I’m back!

After ten weeks of no kitchen, I’m finally back.  They finished the major work on the new kitchen the middle of last week.  I was able to make some simple things, like scrambled eggs and vegetable tacos Thursday and Friday. But I didn’t have time during the week to unpack everything, so I couldn’t really give the new space a real work-out.

This weekend, I got enough unpacked that I could give it a test run. I decided to start with a loaf of rustic bread, using the home grown levain I started at the beginning of the remodel.  There was some yelling and frustration (“Where’s my bench knife?” “Where’s my scale?”) and it’s going to take some getting used to the new layout, but overall I’m very happy.

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I started with a bunch of new toys.

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From left to right I’ve got a couche for shaping and proofing baguettes, two wicker bowls for proofing boules, my home grown levain (I named it Laverne, BTW), a golf towel and/or kitchen towel that came with my new sink, two New England Style Hot Dog Bun pans and a new digital scale that displays both English and metric units.

I cashed in my Amazon points while I was waiting for the remodel to finish. 🙂

Here the first loaf baking.  The lower oven door was damaged during installation, so I’m waiting for a replacement.

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And here’s the inside.

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I’m very happy with the color and crumb of the loaf.  It’s a nice looking loaf

The flavor was also spot on.  Laverne give it a nice sour tang. Not as sour as a true San Francisco sour dough. Just a nice background note. I’m looking forward to baking a lot more bread and pizzas with this starter.

The crust wasn’t up to standards, though. I had the hydration too high for this oven, so the loaf still had quite a bit of free moisture in it when the crust was done. That extra moisture made the crust soft as soon as the loaf started to cool.

I’ll adjust the hydration down next time.

When Amounts Count, Use a Scale

I’ve been baking with a scale for quite a while.  Weighing fluffy ingredients, like flour, is much more precise than using volume measures like cups and teaspoons.

Even if you carefully sift the flour and level your measuring cups, you can still be off by five to ten percent too high or too low.  That can mean the difference between a perfect loaf and a too dense loaf.

When you weigh your ingredients, you get exactly the right amount every time.  Whether you’re using English or metric units, weighed flour is the exact same amount every time. If you weigh out 400 grams, it’s 400 grams. If you weigh out 14 oz., it’s 14 oz.

My previous kitchen scale only displayed English units, ounces and pounds. My new one also displays metric units.

That’s going to make it easier to scale recipes up and down.  Imagine trying to triple a recipe that calls for 1 3/4 cup of flour.

1 cup x 3 is 3 cups.

3/4 cup x 3 is 9/4 cups. 9/4 cups is 2 1/4 cups. Plus 3 cups is 5 1/4 cups.

What a pain!

Even working in ounces, it’s difficult because my old scale displayed 17 ounces as 1 pound, 1 ounce.  So it’s 14 oz x 3 is 42 oz. 42 oz divided by 16 is 2 lb 10 oz. Again, what a pain.

In grams though, it’s just 400 grams x 3 equals 1200 grams.

Simple, easy. Math I can do in my head.

Recipe – Makes two loafs

100 g levain or sour dough starter. Can substitute 2 tsp of dry yeast.

420 g water

590 g all purpose flour

10 g whole wheat flour

13 g kosher or sea salt

270 g water, divided for humidifying oven

Olive oil

Mix levain and 420 g water in bowl of stand mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix for 1 minute on low to combine.

Add flour, whole wheat flour and salt to mixer bowl. Using paddle attachment, mix on low for two minutes.  Switch to dough hook and mix on medium low for five to seven minute.  Dough will still be wet, but should start forming ball on the hook and begin pulling away from sides of bowl.

Let stand, covered, for ten to fifteen minutes.

Spread a small amount of olive oil on work surface and spread to cover an 18″x18″ square.  Oil your hands.

Place dough in middle of oiled area and give one light stretch and fold.  Cover and allow to rest fifteen minutes.

Repeat three times for a total of four stretch and folds.

At this point, the dough should be smooth, elastic and tacky.  It should stick to the work surface and your fingers, but pull away cleanly.

Place in a lightly greased container, cover and refrigerate over night.

Place a baking stone on the middle rack of oven and a cookie sheet with raised rim on the lower rack. Pre-heat oven to 475° F.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide in half.

Being careful not to de-gas the dough, form each half into a tight ball.  Place into lightly floured bowls and cover with a couche or clean kitchen towel.

Let rise until almost doubled. About one hour.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a pizza peel or back of a cookie sheet. Lightly oil.

Turn one bowl of dough onto parchment.  Score top with a lame, razor or sharp knife.

Bring 135 g (about 2/3 a cup) of water to a boil.

Slide the dough onto the baking stone.

Working quickly, cover glass of oven door with kitchen towels to protect from splashing water. Pull cookie sheet out just enough to expose a place to pour the water onto it and pour boiling water onto sheet.  Be very careful not to splash boiling water onto yourself or the oven door.

Close oven door and bake for twelve to fifteen minutes, until crust is dark, golden and crisp.

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No more food porn

At least for a few weeks.  Thursday a bunch of guys came to my house and tore out my kitchen.  It’s down to the studs now.  The remodeling will take 4 to 6 weeks.

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I’ve said before that my house and I are both in our early 50s and we both need work.  The kitchen had become critical.  Some of the cabinets were start to literally fall apart and one oven gave up the ghost a couple of months ago.

I’d planned on cooking on my Big Green Egg and I probably will.  But first I have to solve two problems.  Every horizontal surface in my house is currently stacked with boxes.  I have no room to prepare anything.

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The other problem is where am I going to wash the dishes?  I don’t want to wash my dishes in the bath tub and all my bathroom sinks are too small to scrub pans.

I’ll probably have to get a couple of tubs and do it campground style.

Oh well.  In 6 weeks, I’m going to be making some amazing food.

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Black Bean Burgers on Brioche Buns

When I published my Pretzel Bun recipe back in March, I, of course, used them to serve spectacular cheeseburgers.  A friend of mine who was once a vegetarian and sometimes still leans toward legless food challenged me to come up with a veggie patty to fill those gorgeous buns.

I failed. I could never come up with a veggie patty that could stand up to that substantial bun.

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Eventually I fell back to a Brioche Bun and these excellent Black Bean Burgers from my new favorite food blog.  My friend said this meets the spirit of the challenge.

While I am partial to meat, I do enjoy the occasional vegetarian dish.  When eating vegetarian though, there is one thing I can not stand.  Dishes that pretend to be meat.  If I want something that tastes, “Just like a hamburger”, I’ll eat a freakin’ hamburger.  Don’t try to disguise tofu as steak or pass some paste made out of ground chickpea flour off as meat.

These black bean patties don’t commit that sin.  They are proudly veggie, but with lots of flavor, great texture and nice smokey, spicy kick.

I didn’t deviate from Serious Eats recipe, so you can just go there for the how-to.

Make sure you don’t dry out the beans too much during the roasting step.  You need enough moisture to hold the patties together during shaping and cooking.

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Kenji said 20 minutes in the recipe.  That was too long for my oven.  After about 15 minutes the beans were split open and starting to get too dry.  I suggest checking them after 10 minutes and erring on the side of too moist.

I cooked mine on my griddle.  I was afraid if I tried to grill them on the Egg, they would fall apart.  My daughter wants them again, so I might try grilling them next time.

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A Note on Shredded Lettuce

I’m not a big fan of ice burg lettuce.  It’s flavorless. It has little to no texture. As a base for a salad there are a dozen better options.  In general, I leave it at the store.

But there is one decent use for ice burg.  Shredded, as a base for a burger.

Shredded Lettuce

Shredding lettuce transforms it into a crunchy bed that adds a textural surprise to a burger. It also keeps a juicy, condiment laden burger from soaking through the bottom bun.

Just take a thin wedge of lettuce and slice about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick.  Put a generous layer on the bottom bun and build the rest of the burger on top of that.


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Brioche Buns

These buns have become my new go-to for hamburgers, cheeseburgers and general sandwich making.  I still love my pretzel buns, but those are more special occasion/special burger buns.  These are more general purpose.

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Recipe – Makes 8 buns

4 oz whole milk
6 oz warm water
2 tsp active yeast
1 1/2 TBS sugar
18 oz all purpose flour, plus more for working dough
2 tsp salt
3 eggs, room temperature, divided
4 TBS butter, room temperature

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Combine milk, water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Allow to rest until foamy. About 5 minutes.

Combine flour and salt in bowl of stand mixer.  Add milk/water mixture.  Using dough hook, mix on low speed until ingredients combine and no dry flour is left, about 1 minute.

Increase speed to medium low.  Add 1 egg.  When fully incorporated, add second egg.

Add butter, one tablespoon at a time, waiting for each tablespoon to be fully incorporated before adding more.

Mix dough on medium low for 2 to 3 minutes.  Dough should be soft and tacky.  It should stick to bottom of bowl, but pull away for sides.  Add more flour, one TBS at a time, as needed.

When dough is pulling away from side of bowl, increase speed to medium.  Mix for 5 to 6 more minutes.  Dough should be smooth and elastic, but still soft and tacky.

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Transfer dough to large, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to rise until doubled, about 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the frig.

Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.  Form into balls and place on baking sheets, four to a sheet.

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Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled.  About 2 hours at room temperature.

Pre-heat oven to 400° F. Adjust racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions.

Gently flatten each dough ball to into a disk about 2/3 of original height.  Be careful not to squeeze gas from dough.

Beat remaining egg.  Paint each dough disk with egg.

Place baking sheets in oven.  Bake for 7 minutes.

Remove baking sheets and paint with a second coat of egg wash.

Return to oven, rotating sheets 180° and switching between top and bottom rack.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer. Buns should be golden, light and hollow sounding when thumped.

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For extra points, split the buns in half, butter and toast them before serving.

This is my black bean burger, with chipotle aioli, pepper jack cheese, cherry tomatoes and shredded lettuce.



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New York Pizza

Two weeks ago I spent four marathon days cooking.  From Friday to Monday, I made black bean burgers on brioche buns, tacos al pastor, pressed pork tortas and a very successful New York style pizza. I promised to post the recipes from that weekend but I’ve been out of town, so I’m a bit behind.  Catching up, here’s the recipe for the New York-style pizza. Much food 204 It’s all about the crust.

I’ve gotten pretty good at making Neapolitan pizzas in my Big Green Egg.  These pies, made with a high moisture dough and topped with an uncooked tomato sauce, cook at very high temperatures, upwards of  650° F, for 4 to 6 minutes.  They are delicious and worthy of sophisticated toppings, like Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce of Tandoori Chicken. I love them. My son, though, has been lobbying for simple New York pizza.

New York pizza is an entirely different pie.  It’s crust isn’t the thin, crispy crust I’ve worked so hard to achieve.  New York crust is thicker, slightly chewier and more substantial. It has to support the whole slice when you’re eating it walking down the street.  It’s also a more complex crust. There has to be a thin crispy layer on the bottom, a chewy/bready lay in the middle and a slightly slick, almost under-cooked layer at the interface between the crust and the sauce.

To achieve this effect, I read a lot of recipes and blogs.  Once I had a consensus recipe to start with it took me two or three tries to get it right.

Making the dough

Low-kneading, minimally handled dough is a big trend in baking these days.  Instead of long kneading times to activate the gluten and build structure, these methods use other techniques to achieve the same effect without introducing as much oxygen into the dough. This is not only easier on the arms than all that kneading, purists also claim it avoids off, metallic flavors.

A typical recipe for minimally handled dough will use short bursts from a food processor instead of long stretches twirling on the dough hook of a stand mixer.  Some recipes claimed that you can make a dough which passes the windowpane test with as little as 30 seconds in the food processor.

Even using King Arthur bread flour, I could never get my dough to the windowpane stage that quickly.  I added an autolyse rest during the mixing phase and 4 rounds of Stretch and Fold. With that I could reliably pass the windowpane test without over-working the dough.

I’ll describe these techniques below.

Recipe – Makes 2 14″ pizzas

16 oz high-quality bread flour, like King Arthur
1 TBS sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
2 TBS olive oil, plus more for working dough
10 oz luke warm water
1 batch New York Pizza Sauce
2 oz whole milk, low moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
other toppings, like onions, bell peppers, pepperoni, bacon jam, sharp cheddar cheese, etc.

Place flour, sugar, salt and yeast in food processor.  Pulse to combine.

Add water and oil.  Run processor until flour has absorbed water and is just starting to form into a ball.  Dough should be riding on top of blade and beginning to clean sides of bowl.  About 15 seconds.

Allow dough to rest for 5 minutes. This will allow it time to fully absorb the water and allow the gluten to form.

Run food processor for another 15 seconds.

Smear a small amount of olive oil across a clean work surface.  Transfer dough from food processor bowl to oil patch.  Knead lightly for 1 minute.  You should have a moist, shaggy dough at this point.

Flatten the dough into a square and stretch and fold it.  Hold the near side of the dough with one hand and use your other hand to pull the dough away from you.  Pull until dough just starts to tear on surface.  Fold one third of dough back to center of dough ball.

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Hold the far side of the dough, at the fold, with one hand and use your other to pull the near side towards you until surface just starts to tear.  Fold one third of dough back to center of ball.

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Repeat stretching and folding to the left and right.

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Flip dough ball over and rub surface with olive oil.  You should have a tight ball of dough with a smooth surface.

Cover with a large bowl and allow to rest 10 minutes.

Repeat stretch and fold cycle 3 times.

After four stretch and folds, the dough should be smooth, elastic and easily pass the windowpane test.

Divide dough in half and form into tight balls.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate one to three days.

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Remove dough from refrigerator 3 hours before baking.  Allow to rise at room temperature.

One hour before baking, position rack in center of oven.  Place baking stone on rack.  Pre-heat oven to 500° F.

Lightly flour one dough ball.  Flatten into a thick circle.

Using your finger tips, gently press down the center of the dough, working outwards to create a flat disk.  Leave a 1/2″ rim of unflattened dough to form the outer crust of the pie.  Be careful not to press the gas out of this rim.

Drape dough over the back of your knuckles and slowly pull your hands apart, stretching the dough out.  With a bouncing motion, slide the dough across your knuckles so your working a new section of the rim of the crust.  Pull that section and repeat.

The knuckle stretch is an easy move.  With a little practice, you should be able to quickly stretch the dough into  large, thin, uniform circle.  If you have high ceilings and you feel daring, you can even try throwing the dough by giving it a little toss and spin after each stretch, then catching it with your knuckles before stretching again.

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Place dough on a lightly floured pizza peel.

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Notice the big bubbles in the rim of the crust.  Those will become nice, crispy, crunchy spots in the finished crust.

Place approximately one cup of sauce in the center of the pizza and, using the back of a large spoon or ladle, spread evenly across pie to the rim of the crust.

Do not over sauce the pie.  Too much sauce will result in a soggy crust.

Top with approximately 6 oz of cheese.  Don’t add too much cheese either.  A heavy, dense slice is not what you’re after.

Top with any additional toppings desired.  Here’s my bacon jam, tomato and sharp cheddar pie taking shape.

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Slide pizza onto baking stone.  Bake for 4 minutes.

Using your peel, rotate the pizza 180°.  Bake another 2 minutes.  Check bottom of crust.  It should be crisp and just beginning to black in a few spots.  Bake another minute or two if needed.

Here’s the finished product.

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That was one delicious pizza.  It’s going into heavy rotation at my house.

And here’s a simple cheese pizza.

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Bourbon, Bacon Jam

This condiment combines the salty, fatty, meaty taste of bacon with the depth of bourbon and the sweetness of jam.  It’s great on pizza, cheeseburgers and other sandwiches, and in potato salads and other side dishes.

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Like a lot of stuff I’m cooking these days, I got the basic recipe from Serious Eats.

Recipe – Makes 3 cups

1 1/2 lbs bacon, cut into 1 inch slices
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
3 large cloves garlic, diced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
6 TBS brewed coffee
6 TBS bourbon

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Working in batches, saute bacon over medium high heat in large, heavy skillet till crispy.

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Transfer bacon to paper towels and drain thoroughly.  Discard all but 1 TBS of rendered fat.

Add onions and garlic to pan and saute till soft, about 5 minutes.

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Add vinegar, sugar, syrup, coffee and bourbon.  Bring to boil and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently and scrapping bottom of pan.

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Return bacon to pan and toss to coat.

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Transfer mixture to crock pot.

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Cook on high, uncovered, till mixture is thick and deeply colored, about 4 hours.

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Transfer mixture to food processor and pulse till coarsely  chopped.  Allow to cool.  Store, covered,Much food 049 in frig.


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Weeknight Ribs – Sous Vide and Smoke

Last night I smoked some pork ribs.  Usually, ribs are an 8 hour, weekend-only affair.  Last night I wanted to see if I could cut 7 hours off that process.  The short answer is, “Yes. Yes, I can.”

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After a couple attempts cooking sous vide with nothing more than beer cooler and a thermometer, I decided I liked the technique well enough to invest in an immersion circulator.  Based on several reviews, I picked the Sansaire Sous Vide.  I liked the size of the unit, its simplicity and its capacity (3 gallon per minute flow and max 6 gallon tank).  I also loved that it was a KickStarter project.  The project raised over $800,000 on a goal of $100,00. They went from initial funding in Sept. 2013 to manufacturing and distribution through Sur la Table in about 6 months.  Ain’t modern capitalism grand?

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I started with some country-style pork shoulder ribs.  I’d usually have used spare ribs, but the grocery was inexplicably out of those.

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Country-style shoulder ribs have a nice meat to fat ratio and are mostly boneless. That makes them easy to eat.  I’ll have to try these more often, especially for some of my Asian influenced recipes like Bahn Mi sandwiches.

I mixed up a batch of Meathead’s Memphis Dust and rubbed the ribs heavily.

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I don’t have a vacuum sealer yet, so I divided the ribs and used 2 zip lock bags instead.

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Here’s an easy trick for getting all the air out of a zip lock bag. Instead of trying to suck it out with your mouth, zip the bag almost completely closed and slowly submerge it in the water bath. The weight of the water will force all the air out.

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Zip the bag fully closed and repeat with the other bag.  It’s cheap, easy and much more sanitary than sticking your lips on a bag full of raw pork.

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There are dozens of recipes for cooking ribs sous vide, all slightly different.  136° F for 36 hours.  144° F for 28 hours. Etc.

I figured I was going to have to play around with times and temperatures to figure out what works best, so I went for round numbers. 140° F for 20 hours.  I’ll try a little cooler, 135° F, next time.

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Wednesday evening, I filled a large stock pot with hot tap water. After submerging the meat in the pot, the water was at about 112° F. The Sansaire got it up to my target temperature in under 10 minutes.  The Sansaire is very quite.  It made less noise than the pump on my fish tank.  I went to bed and forgot about it.

By Thursday morning, about half inch of water had evaporated from the stock pot.  I topped it off with hot tap water.  The temperature dropped down to 138.5° F. The Sansaire kicked in and briefly over shot my target by 0.2° F. In less than 2 minutes, the temp settled down to exactly 140° F.

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I went to work and came home 10 hours later to this.

Weekend Ribs 061The ribs felt nice, tinder but not falling apart.  I poured the accumulated juice off and tasted it. It was too good to throw away, so I reduced it with chipotles, ketchup and brown sugar to make a glaze for the ribs.

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I set my Big Green Egg up for two-zone cooking with two big chunks of hickory wood for smoke. Never let anyone tell you you can’t do two-zone cooking on a BGE. At least on an extra-large BGE, it’s actually easier than on any other grill I’ve used. Just light the charcoal in the center of the Egg, like you normally would, and put the food around the outside of the grate. Add smoke chips to the fire and close the Egg.

As the fire burns out from the center, it creates the hot zone.  When you’re ready to sear the slow cooking meat, simply move it over the hot center.  I’ve used this technique to slow cook meat for up to an hour before moving it to the hot zone.

If you want to slow cook longer than that, use your plate setter.

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An hour later, the ribs were looking good.

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I painted them with the glaze and moved them to the hot center of the Egg.  A minute or two on a side later and they were ready to eat.

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The Verdict

Pretty damn good.  For an hour’s work on a weeknight, they were great.

The long cook in the water bath allowed the rub to really penetrate the meat. My daughter said, “It tastes like the animal was born this way.”  That was the up side.  The down side was the texture wasn’t quite right.  My son thought they were too soft. Not enough “bite” or chew.

It’s shouldn’t be hard to fix that.  Now that I can make ribs in an hour on a weeknight, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to experiment.

Recipe – Weeknight Ribs, serves 6

1 rack pork ribs, spare, baby backs or country-style
1 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar, divided
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
2 teaspoons rosemary powder
hardwood chips for smoking like hickory, apple or pecan
2 chipotle chiles, plus 2 tsp adobo sauce, finely diced
1/2 cup ketchup

Remove silver skin for ribs, if needed.

Combine 3/4 cups of brown sugar, white sugar, paprika, kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, ginger powder and rosemary powder.  Rub ribs generously.

NOTE – This makes enough rub for several racks.  Avoid contaminating rub by sprinkling it over the ribs, then putting unused rub away before rubbing it in with your hands.

Divide ribs and seal in two vacuum bags or zip lock bags.  Put ribs in large pot of water, making sure the bags don’t touch each other.  Immerse sous vide circulator in pot and set for 140 ° F.

Cook for 20 hours.

Set up grill for two zone cooking and stabilize temperature at 250° F.

Remove ribs from water and turn off circulator.  Remove ribs from bags, reserving juices.

Place ribs on cool zone of grill.  Add wood chips to hot zone.  Close grill and smoke for 1 hour.

While ribs are smoking, place reserved juices in a medium sauce pan.  Add chipotles, reserved brown sugar and ketchup.  Heat over medium high to a slow boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until glaze is thick.  About 30 minutes.

Paint ribs with glaze and move to hot zone.  Grill briefly, just long enough to mark the ribs and caramelize the sugars in the glaze.  Flip and briefly grill second side.

Remove ribs and serve with baked beans, corn bread, Cole slaw, green beans, mac’n’cheese or anything else that goes with ribs.

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