Our fine Texas Cooking readers are keeping Dr. John hopping. Many requests for recipes from far corners of the world. We start with a letter from Rick:
Doctor John: The gas grill is history, and going back to charcoal was the best thing I ever did. The Weber Kettle is doing okay, but now I have seen a great smoker at Home Depot with a fire box, etc. These aren't too popular here in the Cincinnati area, so I think I am going for it. Now the question: What do I use in the firebox? I promise to throw my MatchLight away, or at least use it up in the kettle, but as much reading I have done, I am confused. Any help?
Rick: Welcome to Big Boys Land. Don't be afraid of that thing. The fire box is for wood -- hard wood. Oak, hickory, mesquite, apple, pecan, what have you. If you are the pioneer type, you can start your fire with some newspaper and kindling. If you are high-tech, use a propane torch to get things going. You want to let the wood burn down to coals before you start smoking.
First thing you want to do is build a big, roaring fire in the box to burn the "new" smell out of the cooker. You might even want to do this twice, otherwise you will have some strange seasoning in your meat the first couple of times you cook.
There should be a damper on the fire box for admitting air and a damper on the smokestack for retaining air. The more air you pass through the box, the hotter the fire gets. I hope you got a thermometer with your new toy. If not, go get one. It will take some experimenting to learn how to regulate the temperature in the smoke chamber. You really don't want to get over about 250 degrees at any time.
As the fire burns down, you can add another log or two to keep the temperature up. The logs may flame up but that won't hurt anything, just cut down on the air supply. When you go looking for wood for your smoker, be sure you find some that fits. It's no fun to spend most of your day sawing off logs so they will fit in your fire box. You don't want pieces more than about three inches in diameter. You may have to split some logs to get that size. Let me know how it goes.
Here's one from Beverly:
Looking for a few recipes, please. I would appreciate your help so much. Looking for chicken-on-a-stick recipe like the ones sold at festivals. Not fried chicken -- grilled. It is usually basted with something as well. I have seen it done, but I do not have a clue. What types of chicken are used? How is it cut to fit on the stick? How long do you grill it? Is it marinated first? Also looking for a recipe for shish kebab done on the grill. What meats and veggies are used? How do I prepare this? Rib eye sandwich. This is done on the grill as well. Is it marinated? How long do I let it cook per side? Grilled sausage onions and peppers like the ones sold at fairs and festivals. How do I do it? I need help from start to finish on all these recipes. Thank you so much. Beverly
Beverly Darlin': I don't have enough space to answer all your questions here. You can find all I know about food on a stick in "Dinner on a Stick" in my Texas Cooking archives. After you have read that and have a specific question, get back to me.
As for the rib eye sandwich, I suppose it's just a grilled rib eye dressed with your favorite dressings. I'm sure it's marinated. You can find marinade recipes in the archives too. The sausage, onion and pepper treat is sautéed on a griddle in olive oil. Just keep moving them around so they don't scorch until the onions and peppers are done to your liking.
Most of your "festival" foods come from food suppliers with the seasonings in place. The vendors don't have time to do all the preparations. If you can find a food supplier nearby you might be able to buy your favorites in volume and save a lot of money.
James is looking for Georgia mustard sauce.
Last year I was working in Minneapolis, and was introduced to a restaurant there called Famous Dave's. The project manager and I ended up there at least once a week for lunch. They have a barbecue sauce they call Georgia Mustard -- a yellow, tangy sauce that goes well with pork. I've been on the net for the last couple of weeks looking around for a recipe similar to Dave's, but have been completely out of luck. I even bought a couple of books recently. Any ideas where I could find one?
James: The closest I can come is South Carolina mustard sauce for pork. This recipe is representative of the mustard sauce from the area.
If this isn't what you are looking for, I suspect you got a honey-mustard sauce. Try one-half cup of Dijon mustard, one-half cup honey, one tablespoon red wine vinegar and a good shot of hot sauce. Bring it to a simmer and give it a try. If this is close to what you are after, try adding black pepper and other seasonings until it's just right.
Next letter comes from Tara:
My office participates in the AIGA Chili Cook Off every October and this year we are going with a Tex-Mex theme. Got any good recipes?
Tara: Let's keep it simple with finger foods. You might try nachos, chalupas, tacos and a guacamole dip. And, if it's an adult party, some Sangria. I think you can find all the recipes in the Texas Cooking recipe files. Sounds like fun.
Thanks for writing Dr. John.