Dr. John: I received a bag of dried cherry wood ready to use in the grill. What foods would you use with cherry wood smoking? Help!

Michael R. A.

Michael: The cherry should make a mild flavor in your cooking. Would be most suitable for tender cuts and would go best with seafood, chicken, veal and especially pork loin. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John

John R. writes: I want to build an outdoor fire place/barbecue grill. I am looking to create a rectangular fireplace of which two-thirds will be for a fireplace and the other third for grilling. The grilling part will have an iron grate with some kind of mechanism (plate) below it that will raise and lower the coals to control cooking (the coals will be moved over from the fire place as needed). My biggest problem is finding this raising and lowering mechanism (plate) and grill grate. Do you have any idea who might manufacture something like this - or should I have it made. I know Fire Magic makes something like this, but it's not exactly what I am looking for. If you have any thoughts, I would appreciate it. Thanks.


Hey John: I'm running a little behind in my letters, but I eventually get to everyone. I don't know of anyone making the grill adjuster you want. I would find a local metal fabricator and tell him what you need. He would have to work with whoever builds your fireplace to make sure everything fits. The metal fabricator might have just the idea you need. Right now, go down to the place where they sell backyard grills. Some of them have devices that are rather simple for raising and lowering the firebox. You might find an idea there. Some sort of winding device with cables might also work. I saw a patent drawing for just what you are describing, but I don't know where it is now. It had a crank device over the grill with cables running down to the firebox. Who knows? You might invent something new. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John

Christopher T. writes: I am from Southampton, England. I love barbeques, but am struggling to know what is best. I would ideally like to build one, but have no idea what will produce the best results. I realize there is more to it than just the tool, but you have to start somewhere! I'd appreciate some advice. I would probably cook for a maximum of eight persons, with the majority of cooking being for my husband and me. Low maintenance is also a priority. Thank you for your help. Best wishes.

Dear Friends: The first thing I want you to do is look up http://www.smokering.net There you will find much information and links to other barbecue sites. The main page has an article on "Build your own barbecue". Some very good information there. Next I want you to come back to Texas Cooking and read my archived articles on barbecue (Barbecue 101, etc.) You will then know more about barbecue and the construction of cookers than ninety percent of the world. You will just have to decide what you want to build and do it. The only real requirements are a fireproof place to put your fire or coals, a grill to hold your food, and a lid to trap the smoke. My first barbecue was made from two old auto wheels, a sheet of tin, and the grill from an old icebox. It worked just fine. I wish you much success with your venture. Be sure and contact me anytime I can be of assistance. Thank you for writing.

Dr. John

Carl M. C. writes:

Hello kind Doctor: I need some help. I am just a young kid (25) and I am going to be entering my first cook off this year at the American Royal in Kansas City. I have a couple questions for you if you have time.

First question: I just got a New Braunfels smoker with an offset smoke box. I went through 20 pounds of charcoal and 10 pounds of wood trying to smoke an 11-pound brisket this past weekend. After all that, I still had trouble getting the darn thing up past 195 degrees. It never got to 225-250. What was I doing wrong? Do I need to keep adding wood every time the chunks burn off? Once I get it to the right temp, how do I keep it there?

Carl: Something's wrong here. I don't know which model smoker you have. I suspect all the heat is going out the smoke pipe. Does it have a damper on it? If not, put a tin can over it and see if that helps. Is there a damper on the firebox door? To get things going, you want a good airflow. And when the coals are going, you shut down the exit and the temperature should rise. For a good smoke, you close both dampers. You regulate the heat with the firebox damper.

Next question: What should I be looking to do just to place in the top 50-100 in my first cook off?

You have a good start in that you have enough time to practice. It may mean cooking something every weekend. I don't remember what all they cook at the Royal. If you enter several categories, you will probably have to get another pit as you will need different cooking temperature/style for each. The Brinkman or Weber water smokers are not all that expensive and do a good job. Get a set of rules and read and understand them. You will notice that flavor gets the most points. A good presentation helps a lot, too. You want the meat to be tender but not mushy. Don't try anything exotic. Keep it plain and simple. The only real secret that I can give is to use plenty of salt. When it has as much salt as you think it needs, put on some more. Get a copy of Paul Kirk's sauce book. And, if you can find one, get a copy of Smoky Hale's Great American BBQ Book. Keep me posted on results. I always like to know if I help anyone. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John

Deborah S. writes:

Dr. John: I recently moved back to Washington state after many years in Bakersfield, California. I became quite a fan of deep pit beef from some of the local restaurants (oven cooked) and, of course, a few friends that cooked it the ol' fashioned way (in a pit). I'm really missing that fall-apart, melt-in-your-mouth beef and am hoping you can give me a recipe and tell me the best cut of beef to use for it. At one time I heard of a recipe that had you wrap the beef in a couple of brown paper bags and cook it for many hours at a low temperature, but I don't recall enough of it. Thanks.

Hi, Debbi: I'm not real sure what Bakersfield deep pit beef is or how it's done. You can get nearly any meat falling apart tender if you cook it long enough. Here's something for you to try: Get a roast of your choice. A good arm chuck would be a good place to start. Season the roast with lemon-pepper seasoning and slice up a big white onion. Wrap the roast and onion in a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and seal it real good. Wrap it again and make sure it's sealed. Put it in a 350-degree oven for about twenty minutes and then turn the heat down to 250. Let it cook for at least four hours. This should make it falling apart tender. If it's still not tender enough to suit you, cook the next one a little longer. Be very careful when you unwrap it. The foil will be full of steaming hot juice. Save the juice to go over the roast after you slice it. It may need some salt to suit your taste. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John