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

Dateline: October 1, 2007

HELP! Dr. John needs some help this month. I'm doing research to find when and where the first barbecue cooking contest was held. If you know of one that was held before 1978, I sure would appreciate the information. I'm sure there were contests far earlier than 1978, but no one seems to think that information was important enough to write down. If you can provide a lead, contact me at

One of the things that makes this column so interesting is that readers contact me with information that is not available anywhere else. Just a week or so ago I got the following:

Dr. John: I hope you don't buy into the notion that sourdough starters are fragile. If they were, our ancestors would never have made it from the East, in the covered wagons.

If you find you have excess starter in your primary container, don't pour it out! Plan to use enough so that you EMPTY the container, except for a few runny traces on the sides and bottom. Set it on top of the fridge, and it will dry. The next time you want to use it, scrape the dry stuff together, add a cup of water and a cup of flour, and in 2 or 3 days your starter will again be active.

You can also take flour and water, and a teaspoon of leftover mashed potatoes, a teaspoon of leftover oatmeal or leftover minute rice, and three days later your starter is ready for feeding. I have also just added a teaspoon of dry oatmeal to my flour/milk mixture, and THAT has made an acceptable starter.

Personally, I prefer using milk and flour for my starter. I limit my production to flapjacks, biscuits and sourdough banana bread. It is a heavy, dense, yummy bread. We used to send our son back to college (after a weekend at home) with a loaf, and he was ATTACKED, as he entered his dorm. College kids! Good eats!

Isn't that nice? Now let's get to the business at hand and answer a few questions. Chris wants to know about charcoal.

Hi Dr. John: Do you have a recommended variety of charcoal or is all charcoal the same?

Hi Chris: The brands of charcoal have a lot of differences. Some burn hot and fast, some not as hot and slower burning. I have good results with Kingsford.

The charcoal bricks are mostly clay. Some folk swear the bricks result in food that's harmful for human consumption. I don't think that's true, but sometimes you can find natural chunk charcoal which is made from natural wood. This would be the best if you can find it. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Rick is advancing his cooking technique.
Dear Dr John: I have been mostly grilling up until today. I have an inexpensive char broil BBQ pit. I would like a quick note regarding what to use to get my fire started, either charcoal or wood or maybe both. And how much of a crime is it to add wood or charcoal to keep my heat to temperature. I have read not to add charcoal unless it is already lit. I have also read not to add wood in the same fashion. I can’t seem to keep my temp where I want it otherwise? Please help and thank you.

Hi Rick: Best way to get fires started is to get a "chimney" for starting charcoal. You can find them at most places that sell barbecue equipment. You can start wood, too, if it's not too big.

Of course you have to add fire on a long cooking project. Best is to get the coals going outside and then add them as needed. You can use long tongs for handling the hot coals. If you are going to be doing a lot of this, go to the welding supply store and get a pair of insulated gloves for working around the hot stuff. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Ron has a mildness problem:

I've been trying to make some hot pepper relish (medium hot, actually). I'm using bell peppers with either jalapeños or serranos. It has sugar and vinegar in the recipe. I can't seem to get it hot. Does the sugar or vinegar affect the heat? The last trial was 10 bells and 15 Serranos with 2 cups of sugar. I'm not a screaming hot guy, but the relish just isn't hot enough. Thanks.
Hi Ron: You're the first one writing in wanting something hotter. Most have overdone it and want to cool it off.

First thing that comes to mind is put in a wee bit of habanero or Scotch bonnet as they are sometime called. Start easy as these buggers are the hottest you can get. The chile petin is another smoking chile. They have a good flavor, but most people can't handle the heat. You can probably find some of them around. I don't use Serranos, so I can't comment on that, but I know jalapeños have become so inbred they can be stinging hot in one pod and mild as bell pepper on the next. The very easiest thing to do would be to add a bit of ground cayenne.

Just experiment a little and you'll find the combination soon. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Rachel is looking for armadillo meat.

I have a lot of recipes for foods that call for armadillo meat. I have tried them with chicken, beef, pork, etc., but I wish to try these recipes with armadillo meat. Unfortunately, I cannot find armadillo meat for sale any place at all. Any suggestions?

Hi Rachel: It's illegal to sell armadillo in Texas. I'm sure it's the same elsewhere. You would have to get some hunter to bootleg some for you.

In a blind taste test, the average person cannot tell armadillo from chicken so you might as well stick with the chicken. Also, some armadillos carry leprosy. [Ed. Note: And if that doesn’t send you running for the chicken, I don't know what will.] Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

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

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