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

August 3, 2008

Here we are starting to wind down the summer. Time sure flies when you are as old as I am. One thing I do want to remind my readers of is that when summer winds down, outdoor equipment goes down in price. This is the time to find bargains for your outdoor entertaining needs. If you need a new grill or smoker or a patio table, start watching the sales flyers. Bargains are essential in these times.

Now that we have the good news out, let's see what the good Doctor can do for his readers this month.

Ken writes:

I have been smoking and barbecuing for many years and have always used Kingsford charcoal as a base for the fire. Now, however, I live in Hong Kong and the only charcoal I can find is what appears to be the "real stuff." In other words, large pieces of real-wood charcoal. This is made in China, so I have no idea what type of wood they use. Anyway, I have a couple issues:
  1. It is a bitch to get this charcoal started. I have used a liquid charcoal starter with minimal success, combined with another paraffin type starter that is sold locally. Typically, I will spend an hour just getting the damn stuff going. Is this typical with real wood charcoal? If so, any thoughts on how I can cut the time spent messing with the fire?
  2. The real wood charcoal burns different from the Kingsford I used to use. Mainly, it seems to burn a lot hotter and perhaps even longer. Is this perception correct in your opinion?
Thanks and good cooking to you.

Hey Ken: Getting that real charcoal lit should not be that tough. What is the humidity there? It may be picking up moisture from the air. You might try drying some in the oven at low temperature for a while and see if that helps. You also might try heating it up in the oven before you try to light it. Say about 300 degrees for twenty or thirty minutes.

Another thing you might try, if you can find one there, is the electric charcoal starting device. That would put some heat in the stuff before it ignites.

My feeling is that the charcoal is getting damp from some source. If you have a warm, dry place to store it, give that a try. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Mike writes:

Dear Doctor, the bottom fell out of my backyard grill last fall. It is time to replace it. I want to move up to a larger, more versatile cooker. What do you recommend?

Hey Mike: It sounds like you are a serious barbecue chef, so I recommend you invest in a unit that will last you for a long time. Once you learn how a particular cooker works, you can save a lot of experimental time and just get down to the business of cooking.

I'd look for a brand name cooker, one that comes with a guarantee. Look for heavy-duty materials and good construction. Thin metal and ill-fitting joints are a sign of ineptness. A cooker with a firebox for smoking and a grill for broiling is more versatile. There should be a flat place on tip the firebox where you can set a pot and do cooking there. Look for easy to operate airflow devices, and make sure you get wheels on the thing unless you are as strong as Tarzan.

Once you get your new cooker, take care of it. Don't let it sit with ashes in it or grease all over it. Clean it up after each use and keep it covered if it's out in the weather, and it will give years of good service. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

[While on the subject of new cookers, several readers have asked where they can get plans for building barbecue cookers. I don't know of any plans for metal barbecue pits. If you are in the market for a masonry pit in the back yard, Better Homes & Gardens puts out a magazine nearly every year on the subject. You can find them on for a few dollars each.]

A corn lover writes:

Awhile back, in one of my Texas monthly magazines, there was an article featuring different restaurants around the state. One such place had their spread on the table and one dish was "fried corn-on-the-cob". I've never heard of it, but it sounds great. I fry lots of turkeys, and it would be simple to throw the cobs in the vat, but I don't know how long to cook? Pull the silk off? Seasoning? Ever heard of such? Thanks.

Hey Corn Lover: This is a new one on me, too. I found reference to one site with "deep fried corn on the cob", but the page was off line. I don't see why it wouldn't work.

Shuck and trim the ears, remove all the silk. You'll probably need a basket to keep them handy in the oil. I would think about two minutes would do the job. You can put a bit of salt on it after cooking and/or some Butter Buds to get a butter flavor.

Try a couple of ears being careful that they don't explode due to high moisture content. I really wouldn't try popcorn. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Mike writes:

I know you prefer to use hardwood as a fuel source when Queing. However, I live in the desert southwest where good hardwood is very scarce so, I use charcoal or briquettes. I have been using a Brinkman water smoker, but want to graduate to a horizontal smoker with an offside firebox. Can you tell me if I can expect good results with my heat source and approximately how many briquettes I will need to do the job right? Thanks for the advice.

Hey Mike: Yes, you can use charcoal in the big smoker. Depending on the size of the smoker, the amount of charcoal will vary. For a small model I would start with ten pounds. Be sure you have a thermometer on the smoke chamber so you can check the temperature.

To get a good smoke flavor, get you some wood chips. Wal-Mart has a good selection in the spring if there is a Wal-Mart in your area. Try the mesquite or hickory to start with. Follow package directions. Good luck and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

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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