Saturday, June 14, 2008

Peoples Choice BBQ - Specialty Sausage

2008 Peoples Choice BBQ Awards – Specialty Sausage

‘Specialty’ is the category for exotic sausage that doesn’t fit into the ‘standard’ or ‘hot’ category. There is certainly some overlap here, as both the Merguez and Tejano could easily fit into the ‘hot’ category and the South African Boerewors might fall into the ‘standard’ category for its taste, if not history.

This was the most populous category, by far. Because of this we are going to list the top five finishers. Oddly, we also had two ties in this category. A special note of appreciation goes to both Uli’s Famous Sausage and Poche’s Sausage. They dominated the category with multiple sausages placing in the top 5.

1st TIE Uli’s Famous Sausage –Merguez-

I have no idea what this signifies, but this sausage garnered the most amazing smoke ring I’ve ever seen. It was smoked at 225 for about 45 minutes. The sausage was a bit spicy, but offered a lingering; low level heat. The sausage was moist and made from lamb and beef. The initial heat, although fairly strong, had a distinct flavor of its own. Quite often the heat in sauces and sausages will be just that. Heat. There won’t be an accompanying flavor profile. If you are looking for a sausage that offers a unique flavor profile, layered heat and a moist without oily experience; this is for you.

1st TIE Poche’s Sausage –Duck and Chicken

I was completely surprised that this was as popular as it was. I would have thought that the flavors and meats closest to standard sausages would have been the highest rated. The flavors in this sausage are distinct and delicate. There are sausages that should be devoured and sausages that should be savored. This sausage would be a fine accompaniment to a great wine and should be savored slowly.

2nd TIE Meyer’s Elgin -Tejano Mexican-
This sausage had considerable heat. The heat was completely integrated in the sausage and didn’t suffer from ‘pockets’ of spice. I expected the flavors to be identical to their jalapeno cheese variety without the cheese. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the flavor was distinct. The sausage had an odd ‘clean’ taste to it that I credit to the lack of artificial ingredients.

2nd TIE Uli’s Famous Sausage - South African Boerewors-

Although I wasn’t a judge and my opinions weren’t what mattered here, this was one of my favorite sausages. It’s clear when a master of his art is working. Similar to the best of other sausages, this was layered with flavor. It seems that this is no easy matter with meats. On a few occasions I’ve had chicken sausages that offer the distinct and clean flavors offered here, but I’ve rarely had that pleasure with a sausage that is made from beef and pork.

3rd Poche’s Sausage – Pork and Crawfish –

4th Poche’s Sausage – Alligator and Pork –

5th Aidells – Cajun Style Anduille -

Check back Monday for the listing of the manufacturers with the highest aggregate scores. After a break of a few days we will start the 2008 Peoples Choice BBQ Awards for sauce.


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Friday, June 13, 2008

Peoples Choice BBQ: Hot Sausage

2008 Peoples Choice BBQ Awards – Hot Sausage

Today we are covering the sausage in the ‘hot’ category. As a refresher, we had literally dozens of sausages that were entered in the contest. The entries ran the gamut of ubiquitous sausage found in every grocery in the nation to exotic mail order specialties.

As this is the Peoples Choice BBQ Awards, our evaluators were ‘every day folk’ who enjoy cooking in the backyard but would never think to attend or enter a BBQ competition.

1st - Poche's Hot Sausage

As I wasn’t one of the tasters I had mistakenly believed that Poche’s would excel in the specialty category. Ok, I was only half wrong. They did indeed place well with more than one entry in the specialty category, but their expertise is clearly not limited to the eclectic and the off the beaten path. This shouldn’t have been a surprise as they have a strong Cajun influence, but their hot sausage is fantastic.

2nd - Southside Market Elgin Hot

For two days in a row, Southside Market has come in the top two with their sausage. With their hot sausage I’m not sure if it is just the flavor profile that has won them success. Southside seems to put an emphasis on quality and avoids the pitfalls of other manufacturers. They have no ‘weak spots’. The flavor and heat is consistent where some sausages have ‘spikes’ where the spices aren’t properly distributed. The sausage is moist while not being greasy. The heat level is potent without overpowering the other flavors.

3rd - Meyers Elgin Cheese Jalapeno

This is a new product for Meyers and I’m not sure when it will be available for mail order. When it is, buy some. It’s that simple. This sausage was excellent. It’s a nice counterpart to their Tejano sausage with the cheese offering a nice counterpart to the jalapeno.

Check back for the next category tomorrow and look for the overall highest rated sausages at the end of the series. Following the Peoples Choice Awards coverage we will be featuring articles on some of the manufacturers in an effort to explain why and how they provide superior sausage.


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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Peoples Choice BBQ - Standard Sausage

2008 Peoples Choice BBQ Awards – Standard Sausage

The first category is the Standard Sausage selection. This and the Specialty Sausage categories had the most entries. After evaluating dozens of sausages from different regions and with different styles the top three finishers in the Standard category are:

1st Meyers Elgin Sausage – Garlic

This was one of the highest rated sausage of all the categories. The garlic taste was mild enough to be enjoyed without overpowering the flavor of the meat. An excellent sausage that was enjoyed by all participants, regardless of palette or background.

2nd Southside Market – Jalapeno Cheddar

Southside Market had some of the highest aggregate scores of the sausages presented and when you taste this sausage the reason for their success is clear. The flavors were beautifully melded. No one taste overpowered the others. The jalapeno flavor was enjoyable without having too intensive a heat.

3rd Altengartz Bratwurst

The common theme from the tasters was that this is what you think of when you think of sausage. The flavor profile is exactly online with the best of sausages with a quality that you can’t find elsewhere. It’s almost as if you took what you had in your mind as the iconic sausage and then ramped up the quality to the nth degree. This is what you envision when you want sausage but sadly never get what you envision.

Check back for the next category tomorrow and look for the overall highest rated sausages at the end of the series.

Thanks to my wonderful nieces for the photos and labels.


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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

2008 Peoples Choice BBQ Awards

2008 Peoples Choice BBQ Awards

The tasting and evaluation party for the 2008 Peoples Choice BBQ Awards was held on May 31st. The invitations were extended to over one hundred people that were fans of BBQ, but would not be considered enthusiasts. Our goal was to determine what the ‘every day person’ prefers when it comes to backyard ‘Q.

As you may be aware, most contests employ serious BBQ enthusiasts to evaluate the entries. In general I am in support of these efforts. Unfortunately this process ignores the majority of the people that purchase sausage. If you are catering to a highly selective minority, this is definitely the way to go. On the other hand, our goal was to find out what the other 95% of the population has to say.

Our criterion for the products entered was fairly simple. You had to be able purchase the product regardless of where you lived. For the most part, we succeeded in obtaining a diverse and eclectic collection of products. Some were mail-order, some were nationally known products and some were locally manufactured but found in select nationwide chains.

We had two products that were being evaluated, sausage and BBQ sauce. With a guest list as large as ours we wanted to ensure that people wouldn’t be going hungry. We supplemented the food to be voted on with ABT’s (see previous article), smoked beef ribs and other standards. Unfortunately, that wasn’t necessary. We had torrential rainstorms that day and there were even reports of a tornado touching down nearby. Not very conducive to a day of BBQ’ing. Our guest list was cut almost in half.

We divided the products up into three categories: standard, hot and specialty. Our sausage ran the gamut of Jimmy Dean to Poche’s pork and alligator. The sauces ranged from $2.00 bottles of Kraft from our local grocery to specialty mail order sauces that are almost completely unknown outside of the world of the BBQ cognoscenti.

For the next three days we will be listing the top placers in each of the three categories for the sausage. We will take a few days off from the awards coverage and then do the same for the sauces.

There were a few sausages that received very high marks but didn’t make it amongst the highest rated. I would like to commend Aidells, Trader Joes, Karl Ehmer’s and Premio for making outstanding sausages.

We will be following this up in the fall with the inverse in judging. The tasting will all be done by Certified BBQ Judges and the reviewing process will be considerably more strenuous.

Check back here tomorrow for the ‘standard’ category in sausages.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Apple BBQ: Blackjack BBQ and Demos

Big Apple BBQ – Pulled Pork and Demos

Each of the vendors at the Big Apple BBQ had a substantial crew working with them, and it was needed. Most of the locations had a BBQ assembly line going with entree and sides being punched out en masse. At times during the day I would wipe the sweat from my brow and indulge in a bit of self pity. I was out there in near 100 degree weather and it wasn’t getting cooler any time soon. When I realized that a significant amount of the people working behind the counters were volunteers it helped to put things in perspective. They had to have been much hotter than I was and they couldn’t relax and enjoy themselves.

The ‘FastPass’ lines were a bit of a misnomer. There was nothing fast about them. They were faster than the lines for the general public, but you could still expect a ten minute wait on the deeper lines. I truly felt bad for the people on the ‘regular’ lines. I would estimate that some people were waiting over half an hour for their food.

Thankfully the event included some great bands that provided live music. There were speakers spread-out throughout the park so that the music was pleasant but not obtrusive. In addition to the bands, there were also lectures, demonstrations and book signings to go along with the BBQ.

The demonstrations were sponsored by ‘Every Day With Rachel Ray’ and were run by their editors who did an admirable job of preparing and explaining numerous traditional BBQ side dishes. In about an hour they prepared collard greens, hush puppies, sweat tea and baked beans. Samples were plentiful and the servers were polite and informative. The hush puppies were nice but could have been a bit sweater. The collards were truly excellent. The beans were a bit bland. The hosts did an excellent job. They were entertaining, clear in their instructions and made each item seem ‘doable’ for the home cook.

Wandering through the event were representatives of sponsors and various street teams for manufacturers such as alka-seltzer. Representatives of the avocado agricultural board were an event sponsor and they were handing out samples of a delicious chilled avocado soup.

I was able to try three different vendors who prepared pulled pork. The first was BlackJack BBQ. I’m not sure what the exact affiliation is, but I believe that they are the competition team that represents the Food for the Southern Soul food consortium. When I mentioned in the previous article that I was astonished that vendors were able to produce competition quality food in that environment, this is what I was talking about.

The pulled pork was moist, held onto its physical integrity (as opposed to pork that disintegrates when it has been overcooked or has been sitting too long in a steamer). I didn’t notice a smoke ring, but a lack of a smoke ring in pulled pork is not really indicative of anything. It’s a nice visual clue that things were probably smoked properly, but there is so much depth to the meat from the shoulder that it can easily be missed.

If you are a regular reader you will know that I’m a fan of mustard sauces. The sauce on the sandwich I had was excellent. I wish that I had the opportunity to purchase a bottle for an official review, but what I tried was great. I hope that it is indicative of what their bottled sauce offers. It was tangy without too much tartness. It had an excellent balance of flavors and most importantly, it highlighted instead of masked the flavor of the pork.

The people working at the booth were extremely friendly and had a smile on in spite of the heat and hard work. Jimmy Hagood is the owner of Blackjack Barbecue and Food for the Southern Soul. He should be extremely proud of the product that he put out and the crew he had working for him.

Jimmy will be on the Today show on June 23rd. The show is doing a three day series on BBQ and will be showing contrasting regional styles. I’ll be tuning in hoping to grab the sauce recipe.

You can visit Blackjack Barbecue and Food for the Southern Soul at

Thanks to Ashton Saber for the photos


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Monday, June 9, 2008

Big Apple BBQ: Brunswick Stew

BIG APPLE BBQ: Brunswick Stew

The Home of BBQ doesn't cover local events or restaurants. In this case we are making an exception, as the Big Apple BBQ brought in pitmasters from Texas, Alabama, South Carolina and other areas of the country.

The 6th annual Big Apple BBQ was held over the weekend of June 7th and 8th. Attendance estimates were at roughly 120,000 visitors. Held in the middle of Manhattan, this was a huge event.

I have to admit that I went expecting a spectacle as opposed to true 'Q. With roughly 14 vendors attempting to feed 120,000 people, I anticipated a BBQ factory with mass produced, low-end food. I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent quality of what was being produced.

I'll go into more detail in the next posting, but I wanted to start off with the Brunswick Stew. Similar to Burgoo, Brunswick Stew is a regional delicacy rarely found outside of the south. Proclamation Stew Crew brought their delicious stew into New York City and fed tens of thousands of yankees over the course of two days. This was my first time having the dish and I couldn't be happier that I gave it a shot.

-Notice the huge cauldron being fed with the tremendous hose to make enough stew for all the New Yorkers-

With potatoes, chicken, onions and lima beans all putting in an appearance, the stew was a hit in spite of the heat being in the high 90's.

The members of the Crew Stew that were on hand couldn't be more friendly.Here is the recipe that they were providing to the public:

5.5 lbs deboned chicken
6 oz fatback (ground or chopped)
4 lbs white potatoes
2.5 lbs yellow onions (chopped)
1.5 qts crushed tomatoes
2.5 qts lima beans
1.5 qts white corn
1 stick margarine
1/4 oz black pepper*
1/4 oz red pepper*
1.5 oz salt*
1.5 oz sugar*

*Season to taste

Prepare your onions and potatoes ahead of time to allow for continuous stirring. Continuous stirring is necessary to assure the thick consistency to make a stew as opposed to a soup.

Put the chicken and fatback in the pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and cook until the chicken starts to come apart; add potatoes, onions and 1/4 of seasonings. Bring back to a boil and cook until the potatoes are soft; add tomatoes and 1/4 of seasonings. Bring back to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Add drained lima beans and 1/4 seasonings. Bring back to a boil and cook until lima beans are soft. Add corn, margarine and balance of seasonings. Cook about 10 - 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Thanks to Ashton Saber for the photo.


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Friday, June 6, 2008

REVIEW: Chile Grill and Corer

Chile Grill and Corer
: Iron Desert
Overall Quality: ****

I’m a bit old fashioned and set in my ways. Why change something that works? New fangled contraptions are great for some people, but I’m becoming a curmudgeon that sits in a rocker on my front porch talking about how great things used to be. Where is this going and why should you care? Well, I recently had the chance to try out some equipment specifically made for the creation of ABT’s.

As we have discussed in the past, ABT’s are jalapeƱos that have been cored, stuffed (usually with a cheese mixture), wrapped in bacon and smoked. These delicious appetizers are a staple for BBQ enthusiasts and can be found at most get-togethers. I’ve been making ABT’s for quite a while and using various recipes for the stuffing. I thought that I had a solid technique and I was under the impression that I had some skills. Notice the past tense.

I received a jalapeno corer and a holder from Iron Desert and I used them for the tasting party at the 2008 Peoples Choice BBQ Awards. Using the equipment from Iron Desert is like stepping up from a sporty family car to a porche. My usual method of preparation is to use a small, thin knife to core the pepper, lance four of them on a stick used for kabobs and place the stick on an aluminum pan. Works well, no problems.

I will never, ever make them that way again. The coring knife removes the seeds and immediate inner layer of the pepper with ease and efficiency. Look at the accompanying photos and notice how clean the inside of the peppers are. There was no going back and re-coring the peppers if I missed an area. No problems with removing seeds. It was a one time rotation of the pepper and you’re done.

The grill holds the peppers nicely and most importantly, it’s convenient. There is no slipping, no mess, no attempting to balance the peppers on the stick. The grill allows the peppers to be entered and removed easily. It’s not out of place to mention that the grill is also a much more attractive holder for the pepper than other methods. If aesthetics at your party matter, this is the way to go. The grill is durable and washes easily.

The grills are available in various sizes (holding different amounts of peppers) and shapes (such as states). They are available via mail-order from Iron Desert.

I can’t recommend these products highly enough. This equipment belongs in every BBQ’rs repertoire.

I also have their ABT recipe cookbook and I will be using those recipes and commenting on them at a later date.


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Monday, June 2, 2008

Ramblings: BBQ Nomenclature

BBQ Nomenclature

Like most niche hobbies, BBQ has a language that is employed by its enthusiasts. These terms, labels and phrasings are often as foreign as ancient Hittite to the outsider. In general, that’s not a problem. If you aren’t part of that clique, you have no need to familiarize yourself the terminology. Unfortunately, it may seem a bit byzantine for the person moving from occasional griller to BBQ hobbyist.

We are going to have a series of articles that we will entitle our BBQ Lexicon. These articles will have roughly six BBQ specific terms each and will provide a basic definition for each. While serious enthusiasts will have these terms as part of their existing vocabulary, we hope that this Lexicon will help those that are new to the hobby and will foster their enthusiasm.

Each installment will attempt to have at least one entry dealing with equipment and one dealing with a type of food.

Let’s start at the beginning:

– Cooking over a high heat, usually over open flames. Best suited for steaks, burgers and the like.

BBQ – Cooking at a low heat for a long time. BBQ is usually prepared using wood based fuels and is cooked using indirect heat (see below).

Indirect Heat – The use of heat that is not directly exposed to the food. Devices for providing indirect heat include welded plates in offset smokers that conduct the heat and smoke away from the food to something as simple as arraying the heating source (such as coals) on one end of the grill and the food on the other.

ABT – A jalapeƱo pepper that has been cored, stuffed with a mixture (usually cream cheese based), wrapped in bacon and cooked in a smoker for a considerable amount of time. The variety of ABT styles is staggering when you consider how simple the basic recipe is. The heat is reduced by the removal of the seeds and the core, allowing even the more delicate palettes to enjoy this dish.

Fatty – A sausage that has been removed from it’s casing, stuffed with other ingredients (such as cheese or hard boiled eggs), seasoned and smoked.

Offset Smoker
– Offset smokers are found in the ‘cost effective’ and the expensive variety. The smokers found in most chains and retail for under $250.00 and are usually simple affairs that require more attention than higher end versions (as you might expect). These smokers usually have two barrel shaped areas, one that holds the food and one that holds the fuel. The area holding the fuel is the smaller of the two and is often called the firebox. The two barrels are horizontal, lending these smokers a visual that is similar to the typical backyard grill.


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