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Dateline: October 1, 2006

Ask Dr John

Here we are in Halloween month again. When I was a kid my folks never bought a pumpkin to make a jack-o-lantern. They just set me on the porch.

Let's get to the questions and answers.

George writes: Having moved East from Oklahoma (alright, no jokes) I am trying to master the art of smoking a brisket. I have an Oklahoma Joe cooker, try to keep it around 180-200F for 11 hours. Brisket comes out smoked but tough, even when I wrap it in aluminum foil after 6 hours. Any pointers? Thanks.

Hey George: Right off the top of my head I can think of two things to check.

  1. Do you use whole brisket in cryovac wrap or trimmed for market? You gotta have the fat to get taste and tenderness.
  2. Someone is selling you old rodeo stock. Change butchers for a while.
If that don't help, try raising the temperature about fifty degrees and use less cooking time. You may be dehydrating the meat and making jerky. Lemme know what happens so I can keep score. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

David writes: I have grilled a lot. I have used a water smoker a lot. But I just bought a Texas-style cooker with a firebox on the side. I have two questions.

  1. Would you recommend I grill or barbecue steaks and, if barbecued, how long should they cook?
  2. What will be the differences in smoking a turkey in this unit as opposed to using a water smoker?
Thanks for your help.

Hey David: God intended for steaks to be grilled. The barbecuing is for the larger, tougher cuts. Some folks set a pan of water in the cooking chamber to get the same effect as a water smoker. I would rather you use a good, clear mop instead. Say, a cup of water, half-cup white vinegar, half-cup oil and a couple of lemons and an onion chopped coarse. Season the mop with whatever spices you have handy -- black pepper, sage, thyme or whatever. Simmer it, and then keep it warm on the cooker.

Don't try to cook the bird with stuffing inside. It takes too long to get it up to temperature. Instead put in an onion or a peeled apple or one of each. Will put moisture in from the inside. Good luck and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

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

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

Amy writes: I was just wondering if you could find out the origin of the recipe Pico De Gallo. I really need this for a Spanish class I am taking. Your help is greatly appreciated. Thanks a lot!

Hello Amy: I don't think you will find any one source for the pico de gallo recipe. It probably evolved over the years until one day people started writing it down. Pico de gallo became popular about twenty-odd years ago when fajitas were discovered by the yuppies. Pico de gallo is the one thing that makes fajitas authentic.

You know, of course, that "pico de gallo" means "peck of the cock" (rooster), no doubt named because of its sharp bite. Pico de gallo is meant to be hot - not the wimpy little heap of chopped onions and tomatoes that comes with fajitas in lots of restaurants today. Good luck with your project, and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Steve writes: I'm learning how to bake bread, and I don't quite understand what the recipe means by "proofing" (the yeast). Can you help?

Steve: Proofing means to check and see if the yeast is working. You mix the yeast and a little sugar (yeast loves sugar) in warm water, let it set a few minutes and see if it starts to bubble. If it bubbles, it means the yeast is alive and active. Yes, the yeast is little living spores. When they get wet they start eating the sugar and making carbon dioxide gas. This gas is what makes the bread rise by filling it with bubbles.

I've never found a pack of yeast that has gone bad. If you look, there is always a use-by date on the package. I just skip the proofing process and start the dough. You can kill the yeast by using water that is too hot, so you don't want to use water over 110F degrees. You can also kill the yeast by letting the dough rise in a place that is too hot. Between 70F and 80F is ideal. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Cass writes: What's a good way to cook okra? I have only eaten it fried, and I know there should be other ways to prepare it.

Hey Cass: My mama's recipe for okra was called gumbo. It's not exactly the same as most of the gumbos but I really like it.

Wash about a pound of okra. Use only the small tender pods without blemishes. Cut off the tops and slice them into about half-inch pieces. In a large saucepan sauté a large chopped onion in a little oil or bacon grease until it is transparent. Add a can of tomatoes or a couple of fresh, peeled, chopped tomatoes. Add two or three cups of water. Chicken stock would be better if you have it. Add the okra. Season with salt and pepper. Bring it to a boil and then simmer it until the okra is tender. Adjust the seasoning.

If you want to add a Cajun touch to the gumbo, make a roux. In a small skillet mix two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of flour. Stir constantly over medium high heat until the flour turns dark brown. If you don't keep stirring it, it will scorch and you have to throw it away and start over. Add the roux to your gumbo pot after you add the water and it comes to a boil. Stir it in real good.

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

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