Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Best Coffee Ever for Long Smoking Nights or Camping

My Favorite Ever Coffee - Chocolate Cherry Bourbon

A good cup of coffee can be critical for those all night smoking jobs or when you are camping out and need a jump start. There are tons of coffees out there, but the outdoors just calls for something special. And Fire Department Coffee is just the ticket. 

I've been a fan of Fire Department Coffee for a long time - so long that I wore out the t-shirt they gave me who knows how far back? The group help out struggling firefighters like if a fireman is injured. Two of my favorite cousins are firefighters (one retired this year), so I know fighting fires is a dangerous job and that we need to support our men and women at the firehouses. 

Helping out a cause is great, but you want solid coffee too, and that is for certain with Firefighters. They have all types even pods and bean or ground. But, the real kick is the spirit infusion. I wasn't too sure about it before my bags came in. It sounded interesting, and I do like bourbons. But, do the flavors meld with coffee? And the answer is a big YES!

The peach bourbon coffee just melted my Southern girl heart. The fruit balanced out that little bitter kick coffee can have, and the peach sweetened it up but not too much The coffee just put a little dance in my morning. 

And . . . then . . . Chocolate Cherry Bourbon infused coffee. 

I settled in for a night of tending a Boston butt, and it was love at first sip with the Choc Cherry Bourbon. The infusion balanced the coffee flavor with that bourbon and then plugged in sweet notes with cherry and chocolate. I love every one of those flavors, and this coffee manages to showcase all that and come together for the smoothest cup of coffee I've ever had. 

I did drink the infused coffees black which is how I generally drink coffee. With the infusions, I'd suggest trying it black before adding anything else. The flavors are so nice that I'd hate to mess with them by adding anything extra. Also, coffee is just healthier if you're not adding all sorts of sugars and creamers. 

A subscription would be an excellent gift for your barbecue friends, campers or any buddies or relatives who like coffee and maybe even ones who have never had some that tasted awesome straight out of the pot. 

It does not surprise me that firemen make and sell this top shelf product. It just has that extra umph and tastes like it was made with love and spirit. 

Bottoms up with Chocolate Cherry Bourbon or Peach Bourbon.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Meat District - High Quality Grilling Foods Delivered to Your Front Porch


When I got in from town today, there was a package on my porch. It was a variety pack of grilling meats from Meat District. 

Getting meat by mail was originally a strange concept for me, but I'd been a mail order meat girl for more than a decade. With the pandemic locking things down this year, ordering home delivery certainly felt like a very good idea. And, I really enjoy trying out new companies and products. That's a hobby for me and dates back for years.

How was the packaging?

The packing on Meat District was quite nice. The meat was in a reusable grocery style bag with insulation and a zipper close top. The tote bag was in a large insulated bag and then a sturdy cardboard box. Very professional. Alan had put my order together. per an enclosed note, and thumbs up to him.

The real test on packing meat is how the meat travels. Everything was in perfect shape and frozen solid. I'm not sure how long the package was on the front porch, but I was pretty late getting home, so I'd say it was likely a few hours.  But - not a problem.

How about the meat?

There are a lot of meats that you can buy from Meat District. My box included beef patties, chicken wings, drumsticks, and thighs, tri tip, and pork tenderloin. 

I like to start with a variety pack, so I get an idea of a company's products. These packs were seasoned and sauced and ready to go right on the grill. They were not over packaged. That's nice, because I do not have much freezer space. 

How did Meat District measure up on the grill?

My first barbecue with Meat District was the saucy chicken legs. I just snipped the packaging bag with my kitchen shears and put the ready-to-cook legs on the hot grill after letting the meat thaw. You don't want to put frozen or cold meat on grill grates, or the meat will stick.

The chicken legs had plenty of seasoning and sauce and were very tasty. The taste was sweet with a little bit of zip and just all round nice. These would work for any group. The meat was tender and juicy and obviously good quality. Most products that taste good start with a quality base. 

Grilling Tips for Meat District

The meats from Meat District can be cooked on the stove or the grill. It's harder to find meats ready for the grill, so that's what I'd say to go with. If someone comes up (rain, late home from work) you could always shift gears.

With the sauce on the meats, it's easier and more likely that you will be successful if you use a grill that holds an even temperature. You can nail this on any grill, but gas grills and pellet grills would be the ones I'd say would work best for more grillers. I say this because the sugars in the seasonings and sauces can scorch very easily if you have a heat source that flares up. Usually I put sauce on the last five minutes when grilling, but these work fine if you can count on your heat being even and the fire not flaring. 

Final Thoughts on Meat District Meats

Meat District does an excellent job with their products, and the meats are nice for home or for sending as a gift.

Here in 2020 with the coronavirus making life strange, it's great that Meat District can get food to you reliably, in excellent condition, and quickly. One thing for sure - you do not want someone messing up your meat, and MD is spot on.

Where Meat District stands out is with convenience. The meats are prepared and ready to cook. No trying to figure out how to season and flavor. This is nice when you're rushed and also if you have not had much experience working with outdoor meats. 

We enjoyed our chicken legs from Meat District a lot, and I'll check back in with thoughts on their other products soon. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

My Easy Flip - Food Turning Tool

My Easy Flip- Turning Tool

If you have problems getting small pieces of food turned over, My Easy Flip may be just the ticket. My Easy Flip is a kitchen and outdoor cooking tool that makes it easier to get small chunks of food flipped over for even cooking or grilling.

Eric Levitt contacted me about trying out his flipping tool. I try out new products now and then, and this one looked interesting. I enjoy this as a hobby.

This tool is made with food grade stainless steel for the bulk of the product. As you can see, the handles are wooden which means that you don't have such direct heat on your hand. A thin strip of metal runs down the side of the handles. I am very aware of this now, because I closed the grill lid, the handle heated up, and I burned a tiny little streak on the side of my hand. Easy Flip clearly recommends using heat proof gloves. I did not read the directions )-:

Directions came on a single sheet (after all - don't need to be a rocket scientist to use). There were some helpful ideas on the sheet in addition to the note to wear gloves. For example, the directions say to spray the prongs prior to use. That makes sense for most foods, although I did not need oil with the pineapple I grilled on the Easy Flip last night.

The prongs on My Easy Flip worked well. The points are sharp enough to skewer through food easily. I cut food wide enough so that two prongs go through any given piece of food. That just means the food is very stable. The foods do stay in place, and they do cook pretty evenly which is nice. 

I wasn't sure how the joint and rivet (hope I'm describing that right) would work for an actual flip, but I just lifted up on the tool and jerked my wrist quickly. It did flip over. That was super easy. I really like "easy" when cooking or grilling.

Although I use My Easy Flip on the barbecue grill, it is also fine for indoor use. I could see it being helpful with frying small food items like scallops or mushrooms. It's hard to turn over a bunch of small food items. The same applies to grilling where small items may even fall through the grates if not corralled with a tool like My Easy Flip.

My Easy Flip is dishwasher safe which I'm sure is a plus for many. I don't have a dishwasher, so that doesn't come into play here. 

All in all, My Easy Flip is a cool tool for getting food turned over. It is easy to use. I'm good at flipping lots of little bit-sized pieces of food on a grill, but I know a lot of people are not. Even though I'm good at flipping, it was nice to relax and let My Easy Flip do the heavy lifting.

 Bacon Wrapped Pineapple on the Grill with My Easy Flip Tool

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Backcountry & Beyond, Salisbury, NC - Traeger and Outdoor Gear - Thumbs Up

 Good Eating Today at Backcountry & Beyond, Salisbury, NC

My son spotted a sign that said "Traeger." Hum. Interesting. I've long been a Traeger fan, but I'd not known of a place in my town to shop for their pellet grills and accessories. Life is changing. I may not have to live mostly online when it comes to outdoor cooking, although I've loved the last decade plus of "roughing it" in a small town and being an outdoor cooking freak.

Of course, I had to check this out, so my son stopped. Well, he followed the signs. Backcountry & Beyond is a bit tucked away. Not a bad thing really. The location is 1301 East Innes Street, Suite 101, Salisbury, NC 28146. That's right beside the FedEx store, and you can GPS it of course.

Traeger Country in Central NC

We happened to discover Backcountry on a Saturday with grilling and samples. That's a lucky day (even if we were headed to get wings and a skillet chocolate chip cookie).

 Eat More Chicken or Beef - Both Taste Great

Mac and Cheese on the Grill - Yes You Can Do That

I tried out the chicken that Grill Guy Jeremy had grilled. The rubs were Traeger rubs - Summer Shandy and Fin & Feather. Both were delicious. I'd pick Summer Shandy if I had to pick. It had a citrus flavor with spicy pepper notes. Eli (my son) had the beef, and he said it was delicious.

I also had a chocolate chip cookie that Jeremy had made on the Traeger. It was crispy which is what I love. My son is a soft and chewy cookie guy, so he thought the cookie was okay but not the type he goes for. I told Jeremy he's got to try putting some bacon in his cookies, and he is planning to do that. Bacon in grilled cookies is awesome.

Jeremy Smoking Mac and Cheese

The mac & cheese was still on the Traeger, and that's not one of my favorite dishes to be honest. Plus, I needed to get my son to East Coast Wings for his late birthday cookie I'd promised. It was time to head out, but this was good news - finding Backcountry & Beyond almost in my back yard. Okay. It's a half hour drive, but that's a big improvement.

If you are around Salisbury, NC and love outdoor stuff, then Backcountry & Beyond is a great stop. They have lots of outdoor gear and very nice brands. There's the Traeger grilling line and then excellent quality accessories like the Thermopen thermometers. I've had my Thermopen about a decade now I think and love it. Coolers are Yeti. They have some great looking tie down straps that I was looking at, and my son checked out the backpack cooking stoves and hiking socks.

Although I am a happy online shopper, it was a treat to see some of these excellent products up close and to test drive and test taste in person. I'll have to stop back in when I'm in town again. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Smiley's Barbecue Restaurant in Lexington, North Carolina

Traditional Chopped Pork Sandwich Lexington NC Style from Smiley's BBQ Restaurant

When I am in Lexington, NC (about 45 minutes from my house), I have to get some real down home barbecue which is what Lexington is famous for. There are quite a few great barbecue restaurants in Lexington, and one of my favorites is Smiley's.

Smiley's Barbecue is a fixture in Lexington. It opened in the early 1950s and changed owners and names a few times over the years but has always kept the wood fire burning. That's what sets Lexington BBQ apart from barbecue in other areas - the meat is cooked slow over a wood fire. Well, it's one of the things that sets it apart.

If you are not familiar with North Carolina barbecue, then you need to know that it is chopped pork (shoulders or butts) served on white bread buns with red slaw and with a vinegar based sauce. While your sauce at Smiley's is reddish, it is still thin. That's because it's vinegar based. If someone tries to tell you that Piedmont barbecue sauce is tomato based, they do not know what they are talking about. You can tell them I'm from here, and I said so.

North Carolina BBQ Sauce - AKA Dipping Sauce

The sauce at Smiley's is extra good. It's one of my favorites. It has that nice vinegar twang and just a touch of heat. They heated it up to serve at the table, and I was in heaven. I poured a good splash on my sandwich and dug in. Absolutely divine.

While I was eating my barbecue sandwich I was enjoying looking at the wall art. They had the traditional white board with specials and desserts posted. Someone had drawn peanuts characters on there in dry erase marker and religious messages. Over my shoulder was a painting of moonshiners. Another painting had an old car and Kerr jars which are basically southern Mason jars.

 Barbecue, Moonshine, and NASCAR are Close Relatives in North Carolina

A kid at the next table was getting an etiquette lesson from someone who probably was his MeeMaw. "You cain't be pullin' up your shirt at no restaurant," she advised the little man. That's good advice I'd say.
Across from our table, two beefy men were eating big, old bologna sandwiches. Though I've never bought a bologna sandwich out at a restaurant, the Smiley's bologna sandwiches looked very tasty. I almost wanted one, but I was getting full off my chopped pork sandwich which was great. The chop at Smiley's is a little coarser than some restaurants in the area, and the meat is moister than some of the competition. I'd definitely call Smiley's a front-runner. I can't really pick a number one. I just know which ones are top notch. Smiley's is that.

 Authentic Barbecue Joint Decor at Smiley's BBQ in Lexington, NC

Before leaving we got a big piece of homemade chocolate cake. It's hard to eat dessert after southern pork sandwiches which are filling, but it's hard to pass up desserts made from scratch. The cake looked amazing, and it tasted just as good. I'd also recommend the banana pudding which is a southern favorite.

Smiley's is what I'd call an authentic barbecue joint. Heck, you can blow your horn and get service outside (maybe). The building is unassuming and decorated with stuff that you'd likely see at a southern aunt or uncles home. The ladies waiting tables are going to ask how you're doing and care, and they are likely going to "honey" you at least once.  That's a good time and good eating.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Barbecue Festival Lexington NC 36th 2019 - Tips From a Local

 The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, North Carolina

The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, North Carolina is one of the biggest and best food festivals in the United States and certainly a huge deal in the southeast. The BBQ festival is a family friendly event that showcases the barbecue of the Piedmont of North Carolina. It is not a competition event where pitmasters face off for bragging rights. The idea is to celebrate the local vinegar based, sauced barbecue and have a fun day out in the mild weather typical of central North Carolina in the fall. There are stations serving the festival barbecue, a few other food booths, arts, crafts, and several stages with entertainment.

I live in central North Carolina, and I go the Barbecue Festival most years. It's always a great event, and I always enjoy something new and interesting each year along with favorites that turn up year after year. Being familiar with the area and the festival has advantages, and I'm going to share all the tips that come to mind to make sure that you have a great time if you decide to visit Lexington, North Carolina on the fourth Saturday of October which is the scheduled date each year for the Barbecue Festival.

Plan to Get an Early Start at the BBQ Festival

The first thing I would recommend is that you plan to arrive at the Barbecue Festival right when it opens which is 9 Downtown Lexington is already cranked up even that early in the morning on festival day, and the crowds are thick by 10 or 11 a.m. I've gone later in the day a couple of times, but it's much easier to see all the things featured at the booths right when the festival opens. Early birds are also much more likely to get samples of products. I like to try out things before springing for full bags, bottles, or packages (at least when it comes to food items like barbecue sauce, dips, and jams).

What About Parking?

If you don't want to get the cart before the horse (so to speak), you will also want to think about parking for the festival. Lexington is a small town in the South of the United States, so you are not going to find parking garages. On the plus side, the festival is well planned and organized, so you can work out transportation in a number of ways. I'll share what I do as a local and arriving early for the festival.

We drive in on Highway 64 which is kind of the back side of the festival and in the center of the activities. We park in lots which are roped off for the event. This year we parked in a bank parking lot for $5. The money goes to the humane society. Other lots benefit other local charities. The location was about two blocks from the festival. Arriving at 9:30 a.m. there were maybe six spaces open, so if we had driven in much later we would have had to have parked a few blocks farther. Spaces do open up all day as people finish up and leave, so you can get lucky sometimes.

Perhaps you do not want to get up early or plan to see specific performances and/or bands. This may rule out the Highway 64 parking option. That's fine. There are parking areas around the festival where you park for free and catch a shuttle. This is a very nice solution. There are occasional lines, but mostly you get on quick, and with shuttles running continuously, it's easy to find a ride back. I've done the shuttle a couple of years, and I would recommend parking and riding in. It really is easy and convenient.

 Chopped Barbecue Sandwiches are the Top Pick at the Festival

The Barbecue

I will guess that you are looking for barbecue if you visit the Lexington Barbecue Festival. It would certainly be a top pick for this festival.

If you're not familiar with Lexington style barbecue, then you should know that the famous barbecue of the area is slow smoked pork which is chopped (sometimes sliced) and served on buns (basic white bread buns like for hamburgers). Trays would include chopped barbecue and red barbecue slaw and usually in sizes small and large. The small usually makes two white bread bun sandwiches with slaw.

There are various sides served with North Carolina barbecue (slaw, hush puppies, fried apples), but most of them are simple and very much sides. At the festival, they have what they call curly tail fries. The slaw is automatic with the barbecue, but you order the fries separate. The French fries are just what you would imagine: potatoes cut in curls like a pig tail and fried up crispy. They are quite tasty when hot even if not the main event.

We like to find a place and sit down. There are a very few picnic and/or folding tables, but there are also quite a few steps and stoops or curbs in Lexington. We often sit on the historic courthouse steps to eat our festival lunch (or dinner). We always have lots of company. People eating rotate out often, so if you don't find a space immediately, you can wait a couple of minutes and slide in.

 Fried Apple Pies are Made Right While You Watch - YUM!

Any Other Foods at the BBQ Festival?

Over the years, more foods have been added to the line up at the Lexington festival. The barbecue booths are the main attractions, but there are other types of foods on the side streets and a very few sprinkled in with the vendors. One repeat is the turkey legs. There are also steak sandwiches, gyros, corn on the cob and other typical festival or carnival foods.

The stand out for me on the foods is the fried apple pies. A group from the mountains of North Carolina comes in and rolls out homemade dough with dried apples and pies fried right there where you can see them being made and cooked. They are absolutely fabulous. I could probably eat my weight in the apple pies. They really are THAT good. I would note that the lines get very long at meal times. I get my pie first thing and consider it breakfast. I'm flexible like that. The pie is certainly worth waiting in line for though.

New This Year - Aunt Sis' Salsa Inc. with Blueberry Jam Which Was Great

Booths at the Lexington Festival

If you aren't familiar with festivals, then know that you will see a ton of booths. Lexington has the one of the biggest selections of the festivals around the state. You will see pretty much everything you can imagine. And, the quality is higher than at many of the festivals overall.

Some of the booths are for the public good you might say or to foster good will. You may see various service clubs set up and health organizations. This year you could get your blood pressure checked for free for an example. And, Food Lion was giving out $5 off $35 on groceries as well as snack bars and handy wipes to clean up with after the barbecue. Food Lion is a local company which was started in Salisbury (another NC barbecue town just down the road) by Ralph Ketner.

Many of the booths feature foods of various types but mostly things you would buy and take home. This is where you can find loads of interesting barbecue sauces to take your own outdoor cooking to new levels. There are also different types of honey and syrups (maple bourbon was really yummy). One of my favorites this year was blueberry jam by Aunt Sis' Salsa Inc. It was their first year at the festival, and I'll predict that they will become a staple. Really fabulous jam - and the salsa was top notch too.

You can also buy all kinds of arts and crafts at the festival. It's a super time to buy your Christmas gifts, since you only have a couple of months left by the time the festival rolls around. My favorite craft booth is the Tin Can Man. He makes airplanes and other neat stuff out of aluminum cans. The art work really is amazing when you get to looking close. I got one of the airplane art pieces for my birthday many years ago. You can also find great pottery, wood and metal items, jewelry, candles, soap, and puppets. Really they have most anything you can think up. You can easily get all your gift shopping done during the day.

 Several Stages with Music and Entertainment All Day Long

Entertainment at the Festival

Most years the Barbecue Festival showcases a pretty big name artist at night on the main stage, and the artist is generally country. There are less famous (but still great) groups scattered at stages up and down the road of the festival. Again you get quite a bit of country music but also gospel and different types of rock. I would suggest checking a schedule online if you are interested in seeing music and planning around the times for the show or shows you want to see. While there are some chairs, taking a fold up chair or even a stroller or wagon for the kids and your purchases can make life much easier.  

There are a number of areas for the kids at the Barbecue Festival. On one end they have the big blow up toys where you bounce or slide. There are a few food treats close by like shaved ice and water/sodas. It's a nice place to hang out and rest while the little ones burn off energy. The crowds tend to be smaller in the kid area.

If the kids get tired, they will likely enjoy a show. This year they had programs like a juggler, a dinosaur show, the spin man, and Elf the musical. I enjoy the shows, although they are geared toward kids. I probably get more tired than the kids do these days (-:

On one end of the festival they have competition areas where you may see bike stunts or pig races. The Hogway Speedway which is where the pigs race always draw a crowd. Pigs run much faster than you might think if you've never actually seen pigs run. You will be impressed I'm pretty sure.

 The Sand Art is Always Amazing

Pig Sand Art

I always look forward to checking out the festival sand art. That's a big sculpture made of sand that has some type of pig theme. It is different every year. And, it's always amazing. I consider the sand art a highlight of the festival and always try to get a photo. I always think the new one is the best ever but when I look back they are all unique and really special.

Other Little Random Things to See or Do at the Lexington Barbecue Festival

Look for the Official Barbecue Festival Souvenirs tent. You will find various items with the annual logo reasonably priced. I especially like the t-shirts. But, I'm not really a person to wear hats. It mashes down my hair which is not such a good look.

Just down from the souvenir tent you will see a big board painted with cut out holes to put your faces. You can shoot a photo of everyone looking all piggie. I guess this is an old trick, but it's still fun. Don't be too "cool" to stick your head in a hole. You will enjoy the shots for years to come especially if you post them on FaceBook.

On your way out, I'd suggest picking up a bottle of Swine Wine. Locals Bob Timberlake (the artist) and Richard Childress (NASCAR owner) teamed up to create a wine especially complimentary to North Carolina pork barbecue. Yes. You can certainly enjoy a good Childress Vineyard wine with your NC swine. And, you can take it home to share with your people too. Can't beat that.

What Are You Waiting For?

If you have been on the fence about visiting the Lexington Barbecue Festival, then you are all set now. These are the things I'd want to know about the festival if I was driving in. You'll have a blast no matter what, but I think my tips will make your festival visit extra-oink-inary.

Enjoy A Few Other Photos From the Barbecue Festival 
~Cyndi Allison

 Oink! Oink! Frosted Sugar Cookies Getting Their Pig On

 I Think I Need a Pig Balloon - Yes I Do!

 Way Beyond Your Average Pumpkin Carving - I Was Impressed

 Someone Needs To See a Big, Happy Flower Today - You're Welcome!

 I Have No Idea Where You Get a Crazy Heifer Shirt But It Made Me Smile

 When Pigs Fly - At the North Carolina Barbecue Festival Of Course

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Weber's Ultimate Grilling: New Flagship Grilling Cookbook

Weber's Ultimate Grilling by Jamie Purviance

I was excited to hear that Weber was putting out a new rather comprehensive grilling cookbook for 2019. It's been about nine years since the company has showcased a flagship cookbook.

I've been writing about grilling and smoking for around fifteen years now and have the good fortune to see a ton of outdoor cooking books. Some of my favorite cookbooks have been under the Weber umbrella, and the newest grilling book is no exception.

Weber's Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius by Jamie Purviance is a very solid book with coverage of almost anything you might want to try on the grill. This includes help sections as well as recipes. For instance, you will find photos and detailed directions on how to pat out good grill burgers (yes - there are better ways to make beef patties) and a section also with photos that help in mastering grilled pizza which is a challenge for many home grillers.

There are charts for various meats with cooking times over heat methods such as direct and indirect which are also covered. All types of dishes are included from starters to desserts with over 100 recipes which are easy to follow.

The organization on the cookbook is good, and the cookbook includes an index

This would an excellent grilling cookbook for any home barbecue beginner or even a seasoned griller. It would also make a great gift which is what I look for. It's fun to find a stand out cookbook to give to family and friends for special occasions or "just because."

*I reviewed an uncorrected, advance copy which is not complete and is not printed in color.