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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Barbecuing Pork Shoulder

Pulled pork and chopped pork are a staple of almost all barbecue regions, particularly South Carolina and Tennessee. Whether shredded up and topped with a thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce or chopped up and pile high on a sandwich with a spicy vinegar sauce and topped with cole slaw, pork shoulder is delicious.

Of course, the best way to get pulled or chopped pork is by doing whole hog barbecue. This way, the juices of all meat portions, including the bacon cuts, seep into each other as it cooks. As we all know, bacon is one of the greatest things ever.

However, a smoker that can handle a 100 pound pig is not a luxury most of us possess (and yes, usually such smaller pigs are used). Pork shoulder (also called pork butt for some reason) is the next best thing. This one is inspired by Carolina barbecue, with a thin, very peppery sauce. As usual, measurements are approximate, so tailor it to your own liking.


Bone-in pork shoulder, if you can find it


One cup vinegar (cheap stuff is fine)
One cup water
Two tablespoons salt
Two tablespoons sugar
A few dashes of hot sauce if you like

Half cup apple cider vinegar
Half cup white vinegar
Tablespoon dijon mustard
Tablespoon brown sugar
Two teaspoons black pepper
Teaspoon cumin
Teaspoon garlic powder
Teaspoon onion powder
Teaspoon paprika
Teaspoon ground mustard


1. Obtain bone-in pork shoulder if you can. These generally weigh 8+ pounds. Do not trim off the fat, but rather score it with a knife.

2. Prepare your brine. Boil a cup of water, a cup of vinegar, and two tablespoons each of salt and sugar, let it cool, then set the pork shoulder in a container with this mixture. Try to find a container that allows the mixture to cover the meat.

3. Fire up your smoker with a medium batch of coals, plus some soaked hickory wood chunks... or whatever wood you like. You'll probably need to light a few small batches of coals as the pork cooks.

4. Pork shoulder does not necessarily need a thick rub like the one pictured on the left, especially if it's been brined, as a lot of Carolina chopped pork recipes include a zippy blend of vinegar and spices added after cooking. It all depends on the recipe, and all styles are valid!

5. Cook for about an hour per pound, adding coals when the heat goes down. At a temperature of about 225-250 degrees, it should take about an hour per pound. The pork shoulder will be done when a dark crust, or "bark," covers the meat. It may appear burnt, but it isn't. Internal temperature should be about 195 Fahrenheit.  Wrap in tinfoil after the first 4 hours or so.

6. Let meat rest about 10-15 minutes. It may not necessarily fall apart easily and be fork or finger shreddable, unless you wrap it in foil and cook for an additional hour or two at a higher temp. We like to do that, but it's fine to pull apart segments and chop the meat up with a cleaver. This is NOT cheating! Real barbecue gurus do this all the time.


This sauce need not be cooked.

1. Combine all dry spices and mix up with your fingers to break up brown sugar lumps.

2. Mix vinegar and mustard together with whisk or spoon until well blended.

3. Mix in dry spices. Pour everything over the chopped pork and mix it all up. Try the chopped pork on a sandwich roll with mustardy cole slaw.

GOT YOUR OWN PULLED PORK OR CAROLINA CHOPPED PORK RECIPE? Send it to Sizzle Grove. Don't forget to snap some pics!

(Raw pork shoulder photo licensed by Creative Commons)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Connecticut Barbecue

Among all the barbecue regions of America, Connecticut is easily the most..... uh......

Okay, there is no such thing as "Connecticut barbecue," in terms of a particular style indigenous to New England or the northeast whatsoever. However, some establishments around the nutmeg state give a nod to the nation's barbecue regions with their own renditions of such well-established styles.

Wilson's in Fairfield, CT
is one of the most well-known Connecticut barbecue joints, once featured on the Food Network's popular Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives. Their menu offers the standard ribs, brisket, sausages, and chicken, though they tend to pay homage to every region of American barbecue. Various types of sauces, such as Kansas City style sweet barbecue sauce, to the peppery bite of Tennessee-style vinegar based sauce, are all included here. Texas style brisket, Memphis and St. Louis style ribs, and Carolina style pork shoulder are all found here. Check out their website.

The Cookhouse in New Milford
is a well established Connecticut barbecue and country food joint not to be overlooked. And it's big. Their menu features all the favorites, including pulled pork smoked for 15 hours, and a cut of brisket known as "burnt ends." Being a favorite of some of our friends at Sizzle Grove, burnt ends are almost exactly what they sound like... the darkest ends of a smoked brisket. They are, however, far from actually being "burnt." Visit The Cookhouse website for more info.

Sizzle Grove correspondents recently had a chance to visit a less-known barbecue establishment in Groton, called Chester's Barbecue. We had the chance to sample their spare ribs, after staring for about ten minutes at their extensive menu. The ribs are served smoked with a minimal dry rub, with either sweet or spicy sauce served on the side. Of course, we chose spicy rub. The ribs were tender with a balanced smoke flavor... not smoked all day, but not rushed either. Chester's Barbecue has some great reviews online from their visitors. A banner on their website boasts "Barbecue is not the sauce, it's what the sauce goes on." We couldn't agree more.

Just about twenty minutes down the road from Chester's is the massive Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville. Among the dozens of restaurants on the upper level near their "Earth Casino" area is Big Bubba's BBQ. While staying in eastern Connecticut, we thought maybe we'd try out this place too. What sets Big Bubba's BBQ apart from most barbecue we've had is their pulled pork and barbecued beef. What we expected to be a sandwich with some pork shoulder and some brisket slices on it turned out to be brisket cooked so long, it turned into pulled beef. A variety of sauces were offered to us on the table, but the beef and pork sandwiches needed none. Their spice rub was so rich and flavorful, with meat so moist and juicy, their barbecue literally seemed to make its own sauce. Smoke flavor was fairly mild, but the overall impression surely wasn't. They're online too.

There are certainly other barbecue establishments in Connecticut and the northeast. Got any favorites? Send us your review... but keep it positive, we don't do negative posts at Sizzle Grove. Our temporary email address where we accept submissions under the subject line "sizzlegrove" is

(Scenery photo licensed by Creative Commons)
(Cookhouse photo permission granted by Rob at The Cookhouse)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Salsa Is Good. Make Some.

If we can recommend hot sauce with barbecue, why not salsa? A pulled pork taco? Hell yeah! A smoked brisket enchilada? Word up! Besides, chips and salsa pairs very well with a sharp, punchy India pale ale or a crisp, hoppy pilsner.

Here's what you need:

1. A food processor
2. Two medium to large tomatoes
3. One jalapeno (with seeds for heat, without seeds for not so much)
4. Small bunch of cilantro
5. Half a lime
6. Pinch of salt and pepper
7. A clove of garlic (optional)
8. Two thin slices of red onion

Here's what you do:
1. Cut the tomato into manageable pieces, and remove most of the seeds and tomato goo.
2. Also cut up the jalapeno a bit, and the cilantro a bit.
3. Put tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic clove, salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lime into the food processor.
4. Pulse very lightly, until it's all chopped up together thoroughly, but not pureed into mush.
5. Take your thin onion slices, and cut them up into little bits with a knife. Mix these into your pureed salsa, rather than pureeing them in. Trust us, it works better that way.
6. Wait at least a couple hours for all the juices and spices and acids to seep into each other, then enjoy!

**Also, cumin is a nice spice to add, particularly when mixed with fresh oregano. Try putting those in your salsa if you like. For a smokey kick, add some chipotle powder or hot smoked paprika.

Barbecued Brisket Basics

One of my favorite barbecue gurus, television show host and cookbook writer Steve Raichlen, describes brisket as "the Mount Everest of barbecue." He is not wrong.

Brisket is a cut of meat that comes from just below the neck on a cow. Due to it's toughness and high fat content, it absolutely must be cooked thoroughly. This is not a cut of beef you want rare. Undercooked brisket will be completely tough and chewy and almost inedible.

Because of this fact, it's also quite easy to overcook brisket, as you may constantly think to yourself "I better let it cook more" until you've gone too far. This will result in dry, leathery meat.

Properly cooked brisket, however, is delicious and juicy and flavorful. You got it right when it's so tender you can practically carve it with a butterknife.


Purchase as thick a cut of brisket as possible. The flat cut briskets often available at supermarkets are easy to dry out. Of course, thick briskets are usually giant, so make sure you have plenty of friends coming.

First off, a brisket is best prepared with a dry rub. You've seen Sizzle Grove discuss coffee rubs in previous blog posts, which makes for an excellent brisket rub. Try mixing together coffee, black pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and a bit of cumin. If you like some sweetness, bulk it up with brown sugar too. Be liberal with the coffee. If you don't want to try all of these things, try going as minimal as possible. Salt and pepper. Bam. Done.

Apply plenty of rub to the meat. Some barbecuers say this should be done right before cooking, as to ensure a nice crust. We at Sizzle Grove, however, like to put our rubs on hours (or even a day) beforehand in order to create rub marinade... a "rubbinade," let's call it. Sounds dirty.

You will probably need to light a few batches of coals to cook your brisket through. Start with a large batch of coals, then after a couple hours, light a half batch, rinse, and repeat. Be sure to stock your smoker with your favorite hard wood chunks each time you light coals to infuse the meat with flavorful smoke.

Cooking your brisket at around 220 degrees for about an hour per pound will do the trick. Wrapping the brisket in foil at the halfway point is also quite helpful for getting that perfect, tender texture.  Once the bark toughens, it isn't likely to absorb much more smoke flavor anyway.  And, if you run out of coals and finish it in the oven, I promise I won't tell.

Another helpful hint for keeping your brisket moist is the use of baste. Each time you light new coals, baste the meat. A simple baste, or "mop sauce," consists simply of half vinegar, half water. However, if you want to be creative, add some hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce or dry spices to your baste. If you want to go with our beloved coffee theme, add a shot of espresso to your baste!

As always, let us know if you have a favorite brisket recipe, or let us know the results if you try any of our ideas. Don't forget to send pictures! Any submissions may be sent to with the subject line "sizzlegrove."

(Brisket photo licensed by Creative Commons)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Making Hot Sauce

What we find pairs best with certain types of barbecue, rather than a thick typical barbecue sauce, is a nice hot sauce. Smoked chicken wings, brisket, and sausages are particularly delicious with a nice dab of hot sauce.

Most people don't realize it, but hot sauce can be made at home. All you need is some chili peppers, water, salt, and vinegar. However, other ingredients may be included too, such as garlic, onions, a bit of sugar, and even pureed carrots for some sweetness.

Here's how Sizzle Grove's Thai chili hot sauce is made:

1. In a saucepan, put about 20 thai chilis (stems removed), plus one garlic clove, in a half a cup of water and a half a cup of vinegar.

2. Add two teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of sugar.

3. Bring these to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes until everything softens.

4. Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor which has proper ventilation at the top for handling hot liquids. Add about a quarter cup each of fresh cold water and vinegar, in order to help bring the temperature down.

5. Puree until smooth. Some tiny bits of chilis or garlic in your sauce is fine... gives it character.

6. Funnel your sauce into a glass storage container, and keep in the fridge. This will keep almost indefinitely!

Send us your hot sauce recipes, or your results from trying this one out!

Mustard Marinaded Spare Ribs

Here is one of our favorite ways to enjoy spare ribs. We caved for you guys and wrote down some approximate measurements, but be as liberal as you like.


Two racks of trimmed spare ribs, cut into halves, with membranes removed

In a small bowl, mix:
1. Two tablespoons spicy mustard, such as Kosciusko's
2. One teaspoon cider vinegar
3. One teaspoon white wine vinegar
4. Two teaspoons honey
5. One clove crushed garlic

Mix the following spices in a jar:
1. Two teaspoons black pepper
2. One teaspoon cumin
3. One teaspoon coriander
4. One teaspoon smoked paprika
5. Half teaspoon cayenne pepper
6. Two teaspoons onion powder or onion salt
7. Two teaspoons mustard powder or coarse ground mustard seeds
**Pour half of this mixture into the marinade, and reserve the other half**

Rub spiced mustard marinade generously over spare ribs, and extra trimmed meat, store overnight.

1. Fire up your smoker with a large batch of coals. Using a chimney starter will help you get your coals lit.

2. Place your favorite wood on the coals, after it has soaked in water for at least an hour. We at Sizzle Grove mostly use hickory wood.

3. Allow ribs to cook for about 3-4 hours, checking every hour or so. Temperature may start off hot, but should even out to 250-275 degrees Fahrenheit. Light a small batch of coals mid-way through if necessary.

4. For one final hour of cooking time, wrap ribs in foil. At this point, they have absorbed plenty of smoke, and will not absorb more in the foil.

5. After one hour is up, sprinkle reserved spices over the top of the ribs.

6. Allow meat to rest for about ten minutes. Cut up ribs and enjoy!

**If your smoker still has some heat left and you still have some wood left, throw your extra trimmed marinaded rib meat on the grill grate! After it cooks through, chop it up into small bits with a good knife, and you've got boneless spare ribs! If your smoker goes cold, these boneless ribs will still be tasty on a standard propane grill or fried up in a pan.

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Standard Dry Rub Ingredients

You've probably noticed us mention in a lot of recipes that measurements are approximate.  Exact measuring is for bakers.  We cook.  If we mention an ingredient in a dry rub, the proper amount is usually as much as you want.

However, some of the folks reading this might want some direction. Here are some tips for specific spices in regards to mixing up your own barbecue spice rubs.

BLACK PEPPER: Be generous. Black pepper and salt can be your only ingredients, and you can still end up with great barbecue.

SALT: Be a bit less generous than with pepper, but don't be stingy.

BROWN SUGAR: Be way more generous than you think you should be. Brown sugar can very well make up half of your spice rub.


ONION POWDER: See above.

MUSTARD POWDER: If you like tangy zesty things, see above again. If not, chill out on the mustard powder. We like to coarsely grind mustard seeds into spice rubs, and mix it with vinegar to make a sort of spice marinade.

PAPRIKA: Adds bulk and color mostly, as it has a very mild flavor.  You can use plenty if you like.  Flavor may vary slightly depending on the region in which it's processed.

SMOKED PAPRIKA: You'll see this in tons of Sizzle Grove recipes.  Available hot or sweet.  Go easy with it... smoked paprika gives you some smoke flavor "insurance," but you want most of your flavor to come from wood smoke.

CHILI POWDER: Most chili powders are actually blends of spices and salt mixed with ground chilis or paprika. You can use a pretty generous amount if you like, but you might not know exactly what's in it.

How about funkier ingredients?

CUMIN: A Sizzle Grove favorite. Very strong flavor, so try a pinch at first, then try more as you go along.

TURMERIC: Go very easy on this. It has a pungent, almost off-putting smell, but it does give a tangy flavor. It is commonly used in mustards and curries.

CINNAMON: Try just a little at first. We tend to avoid it, as it is a strong flavor that may dominate your barbecue.

COFFEE: Believe it or not, you can be fairly generous with coffee. Your barbecue will have an earthy tone that doesn't taste LIKE coffee per se, but the flavor change will be noticeable and pleasant.

GROUND CLOVES: Since people generally put cloves into dishes and then take them OUT, while still achieving a robust clovey flavor, seriously just use a pinch.

CHOCOLATE POWDER: Like coffee, this is a "depends on what you're going for" ingredient that may lend an earthy richness or a savory sweetness. It may, however, dominate your barbecue, so experiment.

DRY OR FRESH HERBS: Herbs are sort of an odd thing to use in a spice rub, but we find that dried oregano can add a pleasant flavor. Many of the ingredients in spice rubs are also found in chili or in Mexican cuisine, as is oregano. Sprinkle fresh herbs on your ribs at the end of cooking for something unique.

Keep in mind, no matter what kind of rub you mix up, it should match your marinade, baste, and/or sauce, if you are applying any of such. Also, keep in mind that any spice rub you mix up might smell pretty pungent. Your barbecue won't taste like THAT exactly... all the oils of the spices will mix with the meat and the flavor of the wood smoke to produce something you might not have expected.

Got any unique ingredients you like to use in your spice rubs? Need advice on an ingredient you want to try? Leave comments. Happy spicing!

BBQ BASICS: Back Ribs vs Spare Ribs

Ever go to a barbecue joint and not know whether to get spare ribs or babyback ribs (or as we simply call them, back ribs)? Ever go to the store and wonder why the smaller rack of ribs costs twice as much as the big one?

Both types are delicious and can be barbecued to tender, "clean off the bone" perfection. We at Sizzle Grove don't believe that ribs should "fall off the bone" - it's not pulled pork, it's a rib! Rather, the meat should easily come clean off the bone when you bite into it, rather than fall apart when you pick it up.

Spare ribs are gigantic, meatier, and fattier. They can deliver a great bang for the buck. So why choose back ribs?

Well, back ribs are more of a "guarantee." Their fat content is lower than that of spare ribs, but any fat in them tends to be very well marbled. Additionally, they're a bit smaller, a lot more evenly shaped, and have a consistent thickness all the way through the rack. Therefore, they are much easier to cook than spare ribs.

A rack of back ribs can cook for 2.5 to 3 hours at around 275 degrees to reach perfection. This may be slightly hotter than typical "low and slow" barbecue, but trust us, it works just as well, as long as your smoker or grill is billowing with deliciously fragrant hard wood smoke. But, cook the rack for too long and the ribs will dry out a bit.

On the other hand, a rack of spare ribs may take closer to 4 or 5 hours before reaching perfection. Undercooking will result in some tough ribs. We also recommend trimming the extra flaps of meat off of spare ribs before throwing them into the smoker. This allows a more even shape, resulting in consistent cooking. It also gives you some extra meat to throw on the smoker later, which can be chopped up into boneless spare ribs, just like you get at your favorite Chinese take-out joint. Be sure to have a good meat carving knife on hand for spare ribs, whether you're doing your initial trimming or chopping them up after cooking - the bones can be a bit oddly shaped.

Tips for any kind of ribs: try and remove the "silverskin," or thin membrane underneath the ribs if you can. Just try to poke a boning knife underneath this membrane at the side, grab the membrane in your hand with a paper towel, and attempt to rip it off. It ain't easy, but it will help overall smoke absorption. Another tip for any kind of ribs: when you've barbecued them up and are ready to chop them into individual portions, have the underside of the rack facing you. This way, you can easily see where the bones are separated and where to chop.

Any further questions or comments? Give us a shout in the comment box.

(First and second photos by Sizzle Grove)
(Third photo, raw half rack back ribs, licensed by Creative Commons)

Send Us Some Eye Candy

Pride and gluttony... two of our favorite sins here at Sizzle Grove.

If you recently cooked up, grilled up, smoked up (not in that way, Phish fans), or barbecued up something delicious that you were SO proud of that you had to snap a few photos, send them to us!

Submissions are taken at with "sizzlegrove" as the subject title. Be sure to mention your name, where you're from, and a brief description of what you cooked. If your snapshot is worthy, it will grace the pages of Sizzle Grove as its own blog post!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Brooklyn "Black Chocolate Stout"

In the darkest corner of beer's wide spectrum lie stouts, which are types of ales brewed with roasted barley and dark malts. Cream stouts (or milk stouts) deliver consumers a sweet coffee style flavor, oatmeal stouts boast a silky texture and distinct flavor, and the cousin of these ales, the Irish dry stout, offers generous flavor at a "sessionable" lower alcohol level. The imperial stout, originating in Victorian England, is the big scary uncle of all of these beers.

Imperial stouts are big and bold, with intense espresso and dark chocolate flavors. Sometimes also noted are berry or dark fruit flavors, in addition to molasses-like sweetness. The texture of an imperial stout is viscous and velvety, and the color is about as black as India ink.

Brooklyn Brewery's "Black Chocolate Stout," which is now available year-round, presents a fine example of the style. While not actually brewed with chocolate, the body of this beer is sculpted with a type of malt called chocolate malt, which lends a bittersweet, roasty, dark chocolate flavor to stouts and porters. Brooklyn Black definitely has a deep, dark chocolate flavor, somewhat more dominated by its espresso like flavor and a hint of pomegranate tang that just hits the side of the tongue when the beer is fresh. This ale also has a very noticeable, albeit very balanced, earthy hop bitterness. Clocking in at 10%, the alcohol "hotness" expected from this beer is very well veiled.

One of the magical things about this stout is its ability to age like wine. While there are beers out there capable of such a transformation, they are few... really few. Like Brooklyn Black, the best candidates tend to be high alcohol ales, generally with darker malt bodies. When Brooklyn Black is aged for one year (in a cool, dark environment), its molasses and toffee-like sweetness shines through from whatever residual sugars had been previously muted by its sharp hop profile. Hop flavors tend to diminish over time.

If you want to try Brooklyn Black, check out your local craft beer selling liquor store. Four-packs of this beer generally go for around 8 dollars, which is a steal considering the quality and strength of this ale. Most imperial stouts and other "big beers" are not inexpensive.

Pair this beer with some deep, smokey burnt ends barbecue. To be honest, though, we think imperial stouts are best AFTER dinner. Try Brooklyn Black with a slice of cheesecake or a rich dark chocolate dessert.

Cherry Glazed Back Ribs

The combination of a lightly spiced cherry glaze, mixed with cherry wood smoke and a coffee-infused spice rub offers sweet and spicy flavors that complement and enhance each other.  Use the following recipe to barbecue two racks of back ribs.  Measurements are approximate.

1 tbsp coffee or espresso grinds

1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Tiny pinch Cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
13 oz. jar cherry jam or preserves

Soaked cherry wood chunks

1. Remove silverskin from back ribs and apply rub.  Let marinade for an hour or up to overnight.
2. Start a chimneyful of coals.
3. Aim for temperature of about 300 degrees in smoker, which may be adjusted by opening or closing vents.  Barbecue rib racks for about 2 hours.
4. Apply a thin layer of cherry sauce to the underside of the ribs.  Let cook, underside up, for fifteen minutes.
5. Apply another layer of cherry sauce to top of ribs.  Let cook, top side up, for an additional fifteen minutes.
6. Remove ribs from smoker.  Let ribs rest for five minutes, cut up, and enjoy.  Serve with any extra sauce on the side.

**If you have a gas grill, you could take your ribs out of the smoker once they're done and the bones are protruding, turn the grill to about 400 degrees F, and finish them for ten minutes or so with the cherry glaze.  This will crust the glaze onto the ribs nicely.

Thinking about making this, or a variation?  Send your photos and testimony to

(Photo licensed by Creative Commons)


Welcome to the first entry in the Sizzle Grove blog!

My name is Nick, and I am the moderator and creator of Sizzle Grove. This blog not only encourages users to browse through its content, but to submit content themselves! Any content deemed worthy for the Sizzle Grove pages will be posted as written by the submitter, including any pictures, video, recipes, etc.

Basically, all of you have to do is submit a recipe, article, or beer review through the comment link on the most recent Sizzle Grove entry, and it will be reviewed. If you're interested in putting up picture or video, just include your contact information and we'll talk! If you already have a Google account and profile, life will be easy for both of us.

Hope to hear from you all.