It seems like the last two weeks had ended before I even realized they got started. Operating a business, participating in competitions, and Thanksgiving week got mixed up together like a sandwich made from left overs so tall that it requires some squishing before I could eat it.
We made a giant leg lamp and small pork barbacoa tostadas for competitions week before last. The leg lamp won, the pork cheeks lost. Win some, and lose some. That’s how competitions go.
For the 4th annual Tomball Holiday Lamp Post Stroll contest we threw a little Christmas Story at the judges.
That blue ribbon you see on a beautifully illuminated leg lamp is for First Place. There’s a trophy and a little cash inside the building to boot. We win. I love that feeling. The thrill of victory.
This major award came to us because our staff got jacked up to make this leg lamp happen. Josh, Dana, Janie, Patch, and Cat did all the heavy lifting.
All I did was cheer them on, and feed them pizza & beer during creative planning sessions.
It was great fun watching our crew, that I am most proud of, work together to make the leg lamp happen. We had some good laughs when we were watching Janie do her impression of a leg lamp.
When Flick wasn’t stuck on the flag pole he was scaring the crap out of me when I had forgotten he was in the corner of the closet.
We opted to put Flick in the corner at night after the closet scare.
Dana and her family got in on the action with creating Flick. I thought they nailed Flick. I couldn’t tell the difference between our Flick and real Flick.
The weather for leg lamp decorating day was perfect. Being a part of Tomball’s annual lamp post stroll brings out a sense of community that I appreciate. Congrats to our crew for winning the Major Award. They truly earned it. There’s a proper party coming soon for that.
Houston BBQ invited us to participate in the barbecue throwdown held at Saint Arnold Brewery. Barbecue joints were to make a dish that is judged on several criteria. The general idea was to make a dish that best represents Houston’s style of barbecue by drawing from the many diverse cultures of H-Town. The dish entered should also be approachable by a back yard barbecue warrior.
Before setting up, I saw a Blood Brother bro scarfing down a sack of Whataburger. I completely understood this and wished I had my own bag of whataburger right then.
We set up and presented our menu.
We went out on a limb with smoked pork cheeks on a tostada dressed with whipped pinto beans, avocado verde cue sauce, pickled red onion, and cilantro. We were pulling in Spanish and Yucatan influences with an updated twist on barbacoa. The dish wasn’t able to reel in an award unfortunately. We didn’t win. I hate that feeling, but don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine in a month or two. I didn’t see any of the other losing barbecue teams organizing a cry in so I reckon the other teams will be just fine too. We all certainly had a great time serving barbecue at Saint Arnold Brewery as a consolation which helped ease the pain even though I hate consolation prizes.
I did secretly fantasize about taking the judging criteria page and sticking it to a judges chest with a staple gun, and not with one of those cheap Walmart staple guns either. I’m talking about one of those Sears Craftsman heavy duty staple guns where the staples look like their points are lazer sharpened tungsten steel. That made be feel a little better, but I suppose that’s probably not a healthy thought to have. Make a better dish next time is where I ended up on my thoughts about not winning at the Throwdown. I had a Saint Arnold Endeavor and talked myself off the ledge. I went through my mental list of positive stuff to make me feel better about not winning.
- Free beer for barbecue teams
- Saint Arnold T shirts were purchased
- Pork cheeks blew some minds. People hadn’t had this kind of pork before
- Got to hang out with other great pit masters and chatted up the business of barbecue
- Janie and Courtney practiced the squid dance between and during tostada assembly
- Free beer for barbecue teams
One thing that I really appreciated about this event in all seriousness is that there were just two awards: Peoples Choice & a Judged Entry. There were no fifth place ribbons or participation trophies. You either won or lost. There’s only one winner in a competition, and that’s how it should be from my view anyways.
From the looks of the event, winners included people that bought tickets to taste high quality barbecue and drink craft beer at a pretty awesome venue. The story around the room was that all 14 teams brought their A game. I thought it was cool that we were the only ones there with pork cheeks. We were able to serve a dish of barbecue that we personally loved in Saint Arnold’s great beer hall. When Houston BBQ invited us to the event I told them you had me at Beer Hall. It was a great day no matter how you barbecue it.
Even though the trophy escaped our grasp ending our streak of Major Awards at one, we are pretty happy about adding pork cheeks to our list of weekly specials. The Smoking Ho has some brilliant pictures of all the dishes at the Throwdown on his blog here. Here is the picture The Ho took of our dish.
JR Cohen took this shot proving the first one wasn’t a fluke.
We’ve been experimenting with pork cheeks for about 30 days now as we continue to try and bring stylish barbecue to our area. It took a little refining of our cook methods to get this cut of pork down right. I felt like we presented a gorgeous smokey and tender pork dish that fit our brand of Tejas Barbecue. This dish was essentially pork barbacoa on an Antojito style tostada. We may have failed on getting that message across in our presentation, and we didn’t consider the fall season. Our dish was pretty light and summerish. The winning dishes were much more savory and hefty than ours which in hindsight makes sense for the time of year. The pork cheek on its own is rather remarkable. We can’t wait to share it with our patrons.
There isn’t much fat in a pork cheek, but there is a lot of connective tissue that when properly broken down produces a tender succulent piece of meat.
After a nice long smoke and a braise with Saint Arnold Santo the cheeks looked a little like a pastrami burnt end.
The amount of beer in the braising liquid is calibrated by the pit master’s daily libation time line. It’s a bit of a random cooking method challenge we will have to adjust for seasonally.
When we tested some pork cheeks around The Craftory the initial reaction was that they thought it was our pastrami, and I could see why. The pork cheeks have a deep color and tender texture with a more succulent flavor than other cuts of pork. It’s a pork flavor most of us are not accustomed to tasting. I like the analogy of comparing a chicken egg to a duck egg. There’s an extra level of richness in these pork cheeks that makes one pause and wonder what is happening here. There’s a lot to process when experiencing the pork cheek for the first time, and I wonder if that didn’t work against us a little.
The other thing likable about this pork cheek is that it comes from an old school producer of a heritage duroc breed. This is 100% all natural pork, with zero “stuff” fed to the animals. This is where we are heading with all of our pork products. We have their all natural uncured bacon on hand now and we’ve been testing out their pork ribs. We will always strive to use better products and take barbecue in interesting new directions. One hundred percent all natural pork, turkey, and beef is what we like to work with at The Craftory.
For the Houston Barbecue Throwdown we were asked to prepare 500 sample servings plus our entries for the judging. We needed a sizable pile of pork cheek to make that happen.
That’s 60 lbs of pork cheeks ready to be seasoned. The Black October was done with the normal weeks work, so Saturday afternoon we had room for pork cheek smoking.
These Sunday events happen on our day off, but they are always a lot of fun. I find them to be relaxing in a stay busy sort of way.
At the end of barbecue throwdown day I came home to a most comforting sight.
Mom and Michelle were solving problems while making our traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey dressing. The aroma of the dressing being prepared is a tall glass of comfort for me. Then I poured myself tall whiskey drink and got comfortable so I could watch the evening’s work. Mom learned “The Dressing” from her mom who learned it from her mom and aunts. Our dressing is a southern style cornbread & rice dish with egg, onion, and curly parsley. The final amount of each ingredient can depend on the amount of wine left in a bottle. The more problems to be discussed and solved while making “The Dressing” the better it tastes on Thanksgiving Day.
Throwdown week was a good segway into Thanksgiving week. Peddle to the medal baby.
Thanks for giving us your orders
As time got short on me this week, this blog post spilled right into Thanksgiving week. We had a lot of turkey breasts to smoke and a lot of carrot souffle’s to bake. The oven we started the business with a year ago is a cheap piece of junk that was slowing us down. It was a low cost house brand which I would say to any commercial operation to be careful of what you pay for. The oven isn’t supported, and parts are darn near impossible to get for professional technicians. We had been saving up for awhile to get a new one and were able to have it finally installed the day of the big bake. We went with a a Wolf Challenger 6 burner range with a convection oven base. It was a big upgrade for the kitchen.
Nothing like learning a new convection oven on the fly. Souffle master baker Patch Roberts crushed it on Monday and Tuesday. The oven upgrade came just in the nick of time thankfully.
Cornbread pudding pans were stacked everywhere too. Chef Greg fashioned this side dish after “The Dressing” that our family makes every year for Thanksgiving.
Smoked turkey breasts wrapped up ready to warm like this one rounded out Thanksgiving week orders.
I smoked a 20 lb whole turkey for one or our regulars. It looked great. I did experience a little separation anxiety when this turkey was picked up and taken away from me. I really wanted to eat it. Perhaps we will do some of these whole birds in the future.
The Day After
The day after sandwich is a dish that I crave nearly as much as Thanksgiving dinner. The major difference in the craving is that for Thanksgiving dinner I get dressed halfway presentable, reflect on the blessings in our lives, have good conversation, and enjoy heirloom food dishes that bring the whole dinner experience together. The day after sandwich on the other hand is a dish I can eat in my underwear while hiding from the in-laws deep in the bellows of my man cave where the only light available is a glowing hue from computer and TV screens.
A zip lock bag filled with pre-sliced left over turkey becomes a precious commodity often hidden from other family members much the way chocolate monsters and carrot souffle’ junkies protect their stash. The day after sandwich requires no cooking, but the success or failure of the sandwich does hinge on proper assembly methodology and sound eating technique.
This sandwich must begin with thin white bread. I’m talking about cheap store bought refined white bread with all of its pillow soft bleached flour semi annual indulgence. Never toast it either. I’ve made that fatal error before. It wasn’t pretty.
Slather one side of both pieces of bread with a liberal amount of Hellmann’s mayonnaise. I cannot emphasize the importance the next step enough. Apply freshly cracked black pepper to the mayonnaise. For decades I conducted side by side taste comparisons of mayonnaise slather on white bread with and without black pepper. The data is overwhelming. 11 out of 10 people chose peppered mayo over mayo slather with no pepper. The data never lies.
On one piece of black pepper mayo slathered white bread apply a sensible amount of cranberry salad. My preference is mom’s jalapeno cranberry salad. You don’t want too much of this. You need the right amount of cranberry brightness to give your sandwich a little pop. On the other piece of properly black pepper mayo slathered refined white bread apply a heaping pile of turkey dressing. “The Dressing” when chilled forms a nice patty that can be squished when the time comes for when you need to squish your sandwich for eating purposes.
Next step is to layer on a nice pile of oven roasted turkey, preferably slightly over done white meat. Dark meat is tasty enough on its own, but for the day after sandwich you want that slightly dry crumbling white meat that is receptive to the moisture content of black peppered mayo, the gelatin in the cranberry salad, and the moisture of turkey stock in “The Dressing”. All these flavors slide right off dark meat so stick with the flavor sponge of dryer white meat.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those that cut their sandwich halves into rectangles and those that cut their sandwich halves into triangles. I’m a triangle guy. I like the angle of attack on the pointy end of the sandwich half. It’s your call on the cut. For a real man cave move leave the sandwich whole. Be sure to lock the door of the man cave. No one needs to see you eating a whole sandwich in your underwear.
A properly assembled day after sandwich when squished while eating will drop shrapnel onto your plate that you have the options of either eating with your fingers, scooping up with a potato chip, or the savvy move of reincorporating the shrapnel into the uneaten portions of the day after sandwich.
The real test of character comes from the level of dedication in savoring the flavors of the day after sandwich. Stuffing sandwich shrapnel back into the uneaten portion of your sandwich says a lot about your culinary persistence. Scooping the sandwich shrapnel up with a potato chip is acceptable so long as it is a kettle fried chip. Just remember to de-grease your nubby little fingers before handling the TV remote, computer keyboard and mouse. Online retailers are smart. The only things not on sale during Cyber Monday are keyboards, mouses, and universal TV remotes. Don’t be a statistic.
The Day After The Day After
We did have an awesome Small Business Saturday. The weather was great, we got hammered, and ran out of brisket earlier than we and brisket shoppers would prefer. Sorry about that hungry peoples, but we did cook as many briskets as we could.
The highlight of the day though was having little Noah Kingston pay us a visit.
Noah was born on Valentines Day and is now a full sized butterball. Kid can scarf down some barbecue too now.
While Noah was shoveling in brisket and green beans he did have a point of order question for me.
Noah asked; “I know I rely on my dad to get here for barbecue, but do I really have to watch him eat a turkey salad two days after Thanksgiving at a barbecue restaurant?”.
That LA hat explained a lot about dish selection was our collective opinion about eating a turkey salad two days after Thanksgiving.
In his best Marlon Brando voice Noah told me his dad is gonna do what his dad is gonna do.
More brisket for me is what Noah ultimately celebrated.
And there you have it. A two week long blog post culminating in an unashamed grandchild picture show for you to digest. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
We are always thankful for the many blessing we have in our lives and our business. We’ve over come many challenges and yet there are more hurdles in front of us. Your support is something for which we are most thankful to have. We are truly grateful to have so many great customers. One thing that became clear to us during the holiday week as that many of you have us on your show off list for when family & friends come to town. That is a very humbling compliment, and we thank goodness for your grace.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.