Spice it up on a cool night

When the night is cool or rainy, nothing can satisfy like a bowl of beef chilli. Try out our Tex-Mex Chilli and see for yourself.

Tex-Mex Chilli

A spicy beef chilli in the traditional tex-mex style

Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Tex-Mex
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 6 people
Author Bruce Heck

Ingredients

  • 750 gm beef mince 10-15% fat
  • 2 medium onions chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced or pressed; large cloves
  • 2 green peppers optional; sweet peppers, not chilli peppers!
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil or other vegetable oil
  • 2 cans red kidney beans (400gm can)
  • 1 can black beans (400gm can)
  • 3 cans chopped tomatoes (400gm can)
  • 100 gm tomato puree (double concentrate)
  • 60 ml cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp oregano
  • 4 tbsp mild chilli powder ** see notes
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 2 beef stock cubes
  • ¼ tsp black pepper finely ground
  • 150 ml sour cream optional
  • 50 gm sliced jalapeño peppers optional; use pickled jalapeño, not fresh

Instructions

  1. Put the oil, onions and garlic (and green peppers if using) in the stock pot over a medium high heat and saute until softened. Remove from the pan and set aside.

  2. Put the beef mince in the pot and brown thoroughly. Add the onions and garlic to the mince and stir.

  3. Add all of the dry spices and the stock cubes and stir thoroughly.

  4. Add the vinegar, chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Rinse the cans of tomato with a bit of water in each can and combine to make one can full of water. Add to the chilli and stir.

  5. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse. Add the beans (and the jalapeños if using) to the chilli and mix thoroughly.

  6. Simmer the chilli over a medium low heat for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

  7. Serve in bowls with a large dollop of sour cream on top.

Recipe Notes

The ingredients listed as ‘optional’ can be added or not according to your preference — we always add them.  You can make the chilli less spicy by reducing the amount of mild chilli powder you use and by omitting the jalapeño peppers.

Pimp your chilli:

Want to mix it up a little?  Try these optional ingredients:

Add 25gm of finely grated dark chocolate.  This will add an extra richness to the chilli — you’ll never taste the chocolate!

Substitute an equal amount of chopped rump steak for the beef mince for a different texture.  You’ll need to add an extra hour of simmering time to make the steak fall apart tender — and stir regularly to prevent sticking.

Like things a bit smokey?  Add (or substitute) a tablespoon of chipotle or ancho chilli powder to the chilli.

And we like to serve the chilli with a batch of cornbread.  (Check out our cornbread recipe:  http://heckofadish.com/2017/03/17/cornbread/#more-70)

Fancy a curry?

Missing going to your favourite curry house? This simple curry recipe will give you a taste of that curry you’ve been missing without any fuss. It’s easy to make but delivers lots of flavour. As with all curries, you’ll find it even better the next day.

Chicken Curry

An easy to make chicken curry with a tomato base

Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Keyword curry
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Bruce Heck

Ingredients

  • 3 chicken breasts cut into large cubes
  • 2 onion, medium roughly chopped
  • 4 medium tomatoes chopped
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil (or other high-heat oil)
  • 5 tbsp butter (70 gm)
  • 1 cube vegetable stock
  • 1 cup water boiling
  • 2 tbsp ginger finely diced
  • 2 clove garlic pressed
  • 5 tsp madras curry powder (or mild curry powder)
  • 3 tsp biryani seasoning (see notes below)
  • 1 tsp sumac

Instructions

  1. Dissolve the vegetable stock cube or gel in the cup of boiling water. Set aside.

  2. Combine all the dry ingredients and set aside.

  3. Chop your tomatoes into 1cm cubes and set aside.

  4. Roughly chop your onions into large pieces. Set aside.

  5. Cut up your chicken breast into large (2-3cm) cubes. Lightly brown the chicken in 1 tbsp each of rapeseed oil and butter in a large, deep saute pan over medium heat. Remove from the pan and set aside.

  6. Add the remaining oil to the pan saute the ginger for about 2 minutes. Add the onions and saute until the onions until not quite translucent. Add the garlic and saute a further minute.

  7. Add the chicken back into your pan and sprinkle the dry ingredients over it and stir until well combined.

  8. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and the vegetable stock to the pan. Stir to combine well.

  9. Simmer over a medium low heat for about 30 minutes or until the tomato begins to break down. Add the remaining butter and stir until melted and combined.

  10. Serve with basmati rice and naan bread.

Recipe Notes

This curry, like most, is best if made the day before and put into the refrigerator for the flavours to come together.

Biryani Seasoning typically contains roasted cumin seeds, dried garlic, red bell pepper flakes, coriander leaf, dried red onion, cumin seeds, cinnamon, kashmiri chilli powder, paprika, tumerica, ginger powder, black pepper, tomato flakes, cardamom, allspice, bay leaf and cloves.

Examples:
https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/302275696

or
https://www.sainsburys.co.uk/gol-ui/product/seasoning/sainsburys-biryani-seasoning-75g-7939862-p

If you don’t have Madras curry powder, you can use any mild curry powder.

A Perfect Burger Bun?

I’ve always found a brioche bun to be a perfect compliment to pulled pork. Getting good brioche buns has always been a problem though. An excellent recipe may well have solved that.

We came across a YouTube post mentioned by Bunch of Swines on their Facebook page. It’s a bit different than most brioche recipes. Much less butter and the addition of Tangzhong.

Tangzhong is a Japanese technique where you cook a small portion of the flour and liquid (water or milk) briefly before combining the resulting thick paste with the remaining bread ingredients.

This technique breaks down the starches in the flour allowing them to absorb more water. It can allow the flour to absorb twice as much hot water or milk as yeast dough normally does. And it is able to hold on to the extra liquid throughout the kneading and baking processes. This means:

  • The dough is less sticky and easier to knead;
  • The dough is likely to rise higher, due to more water creating more internal steam;
  • And since it retains more moisture during baking, the bread is moister and stays soft and fresh for longer.

The YouTube post is well done and very informative, but doesn’t give you an actual recipe to follow — you’ve just got to watch the post. I’ve put together this recipe from the post by Joshua Weissman :

https://youtu.be/gTGSUYMu6Ns

Best Burger Buns Ever

These light, buttery buns are a perfect match for burgers, pulled pork or for the best ever bacon roll.

Course Bread
Prep Time 4 hours
Cook Time 14 minutes
Servings 6 rolls
Author Bruce Heck

Ingredients

Tangzhong

  • 2 tbsp bread flour
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsp whole milk

Brioche dough

  • 1/2 cup whole milk at 95° F
  • 1 tbsp instant yeast 9 gm
  • 2 ½ cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 ½ tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 whole egg at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter softened

Egg wash

  • 1 egg
  • splash whole milk
  • 1 tbsp water

Instructions

Tangzhong

  1. Put the ingredients into a sauce pan and whisk together.  Put on a medium heat and whisk constantly until it reaches a thick paste. Only takes a few seconds to reach a choux pastry-like consistency. Put into a bowl for use later.

Brioche dough

  1. Heat the milk to 95° F and stir in your yeast. Let stand for about 8 minutes.

  2. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the mixer bowl and give a good mix.  Put on your dough hook and put the bowl on the mixer.  Put the mixer on a low speed and add the yeast mixture letting it mix for a few seconds.

  3. Now add the tangzhong paste followed by the egg and egg yolk (best if at room temperature, not chilled).  Increase the mixer speed slightly (remain below medium) and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the sides as required.

  4. Add the softened butter one tablespoon at a time allowing it to incorporate before adding the next tablespoon.  Continue to let the mixer knead the dough until all of the butter is incorporated and the dough is nicely smooth. Expect this to take about 10 minutes.

  5. Take the dough from the mixer bowl put it on a lightly floured board. Gently stretch and fold it in from each edge to make a nice ball.  Pull from one edge and then rotate 90 degrees and continue for two rotations. Turn the dough over and gently pull the dough toward you keeping it in constant contact with the board to fold it into itself. Rotate 90 degrees and keep doing this until you have worked it into a nice ball shape.

  6. Put into a bowl lined with lightly greased baking parchment and cover with a damp towel. Place in a warm area for 1 to 1½ hours to rise, until doubled in size.

  7. Punch the dough down and put in on a lightly floured board.  Divide the dough into six even pieces using a scraper.  Each piece should weight about 105gm.

  8. As before, gently pull and fold each piece of dough into the center creating a ball.  Put onto the board and pull the dough across the board (keeping the dough in contact with the board always), turn 90 degrees and repeating.  Do this four times until you have a nice tight ball of dough.

  9. Place the dough on a lightly greased baking parchment in a baking tray giving plenty of distance between each ball (at least 2 – 2½ inches).

  10. Place a lightly greased piece of baking parchment over the top and cover with a damp, warm towel. Allow the dough to rise in a warm location for 1-2 hours until doubled in size again. 

  11. Brush the dough lightly with the egg wash. Bake at 350° F for 16-18 minutes until a deep golden brown. If the tops start to become too brown, then covert with foil.

  12. Place on a wire rack to until completely cool and then wrap in cling film or foil to keep fresh. Use within two days or freeze immediately.

Recipe Notes

In my first effort with this recipe I found the buns browned too quickly.  I’ve watered down the egg wash slightly and reduced the oven temperature by 25 degrees.  I covered them with foil at 11 minutes to stop them browning further.

I also found the buns to be a little bit dense.  Now you want a certain level of density to handle the juicy burger and sauces, but this could be a bit lighter.  I believe the key to this will be to do use smaller portions and let them rise longer to the desired size.  The extra rise should ensure a lighter texture.

But how did it come out? Was it a perfect burger bun? Despite the recipe notes above, they were still really good. Have a look:

Potatas Bravas

A native dish to Spain, potatas bravas are one of the most common tapas dishes. This dish dates back to the mid-16th century but no one knows the exact date. They were popularised in Madrid but are found in virtually every bar in every corner of Spain.

They are simply potatoes cut into irregular pieces about 2 cm across and deep fried with spicy tomato sauce called ‘bravas’ sauce poured over them as they are served. The sauce is made from tomatoes, vinegar and chilli and from there every recipe is different.

The key to this dish is the sauce, so we are going to start with that so the sauce has time to develop its full flavour.

Potatas Bravas

The quintessential tapas dish.  Easy to make and equally tasty. For best results, use a fluffy potato — same as you would use for chips (fries) like maris piper, king edwards and russet.

Course Side Dish, Tapas
Servings 4 people
Author Bruce Heck

Ingredients

Bravas Sauce

  • 2 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
  • 4 cloves garlic pressed
  • 1 sm onion finely grated
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika (more for sprinkling when serving)
  • 2 tbsp Frank’s hot sauce
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 500 ml passata
  • 125 ml chicken stock double concentrated (1 cube in 250ml water)
  • 1 tsp potato starch (or other thickener)

Potatoes

  • 1 kg potatoes
  • 1500 ml sunflower oil (or any frying oil, not olive oil)

Instructions

Bravas sauce

  1. Pour half of the olive oil in a small pan over medium heat.  Once the oil has heated, add the garlic and grated onion.  Saute for about five minutes.

  2. Add the remaining ingredients except for the passata and chicken stock.  Bring together and simmer for a couple of minutes.

  3. Whisk in the passata.  Once fully incorporated, whisk in the chicken stock.

  4. Simmer for 30 minutes.  Stir the potato starch into 1 tbsp of cold water. Slowly add the starch to the sauce while whisking constantly.  Simmer for a few minutes until the desired thickness is reach. 

  5. Pour the sauce through a fine sieve over a heat-proof bowl.  You’ll need to do this a bit at a time, stirring the sauce in the sieve to push it through.  Empty the sieve of any bits with each filling.

  6. Set the sauce aside — on to the potatoes!

Potatoes

  1. Cut your potatoes into large chunks — it's easier to cook them this way and cut them smaller after the pre-cook.

  2. Put the potatoes in a pan with cold water and a few pinches of salt.  Bring to a boil and cook until a fork goes into the potato with a bit of resistence – usually around 10 minutes.  You don't want to over cook them as you will be frying them later and they will fall apart if overcooked.

  3. Drain the potatoes in a colander and run them under cold water to stop them cooking.  Set aside to cool.

  4. Once cooled (and just before you’re ready to fry them, chop into 2 cm pieces.  (cut small ones into four pieces — larger once chop up more)

  5. Put your oil into a deep pan or wok (mine was 28cm across) and bring up to temperature – that's 325° F or 160° C.  Add your potatoes in small batches and fry until golden brown and crispy.

  6. Drain on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet lined with kitchen roll (paper towels).

  7. When ready to serve, put into a tapas bowl and drizzle with warm bravas sauce.  Sprinkle with a bit of smoked paprika and serve.

Recipe Notes

This recipe makes more sauce than you will need for the potatoes.  How much extra will depend upon how much sauce you like!  But this sauce keeps well and is great on smoked sausage, pork chops and more.

A Weekend in Spain

a night in spain

Since we can’t travel this Spring we’re travelling virtually. The last trip was to Turkey. This week we’re headed to Spain for some tapas.

Angela has put together the decorations complete with traverna sign, flamenco dancer and a string of decorative garland — we do need to work on the pictures as they didn’t do the look justice.

We’ve got a full menu planned: gazpacho, croquetas, patatas bravas, albondigas, courgette con queso and gambas al ajillo…and of course, a pitcher (or two) of sangria!

spanish tapas
One night in Spain…tapas and sangria

One of our favourite tapas are Albondigas or Spanish meatballs. These meatballs are covered in a luscious, spicy sauce that is a classic taste of Spain. For us, this is the centerpiece of a great tapas meal.

These take a bit of time, but are really easy to make. And you can do much of the prep the day before.

Spanish Meatballs (Albondigas)

One of our favourite tapas dishes. The pork and beef meatballs in a smokey, spicing tomato sauce are a great part of any tapas meal

Course Tapas
Cuisine Spanish
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 8 persons
Author Bruce Heck

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 500 gm beef mince (10-15% fat)
  • 500 gm pork mince (15-25% fat)
  • 4 cloves garlic minced or pressed
  • 2 sm onions coarsely grated
  • 2 tbsp coriander, fresh finely chopped
  • 3 slices stale white or sourdough bread blitzed
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

Smokey sauce

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes (400gm cans)
  • 170 gm tomato paste (small 6 oz can or most of a tube)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 3 cloved garlic finely minced or pressed
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar packed
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sm onion grated
  • 100 ml water
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Instructions

Meatball mixture

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix by hand until combined. Don't over mix it or the meatballs will become dense.

  2. Wrap the meatball mixture in cling film and put in the refrigerator for at least one hour – overnight is fine.

Smokey sauce

  1. Using half of the oil, saute the onion and garlic in a large saucepan over medium heat until the onion is soft.

  2. Add the dry ingredients to the onions and saute for 2 minutes.

  3. Add remaining oil and the tomato paste and saute for 5 minutes.

  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, honey, brown sugar, thyme and water. Stir the sauce to combine the ingredients and simmer over a medium low heat for 30 minutes.

Cooking the meatballs

  1. Take the meatball mixture out of the refrigerator. Take about 50 grams (about 1 ½ tablespoons) of the mince mixture and roll it into ball. Do not work the meat any more than is required to keep the meatballs light. Continue until all of the mixture is made into balls.

  2. Being sure not to crowd the pan too much, brown the meatballs on all sides in a large skillet. Set each batch aside once browned.

  3. Put the browned meatballs into a baking dish and cover with the sauce. Put into an oven at 350° F for about 20 minutes.

  4. Serve in traditional tapas dishes with a sprinkle of paprika and a side of toasted garlic bread.

Recipe Notes

This recipe will serve 8 persons as a main or 15-20 persons as a tapas dish.

A little trip to Turkey

As we reach the end of week three in lockdown, we’ve decided we just have to get away. We’ve been needing a holiday for a while now and just cannot wait any longer. So tonight we headed to Turkey!

Ok, don’t start screaming or talking about violation of lockdown and unnecessary travel. This will be a virtual journey, though we plan to make it real as we can.

It starts with setting the mood — lots of lanterns and candles, colurful plates and a low table. We had some fabric we brought back from an earlier trip and used that to cover the loveseat and chair.

Our first night in Turkey.

So like always, we arrived late so we’ll get the rest of the lanterns and lights out tomorrow. But for tonight we have a dinner of lamb kafta, roasted peppers and onion, tzatziki and flat bread.

… next morning

It’s a bright sunny morning so we’re going to have breakfast on the deck. I went to the market this morning (that’s the fridge by the way) for some fresh produce. We’re having a lovely meza of tomatoes, cucumber, melon, cheese, sliced ham, butter, fresh bagette and strong coffee.

It’s our first full day on holiday so we’re planning to just relax a bit. Perhaps read a book in the desk chair, have a beer before lunch–nothing too strenuous today. Maybe dip our feet in the pool — that would be washing up bowl with water in it. Might have to go out to the shops — our spare room — and see what we can find for dinner.

After a relaxing day of reading in the desk chair and lounging by the pool with a nice glass of wine, its time for dinner.

Tonight we’re starting with herbed goats cheese crustini with a fresh blackberry coulis.

We had big plans for a lemon chicken tagine but after our exhausting day of lounging, having the lamb chops we didn’t finish last night sounded a better plan. I made up some lemon-cumin rice and a simple tomato cucumber salad.

Day two

A quick breakfast of melon and yoghurt today and we are out to explore (the 10 blocks around our house). We head to the nearby forest (that would be the trees and trails around Tooting Bec Athletics Track) to check out the local wildlife.

We head back for some lunch after our hike. Angela is looking forward to her tuna salad – something she always has on holiday. I went for a rice dish with grilled chicken. Its a beautiful, sunny day so we’re going to spend it on the balcony reading this afternoon. It really is great to finally be on holiday!!

As the day winds down we decide on a roast lamb dinner and a night by the fire. We’re headed home tomorrow so its early to bed. It’s been a good trip. More fun than we thought it would be actually. We reminisced about previous trips and what we enjoyed most and used those memories to set scenes for the weekend. Its not the same as being on a proper holiday, but it is better than just vegging out in front of the television.

Our first fence party!

You’re in lockdown thanks to the coronavirus. Restrictions are in place making groups of larger than two (unless living together) illegal. So how do you have a party? Well if you live in London with a small garden you have a fence party!

We proposed it to our neighbors last week and everyone seems up for it. We’ve got three neighbors we can just about chat to over the fence (with the help of ladders and mini-scaffolds). And a couple more just down from them we can wave to.

The plan is to distribute a package of BBQ to everyone, knocking on the doors and leaving them on the doorstep. We’ve got a great soundtrack lined up thanks to my boss, Jen, on Spotify. We’ll be piping that through our bluetooth-connected Bose speaker loud enough for everyone to hear. We’re not quite sure how it’s going to work but it’s worth a try.

Time to assemble the BBQ packs. Angela has created some amazing covers for them that match the theme of the invites we sent out yesterday.

We’ve got two packs for each family. The first pack has the meats: 1/2 rack of pork ribs, 1/2 kg of pulled pork and a few slices of the Wagyu brisket. The second pack has potato salad, baked beans (American-style), some dinner rolls for the pulled pork, some dill pickle slices and a jar of my hickory-smoked BBQ sauce and a small jar of my southern-style mustard BBQ sauce.

…So packs are distributed and music is playing. Time to eat and mingle (well, sort of). Party time!

First run

The weekend has finally arrived, so it’s time to fire up the smoker for the first time. There is some prep work to be done before smoking meat for the first time. The smoker needs to be run through a ‘seasoning’ cycle.

This takes about two hours in total including auger priming, warm-up and cool-down cycles. This process is key though as it makes sure the auger and all the other components are working properly and burns off any oils left from the manufacturing process. It does burn through a fair number of pellets when running at 500°F!

I’ve managed to get some ribs from Costco and some amazing pork butt and brisket from one of our competition butchers, Bob’s Family Butchers in Hatfield. I’ve got a couple of 6 kg pork butts and an amazing full packer cut Wagyu beef brisket from New Zealand.

First batch…pork ribs!

So first up is a batch of four racks of pork ribs. I’ve chosen ribs first because they take far less time than pork butt or brisket. The first step with the ribs is stripping off the membrane and then applying the dry rub. They will go straight into the smoker as soon as it gets to the proper temperature of 225°F.

With the ribs are in the smoker I’ve got some time (a good three hours) to get on with some other key prep work. Next up is a small batch of barbeque sauce — just about 5 litres worth.

With the BBQ sauce done, it’s on to prepping the pork butt and the brisket. The meat Bob’s Butchers have supplied are great looking cuts of meat and I really can’t wait to get them in the smoker. The pork butt has nice marbling so I’m trimming off more of the fat cap along the top before covering it in dry rub.

But it’s the Wagyu beef brisket is what I’m really looking forward to. I hadn’t planned to get Wagyu brisket — it’s more expensive than we would normally smoke in competition. Unfortunately ( 😀 ), this was the only full packer cut piece of brisket I could get on short notice. So sad.

Wagyu beef is far more marbled than a typical brisket. Wagyu fat melts at a lower temperature than other beef, resulting in a rich, buttery flavor not present in other types of beef. Given the marbling, I’m trimming most of the fat off.

A heavy dusting of our beef rub and the brisket it ready. It’s back in the fridge with the meat now until the ribs come off.

The ribs are now off and they are looking pretty good for a first run — pretty happy with this. They’ve got a nice gloss and smell amazing. But they’re not done yet. Next step is to wrap and then back in for another two hours.

It’s just after midnight, and we are about three hours into the smoke. Just making a quick check to see how it’s looking so far — and I’m pretty happy.

It’s 07:15 and time to wrap the brisket and pork butt for the final phase of smoking. There’s another five hours or so to go to get to that magic temperature of 196° F. Once the meat is wrapped and back in the smoker, it’s time for a bit of breakfast…

Tic, tock, tic, tock…

13:30 – It’s time to pull the pork butt and brisket out of the smoker. They’ve been resting for about three hours now. I’m going to tackle the pork first.

I pull it out of the butcher paper wrapping and find a wonderful dark bark. I snip off the twine and begin the process of pulling the meat.

The meat has a nice bark and a there’s decent smoke ring. And it’s surprising how little waste there is. The fat has fully rendered leaving the meat moist and there is very little cartilage. I’ve ended up with about 3 1/2 kg of meat out of a 6 kg pork butt. That’s better than the 50% average you get from a bone-in pork butt.

But, of course, it’s all about the taste. And I have to say, despite this being the very first pork butt out of the smoker, this is one I’d be happy to put into competition.

Let’s see how the brisket has come out! Have a look at this:

It’s official — I’ll be buying Wagyu beef brisket in the future! This thing is awesome. The bark is amazing. The fat has rendered perfectly. It’s juicy and amazingly tender with just the right bite. This is hands down the best brisket I’ve ever cooked!

The next test is what other people think of it. I’m not expecting any complaints from this batch of BBQ. I’ll find out soon enough. We’re having a lockdown fence party today. I’ve got about an hour to get this all packaged up and dropped off to the neighbors. I better get on with it!

Just add some smoke…

With all public gatherings banned this summer, there are no BBQ competitions this season. And of course, Adrian and I cannot get together for practice sessions either. Up to now, we’ve used Adrian’s Green Mountain Grill pellet smoker together with my homemade barrel smoker. With the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, that’s not going to be an option this summer.

Some extra work over the past few months meant a bit of unexpected money and I managed to convince my wife to let me use part of the money to invest in a new smoker. We agreed a budget of £1,500.

There are a lot of great smokers out there. I’ve used a Bradley smoker for years and have been very happy with the results. Unfortunately, we can’t use the Bradley for competition because it has an electric heat element. So my choice is a pellet smoker or a stick burner (one that uses just wood logs). The good stick burners are way out of reach of my budget, costing well over £4,000. So given the budget, and the competition requirements, it’s going to be a pellet smoker.

The range of smokers available today is immense ranging from simple units of under £500 to commercial products costing thousands. The £1,500 budget reduces the choices significantly. I’m after competition quality and features so the top brands available in the UK came down to these:

We’ve been using a Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone smoker with good success taking 10th place on brisket and 1st in bread in our first competition. So first thought was to get the latest version of the GMG. Adrian and I talked it over and spent weeks looking at the options. A good mate of ours, Stretch, from Kansas City who is a regular on the BBQ competition circuit suggested we look at Traeger. After sizing up all the options in my budget, I decided to go with the Traeger.

Joe Traeger is credited with creating the first pellet smoker back in 1985. It was an offshoot of his family-owned heating company in Oregon, USA. Patented in 1986, it would be 20 years before anyone else would make a pellet smoker.

I selected the Traeger Ironwood 885. It features 885 square inches of cooking space over two racks. It has a 20-pound pellet hopper giving more than 15 hours of cooking time (depending upon conditions). The digital controller makes it easy to set a temperature and be confident it will held steady.

I got the order placed in mid-March hoping for delivery before it any lockdown hit the UK. But coming from a European distribution facility meant shipping delays, so it didn’t arrive in two days as expected. Finally I got notice it was arriving on April 1st — would this be an April Fool’s joke??

But arrive it did — though social distancing requirements made the delivery a bit more challenging than expected.

The delivery truck arrived and dropped the pallet on the pavement in front of the house. And they delivered a new gas grill we had ordered at the same time quite unexpectedly!

Unfortunately, it was delivered about 3:00 pm so I was still working! Given the massive size of the packaging and the fact it was strapped to a pallet, I wasn’t too concerned. But Angela, a Glasgow native, spent the next two hours looking out the window at every sound! She was convinced someone would come along and carry it off.

Finally about 5:00 pm I got the chance to get it off the street. I got it unpackaged and unstrapped from the pallet and got Angela down to help me carry it inside. But at just under 200 lbs, that just wasn’t happening. So on to Plan B — assemble it on the pavement and roll it inside!

It took about 30 minutes to get it assembled — mostly due to the time it took to unpackage it; Traeger REALLY like cardboard! Assembly itself was less than 15 minutes. We got it inside and parked it in the kitchen so I could get back to work. A couple of hours later and it’s in place on the deck along with the new gas grill.

The next challenge is to get some meat to smoke! That’s proving a bit more challenging than usual!

Lockdown lunches

Well the Covid-19 lockdown has begun. We’re a few days in and already we we are feeling the impact. Working from home has brought its own challenges, but adding the restriction of staying home except for essential shopping brings the isolation to a new level.

We are lucky to have a good stock of food but knowing this is likely to last a while, we are already looking for ways to make use of everything we have. We’ve dug into the freezer to see what we have and are trying to make interesting dishes for lunch to get a break from work — it’s proving too easy to be stuck in front of a computer monitor all day without stopping. So we are setting appointments in our calendar to have lunch.

Angela is a big fan of pho so yesterday we pulled some stock and shredded chicken out of the freezer and added some pho paste and fresh vegetables for an amazing soup.

Today, we’re having nachos. We’ve pulled some taco-spiced mince from the freezer and sprinkled it across tortilla chips with salsa, sour cream and jalapenos. We’re working today so it has to be without the margaritas unfortunately!

Both of these dishes took under 15 minutes to make. Make a point of stopping and having lunch — get a break from that monitor!