Adventures In BBQ Volume 1

I have made no secret of my love for smokehouse food in the past, my work with Rub smokehouse and visit’s to other local restaurants in recent times have done nothing if not made me even more passionate about BBQ. I have been reading article after article about smoking and the best type of equipment to use and even how to make you’re own smoker, but I eventually came to the decision that I was going to buy a cheaper unit and modify it as a bit of a project to gradually get the best out of it and tweak it as I learn. This series of blogs will document my progress and any mistakes or improvements that I made with each cook, hopefully culminating in some pretty good BBQ.

I managed to time it wonderfully as I ended up buying it on my birthday, happy birthday to me indeed. I went for an offset unit that cost £89.99 from The Range in Willenhall (www.therange.co.uk for more details) and brought it back home to set it up. For those who were as new to this as I was when I started, an offset smoker is a large barrel like chamber with a chimney and a firebox for the coals. Usually these are at opposite ends but the more you read into them the more the internet tells you this is a bad set up, however with a few modifications the air flow and fire management can be greatly improved, but I will cover that in a later post.

The price of this unit may worry some people due to it not being an ultra sleek Weber unit or something of that ilk but when there are some people making them at home with ceramic plant pots I felt that as long as it had the essential parts I could eventually iron out any potential issues as time went on. Smoking and cooking authentic BBQ is something you will have to perfect over time and I would always recommend playing it safe to begin with too, as it can be thoroughly frustrating when you initially start and not everybody will keep it up. That £500 smokey mountain grill won’t fetch that kind of money when it has been sitting in garden for a year collecting rust, although you can’t smoke with the unit alone. So here is a list of beginners essentials to get you going:

  • Smoker unit
  • Coal starter chimney
  • Heat proof gloves
  • BBQ tools such as tongs and a basting brush
  • Lots of foil
  • Foil trays
  • Wood chips (apple wood, hickory, cherry wood etc)
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • Fire lighters

Beginners guide:

  1. Find a solid, flame proof surface and split a few firelighters. Fill the chimney with coals and light the firelighters.
  2. Place the chimney onto the lighters and leave it well alone until the coals are burning hot and white.
  3. Add unlit coals to the firebox and place hot coals on top (This is called the minion method).
  4. When thermometer reads to temperature (Consult your recipe’s requirements) add the food to the grill and throw on the first hand full of wood chips.

Initial set up was easy and took around an hour all together but would possibly have been even quicker had somebody else been there to help out a bit. As soon as I had it set up I slung the grills in and retrieved the few bits of dry rubbed meat that I had prepared in advance as per a recipe I found online. I loaded the starter chimney up with briquets and waited 20 minutes for the coals to turn white, now here is where my first mistake materialised unfortunately. When burning coals in a BBQ there are two crucial things that are needed which are; good air flow to feed the fire and enough space for the ash to escape away from it. Sound’s almost ridiculous when you think about all the summer BBQ’s you have had in your lifetime with charcoal piled high under the grill, but the ash that the coals sit in will strangle the fire and destroy any hope you had of controlling the temperature long term. With this in mind it pays to remember the basic principle of smoking food is to manage a the fire so it lasts as long as possible to cook the food slowly and indirectly.


I piled the hot coals on top of raw unlit coals without any space underneath them which created a strong initial fire that died off within an hour and was really inconsistent all day. Second mistake was soaking the wood chips, with an already inconsistent fire this just didn’t help at all. A lot of manufacturers will advise you soak them in water for 30 minutes prior to adding them to the firebox but it turns out this is a ludicrously inefficient practice as they only ever absorb the equivalent of 5% of their overall mass. This and the boiling point of water is 100 degrees, meaning the heat around the chips can only ever be around this temperature. So if your fire is already crap like mine was this just won’t help at all. If you want to make them last longer wrap them in foil and put them on top of the hot coals.

Last mistake I made was opening the lid too often. The guys among us will remember being told when you were younger ‘Don’t play with it or you will go blind’ now in this instance you won’t go blind but your pork shoulder will be tepid. Not a punishment on par with loss of sight but it still a bit of a buzz kill when you spend 10 hours trying to make something special to savage in front of Eastenders. Leave the lid shut until you need to baist or rotate, which should be no less than every 60 to 90 minutes unless you’re cooking something smaller or more delicate. So after around 7 hours I still had a certain amount of raw meat which I ended up having to finish off in the oven for half an hour, which I wont lie did still give me a brilliant smoke ring on the meat but not the same kind of gratifying feeling I was shooting for.

Recap on mistakes and revisions:

  • Keep the coals out of the ash best possible to maintain the heat and make sure the airflow is sufficient.
  • Don’t soak your wood chips. Its pointless and can ruin your fire. Wrap in foil if you want a slower smoke release.
  • Leave the lid shut unless you really need to open it!


Volume two coming very soon!

 

Rub: New menu,new level

Rub: New menu,new level

It really has been too long since I wrote anything let alone worked with my friends at Rub smokehouse in Birmingham, so what better time to make a return than when they release a new and improved menu?

I had been fortunate enough to be asked back to have a look at the new additions last week, so I jumped at the chance to pay them a visit as it had been a while since I had been in and was keen to see what had changed. First impressions of the new line up were that it was clear that it retains the stalwart dishes from the last menu while adding some of the social media breaking specials that they have become so famous for like the ‘Pizza taco’ and the aptly named ‘Birthday burger’ which I will explain in detail later in the article. Glancing at the drinks menu the cocktail options always seem to be a wonderful addition to an already interesting and varied experience when eating at Rub, however this visit was my first time actually ordering one, something I will hold my hands up to as I am usually a sucker for a good beer… however they have me covered yet again, as they now even have their own line of beer’s brewed by West brewery in Scotland on the bar. Of course working for a brewery myself this is of particular interest to me.

I arrived at 7:15pm which was a touch early but nonetheless immediately seated and looked after by the restaurant manager Anya, who was a wonderful host that made sure we wanted for nothing during our visit. She pointed out a few of the new additions to the menu and gave her recommendations, including the previously mentioned Birthday burger and the new mountainous chicken wing dish (2kg’s in total!). Now we didn’t end up ordering this incredibly brave new burger option but I have seen it and it really is something to behold, upon first viewing it can look a little bit crazy or frivolous but in truth it represents innovation, fun and the pushing of boundaries of what you expect to be able to order in a restaurant on the average high street. I have touched on the fact previously that Rub are unapologetically , fun lovingly brash with heart and soul that backs up the sheer volume of good quality food dispatched through the pass of that kitchen and this is fully embraced with the Birthday burger. It contains 4 homemade beef patties, American cheese, smoked bacon, pulled pork, burnt ends, fried egg, mac’n’cheese topped with toasted marshmallows all layered between Victoria sponge as the substitute for bread. Mental. Inspired but utterly mental! Thoroughly born in the spirit of Rub and this was demonstrated in the dishes we ordered too.

The Pizza Taco

We took on the challenge of the Pizza burrito, Rub dog millionaire and the Pizza taco. Now the Rub dog is an original menu entry but we had never got round to it before so my partner ordered that and I opted for the two newbies. They arrived promptly and only lacked some form of dramatic sound track as they skimmed past my head when being placed on the table, instantly making an impression was the red metal frame of VW camper that the taco arrived in. Parked before me was a freshly baked pizza base, lined with pulled pork and filled with brisket, pulled chicken, iceberg lettuce, breaded prawns, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and smoked cheese. A powerhouse of culinary ambition and invention. I love smokehouse food and this is the end game as far as I am concerned. The prawns were light and juicy without being greasy, the slices of brisket came with a beautifully thin bark which imparts it’s smokey goodness onto the sour cream and guacamole, the pulled chicken is also stunning but the main problem with this dish is that there is so many amazing things within it it’s quite difficult to explain it… so it’s a good job I took notes! This can genuinely be eaten by two people but only can be tackled by one if you are a real hero but be warned it’s a seriously big ask, you wont go hungry either way. It is fitting that ti arrives in a car because this dish is quite the journey.

Lasagne Burrito

The Lasagne burrito is a much simpler dish but by no means something that should be underestimated. I have been cooking and eating Italian food since I was a child and a good lasagne really is the benchmark of success, you live and die by your lasagne. It’s all about the balance between each layer and no aspect within the lasagne should overpower another, creating an evenly layered, luxurious dish that almost melts in the mouth. Taking this into account I can openly say… guess what? nailed it. A velvety aromatic ragu hides within to create this beast of a fusion between the tradition and simplicity of Italy and the comfort food behemoth that is Mexico.The only difference between this and you’re Nan’s best Lasagne is this delicate pasta dish is then put to bed in a crunchy nacho wrap and served with fries and a side salad. It screams decadence and provides some very satisfying eating! Swap in the sweet potato fries for a real treat.

The Rub Dog Millionaire

Last but not least on the food front is the Rub dog millionaire. This is a real classic as far as the original menu goes and was one of the original social media hot potatoes that made such an impact when Rub first arrived on the scene in Birmingham. This horizontal mountain of a hot dog is made up of a half metre of smoked pork dog with caramelised onions, pulled pork, jalapeños, pickles and cheese served with BBQ beans and skin on fries. The sausage is the star of the show and has a delicate skin that gives a satisfying mouth feel and a subtle smoke flavour that permeates throughout this extensive railing of pork. However if you partner that with the silky pulled pork on it’s brioche base and the refreshing kick of the jalapenos followed by the sharp spike from the pickles you get a dish that doesn’t get bogged down by it’s own rich components. A great dish that still really holds up after all this time on the menu, which is clearly why it is still there.

Cocktails

Going back to the range of cocktails that I mentioned earlier, I ordered the Cooney island cooler – a fairground ride of a cocktail complete with Broker’s Gin, Fresh Strawberries, Cotton Candy Syrup, Lemon Juice & Vanilla Soda. Served with it’s rainbow cotton candy hat, when I saw the cocktail arrive it dawned on me that it is possibly the campest thing I have ever ordered… but incredibly fun when you see it for the first time! Becky ordered a Peanut butter jelly thyme – a marriage of Buffalo Trace, Thyme, Peanut Butter, Raspberry jam, White Chocolate Syrup, Lemon Juice & Whole Egg. Served with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I’m no expert on cocktails but they were really enjoyable, not being too strong or too sweet that it overpowers everything or has you on your back within the first few sips. The cooler was really fresh and I recommend this to cut through any big challenges the menu may send your way, whereas the peanut butter jelly thyme is a much richer addition and would compliment a sweet dish really well.

Rub Ruby Lager

BEER! I like beer. Most people like beer. I work in the beer industry and I talk about beer all day every day and I’m very lucky to be able to do it, which i feel leaves me well equipped to talk about it outside of work!  The last time I was able to get to Rub they had a few select beers on keg that fit their theme but this time I noticed on their bar they have added some of their own branded beers that have been brewed for them by the West brewery in Scotland. I went for the Ruby red lager which was decent to be fair. I am not a 100% committed lager drinker as I am a fully initiated Ale-ite so I always take some serious convincing when it comes to lager. I ordered a half as I was also on the Cooney island cooler throughout the meal but seriously, what is a mass of smoked meat without beer? Exactly my point… nothing! Upon receiving my half pint I took in it’s amber colour and it’s malty aroma, which was pleasant and appealing. Tasting reveals a rich, biscuit base flavour and lingering malty, caramel notes that dissipate into a mild earthy kind of bitterness. For a lager it feels very much like an ale in it’s application with it’s low carbonation and more complex set of flavours, especially when compared to the usual suspects in the category. I would recommend this one for those particularly heavy moments when you think you can’t quite finish that Birthday burger. Lock and load guys. It is a good entry into the world of beer for Rub but I would love to see what they have planned for the future as knowing these guys they won’t let anybody get too comfortable before they raise the bar again and add something else to their arsenal. Maybe a nice IPA or a smoked porter to mull over while I’m picking my dessert? Just a thought!

The Cookie Monster

Speaking of desserts… Two words to remember when ordering your after dinner treats. Cookie. Monster. This is the most deceiving thing I have ever ordered! We thought it would be really quite easy to hit between two of us and I was so… so wrong. I have officially dubbed this dessert the Tardis because I swear to god it is bigger on the inside. This gargantuan task of a sweet consists of (from the bottom) a cookie smeared with Nutella, a scattering of chocolate brownie, a large amount of vanilla ice cream, a crazy amount of melted marshmallow and another cookie, finished with another huge helping of Nutella. Doesn’t sound too much of a challenge on it’s own but please feel free to read the above again to see how much food I actually consumed and then reassess any judgement on my failure to finish it. I know I sound like a broken record but as puddings go this felt like it had been quite thoroughly thought about and was the result of a discussion that was along the lines of ‘how much of Rub can we translate into a dessert?’ and this really does translate so perfectly in its application. Another solid addition to an already stellar lineup all round really. Supremely fun and the epitome of true indulgence, as I mentioned earlier a dish like this could be paired with the peanut butter jelly thyme to create a wonderful match up as peanut butter is probably the only thing not in the dish!


In summary then, yet again the Rub team continue to push on into uncharted territory with some dishes while maintaining the quality (and quantity) that have made them such a successful and established restaurant in an area of Birmingham that provides some very worthy competition. The very presence of some of their dishes challenges the very essence of what seems acceptable while making you want to go with them on the journey. For instance, Heston and his incredibly detailed scientifically developed recipes are stunning in their execution and interesting to most but it completely alienates the common man. Rub manages to help everybody enjoy the ride while making food that little bit more intriguing to look at from a new perspective. You have to ‘get’ Rub and if you think it’s too far or not to do what they do it’s very much like a radio show, and like Chris Moyles often say’s, if you don’t like it don’t listen to it. Fortunately for Rub I would be happy to bet my last penny that most people pretty much love them for what they do, much like I do. Food should be this fun and it should be looked at as having no real boundaries, everything is fair gain in this day and age and these guys just totally understand that. If you don’t quite ‘get’ Rub yet then I would thoroughly advise you make an effort to get on board as your meal times will be all the richer for it.

A huge thank you to Sean, Anya and the team for looking after us.

Visit http://www.rubsmokehouse.com/ for details or to make a booking but don’t forget if you are in Birmingham city center you can also use the wonderfully convenient delivery service (provided by Deliveroo).