Smoking -101.5, Salmon

I love smoked salmon in all of its variety and couldn’t pass up the chance to try out some of the many recipes at home.

The first recipe had an interesting twist as you created a marinade of vodka, brown sugar and salt. It said that using the vodka would takeout or neutralize some of the fishy flavour in the salmon. I did have a bit of trouble with the marinade though as it called for 1 cup vodka, 1 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup coarse salt. I mixed everything together but had a hard time getting everything to dissolve even after whisking for a good 15 minutes. I finally gave up and strained out the extra chunks of salt so that I could start the marinading process.

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I put the fresh filet of wild salmon (bought from Costco for $15) in a large zip lock bag, poured in the marinade, gently massaged the mixture into the salmon and left it to marinate for 2 hours. With the salmon ready I heated up the smoker and put the salmon directly on the grill skin side down for its 30 minute smoke. After the initial smoke the temperature gets turned up and it happily finishes its cook for another 45 minutes.

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This recipe had a nice light smoke flavour in the fish but had a bit of a boozy flavour at the thinner edges. I was hoping for a stronger smoke and a bit more sweetness but overall it was not bad for a first try. As a quick side note, I was feeling like it needed a little something to boost up the flavour so I whipped up a quick jar of home made pickled onion (I didn’t have any red onion so I used a sweet white onion that I had in the pantry). The pickled onion combined with a few capers made this a great dish that I will be making in the future for any events that we might have.

A few weeks later I also decided to try my hand at candied salmon. Again the recipe calls for a good dosing of liquor but this time it was for Gin.

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Again I purchased a large fillet of wild salmon from the local Costco, I sliced it into what I though twas about 1 inch pieces as the recipe calls for 2oz chunks. Interestingly enough the recipe didn’t call for me to take the skin off so I followed along and left it on which most likely aided in keeping the salmon chunks from falling apart.

I mixed up the brine of gin, maple syrup, kosher salt, brown sugar and pepper and dropped in the salmon. It needs to soak in the brine for at least 24 hours before you start the cooking process so make sure to plan for this well in advance.

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After a 24 hour soak in the brine I laid the salmon chunks out on a sheet of foil and set in on the smoker for a long slow 4 hour smoke. Something to note here is how the texture of the salmon had changed quite a bit after its overnight bath, becoming much firmer kind of like the difference between squeezing fresh bread and english muffins.

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After a long 4 hour smoke on the lowest setting and using maple wood pellets I pulled the salmon off the smoker and set it to cool. I was pleasantly surprised when the chunks didn’t stick to the foil even after I had forgotten to spray it with oil.

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After cooling the end product was slightly chewy with a great smoky flavour. I was surprised that it wasn’t as candied as I had hoped and it as a bit satlty but I think just a few tweaks to the brine recipe and we will be able to create exactly what we are looking for!

I will continue to try to find the perfect smoked salmon recipes so follow along in the upcoming smoking diaries!

Smoking a bit of everything, I am Your Everyday Foodie.

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Will Volunteer for Food

Have you ever wanted to attend a food event in your area but just weren’t able to find the funds for the tickets? Well in this economy that may be happening more and more so here’s a little twist that we came across the other day.

The Brewery and the Beast meat festival was coming to Calgary and had sold out but was looking for volunteers. I excitedly signed us up for a shift that ran the morning of the festival where we were able to help load in all of the vendors that were going to be participating in this amazing event.

This was a great chance to see how an event comes together as well as an opportunity to see how everything happens behind the scenes. Not only did we get to “meat” all of the chefs and their teams as they entered the site but we had an early chance to peruse all of the food offerings that were going to be presented.

With a little bit of sweat equity we bought ourselves full entry to the festival including all the food and drinks we could handle, some great relationships and even each scored a festival shirt.

I think that after this kind of behind the scenes experience I will be looking for more volunteer opportunities like this. After all, everything tastes a little better when you know you have worked off all the calories prior to enjoying all the indulgences. Your wallet will also appreciate the break!

Searching out foodie volunteer experiences everywhere, I am Your Everyday Foodie!

 

 

Smoking -101.4, Ribs

Ribs….the golden standard of grill masters everywhere and the word that makes the mouths of most BBQ fans water. I couldn’t wait to try them out so as our next smoking adventure I loaded up.

I purchased a package of pork ribs with memphis season already on them from Costco. The package was about $27 and had what looked like 2 large racks of ribs in it. I purchased the pre-seasoned ribs as it was already half way through the day and I thought this would speed up the process.

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This time we switched over to maple wood pellets. According to the package they are good for smoking pork and beef and should impart a sweeter smoky flavour.  I should also mention here that the the smoker we have comes with a convenient door at the back of the pellet hopper that opens up so you can change out the wood pellets with ease.

I picked a recipe from the Traeger site for competition ribs as it looked pretty simple. Since I had the pre-seasoned ribs,  I skipped over the rib preparation and seasoning portion and moved right to the cooking. The recipe says to smoke (on the smoke setting) the ribs for 2 hours so on they went.

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(again I noticed that the smoke setting seemed to be running high at 220 degrees so I called the Taeger help line through their 1-800 number to get some advice. They were very helpful and were able to walk me through the steps to lower the factory settings so that we could smoke at a lower temperature.)

After the two hours on smoke the next step was to remove them from the grill,

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sprinkle with dark brown sugar, butter and honey then wrap tightly in tin foil and return to the smoker at a higher setting of 225 degrees for another 2 hours meat side down.

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After a painstaking 4 hours Cook time we were almost there! I took the ribs out of their juice filled foil and put them directly on the grill to start the saucing.

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They do provide many options for sauces but I just grabbed a bottle of one of our favourites from the pantry and forged ahead. The recipe suggests this final grilling takes anywhere between 20 minutes and one hour depending on how tender your ribs are when they come out of the foil. Our ribs were fairly tender so I grilled them for another half an hour basting generously in sauce before taking them off.

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At this point I have to admit that it was pretty much impossible not to steal a bit of the crispy edge off for a taste but try to hold off and Leave them to rest for 15 minutes. This lets them rest the juices back into the meat and firm them up enough to cut. Finally we happily and greedily dug in!

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I have to say that these were by far the best ribs I have ever had. They were tender enough that you could easily bite through them and they would pull right off the bone with a great smoky flavour. Overall they were tender and juicy, sweet and sticky the perfect rib. Even the leftovers the next day served cold were moist and delicious.

A little in love with home smoked ribs, I am Your Everyday Foodie.

 

Smoking -101.3, Smoked Steak?

High off of our first experience cooking with the smoker I decided we should try cooking some steaks. I love to eat local so I purchase most of our meat from the Italian Shops here in Calgary. They bring in beautiful fresh Piedmont beef from Messinger Meats near Lacombe Alberta. We really enjoy their rib eye steaks, one steak runs about 12-15 dollars but it can be cut in half and feed us each a more than recommended serving size steak.

I like to keep out steak seasoning simple with just a little bit of seasoned pepper, seasoning salt and sometimes a little Amchoor powder (this is an all natural meat tenderizer and is just powdered green mango and I purchase mine at Silk Road Spice Merchant). I am of the school that says to liberally salt your steaks well ahead of cooking to allow it to pull out the moisture then re-absorb it before cooking and this has been serving us well by making our steaks tender and juicy.

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Here’s where the question comes in to smoke or grill and what is the difference. After doing some on line research and speaking to a couple of other back yard chefs here is what I came up with. Smoking is done at low temperatures (from 140-160 degrees) which allows the smoker to produce more smoke and cook the meat slower so that it absorbs more of the smoke flavour. Grilling turns up that temperature and lessens both the smoke and the cooking times. This still allows the food to absorb some of the smoke flavour while cooking it faster and is much better for more delicate foods.

Our Traeger came with a couple of meat temperature probes so I thought this would be a great chance to try it out. I put the probe into the steak and set them to a slow smoke for about half an hour. When I checked the steaks out after the first half hour they did not look like there was much change except the pink around the outside of the steak was much deeper.

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After the half hour on low smoke I ramped up the temperature and finished the steaks by grilling them at 375 until the probe read 145 which was supposed to be the correct temperature for a medium rare steak. Although it is not requited that you flip the meat when cooking it on the smoker even during grilling I decided to flip the steaks just to give the other side some grill marks.

We left the steaks to rest for about 10 minutes and dug in. They came out looking a perfect pink and moist in the middle but I feel like it would have been better if they had come off the grill about 10 degrees earlier as they will always cook a little more as they rest.

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They steaks smelled smoky and looked great but I have to say they were not the best steaks we have had. The smoking seems to have changed the texture of the steak and made it a bit grainy and tough although it looked pink and tender.  The end decision for us was that the next time we try steaks we are going to go right to the grill it fast method and skip the slow smoke at the beginning.

As a side note, I did notice that while in smoking mode the temperature on the grill did seem to be quite high and hovered around the 250 degree mark. We are not sure if this is because it is a new smoker that has not had a lot of seasoning, if we are doing something wrong or if there is just something wrong with the temperature setting on the smoking unit itself. We will attempt to smoke something else in the near future and see what we get for temperature!

Learning as we go, I am Your Everyday Foodie.

 

Smoking -101.2, The 1st Smoke

We have officially started our smoking adventure! Tonight we decided to start with something easy and smoke some chicken legs.

We are starting with hickory pellets, a wood that is labeled as good for most meats but can pack a good smoky punch. A 20 kg bag of wood pellets is around $23, they are all natural and there are many types to choose from. There is a great little guide on the back of each bag that tells you what each type of wood is best used for if you are not exactly sure what you are looking for.

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I decided to divide the legs up for seasoning so that we could see how everything would come out. One set of legs was done in a simple rub with garlic olive oil, herbed salt, seasoned pepper and garlic powder. The other set was put in a wet La Grille rub. Both sets of legs were set to season at the same time about 3 hours prior to cook  time.

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When we purchased our first bag of wood pellets I decided to purchase the Traeger chicken leg and wing cooking rack just to see what it would produce and I also thought that it might give us the ability to add more chicken legs to the grill if we ever needed to do a large amount for a party. The instructions say that using the rack will allow the chicken legs to “baste” themselves while leaving the skin to crisp.

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The only draw back I found to the rack is that it only holds 12 legs, although this is more than enough for the two of us (as I normally cook extra for my husband to take to work for lunches) the bulk package of chicken legs from the store has 13-16 legs in it depending on the size so regardless you will still have to put chicken on the main rack.

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We fired up the smoker to 350 degrees farenheight and put the chicken in for 45 minutes as per the instructions that came with the chicken rack. The toughest part now was not to peek, this becomes especially hard if you are sitting out on the deck enjoying the sun and a beverage! We were a little surprised to not see a lot of smoke billowing from the smoker which left us wondering a bit as to what we were going to wind up with.

45 minutes later we revealed our bounty,

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there were surprisingly little fat drippings on the drip tray or in the drip bucket on the side but the smell of the chicken was fabulous. A few of the chicken legs had fallen off the rack as they shrunk and cooked but there was still lots of juice dripping from the meat so a quick temperature check and off they came.

We excitedly dug in and found that they were very juicy and moist. There was a slight pink smoke ring in the meat and a fairly light smoke flavour.

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Overall, I did like that the marinaded chicken legs cooked beautifully with the marinade cooking onto the legs and not burning at all. We didn’t find that the skin was overly crispy but the chicken was well cooked. Overall the plain oiled and seasoned legs were a bigger hit as they held more of the smoke flavour. With a finger licking and lip smacking dinner completed, I think that our first attempt at smoking was a success!

Looking forward to tweaking our smoking methods & smoking everything, I am Your Everyday Foodie.

Smoking -101.1, The build

Our smoking adventure is starting just like hundreds of others, once purchased and delivered to the nearest pick up centre we loaded the boxes into the back of our truck and headed home.

I have to say that the demo models always look so great but there is something just a little intimidating about looking at all of the boxes strewn around the deck and thinking that they are going to produce one of those demo models and work. The smoker itself comes in one large box however the package deal that we purchased came with a front shelf and a bottom shelf that had to be added into the build.

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Working to beat another July thunder storm we tore into the boxes and forged ahead. The instructions are straight forward and easy to understand. There are no extra tools needed to put the unit together as the hardware package included everything including the required wrench and hex key.

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One person can easily put the unit together although an extra hand does come in handy for lining up some of the screw holes for things like the lid handle and the smoke stack.

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All in all, the total build took us a total of just under an hour and that included a little re-arranging of the deck to get everything positioned the way we wanted it. (Remember when positioning everything that you will need a power source nearby to run the smoking unit.)

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Now all set up we were excited to start smoking and here is where we ran into our first snag. The unit needs to be seasoned for a full 45 minuets running on high before you can start to use it for cooking. Luckily we still have the BBQ so the short ribs we were planning on christening the smoker with got a good grilling instead.

The next day I started the final set up and seasoning process and although fairly simple there are quite a few steps to follow so make sure to read all of the instructions as you go. After about 15 minutes I had the first flame in the smoker and could smell the smoke, this is what we have been waiting for!

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With fire in the box I put everything back together,

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and set it to season for the required amount of time.

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You may notice that we covered the grease drip tray in foil, this is in the instructions as it will aid in the cleaning process later on. The sales man actually had mentioned this to us and suggested we put several layers of foil on to make it even easier to clean, just take off the dirty layer and voila you are ready to go again! 45 minutes later and we were ready for our first foray into smoking.

Successful build, check…..now what to smoke first…..

Planning many smoking adventures, I am Your Everyday Foodie.

 

 

Smoking -101

Times are tough and finances are following right behind so as much as we enjoy going out to events and restaurants we have had to cut back and focus more on staying home. Being a foodie, this means I have to step up my game and find something new to explore in food so we made one last splurge and bought ourselves a Traeger Smoker.

Where smoking food used to be left to the professionals, today it has become a much more familiar pass time for people at home and the delectable smell of smoke often wafts through the neighbourhood on summer evenings. There is so much to learn and experience so instead of smoking 101 I am starting us at smoking -101 as we learn from the bottom up.

Our first experience on this journey is going to start us from the very bottom with putting together the many boxes now sitting in the back of my truck into a lean mean smoking machine!

I plan to share all of the ups and the downs, the successes and the failures and figure out all there is to know. From the basics like is it referred to as grilling, BBQ or smoking? What wood is best for smoking what food? Is it true that you can do more than smoke meat and do things like bake pies and breads? Right up to the big time with things like is there anything that you can’t (or maybe shouldn’t) put in the smoker? To cooking times, sauces, marinades and glazes.

So I hope you join me and follow along as we embark on this new adventure. Look out smoking world, here we come!

Starting an adventure in smoking, I am Your Everyday Foodie.