Category Archives: BBQ

Of things smokey, saucy and usually porky.

Pulled Ham – Sandwiches for Days!

Maureen’s a creature of habit. Same thing for breakfast and lunch for months at a time. So you can imagine my surprise when she asks for something different. Of course my surprise turns to nodding approval when I find out what it is.

On One of our monster road trips, this one from New Orleans to Chicago, we took a 440-mile stretch from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee on a National Park road called the Natchez Trace. Because it’s a National park, there’s no where to eat on it.

Natchez TraceC 1

One day we pulled int the only nearby dot on the map — Hohenwald, TN, to grab lunch and we were resigned to breaking a road trip rule and to eat at any fast food chain by the highway. On the main 3 block-long drag, we found Big John’s Pit BBQ (no web link, no website) and discovered a plethora of pulled, smoked meats, including pork, ham and turkey. Our favourite was the ham — moist, lightly sauced and perfectly smoked. It made an amazing sandwich.

TupNashB 10

TupNashA 20

When we discovered one of our local butcher smoked their own hams and then cut chunks off of them to sell as “nuggets”, we started smoking and pulling our own ham, whenever we felt like something different for lunches.

I start the BBQ on low and slow – about 250°F with cherry wood in the smoker drawer, and then I set to make a slather for the ham. It’s a small piece, weighing a few pounds. But it’s real. It’s not the molded ex-liquid meat of the commercial hams. It used to be a chunk of a pig leg. That’s important if you want to pull it later.

Then I rub the ham with a good pork or rib rub and put it on the smoker, replenishing the smoke wood for the first 90 minutes (after that the bark is formed and there’s no point doing any more because the smoke won’t penetrate.

pulled-ham-1 pulled-ham-3

After about 5-6 hours I take the ham off and pull it with bear claws. You can use large forks, too. Once pulled I place it in a bowl and add a couple tablespoons of rustic mustard, hot sauce and BBQ sauce and mix well. Then I place in a large plastic bag to keep in the fridge. I don’t know how long it keeps as it’s always gone in a couple days.

I make one of these every month or so. It’s easy to do, even on a busy day — the ham just sits in the smoker for 4-6 hours. It takes about 10 minutes to prep and another 10 to shred the ham and sauce it.

pulled-ham-4 pulled-ham-5

Viva la Cuban!

This morning we ventured over to Sandy’s Cafe in Little Havana, a few streets over from Duval. Open 24 hours with an all day menu, and I have a hankering for a Cuban Sandwich. Sandy’s does not disappoint.

IMG_3058 (8 of 8)Sandy’s features outside only seating. We find a pleasant spot against the building under an awning where we can watch the world go by under an already scorching sun.

IMG_3443 (4 of 8)Orders are placed at the counter. I’m trying a cafe con leche for the first time, a shot of buchi (expresso) with cream and sugar. A bit too sweet for me. I should have asked for less sugar, but nevertheless cafe con leche makes a fine wake me up drink.

IMG_3442 (5 of 8)Sandwiches arrive wrapped in paper inside take-out containers and accompanied by a very small serving of passable shoestring fries.  The second you unwrap your sammy, you know… A feast for the eyes and the palate. A soft bun, loaded with roast pork crisped up and caramelized on the flat top, ham, fresh tomatoes and shredded lettuce, topped with thin cucumber pickle and pressed lightly. $7.99.

IMG_3449 (1 of 8)While eating, sitting up against the building with a window open to the small kitchen, you are surrounded by the mouth watering smell of pork roasting and frying on the griddle. The cook adds spice to the mix and it is positively intoxicating. Everyone should start their day this way.

IMG_3439 (6 of 8)Off to explore Higgs Beach and the Key West Garden Club at the West Martello Fort Tower. Already too hot to wander and take pics like I like to. I’ll save that for an early morning before we leave.

IMG_3468 (3 of 3)IMG_3478 (2 of 3)After a long day in the hot sun relaxing and swimming at the Inn, we are up for some more Cuban food, something that really does not exist in Ottawa.

El Siboney, tucked away in a residential part of Old Key West, celebrates its Cuban indigenous roots. The homey restaurant and warm decor features renderings and sculpture of this native population, the way other restaurants here are cluttered with cats and roosters. The Siboney are depicted much like American Indians were in the 1800’s. This population mixed with the Spanish as they arrived in the America’s much like Mexico’s indigenous peoples.

This neighbourhood joint, relatively free of tourists, had a fairly extensive menu in both English and Spanish. We are quickly seated and brought a basket of warm Cuban bread — white, toasty and buttered.

IMG_3060 (1 of 5)

I order a “Cuban Style” Hatuey beer, made in the USA. It is thin and bitter, not my preference but drinkable.

IMG_3067 (5 of 5)

We have limited experience with Cuban fare and want to try a few things. Rob orders the BBQ chicken with plantanos maduros (fried ripe plantains), rice and black beans, which are separate sides not mixed. The rice, coloured a deep yellow with annatto seed, a common spice in Mexican cuisine, provides a nice foil for the sweet, juicy chicken. The plantains are fried to a deep caramel, chewy and perfect. I decide on the roast pork, cassava and tamale. We choose a side of croquetta just to try.

Food comes out quickly and looks amazing. Rob’s chicken is a large half, generously sauced with a sweet BBQ sauce. He applies some of the house-made hot sauce and sings its praises.

IMG_3062 (2 of 5)

My heaping serving of moist, flavourful pork, comes with cassava, a starchy, bland, gluey, root vegetable, a staple in a good part of the world, which may substitute for a potato but has way less flavour. Both the pork and the cassava are covered in under-fried (in a good way) garlicky onions that provide a nice texture and mild bite. Cassava serves to fill hungry bellies and I don’t really care for it so it gets left. The tamale, made with fine masa flour, has great corn taste and the lightly sweet, cumin scented tomato sauce coating makes for a delicious accompaniment to the roast pork.IMG_3064 (3 of 5)

The side of shared croquetta are also well made and tasty. Darkly crisp, just shy of burnt, they are filled with smoky ham and potato.

IMG_3065 (4 of 5)Overall a cheap and very satisfying homemade meal.

 

Road trip! Wildfire BBQ in Perth

Despite being a chilly, cloudy day, the ever changing fall colour palette of buff to amethyst and everything in between makes a drive through rural Eastern Ontario a feast for the eyes. The native sumacs are at their fiery peak. Honey locusts glow golden and look as if they could light the way at night. Fall is quick upon us and Wildfire BBQ and Smokehouse in Perth will only be open until Thanksgiving (Canadian, the real one).

Wildfire 1With Josie packed into the back of the car, we head out on our hour trek to find out if the Wildfire is the real deal Southern Q we have been searching for in the Great White North.

Perth itself is worth the drive. A charming, quaint town on the Tay River, it offers a few eateries and pretty main street shopping. BBQ is just a bonus.

Wildfire 16We pull up to a tidy red trailer, attached to another out building.  The patio dining area is fenced with rustic cedar rails and features picnic tables and an oversize Adirondack chair you could photograph a family of five in.

Wildfire 4Parking is in the rear, as is the smoker and piles of split hickory and cherry wood.

Wildfire 7We head around front where a biking couple is just finishing up. Other than that, we are the only other diners. We order up brisket and ribs which come with four sides. They allow Josie to eat on the patio, so I know this is a classy joint.

Wildfire 5Food comes out in in plastic baskets and red and white checkered paper. Classic. Wildfire offers both metal and plastic cutlery which is appreciated. We tuck in.

A nuisance of wasps arrives but for some reason leaves after about three minutes. Wish I knew that secret.

The brisket is ‘wet”. We were not offered a choice of wet or dry (fat or lean) as you often are in Southern USA joints, but I would have ordered the wet anyways because it is the tastiest. Wildfire brisket does not disappoint. It is as delicious as it looks. Rich, deep, rosy smoke ring and beautiful dark bark. It is lightly sauced and a squirt of their own bbq sauce on the side makes for a more than decent brisket. Wildfire 10This is probably the best I have had since Kreuz Market in Texas, which I pine for weekly. Josie also enjoyed the brisket. Happy puppy mouth.

Wildfire 15Two sides come with the each meat order. My mac and cheese is underwhelming. Large, overcooked elbows of pasta swimming in a mild cheesy sauce. The maple cream corn is interesting. While tasty, it is very loose.

Rob’s ribs are fantastic as well. Wildfire is two for two on the meat. The pork ribs are meaty and smoky sweet. Again, the meat succulent with a beautiful, pink smoke ring, is perfectly smoked and sauced.

Wildfire 14Wildfire’s BBQ beans are also a standout. Navy and kidney beans are slow cooked medium sweet and smoky, Rob’s second side is coleslaw which is a decent homemade cabbage slaw but nothing out of the ordinary.Wildfire 12Wildfire certainty has done the South proud and done honour to the pig. A few things are missing but they are minor. Some pickle and white bread would be nice. The over cooked, ubiquitous corn on the cob of the South is happily absent.  Wildfire offers homemade sweet tea but does not offer unsweetened or half sweet so I passed.

Wildfire 6I look forward to trying some of Wildfire’s other menu items on a future road trip in true BBQ weather.

 

 

Doumars, Monticello and on to DC

Final leg of our epic Road Trip 2014. On to Washington D.C. Breakfast will be at Doumar’s, another triple D joint established in 1904 and noted for having the world’s oldest ice cream cone making machine.

Norfolk-DC 002

It’s a drive-in but we go inside because it really doesn’t look like anyone is gonna come out.We sit and order at the counter.

Norfolk-DC 001

Doumar’s is great just to sit and look at how old everything is. They are famous for limeades so we order up two. Limeades, syrup, soda and lime, are made by hand but feature limes I would have already chucked out. Still the drink is refreshing and not overly sweet.

Norfolk-DC 003

I’m getting an egg and fried ham sammy and Rob wants to try their split dog on a hamburger bun and their pulled pork sandwich, because we are staring at four pork shoulders, spit roasting. Prices are super cheap, $2.80 was the most expensive sandwich we ordered. My sandwich is decent, egg, processed ham and cheese on a nice, soft hamburger bun, a tick up on an Egg McMuffin.

Norfolk-DC 004

Rob’s red dye number 4 hot dog and is red. It’s redness is very…red.

Norfolk-DC 005

And the pulled pork is okay but livened up with Doumar’s own hot sauce into being more than passable.

Norfolk-DC 006

All in all, I would not go out of my way to eat at Doumar’s but seeing the ancient diner was worthwhile one time.

Norfolk-DC 007

We officially hit the road for DC via Charlottesville to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate. This is a revisit for me. I last visited 35 years previously on a class trip when I was 17.

Leaving Norfolk we snap some pics of a battleship parked eternally at the naval museum. We pass through a relatively industrial area then drift by some lovely Victorians and hit the highway proper.

Ship

Jefferson’s Monticello is 2 and a 1/2 hours away. I am excited to revisit because when I was last there I was fascinated with Jefferson’s vegetable garden, forsaking everything else about the place. When we arrive there is a massive visitor center, museum and gift shop. I remember none of this. I ask about it and am told it was built 7 years ago. Phew.

We hike up to the tour bus stop and get on a bus to the house. We are early for the tour so we do a self guided tour around the grounds.

Norfolk-DC 008

The cook’s quarters and kitchen are on view here as are the fish pond, the rear gardens, a most spectacular view over Virginia and of course the amazing vegetable gardens that Jefferson considered his lab. His garden makes me itch to get my fingers dirty. It is a work of art.

Norfolk-DC 009

Jefferson’s grave and family plot (still active) are a half mile trek from the gardens. We head down and spend a bit of time gazing through the wrought iron fence. Lots of Randolphs buried there. Jefferson’s mother was a Randolph. We spy at least one Confederate soldier’s grave as well. Jefferson has a large obelisk monument at one end. In behind it are 4 very old, tiny markers I can only assume are his 4 children that did not live to adulthood but I can’t get any info on that. When we return from the grave site we realize we missed our house tour. No matter, we saw what we came for.

Norfolk-DC 010

On to DC.

We take Virginia Byway 29, the scenic route past pristine horse farms, North Virginia wine country, bright yellow fields of goldenrod and hazy mountains rising up out of the horizon. At one point we see a bald eagle soaring then diving to the asphalt to dine on some poor unfortunate squirrel. A fine and pleasant day drive.

I am looking forward to this trip to DC, the final stop on our road trip. I last visited when I was 17 with my American History class. The world was a different place. Regan had not been shot and the 9/11 hijackers had not been born. I have vivid memories of visiting the beautiful capitol building with minimal security. We toured the Pentagon and snapped pictures with our Kodak Instamatics. A classmate and I blew off the tour of the White House (you just lined up in those days, no passport required, no letter from your congressman or embassy, no appointment, no paperwork) because the line was too long. Instead we walked down the side of the White House, outside the fence. There are side gates back there and they were opening. We stopped curbside to allow two DC mounted police and a single black limousine to pass within 2 and a half feet of us. The back window of the sedan was rolled down. Inside sat then President Jimmy Carter and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat. They both waved at us schoolgirls. Different times. Very different times.

 

Wilmington to Norfolk

9 am and it’s sweltering. Windows in shops and cafes are dripping with condensation. We sit down on diner stools at a great little place for breakfast, Dixie Grill, and my first thought is I will never, could never live in the south. Usually every great town or city we visit has me looking at houses, and Wilmington is historic and downright adorable. You can buy a most amazing Victorian for less than $300,000. I thought I liked heat, and I certainly prefer it to the alternative of an arctic Ottawa winter, but there has to be a happy medium…Vancouver. I digress.

Wilm-Norfolk 001

Dixie Grill is charming and small-town comfy. Staff is young and friendly. Coffee and OJ is ordered and we both choose the corned beef hash which comes with a choice of toast and 2 eggs how you like ’em. The brisket is made in house and fried up with nice roasty potatoes, peppers, onions and covered with provolone cheese made all melty good by the hot fried eggs. Portion is good but not “I need a nap now” size. Very satisfying breaky before hitting the road to Norfolk, a four and a half hour drive including a slight detour for lunch.

Wilm-Norfolk 003
On our drive we are accompanied by The Smartest Man in the World, Greg Proops. We have a number of his “Proopcasts” on board and the miles fly by. Most of the drive is on a country two-laner, a pleasant drive by tidy little bungalows, trailers, churches, horses, tobacco fields, churches, shacks of people living in extreme poverty, cotton crops, churches, country stores, auto shops, churches and a vineyard.

Precisely at noon and about 30 seconds before the rush, we pull into Ayden, North Carolina for a BBQ lunch at Skylight Inn which is not an inn curiously.

Wilm-Norfolk 006
North Carolina BBQ is about all about the pork. Skylight serves chopped whole hog with a little hot sauce and vinegar added while the meat is chopped.

Wilm-Norfolk 007

You get a nice mix of dark and light meat and pieces of crispy skin. Pretty much to die for. Not much to look at.

Wilm-Norfolk 008

Comes piled high in a little paper tray. You can add more vinegar, hot sauce or a vinegary black pepper sauce at the table. For $6.50 you get a medium tray, a big slab of really excellent cornbread made in a cast iron pan basted with pork fat and a serving of green, mushy coleslaw a la KFC, my favourite kind (another dirty little secret).

Wilm-Norfolk 011

Skylight is friendly, despite all the bossy signage. Orders after 6:45 must be TAKEN OUT. Chicken THURSDAY and FRIDAY only. NO CELL PHONES AT THE COUNTER.

Wilm-Norfolk 013
Another satisfying meal and first BBQ joint I’ve been to where you can get a normal portion size. As we climb back into Moby, an American fellow asks us to roll down a window so he can tell us how much he loves our car. To each his own. He ain’t drivin’ this whale 1000 miles and paying for gas. Norfolk, Virginia, next stop.

We are staying down by the Naval museum, downtown Norfolk. The battleship parked nearby is formidable but oddly beautiful. Tonight we will dine at Todd Jurich, classier joint than we have been frequenting. The menu looks amazing. 7 pm reservations. We walk three blocks to the restaurant on the shady side of the street as the heat almost laughably, has not abated. Todd’s is a nicely appointed place with business men finishing up and couples arriving although on this Tuesday, the restaurant is not overly busy. We are seated at a nice table and order sparkling water and a really excellent dirty (downright sludgy) gin martini for the man. I’m saving room for the most excellent bottle of Napa Caymus Special Selection Cabernet.

We need more time to peruse the menu which has way to many appealing selections. Finally we choose the bread, which Todd’s charges $5 for, which I don’t mind if it is really good. I do not understand who started the free bread or free anything craze. One way or another, you are paying for it, so let me pay and make it a quality item. For apps we both really want a salad after so much heavy southern food. Rob opts for the very excellent Caesar and I choose the beet salad, which should be called a spinach salad with beet garnish and the now tired fried goat cheese. Todd’s beet salad was chunks and slivers of some very delicious red and golden beets playing hide and seek in a mountain of lightly dressed baby spinach. The goat cheese was bland and absent that very desired tang.

Wilm-Norfolk 016
Back to the bread: A dish of sweet butter with sea salt arrived with a basket of very nice baguette, a slice of fruit and nut bread, very cakey with grapes and almonds, delicious, and a popover which I found tasted of stale grease.

Our mains arrive, on room temp plates and my food is lukewarm. As we lingered over our salads, I suspect food in slow kitchen came out way too fast and sat a bit. Management problem in the kitchen. Rob’s Rib eye and reduction was excellent as were his duck fat fries which arrived a few minutes later as I suspect they were not dropped until our apps were cleared.

Wilm-Norfolk 018

Wilm-Norfolk 020

My Carne Asada was a very nice medium rare steak with a mild garlic flavour but certainly did not taste of the spice, lime and chili a good asada promises. The mash was typical but not hot enough, the fire onion was a nicely charred quarter of a sweet onion.

Wilm-Norfolk 019
We decide we cannot leave the south with out a piece of pecan pie so we opt to split their dessert with cappuccinos. The pie is typical of any mass produced tartlet in any city. Not particularly memorable. I expect my pecan pie to be loose and gooey…a layer of pecans over a great butter tart on a well made flakey, buttery crust. This was not it. We’re going on record here — pie is pie and a tart is a tart. If a menu says pie, serve a slice of pie.

All in all, dinner at Todd Jurich was fine but not memorable, except for a most excellent cab sauv and good company.