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Dateline: December 1, 2006

Ask Dr John

Here we are in the last month of the year already again. Boy, time flies when you are having fun. The doctor hopes everyone had a great year with lots of good Texas-style food. May 2007 be a year of health and prosperity for all.

Let's get to the problems.

Chad wants to avoid chemicals in his jerky: I read your jerky article, and I have a question about using sodium nitrite. My dehydrator manual recommends using their "curing spice". It is a mix of salt and sodium nitrite. It also says that, if you make your own marinade, to make sure you put a packet of their curing spice in to prevent bacterial growth during the initial stages of drying. I would like to keep my jerky as natural as possible. Do you have any information on using sodium nitrite?

Hi Chad: Sodium nitrite is used to preserve color and inhibit the growth of bacteria in various foods. It has been used for about 100 years. Humans have been making jerky for thousands of years before that.

Here's my take on it. If you keep everything sanitary and observe all the rules, I don't think you will have any problem with "natural" jerky. Folks have got so sanitized that they can't stand the thought of the smallest germ anymore. When I was a kid, we ate a lot of stuff that would kill an ordinary person now. We never heard of anyone dying or even going to a doctor with something like a bee sting.

All I am is an old guy who likes Texas-style food. I can't guarantee anything. You just have to make up your own mind and go from there. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Marion has need of smoking information: I made an insulated smoker at work and need to know smoking times and temps for various meats. Thanks.

Hi Marion: No way to answer your question in less than ten thousand words. All the situations are different. Best I can tell you is most of the smokers run the temperature between 200 and 300 degrees. Cooking time depends on cut of meat, size, etc. Everything I know about the process is on Look under Traditional Texas Fare and find the barbecue section. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Nancy has a really soggy pie crust and needs help:

Hi Nancy: The soggy pie crust is a mess. I assume you use a prebaked pie crust for your lemon meringue pie. When you bake the crust, as soon as it comes out of the oven, brush the inside with a thin coat of egg white or melted jelly. This will seal the crust and it should not absorb moisture.

I don't know way you are getting so much moisture. Make sure your filling is cooked according to recipe. The meringue should not weep that much. You want to put the meringue on while the filling is still hot. I'd try the crust sealing first, then work on the other. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

John writes: I always enjoy reading your website articles. Keep up the excellent work. I have a question about turkey sausage. On occasion, especially during the Thanksgiving and Xmas holidays, I am treated to turkey sausage. It is usually served cold on a meat tray and is normally a larger diameter sausage (3"-4"). Are you familiar with this type, and would you have a recipe? Thanks.

Hi John: I think turkey sausage was invented up the road from me at Inman's BBQ in Llano, Texas. At least that's the first place I encountered it.

Go back over to and under "Traditional Texas Fare" find my article titled The Wurst of Times. A lot of sausage making information there.

From what I gather, you will want to use two-thirds dark meat from the turkey and one-third white meat. I prefer a rather coarse grind. You can season it to your liking -- probably salt, black pepper and poultry seasoning -- or whatever you prefer. The ground turkey you find in the supermarkets is pure garbage. Grind your own; you can use a food processor. And be sure it's cooked done before you consume it. Good luck and thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Another John writes: Can you please tell me a brief history of where and how Texas barbecue came from? Also, what do you think separates Texas from the other states when it comes to barbecue?

Hi John: To the best of my knowledge, barbecue as we know it today started during the depression years. Meat markets and butcher shops started cooking the less desirable cuts of meat such as the ribs and briskets and selling them for nickel and dime prices. It was a good way to get a meal for very little money.

After WWII, someone started building the little backyard pits out of discarded metal drums and the rest is history.

Texas barbecue is made with native woods like mesquite, oak and hickory. They give a sharp, recognizable flavor. The Texas finishing sauce is red and sweet as opposed to the thinner, vinegar-based sauces east of the Mississippi. The meat of choice in Texas is beef. 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 some sugar in warm water and 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. You don't want to use any 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 degrees is ideal. 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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