Tag Archives: Barbecue

Harder Than It Looks

It’s Foodie Friday and yesterday I took my old beast of a smoker out for a July 4th spin. Of all the things I transported from the wilds of Connecticut to sunny (read that as hotter than blazes) North Carolina, The Beast was probably the most difficult thing to move. It was the subject of a Foodie Friday post all on its own a couple of years back. As I described it at the time:

Photo by Jaden Hatch

The Beast is made of heavy steel that’s quite thick and it weighs well over 100 pounds even without my usual load of meats inside. As I was cleaning up the old Rancho Deluxe to get ready for its sale, the smoker was one of the very few things that I was adamant about saving for the move.

Yesterday I fired it up and did some racks of ribs, some chicken and some sausage. They came out quite well, thanks. What also came out was a reminder that something so simple – putting meat into a box and letting it cook slowly – is way harder and less simple than it looks.

First, prepping the meat. One might just salt and pepper the ribs and toss them in. Yes, one COULD do that, but it would be a disservice to the ribs and your palate. What’s less easy is removing the membrane and assembling a nice dry rub of several spices to bring out the flavor of the wood smoke and the pork. Similarly, you COULD just plop the whole chicken on a rack and let it smoke or you could halve it, brine it, season it properly and then proceed.

Next is cooking. Good BBQ is NOT a passive activity. Don’t let the guy sitting next to his cooker sucking down a beer mislead you. He’s there to keep a watchful eye on the on temperature, adjusting the air intake to raise or lower the temperature in the box and to add fuel when needed. I find that checking every 30 minutes or so at a minimum is critical.

Wood chips are a must. You can’t toss them on the fire – they won’t smoke, they’ll burn. You need to soak them after you think about what kind of wood chips to use. Hickory? Mesquite? Fruitwood like apple or peach?

The point I’m trying to make here is that something as simple as smoking a piece of meat is much harder than it looks if you’re going to do it right. So are many things in business. Assembling a team and keeping it functioning at a high level. Handling customer service issues.  Managing capital and cash flow. Every one of those things as well as many others as much harder than they might appear. What each of us needs to do is never underestimate the difficulty of anything until we’ve mastered it. That mindset makes us read, learn, and stay humble.

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Posts Of The Year – 2015 – Foodie Edition

This will be our last post of 2015, and it’s the most-read Foodie Friday post from this year.  Since writing this post, I’ve actually met Big Al himself.  He enjoyed the post almost as much as I enjoyed his food.  Have a happy and safe New Year and we’ll see you on the other side of December!


Foodie Friday, and our food fun this week comes from a restaurant in which I’ve never eaten but of which I am a customer. A very happy customer, actually, and my happiness is all due to an excellent lesson in customer care.

Big Al’s BBQ & Catering is located in Raleigh. As Al’s website proclaims:

We aren’t the cheapest Carolina BBQ vendor, but we guarantee freshness and award-winning flavors you can’t find anywhere. Period. Come eat with us, or call in and order out! We’ll pack your plate just fine.

Honestly, I’ve not done that. What I have done is to order merchandise from him. You see, my Dad is also called Big Al and I thought it would be a fun surprise to send him a shirt and a hat bearing the Big Al name and logo.  I placed an online order and entered my parents’ address for shipping.  After a week when I hadn’t received an excited call from Florida I began to wonder about the status of my order.  It was then that I noticed the receipt said “local pickup” meaning they were waiting for me to walk into their store and grab the goods.

I emailed the address from which the receipt came explaining that there had been a mix-up.  Within 20 minutes I had a note back from Al himself explaining that he had tried to text me (I had used a land line on the order) to ask about shirt color and was glad I had sent the note.  Here is where the lesson begins.

A quick exchange of emails to furnish the correct shipping address concluded with Al saying “I’ll get that out to you.”  No long explanation, no haggling over if the error was on my end or on his.  Just “I’ll get that out to you. ”  This morning, I received a text – “Going to ship your Dad’s package this morning priority mail…I am picking up the freight for all your troubles.”

If you take one thing away from the roughly 1,700 screeds I’ve written I hope it’s the rock-solid focus on the customer Al demonstrated.  Heck, I’m some schlub from out-of-state that ordered a shirt and hat.  I’m not going to be coming in weekly for food.  Al treated me as I assume he does everyone – with respect, an assumption that the customer is right, and a willingness to go the extra mile.

If you are ever near Raleigh I hope you’ll hit Big Al’s for a meal.  Order out if you can.  Tell your friends to go. Even if you have other dining plans, do me a favor and swing by and let him know you admire his customer-centric focus.  I sure do. I wonder if he can ship ribs to Connecticut?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints


It’s the last Foodie Friday of Summer.  Well, officially, at least.  Most of us will be grilling in the warmth for at least another month and then we’ll move the party indoors.  I don’t know what you’re grilling this weekend, but here at Rancho Deluxe some sort of meat will be involved.  While we have vegans and vegetarians in our household, some of us are unabashedly carnivorous.  I thought this might be a good time to put forth a few of the absolute truisms we all know about cooking meat.  There’s a business point too.

Beef and Corn on a Charcoal BBQ grill

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me just list a bunch.  These come from the website amazingribs.com which is focused on all meats, not just ribs and is well worth a few moments of your time:

Searing seals in juices. Pink pork is undercooked. If there is red in chicken it is undercooked. If you’re lookin’ you ain’t cookin’. Cooking time depends on the weight of the meat. The bone adds flavor. Oil the grates before putting food on them. Flip burgers only once. The Stall (note: – this is a BBQ term and is the point at which cooking seems to stop for a while) is collagen melting. High heat is the best heat. Whole chicken tastes better than chicken cut into parts. Beer can chicken is the best chicken. Melting fat penetrates the meat. Grilling causes cancer. Grill marks are important. Medium and medium rare are the same thing. Stainless steel grills are better. Cast iron grates are the best. You can rely on your grill’s built in thermometer. Ground beef is the riskiest food for pathogens. Barbecue sauce is always red. Marinades add a lot of moisture to meat.

I’m sure you’ve heard or said one of more of the above.  Here is the thing – none of them are true.  I know – it’s like I just told you the Easter Bunny is made up.  Sorry, but just because you believe it to be true doesn’t make it so.  When food scientists looked into these “truths” and others, they found the facts to be something quite different.  Which is the business point, of course.

We hear “truth” all the time in business.  I wonder how often we actually take the time to look into whether we’re just subscribing to a shared myth.  I think it’s incumbent on each of us to do so.  My guess is that we’ll find, more often than not, that the truth isn’t exactly as it’s been presented.  A word of caution.  You can expect people to react badly when you give them proof that their facts and THE facts aren’t the same.  Be judicious and tactful or do so wearing running shoes.

Enjoy the weekend and use a digital thermometer.  You really can’t tell how done something is my touch, you know…


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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud