The good Doctor had many patients with serious problems this month. Let's get to them.

Phaedra writes:

I am new at this art of smoking meat. I am wanting to smoke a brisket and plan to follow your recipe. The question I have is about the fire. What is the best kind of wood? I have used mesquite and found I do not care for it too much. It seemed bitter. But this is my problem -- I have tried a couple types of wood and it all seemed bitter. Why is this?

The first Phaedra I ever got a letter from. There used to be a song about Phaedra. I think maybe Nancy Sinatra had something to do with it.

Back to the smoker. Mesquite will make a mess if you don't do it right. The wood has to be completely dry. It should sit in the wood pile for two years. It's the oils out of the wood that give the bitter taste.

Any of your aromatic woods will give that bitter taste if they aren't dry. Also, you can over-smoke things. About an hour of cold smoke is enough for anything. (Cold smoke is a lot of smoke with low temperature in the smoker.) I prefer oak for my smoking. And pecan has a very mild, sweet taste -- very good for fowl or fish.

You want to avoid having any flames in your smoker. You want just clean coals.

Also, keep the grills and the inside of your smoker clean. The black stuff that builds up is condensed smoke.

I hope this helps. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John

Nonie writes:

Hi. I am from Pennsylvania, and I want to do beef ribs or a roast on a wood fire, BUT I do not want a tomato-based sauce. I want to taste beef and butter, salt and pepper. I want to impress my friends with melt-in-your-mouth flavor. Please tell me what to do.

Hi, Nonie. This is one of those questions the Doctor don't like to get. Wait, I'm gonna explain. Everyone has a different idea of how things should taste. I can just imagine in my mind what you want.

The first thing I think of is, just use butter, salt and black pepper on the roast. That's really all you need. Just make sure the pepper is fresh ground from whole peppercorns --it's much more pungent that way. Melt about a cup of butter and add the seasonings to it and baste the roast about every half hour during the cooking time.

Now here's what I would do. The evening before I was going to cook, I'd take the roast and make some small slits in the meat with a narrow, sharp knife. Then I would insert a half a clove of garlic as deep in the slit as possible. Depending on the size of the roast, about 5 or 6 places on a 2- or 3-pound roast. More on a larger one. Next, the roast would get a good rubbing with a mixture of onion powder, garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Wrap it tight in plastic wrap and put it in the ice box overnight. Take the roast out of the ice box about 3 or 4 hours before you start cooking. Let it come up to room temperature -- it won't hurt it as long as you keep it wrapped and keep the flies off it. Grill it, and baste it with the melted butter and the spices. Mmmmm. If you can't handle garlic, put some onion slivers in the roast.

Hope this works. If you don't like it, send it to me and I'll eat it. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John

Ian writes:

Hi, John. My name is Ian, and I live in Nottingham, England. I have four 16-oz. T-bone steaks, and I want to cook a 3-course Texan meal for 4 friends. I have not cooked Texan before. Could you help me?

Cheers, Ian

P.S. I have a large barbeque.

Howdy from Texas, Ian. I love to hear from England. You folks are so civilized. Let's see what we can do for your menu.

You can find the recipes for most of this on the www.texascooking.com site. Let us start with a guacamole salad. Make a recipe of guacamole. On a plate of chopped lettuce, place a goodly portion of the guacamole, and dress the plate with fresh tomato slices and a sprig of cilantro (Chinese parsley), if you can find it, or use regular parsley, if not. Serve with tortilla chips.

Next, to accompany the steaks, a double-baked potato. Bake a large potato for each serving. When they are done and cool enough to handle, slice them lengthwise about one-third of the way down from the top. Scoop out the insides leaving enough potato to hold the shell together. Take the scooped out potato meat and mix, for each potato, with 2 tablespoons of butter, a teaspoon of diced fresh onion, and 2 tablespoons of good, mild cheddar cheese. Mix this all up good. If it's a little dry, add enough milk to make it workable. Put the filling back in the potato shells, top with additional shredded cheddar and replace the cap. Bake in a slow oven until thoroughly warm and the cheese has melted.

Some pinto beans would be good, too. Be sure to soak the beans overnight. Bring them to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook the beans with a nice piece of bacon or salt pork, and season with a tad each of onion powder, garlic powder and about a teaspoon of blended chili powder. Don't salt until the beans are done, and then salt to taste, and simmer a few more minutes.

The steaks should be simply grilled with seasoning of salt and fresh-ground black pepper. You can baste them with some melted butter seasoned with garlic during the grilling. Use a HOT grill and cook them quickly.

In Texas, such a meal would be accompanied by large beakers of iced tea.

I hope this is what you wanted. Let me know how it comes out. If I can be of further assistance be sure and email me. Thanks for writing.

Dr. John

Judy writes:

I have a fine old cast iron skillet, but it's slightly rusty. How do I get rid of the rust? Also, how do you get rid of the black build-up around the sides (inside and out) on cast iron? I have a cast iron muffin pan, too.

Oh good, someone finally asked something I know. Rust removal.

Depending on the thickness of the rust, you can use either sandpaper, steel wool or a product called Scotch Bright from the hardware store. If the rust is real thick, use about a 180-grit sandpaper to remove it and then polish with the steel wool or Scotch Bright.

As for the built-up gook on the frying pans, do you have an outdoor gas-fired grill or do you know someone who has one? Put the pans in the grill and turn the heat up as far as it will go. Let the pans cook for about an hour. Then reduce the heat gradually, and let the pans cool overnight in the grill. The gook should then come off with a light scraping or sandpapering.

If you don't have access to a gas grill, you can use a commercial oven cleaner, but this is a long, slow process. You can also bury the pans in the coals of a large campfire to burn them out. You just cover them with hot coals and come back the next day to retrieve them.

Now, to reseason the iron. When you have all the gook off, rub the pan inside and out with a good coating of good shortening. Crisco is good, and hog lard would be better. Put the pans in the oven and bring them up to about 350 degrees, and then cut off the heat and let them cool down normally. After this treatment you never wash the pans in soapy water. The soap will remove the cure, and you have to start all over again. Just wipe the pans out with a clean cloth. If anything is stuck, scrape it with whatever you have handy.

Every time you use your cast iron, give it a coating of shortening inside and out before you put it away. You can polish it with a soft cloth to get off the excess shortening.

Jes remember, no soap.

Hope this helps. Thanks for writing

Dr. John