Dateline: June 1, 2003

Ask Dr. John

Another busy day in store for the doctor. The waiting room is full, so let's call in the first patient.

Genaro writes: Sir, all my life I have always wanted to prepare a pig in a pit but, living inside the San Antonio city limits, I find myself limited as to what I can do in my back yard. I do own an Outdoor Gourmet pit. This happens to be like my third one. Is there any way a person can prepare a piglet in a pit instead of in a hole in the ground and still get almost the same results? I read your articles on marinades and which ones to use with what meats. I thank you kindly for any advice you can offer me.

Genaro: You can do the piglet on the pit. The hole-in-the-ground method is just steaming the meat. On the pit:

This should make the meat falling-off-the-bones tender. Hope this works for you. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Debbie writes: Do you know if you can deep-fry a ham in a turkey fryer?

Hi Debbie: I haven't heard of anyone doing this, but I think it would work. As your ham is precooked, you would just need to fry it until it's good and warm inside. I don't have a clue as to how long that would take. I would use a meat thermometer and check to get it about 90-100 degrees inside the thickest part. I would guess about ten minutes per pound. This should make a good crust on the outside, too. Let me know how it works. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

David writes: Got any neat twists on coleslaw dressing? I love coleslaw, but get a little tired of the same ol' coleslaw dressing, such as the standard one in the recipe files on Texas Cooking and every other cooking site. I once had coleslaw at the Grist Mill over in Gruene, where their hand-lettered menu stated that the coleslaw dressing is "Not Sweet". That was good! I just figgered you knew of a good variation on the theme.

Hey Dave: I kinda like the standard dressing as long as it ain't too runny. The Kraft in a bottle works for me when I'm in a hurry. But here's something I use once in a while.

The vinegar will curdle the cream and thicken it. You'll have to adjust to get the degree or tartness you like. Don't be afraid to add other stuff you think might help. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Karen and Steve write: We were recently given a big gas grill in good condition. The grilling grates have a lot of built up gunk and rust on them. I priced new grates and the cost is over $100. How can I clean up and restore my old grill grates and save $$$$?

Hey Karen and Steve: Here we go. With the grates in place, turn all the burners wide open. Let it run that way about two hours. Cut it off and let it cool overnight. Go to the hardware store and get gloves and a putty knife and a wire brush. The heat should burn out all the grease leaving just a coat of ash that should come off rather easy. If it's really grungey you may have to repeat. When you get the grates clean, give them a light coat of vegetable oil before you use them. From then on, clean it after every use. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Kyle writes: I have been entering the brisket division in some local barbecue cook-offs, and I am tired of losing. I am entering one in Shiner, Texas, on July 4th weekend and I want to win. Tell me what I need to do.

Oh gosh Kyle: If I knew how to guarantee winning, I'd be out winning money every weekend. The hardest thing to learn about the cook-offs is that you are cooking for the judge's taste, not your own. What tastes good to you might not taste that good to the judges. You need a taster -- someone with a good sense of taste to critique your product. You are going to be biased doing your own tasting. Send your taster around to sample the product of the winning cooks. Usually a younger person has the best sense of taste.

Your brisket has to stand out in the crowd. The winning briskets have lots of salt and a good amount of cayenne. The finishing sauce should be sweet/sour. If you can afford it, cook three or four briskets, seasoning them differently. Then you can pick the best one for that day. Make your judging plate look nice. Don't just throw in some chunks. Have several full slices so the judges can see how good you took care of the brisket. If there is a lot of fat, trim most of it off.

In turning the brisket in, you either want to be first or last. The first sample always gets good marks. Some of the cook-offs spread the samples around so everyone doesn't get the first one first. Turning in later makes chances better that your sample will still be warm and has not had time to dry out.

Make sure you read and understand all the rules.

Most important is you have to believe you are going to win. You have to work on getting a winning attitude. That applies to anything you do.

Hope this helps. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

John writes: I picked up a recipe called "Three Chiles Chili" that is attributed to this cookbook. It calls for 2 Dried California Chiles and 2 Dried New Mexico Chiles. All my research says these are the same chiles, Anaheims. Can you help?

Hey John: It does get a little confusing. Most of the chiles have at least two common names depending on the locale. Use ancho pods for the "California" chiles. You should be able to find the anchos anywhere. (When they are green, they are "poblanos"). Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Shari writes: How long should you deep fry chicken in a deep fryer?

Hey Shari: With the oil at 350 degrees, it should take four or five minutes per pound to fry your chicken. I would check for doneness after four minutes. Use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. You want 160 degrees. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

If you would like to direct a question to Ask Doctor John, e-mail it to John Raven, Ph.B.