs another reason?  It’s BBQ!
The competition was the largest that I have judged to date, so I was a bit nervous about it.  My worst fear was that it was going to be absolute chaos and totally disorganized.  However, my fears were soon put to rest.  There were 4 different representatives present (including one member of the Board of Directors), and the event coordinator did a spectacular job keeping everything organized so that we could concentrate on judging.  
Sometimes the entries are hit and miss, and sometimes everything is outstanding.  Today was one of those days where the majority of entries to our table was excellent.  There were a couple of entries that slightly disappointed me, but overall I left very full!
After the contest, I decided to walk around for a bit and try to chit-chat with some of the teams.  Two of the teams I got to talk to for an extended period of time were QUAU and Lotta Bull BBQ.  I’m sure that after a long day, the last thing they wanted to do was to talk to a judge who is also a blogger.  However, both teams were very pleasant to talk with, and I certainly appreciated that!
I’m already looking forward to putting in my application for this contest next year!
The overall top 10 results are below.  You can view the overall results on the KCBS website.
  1. Lotta Bull BBQ
  2. QUAU
  3. Holy Smokes
  4. Pickin’ Porkers
  5. Wicked Que
  6. Killer B’s BBQ
  7. Pig Whisperers
  8. SMOKE THIS
  9. Pack-A-Smokes
  10. Screamin Nite Hog BBQ
 Before I left, I was able to get a couple of photos (although not as many as I wanted).  Check ‘em out below!

Contests Abound!

Even after the Fourth of July weekend, there are still several BBQ giveaways going on.  Because I want you to win, I’m putting together a list of active contests for you to enter.  So enter away!

  • Kevin’s BBQ Joints is teaming up with Man Up: Tales of Texas BBQ to do a giveaway courtesy of Snow’s BBQ.  Prizes include a brisket, sausage, and BBQ gear.  Find out more about the contest here.
  • There’s a very nice bundle being offered up as a prize by Cyndi Allison on her blog.  The prize bundle includes BBQ tools, Guy Fieri BBQ sauces, and more!  Enter today.
  • Fishful Thinking is running a contest right now.  The prize?  A Stubb’s BBQ Sauce Gift Pack worth $30.  Enter today!
  • BBQ Sauce Reviews runs a weekly giveaway, usually of a recently reviewed BBQ sauce.  This week the giveaway features Jack Stack BBQ Sauces and Rubs.  The contest usually starts at noon EST, so check here for more information.
Is there a contest that I did not list?  Please let me know in the comments below, and I’ll get it added ASAP!

My First Taste of Texas Brisket from Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse

First off, Happy Independence Day to everyone!  I recently won a giveaway sponsored by Man Up: Tales of Texas BBQ.  The grand prize was a BBQ feast courtesy of Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse which consisted of a 4-6 lb brisket and lots and lots of sausage.  My wife and I decided to try out the brisket.

The brisket

The brisket

The brisket was shipped in a Styrofoam cooler.  I’m not sure if it was packed on dry ice or using some other form of cooling, mainly because my wife received the package.  The brisket is hickory smoked, seasoned, and fully cooked (only needing to heat it up).

Brisket out of the package

Brisket out of the package

Here were the steps I followed to reheat the brisket:

  1. Preheated the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lined a 9×13 casserole dish with aluminum foil and placed the brisket fat side up in the pan.
  3. Added 1/4 cup water over the brisket.
  4. Sealed the casserole dish with another large piece of aluminum foil.
  5. Placed the casserole dish in the oven to cook for 50 minutes at 375 degrees.  The package indicates to cook for 50-60 minutes for a 4-6 lb brisket.
Brisket prior to cooking/reheating

Brisket prior to cooking/reheating

When I took the brisket out of the oven, it smelled wonderful!

Finished brisket

Finished brisket

Slices of heaven

Slices of heaven

My wife and I were both a bit concerned that the meat was going to be tough.  It was anything but tough!  The brisket was very tender and flavorful, chock full of pepper and everything good about Texas brisket!  The only snafu about the whole meal was that I sliced the first few slices with the grain instead of against the grain.  But that’s what happens when an ignorant North Carolinian gets a hold of Texas BBQ.

So in short…  best brisket I’ve ever eaten.  Hands down!  Tonight I’ll be trying out the jalapeno and cheese sausage.

The restaurant for Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse is located at 188 Highway 290, Elgin, TX 78621 (approximately 24 miles east of Austin, TX).  Their website is http://www.cuetopiatexas.com, and their products are available for online purchase here.  You can also find Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse on Facebook and Twitter.

Best Of: Independence Day Edition

Whew!  It’s a hot one here in the Carolinas here this weekend.  Hope all of you being hit with the heat are staying cool and hydrated.  If not, take a few minutes, cool off, and check out some of these stories…

  • What are some of the great truths about BBQ?  Add yours to this blog post courtesy of Larry Gaian.  Who knows, if it’s good enough, you may get a prize…
  • My wife pointed me to this really good article on the Charlotte Observer website this morning that talks about some of the NC BBQ joints that still cook the old-fashioned way.
  • Some time back, I wrote a small piece on why members of the BBQ community should embrace social media.  Here is a great piece by Kevin Kelly outlining four different tips to maximize social media presence.
  • The crazy folks at BarBQBoozers got Gary Glen on board for a guest blog post about beef short ribs.  Now I’m getting hungry!
  • Tired of screwing up a good boneless pork chop on the grill?  Check out this easy-to-follow article from Cyndi Allison on how to grill perfect chops every time!

Review: Jake’s Good Eats — Charlotte, NC

As far as restaurants go, this is a departure from the typical restaurant that I would review on here.  However, after seeing Jake’s Good Eats featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and  Dives”, I knew I would have to check it out (especially since it’s located within a 10 minute drive of my house).  After months of mentioning it to my wife, I finally convinced her to go to dinner there last night.

Jake's Good Eats -- Guy Ate There

Jake's Good Eats -- Guy Ate There

Jake’s Good Eats is located in a building that was originally built as a Gulf filling station in 1929.  The restaurant opened in 2008 and has quite a loyal following, especially among local residents.  Much of the original structure of the building is still in use, and the restaurant’s decor is perfectly accented to give diners the feeling of going back in time.

The menu is a blend of old Southern and new Southern cuisine, with such offerings as fried green tomatoes and crawfish/shrimp etouffee.  Their most well-known items are the venison quesadilla appetizer and maple-glazed pork chop entree.  Entrees are served after 5pm, while the lunch menu is available all day.  Entrees range from $8 for a vegetable plate to $23 for a New York strip steak, while lunch items are priced from $4 to $9.

Now… on to the food porn!  Heather and I decided to split the spinach and artichoke dip appetizer.

Spinach and artichoke dip

Spinach and artichoke dip

The dip itself was not too heavy or rich, and the spinach was very fresh!  The homemade tortilla chips were absolutely delicious, and both my wife and I concluded that we could have made an appetizer on just the chips alone.

We both decided to order from the lunch menu on this visit.  I went with the BBQ plate with white slaw and homemade chips, while Heather ordered the cheeseburger “all the way” with chili, mustard, and onions.  (Slaw is also available, but she requested no slaw).

BBQ pork plate with slaw and homemade chips

BBQ pork plate with slaw and homemade chips

Cheeseburger "all the way" with chips

Cheeseburger "all the way" with chips

My wife kept on saying “Mmmmm, that’s good!” with each bite of her cheeseburger, so I’m going to guess that she liked her meal.  The BBQ plate — -chopped pork with an Eastern Carolina style vinegar sauce — was excellent in flavor.  There was not very much smoke in it, but I did not expect there to be much smoke.  The slaw was very fresh and not overly heavy, a perfect complement with the pork.

We also splurged for dessert.  I ordered the banana pudding, and she ordered a slice of chocolate and almond butter mousse pie.

Banana Pudding

Banana Pudding

Chocolate and almond butter mousse pie

Chocolate and almond butter mousse pie

In one word: WOW!  Both desserts were very rich and delightful.  I started out with the banana pudding, and Heather had the pie.  About halfway through, we ended up switching desserts.  Either way, it was a winning proposition.  If I had one complaint to make about Jake’s Good Eats, it’s that there were several flies in the dining room that kept irritating us throughout our meal.

As we were walking out to the car, my wife turned to me and said, “You did a bad thing, Wayne, by showing me this place.”  That pretty much sums up our feelings on Jake’s Good Eats, as we will definitely be returning to dine here again.

Jake’s Good Eats is located at 12721 Albemarle Rd., Charlotte, NC 28227.  Their hours are from Tuesday thru Thursday from 11am until 9pm.  On Friday and Saturday, they are open from 11am until 2:30pm and from 5pm until 9pm.  Their website is http://www.jakesgoodeats.com.

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