Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bandiola Blazin Hot Spice - Seasoning Sprinkle Review

Bandiola Spice Company - 104 Degrees Blazin' Hot Spice

I decided to pep things up last night with Blazin' Hot Spice by Bandiola Spice Company on our grilled chicken. Michael Gochnour is one of my Facebook friends, and he sent me a free sample of Blazin' Hot seasoning sprinkle to try out. He didn't ask for anything in return other than an honest opinion. Since he's out of Nebraska and operates a small company, I would not have known about his spices, but he offers them online. Most of my favorite barbecue and grilling spices, rubs, and sauces come to my doorstep these days, since I discovered online shopping. (Don't leave me alone with the computer and a credit card for long.)

Blazin' Hot is a spice blend rather than a barbecue sprinkle specifically. If you're only trying out products that say "barbecue," then you're missing out. I rotate in a lot of different products to get unique flavors in my grilled foods.

I'm a hot freak, but my son is not. I went light on this spice mixture, since it's a new one.

The first thing I did was open the cap and smell this seasoning. I could tell that it had sugar and pepper. So, this one is a sweet heat with some zip - perfect for grilled chicken I was thinking.

I lightly sprinkled the chicken (which I first rubbed with olive oil) with the Blazin' Hot Spice mix (and a little black pepper) and then slow grilled the chicken with offset baskets in the Weber Kettle. The olive oil helps the seasoning stay in place and also makes the chicken brown and crisp nicely.

My neighbor said, "Hey, this has a little zip to it." Yes. It did. Even with a light hand, we could definately taste the heat. And, it was a good heat. I don't care much for the "hot for the sake of being hot" products and especially the ones that have a bitter taste. Blazin' Hot Spice had the sweet flavor under the hot kick, and the peppers and other spices had a pleasant flavor rather than that burn that sticks with you all evening.

I would call this Bandiola Spice an excellent all purpose seasoning for meats, vegetables, potatoes, and even popcorn. It's a dry sprinkle, so it's easy to use to jazz up foods. The taste is layered with sweet and hot with the heat being the takeaway note. You get the blaze without the back bite with some seasonings. I would suggest going easy on the sprinkles to start with to figure out how much you and your family can handle though.

And . . . here's the grilled chicken. Another very tasty grilled dinner on a beautiful weekend evening in North Carolina.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Google Algorithm Changes #Fail and Tank Foodie and Recipe Blogs and Sites with Recipe View

Google changed their algorithm on Thursday (2-24-2011), so if you are visiting Barbecue Master - bless you and thank you.

While Google maintains that the changes to the automated search rules were designed to weed out spammy web sites (including content farms and content mills) and news sources are repeating that as gospel, the reality is that the application of the new algorithm has not been so clean. eHow (one of the worst content mill sites online) and (content mill and link farm) click in high on Google search while many small and non-spammy web sites virtually disappeared from search.

To compound the problems, Google rolled out Recipe View along with the algorithm changes. If you search for recipes now, you are directed to major content producers like Food Network. Such sites have tech support and huge budgets, so they have HTML code that specifies recipe ingredients, nutritional information, and calorie counts as well as the time needed to prepare a dish. Big recipe sites also have professional food photos that are not reflective of what you're likely to see in your own kitchen or in your backyard if you're grilling. This is all well and good (I suppose), but it was never difficult to find the big cooking spaces and cookbook style recipes. Big template-style food sites didn't need a search engine boost, and the new Recipe View simply serves to limit your choices.

To put this all in real world terms, you now have a McDonalds approach to searching for recipes and cooking information on Google. They have it down to a science. You click boxes, and Google provides you with a slick recipe from a big name online site. This may be just what some online surfers want, but you suddenly lose Grandma, Mom, or a guy who grills in his back yard who will share information and tips along with personal photos that capture the indoor or outdoor cooking experience. The personal touch is lost. You no longer have the option to post a comment or send an email to the person who took the time to share a favorite recipe. It's all big business, and you're on your own.

Am I just sour grapes? No. I've had this barbecue grilling blog for six years. The idea was to provide useful information and help others get started grilling and to offer new ideas and grilling recipes. It took four years to make the first cash out from Google AdSense, because the threshold is $100 earned to get paid. I'd be nuts if I were banking on a food blog for income. No. I was not in it for the money. I simply enjoyed sharing information. Now Google decides that they know best, and they bury the little guys. Perhaps everyone should just buy a Betty Crocker cookbook and call it good. Google has organized the internet to death. Instead of having the world at your fingertips, you now have Food Network and a time estimate on how long it takes to crock pot a Boston butt.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bandiola Spice Company - Uncle Mike's Seasoning on Grilled Chicken Fillets - YUM

Bandiola - Uncle Mikes Lucky 333 Spice Blend

It was another fast food night with grilled chicken fillets or tenders. I can grill those up faster than I can go pick up food, so I keep the tenders on hand for busy nights, and I dress them up with different seasonings and barbecue sauces.

Mike and I are Facebook friends, and he sent me several free samples of his spices to try out on the grill. I do reviews when I have some extra time - mostly the small companies. And, I give my honest spin on what we thought here. It's a gamble, but I've found some real gems over the years.

Some of the Bandiola blends are specific barbecue spice mixes. Others are general purpose spice mixes which are also fine for grilled foods. I went with Uncle Mike's 333 this week, because the description made me smile. You're invited to email to find out what is lucky about 333, and I have not done that yet. I will, but I don't want to spill the beans. I'm sure some savvy readers will check that out and get the scoop. I'm keeping mum when I do find out.

Uncle Mikes seasoning blend smelled great when I opened it up. It's a richer and more complex combination of scents - kind of like Grandma's house or maybe Thanksgiving time.

When I'm trying a new spice mixture on grilled foods, I keep it simple so that I get the full taste of the seasoning. I rubbed a little olive oil on the chicken so that the spice mixture would stick and also to prevent sticking on the grates. Then, I warmed up the grill until the grates were hot (also helps prevent sticking) and then backed the heat down a bit and put the chicken on.

Chicken fillets cook quick on the grill. I didn't stand there and time it, but I go around 5 minutes per side. It can be longer with thicker pieces of chicken and less time with thin or small chicken tenders.

One way to eyeball it is to look at the sides of the chicken fillets. When you see the white start to creep up the sides of the chicken, then it's time to flip it. You can see the chicken just flipped above.

I pulled the chicken off the grill, and we checked it out. Chicken grilled this way is good on buns, but we just ate it plain to get the full flavor of Uncle Mikes.

Just as the seasoning smelled complex, it also had layers of flavor as we were eating the chicken. There's some pepper in there, but this is not a hot rub. It's an all purpose seasoning.

The first flavor I noticed was rosemary which is one of my favorites, but I seldom taste that in spice mixes. The guys didn't pick this up, but they aren't likely to notice any particular taste - just whether they like the overall flavor or not. Both thought the taste of Uncle Mikes was excellent, and my son was quite glad that he did not have to run off looking for a glass of milk (as I've hit him with some hot foods lately).

I say thumbs up to Bandiola Uncle Mikes Lucky 333. It's bold without being overpowering. The flavor is textured with the high note for me being the rosemary. I think I'll use Uncle Mike's the next time I make turkey stuffing (which will be a while - as it's not close the holidays). Uncle Mikes is rich enough (I think) to work there, and we have a family member who can't eat sage. That has complicated making great stuffing, and I think this spice mix would bump up dressing and make up for the lack of sage (unless that secret ingredient turns out to be sage).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

C-Dub's BBQ Rub Review - Lots of Flavor but Not Over the Top

Tonight we tried out C-Dub's regular BBQ rub on beef ribs. C-Dub also has a Voodoo version which is hot. My son prefers milder flavors, and we've set him on fire a couple of times over the last few days, so a milder night seemed to be in order.

I'm friends with C-Dub's at Facebook, and they contacted me about testing their new hot wing rub. They weren't kidding when they said hot on that one. It was in the Poppaw range, and he ate the hottest foods of anyone I know.

Along with the wing product, C-Dub's put in one nighter packs of the regular and Voodoo BBQ rubs. They are convenient packs good for a single meal. Since we only did one rack of ribs tonight, we didn't need the full pack, so I can try out C-Dub's on something else later.

C-Dub's BBQ rub is designed for any meat on the grill, but it's a good general rub that would also be fine for a lot of different dishes including grilled vegetables, French fries, chili and so on. If you need flavor and not over the top, then you're fine with C-Dub's original.

We had the barbecue rub on beef ribs. Since I had Open House today at the college, I was not on the Weber Smokey Mountain Bullet tonight. Jimmy did the honors, and this was his very first rack of beef ribs. He did a really nice job on those.

As far as the C-Dub's rub, it was terrific. It includes sugar, salt, and pepper which is pretty classic for a rub but also some infused garlic with organic spices and herbs. No. I can't tell you what spices and herbs. C-Dub would probably have to shoot me if I told. Plus, I don't know.

On the first bite, I picked up the traditional rub taste but then that lovely garlic kicked in. It's faint - not enough to throw the mix off balance and shift it away from the spirit of a BBQ rub but enough to set it apart from other rubs. Then, there are some other little back notes - perhaps some celery and cinnamon (not certain). C-Dub's regular has a slight kick but not a whole lot. It's the kind of barbecue rub that I could serve to any group from those who are flavor shy to gourmets.

My guess is that I'll favor the Voodoo rub, but I run in the medium-hot to hot range on my favorites most of the time. Most of my family members don't like quite as much heat, and my son is really a mild kind of guy (though his brother is a heat freak).

C-dub's is certainly a thumbs up - great complex flavors. I think the combo pack would be a good bet - try out both the regular and hot versions. I can say that the C-Dub's regular is excellent and good for any group, and I'll check back in on the Voodoo which smells similar but with a little more fire.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Jake Albert's BBQ Sauces and Rubs - Sweet with Some Heat

Jay Calvert sent me samples of his collection of barbecue sauces and all purpose rubs from Canada. His products are under the Jake Albert's brand line, since people often hear his name and think that he is Jake Albert rather than Jay Calvert. That could, for sure, be confusing to the ears.

My rubs are under the "in development" stage, so folks will see a different label on there but the same collection of rubs. The barbecue sauces would be easy to spot with the dark bottle and signature label.

There are four rubs in the Jake Albert's collection, and I went with the Prima tonight. It is a salt free rub, and I know that many people are looking to cut back on salt. I'm a pepper freak myself, so I've never had a heavy hand with the salt. So, I still look for products that are low or no salt and still taste great. I'll check back in on the rubs later.

There are two sauces in the Jake Albert's collection. Both are real honey sauces with habanero peppers so have a combination flavor of sweet and heat.

The Fuego Rojo has pomegranate while the Fuego Azul has wild blueberry. The sauce I'm using tonight is the Fuego Azul with the blueberry kick. Wish my college son was home. He loves blueberries, but I have some left and will hook him up when he comes in.

I really love the country ribs at the IGA grocery store here in town, so I went with those for the grill out tonight. Country ribs are not ribs like racked ribs. They grill up more like pork chops.

First I rubbed the ribs with Jake Albert's Prima rub and then let them grill until done. Then, I lathered on some Fuego Azul barbecue sauce (more of a glaze actually). The reason I cooked the country ribs through first is because a honey based sauce is not a mop sauce to put on grilled foods early. It is a rich sauce with natural honey sugar which will burn if heated too much. Honey based sauces really just needs heating which takes only a couple of minutes.

I found the Jake Albert's ribs to be absolutely delicous. I wasn't so sure to start with. The sauce smells . . . different. I had a quick taste from the bottle and found it pretty hot like that (which is fine as I do love spicy). But, heated on the meat, the sauce rocked. It had that perfect balance of heat from the peppers and then the sweet back note. Really nice.

My teen son who loves honey was not a fan. I should mention that he is also not into heat. He would consider even a Kraft hot barbecue sauce to be hot. I had hoped the honey would offset that, but the peppers got him. He did not get my genes on heat.

I would say that the Jake Albert's barbecue honey sauces are gourmet or foodie products. People who appreciate different notes in the food would find the sauces interesting to delightful. I was frankly blown away. Warmed and on the meat, this sauce was fabulous. I look forward to trying the Fuego Azul again and think maybe chicken next time. Jay also told that it's great on ice cream, so I need to give that a try too.

I would not pick Jake Albert's sauces for a general family gathering where I have Kraft BBQ sauce fans who just want a basic tomato flavor with very faint heat or seasonings. What can you say? Some guests are not going to go for layered notes or much heat. Pass the ketchup. Different strokes. This would a line for those who like more complex flavors and more kick. With honey, blueberry, and peppers, Jake Albert's is a complicated combination that comes together very nicely. If you want to treat your buddies who like interesting layers to a sauce or glaze, then this is one that will impress and have folks talking.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Michele Obama Looking Forward to North Carolina BBQ at Charlotte Democratic Convention 2012

The news broke yesterday that the Democratic National Convention will be in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2012. This morning Tom Breen of the Associated Press called to see if I'd check in about our local barbecue for his AP BBQ story, since Michele Obama mentioned that she was excited about having barbecue in Charlotte. I'm not sure how Tom found me, but I'm always glad to talk about our local barbecue.

Charlotte really is not a barbecue city. It falls outside the western range which pretty well cuts off in my home town of Salisbury. People think of the foothills and mountains of NC when they hear west, but the barbecue world is divided a little different in our state. There's the western barbecue region which is Lexington style and then the eastern style which would run from roughly Raleigh over to the beach. Raleigh is kind of a mixed bag with some eastern and some western and some hybrids.

The difference in eastern and western barbecue is mainly that eastern barbecue is whole hog and a vinegar sauce with spices while western is shoulders (or Boston Butts - a portion of the shoulder) and a vinegar based sauce with a little "red." By red, I'm talking about ketchup or other types of tomato products. The western barbeuce sauce is still vinegar based and thin, but it is usually a tad thicker than the plainer eastern style mop sauce and has a darker color.

Both eastern and western style barbecue in North Carolina is chopped pork. I often hear people call it pulled pork, but it's not pulled. Pulling is easier than chopping. Pitmasters in North Carolina use knives, and it takes a lot of knife work to fine chop pork barbeuce.

For folks outside the area, North Carolina barbecue may be a surprise. As I mentioned, it is chopped pork. Typically it's served on a white bread bun or on barbecue bread (which is just thicker and sturdier white bread) with slaw on top. There's a nice zip with the meat and the cool crunch of the slaw.

Barbecue slaw in North Carolina is white or red. White has a mayonnaise base and is what most people think of when they think of slaw. The red slaw has some of the sauce mixed in so is tangier and does have a red color.

It is common for barbecue joints in North Carolina to serve a basket of hush puppies with the barbecue. Those are kind of like cornbread balls deep fried. Every barbecue joint seems to do those a little different.

Other common side dishes include fried okra, baked beans, mac and cheese, green beans with fat back, white potatoes with some sauce in there, and brunswick stew (although brunswick stew is more often seen at eastern style bbq restaurants).

Sweet tea is the most common beverage at barbecue restaurants, but Cheerwine (a soft drink that is just colored red like wine - hence the name) bottled out of Salisbury is also a classic along with barbecue. Cheerwine is especially good out of the bottles made with real cane sugar.

While there are many barbecue joints across North Carolina, there are only about thirty what we'd call authentic barbecue restaurants left. Those would be the wood burners. They chop (or buy) wood and slow smoke the barbecue usually on site though some also cook off site now.

Out of Charlotte, the Obamas would likely need to look to Salisbury, North Carolina where Richard's and Wink's both have fabulous wood smoked barbecue. I'm guessing they would need to have someone pick it up though, since I can't even imagine trying to bring in a President and his family to a small town barbecue restaurant. Then again that could be fun, and I'd be glad to pick up the tab for Barack, Michelle and the girls for a barbecue meal from my town from a real wood smoking joint.

There are a number of reasons why there are not a lot of our wood burners smoking barbecue the traditional way. Health codes in many areas now disallow fires on site at restaurants. Established barbecue joints were grandfathered in, but if they close down for some reason, that's the end of that.

Another reason that you can't find a lot of the wood burners now in North Carolina is because it's so labor intensive to wood smoke. Some bbq pitmasters smoke the meat all night, run the restaurant during the day, and even split their own wood to prepare for the next night. That, as you can imagine, takes a lot of dedication.

Many young people are not interested in following in those footsteps, and it takes a lot of heart to do wood smoked barbecue, since it's way more an art than a science.

For obvious reasons, good pitmasters are hard to find and keep. The ones who stick with it are worth their weight in gold.

I hope the Obamas will get to try some of our North Carolina real slow wood smoked barbecue. It is really a treat and not that easy to find these days. There is some very good gas or electric smoked barbecue across the state, but the wood smoked barbecue captures both the taste and the heart of North Carolina, and it's well worth the time to search out the real thing.