Dateline: August 1, 2004

Here it is August again. The HOT month in Texas. But a little heat doesn't keep Texas Cooking fans out of the kitchen. Let's see if we can cool down some of the burning issues.

Jay sez: Hey there. I have an easy question. I just was given a cheap Brinkman smoker -- you know, the kind with the charcoal on the bottom, water in the middle, and then two grills. I'm having a hell of a time avoiding burning myself and spilling water with this thing. The charcoal pan has to sit inside the smoker on its hinges. I plan on buying a nicer smoker but, in the meantime, can you save some of the hair on my fingers? Also, what in your opinion is the best way to utilize wood smoke in this kind of smoker? Got any secrets? Thanks for your time.

Hi Jay: When these little buggers came out, they were designed to cook without adding fuel. As I remember, you counted out the charcoal bricks for the amount of stuff you had to cook, fired it up, and left it until it was done. To get some flavored smoke, apply some wet wood chips to the top of the charcoal as you are loading the thing. For now and for the future, go down to a welding shop and get a pair of insulated welder's gloves. They will save a lot of skin and hair. A big pair of pliers might be helpful too. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

James writes: How long can I keep using peanut oil [in my deep fryer] -- six months? a year? forever? Do I need to strain it, refrigerate the oil, any thing 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. Just keep it tightly sealed in a cool place. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Cindy writes: We made jerky from venison and it was delicious!! We stored it in zip-loc bags in the cabinet. How disappointing it was to find that it was covered in mold after about 2 weeks. What did we do wrong?

Hi Cindy: I hate it when that happens. You should have put it in the icebox. Mold spores are everywhere. They really like warm and dark. You can also freeze jerky for long-term storage. When you get ready to use it, just zap it in the microwave for a few seconds. You have to determine for yourself how long it takes. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Vernon writes: Getting' ready to cook Boston butts for about two hundred people. Thinking about trying a method that someone else tried and liked it. Cook the butts on the cooker for a few hours at 220-235 degrees. Then wrap them in foil for the last few hours. Oh -- they are bathed in vinegar sauce before being put in the foil. Man claims they stay really moist. Have you ever tried this or do you know about it? If so, please forward complete instructions for this method.

Hi Vernon: This method works real good. Just cook the butts a couple of hours and then wrap them in the best heavy-duty foil you can afford. If you can, double wrap them. You will want to bring the temperature in the center of the butt up to about 165 or so. They will continue to cook a few minutes after you take them off the pit. You can poke a hole in the wrap to get the thermometer in. Cooking them longer won't hurt a thing, It will just make them more tender. Be real careful when you unwrap them as the liquid will be HOT! Save the liquid, cool it to skim off the grease, and then mix it with your sauce, and you've really got a winner. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Dean writes: I have traveled quite a bit in Texas and love the smoked sausages sold at the BBQ joints. What kind of sausage is it and do you have a recipe? Hope you can help. By the way, I love your articles, especially the Dutch oven and outdoor cooking stuff.

Hi Dean: The BBQ joints use different sausages. Some of the larger establishments make their own, and the smaller one usually buy a commercial sausage. I agree that the sausage is outstanding. If you will go back to www.texascooking.com and look under "Traditional Texas Fare", you can find my article, The Wurst of Times, that will tell you about all I know about sausage. When cooking sausages at home, you want to use low, indirect heat -- 200 degrees or less. It takes a while, but it's worth it. When the sausages "wrinkle", they are done. If you get one too hot and it bursts, you can have an interesting fire for a while. Thanks for writing.

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, 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, half flat beer and a little salt works good. Try them all and see which one you like best. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John