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If you have a question for Doctor John, send an email to moc.oohay@nevarkeerc

January 2, 2008

Well gosh, boys and girls. We have reached 2008. I can remember when it was only 1948. (I can remember back farther than that, but I don't want to give away how old I may be.)

As the weather is still pretty cool in most parts, I don't think there will be much outdoor cooking going on. However, we do have friends and neighbors in the Great North Country who are into "sugaring." That is, they collect sap from maple trees and convert it into that delicious maple syrup. These sweet people have cookers in their backyards that they fire off and use in maple syrup season. The process is pretty much just boiling the sap until most all the water is gone and the thick syrup remains. It gets the sugarers out in the fresh air, and nearly all of them know how to avoid frostbite and other cold weather complications. Anyone who would like me to review the results of his or her sugaring can just submit a pint sample to me and I'll check it out.

Time to get in the operating room and do some good.

Kevin wants to know: How does someone earn the title "pit master"?

Hi Kevin: Sorry to keep you waiting, but I have been trying to check up on this deal. As best I can determine, "pit master" is a job title, not a degree. It refers to the person who oversees the operation of barbecue cooking. People have started calling themselves pit masters because it sounds good. That's the best I can do for you. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Anna wants gold pie plate: For Christmas, I would like to give my mom a gold pie pan to bake the perfect apple pie in. I can't seem to find one to buy, so is there a spray paint that is safe to use? We would be baking in an oven with it. Thanks!

Anna: There are paints that will withstand high temperatures. VHT has a 550 degree engine enamel that comes in Universal gold. You can find this at automotive stores or fireplace/stove shops, or online at You will have to check with the manufacturer as to whether this paint is safe of use on cooking utensils. Also, the paint has to be cured properly. Instructions should be followed to the letter. Merry Christmas and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Micky wants a smoker:I have acquired a 250-gallon oil drum. I would like to convert this into a smoker. I am stuck on the design and how to do this. Can I put the fire pit right in it, or is it best to have another barrel outside. Why or why not?

Hi Micky: You need to do some research before you start welding. Hit the library or your bookstore for information on building smokers. Better Homes and Gardens puts out a special book on the subject near every year. If you have a good barbecue cafe in town, go visit the guy who runs the smoker and ask his opinion of how things should be done. Visit some Internet sites such as to see what the commercial guys are doing. It won't take long for you to get some ideas that you can incorporate into a good working smoker.

Here's my opinion about the location of the fire box: A firebox located on the outside of the smoker gives more control of the heat and smoke and it does not take up space that could be utilized for cooking. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Charles asks about chili powder: I keep seeing chili powders that are marked "California", "sweet New Mexico", "light" or "dark". Is there a big difference between them or is it in the preparation?

Hi Charles: Chili powders can vary greatly in taste, color, heat and texture. Each type of pepper produces a different powder, and even peppers of the same variety can vary from crop to crop. Growing conditions affect the end product. The foundation powder is from the ancho, which is the dried poblano. All your chili blends start with the ancho. "California" or "New Mexico" probably refers to the location where the chile was grown and further indicates to the buyer that the product is made from peppers grown within the U.S. You just have to experiment and find the powder that best suits your needs and taste. Thanks for writing.

James wonders about peanut oil: So, how long can I keep using the peanut oil [in my deep fryer]? Six months, a year, forever? Do I need to strain it, refrigerate it? Anything else? Thanks much.

Hi James: The oil will tell you when it's ready to be replaced. It will go to smelling bad. It's a good idea to strain it through some cheesecloth after each use to get out the crumbs and stuff. I don't think you need to refrigerate it, but it wouldn't hurt anything if you did. Just keep it tightly sealed in a cool place. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Leilani writes: I am from a long line of Texans, and there was a dish I grew up with but cannot find a recipe for it anywhere. It was fried zucchini. Do you know of a good recipe?

Hi Leilani: I don't know if your recipe was just plain fried or had a coating on it. The squash (easier to spell than zucchini) can be just fried in a little butter with salt and pepper for seasoning. You can add a pinch of basil to it if you like basil. Lawry's seasoned salt is real good on plain fried squash. If you want a coating on it, you can just dredge it in plain flour or cornmeal and fry it in about a quarter inch of oil or shortening. Dipping it in egg first makes the coating stick better, but all squash contains a lot of water and tends to steam the coating off, so you have to use real hot oil and fry it quick. You can also put on bread crumbs instead of flour or cornmeal. Last but not least, you can use a batter on it. Half flour and half flat beer works good. Try them all and see which one you like best. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

From the Doctor and his staff, our wishes for the very Happiest of New Years.

If you have a question for Doctor John, send an email to moc.oohay@nevarkeerc
end article

Traditional Texas Food Articles
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