Just when you thought it was safe to hit the salad bar, Meat Week comes roaring back into Washington ready for round two.  Last year, Snowmageddon forced the cancellation of the final two Meat Week events in our area, leaving hungry carnivores unable to enjoy scheduled outings to Branded ’72 in Rockville and Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish on Rhode Island Avenue.  Some folks might have taken that as a sign, a warning from on high to repent and change their ways.

Not us.

This Sunday, DC Meat Week will once again provide carnivores with seven nights of barbecued deliciousness at some of the area’s best ‘cue joints.  And for the second year in a row, Meat Week will be one of your first opportunities to check out a highly-anticipated newcomer to the DC BBQ scene.  Some of the venues have stayed the same (we HAD to kick things off at Urban Bar-B-Que again, and you know we wanted take a second run at Mr. P’s), and a couple of recent additions have been added to the list as well.

Perhaps the biggest change in DC’s Meat Week chapter is who’s running the show.  I’ve passed the Captain’s hat to Jenelle Dennis, aka BabeBQ, though I’ll be staying on as First Mate along with David Gootzit.  Jenelle brings an impressive barbecue pedigree to the role – she’s a KCBS Certified Barbecue Judge and one of the architects of the Snackadium.  Seriously impressive.

Check out the full line-up of venues for this year’s Meat Week after the jump, and pay special attention to Tuesday and Wednesday nights: they’re RSVP-required sneak-peeks at two of the best things that are about to happen to the DC barbecue scene. (more…)

It’s Memorial Day weekend, the official (unofficial?) start to summer.  If you’re like us, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be grilling and barbecuing more than a few times over the next few months.  Of course you know the difference…right?

I’ll admit, I had to learn the hard way.   Growing up in New Jersey, I always referred to any situation where meat was being cooked outside as a barbecuing.  Burgers, hot dogs, whatever…if it was being cooked over propane or coals, you were barbecuing.

But step outside the northeast, and you’re likely to be met with funny looks if you talk about barbecuing a burger.  Barbecue is low-and-slow cooking that involves smoke, low temperatures and tough cuts of meat that combine to form something magically delicious.  And although you can call any old cookout a barbecue, you can’t call just any cooked meat barbecue.

Need more insight into the different styles of barbecue?  Check out this video that Tim Carman dug up over at the City Paper.

Now that we’ve established the difference between grilling and barbecue, I wanted to share a recipe for homemade barbecue sauce that I used for a community potluck earlier this month.  When word got out that I’ve got some experience with barbecue, I was asked to smoke some up for our new neighborhood.  So I cooked up forty pounds of pork shoulder in a neighbor’s bullet-style smoker, and I decided to go one step further and cook up my own barbecue sauce to go with it.

A while back, I found a barbecue sauce recipe at AmazingRibs.com, a site I’ve used on a couple of occasions as I’ve learned the ins and outs of good homemade ‘cue.  I tried it and found it tasty but not quite what I’d grown accustomed to as I’ve tasted my way around Kansas City.  There were a few flavors that seemed to be missing, most notably tomato, celery seed and cumin.

So I worked with it a bit and came up with the version you can find after the jump. (more…)

Image by Mike Licht, http://www.notionscapital.com

One week ago, we announced the arrival of Meat Week to Washington, DC.  Since that time, we’ve been blown away by the amount of attention that this celebration of all things barbecue has received.  Not surprisingly, Tim Carman was the first to give us a shout-out over at the City Paper, but his nod seems to have triggered an avalanche of additional coverage: Zagat Buzz, UrbanDaddy, Brightest Young Things, DC MetroMix, Notions Capital…even Modern Domestic!

The word is clearly getting around: Meat Week is Real.  But we’ve gotten more than a few emails asking about the finer points of what this is all about.

And we’ve had A LOT of people asking about our Meat Week Special Sneak Preview of Pork Barrel BBQ on Wednesday night at Mango Mike’s in Alexandria.

All your questions answered – and the details on the Pork Barrel preview – after the jump.


pomBottleA little while back, our friends at Endless Simmer let on that they had received a sample of pomegranate juice from the folks at POM Wonderful.  Intrigued, I reached out to them to let them know that we, too, are food bloggers who appreciate the healthful properties of pomegranates and their juice.  Even though I was a bit hesitant to do so, I was really hoping to hear back.

Lo and behold, POM responded with an offer to send us some of their juice so we could see what we could do with it.  I first experienced pomegranate juice while I was working at Trader Joe’s, so I definitely had some ideas.  It was one of those products that would frequently find its way to the demonstration stand in an effort to introduce it to customers who had never tasted it before. 

Between the taste and the health benefits, pomegranate juice has definitely made its presence known in the juice aisle since then.  When I first tried it, I remember finding the juice bracingly tart.  These days, I’d describe the flavor as something akin to cranberry juice (the juice, not the sugary ‘cranberry juice cocktail’).  And the folks at POM are quick to boast about studies that have linked their pomegranate juice to heart health, prostate health and erectile function (they’re especially eager to point out the fact that it is their specific pomegranate juice that has been tested in these studies).

All of this combined to mean one thing for us – we needed to use this normally somewhat expensive beverage to the fullest of our foodie abilities to figure out just what the fuss is about.  Like Endless Simmer’s BS, our first thought was to find a way to boost the nutritional value of our drinking habit.  But we also took advantage of the opportunity to use the juice far more liberally than we might if we had paid for it.  Suddenly, juice-intensive reductions and glazes seemed well within reach…so we went for it.

Recipes for a POManhattan cocktail and a pomegranate-shallot reduction (with some photos) after the jump. (more…)


Being the barbecue snob purist that I am, I’ve frequently found myself giving dismissive answers to friends’ questions about where to find good ‘cue in Washington.  Hell…I’ve even said as much here at Capital Spice.  But a few months back the City Paper’s Tim Carman spread the word that Rockville’s Urban Bar-B-Que had upgraded their smoker and that their brisket was much improved for the change.  I had to check it out.

Sure, Urban’s smoked meats are done in the Texas style, so they were bound to be a bit different than the heavily sauced ribs I’ve come to know and love in Kansas City.  But I was eager to see what their new XLR-600 Southern Pride smoker was turning out, so I joined up with Carman and a handful of other carnivores for a taste test.  urban-brisketAnd since there are limits to how much meat even the most dedicated barbecue enthusiast can order in one sitting, I invited Nell to join me so we could try a broader range of items.

So how was it?  On the whole, this was some of the best I’ve had in DC…but there were definitely some missteps in the mix, as well.

Details on Urban’s cooking method, tasty meats and “Ugly Bits” after the jump. (more…)

ribsFor Elizabeth, our annual holiday trips to visit her family in Kansas City just aren’t complete without lunch at Andres’.  Me?  I need the ‘cue.  Ever since I started taking the trip with her, I’ve had a bit of a barbecue obsession.

lcs-smokerAnd although her family has been at this far longer than I have, giving them ample opportunity to determine just which local barbecue joint is the best, I’ve been working on coming to my own conclusion.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday this year, I got to check out two more versions of the local specialty. 

First, I turned my attention to a rarity: a nationally-praised barbecue establishment that the family had not yet tried: LC’s.  Afterwards, I joined the family in a barbecue run to Gates & Sons, a local chain with six locations.  As I’m quickly learning, the odds of finding that one true barbecue nirvana are pretty slim – it seems like every place I try has something to recommend it over its competitors.

Tasting notes and photos after the jump. (more…)

Big Green Egg

With last week’s weather doing an excellent impression of early September, I decided it would be foolish not to put the Big Green Egg to use again.  And since I’m becoming fairly comfortable with various cuts of pork on the Egg, I figured it was high time I tried my hand at one of my favorite types of barbecue: Beef Brisket.

Like pork shoulder, brisket is a tougher (and thankfully less expensive) cut of meat which requires a low-and-slow cooking method to tenderize the meat and render it truly delectable.  Sure…you could braise the meat in an oven or a slow cooker, or you could brine it and turn it into corned beef, but there’s no substitute for really good beef barbecue.  And the best part is that it’s actually rather forgiving – even if you overcook it a bit (which I may or may not have done…don’t judge me!), you should still be able to enjoy plenty of delicious, tender brisket.

Details on preparation and cooking and a few cautionary notes after the jump. (more…)

As you may recall, I’m a bit of a barbecue fan.  And not just a passive fan, either.  My experiment with pulled pork wasn’t my first time using the Big Green Egg.  For my first endeavor into the world of slow-smoked cooking, I worked with David (the friend who introduced me to KCBS judging) to cook up a few slabs of ribs for the Super Bowl.

Unlike pulled pork, which requires cooking time upwards of 15 hours to ensure tender and tasty results, slabs of pork ribs can be smoked to perfection in as few as four hours.  So we committed the better part of the afternoon to the effort, and we settled in with a few beers to tend the Egg.

A description of the process after the jump.


It\'s a cookoff!In the world of competitive barbecue, there are two camps that largely define the field – the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) and Memphis Barbecue Association, also known as Memphis in May (MiM).  Each has its own traditional flavors, its own set of rules, and its own national championship.  Although many competitors participate in competitions that are sanctioned by each organization interchangeably, there has never been a joint competition.

This year’s Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle took the first step toward making a unified competition a reality.  For the first time ever, KCBS and MiM held competitions at the same location on the same weekend, with each crowning its own Grand Champion.  Though each contest was judged according to its own organization’s format, this sets the stage for future cooperative events.  On Saturday the 21st and Sunday the 22nd, Pennsylvania Avenue became the hot spot for local barbecue enthusiasts, and I was there to weigh in as a judge.

Barbecue as far as the eye could see...For those of us who are only certified to judge KCBS-sanctioned events, this year’s Safeway Barbecue Battle represented the first time that we could actually participate as judges in the event – previously, it was exclusively an MiM event and, as such, only Memphis-certified judges were needed.  But the addition of the KCBS contest – which was judged on Saturday, the 21st – gave three dozen of us a chance to sit down on Saturday afternoon and taste our way through the competitors’ ribs, pulled pork, chicken and brisket.

Barbecue competitions’ dirty little secret after the jump.


Pulled Pork SandwichIn case my previous post about shipping barbecue didn’t tip you off, I’m a bit of a barbecue lover.  In August of 2006, I drove three hours to Hamburg, Pennsylvania, with my good friend David as he sought to fulfill a life-long dream: certification as an official Kansas City Barbecue Society judge.  After an evening’s worth of guidance from long-time judges and competitors (and an entire competition’s worth of trial-run tastings), we were officially welcomed into this elite society of ‘cue connoisseurs.

Since that time, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to try my hand at making pulled pork myself, and last Thursday gave me just that.  With friends in town for a college reunion and a huge sale on pork shoulder at the new Harris Teeter, it couldn’t have been a better time to give it a shot.  So I volunteered to take care of dinner and set my sights on my friend’s Big Green Egg.

Big Green EggThe Big Green Egg is an American-made variation on a traditional Japanese kamado clay cooking vessel.  This ceramic upgrade is capable of maintaining low temperatures almost indefinitely using just a few lumps of hardwood charcoal because it absorbs heat and then radiates it back out over a long period of time.  With the vents open full bore, it can just as easily create a raging blaze that can reach temperatures in the 600 to 700 degree range and can sear your steaks almost before you set them on its surface.  The Egg or BGE, as it’s known among adherents, is ideally suited to the marathon that is perfect pulled pork preparation.

The secret to good pulled pork is a (fairly forgiving) balance of time and temperature – hence the “low and slow” mantra that drives most barbecue competitors.  Most guidelines suggest cooking pork at a temperature between 200 and 250 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours per pound.  Using indirect heat, you gradually melt the fat and dissolve the connective tissue that runs throughout the cut of meat that comes from the pig’s powerful front shoulder (don’t let the cut’s ‘Boston butt’ alias throw you).   The addition of aromatic wood chips like apple and hickory that have been soaked in water create a thick layer of smoke that constantly washes over the meat in waves, imparting flavor and – if you’ve done it properly – a bright pink ring just beneath the skin.

More about my first attempt at pulled pork after the jump. (more…)