Monday, July 6, 2009

Burgers that will Please a Crowd

This past weekend, I was involved in a production of "Shakespeare in the Park". After two months of solid rehearsing, it was finally time to mount the production. Despite poor weather, and moving the show to an alternate venue, the show went off without a hitch. After the second show, I had a handful of cast members over for a barbecue to celebrate our success.

I'm still a bit of a novice when it comes to barbecuing for a crowd, but was confident I could put together a decent production. With the help of my lovely girlfriend, who created some amazing appetizers and a scrumptious strawberry shortcake, we were able to put together a wonderful dinner party.

The main course was an easy choice, nothing can please a crowd like juicy burgers, served with a side of roasted potato skewers. I prepared the burgers the evening before, so I would have time to socialize with our guests.

When I cook burgers, I keep it simple. I don't add eggs, onions, bread crumbs, or any type of sauce. I want to eat burgers, not meatloaf sandwiches. I start with quality lean ground beef and add a pleasant mixture of the following savory spices: kosher salt, ground black pepper, chili powder, paprika, celery seed, garlic and onion powder. I also add brown sugar for just a hint of sweetness. Once I make the patties, I add more of the rub to the surface of each pattie to maximize the flavour. I stored the patties between layers of wax paper and plastic overnight.

In the morning, I sliced baby new potatoes and marinated them with white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs de Provence and some extra rosemary.

When it was time to prepare for dinner, I started the fire and went back to my guests. I can't emphasize enough how important it is not to start grilling before the coals are ready. I've ruined meals trying to rush charcoal. After about forty-five minutes, I put the potatoes on skewers and placed them on the grill. If you're using wood skewers, you must soak them in water for at least thirty minutes.

The potatoes were on the grill for about twenty minutes and once you can pierce them with a fork, you know they're done. I put them in the oven to keep them warm. Then it was time for the main event; there's nothing like the sizzle you get from putting meat on a hot grill.

My patties were a little thick, so they needed about twenty minutes to reach F160. I topped each burger with a slice of marble cheese and served them to a happy crowd. The smoke along with the rub packs these burgers full of flavour.

It was an enjoyable meal filled with fantastic food and lots of laughs. Everyone left the table full and satisfied after a fantastic show and a delicious meal.

Here's what I used:

For every pound of ground beef use the following:

1/2 tsp chipoltle chili powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
ground black pepper

Thursday, July 2, 2009


There's not much I like better than pulled pork. There's just something about the shredded, succulent meat that really hits the spot. As much as I like it, I must confess, the only time I ever tried making it at home was in a slow cooker. The result was enjoyable, but not even close to the real thing.

Last summer, I kept trying to work up the courage to try my own pulled pork, but I didn't trust myself. I let a whole summer of grilling go by, without attempting one of my favourite dishes. I was determined not to repeat the same mistake this summer, so last Sunday afternoon, I finally took the plunge.

My pulled-pork plan started Saturday, at the Moncton Farmer's Market. I bought a boneless pork roast from Springbrook Farms. They raise apple fed pork and free range chicken, I visit their stall every week. The farmer who works the stand is friendly, knowledgeable and clearly cares about the food he raises and sells.

On Sunday afternoon, I took the roast out of the fridge and let it stand at room temperature for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile I started a two-zone fire and soaked about four cups of hickory chips in water.

While the coals were ashing over, I made a tangy barbecue sauce and put together a dry spice rub. The rub consisted of a the following: kosher salt, cracked black pepper, brown sugar, paprika, chipotle chili powder, garlic powder and onion powder. I mixed the spices together and coated the roast all over. I worked extra hard to press the rub into the flesh to allow for maximum flavour.

Once the fire was ready, I placed the roast over a drip pan, sprinkled on the wood chips and placed the cover on the barbecue. The key to smoking is fighting the urge to look, you just have to trust that the fire and smoke are doing good things to the meat.

Ideally you want the internal temperature of your pork to reach F190 degrees. It took my roast a little over four hours for this to happen. If you're using a charcoal grill, you need to add coals and more wood chips to the fire, throughout the cooking process. I added about ten coals every 45 minutes or so.

Once the pork is done, you cover it in foil and let it stand for about thirty minutes. Afterward the pork should pull apart easily by hand or be shredded with a fork. Mix the meat with a tangy barbecue sauce and serve.

I was really pleased with my first effort at pulled-pork. I served it with barbecued baked beans. It was a deadly combination of tangy barbecue goodness. After I finished enjoying the meal, I sat in a pork-induced euphoria, and wondered why I had denied myself such wonderful barbecue experience for so long. I can't wait to try it again.

What I used:

One 4 pound pork roast (next time I will use a bigger one)
4 cups of soaked hickory chips
1 tbsp Kosher Salt
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
t tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
tangy barbecue sauce (recipe will be featured in future post)

(If there is left over rub you are not using, you can toss it into your barbecue sauce to add even more flavour).

Note: When smoking meat, you often get a pink smoke ring, which should not be mistaken for undercooked flesh.

This recipe was greatly inspired by one found in Weber's Charcoal Grilling: The Art of Cokking with a Live Fire