Search This Blog

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Please Take Our Poll

Hey folks, we've got a new poll on Sizzle Grove.   Look on the right side of the page and please give us your input.  With the cold weather approaching, we're contemplating whether or not we should expand to indoor recipes.  If so, the recipes would be relevant to the whole Sizzle Grove angle; lots of bold, hearty, spicy recipes and rustic cooking styles.  At the same time, we are proud to be a specialized cooking blog, and wouldn't want to compromise our expertise.

Fear not, we'll still test and post barbecue recipes as long as we can cook in 40+ degree weather, but when it's 12 degrees outside with 60 mph winds, we might not be firing up coals quite so much.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Internal Temperature Guide

If you've ever cooked any type of meat in your life, you should know (keyword "should") that different types of meat need to be cooked to specific temperatures to kill potentially harmful bacteria.  In order to protect your friends from getting carsick on the drive home from your barbecue, you should consult this guide each time you barbecue.

I know, this entry doesn't have steamy, sizzling photos of succulent barbecue, but it is important.

165 F
**Poultry should always be thoroughly cooked through!  You may occasionally meat raw diet nutcases who claim that quality, organic, free-range poultry can be served carpaccio style or something, but that's crazy.  And it sounds really really gross.

Rare: About 125  F
Medium Rare: About 135 F
Medium: About 145 F
Medium-Well: About 155 F
Overdone: Over 160

160-165 F
**Though some people enjoy burgers on the rarer side, it's not guaranteed safe.  Most bacteria resides on the outside of beef.  When ground, the outside gets put on the inside too.

SAUSAGE (all types)
Above 160 F

PORK (chops, tenderloin, etc.)
Medium: About 145 F
Well Done: Over 160 F
**Pork can, in fact, be slightly pink in the center.  You just don't wanna do it really rare.

Above 160 F
**These standard barbecue fare items are actually the exception in which you need not consult this guide.  If you do think you need to consult this guide when you make a brisket... that means it's not done.

MOST FISH (steaks, fillets)
About 140 F

RARE FISH (tuna, swordfish)
125 F is optimal
**Fish such as tuna, of course, can be fully cooked until flakey, but most seafood fans would consider really high quality expensive tuna to be wasted if cooked that much.

Some types of shellfish, such as oysters, can be served raw.  Others are cooked until they open.  Items such as shrimp and lobster are generally cooked by the minute rather by the temperature.  If you do grill shrimp, just cook it until it's white all the way through.  Quite frankly, grilling whole lobster may not be worth the effort, as it will only steam internally in its shell anyway.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting Started Barbecuing

A few days ago, I was firing up my smoker to test the Jerk Marinade recipe.  As usual, I practiced my standard barbecue routine... clean the smoker, prep the marinade/meat, and scrounge up my charcoal chimney, coals, lighter, etc. etc. etc.  I remembered when I first started barbecuing, and thought about how much more quickly I'm able to prepare for a day in front of the smoker than I used to be.

So, it only seemed natural that I'd make a post on Sizzle Grove for all the beginning barbecuers out there to make the process seem a bit less intimidating.

Here are some things you'll need to have to start out:

A SMOKER - Well, you could build your own, but if you know how to do that, then you can probably figure out all the other details yourself.  Find more information on smokers in this article.

A CHARCOAL CHIMNEY - These devices help you light coals without using nasty toxic lighter fluid.  Simply put a scrunched newspaper in the bottom, pour in the coals, and light the newspaper.  Keeping the chimney up high (I set mine down on the grates of our gas grill) allows you to blow on the lit newspaper to encourage the flames.

COALS - For more info, check out this article.

SOMETHING TO RAKE COALS WITH - You could use a large, strong metal spoon like I do, or a fireplace prong, or an actual metal rake, but it's always helpful to have the ability to rake the coals around.

TONGS AND SPATULAS - Goes without saying.  Get heavy duty stuff for big pieces of meat, like brisket and pork shoulder.  Having a few sets of tongs helps, so you can use one set on uncooked meat and one set on cooked meat to avoid contamination.

ALUMINUM FOIL - ALL HAIL ALUMINUM FOIL!  This stuff is a barbecuer's best friend.  After meat gets smoked for a few hours but still needs more cooking time, wrap it in foil to hold in moisture.

A LIGHTER - For lighting stuff.

BRILLO-STYLE CLEANING PADS - These are the easiest things to clean your smoker with, particularly the grill grate.  Simply hose everything down, scrub, and hose down again.  Learn more about smoker maintenance by clicking this.

MEAT, DRY RUBS, RECIPES, ETC. - Yeah yeah yeah.

Hopefully this helps you all.  Happy barbecuing!


Sizzle Grove on Hub Pages

Sizzle Grove is now publishing articles on under the hub Mastering the Art of Barbecue.  Most of the articles will be similar to those seen here on the blog, though longer and formatted differently.  Rather than offering specific recipes, as we do on the blog, this hub page will be more technique-based.  We hope you all check it out and comment/post there too!

Jerk Marinade

Prior to the discovery of the Indian bhut jolokia, or "ghost chili," scotch bonnet chilis and habaneros were considered the hottest peppers on this planet.  Why the hell would we want to eat anything that hot?

Well, people in the Caribbean and Latin America both enjoy the innate tropical flavor of these chilis' meat, in addition to actually enjoying the intense spice.  When paired with the bittersweet, clovey flavor of allspice and the lemony tang of fresh thyme, something magical happens: Jamaicans call it "jerk."

Believed to have come from the word "charqui," which turned into the word "jerky" in English, jerk is a fiery hot, flavorful marinade most often applied to pork and chicken.  In addition to the standard trinity of chilis, allspice, and thyme, different jerk cooks might add garlic, onion, cloves, cinnamon, or other fun spices.  We at Sizzle Grove came up with our own fairly authentic recipe.  We like to use it on chicken drumsticks, since they're both traditional and inexpensive.

*Note: for best results, find whole allspice "berries" (which look and feel like peppercorns) and grind them up at home.

3-4 pounds of desired meat/veggie
1-2 habaneros, depending on what you can stand
3 cloves garlic
Half a medium onion, or equivalent
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh ground allspice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1.5 tbsp olive oil
Juice of one lime
A dash of cold water

1. Cut up habaneros, garlic, and onion into small pieces for a blender or food processor.
2. Blend up these ingredients with salt, pepper, cumin, the leaves of a few thyme sprigs, and allspice.
3. Add olive oil, and blend again to form a paste.  Add small dashes of water until mixture becomes liquidy and spreadable over chicken.
4. Spread marinade over meat, weaving sprigs of thyme all over the meat as well.  Marinade for a few hours or overnight.  Sprinkling on extra allspice berries won't hurt.
5. Cook meat close to coals and wood (for a grilling effect, rather than slow barbecuing).  If possible, add allspice berries to the coals for a flavorful smoke.  Allspice leaves may be used too, but since they are hard to find, we use the spent thyme sprigs.
6. Once food is done, squeeze some extra lime juice over it and drizzle lightly with agave nectar, or light honey.  There's not usually much of a sweet component in jerk, but trust us, it works nice.

Serve with items such as mango slices, rice, raita (an Indian yogurt salad), fried plantains, or even just some quality crusty bread with spreadable butter to cool off the heat.  Beer-wise, we'd pair jerk barbecue with a hoppy-sweet double IPA.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tea-Smoked Barbecue

No wood?  No problem!

If you have some dry rice and tea leaves and a few spices in your house, you can still make some awesome barbecue outside your house.  In fact, you can get pretty creative with tea-smoked barbecue.  Most recipes start with rice and tea leaves as a base, adding extra ingredients such as star anise, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and orange zestBrown sugar is often added to the tea-smoking mixture too, which some sources claim results in a sweet flavor and rich color.

So what's it taste like?  Have you ever had spare ribs from the Chinese restaurant?  Think about that flavor, only smokier.  Think about the flavor of plum sauce and five spice being infused into slow cooked meat, without ever using a drop of either ingredient.  This method produces a truly incredible flavor. 

Of course, Asian-themed barbecue recipes like smoked duck or Sizzle Grove's Chinese-Style Spare Ribs are perfect suitors for tea-smoked barbecue, but we see no reason why you can't try any of your favorite recipes.  Sizzle Grove tried it with our Cherry-Glazed ribs recipe, substituting spare ribs instead since we like them and often find them on sale. 

Additionally, the tea we used was a Japanese green tea infused with dried cherry pieces, to compliment the cherry glaze.


2 tbsp dry rice
3 tbsp loose tea
2 tbsp brown sugar
About 5 pieces of star anise
About 5 whole cloves


1. Put mixture into an aluminum foil pouch, as similarly outlined in this tutorial.  Remember to keep the top of the pouch open for smoke to escape, or poke several holes in the top.

2. Light coals as needed.  Place smoking pouch directly ontop of coals.

3. Wait for smoke to generate, then put food on the grill, close, and cook as usual.  Don't expect the same kind of billowing smoke as is commonly produced from hard wood, but do expect an equally bold flavor.
Tea and star anise smoked spare ribs
For quicker barbecuing or grilling (less than one hour cook time), you might want to heat up the tea mixture a little bit before smoking, but for slow barbecue, just leave the ingredients dry.  Pair your tea-smoked barbecue with a strong, dark Belgian ale.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hometown Sizzle Grove Coverage!

Check out this Newtown Bee article written by Sizzle Grove friend Eliza Hallabeck.  It's all about da grove!

Newtowner Sizzles For Barbeque and Beer
By Eliza Hallabeck

After graduating Newtown High School in 2003, working at Starbucks in Newtown for five years, and then attending college for an American studies degree, resident Nick Doniger has found what he wants to do for his career, and it involves barbequing and beer.
This week Mr Doniger explained it took a few weeks of planning before he posted his Sizzle Grove Barbecue Blog online in July.
"I had been barbequing so much with friends at home, and I had so many recipes," he said.
Mr Doniger had also been freelancing at the time for the website, an article collection website designed to answer questions on topics, and knew some people get paid to blog.
At first, he updated his blog between five to seven times a week, but now, with "a strong base of recipes and tips and articles," he plans to post something new four times a week, according to the blog.
As Mr Doniger wrote on Sizzle Grove Barbeque Blog, located at, "My interest in barbecue came about only a few years before writing up this blog. After watching various television shows about American barbecue and researching it online, I decided to purchase a small charcoal smoker. Having always been a fan of pork ribs in particular, my first adventure was with making spare ribs."
While he dreams of moving to a larger smoker eventually, Mr Doniger said the trick is to get good at using the equipment at your disposal.
"I've sat outside cooking all day," said Mr Doniger. "For some people cooking all day is a chore. For me, it's a hobby."
Most of the time, he said, he will sit outside with friends and family. Due to the smaller size of his smoker, he is limited to the number of people he can entertain with his cooking, but sometimes he will cook up larger servings of food to bring to parties.
Barbequing and beer are both passions of his, he said, adding he has been a fan of beer since he turned 21.
"Sizzle Grove was born out of my own necessity to archive my recipes and all the things I've learned from experts and from my own experimentation," Mr Doniger wrote on the blog. "I also wanted to show that people from the North are beginning to catch on to the idea of authentic barbecue. Being from Connecticut, I've seen a few quality establishments around my own state, and I've met other folks around my area who love true 'cue."
Mr Doniger also serves plenty of side dishes with his meals, ranging from coleslaw and beans to salads. Vegetable recipes, he said, will be coming to the website shortly.
With the colder weather approaching, Mr Doniger said he will continue barbequing and writing recipes. He has plans to move to Brooklyn soon with his girlfriend, Lauryn Linley of Monroe. Ms Linley, and Mr Doniger's parents, Paul and Nancy Doniger, have all been supporters of the blog since its inception, Mr Doniger said.
"It's been fun developing all my own recipes and tips," said Mr Doniger.
His favorite recipe so far was for Mustard Marinated Spare Ribs, which he blogged about on July 28. Mr Doniger suggests an India Pale Ale as the perfect compliment to this dish.
The blog was designed to have readers comment and add their own recipes to the site, and Mr Doniger said he hopes people will start doing that more often. He said his hopes are for Sizzle Grove Barbecue Blog to continue going for as long as possible, and to make a career from his two passions of beer and barbeque.

Barbecued Spicy Meat-a-balls

As many times as I've heard people say "dat's a spicy meat-a-ball," I've never found myself formidably confronted with a meatball that was actually spicy.  So, I decided to fix that.

These are some of the best meatballs you will ever have.  The smoke flavor and smoke ring that forms inside these, after only about 1.5 hours of smoking, is incredible.  Additionally, the recipe may appear as a lot of steps, but it's just a series of common-sensey small steps.  You won't regret trying this.

Note: feel free to mix ground beef with ground pork.

3.5 lbs ground beef (80/20)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
2 eggs
1 tsp black pepper
4 tbsp unseasoned bread crumbs
2-3 finely chopped small, hot green chilis
5 cloves chopped roasted garlic (or 3 cloves raw garlic)
1 tsp dry oregano, or handful chopped fresh oregano

3 tbsp Green Chili Hot Sauce, or your favorite not-too-insane hot sauce
3 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp honey

**To make sauce, simply whisk these ingredients together - no need to simmer or cook them!

1. Mix paprika, salt, oregano, and pepper together in a large bowl until blended.

2. Add soy sauce, eggs, garlic, and chilis, and whisk until blended.
3. Add ground beef, mixing up with hands.
4. Add bread crumbs and mix again until all ingredients are well incorporated.  Form meat into an oval-ball, kind of like a gigantic burger.

5. Let sit in fridge for a few hours, then start lighting a chimneyful of coals and soaking wood chunks.
6. Form large, evenly round meatballs, about half fist-sized.
7. Once coals are lit and wood chunks are in, place meatballs ontop of grill grate.
8. Position vents of smoker to obtain a temp of about 275 degrees F.  Smoke for about 1.5 hours, or until thoroughly cooked through to about 160 degrees F.

9. Put meatballs into a bowl, drizzle with sauce, and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.  Enjoy with herbed garlic toast and roasted root vegetables.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Got Barbecue?

Send us photos of your recent barbecuing/grilling adventures!  Who doesn't love hot, steamy pictures of meat?

Here's a photo of Sizzle Grove Cherry Glazed Back Ribs sent to us by our friend Tim, from last Labor Day.  If only someone would open up a barbecue restaurant and pay us to come up with the recipes, you could all try cherry ribs too......................................................

Send stuff to!

Sizzle Green (Salsa Verde)

Green salsa, or "salsa verde," is made with either tomatillos or unripe green tomatoes.  It has a fresh, sharp, zingy flavor, which cuts the richness of grilled steak or smoked chicken particularly well.  It can also make some epic enchiladas or quesadillas.

Since green tomatoes are heartburn machines, this salsa gets cooked to take out the rawness.  Feel free to use a mixture of tomato types.  For this recipe, Sizzle Grove used green cherry tomatoes and some meaty green heirloom tomatoes.

2 large tomatoes (or equivalent)
1/2 cup diced white onion
3 cloves Smoke Roasted Garlic, chopped fine (or mushed if soft enough)
1-2 chopped hot red chilis
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp fine salt
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of cumin

1. Chop tomatoes into manageable pieces, and lightly pulse in a blender or food processor.  Don't puree them... rather, allow them to end up as a "texturey" sauce.
2. Pour tomatoes and all other ingredients into a saucepan.
3. Put heat on high until salsa starts bubbling, then reduce to a very low simmer.
4. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then refrigerate mixture.  Let sit overnight, then enjoy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Smoke Roasted Garlic

Ever go to an Asian market and find insanely cheap and giant packages of garlic bulbs?  As much of a garlic fiend as I am, even I can't seem to figure out how to use that much before it goes bad... which is why, I like to roast up whole bulbs of garlic!

Next time you're barbecuing and you have some extra space on your smoker, why not smoke roast some garlic?  It's pretty freakin easy.

Bulbs of garlic
Olive oil

1. Chop off tips of garlic bulbs, taking of just a bit of the top of the cloves themselves.  Leave the papery garlic skin on!
2. Drizzle the top with a bit of olive oil, trying to get it to soak in a little.
3. Sprinkle the top with salt.
4. Put bulbs of garlic on the smoker with all your meats and whatnot.  Smoke for about 2 hours (maybe more if you're going really low temp) or until soft and glorious.  Mix into sauces, chilis, or spread on toast if soft enough.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Back From A Brief Hiatus

Hello everyone.

Sizzle Grove has experienced a recent lack of posts due to a bit of a crisis amongst a family very close to me.  Just want to make sure you all know that the blog will continue going strong, and we may even be featured in a local newspaper very soon.

Thanks for all your support.  Keep on following, and don't let the cooling weather keep you inside!


Delicatessen Spare Ribs

You've noticed we do spare ribs a lot on Sizzle Grove.  Yeah, they're a bit trickier than back ribs and require more preparation, but they're so meaty and glorious.  Here's a recipe inspired by our friend Rob, which combines the peppery/garlicky flavor of deli style meats such as pastrami with the smokey, indulgent wonderfulness of barbecue.

Give yourself some time, as this one gets brined overnight.  (pictured below: brined, rubbed, raw ribs)

2 cups water
2 tbsp white or rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, just chopped in half
Drizzle of worcestershire sauce
1 cup of ice cubes

Plenty of Sizzle Grove Delicatessen Dry Rub, minus garlic powder
3 cloves fine chopped garlic

One trimmed rack of spare ribs plus rib tips

1. Combine all ingredients for brine, except ice cubes, in a saucepan.  Bring to a light boil.
2. Remove from heat, add ice cubes to bring down to room temperature.
3. Pour brine over trimmed ribs to cover, adding a bit more water if necessary, and refrigerate for 12-48 hours.
4. When ready to cook, start up some coals, soak some wood chunks, and drain/rinse brine off of ribs.
5. Coat ribs heartily with dry rub and chopped garlic.
6. Cook ribs on smoker, with vents adjusted to get a temp of about 250 degrees F.
7. After 2-3 hours, or once well browned and cooked through, wrap ribs in foil and cook for one more hour.
8. Chop up and enjoy.  No need for sauce on these spicey monkeys.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Cafe Mole" Tomato Barbecue Sauce

Believe it or not, this is a less complicated way to make mole sauce.  Mole is a ridiculously rich Mexican sauce that usually takes all day to make.  Many variations include dark chocolate, as Sizzle Grove's does, and of course we bamf it up by making it caffeinated, just as we do with our standard Espresso Barbecue Sauce.  We take out a few steps, but we also have you cook it on the smoker to really turn it into a barbecue sauce.  At least we're not asking you to reconstitute the dried chilis or simmer the raisins.  They'll all simmer enough in the end.

1 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 piece of cinnamon stick (about a centimeter's worth)

1 New Mexico or Anaheim chili (dried is fine)
1-2 hot chilis (Thai chilis are great, or even smokey chipotles would work)
Half a handful of almonds
Half a handful of raisins or dry currants
2 small squares dark chocolate (85% = awesome)
1 tbsp white or rice wine vinegar
Drizzle of olive oil

1 small can tomato sauce or puree
1 cup ketchup
Double shot of espresso
Half a medium onion, fine chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Drizzle of olive oil
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp sea salt

1. Toast Part 1 ingredients dry in a pan until they become aromatic.
2. Blend Part 2 ingredients in a blender (starting with dry ingredients, then adding liquid ingredients) until very fairly smooth.
3. Add Part 1 ingredients to blender, blend until well incorporated.
4. In a saucepan, simmer onions and garlic and olive oil.  If your grill/smoker is hot enough, you can start this outside, or start it inside.  Add salt to help onions and garlic bleed out.
5. Bring outside (if not already) to the smoker, add tomato sauce, ketchup, espresso, salt, and honey.  Let simmer until bubbling.
6. Add blended ingredients to saucepan, stir in.  Let sit on the smoker while you barbecue, to infuse smoke flavor.  If mixture becomes too thick, just add a bit of water every now and again.

Try smoking some chicken, shredding or chopping it, then using this sauce for enchiladas!  Sprinkle with fresh, chopped cilantro.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Delicatessen Dry Rub

What is it that people love so much about deli meats like pastrami? It's all about the spice.

The difference between pastrami and many other deli meats, other than the fact that pastrami is made from a specific brisket cut, is that it's literally caked with peppercorns, garlic, and other spices.  Rather than being finely ground, many of the spices are cracked or quick crushed, to enhance the texture of the meat's bark.  It has an intensely peppery flavor, and a tangy flavor from being brined often for days at a time.  Here is the Sizzle Grove delicatessen-style dry rub for anyone who can't get enough of that NY-deli style flavor.  The recipe was inspired by Sizzle Grove friend/correspondent Rob, who cooks his ribs with a distinctly pastrami-like, thick dry rub.

Brine a navel cut brisket for 2 days in a water/vinegar/mustard/brown sugar/salt mixture, rub it with this dry rub, smoke it, and guess what... you've got homemade pastrami.

3 tbsp cracked black peppercorns
2 tbsp cracked mustard seeds (yellow or black or both)
1 tbsp sweet paprika
2 tbsp garlic powder (or add minced fresh garlic to the meat)
1/2 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp crushed caraway seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp crushed or ground dried thyme leaves

As always, our recipe yields enough for leftover rub to store in the pantry for next time you barbecue.  This one yields a bit more than our usual dry rub recipes, for those of you who attempt big old briskets.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Well folks, now that Sizzle Grove is beginning to establish its name and the blog has a strong base of recipes and tips and articles, posts are probably gonna be closer to 4 times a week than every day, as they had been at the time of creation.  Thanks for the support, and keep checking every day!

Also, as mentioned in previous posts, Sizzle Grove would love to see your recipes and tips.  As long as it's related to beer and barbecue, send something to us, preferably with photos, and we'll post it on our blog!  Just email!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Southern New England Regional Homebrew Competition 2010

Beer judges (Jim Link bottom right)

Sundays can be pretty dry in Connecticut.  If you forgot to make your Saturday beer run, you might be out of luck, due to antiquated "Blue Laws."  Your best bet is to go to your favorite pub.  Or become a homebrewer.

Actually, there are a lot of perks to being a Connecticut homebrewer, including being able to enter the Southern New England Regional Homebrew Competition (SNERHC).  This year, candidates from throughout the region submitted a total of 250 beers, meads, and ciders to be judged on October 3, 2010 at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, CT.  Judging beer?  Where do I sign up?

Well, I decided to attend so I could see what beer judging was all about.  And maybe try some free beers.  I did.

Upon arrival, I saw a dozen or more tables, all with beer judges tasting, discussing, and taking notes on beers.  A lot of notes actually.  Each judge had to fill out beer score sheets, in which submissions were rated by aroma, appearance, mouthfeel, overall impression, and most importantly, flavor.  A perfect beer (which I doubt was a possibility for this crowd) would receive a total score of 50 points.
Since judging something by flavor can have an inherently subjective tendency, each judge was encouraged to start the day off with what they call a "calibration beer" - something to get everyone's palettes at the same place.  This group chose Cavalry Brewing's "Hatch Plug Ale," an English-style pale ale brewed in Oxford.  Did I mention that this started at 8:30 in the morning?

Anyway, I arrived in the afternoon, after several hours of judging (plus some breaks) took place.  The judges I listened in on, including homebrewer and Connecticut resident John Watson, were in the midst of scoring an India Pale Ale (or IPA) in the low 20s.  "Tastes like unfermented wort," I heard some of them stating.  "Wort" refers to the hot, malty liquid produced before beer is fermented.

So, why so harsh and discriminating?  These beer judges will make sure you know that they are not out to be mean.  In fact, they are out to help fellow brewers and aspiring judges, by noting what may have gone wrong in the brewing process to produce "off-flavors," or flavors not intended for a particular style.  But how do you become so knowledgeable about beer that you can actually taste something and say, "I know what this brewer did wrong"???

Grand Master Beer Judge Jim Link was kind enough to discuss the rigorous process of becoming a beer judge.  Obviously, most (probably all) beer judges are homebrewers themselves.  Seasoned homebrewers, I might add.  And all of them have to take a beer judging test, which Mr. Link often proctors himself.

"It's one of the hardest tests I've ever taken," proclaims Link, when discussing his first time taking the test.  Yes, the Grand Master Beer Judge even had to retake it.  "Everyone takes this test more than once," he says.  These tests are comprised of difficult essay questions that each aspiring judge has about twelve minutes to answer, right off the tops of their heads. 

A sample question, as Link described, could ask a test-taker how a particular style of beer should be made.  The writer has about twelve minutes to write down a detailed beer recipe, plus all the steps including temperatures, pH levels, boiling time… no wonder they tell me that a lot of brewers are chemists by day.

Mark Tambascio judging beer
Some of these brewers enjoy brewing ciders and meads too, which were also featured at SNERHC 2010.  I was able to visit the mead judging table, in which Connecticut resident Russ Hanoman and local restaurant owner Mark Tambascio were tasing a "pyment," or grape mead.   The table featured a variety of flavors of mead, a honey wine which is often given the title of "most ancient beverage in the world." 

Mr. Hanoman, formerly an information technology professional, tells me about how he got into the judging gig.  "Being somewhat of a self-proclaimed gourmand," he states, "I think the passion carries through to beverages as well."  He follows up with the simple statement "I like to drink stuff that tastes good."  Pretty well sums it all up.

"All the best meads are homebrewed, " claims Mr. Tambascio, a co-owner of My Place Restaurant in Newtown.  They were kind enough to give me samples of the pyment, a straight-up mead, and a mead brewed with Grade B dark maple syrup.  And yes, they were really, really, really good.

Tambascio, a high-ranking beer judge, was put to work at the end of the event.  Around 4:00pm, he, Jim Link, and three other judges gave out awards for Best In Show.  Before judging, Tambascio made sure to rouse up a round of applause for Von Bair, who organizes this event every year.

All of the judges had their own little rainbow of beers poured into sample cups in front of them.  It was beautiful.  Beers of every style were given first, second, and third place awards.  Mr. Bair received a few of these awards himself.

Though meads were not included, the judges seemed to give high praise for a lot of adjunct beers - basically, anything with extra ingredients added, whether it be fruits, herbs, or otherwise.  Did I hear someone say "sweet potato ale?" In fact, the two runner-up Best In Show beers were a watermelon wheat ale by New Jersey homebrewer Keith Koval and a coconut porter from Massachussetts brewer Keith Antul.  Keith must be a lucky name.
Winner John Watson with malt-tastic prize
It was no surprise to me that the  winner for Best In Show was the earlier-mentioned John Watson.  I have tried his beers.  They are awesome.  All of them.  For this prestigious award, he submitted an unblended lambic, which is a sour Belgian-style ale brewed with wild yeast strains.

At the end of the day, when everyone had taken their prizes, Mr. Link asked me if I thought I would attend one of these events again.  I told him, "well, I know my beer, but not quite enough to be a judge."  Still, I think I will find an excuse.  Being the press has never been so much fun.

Article by Nick Doniger, for Sizzle Grove and The Mercurial

Friday, October 1, 2010

Coconut Shell Charcoal Briquettes

Recently, when cooking up Smoked Cornish Game Hens, I had the chance to try out a new kind of charcoal briquettes.  In case you haven't read the title of this post, they were made entirely from coconut shells, and are considered a "green" alternative to standard briquettes... which are made out of all kinds of stuff.

The briquettes were not inexpensive - easily more than twice the cost of standard briquettes, even if you find them on sale.  So are they worth it?  Yeah, they are.

Just about every brand of charcoal briquettes or lump coals boasts "burns hotter, cleaner, longer, faster" (okay, maybe they don't say "faster," I was just on a roll there).  I've frequently tried using coals that did not live up to their advertising, but the coconut briquettes did.

In the smoked hen recipe, I mention that only a small batch of coals is necessary.  Like all of Sizzle Grove's recipes, this of course depends on a) the types of coals you're using, and b) the type of smoker you have... and I suppose c) your own ability to control the heat.  These coconut shell briquettes stayed hot and still appeared whole, barely even beginning to ash after an hour of cooking time.  Usually, coals at least become fairly ashy after this long.  With items such as hens, it will usually be advantageous to use fewer coals regardless of what type, due to the drippings and consequential flare-ups from the fatty skin.

The only downside, other than their cost, was that they had a pretty unusual smell when they were being lit.  However, after they were fully lit, this went away.  So, it's really a non-issue.

I would urge all of you to try this product if you could find it.  Even if you are not able to find coconut shell briquettes specifically, try different types of briquettes.  Let yourself spend a little extra for the sake of SCIENCE!  And the sake of barbecue.