The Hampton Smoker

What's up wtih what's going down? Does a tree falling on the ocean with no one around make a sound? Barbecue, BBQ, Bar-b-que. It's all in how you sell it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

R.C. Cola and a MoonPie: Burgers in Paradise...I mean, Queens

This post is for my friend, Manfred....He's a burger fan and a travelin' man (at least in Chicago).

A few weeks ago, The Wife and I parked our car under the elevated subway tracks of Woodside, Queens. Woodside, which used to be predominantly filled by Irish immigrants, has seen a fair amount of 'creep' from other ethnicities moving in over the years. From Dominican to Thai to Filipino and so many others, the neighborhoods of Queens continue to grow and remain some of the most ethnically diverse streets of America. Jackson Heights, one of Woodside's closest neighbors has long been filled with Pupusas and taco trucks and what seems to be an endless stream of little bars, restaurants and ethnic groceries. It's the kind of place where I could browse endlessly. But that wasn't our agenda. We were there for hamburgers and Donovan's Pub is one of the most highly rated burger destinations in the 5 boroughs that make up New York City.

When you walk in, there's the long, dark wood bar with a tv up above playing some kind of sports (usually) and the old, blase' bar tender quietly muttering with some afternoon drinkers while he slowly wipes the bar or polishes a glass.

In the back room, down a few steps from the bar is the dining area with the fake fireplace (gas....bah!) and the old pseudo-old world chalet (I know, that's not really Irish) feel and the waitresses who call you "love" and you can tell can probably also beat you in an arm-wrestling match zipping about.

Let's just say that the burgers live up to their hype. The main feature is a densely meaty and moist patty with a rich, beefy flavor stacked on an, unfortunately light, semi-flavorless toasted bun that can't withstand supporting the patty. Nonetheless, the flavor is pure burger delight-- deep and earthy like a mix of chuck and sirloin(??). We had bacon cheeseburgers and sauteed onions (those are a must!). The fries are wonderful as well-- crispy outside with a fluffy inside that tastes like POTATO. I had a little bowl of gravy on the side for dipping (eh....a little industrial and weak flavored). Honestly, they needed no accompaniment-- not even the classic ketchup.
You could see that my hands were slightly shaky with anticipation for the burger from that picture above. Try one and you'll see why. Despite any minor qualms I may have mentioned above....this place is the real deal.

Donovan's Pub
5724 Roosevelt Avenue (at 58th street)
Woodside, NY 11377
(718) 429-9339

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Which Side Are You On?: bbq, food and community

My friends, this weekend I am getting out of town to spend some time locked in the meditation and tranquility of cherry wood smoke, trees brushed in the wind, and the smell of barbecue a’cooking.

Between being under the weather (blood pressure was about 150/110 the other night) and my crisis of bbq faith from a few days ago, this has been a tough week.

I generally try to avoid politics on this here site, and if you can’t stand politics—especially liberal politics, please skip this post and don’t leave a nasty comment, because it will be deleted.

Thanks to the shocking anti-muslim, anti-jew vitriol that I saw spewed on what used to be one of my favorite bbq sites, I’ve been left with a nagging feeling of disappointment and shame rolling in my head.

You see, I believe that hate is hate. When an American spews general blind hatred of another ethnicity or culture based on assumptions and stereotypes they are the same to me as the people in the world that would destroy our country with anger fueled by misconceptions manipulated to support malevolent agendas. Of course a rise in national esteem and patriotism is understandable when our country is under attack, but I don’t believe that falling into the traps of racism or bigotry makes someone a patriot. Nor do I only believe in the mere turning of a cheek. I believe there are things worth fighting for and against, and, yes, sometimes that means wars must be fought.

But, not only was I shocked to read these backwards xenophobic rantings, I was overwhelmed by how many people jumped in to voice their support of it. A cynic might say, "well, bbq bubbas, what'd you expect?" Well, I know how much more people are capable of and believe that that is just one more stereotype used to put people down. I've seen the generosity of the American spirit from all over this country and know the potential it carries and that it touches peoples' lives in tangible ways.

But, on the internet we are able to communicate across distances and with potential anonymity that enables great truth and honesty, but also fuels a sense of security that prompts people to vent their hatred and their loves with a false sense of power and invisible protection. This leads to the discovery of some incredible people and thoughts as well as some disturbing and hateful things as well.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m shocked to encounter people from all over the United States that seem so intent on looking backwards to a time when women and minorities were openly harassed, beaten, scorned and thrown into a corner. This is what the hate preachers would want done to free American citizens today. Has anyone read Michelle Malkin’s book in praise of interment camps?

This isn’t a matter of political correctness, but rather a yearning to evolve, embrace tolerance and learn from our own mistakes and those made around the world.

You know what…..? Rant over. The song mentioned below was borne of union busting, but somehow it just seems right to me today.

(left to right)

In 1931, coal miners in Harlan County were on strike. Armed company deputies roamed the countryside, terrorizing the mining communities, looking for union leaders to beat, jail, or kill. But coal miners, brought up lean and hard in the Kentucky mountain country, knew how to fight back, and heads were bashed and bullets fired on both sides in Bloody Harlan.

It was this kind of class war -- the mine owners and their hired deputies on one side, and the independent, free-wheeling Kentucky coal-miners on the other -- that provided the climate for Florence Reece's "Which Side Are You On?" In it she captured the spirit of her times with blunt eloquence.

Mrs. Reece wrote from personal experience. Her husband, Sam, was one of the union leaders, and Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men came to her house in search of him when she was alone with her seven children. They ransacked the whole house and then kept watch outside, ready to shoot Sam down if he returned.

One day during this tense period Mrs. Reece tore a sheet from a wall calendar and wrote the words to "Which Side Are You On?" The simple form of the song made it easy to adapt for use in other strikes, and many different versions have circulated.

Come all you good workers,
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

My dady was a miner,
And I'm a miner's son,
And I'll stick with the union
'Til every battle's won.

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can?
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Don't scab for the bosses,
Don't listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize.

The above song information is taken from the Semi-Official Woodie Guthrie Site. Thanks so much.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Lyin' Eyes: The Sad truth of the bbq world

Hello, peoples. I'm writing to you in a bit of dark mood today. I've been sick as a dog-- lightheaded, queasy and woozy for the last three days and it's given me a lot of time to think-- maybe too much.

I re-read some of my favorite bbq books-- Peace, Love and Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Tunnicliffe Mills, and Legends of Texas Barbecue, by Robb Walsh. These two books are really love letters to barbecue more than they are cookbooks, if you ask me. Both authors have a reverence for the art and history of barbecue that comes through in their loving details and thoughtful documentation of bbq legends, joints and techniques old and new. Reading these books reminded me of my wide-eyed enthusiasm about barbecue when I got started.

The books got me a little misty, I'm not afraid to admit. When I started cooking barbecue it was because I was under a spell-- a belief that there was something honorable and pure, even a bit mystical to the art of cooking with fire that went far beyond competitions and paychecks. I wanted to cook barbecue because I wanted to be part of the magic, the love and the process. It was a rare commodity in my neck of the woods and I was proud and giddy to talk about it-- I was reverent of bbq's history and those before me who had paved the way. I didn't even think of commercializing my love.

Nowadays, it seems that everyone wants a shortcut to the secrets that can make them competition superstars, or they look at barbecue as a means to fame and a paycheck. The egos, politics and (petty, personal) competitions have nothing to do with barbecue as far as I'm concerned and it all leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The most coveted professional barbecue pits require you to flip a switch and walk away-- hours later your bbq is ready with little-to-no art in the process. Maybe the food tastes good, but is that all that matters? What happened to respecting the process?

I'm not anti-progress or even that much of a purist, but I respect the art and the alchemy of cooking barbecue. Every part of it. I feel the need to extract myself to some degree from the activity that surrounds bbq and cooking these days-- it all feels tainted to me now. I've been feeling that way for awhile, but I've tried to ignore it. I've seen supposed friendships made over plates of barbeque shattered by egos and lies, all in pursuit of a buck and a headline, and I've had just about enough. The food seems honest, but the people do not. I feel alone in this conclusion right now, but suspect that I am not. It is a sinking ship that we're riding.

I will continue to cook and share my food with you all, but it's time to re-evaluate and look harder for the good and the pure parts of my love of bbq that first inspired me. Sorry to vent so negatively, but when you love something and believe in the power and magic it holds, it is hard to see it get so polluted.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Losing My Religion: Anti-que and Legends

I've noticed that there isn't much bbq video to be found out here in cyberspace, so I've decided to start posting a series of bbq-related vids for you all. I haven't seen any other bbq bloggers doing it, so this will hopefully be a weekly thing (at least). Some will be instructional, others will be entertaining, or strange, I guess. Anywho, it's time to bring the 'que to the people and as of today, March 18, 2007, I vow to do so. Without further ado....

Here's a fairly bloodless look at 'barbecuing' chicken from our good friends at Kraft. The only problem is, this aint bbq. And by the time the voiceover mentions the Kraft bbq sauce, my tears start welling up.

And from the ridiculous to the sublime, here is the Legend, Mike Mills talking about the real deal. Having met Mike at the barbecue block party, I can tell you that he's an exceptionally gracious and charming dude who really loves barbecue and he is happy to show it. He grabbed a rack of babyback ribs and started handing them out to folks waiting on line. By the way, the lines were absurdly long, so this was a pretty powerful gesture. This video was posted by Mark Dolan, the BBQ Pilgrim. Visit him when you get a chance.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Just Like Heaven: BBQ Lore and more

Here's an article published in a recent issue of Spirit, the Southwest Airlines in-house publication. One of the things I love about barbecue are the subtle differences that define different regional and personal styles. I think all of these places are national treasures.

LOUIE MUELLER BBQ This top-ranked joint in Taylor, Texas, still looks the same as it did back when I first discovered barbecue in 1980.


I have personally discovered the best barbecue on Earth.

Photographs and text by Wyatt McSpadden

I come from a long line of carnivores, real steak people. I didn’t encounter authentic barbecue, though, until a seed company salesman named Benny Green took me to Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, Texas. I’d never eaten such wonderful meat—so smoky and tender—and the place looked fantastic, saturated with decades of smoke from serving this mouthwatering food to farmers, railroaders, and traveling salesmen. My favorite places to eat at—and photograph—are the familyowned, small-town, one-of-a-kind joints whose trade is plied with secret sauces, special wood, and an ancient pit.

ARTHUR BRYANT’S BBQ Their thick sandwiches (left), made in Kansas City, are famous for their sauce. The recipe is a closely guarded secret.

SONNY BRYAN’S SMOKEHOUSE sits at the heart of bustling Dallas, but its sign is reminiscent of another era. The barbecue is bigger—and better—in the Lone Star State.

LOUIE MUELLER BBQ The tables in this Taylor, Texas restaurant are set with the essentials—toothpicks. Mueller started roasting meats in the back of his food store in 1946. He moved to the current location in 1959. Before BBQ, the building hosted basketball.

CITY MARKET The wall menu at this historic spot in Luling, Texas doesn’t tell you that it serves its BBQ without forks or plates.

DREAMLAND The woodstove (left) is the only source of heat in this eclectic dining room in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Kansas City police officers would probably argue that Arthur Bryant’s is king.

KREUZ MARKET Roy Perez, pitmaster, stands among what has been called the “world’s largest” wood pile, in Lockhart, Texas.

LEXINGTON BARBEQUE Depending on which direction the wind blows, a pleasant, smoky smell can cover the area. This particular day was quiet—only one pit of Lexington’s six was going.

SMITTY’S MARKET The hallway and dining room are part of a beautiful smoke-saturated building, where BBQ has been served for more than a century. I think of these places as living museums, where today’s customers order and dine in the same space, and eat the same food that folks have been enjoying for decades.

COOPER’S PIT BAR-B-Q Their “cowboy-style” pit is all about variety.

L.C.’S BAR-B-Q In Kansas City, owner L.C. has a table at the far side of the dining room where he holds court. He leaves the cooking to his crew and spends his time reliving all his hunting and fishing adventures.

COOPER’S PIT BAR-B-Q Danny Martinez stands in front of the firebox in Mason, Texas.

LEXINGTON BARBEQUE This North Carolina favorite has its own secret ingredient: Rick Earnhardt (above), pitmaster and sixth cousin to the late NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt.

DREAMLAND William Spencer gets ready to throw a rack of ribs into the pit at the original Dreamland location in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Several locations exist now, but this spot is the real deal, serving pork ribs only, with no sides except for white bread.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Disco Inferno: The new Tec-Char-Broil Grills

I recently received one of the new Char-Broil/Tec gas grills from the nice folks at Char-Broil to review. The new grills have a couple of really cool things going for them. The burner configurations are a combination of traditional gas flame burners with flame tamers and infrared burners, which might be familiar to anyone that has experienced the Tec grills. This model has 2 traditional burners, one rotisserie burner, one infrared burner and a sideburner that is mounted on the left side of the grill. I think they make larger models with more burners.

Essentially, the infrared burners on the new grills work like this (avoiding the technical jargon that I don't understand and can't explain)-- they take an ultra-high heat burner, and top it with a sheet of some kind of super-high heat tempered glass that absorbs the heat and spreads it evenly across the length of the burner area, creating a radiant heat surface with no flames to come in contact with the food. Cool! You can cook on the glass, if you'd like a flat surface, I suppose, and it also stops smaller food items like sliced onions or shrimp from falling into the abyss if they slip between the grates. Marinades and glazes essentially evaporate on contact with the glass, leaving a small spot of ash.

The traditional burners get plenty hot, too. And when we did our test cook, I was enjoying the option of searing over the flames and then finishing things over the infrared burner.

Between the two different burner types in the grill, the rotisserie and the sideburner, there's plenty of cooking space, which is very comfortable for the cook. The top shelf (or warming rack), is also a generous size and is constructed far more securely than what I've seen on many other gas grills. It is sturdy, wobble free and spacious. A very nice touch.

Other thoughtful features include the side burner which can be used for cooking corn, heating up a sauce, etc-- pretty much anything for which a stovetop burner might be used. On the right side there's a little basket that's about the size of a drawer in which you can store some tools (tongs, spatula....bottle opener).

The cook surface sits atop a sizeable cabinet in which you place your propane tank (unless you are using natural gas-- these grills are "dual fuel" and, with a converter kit can cook over natural gas). The tank, which sits on a 'shelf' that slides forward and back for easy access, can be locked in place securely. Even with the tank in there, the cabinet has plenty of room for additional storage.

Is this thing infallibly perfect? Uhm, no. It took a bit longer than I expected to heat up all the way-- but it was freezing cold out, and this was the first burn. We'll see if that changes. Also, the ignition system was a little different than what I've used before-- it doesn't just spark when you push it down, you have to hold the button for a few seconds for the burner to ignite. Also, it was a little slow to light the subsequent burners after the first one-- a little disconcerting as you hear gas whooshing into the chamber. Other than that, I've yet to find much to complain about with these solidly constructed and cook-friendly grills. It really is a pleasure to cook with.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Love Is In The Air: The Food Maven Gets RUBbed

Arthur Schwartz, one of New York City's venerated food experts (he's more than a critic) dined recently at Paul Kirk's RUB and had some glowing things to say about the food coming out of Pitmaster Scott Smith's kitchen.....Take it away, Arturo....

You may recall that several weeks ago I went to RUB, on W. 23rd St. between Seventh and Eighth Aves. in Chelsea, to taste their pastrami. A friend had asked me to contribute a dish to his list of 100 Things You have To Eat Before You Die. I said Katz’s pastrami. He retorted that I could say that only because I’d never tried Rub’s pastrami. Of course, after eating the meat in both places, he had to agree: Katz’s is better. Still, I was so impressed with Rub’s other smoky offerings we tasted that day, I couldn’t wait to get back and eat more.

I have to say Rub’s ribs are great – deeply smoked, succulent and tender, not steamy and falling off the bone as too many are. Rub’s ribs only succumb when they reach your teeth. Then they melt. I love Rub’s bacon, too. You say “Bacon?” Yes, they deep smoke bacon slabs, slice them thickly, put the slices on the grill, then cut them into chubby chunks. The bacon is served, like everything else at Rub, in paper boats, which is totally in keeping with a b-b-q- joint – I wasn’t a bit offended by the lack of china -- saves the restaurant money, and allows the prices not to be crazy. Of course, bacon is such a fatty indulgence that you think you will merely nibble a chunk or two, but this bacon is so addictive I bet you can’t eat just three.

Rub has delectable smoked brisket, too, but the night I was there they didn’t have any deckle, otherwise known as “second cut” and “thick cut.” To my mind that’s the best part, or at least my favorite part of the brisket – juicy with streaks of fat and a coarser and more satisfying texture than the leaner, tighter grained so-called “first cut.” You can order just brisket ends, however, and so we did. Against our better judgment, we wiped out a paper boat full of those, too.

I even love the mayo-dressed potato salad and cole slaw. And the barbecue chicken, although not my first choice on this mostly meat menu, is pretty damned wonderful, too.

The bill -- with beers, sodas, tax and tip -- came to about $35 a person. But we really did order more than we should have – including their silly batter-fried Oreos for dessert -- and we ended up taking home enough food for two for lunch the next day. Now I have to go back and work my way through the rest of the menu. And hope they have deckle.

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