Sunday, March 29, 2009

Char-Grill Raleigh NC - Best Burgers Not Off the Home Grill

Happy Birthday to my son. He turned 19 today!

Char-Grill on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC is hopping on Sunday after church. You should see it late on Friday or Saturday night.

Our Char-Grill orders are up. The boys really pig out when we make it to Raleigh and get the world's best restaurant burgers.

Now, that's a super burger. Sadly, it is upside down. Hungry guys do not spend much time primping food for photos. But, you get the idea.

Birthday Lunch at Char-Grill for my Son Who Turned 19 Today!

My boys grew up on home cooking and lots of beef on the grill. The first to leave the nest is at UNC where it appears that he is starving. No offense to the cafeteria or to the eateries on Franklin Street, but those bagels and wraps and preppie burgers just aren't doing the kid proud.

Today is my son's birthday, and his favorite place to eat (besides home) is Char-Grill in Raleigh. Yes. I know that UNC and N.C. State are rivals. I'm a State grad (turned down UNC - thank you very much), but the kid had his heart set on UNC. So, that's where he's at. He's enjoying it other than the food.

We drove over to Chapel Hill and got the birthday kid and headed on down I40 to Raleigh and to Char-Grill.

My son first got turned on to Char-Grill when he was visiting colleges. I took him up to see N.C. State and had to pick up some burgers at Char-Grill. When I was a student at State, that was the thing to do on weekend nights. Students closed the bars down and then hit Char-Grill for burgers and fries. This was back when the drinking age was 18 and when people did not shoot each other. He wasn't so keen on all those bricks at State, but he sure did like the Char-Grill burger. He was only sorry he didn't order two after we got back to the motel room and opened up our Char-Grill bags.

The original (and my favorite) Char-Grill is in downtown Raleigh. It takes only a few minutes to drive from N.C. State, unless you get lost. With all those one way streets, getting lost is a definite possibility. Back when I was in college, I was often the designated Char-Grill burger girl, but I insisted on having a co-pilot to make sure I did not end up in Virginia or Canada.

Char-Grill does not look like the kind of place where you're going to get the best burgers ever. It's a little dive. You can see in the picture. It is not fancy. There are two picnic tables to the left side, but most people either tailgate in the parking lot (so to speak) or grab and go. Inside dining - forget it. There's no room back there where they are pumping out the flame broiled burgers.

When you get to Char-Grill, you get an order form and check off what you want and what you want on what you want. If two people want the same burger but different toppings, then you need separate order forms (though can pay all the orders together at the end). Some toppings are not listed - namely mustard. Just write that in. I also write in chili, because I love that on my Char-Grill burger. You stick the ticket or tickets in the hole and wait to hear your name called.

The burgers are 1/2 pound like in the third photo above or 1/4 pound which is on an oblong bun. Then there are the smaller burgers which are easier to eat while driving, but you probably want at least two of those - or more.

The combos come with fries. They are the bigger and fatter French fries - more like Wendy's. They keep the grease fresh, so those are general fries but always spot on.

While you're waiting on your food, you can watch the grill guys firing up the burgers. Yes. You can see the flames. All the more reason for them not to have tables inside. It's fast and furious behind the glass. Those burger guys earn whatever they make.

Char-Grill got so popular that they have other locations in Raleigh. Some of them are easier to get to than the old downtown burger joint, but they just don't have quite the spirit of the original Char-Grill. Not to worry. The food is fabulous no matter which Char-Grill you visit.

Going to Char-Grill is always a blast from the past for me, and I'm glad my son loves Char-Grill as much as I did at his age. There are plenty of places to eat in Chapel Hill, but it's a treat for us to take him over to Raleigh for a real burger. My hand patted grilled burgers top them, but I can't think of any other restaurant that makes better burgers than Char-Grill.

If you are ever in Raleigh, look up Char-Grill. You won't be sorry. They cook their burgers over real fire, and you can stand there and see them making your meal. Your mouth will be watering.

UNC also made it to the Final Four today (3-29-09), so we cut out before the game, so the kid could enjoy some time with his frat friends.

We stopped by Trader Joe's on the way out of town. I love to get seasonings for my barbecue dishes at Trader Joe's One of my favorites would be the lemon pepper in the grinder. It's very inexpensive, but the flavor really pops when the lemon and pepper are fresh ground. I also have to get the Lacy Cookies at Trader Joe's, because they are the max and not good for me but are a very nice treat.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

And You Thought Barbecue Sauce Was Just For Eating

Barbecue Ribs Cooked on the Smokey Mountain Bullet.

We love barbeque sauce around here. We slather up our ribs and love boneless chicken breasts with various BBQ sauces. In fact, hunting for new barbecue sauces is one thing we enjoy doing when we're on vacation. There are loads of local favorites that aren't sold at the big box stores. Some of the unique barbecue sauses are sold at little stores and some are offered at flea markets.

This week we enjoyed Firefighters Barbecue Sauce. Chef Matt came up with that recipe, and proceeds go to help firefighters and their families. That makes the excellent, well-balanced sauce even more special. My boys gave it thumbs up, and I did do.

Another favorite que sauce around here is Stubbs Barbecue Sauce. We can get that one at Food Lion. For some reason, they put it on the bottom shelf. Bummer. Food Lion needs to get that up higher where people can find it.

While we eat our barbecue sauce, I found a guy who makes art with sauce. We just make a mess. This guy actually takes the sauced ribs and sauce and makes a deer. You've got to see it to believe it.

President of PETA Wants to Be Barbecued After Death

Didn't Chicken Little Say The Sky is Falling? She'd Probably Really Cluck if She Saw Ingrid Newkirk's Body Disposal Plan.

Ingrid Newkirk, the founder and President of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has launched yet another media stunt on behalf or her organization. This is just one idiotic power play in her long history of grossing out and annoying people including those who do deeply care about animals.

Newkirk has released her "Directions for the Dispostion of the Remains of Ingrid Newkirk." In addition to posting this macabe document online, Newkirk is shamelessly pumping her list of body parts to be distributed worldwide.

For those who love barbecue, she states "That the 'meat' of my body, or a portion thereof, be used for a human barbecue, to remind the world that the meat of a corpse is all flesh, regardless of whether it comes from a human being or another animal, and that flesh foods are not needed."

Such stunts make a mockery of the plight of animals and turn off people who might be inclined to contribute to a solution. Who wants to be associated with a group of nuts lead by a woman who wants her body ground into hamburger and served for dinner after her death? It makes it hard to take anything PETA says or does seriously.

If you do care about animals, you can adopt animals from your local shelter. Both our cat and dog were abandoned pets and have brought joy to our home.

If you can't adopt, shelters can always use a hand or donations. The local Boy Scouts sometimes visit on Saturday morning and wash the puppies. That makes them more appealing for adoption.

As far as grinding up Newkirk and serving her for dinner, that's just disgusting but typical of the type of gimmicks PETA uses unsuccessfully to bring attention to the organization and to the founder rather than to actually encouraging more compassion and better treatment for animals.

In fact, PETA kills 95% of animals they take in as reported by the Center for Consumer Freedom. In 2008, the death count for homeless pets was 21,339. PETA has a nonprofit status and a $32 million budget. It looks like they could actually do something for animals needing homes instead of making headlines with stupid stunts like the Newkirk barbecue manifesto.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pickin' Pigs and Banjos Down South - Real Barbecue from a Southern Perspective

Big North Carolina Barbecue Cooker at a Country Pig Pickin'

Up north folks barbeque, which is grilling food over charcoal or gas. Don’t confuse with barbeque in the south which is pork meat slow cooked and served with sauce. Northerners use BBQ as a verb to indicate a style of cooking while southerners use the word as a noun and to mean one specific dish which is universal to the south and very much a part of the culture.

Confusing the way the term BBQ is used can be very . . . well . . . confusing.

I remember my shock when I ordered BBQ up north and got a plate of beef ribs. Now I like ribs, but ribs are ribs and BBQ is BBQ. And, it’s pretty sad to get ribs when you want BBQ.

On the flip side, I know that some of my northern students are plumb shocked when they order BBQ up here and get pork on a bun with slaw when they are expecting something grilled up like back home. That probably ranks up there with ordering a burger all the way at a southern restaurant and trying to figure out what that chilli and slaw are doing on there or having to say chilli beans to get any beans in the chilli.

Barbeque dates way back in the south.

You have to remember that the south was very poor (OK—we still are for the most part) and that pigs fend well in the wild. Pigs even made TV in the Australian outback on Survivor (though that did have that gross out factor). Those pigs are some hearty little critters that can scrounge around and make do when other critters would dry up and keel over.

When you’re talking tough and stringy critters running wild, then you have to think a bit about how to cook. Though pigs now are farmed and fed and much more mellow as far as taste and texture, we are still not talking prime rib. My apologizes to all pig farmers. That tenderloin is primo, but some parts of the pig . . . well . . . guy-friend we need to sit down and talk about that crackled skin and those pigs feet.

If you have a crock pot, then you know that slow cooking can soften up shoe leather. So, slow cooking those old pigs was the way to go. But, some folks slow cooked much better than others and BBQ became an art as well as a social tradition in the south. The cream floated to the top (as it always does) and the best pit cooks got noticed, and pit cooks figured out it was better to cook at an all day bash and have some company since pit cooking pork does take all day.

BBQ was mostly take out in mid century and centered around the smoke house and maybe a shed type addition with a few tables and chairs for travelers. This was one time when white folks crossed the tracks. The BBQ was terrific and it was seen as somewhat “cool” to slip across town and get some good eating. That’s not to say that BBQ was not done in the white communities. It was. Many a white church dinner or political rally centered around picking a pig, but most of the take out places were black owned and operated (and many still are).

The basic process at the smoke joints or at the picnics/rallies was to start cooking early and to cook all day. It was important to get the coals just right and to maintain that even and constant heat so that the meat was cooked through but not burned in spots. We’re talking a very high maintenance process which is why you don’t see fast food BBQ restaurants popping up all over. You can’t do BBQ fast, and if you do, then it is not really BBQ.

Once the meat is done to perfection, then it is sliced or chopped up. Farther west it is pulled, but in the deep south (not including FL) then it is never pulled. Pulling is along the grain and gives a stringy taste which is not southern even though some southern states on the other side of the Appalachians mostly will sell you that.

BBQ is usually bought by the tray which means that you get a cardboard container that is split with meat and slaw. Some slaws are white and some red. The red is generally spicy and has tomatoes and hot pepper while the white is mild and mayonaise based.

With the meat/slaw you get bread and hushpuppies. The bread is to make a sandwich out of the meat and is our white bread which is light and airy. Some BBQ places give you buns instead so that you don’t get soggy bread (which I hate—do not pass a tomato sandwich my way please). Those hush puppies are corn bread deep fried in the skillet in ball or oval shapes.

The thing that really sets the BBQ apart one place to another (besides the skill of the pit cook) is the sauce. Southerners get pretty prideful about the best sauce and the makers do not share those secret recipes. Those sauces are the stuff of legends with some makers taking those secrets to the grave rather than to ever tell how they do it.

The base for the BBQ sauce in the south is vinegar. We do not put thick tomato based sauce on our meat as that is like putting catsup on your filet mignon. Basically you ruin the meat and insult the cook if you put any tomato stuff on the BBQ. If you must do that, then get take out and do not tell any southern soul.

The other ingredients are usually secrets of the cook, but you can tell that most use some hot pepper to give a nip. I love it hot, so I lean toward the spicy pork places. If you don’t like spicy, then you can leave off the sauce or just use a little. The more you drip on the hotter the taste, so I go heavy (which is one reason I much prefer a bun for a BBQ sandwich). But, if you don’t try the sauce, then you really missed the southern experience as the sauce is mightily important.

Around here, Lexington NC is the king of BBQ (and YES most BBQ cooks are men and not women). That is about a 45 minute drive. Here in my town, places will advertise as Lexington style BBQ to draw in crowds though some just build on the skill of the specific pit cook or the sauce like Richard’s of Salisbury. The Salisbury style barbecue includes a little ketchup in the vinegar sauce, and there's always a debate about that.
Only really good BBQ survives around here and in most of the south.

If you’ve never tried southern BBQ, then you are missing out on a food that has become an icon of the south. It cuts across all social lines—black/white, rich/poor, male/female, grown ups/kids.
Although you may not see this mass-produced across the country, that has nothing to do with the taste. The only reason BBQ has not mainstreamed is that it takes a long time to make and the meat cooking and sauce are arts.

BBQ just can’t be reproduced and packed in foil packs at the airport. But, maybe that is a good thing!

Check out this funny and educational video. You'll enjoy some Southern string music and learn more about Southern barbecue as the guys cover it state by state.

Top 10 Things NOT to Say at a Backyard Barbecue

You Will Never Hear Grill Girl Say Any of These Things

Ignorance can be bliss especially at a backyard barbecue with some tanked up buddies who end up sidetracked and sometimes even with the sober ones who do not have a clue how to barbecue.

The Top 10 Things Not to Say at a Backyard Barbecue is dedicated to all my friends who have dropped the meat, grabbed it up, blew on it, and stuck it back on the grill. This seems to be male pattern behavior.
A female friend dropped the hot dogs at a group cook out. She took them inside to wash them. That sounds good, but unfortunately she used the dish washing liquid to wash the wieners. I will not comment on the taste, but I do think the hot dogs were clean.

Top Ten Things You Don’t Want to Hear When You’re at a Cook Out

1. Does anyone know where the fire extinguisher is?

2. How can you tell when this gas tank is empty?

3. Has anyone seen the cat?

4. No. That isn’t pepper.

5. Who needs a recipe?

6. Cut off the burned parts and no one will know.

7. No. It isn’t a grill brush. It’s the dog’s brush.

8. Ten second rule.

9. BOOM!

10. Anyone have the number for Dominos?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Food Lion Barbecue Prizes and Hamburger Toss Game - 2009

Hand Patted Hamburgers with Meat from Food Lion

The grocery stores are getting geared up for grilling season, and Food Lion is no exception.

Food Lion is our local grocery chain. It’s not just down the road, the company was started and is headquartered out of Salisbury, North Carolina.

“Get Fired Up” is the theme for the 2009 backyard barbecue promotions at Food Lion which started on March 4. Every Thursday through September 3, 2009, Food Lion will draw a name weekly for a barbecue prize package.

The barbeque prize package includes a Masterbuilt charcoal grill, bag of Kingsford charcoal, Kingsford tent, store brand lighter fluid, store brand grilling brush, and a $50 Food Lion gift certificate to get some meat and vegetables to go on the grill.

To be entered you need to sign up the Food Lion Shopper’s Companion email which comes out weekly on Wednesday mornings. You then check your email and look for the Get Fired Up sticker logo and follow the directions for that week.

Personally I like getting the grocery store emails. If I’m at work and think about stopping by to get groceries, I can glance there on email and see about specials. If you’re not keen on emails, then you can still play the Grill Game weekly at the Food Lion website.

Just press the Grill Game button. You click to toss grilled hamburgers onto buns that come out from the sides of the page. If you run out of burgers, click the grill to get more.

After you finish the game, you get a coupon you can print out. The coupons are grill themed of course.

Either the game is not working right, or I really stink at computer games. It could be both. In any case, I think I landed some of those burgers on the bun, but my score was 0. When I got home from work, I tried again. I made 0 again.

The good news is that you get the coupon even when you score 0. The one this week was for 360 cups and plates - $1.00 off. There are more coupons if you click around, and those don’t require the burger toss game.

I buy the bulk of my food for grilling at Food Lion. It’s a local company, and there’s one on the way home from work – very convenient. The guys in the meat department are super helpful. They will cut meat to order and also have excellent tips if you’re trying out a new cut of meat.

If you don’t have a Food Lion near your home, try checking the home page for your local grocery store. Most grocery stores start offering grill specials in March. Then, be sure to visit my Yes You Can Grill page for outdoor cooking tips and recipes.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chef Matt's Firefighters Barbecue Sauce - Really Great Sauce

My Son Wearing the Firefighters BBQ Shirt and Using Chef Matt's Sauce

Chef Matt told me about his barbecue sauce project where firefighters can raise funds to support firefighting or other needs of the community firefighters and families. I grew up in an area with a volunteer fire department and know it can be hard to keep that going - but so important. My family would help with community dinners to raise money. My cousin went on to be a professional firefighter. Bess him.

I always like to support great causes. When someone takes the time to give back, it's important to do your part. I'm always glad to make desserts for the dinners and that sort of thing.

This week we decided to smoke a Boston Butt. Just for the record, a Boston Butt is not the butt. That's the ham. The Butt is the top part of the shoulder.

Since we're from North Carolina, we tend to use the vinegar based sauce with pork. That's a North Carolina tradition.

But . . . I was wanting to check out Chef Matt's barbeuce sauce.

Chef Matt is from out in Arizona, so I was expecting a more Kansas style BBQ sauce. That's OK. The boys' Dad is from Kansas, so we swing both ways. Shhh. Don't tell any of my North Carolina people that.

I must say, "Wow!" Chef Matt kind of hits it in the middle with his Firefighters Barbecue Sauce. It's not as thin as our NC vinegar sauce but not as thick as the Kansas type tomato sauce. It's just a nice balance between those.

The flavor is just out of this world, and I seldom say that. The sauce is kind of tangy with some spice - but not over the top. Again, it's all about the balance. Chef Matt hit it.

My boys are picky on the barbecue sauces. They both gave Chef Matt the thumbs up. My youngest son just had leftovers (the other one has gone back to college now), and we have a variety of barbecue sauces open, but he went with the Firefighters BBQ Sauce. "That's really good," he said. I agree.

In the picture, you'll see that my little guy (who is not so little now) has on the Firefighters t-shirt. That comes with a gift box including the sauce and also bracelets like the Lance Armstrong bracelets. He liked the shirt so much that he now has a new shirt. It was going to be mine. But, you know how it goes with kids. He'll wear it to school and get the word out better anyway, so that's OK.

I'm now looking at the Chef Matt's Arizona Honey Habanero BBQ Sauces. Those come in hot, mild, and raspberry. The sauces have no fat, no cholesterol, and are low in sugar. That's good news, since my doctor tells me that my cholesterol is not looking great currently. Also, my boys especially love honey.

If you enjoy outdoor cooking and smoking, try out some different sauces. You can get totally new flavors with sauces from various areas.

I'm glad we got a taste of the west with Chef Matt's sauce, and I tip my hat to him for supporting our firefighters with this project.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Are Your Ribs Tough - Remove the Membrane

Don't you just hate to spend the money on ribs, season them up, cook them for hours and then have tough meat?

One quick tip for having tender barbecue ribs is to remove the membrane. That's the shiny white coating on the bottom side of the ribs.

It would certainly be nice if the rib membrane was removed at the butcher shop, and you can ask for it to be removed (and pay more), but it's not difficult to do it yourself.

Basically you just get the membrane edge peeled up and then just keep easing the membrane away from the meat. It may or may not come off in one piece. If it breaks, just start a new peeling edge and keeping work toward the bottom of the rack.

For those you learn better by seeing a technique done, this You Tube video from the BBQ Pit Boys is quite helpful.