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The “Bacon Explosion”

There are huge leaps in a Civilization’s move forward that will forever be instilled in the annals of history: The discovery of Fire; The Invention of Gunpowder; Man’s first steps on the Moon. I was not around for the first two, but I had the pleasure of watching the last one on television when I was a wee boy. Imagine my happiness upon learning that I have now witnessed not one, but TWO great moments of civilization – The Bacon Explosion!

Now before you read any further, you MUST check out the link above – Or the rest of this will not make sense at all.

On the Thursday before the Superbowl, my co-worker Jonathon sent me an Email with the above link. How this flew under my radar I’ll never know, and by the next morning Good Morning America featured it:

I was feeling the pull – It was like a Black Hole sucking me in and there was no way I could ever hope to fight it – I just HAD to make this dish!


Bacon Weaving

The ‘weaving’ of the bacon strips went better than expected – It must be all those crafts I took when I was a kid at Camp – Never did I guess I’d be weaving Pork Products! I ended up doing a 6×5 “blanket” instead of a 5×5 as the recipe suggests – Although I used quality bacon, it must have been a bit thinner on the short side than the boys at BBQ Addicts used. All of the leftover bacon, probably about 1.5 pounds, went into a hot pan to cook.

In addition to the regular sausage, I also added some Chorizo – I figured it needed a bit of heat, as the only spice was from the BBQ rub and sauce. After spreading the Italian sausage over all of the bacon, I put the chorizo on top of that but only on one end.


Cooked Bacon on top

The cooked bacon then went onto the top, followed by BBQ sauce (I used Maker’s Mark brand) and a sprinkling of BBQ Rub (Stubbs, one of my favorites).
Then the gymnastics – I rolled back the sausage, then rolled it forward with the bacon weave on the outside.

The Log

The Log

 Viola! BACON LOG! Another sprinkling of Stubbs and it was off to the smoker as per the recipe. Mine took a bit longer than theirs, about three house – But I figured it would since there was a slightly larger bacon weave.


A quick slather of Maker’s Mark (the BBQ sauce, not the Whisky – Although that might be interesting next time…..) turned the outside nice and glossy.

Right out of the Smoker

Right out of the Smoker

The result was amazing – The weave and the slow cooking ensured that the bacon didn’t shrink, yet it was nice and crispy on the outside. The meld of pork flavors inside was awesome, and the chorizo came over very well – Those bites had a nice little kick to them, but not too much. My first piece I had with eggs over easy – A perfect breakfast, and the second was the next day at lunch – Slapped between two halves of of a fresh roll, with just a bit more BBQ sauce for good measure.

Better Inside!

Better Inside!

Many folks, when hearing that I actually MADE this monstrosity, were surprised – But those that know me knew better – How could I NOT make it? This kind of stuff is in my Blood! It’s what makes me tick. Just look at that beautiful layering, with 2 sets of Bacon goodness, and sausage as well as chorizo. Each bite was different and each was PERFECT. Except for one thing – I want to try a true breakfast version – Omit some of the sweet sauce and add the eggs….. Hmmmmmm… I better get to work…..

Southern Food Extravaganza – Ajax, BBB, and The Rib Cage


I'd vote for Bob in a heartbeat!

I'd vote for Bob in a heartbeat!

I sit at the Hampton Inn in Oxford, Mississippi as I write this killing 2 hours before my next Meal. It is the day before the first Presidential Debate, and/or exactly a week before the Vice Presidential Debate in St. Louis – Depending on what John McCain decides to do. Yesterday he announced he was suspending his campaign due to Friday’s House vote on the Economic Bailout. Oxford is ready – Red, White, and Blue bunting adorns every business in this sleepy hamlet, the University of Mississippi has been transformed into a Mini-DC, and all of the television network folks, myself included, are ready to go but instead are sitting around twiddling their thumbs – Swapping war stories about how it used to be on the Lincoln Campaign – Well, maybe they don’t go back that far.

Ok, enough backstory – You are here to read about food, not Politics. But I am here in Oxford, then off to St. Louis, then nashville – 2 weeks of hard work and (hopefully) awesome Southern food. If yesterday was any indication, then I am off to a good start.

Two nights ago, we went drinkin’ and dinin’ off the Square in ‘downtown’ Oxford. We started at the Ajax Diner, and after starting with a couple of Bass Ales, I dug into one of the best Chicken-Fried (I’m sorry – “Country-Fried”) Steaks I have ever had. The meat was almost like a cutlet – Not very pretty to look at, and I was really worried I made the wrong choice at this point. But the fact that this wasn’t a whole steak meant that there was no fat or gristle at all, just pure beef. There is nothing worse than big chunks of fat hiding under a layer of breading and made further invisible by thick gravy. As it turns out, this was one of the BEST CFS’s I have ever had – Great beefy flavor, crisp breading (but not too much!) and awesome brown gravy. I was a bit worried about the gravy too because there didn’t seem to be enough – I like some on every bite – and I was going to order more, but decided against it. As it turns out, there was just enough for every bite and not a bit more. They REALLY know gravy down here folks. Smooth, robust, and delicious!

As for sides, I went with the night’s veggie – Collard Greens, and what was billed as “Hash Brown Casserole”. The Greens were a tad disappointing – Good flavor but a tad too bitter and they hadn’t been cooked long enough. A few quick shakes of Tabasco cured that though and I ate up every bite. For the casserole, I expected some sort of fried hash-brown cake. What came was something completely different. It looked like someone had taken hash browns, cheese, and mayo, mixed it together, and baked it. The first bite was weird as the potatoes didn’t feel crunchy like hash browns should – So I took a second bite, then a third, and before I knew it, this was the first thing gone on my plate. Hash browns, cheese, and mayo – Who knew?

After the Ajax, we went a drinkin’ – We ended up a a place called the “Library”, a definite college bar, thusly named, I am sure, so that when the college-bill-footing-parents called their children the kids could say “Hi Mom and Dad, yes, I am studying hard, in fact I am at the Library”

Wherever we went, whoever we met, we had one question for them: “Where is the best BBQ in town?” The answers were split 50/50 between a place off the square called the “Rib Cage” and one known only as “The joint inside the Shell Station.” Uh, OK – That sounds intriguing, but not very sanitary.

As well as questioning BBQ, we asked the townsfolk where the best Breakfast was – Ajax Diner, for some reason, only served lunch and dinner. A diner that doesn’t server breakfast? Huh? Anyway, the consensus was ‘BBB’ – Otherwise know as something like “Bob’s Badass Breakfast” or “Bob’s Big Breakfast” or such. Yesterday morning, we of course had no choice but to go. The directions were off the square, and as we drove and hit a residential neighborhood (the homes here are Awesome – but that is a whole other blog) we thought we had gone too far. We may have been going a bit slow, and at a stoplight the woman behind us pulled up alongside and asked us “Y’all lookin’ for somethin’? Bobs, oh that jest up the street a bit – Y’all keep goin’, y’uall fand it!” Two blocks later, in a huge (for Oxford) shopping center, was Bob’s.

This place was a hole in the wall and was about half-full (or half-empty, but y’all know me). The one thing about the restaurants down here that differs from everywhere I frequent is no matter where we walk into, we are told “Just have a seat anywhere ya like” – I am used to “We will be right with you, no you can’t have a booth for only 2 people, do you have a reservation”, etc. The service down here is fresh, fast, and friendly, and every server we have run into so far seems genuinely happy to help you. Maybe the Servers in Washington, DC, should spend 2 weeks here training? Bob’s was no exception.

I opted for the “Bob’s Breakfast” – Eggs, Starch, Bread, Meat – a choice each. How do you decide between country ham, bacon, sausage patties, and andouille sausage – the latter three made with love and smoked on the premises? A homemade-from-scratch biscuit or home-baked sourdough? Sausage, red-eye, or tomato gravy? I opted for 2 sunny-side up eggs, country ham, sourdough, grits, red-eye gravy, and oh yeah, a side of sausage patties. No sooner did that sausage order come out of my mouth than I caught crap for ordering too much from my compadres.

The country ham was as I expected – Salty, thick, and full of flavor – perfect for topping with egg-yolks. The grits were amazing – Deep yellow, not that white stuff that you normally see – And I am not quite sure how they were done – I’ll have to ask when I go back. I like mine cooked in chicken stock and mixed with cheese – I am not sure these were either, but they were savory and delicious nonetheless. The red-eye gravy was perfect – I had it on the fluffy sourdough, the grits, and even on the eggs. But the Sausage? Oh, man, the flavor was incredible, made with fresh ingredients and smoked just right – with a perfect grind, no gristle or bad stuff. These folks do it right, and when Dennis tried a bite, he immediately ordered a side for himself (so much for giving me crap). The one thing I didn’t try was the homemade (of course!) jams and jellies – I was too busy dipping things in the gravy to care about fruit!

Fast-forward to lunch – After I slapped the manager who suggested Chili’s (please give me a break – if I wanted mediocre food I could find that restaurant almost anywhere) and laughed at Rich who wanted to go back to Applebees (who cares if it has the closest bar to the hotel – I’ll still never be caught dead there), we decided to head into town, a ride of about 5 minutes, and hit up The Rib Cage. The boys, Blake and Drew, had been there the day before and gave it two thumbs-up, and since I didn’t feel like eating BBQ where I got my gas (I know what you are thinking, and Yes – that could be taken a number of different ways), we figured that The Rib Cage was the way to go.

One of the perks of being in a small town is much less traffic than we are used to, and we found a parking spot right outside the restaurant. It was terribly dark inside – much like a seedy bar (Yes, I’ve read about them!), and though it was around 1pm, there was only one other customer – A bit strange, and I was suddenly wondering if we had made a mistake. But the smell that hit us as we walked through the door confirmed that we were, indeed in the right place. After finding a spot near the front window (so we had a little light), we sat down a prepared to eat. The drinks came quickly, and iced tea and sodas came in huge plastic cups that you could keep.

We order the chicken wings – as the menu warned us “CAUTION: They’re Hot!” They were sticky, messy, and delicious, but the one thing they were not was spicy – They barely raised a tingle on the tongue.

I ordered the BBQ – ie: a pulled-pork sandwich to the rest of the world. Here, ribs and BBQ are two separate things even though they probably came out of the same smoker. Dennis and I also split a small oder of ribs, which were very good, but nothing earth-shattering. They were cooked perfectly, with the meat coming off the bone easily but not falling off so much it ended up in your lap before you took a bite. The flavor was good, slightly sweet, but I was looking for something better than what I could do at home.

Then, suddenly, the Earth stood still, the ground opened up, and pure pleasure washed over me – I tried the BBQ. Now most pulled-pork sandwiches are good – Smoky (and moist of you are lucky) pork on a bun with whatever sauce you want n top – And some go the coleslaw-on-top method, but not me.

This pork was not just smoky and juicy, but Crispy as well! Now I know alot of BBQ that tries to achieve this – Where chunks of crispy pulled pork give off a rush of juice when you bite into them – But so far in my travels, The Rib Cage was the only place that truly made it.

Truth be told, the sauce was good but that’s as far as I’d go – Again, the “Hot” sauce was anything but – Maybe this batch wasn’t up to their usual spiciness, I don’t know. But I will tell you this – If I can ever get my pulled pork even NEAR the quality of the stuff I tasted here, I would die a happy man.

If There’s Smoke, It Must Be Spring!


As the April sun warms the chill of winter from our bones, a man starts to think of many things…. Mowing the lawn, tilling the garden, opening the pool, and generally getting things ready for the summer. But if that man is anything like myself, he walks into the back yard, stretches his arms, breathes in the Spring air, heads towards the mower, and………Stops – right in front of his BBQ or Smoker. Granted, the smell of freshly-cut grass can do wonders to the brain if you are not prone to allergies, but that smell can’t even compare to the aroma of meat and smoke doing the nasty in the dark beneath the closed lid of a fine cooking machine.

I’ve smoked many things in my lifetime (yeah, I know how that sounds), but never a chicken. I’ve smoked some turkeys before and a 18-pounder has been our Thanksgiving understudy for the past 2 years. But that creates a lot of leftovers which is good, but pure hell on refrigerator real estate. One of my colleagues, Mike, was talking about his smoked chickens (which I’ve envied but never tasted) and a lightbulb went off in my head (again there is envy because it doesn’t happen very often)

Sunday after the show I pick up 2 chickens (8 pounders) after choosing an appropriate recipe as a starting point. As with much of the food you’ll see here this year, I delved into my trusty copy of Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.



 If you like to smoke meats, this book is for you. I own many books on smoking, but if I was stranded on a desert island (with a full pantry and fresh market, of course) this is the book I’d choose to take with me. My bacon recipe is based on this book – It is the inspiration for all of my sausage-making (more on that later, of course!) and I hope to soon make the recipe for “Duck Ham”

So I turned the page to “whiskey glazed smoked chicken” and, me being entirely predictable, messed with the proportions of the recipe. The brine (which I held the birds in for 24 hours) was essentially the same. For the alcohol, I used a blend of Jack Daniels and a local whiskey from Colorado. With pure maple sugar (Thank you Whole foods – when I was a boy my mother found it somewhere – but Safeway sure doesn’t have it) and a pinch (or five) of cayenne, my glaze was ready to be boiled down to a dark sticky mess. And that’s exactly what it was when I was done since my attentions were turned elsewhere (I had to prep the smoker, after all!) Since I had a pot full of tar, but not burnt tar, I just added a bit more whiskey (to the pot of course!)

There is rarely a situation that cannot be solved without the addition of more alcohol, either into the recipe or into the cook. W.C. Fields has been quoted as saying “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” I frequently use tequila to marinade a flank, skirt, or hanger steak, beer to chili, and wine to pan sauces. But I digress. One last thing, folks – I have to be safe and remind everyone NOT to add alcohol to a pot or pan while it is on the stove and over an open flame. Remember, alcohol is flammable. Thank you, now my lawyers are happy and you still have your eyebrows.

Just a quick soak in the Tub!

Just a quick soak in the Tub!

Where was I? Oh, yes, so the whole process is done in 3 days – One night I brine the chicken(s) and refrigerate them for 24 hours (I know, the book says 18 – But when do I ever go by the book?). Next I take them out of the brine, rinse them, and pat them dry with paper towels. The chickens then go onto a rack on in the fridge overnight. Yes. Uncovered. Bare. Naked. The reason for this is to dry out the skin. Remember, I just took them out of a 24-hour soak. How does your skin look and feel after a half hour in the bath? After 48 times that? We want to get rid of some of that squishy, flabby feeling. We want the crispiest skin possible. Yes, there is a real scientific explanation for why we rest between brining and smoking, but I like my metaphor better. Plus, it leaves something for me to blog about if I ever get writer’s block.


And a long Sauna......

The final step is smoking – I like Applewood for poultry and fish so thats what I used here. The book says smoke at 200-degrees for 3 hours. Sounds good to me, but since Leslie was coming home for dinner at 8 p.m., and I am notoriously late each night, I put the chickens in at 4. This gives me an hour of pad if they take longer, and a good rest to let the juices get back to where they belong if they don’t. Halfway through cooking, they come partially out of the smoker to what I call the “Jack Daniels Spa Treatment” – I baste them with the whiskey-maple glaze. Hey, if other folks spend hundreds of dollars to rub their bodies with cucumbers, avocado, and seaweed, then my chickens get the full JD treatment! I have yet to try this on myself, but I seem to remember a weekend in college when – Oh, never mind.

Needless to say, Leslie arrives home at 8 and the chickens only register at 120-degrees on the trusty instant-read thermometer. “Honey, if you are hungry, you better make yourself an omelette” which she did without complaint (have I told you how good she is getting at cooking omelettes?) I pop the smoker temp up to 220, then 250. Finally, after SIX HOURS, they are done. Another Jack Daniels Spa Treatment and they are ready to rest. These birds are truly GBD – Golden Brown and Delicious. The mahogany color is unlike any hue I’ve ever seen on a chicken. It’s the kind of color I always hope to get at the beach, but I always end up looking more like a boiled lobster than a smoked chicken.


An Awesome day at Tommy's Day Spa!

How did it taste? Man-oh-Man, it was the most tender, juicy, smoky poultry i’ve ever had. Leslie says it was the best chicken she’s EVER tasted, but she says that a lot, bless her heart. Warm this chicken melts in your mouth (with a pleasant finish of apple and oak – OK, Im just being snooty now.) Cold in sandwiches – pure heaven. A touch of mayo and Durkee Famous Sauce, some lettuce and tomato – and you have a sandwich you’ll never forget.

Why did they take so long to smoke? Well, dear readers, if you have compared the recipe in the book to what I wrote above, you would already know. You see, the recipe calls for birds that are 3-4 pounds, not the 8 pound monsters yours truly used. Yes, I admit it – I am human and (occasionally) make mistakes. And the fact that I never, ever follow a recipe to the letter may have something to do with it. I can compare my cooking to an improvisational Jazz musician, knowing how to play the notes but truly making things up as I go along. How could I miss the fact that I used chickens that looked like they just got off a MLB pitching mound instead of ones that should have been more like the bat boy. Next time 6 hours, next time 6 hours, next time 6 hours……