Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Big Fat East Texas Thanksgiving

For those that know me, I am a Texas boy at heart. Although I have never delved to deeply into my ancestry, which I should, I know that my ancestors are of Scottish and Dutch decent.  My father and his family started migrating to Crockett, TX in the late 19th and early 20th century from Indiana.  My mother's side of the family is a little more difficult but they resided in Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas, and North Texas.  My parents met in Fort Smith, AR during WWII as my father was stationed at Camp Chaffee in Forth Smith.  What does all this have to do with Thanksgiving and BBQ?  Give me a minute.  You see, almost all my family was born in Texas.  My maternal grandmother Mama (pronounced "mehmaw'), was born in Pecan Gap, Texas and attended Mary Hardin Baylor where she played women's college basketball.  She used to explain to me that after every basket, they would return to center court to tip off again.  Anyway, my point is that I am not a native Texan as I was born in Pittsburgh, PA but one by lineage and upbringing.  I grew up wearing boots and cowboy hats.  I also mixed in a coonskin cap for good measure.  Where am I going with this?  Well, I always imagined our Crockett, TX home place to be more Central TX.  I have referred to it as far Eastern Central Texas.  This delusion has been forever blown apart.

Thanksgiving day started normal enough, getting up early to fix a light breakfast and enjoy good cup of coffee.

Since we were planning on about 16 people, mostly adults, we decided to cook turkey, ham, and smoke some turkey legs.  Since I consider smoked turkey to fall into the BBQ category, turkey  legs are in there too.  We planned to eat at two, so I fired up the pit at 9:00 a.m.  planning on a 3-4 hour cook and put the legs on at 10:00 a.m.  I used apple wood for my fire as I was told that turkey does really well with apple wood.  I cooked nine legs which were brined overnight in a brown sugar and saltwater brine.  Following is the brine recipe:
1/2 cup Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Dark Brown Sugar
40 Black Peppercorns
1 T. Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning
6 cups Ice Water
2 cups Hot water
Boil 2 cups of water and pour over dry ingredients, whisk until dissolved.  Add six cups Ice water and chill in the fridge until  it comes down to 40 degrees F.  Add legs and brine overnight. 
I pulled the legs out of the brine in the morning and rinsed and dried them thoroughly. I sprinkled them moderately with Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning and then slathered the legs with mayonnaise.  Yes, I used mayonnaise. 
Mayonnaise is great for cooking poultry with the skin on as the oil renders away and the egg in the mayonnaise forms a thin film on the poultry, prevents the skin from burning, and keeps the juices in the meat.  I cooked the legs on the pit for 3 hours at an average of 240 degrees F.  towards the end I spritzed them a couple of times with a 1:1 mix of water and Apple Cider Vinegar just to keep them moist on the outside.
Unfortunately as I was pulling the legs off the pit, things got hectic and I forgot to take a picture of them when they were done, but wow, these were delicious.  Not too smoky, very moist and the meat just pulled away from the bone.  This was my first attempt at Turkey legs and I can tell you I will be doing them again and not just on Thanksgiving.
 Now on to the story.  I have a cousin whom I have been close to since High School.  Her husband and I have been acquaintances over the years but this year we decided to go to BBQ camp together last June at Texas A&M.  This is a 3 day course and we had a blast.  We have become close friends ever since so we decided to fry turkeys for the main course. 
Larry shows up to the house and starts unloading his Turkey frying gear.  He is wearing a San Antonio Spurs Santa hat.  I would still be insulted but the Rockets beat the tar out of the Spurs last night so I will let bygones be bygones.
So there we are, frying and smoking turkey and having a laugh.  Larry and Stephanie (my cousin), have two boys.  One in college and one in high school.  They're bored and ask Larry if they can go drive around the pastures and see what they can see, I am in the house to get some foil to wrap the turkey legs in.  I come out, ask Larry where the boys went and he says "they went out to drive around the pastures", I said "You know we just had 7" of rain in the last 5 days" he said "that much?".  Well 10 minutes later he gets the call that they had buried the truck up to the axles.  They ask for him to come pick them up as they were about 3/4 of a mile away.  He says no and so 30 minutes later they come walking up laughing.  They ask to borrow Larry's truck to go pull the other truck out.  I do not question the wisdom of this and off they go.  Larry checks the temp on the turkeys that are frying and sits down next to me and says: "You know they are going to stick that one as well, right?" I said "Yup".
The call came, they were told to walk back again and come eat as the food was ready.  We all had a wonderful meal.  I practiced what I preached and got to spend good quality time telling lies and listening to them.  After the meal, we had to get a couple of trucks unstuck.  My son gets in his truck and I ask him where he is going.  He says that he is going to go see what the situation was.  I said, your going to stick that one too.  He says: "Dad, I know this property, I am not a dumba*ss".  Do I need to explain what happened? I think not.  3 trucks stuck in the mud. I suspect I am in East Texas.  If you get most of the humor in the movie "Bernie" and know someone like most of the characters in it, you're in East Texas.  I don't want you get the wrong idea, these are intelligent boys that stuck these trucks.  You just cant turn off the E. Texas gene.
So, my son goes out to fire up our tractor to pull the trucks out and.... flat tire.  So now we have to call my other cousin who was at another gathering and tell him we need his 90hp tractor to get not one, but 3 trucks out. 

He comes, assesses the situation, and is not optimistic but gets all three out.  Two of the trucks got stuck twice more on the way out so a total of six rescues.  East Texas.

I have a cousin who is a history buff.  I mean he reads more than anyone I know.  so my daughter asks him to go over her civil war test review for U.S. History.  He says " you mean the war of Northern aggression?" East Texas. We all agree that she better stick to whatever the revised history is in her textbook and notes.

We played 42, the greatest domino game ever invented and hoped the Longhorns would lose. East Texas.

So, we had a blast, made some great stories that will only get better with time, ate some great food, prayed, laughed, and renewed friendships.  My many thanks to all the folks that cooked, cleaned, and made this such a wonderful day.  It was the best Thanksgiving ever and my heart lives in East Texas.
My hopes that everyone had the same.
God and Texas

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Time to reflect and Give Thanks

On my last blog I wrote that I would discuss brisket on a stick.  I still have to put together my thoughts on that one before I publish it.  I am currently getting ready for family and friends to arrive for the Thanksgiving Holiday and I have some time alone to think about where I stand in my life and what I am thankful for.  For one thing, there are so many bad things going on in this world that I am about ready to repeat the famous movie line from Network "I am mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more".  Seriously, where the hell do people get off running around sucker punching people for fun.  I blame the parents, the interwebz, vegetarians, and the communists.  Honestly, I feel like Screwtape from the "Screwtape Letters" and will get so mad that I will turn myself into a centipede.  But then I reflect on all the things in my life and see all the things that bring me joy and realize, that it is not in my hands but God's.  I understand that we humans have free will, but did he have to make us so stupid as to go around punching people?  Ooops, there I go again.  Anyway, now that I am calmed down, here are some things I am thankful for.

I am thankful for a loving God that has allowed me so many blessings despite my stupidity and lack of faith.

I am thankful for a loving wife that supports my endeavors and gives me the freedom to be me.  She stands by me and gives me the strength and encouragement to seek after my dreams and helps me see the light in this dark world.  She is my best friend, nuff said.

I am thankful for two wonderful children.  I am so proud of them that I cannot put it into words.  Both of them have the determination to go after what they want in life and have become individuals rather than clones of what I tried to mold them into.  My lovely wife and I gave them the guidance and instruction and they have taken that and are becoming what God intended for them.  What a blessing to watch them grow up and see what they become.  It's like growing a garden from seeds but your seed pack just says human on it.  You plant them, and are surprised at each stage how they bloom and what fruits they will produce.  My son is an Aggie and my daughter will soon be one.  They have brought me such joy in seeing how they have changed in each stage in life.  When they pick up a new interest or are enlightened by something new in their life it brings me joy.  It's hard not to try and stop them from falling down and making mistakes (one of my worst parenting faults) but they seem do dust themselves off and get back on the horse so to speak.  Pretty good stuff.

I am thankful for wonderful friends and family.  I won't go into to much detail here but God has blessed me with wonderful friends and extended family.  Over the last several years I have been blessed with renewed relationships with my cousins, etc.  As our families have grown we have all made an effort to get together and celebrate our family heritage and tell stories, mostly lies based on some very small bit of truth that have grown over the years.  There is this one story where my cousin's husband had surgery and he woke up in some unexpected pain.....I better stop there.  Over last few years some old friends have come back into my life and I am really enjoying my time with them.  It's funny, it is almost like we never spent time apart.  When we get back together we just pick up where we left off.  I thought we would just rehash the past and we do to some extent but these relationships have grown and flourished.  Thanks guys.

We also had a loss this year.  One of our group will not be around to share the joy.  I am still wrestling with God on that one.  However, what came out of that is seeing the faith of family being revealed in their private grief.  They inspired me as they allowed God to comfort them.  Miss you Ann, thanks for the laughs and spice cake.

Anyway, I guess I am thankful to God for giving me all these wonderful people to share my life with.  All the other stuff is just noise.  So, when you are at your Thanksgiving table this year, take stock of those relationships.  When the food isn't timed to come out right, or the turkey is medium rare, or annoying rugrat will not leave you alone while you are trying to watch football or cook something. Take stock, thank God for your blessings and enjoy the moment, because isn't that the reason we have this life, to enjoy the moments that we are given?

Happy Thanksgiving.

God and Texas

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review: Gatlin's BBQ, One of Houston's Gems

I live in the Houston area and I have known for years that Houston is not known as a Mecca for BBQ in the Lone Star State.  Houston very much falls into the East Texas style of BBQ.  Couple of slices of brisket slathered in sauce with Potato salad and pinto beans is the standard fare.  Houston BBQ was known for its large chains like the former Luther's, Pappas, Good Company, and now the awful Spring Creek BBQ (I do like the rolls at Spring Creek, I have to admit).  However, Houston has had a renaissance of sorts in the last few years that has seen some really good spots pop up.  Corkscrew, previously reviewed here on this blog is one of these but Gatlin's in the heights is a great experience. 

Located on 19th street in the western Heights neighborhood in Houston, Gatlin's is what all East Texas Style BBQ should aspire too.  Gatlin's is in the top 3 of my favorites in East Texas.  I have been there several times in the last couple of years and on this review I had the Turkey and a couple of ribs.  But let me give you some background on what they do really well.

The pulled pork here is smoky with bits of crust and fat mixed in.  This is flavorful and moist but not mushy.  This could be the best pulled pork in the state.  They have two kinds of sausage, the standard smoked sausage that you would find, well smoked with good snap and color.  However, the real treat here is the East Texas Hot Link.  This is sausage that is generally found from the Tyler area down to Crockett.  The East Texas Hot Link is a sausage that tends to be shorter in length with a finer grind on the meat in the casing.  It has chunks of pepper in it with a decent kick but will not have you asking for a glass of milk to cool down.  This link is not pretty, it's grey in color, has good snap and with the smoke that Gatlin's puts on it, out of this world.  East Texas links are different from their Central Texas counter parts but are well worth it and should be tried while at Gatlin's.

I have been to Gatlin's several times over the last couple of years and have never had bad brisket there until today.  My wife and daughter ordered brisket.  They asked for moist with burnt ends and got neither.  The slices were from the flat and were dry.  You could pick up a slice and it would just fall apart from being overcooked.  The flavor was very good but this brisket was so dry that it needed sauce just to keep it from drying all the saliva in your mouth.  I am going to consider this an aberration since they have had such a great track record in the past.  However, this meat should not have made the plate.

One last thing, before I get on to the Turkey.  Momma at the counter makes visiting Gatlin's worth it.  If you are in a bad mood after waiting in line, she will no doubt cheer you up.  She makes the trip to Gatlin's worth it even if the food wasn't all that good.

I ordered the two meat plate, getting turkey, pork ribs, dirty rice, and green beans.  I also got pickles and onions on the side.  These ribs are fantastic.  The meat is tender, juicy, with a great smoky taste.  There is nice rub and a touch of sweetness in the glaze.  This is one fine pork rib.  In fact, it is by far my favorite in Houston and maybe the whole Lone Start State.  The turkey is smoky, moist, and full of flavor.  Absolutely top notch.  This is real turkey breast, not mashed up turkey product.  The sides are the best from any BBQ joint I have ever had, anywhere.  Hands down, the dirty rice is the best I have ever had.  The green beans are as good as they get.  I don't know how else to put it but they have soul.  A sign in the shack where you order says the secret ingredient is love.  They doubled up on the love on the sides.  The sides are worth the trip to this joint alone.  My wife gets collard greens and corn pone (Water bath corn bread) every chance she gets.  Y'all, this is destination BBQ.  Also, you need to be careful to watch your plate or this might happen....
There are only a couple of  tables inside and just a few picnic tables outside so you will likely share a table with someone else.  I like this as it gives you a chance to meet and talk with others.  Bottom line I love this place.  It is probably my favorite in Houston by a nose. 
Gatlin's BBQ
1221 W 19th Street
 Houston, TX 77008
Next week? Brisket on a stick with friends.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: Hatfield's BBQ, the real McCoy?

I was in the Corpus Christi area on business and had the opportunity to go to Hatfield's BBQ in Rockport.

Hatfield's is located on Market St. in Rockport between Business 35 and Texas Hwy 35.  This BBQ joint is on the Texas Monthly top 50 list. 

Most of the time when I travel on business I am forced to eat alone.  Over the years I have become used to this and I usually read a book or newspaper when I eat.  Today was different as I met my friend David for lunch over BBQ.  David is one of those rare people in life that finds the positive in almost everything.  He has been a mentor and given me great encouragement during difficult times.  It was a real treat to get a chance to catch up, swap lies, share BBQ, and solve the world's problems. The only thing missing was his lovely bride Lois.

Hatfield's has great atmosphere for a BBQ joint.  Nothing fancy here, rustic décor and friendly service.  Hatfield's has a pit out back that had the name "Big Nasty" on it.  Best name so far in my travels for a pit.    You walk to the counter, order your meal, grab your drinks, and find a table.  It was almost noon when we ordered and we were alone in the restaurant.  However, it did start to fill up after we ordered.    The menu is fairly standard but did not have smoked turkey which is my standard go to for lean meat.  I chose the chicken and since David was helping me with my review today, I told him he was getting a 3 meat plate.  I chose green beans as my side and as usual got pickles, onions, and jalapeños as edible garnish.  David ordered moist brisket, ribs, and chicken.  His sides were baked potato salad, and green beans.  The menu had 1/2 BBQ chicken on it and that is what I ordered, however the 1/2 chickens were not ready yet and I had to settle for a leg quarter.  This was a little disappointing but I would rather them not serve yesterday's leftovers and settle for what they do have.  Those of you that like trying new BBQ joints know what I am talking about.  It is never the same as fresh.

Ok, now for the food.  Since I made David order the 3 meat plate, I will include that in this review since he was giving me samples from his plate.  The brisket had the perfect amount of pull and was very tender and moist.  The fat on the brisket was very well rendered.  This meat was cooked perfectly.  However, it lacked a smoke ring and did not have much smoke flavor at all.  It tasted more like roast beef than BBQ.  This is such a shame since it would literally melt in your mouth.  David gave me a rib and again, it was perfectly cooked, did not fall off the bone but was tender.  The ribs came with sauce on them which is not my preference but they were still good.  The ribs had more smoke flavor than the brisket, but still lacked that deep smoke flavor that you would expect.  Surprisingly, the chicken did have a smoky flavor and just like the other meats was cooked to juicy perfection.  The skin was tough and chewy but I normally do not eat the skin.  I tried it simply for texture.  As I typically do, I pulled the meat from the bone and made a half sandwich with a slice of bread. 


I dipped my sandwich in sweet sauce and it was a very good compliment with the chicken, onion, pickle, and jalapeño.  I also had the green beans.  They had a deep smoked bacon flavor and I would get them again.  I tried some of David's Baked potato salad and while I liked it, I prefer a potato salad with an opening twang and sweet finish.  This was like eating a baked potato with a ton of sour cream.
Overall, the food here is really good.  If the meat had more of a smoky flavor, I would give it an A, as the meat was cooked really well.  However since it lacked that smoky flavor I will give it a B.  This is only my second time to eat here and I believe most professional reviewers (Which I am not) would try a place 3 times before writing a full review.  The first time I was here I had the brisket and it was smoky but not as moist.  If you are in the Rockport/Corpus Christi area and are hungry for BBQ.  This is probably a good choice.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: Eating Right at Corkscrew BBQ

I have been looking forward to this visit for some time as this is one of my favorite BBQ spots in Texas.  Corkscrew is on the Texas Monthly top 50 BBQ Joints list and deservedly so. It is as close to one of the Austin BBQ trailers as Houston has at this point with its funky black and pink exterior to the friendly service and the long lines.  I have heard that they give away free beer on Saturdays while they are open.  This is another tradition of the BBQ trailers in Austin. 
The line in the picture above was at 11:10 AM on a weekday.  I went early because the Turkey is what I am after and they are almost always sold out of Turkey by noon. 

After about 20 minutes of negotiating the line, I was able to order and they still had Turkey.  Before I get to what I ordered, I will tell you that I believe that Corkscrew has the best brisket in Houston.  It is always well smoked with a good smoke ring.  Great bark with a gentle rub.  (Nobody in Houston uses the 1:1 Course black pepper/Kosher salt rub in Houston that I know of.  If they do, let me know because I love it.  Anyway, Corkscrew has a unique menu compared to most BBQ joints.  There is brisket and pulled pork tacos and unique takes on sandwiches.  They have the standard fare but do baked BBQ beans really well.  Potato Salad and coleslaw are good but not outstanding.  The mac and cheese is very good and I love the cobbler.  Unfortunately, those items are off my eating list for most occasions as I am focusing on eating healthier. 

I ordered a Turkey Sandwich and a side spinach salad with light ranch dressing and unsweet iced tea.  They ask at the counter if you want pickles, onion, and jalapenos which are mandatory for me.  The order took less than 5 minutes and was sliced fresh.


The sandwich had about 1/3 lb of turkey and comes with sauce on it.  While I don't put sauce on brisket unless it really needs it, I like sauce on turkey.  I added the pickles and onions and took a bite.  This is as good a BBQ turkey as you will find in Texas.  It is moist with bark, and is not processed turkey but real turkey breast.  It has a smoky flavor with a hint of rub.  The sauce, pickles, onions, and jalapeno are the perfect compliment without hiding the turkey flavor.    Yes the turkey has bark on it which is not common. 
The spinach salad was fresh with spinach, shredded cabbage, carrot strips, feta cheese, cucumber and tomato.  It was pretty good with lite ranch but would have been better with the vinaigrette that they would normally serve.  Very tasty. 
Overall, I give Corkscrew BBQ an A for great BBQ and healthy choices.  This is must stop for BBQ lovers when in the area.
I am guessing at 1/2 lb of smoked turkey breast so 316 calories for the meat plus 200 for the bun.  maybe 100 calories for the salad total. another 100 calories for the sauce and veggies.  Estimated Total Calories 716.  Not bad for a great filling meal.
Corkscrew BBQ
24930 Budde Rd
Spring, TX, US, 7738
Until next time.....Adios.
God and Texas,
The Traveling Salesman

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: Rudy's BBQ and Country Store

Ok, on the road in Texas again and was on my way back from west Texas and needed to stop for dinner.  I have been eating at Chick Fil A all week.  They have a great assortment of low fat meals that are filling and will get you through to the next meal.  However, you can get sick of something quick so I decided to get some Smoked Turkey.  I was on my way home and decided to stop at Rudy's in Waco.  There are better places to get smoked turkey but Rudy's is convenient and they are open for dinner. 

I stepped up and ordered 1/2 pound of smoked Turkey, a side of Rudy's beans, two slices of 100% wheat bread, and unsweet tea with lemon.  I garnished the order with onions and jalapeños.

While the Turkey was good, reasonably moist, and had a good amount of smoke on it, would like them to use more rub to add a little bit more of a pepper flavor to it.  I put the turkey slices into one of the slices of Nature's own 100% whole wheat bread (70 calories/slice), added onion and jalapeño slices and dipped this in Rudy's Sissy Sauce.  The combination of smoke, sweet sauce, and jalapeño is very good.

I sliced up a bunch of onions and jalapeño and added it to the Rudy's beans (pinto beans cooked in the traditional Texas style) and this was a very good low fat side to the turkey.  Overall, there are a few places that have better turkey, but pretty darn good for a BBQ chain.  Overall, a B on the grading scale.  I was pretty hungry so I forgot to take a picture before I ate.  So here is a picture of the debris:

Overall calorie damage is 485 with the two slices of bread.  I will add another 150 calories for the onions, jalapeños and Sissy Sauce.  Really a very filling meal for low calorie count. 

Overall, I am down 9 lbs.  I need to keep exercising and focus on my calorie intake.  I will keep you posted.

Rudy's Beans, small side:

Calories142Sodium0 mg
Total Fat2 gPotassium0 mg
Saturated0 gTotal Carbs24 g
Polyunsaturated0 gDietary Fiber7 g
Monounsaturated0 gSugars1 g
Trans0 gProtein6 g
Cholesterol0 mg  
Vitamin A0%Calcium0%
Vitamin C0%Iron0%

Rudy's Smoked Turkey 1/2 lb

Calories213Sodium0 mg
Total Fat3 gPotassium0 mg
Saturated0 gTotal Carbs4 g
Polyunsaturated0 gDietary Fiber0 g
Monounsaturated0 gSugars3 g
Trans0 gProtein46 g
Cholesterol0 mg  
Vitamin A0%Calcium0%
Vitamin C0%Iron0%

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Well, here I am giving this thing another shot.  As I have mentioned before, I really struggle with my weight.  I know that losing weight is simple but not easy.  I have decided to change my lifestyle and eat healthy.  I have been working on this since Saturday October 19th.  It would have been my father's 92 birthday.  I guess that I had been thinking about his passing a few years ago that got me thinking about eating right again.  I have struggled with my weight for all of my life.  In 2006 and 2007 I lost about 170 lbs by eating basically 1500-1700 calories a day and walking for an hour each day.  One day, while playing tennis with my daughter before one of her tournaments, I shredded my knee and got out of the habit of walking.  I also got lazy about counting my calories and gained almost all of my weight back.  I have started and stopped over and over again with my weight fluctuating wildly.  I am beginning to wonder what I am doing to my health.  Anyway, here I go again.  While I will try to watch my caloric intake, I will focus on choosing healthy foods.  My caloric goal is between 1800 and 2000 calories/day.  I am trying to cut out all artificial sweeteners so my drink of choice is unsweet iced tea and coffee in the morning.  I have become hooked on the stuff.  Guess I am like Si on Duck Dynasty. 

I have decided to eat healthy, but I will still talk about one of my passions, BBQ.  BBQ in Texas is unique in it's history and culture.  I love the stuff and could eat it almost everyday.  However, I have to lay off the brisket, ribs, and sausage or this is going to be a very short blog history.  I will be focusing on BBQ turkey breast and chicken and the occasional brisket.

Today I ate a Chick Fil A side salad and half a cool wrap for lunch.  I had the fat free honey mustard dressing with both.  Not bad, tolerable.  For dinner I had Schlotzskis smoked turkey sandwich and some baked chips.  Sandwich good, baked chips suck.  How is that for using my words in critical fashion.  Oh well.  Anyway, not sure if I will be able to get any good "Que" in this week as I am not in a part of Texas that is known for good BBQ.  So mostly I will be talking about what healthier choices I am making on the road.  So today, Chick Fil A and Schlotzski's.  My nightcap was an apple, so here we go. 

Finally, I am not going to give you my weight but suffice it to say, I am morbidly obese.  I have started walking today and will work my way up from 20 minutes/day to 1 hour/day over the next month.  Since Saturday, I have lost 7 lbs.  I will keep y'all posted.  Wish me luck.  Here is a picture of me and my cousin at BBQ Camp last June at Texas A&M University.

And Here is the Whole Hog BBQ we did at camp