May 2012 Archives

Let's try this again.

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So my first attempt at smoking didn't go quite as well as hoped. Don't get me wrong - the food tasted ok, but I wasn't happy with having to babysit that Tinker Toy smoker for 22+ hours. So, I sold it.

Well, after having enjoyed more than my fair share of smoked foods compliments of my boss, I decided to give the smoker another go. I bit the bullet and bought my very own Big Green Egg.

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The Big Green Egg is truly impressive. It weighs in at nearly 150-pounds. The range of use is phenomenal - it will smoke "low-n-slow" (at 220F) for hours on end, without having to babysit it or restock the charcoal. Open-up the vents, remove the diffuser and it'll rocket up to 1000F.

It's efficient; a single load of hardwood lump charcoal (about 3-4 lbs worth) has lasted through 4 sessions of grilling and/or smoking. It produces almost no ash as the lump charcoal burns.

I guess that's what you get when you make a smoker from solid ceramic. :-)

Here's the Egg in action - this was from my first session:

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And, unlike that tin can Brinkman smoker from before, my first session with the egg when unbelievably well. I cooked-up some boneless skinless chicken breasts and literally squealed when I sampled the results. I've never had chicken that was so moist, tender, and delicious. Wow.

So, last weekend, I really put the Egg to work. I had purchased a few additional upgrades for the Egg; a set of heavy duty, pre-seasoned cast iron cooking grates (they weigh-in at 21-pounds), and a super precise dual-zone remote thermometer set from ThermoWorks.

On Saturday night, I threw in the cast iron cooking grates, added some hickory lump wood, opened-up the vents, and let the Egg get up to around 800F. The room temperature tenderloins were salted, peppered, and ready for the heat.

Within 6 minutes, the steaks were done to a perfect medium rare. I closed the vents on the Egg, tossed on some asparagus, let it cook/sear for 2 minutes and enjoyed a stellar dinner.

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On Sunday morning, I woke-up fairly early and prepped the Egg by removing the cast iron grates, installing the "place sitter" - a large ceramic diffuser plate, and setting the original stainless steel cooking grate in place. In went a handful of apple wood chunks, and I brought the Egg up to around 280F.

A well seasoned 5-lb pork shoulder went onto the grate, temperature probes were inserted, the dome was closed, and I went about the rest of my day, which included a nice 3-hour bike ride, some running, and some weight lifting. Thanks to Ian, I was able to have him make some critical temperature adjustments while I was out and about.

I returned home, checked the temperatures of the pork and the smoker, and made a few vent adjustments. This is the intake vent opening - as you can see, the vent is only open about 3/8" of an inch:

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And this is the top vent - it's barely even open:

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Even with those vents just barely open, the smoker was still running a touch warmer than I would have preferred - here, you can see that it was sitting at around 300F inside of the dome area. I would've rather had it at 275-280, but oh well.

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The shoulder was close to being ready, but the anticipation was killing me. It was all I could do to keep from lifting the dome and sneaking a peek, but I resisted. The only thing I could do was make the wait a bit more tolerable by grabbing a beverage and taking a seat on the deck. Thankfully, the weather was awesome.

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And, before I knew it, the pork shoulder hit a wonderful 195F, so it was finally time to open the dome and inspect the results.

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Doesn't that look amazing?

I carefully removed the shoulder from the grate, wrapped it in foil, and let it rest for a good 30 minutes. When I unwrapped it after the rest, the bone literally fell out on its own. Oh man...

A couple of forks made short work of the shredding duties, and before I knew it, there was a full plate of incredibly succulent pork shoulder waiting to be devoured.

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It was so moist and so flavorful that there wasn't a need for any sauce. I measured-up a 5-ounce portion and literally inhaled it. It took some serious will power to keep from eating the entire plate...

The leftovers were quickly consumed - a few salads topped with pork and a few lunches with pork and steamed veggies emptied the yield. :-)

I think I'm going to smoke a turkey breast this weekend, and will probably grill up a few other goodies as well. I can't wait.

It just goes to show you get what you pay for... a $59 electric smoker can't compete with something like the Green Egg... If you enjoy grilling, do yourself a favor and investigate a Green Egg for yourself.

I don't know if I blogged about it or not, but last year, I managed to miss the Crazylegs race because I overslept the race... ugh. I believe April of 2011 was the start of my downward spiral as it relates to diet and exercise... I was burned-out, injured, and just plain tired of running, riding, and eating like an angel all of the time.

After nearly a year of sluffing off, I figured I should try to get a little serious about maintaining my health (and girlish figure), so I registered for, and managed to wake-up in time for, the Crazylegs race.

The Crazylegs event is hosted by the UW-Madison Athletic department, with benefits and proceeds going to the school. It's named after Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, an infamous running back for the Badgers who eventually became the athletic director for the university. He advocated for general health and wellness; in 1981, the race was started, and it has been run each and every year since.

April in Wisconsin can be a dicey time to hold an outdoor event... and this year, the weather proved to be sketchy, at best. I awoke at around 7:00am on Saturday morning, and was greeted by a steady drizzle. The outside temperature showed just 36F... nice.

Undeterred, I suited-up, grabbed a container of water, and made the drive up to the capital square. The event draws nearly 30,000 participants, so parking was a bit of a challenge. In a brilliant move, if I do say so myself, I parked at a location that was about mid-way through the course... I had a mile-or-so warm-up walk/jog to the starting line, and a mile-or-so cool-down run from the finish line. Nicely played.

When I arrived to the square at 9:45am, I saw the crowds were already assembled...

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The challenge with organizing an event with 30,000 people becomes evident when you try to start the race... the race was scheduled to start at 10:00am, and it did, but I didn't hit the starting line until around 10:20am... I was in wave "X," so I got to spend a lot of time in the rain and wind waiting to start my race.

While waiting, I ran into my coworker, Brian. He was racing with his wife, who was racing with a group of her coworkers. They all had team t-shirts; Brian took the opportunity to modify his as shown here:

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From left to right, that's: Brenda (Brian's wife), Brian, and Katie (Brenda's coworker).

We all shuffled our way to the starting line, and before too long, we were able to see the actual starting point. There were tons of Badger players high-fiving and encouraging everyone as they approached the starting line. The UW band was playing, and I think I even spied 'ole Bucky himself running around in the crowd.

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Brian and I ran together for a bit. I don't normally run with people, so it was nice to chat and joke with him as we made our way around the square, down Langdon, and up Observatory Drive. I managed to snap a photo of us running - it turned out decent, considering we were cranking along at an 8:00/mile pace.

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Like the considerate husband he is, Brian decided to circle back and run with Brenda, so I bid him farewell, and told him I'd meet them once at Camp Randall (the finish line). I ran the rest of the race in good form - it was 5.02 miles from start to finish, not including my warm-up and cool-down.

Madison races tend to follow the same course... they run you through the campus area, out to picnic point, and back toward the arboretum area. This means part of the course is an "out-and-back" - something that I'm not really a fan of, but Crazylegs keeps it interesting, because in the out-and-back section they have some interesting characters, like this Uncle Sam that's on stilts.

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Before I knew it, the finish line was in sight - here's Camp Randall from the outside:

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And shortly thereafter, I was inside Camp Randall, approaching the finish line. According to my GPS watch, I ran the 5.02 miles in 40:08; according to Crazylegs official time, I was at 41:00. Not sure how or why there was a discrepancy, but oh well.

It was an interesting finish, to say the least... shortly after I snapped the following photo, a kid went sprinting by me, puking as he dashed past. Once across the finish line, he vomited the entire contents of his stomach... His dad (I assume) was behind him, and I overheard him say, "Good job! That's finishing strong!"

Seriously?

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When the weather is cooperating, the after-party for the Crazylegs event is usually a good time. There are bands, free beer, and people mill-about Camp Randall, enjoying the afternoon. As it was still only 45F with a brisk north easterly wind, I didn't really feel much like hanging out in the outdoors, but I did wait for Brian, Brenda, and Katie to finish.

With everyone across the finish line, we made our way up to the one section that was offering concessions, and were shocked by the massive line of people, all of whom were waiting for their free beer (and avoiding the cold). We stood in line for nearly 20 minutes...

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I "enjoyed" my 4 ounces of Capital Amber while shivering outside before hitting the bike trail back to my car. As mentioned, it was about a mile or so from Camp Randall, and it proved to be a perfect cooldown run.

Once inside the car, I immediately proceeded to fog all of the windows... from there, I headed home for a warm shower and some quality couch time with my pal.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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