Pastrami: an Epiphany

One thing I am coming to terms with as I grow older is that there are always things I am going to learn. And this, Gentle Reader is one.

Prior to about a year ago, I did not know that pastrami is merely smoked corned beef.

I have eaten some great pastrami in my life, most notably at Snack N’ Shop deli in northwest Atlanta (sadly, closed since 1996). I have also made what I thought was some good corned beef, which I plan to write about soon. But to discover that the two are related was a profound moment.

Basically, both are beef brisket, brined in a salt and spice solution. Then, if you boil it, it’s corned beef, or if you smoke it, it’s pastrami.

So, let’s start with the brine.

Mix together:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup pink curing salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spice
  • 1 tablespoons whole mustard seed
  • 1 tablespoons coriander

Dissolve in 1 gallon of water and bring to a boil.

Then add the brisket, and ice to cool it. Be sure to trim all the outside fat off the brisket.

Now, find a spot in your refrigerator, and let it brine for 5 days.

Yes. Five days.

Next, we make a rub:

  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

Apply liberally to the wet brisket. Note, I bought a point.

Light the smoker, and get it up to 225F, and get the beef on.

Smoke until the internal temp reaches 205F. I used oak and hickory.

When it’s done, let it rest for a half hour minimum.

Note how the curing salt adds the pink color even when done. Cooking to 205 breaks down all the internal

I am a big fan of the Rueben sandwich, so I made some.

A Reuben is basically a grilled sandwich of pastrami, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, on rye bread.

Most Reuben recipes call for using Russian dressing, and some use thousand island dressing. Growing up, we watched Julia Child make Reubens, and she used a homemade mayonnaise and horseradish mix that I love.

Now I must say, the pastrami was wonderful, even left over by itself.

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Garlic Rolls

Our family enjoys pasta, probably twice a week. Given that, for a long time we just ate rolls or bread with it. So, I decided to work on something tasty, and easy to fix. Here is my answer.

Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes

6 Rolls

6 tablespoons butter, melted in a ramekin

Preheat the oven. You can choose your temperature, I use the default 350F, unless I am cooking something else.

First, cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray or oil. Then put your rolls on.

Once the oven starts heating, and gets about about 250F, put the rolls in for 5 minutes, uncovered.

While they heat, melt about a tablespoon of butter per roll in a ramekin, by heating about 30 seconds in the microwave.

After five minutes, remove the rolls and let rest a minute. Then coat with melted butter Place back in the over for 5 more minutes.

While they are in the oven the second time, add about a half tablespoon of garlic per roll to the remaining melted butter, and mix well.

After 5 minutes take the rolls out, and brush them again with the remaining butter and garlic.

Heat a final time for 4 to 5 minutes.

Serve warm.

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Chili del Cielo

Please know, Gentle Reader – and I hope this does not come as a shock – that my love for barbecue is at most one notch above my love for chili con carne. To get there, I will tell you a story.

One of my father’s best friends moved to Texas when I was young, and sent my parents a recipe called Chili por el Animo, or Chili for the Soul. My mother started making it, and even added some notes at the bottom, like making sure to use a wooden spoon.

Here is the original recipe, now framed in my kitchen:

Over the years, I have made dozens of batches of this wonderful chili. I have stories and fables to tell, which I will share elsewhere. But suffice to say that I have added a few things and refined some, so that I now present to you Chili del Cielo.

Here is the full recipe:

So, let’s get started.

I find that fresh vegetables make the best chili. So I start with the peppers and onion.

Of course, we can vary the heat of the chili by the amount of peppers we use. I find that a medium amount, as shown here, makes what I consider a pretty mild chili.

Chop the onions and peppers medium.

After chopping the peppers, put one finely chopped jalapeno aside.

Here’s the meat, beans, and tomatoes.

Brown the meat and sauté the onions, peppers, and garlic.

Drain the fat from the meat if you wish, but don’t rinse. You want a little of that fat remaining on the meat, as it will absorb some of the flavors from the peppers better.

Add the tomatoes and beans (with liquid) to the meat. Note, for variety, you can try different kinds of beans.

Then add the sautéed vegetables.

Here are the spices.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 00-3-spices.jpg

I find the lid from a jar of parmesan cheese holds exactly 1/4 cup – so it makes a great measuring cup for the chili powder.

I also wait until after I add the beer, to add the cinnamon and paprika.

Next, add the beer.

Note, I am adding a whole beer. To be honest, it was shared with me by my Dad’s friend, that he originally figured he was drinking beer all day while making the chili, and when he thought about it, he would add some beer. He figured that over the space of making the batch, he added about a whole beer, out of the six pack he drank. The choice is yours.

At this point, add the remaining fresh jalapeno. I find that the fresh pepper adds to what is provided by the sautéed peppers.

Now, bring to a low boil, and then move it to a small burner, and simmer, covered, for 2-1/2 hours or so.

Stir about every 20 minutes or so, and taste it after an hour or so, and add salt and/or cayenne pepper as you see fit.

Then, move the lid so there is a gap, and turn up the heat slightly, and “cook down” for an hour or so, cooking off some of the water, and thickening the chili.

At this point, it’s ready to go. I serve mine with some chopped fresh onion and grated cheese.

Refrigerate any leftovers, but know that the peppers will continue to do their magic, and the leftover chili will be noticeably spicier than the fresh chili.


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Dry Ribs – an Update

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my first real attempt at dry ribs. Over the course of the next week, I ate the leftover ribs, intentionally eating both dry ribs and wet ribs in the same meal, and made it a point to compare them. Here is my take:

The dry ribs were smokier tasting.

This is because the dry ribs are exposed to the smoke for the whole cook, while the wet ribs are essentially only exposed directly for about an hour, until I start to mop them with sauce. In addition, the wet ribs are wrapped for the last 2 hours of the cook, while the dry ribs are not.

The better smoke exposure is obvious when we look at the great smoke ring, in the photo above.

The dry ribs were spicier tasting.

This is directly because the rubs are different. The dry rub contained cayenne pepper, brown sugar, and chili powder, while the wet ribs had my traditional Franklin-esque salt and pepper only rub.

The dry ribs were more tender.

This one, I am not totally sure why, because the two kinds of ribs make a difference – full rack for the wet ribs, and baby back ribs for the dry ribs. Next time I should do the same style of meat and compare.


In conclusion, while this was the first time I had done dry ribs, it won’t be the last.

Am I giving up on wet ribs? No. But I’m not ruling our dry ribs any more!

Categories: Review, Ribs | Leave a comment

Dry Ribs

I have been blessed to eat ribs at some of the most famous joints in America. From Raleigh to Atlanta to Memphis to Amarillo to Kansas City, I’ve eaten a lot. I must say, I am quite a fan of Memphis style ribs, and specifically, wet ribs. I spent some time a few years ago often visiting Memphis on business, and I ate at Corky’s, Rendezvous, and Interstates quite frequently.  And the whole time, I only ordered wet ribs.

Now, I have had dry ribs, and probably the best I’ve had were from Dreamland, from the the original joint in Tuscaloosa. I admit, I didn’t order them dry, our plant manager did, and I wasn’t going to argue with him. They were great, but I put sauce on them, which probably told me something.

When I make my own, I have always done ribs by smoking for 3 hours, mopping as I go, and then wrapping and cooking til done. But this week the Dauphin told me he would like to try dry ribs, so I decided to give it a shot.

Spoiler alert – they turned out pretty good.

Here’s how I did it.


Starting with a rack of baby backs, I made a rub out of kosher salt and black pepper, with brown sugar and chili powder added. I also added dashes of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and paprika. This was added liberally as soon as I started the fire, and let sit while the fire grew, about 30 minutes.

That’s a full rack on top, destined for the wet treatment, and the dry rack of baby backs on the bottom. I rubbed the dry ribs more, since that was the only source of flavor.


For this cook I used oak to start, and mostly hickory thereafter. I cooked them at about 250F for about 5 hours total, until the bones felt a little loose, and I spritzed them liberally with water and apple juice, about every 20 minutes or so. (I also did sausage, as well as the flaps from the full rack, there on the left.)

This was about 3 hours in, just after I wrapped the wet ribs.


I let them rest about 30 minutes, then cut, and served. That’s the wet ribs on the left, and I ate equal amounts of each.

The Verdict:

The Dauphin gave his blessing, and I agree. In fact, the next time I make just one rack, I may cut it in half and do wet and dry.

Having said that, I honestly found them a little salty, so I will likely cut back on the salt next time.

Which won’t be long!


Categories: Ribs | 1 Comment

Brisket Redemption

Now, I know, the star of the Texas barbecue scene, and to me, the world scene, is brisket. And to this Georgia native and current resident, there is no better barbecue than a well cooked brisket.

And this, my friends, is where I need to confess a defect: I am ashamed of the brisket I have made in the past. I know I have posted about how good it was, and to be honest, it was the best brisket I had made, but when I ate others’ wonderful meat, I was reminded that mine was tough and bland. So, for almost seven years, I have not made brisket.

But for 2020, I decided to make some barbecue resolutions – which I purposefully have not publicized – one thing I wanted to do was to learn how to make brisket that was comparable to the Boston butt I make.

So, I have been studying and researching, in the hope that I might sometime this year, cook a brisket. In the course of this search, I read a lot and watched some videos by Aaron Franklin. Slowly, he convinced me that maybe I could do a brisket.

And then a week ago Friday my wife and I were at the grocery store, and I was walking down the meat aisle, distraught that the COVID-19 pandemic had meant that good meat could not be bought, and that middling meat was expensive.

Then, I saw the store employee put this in the bin:

There was a 14 pound brisket, normally $4 a pound, marked down to $25. And it was the only one. I quickly asked the grocer what was up, and he explained that they had torn the package when they first opened that morning, and they re-packaged it, and marked it down. He assured me there was nothing wrong without, and upon inspection, it looked fine.

Okay, sold!

So now I got to put my work to use. I spent some time brushing up on what I learned, and wrote out a plan.


Here are the steps I laid out, and will cover today:

  1. Prep
  2. Fire in the hole
  3. Rub
  4. Smoke
  5. Wrap
  6. Cook
  7. Rest
  8. Slice
  9. Enjoy

Normally I do prep the day of the cook, but because a brisket is going to take 12 hours or so to cook, I decided this time to start the cook at 6 AM, meaning not only would it be dark when I started the cook, but it would be too frickin early to do it reasonably. So, I took a half hour the afternoon before, to get ready.

I got the smoker set up, with starter charcoal in the firebox, the water pan set, and at least my first few hours’ worth of wood – split hickory and cut oak limbs.

Fire in the Hole

So, at 5 AM, I rose and got the firebox lit.

After the coals burned down to all white, I added some oak to get the box up to temp, and added hot water to the water pan.


I admit, this was a big change for me this time. As you can read, I have used a lot of different rub recipes over the years. But, after researching, I decided to acknowledge Aaron Franklin’s wisdom, and go with kosher salt and ground pepper, although admittedly I added a couple of shots of cayenne pepper.

Note, this is a shot of the rub in process, and I actually did a better job of covering the meat than is shown. (Note to self . . .)

I also learned a lot from Aaron about how to trim. As an example, he talks about how the mechanical trimming of the meat partially cooks it along one side, and this needs to be cut off. Spoiler alert, this makes a difference.


Once the smoke box temperature started to get up over 200F, I added oak, and waited for it to get to 250F. At that point, the meat went on.

Now starts the fun, especially since the sun wasn’t coming up for another hour and a half.

These two photos were taken 40 minutes apart.

From there, it’s all about keeping the firebox stoked, and the smoke box temperature between 250F and 275F. I know this is hotter than some people do, but I have found it works best for me.

So, for the next 8 hours or so, I keep it running until the internal temp. I inserted the probe in the widest part of the flat, and let it go.


After about 8 hours, I wrapped with aluminum foil. Now, I know Aaron Franklin uses parchment paper, and I would have, too, if I had some. But I did not. And, based on his test of making three briskets, one parchment wrapped, one foil wrapped, and one unwrapped, I decided to go with the foil.

It reached a stall at about 165, so I wrapped.


Now it was a matter of keeping it going, and take the opportunity to get a little yard work done. And now I could use my non-cook-worthy wood, as the smoke quality made no difference. It was a good thing, too, as the smoke was ugly and black a few times. But I kept the temp in the 225 to 275 range, and all was well.

I just hope my neighbors didn’t think it was still unwrapped.


Then, finally, after 11 hours and 20 minutes, the 200 degree setting was reached, and the alarm sounded! Off it came!


I decided to serve the point first, and sliced it thin.

And I have to admit, the burnt ends were perfect.


I must say, this was by far the best brisket I have ever made. The combination of simple rub, indirect smoke, hickory, and patience, paid off.

We ate the whole point that day, and the week since I have been enjoying the flat. I am almost embarrassed to admit to my guests from last week that to me, it was smokier and more tender than the point.

In summary, my review of the Franklin method is that it has redeemed me, in my mind. It’s simple, easy to follow, and makes an awesome brisket.

Categories: Beef, Brisket, Prep | Leave a comment

Coming Soon – Brisket

I was at the grocery store today, and as I was walking down the meat area, a fellow came out and put down a brisket, priced at less than half retail. Warily, I asked him, and it turns our the package had been torn open and the had to re-wrap. The “good-til” date is August.

Okay, I know what I’m doing tomorrow. Watch for live tweets at @fillyerhands, and a summary post later next week.

On a side note, the last time I made brisket, it was too tough, because I didn’t cook it long enough. I admit this has made me reluctant to do it again. But I have watched a lot of Aaron Franklin and others, so I know I will do better.

Categories: Brisket | Leave a comment

Nanny’s Legacy: Cornbread Dressing

My grandmother, Frances Lindsay, whom we all called Nanny, was a wonderful woman, and one of my top inspirations in my quest to learn to cook. When I was newly married, my wife and I moved to the panhandle of Texas, and, being young and poor, we were not able to return home to Georgia for our first holiday season away from home.

But the weekend before Thanksgiving, I called Nanny to talk to her, and I asked her if she would share her recipe for cornbread dressing. So she started telling me how to make it, and I quickly grabbed an envelope, and wrote down what she told me. I made it like she said, and a few years later, when I decided to compile my collection of recipes, I added some notes about how to best make it. Here is that original recipe, with my notes:

Over the years, though, I admit I didn’t always make it to spec. So this year, I decided I would actually make it the way Nanny told me, and it turned out wonderful. I will add, don’t be stingy with the broth, since the eggs will cook and the dressing will firm up.

So, I wanted to share this with my readers, and ask that if you do ever make it, share your thoughts with me here, or my email at FillYerHands at Gmail dot com.

Here is the formal recipe:

Nanny’s Cornbread Dressing

  • 1 – 12” pan of cornbread
  • 1 pound breakfast sausage, browned and crumbled
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1-1/2 cups pecans, chopped
  • 3 slices white bread, cubed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 – 1-1/2 qt chicken or vegetable broth

Cook the cornbread the night before, remove from the skillet, and let cool. Crumble to small chunks.

Preheat oven to 350F

Brown the sausage and drain the grease. No need to rinse.

Mix celery, onion, mushrooms, and pecans. Add to the crumbled cornbread.

Lightly beat the eggs with 1 to 2 tsp broth, then add to the mixture, and mix well.

Add enough broth to moisten well. Then add a little more. Trust me, it won’t be too moist when you are done.

Put into a well-greased 9” x 13” glass baking dish, pressing firmly. Bake on the center rack at 350F for 30 minutes or until brown, and firm around the edges. If it’s still a little loose in the center that’s okay, when it cools it will firm up.


Now, another wonderful thing is that Nanny also wrote me a letter some time later, with other recipes, which I am going to make and share with you. Look for those to come.

Categories: Holidays, Nanny, Sides | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Turkey Breast 2019

As you may recall, after the hurricane fiasco in 2018, we had a maple tree and hickory tree taken down. I have to admit, I had never used maple before, so I decided to remedy that, and do a couple of turkey breasts for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I had last done turkey five years ago, so I went back to basics, I started with an old favorite turkey brine:

  • Six chicken bullion cubes, boiled in a quart of water until dissolved. Then add cold water so the following can dissolve:
  • 1/2 cup salt (for a brine I have found that kosher or not doesn’t matter, it’s going to dissolve)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp whole pepper corns
  • 1 tbsp allspice berries
  • 1 tbsp dried orange peel

Add the turkeys, and add enough water to cover. Then add ice until the ice stays frozen.

Brine overnight, then remove from the brine and pay dry. Coat with olive oil and let rest while you start the fire.

I used a simple “stuffing”, diced apples with cinnamon and orange peel.

For the wood I used some of my maple.

I split a large piece, then cut into 4 inch chunks. This was enough for the whole 5 hour cook, keeping the rig at 250 to 300 degrees.

I cooked to 165 internal temp, along with some bratwurst at the end. I will say, maple smoked bratwurst isn’t bad either.

Once it was done, I let it rest a half hour or so, then sliced it. As before, the meat was more like pulled turkey than sliced.

I will say, maple is going to be my go-to wood for poultry now.

Categories: Holidays, Turkey, Wood | Leave a comment

Boston Butt Perfected

I noticed it’s been some time (almost six years, yikes!) since I last posted about what is possibly my favorite smoked meat, certainly my most successful – Boston butt. The thing I noticed was how much my style has changed in that time, so I wanted to share with you, fellow smoker, how I do it.

I got most of my ideas by watching Aaron Franklin on YouTube, specifically his take on smoking Boston butts. Turns out he does them like brisket, and I have taken to doing that as well. Here is how I do it:

  1. Fire in the hole
  2. Rub
  3. Smoke
  4. Wrap
  5. Cook
  6. Rest
  7. Pull
  8. Enjoy


Fire in the Hole

My first step is to get the smoker going. I start with a simple charcoal fire, the only purpose of which is to get the firebox hot enough to get the wood going. Please know, I am not cooking with charcoal, it’s just to kick things off. I think of it like the plutonium fission part of an H bomb.


Gone is the brining step; instead I go with a rub only. Once I light the firebox, I rub the butt.

Aaron uses just salt and pepper, and I have tried that, but my favorite mix is kosher salt, ground black pepper, brown sugar, chili powder, and a little paprika.

This is rubbed generously all over the butt, and then it’s left to rest while the smoker comes up to temperature.


Once the charcoal is white hot, I add wood. I start with oak, since I have the most of that, and close the fire box and smoke box, and let the smoke box come up to temperature, usually 275 F to 300 F. Once it is up to temperature, I add the flavor wood, which can be hickory or maple or mesquite or apple, depending on what I’m cooking. For pork, I use hickory and maple. Today, it’s hickory.

Once the smoke box is up to temperature, I place the meat.  Where it goes is not a random choice: the main, large meats like pork or brisket go in the center, while the secondary meats, chicken and brats in this case, go further out.

I have also changed a bit on where the fat goes. For a long time I placed it fat down, because I was only going to about 180 internal temp. But now I go with fat up, and since I am going to 200, that fat tends to melt down into the meat a lot better/

Now, I’ll be honest, with the new rig, I don’t have as good a feel for where the meat should go, so I place them where I have found them best in the past – sausages and high smoke meats up front, and lower smoke food like chicken and vegetables toward the back.

I then keep adding wood to keep the temp between 250 and 300. Again, I am getting a feel for the new rig, and this part is taking some getting used to.

Once the secondary meats are done – and I know this from experience – I can take them off. I generally do sausage for an hour at higher smoke, and chicken for 90 minutes in the back at lower smoke. Since I do a much better job brining the chicken now, I have found that I really don’t overcook chicken any more.



My basic Boston butt schedule is to cook it uncovered for 4 hours or so, up to 160 internal temp, and then spritz it with apple juice and wrap in foil. At that point, I can switch back to the oak, or any plentiful heating wood, and save the flavor woods for later.


Now, I will be honest, since the hurricane, and the subsequent cutting of the hickory tree and maple tree, I really don’t need to worry too much about flavor woods. But I really don’t want to get complacent or cocky about my wood supply, either. Good habits will help in the long run.


I then cook the butt to 200 internal temperature, making sure to check the fire box frequently and keep the smoke box at the 250 to 300 range. I have a nice wireless temperature transmitter, and I set the alarm for 200.


Once it’s done, I let it rest, wrapped, for 30 minutes to an hour, maybe longer, depending on what I have to do. This is a good time to get the sides made, like potato salad and coleslaw, today’s choices.


The best thing about cooking to 200 is that the pork will just about fall apart at this point. I pull it with tongs or gloved hands, depending on how hot it is.



At this point we eat. And no, I don’t use sauce. I don’t need to.



The next day, I make sure to clean out the rig – I empty the fire box, and change out the foil water pan, which keeps the humidity high. That way, the rig is ready to go the next time, and I don’t have to do anything but start at step 1.


So that’s the latest on how I do Boston butt. I welcome your comments and suggestions!

Categories: Chicken, Pork, Sausage, Smoker | Leave a comment

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