On our way home from Oakland, we stopped for dinner in Milpitas, at South Legend Sichuan Restaurant on North Milpitas Blvd. Everyone in the restaurant was of Chinese descent, always a good sign when you desire good Chinese food.
When I asked the waiter for pot stickers, he said, “We don’t have that kind of tourist food” – another good sign.
One thing they did have were pork ribs that had been cut into single ribs and then fried in a wok. Usually I cook ribs in our smoker, but how can you pass up deep frying something? So I bought a rack of baby back ribs, removed the membrane, dusted them with some corn starch, five spice, salt and sichuan peppercorns and tossed them into a wok full of hot oil.
It’s probably overkill, but I thought it would be better at holding in the heat. I don’t really take care of it – after I use it in the smoker, I just put it on a concrete section of the patio to let it cool off. Then I store it under the smoker on the shelf. The heat from the burner is so intense that the bottom is actually convex – it won’t sit flat on a flat surface anymore.
I haven’t used it for a few months and the surprising thing was that I noticed it had actually developed a crack. It sits outside in whatever the humidity is here – I’ve never had to add water to the humidifier in my humidor – so I haven’t taken care of it. You can see the large flakes of metal that are coming off both the inside and the outside.
Fortunately, my well cared for 5 quart Wagner Dutch Oven that I use for deep frying (it very well seasoned) doesn’t suffer from this problem.
I am writing while I have some brisket in the smoker that I know is going to turn into cardboard. My friend David Burnett always carried a bottle of Tabasco with him. He said if it’s gonna taste like cardboard, it might as well taste like hot cardboard.
The two little pieces of brisket are less than two pounds each and are turning into jerky. I can sit out in the “side” backyard with my Macintrash and write while I”m watching things not work on the barbecue.
I have been looking at smokers since we moved out here and reading the BBQ FAQ. It was mainly vicarious. There aren’t any good barbeque places around here: a soul food place in Seaside has baked ribs and the two pits aren’t anything to write home about. Sometimes when we go up to Oakland we try the known places – Chef Edwards, Doug’s, Flint’s, etc.
I had been looking at the New Braunfels Black Diamond, a smoker that I thought wouldn’t be too ambitious. Of course I procrastinated. My first excuse was that we didn’t have a vehicle large enough to put the box in. (Once, when my friend Chuck was here from Santa Rosa, we went to Home Depot in Salinas. It was sort of a busman’s holiday, since he works in a hardware store. He has an SUV but I couldn’t make the commitment that day.) About two years later, Chris was borrowing her friend’s truck. We went to Home Depot again and she bought it after a detour to In-N-Out in Salinas. We brought it home and it stayed in the box for about three months while I researched hooking up the gas.
I saw “Big” Jim’s Lazy Q Smokers and being lazy, this was the way to go. Lazy-Q uses propane as a heat source and then for the wood flavor, chunks of your favorite hardwood are burned in an open container to make the smoke. This way, there’s no fire to continuously tend to for the 3 to twelve hours it takes to smoke this crap.
One day Chris decided to take open the box and started putting it together, forcing me to start working on the heat source. Unfortunately, I waited too long to buy the smoker. New Braufels was bought by Char-Broil. So instead of having a real Texas smoker, I have a Chinese smoker with real bamboo fittings. It isn’t made as well as the New Braunfels I saw a few years ago.
For the fire, I bought an outdoor deep fryer burner from Ace Hardware. I had to hack-saw off the burner from the stand. Then I had to get some copper tubing and fittings to hook up the propane hose. To get the propane fittings to work with the tubing I had to get a tube flaring kit. This was beginning to be a pain in the ass.
I bought a Lodge 7 Quart Dutch Oven to put the wood in. I’ve seen some pictures on the internet where people just use an empty coffee can – I guess that works. I thought about using our Lodge 5 quart and then buying a 7 quart to use in the kitchen because when I’m making arroz con pollo or something it never seems big enough. After all, I was just going to be putting wood in it so it would smoke. I ended up getting the 7 quart dutch oven from Amazon, so I wouldn’t have to run around looking for it.
I got the propane tank from Costco and I can actually get it filled at the tool rental place that isn’t too far from here.
My first attempts were with pork ribs, which are sometimes $1.99/lb at Costco. Actually the best pork, beef and seafood we get is at 99 Ranch (which for some reason we call Ranch 99), the closest of which is in San Jose. It’s a big Asian supermarket chain in the west. You wouldn’t believe how well trimmed the meat is.
Pork ribs seem to be easy to cook. I make a rub with all the bulk spices and shake them up in an old chicken liver container. Usually I just grab whatever is in front, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, oregano, salt, pepper, sugar, sometimes MSG and brown sugar. I tried the mustard rub before putting on the dry rub because they say you end up not tasting the mustard and it makes it stick to the meat better. It didn’t seem to make any difference so I just use the dry rub.