Our smökathon [also previously know as ribfest] took a different angle this year on competitive cooking, as our challengers were able to select any cut of meat from a cow or a pig and not just pork ribs as ruled in the past. Every person selected something unique from each other in happenstance, as we discussed what we were cooking at a meeting a few days before the event.

Jeff doing an initial check of the brisket before the long haul of smoking
Jeff doing an initial check of the brisket before the long haul of smoking

Jeff was to cook a brisket in his new beast of a smoker, Brad to cook a pork shoulder. Adam was telling us that he was going to cook up some pulled pork from a pork loin and Doug found an uncured ham he was going to smoke all day. I chose to try to tackle beef ribs and Trevor took the challenge of making pastrami from scratch. A great unplanned variety from the cooks in our first year of opening up the options.

Trevor's set-up at the beginning of the day
Trevor’s set-up at the beginning of the day

Jeff in his competitive nature rolled up to our venue at 4:30 am to put the coals on and begin his process. The rest of us came down around 7:30 and did the same. It was 8:00 am when Jeff cracked his first beer open, as the long day of sustaining temperature means you have to slow down a bit and relax around your firebox.

Weather reports started pinging on our phones around noon as a severe weather alert had been issued for our area! This would be a new challenge for us, as the weather had always complemented our days of cooking in the past.

Most of us chose to put some foil down as insulation
Most of us chose to put some foil down as insulation

It did not take long for us to get the needed protection set up for our smokers and battle the cool-down that the rain would inevitably bring. The rain kept the competitors busy for the few hours that it did come down, but for the most part our smokers held temperature and it was a minor hiccup in the day.

The rain broke around 3:00 and the people came rushing in. Coolers stocked with beer and drinks and the conversations in the crowd were fulfilling and plentiful. This is the real reason why we do these competitions every year – to bring our friends and family together over food and merriment. 

As the 5:00 pm judging time was beginning to approach there were many tactics that emerged as to what could be done to finish the meat. Foil and butcher paper rolls were unearthed and coolers opened. Some wrapped with sauce, others without. It was a year of high diversity in our outcomes. smokathon winners

In the end it was Trevor, with the pastrami, who received the most amount of votes from the crowd as their favorite and he took home the traveling belt. Isaac, with the beef ribs, got the highest tally from the 5 judges and took home the trophy.

Hope to see you all next year at our 8th annual smökathon in 2017!

 

Its time again to get the coals burning and the smoke rolling as we prepare for the 7th annual mancuisine.com smökathon. We are having it once again down at our Eagan on Hackmore Drive, inquire with one of our members on specifics. This year we will have a voluntary ticket system to enter for all those hoping to eat so we can properly prepare. Check our eventbrite site for more information.

New rule this year: All those competing can choose any cut, from pork or beef, with any cookktime, as they choose – as long as it is cooked over a natural flame. It is an open invitation to have anyone cook and compete with us! – send any inquiries to compete to isaac@mancuisine.com

The coals will be fired up around 10 AM, judging at 5 PM with beverages and edibles available all day! Join whenever you would like, the team will be around for good company.

Bring a side dish to be shared with all and some beers as well if you so choose!

The Valley Lounge takes mancuisine back to its roots. Its the embodiment of where people go to feel comfortable, and in so doing make any newcomers slightly uncomfortable. Its like growing up as a kid and getting invited over to a new friends house for the first time only to discover that his dad never clothes his grease covered keg-gut and there are cats spraying the small child in the corner and the dog crawls out of some newspapers to wander over to lick it off of him. Then your friend, although anxious for you to come, talks about how it is just that way and asks if you want to play outside. That house leaves you with an impression you remember forever and I feel like the Valley Lounge will give me the same feeling this late in life as well.

Valley Lounge
From their web site. Highly Photoshopped – does not represent actual visuals you will see.

I got there early and followed some regulars through an unmarked door to one of the many dining and bars they have. I sat by some tall bar tables with a window and ordered a beer that was delivered promptly. That night they had a Happy Hour special where the kitchen brought out free mini corn dogs for any patron to scoop up and eat. I was about to give them a go when a highly intoxicated man (3 o’clock in the afternoon) started joking with the cook about his food and bumped the bowl containing the dogs, sending one to land with an oil-filled thump on the ground. The cook then picked up that dog, now with the new hair condiment, and plopped it in the man’s drink and went back to the kitchen. Needless to say, I positioned myself back in my chair and continued to drink what I had ordered.

Others from our group came in and we took over the seating area in the dining room and ordered our food and a couple pitchers (“Why do you keep getting pints! That s**t gets expensive. I’m bringing you over pitchers”, our waitress gave us the in). The food was good enough and each person cleaned off their baskets and all the fried goodness that came as extras. By the time that we all got up to leave there were regulars walking by as well that waved us off and shook some of our hands, an odd contrast to how we felt coming in, but we are known to have that effect on people…

Food: 2/5 order the staples and you be fine.
Drink: 3/5 good specials and they have the standards.
Atmosphere: 2/5 not a great first impression…
Overall: 2/5 Abrasive, but oddly comfortable by the end.

website: www.valleylounge.com

With all extended family gatherings come the need to find places of reprieve. Ours tends to be around our brewing equipment. What follows are two brews that we cooked up at our December celebration where our brother came back from Washington (seen here on his laptop as he gets some work done).

Trevor with the Edelmetall Brü Burner in the front made his variation of an ESB he has been tinkering with. He was using his all-grain system (seen later with the igloos in the house) and taking notes in his computer print outs. You can see me in the flannel with the Brew-in-a-bag doing a variation of the Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em Rauchweizen from Growler Magazine.

I poured mine into a keg today, Trevor is closely following suit. Let us know if you want to try a pint 🙂

Bumped into a beer distributor we knew in a parking lot recently and after some discussion he was wondering why we had not yet made it over to the just-opened JL Beers in Burnsville. We had no good answer and a week later we took care of the void in our map.

JL Beers is a growing collection of pubs out of Fargo. The nearest is in the near Nord’east across from Surdyk’s. Two of our members had been to that location and had prior ideas as to what a B’ville location would bring and thought to test those notions. Refreshing to have a spot in the ‘burbs that isn’t super-sized and overly bright.

The beer selection is indeed impressive. The menu of many pages warns of constant changes in the wide range of malty to silly hoppy, and from session beers to alcohol levels that seem just plain dangerous. Two of us went with flights to sample the wares. The Don’t Worry be Hoppy and Ales from the Dark Side were wonderful. Pint prices were in line with local averages.

Flights of Fancy
Flights of Fancy

Eventually, you need to get some food. The group felt that we had been hitting too many upscale places that were a bit pricey recently and that our recent run to the HalfTime Rec was a welcome return to a good, sensible burger joint. Fortunately, although new, JL’s burgers were both wonderful and reasonable.

IMG_2302All of our burger choices were big, juicy and filling although they looked a bit naked on the large serving platters. Given the small tables, JL may want to scale the plates a bit. We did order some sides as well- maybe they were taking up the extra space…

The JL Burger, Classic, and County 42 were perfect examples of what they claimed. The loaded fries had quite a kick and plenty of cheese. We could have used forks but ate the pile before we could ask for them. We also ordered a chicken sandwich but had the kitchen add some sauce and an egg on top, great addition.

As for service, the help was everywhere but could not always hit right on the timing of when to grab orders or refill glasses. Seems like they cover for each other when they see a table in need – nice touch. Beer, food, water all came as wanted by a nicely mixed group of wait staff. The bunch behind the bar seemed lively and the crowd that gathered to eat was mostly in their 20’s/30’s with many couples sitting across from one another. Although the setting is somewhat industrial the place was warm on a cold night and the buzz was good.

Happy JL guy at the taps

We are recommending the place. It’s just south from Costco and a block or so from the Burnsville Center. We should also let you woodworkers know that there is a Rockler nearby. Even without a Juicy Lucy option for the hometown feel (they are from ND) and no “ring-of-onion” there’s plenty there to fill the stomach.

Food: 4/5 Lots of options, and ability to add to make it what you want.
Drink: 4.5/5 Beers for everyone willing to try, but no happy hour.
Atmosphere: 3/5 Cramped and crowded, but the ambiance was there.
Overall: 4/5 Great for a new south metro bar to fill the void as of late.

competitors
This year’s cooks

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 5.21.06 PMWith the smell of hickory smoke still filling the beard and a digestive tract that continues to be uncertain about where it has been it’s time to give the summary of this year’s Rib Event. A kinder and gentler set of sauces this year kept us from the problems encountered when ribs are in heat…

stilltalking
Talking smart- note the cooler
talking smart
Still talking- note cooler again

sixplattersThirty two adults and hoards of smaller creatures attended this year’s last minute event with two dogs, six cooks and a new trophy brought to the event by last year’s winner- Jeff.  A new feature this year was the number of  people who unexpectedly  stopped by to see what kind of bargains we had at the “garage sale”! Seems that to the idle passer-by the driveway full of working smokers had the appearance of a rummage sale. Although, one guy did stop to ask questions about the various kinds of grills we were using to help him make a decision. We gave him a beer and shared our vast knowledge of smokers and grills. Unfortunately, it seems, he is likely to buy a Green Egg. Makes ya wish you had given him a Blue Moon.

Cooking started around 10:00 and continued right up to the judging at 5:00 pm (17:00). Here are the results in the order they were judged:

  • Doug swore to no secret ingredient with just a hint of heat and some pre-brining.
  • Brad went with a 1-2-3  rub-glaze-mop with a hint of mint and bourbon.
  • Jeff went with a bit of heat in his rub with a final mop to kick things a bit further.
  • Isaac went with a marinade and mop using habanero peppers and pears. He also tried a hybrid smoker, mini grill treatment.
  • Kyle forsook  the smoker altogether and went with the slow, dry, fall-off-the-rib treatment on the Weber.
  • Trevor went for the long smoker treatment with a bit of root beer in the sauce, not having any cola around the house.
Isaaccolor
Isaac’s 3D mop pile

underwayIn the end Jeff took the popular vote and the Judges Overall Award. He is seen at the left checking out the potential changes in the barometric pressure that might impact the timing of the mop sauce. To complete the sweep he also walked away with the most heat nod from the judges. Isaac is still wondering how his habaneros ended up in second heat. Hard to tell what will happen when ribs are in heat.

Nonetheless, all ribs were deemed more than edible with Kyle taking second overall and Isaac third. For those doing the stats for the event baby backs were the ribs of the day thanks to a sale at Rainbow Foods although we noted that Cub Foods has ribs on sale this week as well. Only two of the contestants made spare ribs.

Klubb game underway
Klubb game underway

The day was sunny and breezy, perfect to keep the coals alight and the games fun. The usual mix of beverages arrived with the special addition of some Kinship IPA tapped in the garage ‘frig. Side dishes showed up as well with the winner being Missy’s remarkable seven layer bars. However, the hit of the day seemed to be Isaac’s retro Schmidt Beer aluminum cooler with built-in bottle opener. Adam was unable to join us a a cook this year but made a fine addition to the judging staff. Thanks to those who filled in as judges. Serious work for the seriously committed.

Trays ready for judging
Trays ready for judging

As soon as we can pry it from them we’ll put the top three recipe’s on the site. Note that there are no recipes posted from last year’s winners. Hmmm…

IMG_0343In a hasty short notice fashion we are formally announcing our annual Rib Cook-off the weekend of June 29. The Saturday event will be the same as before with a group of judges deciding on the winners in a series of categories and the public choosing the ribs of the people. No big rule changes this year with the exception that meat may arrive rubbed and marinated. Should be fun, if you are attending bring along a side dish or some beverage to share. Eating and judging begins at 5:00 with people beginning to arrive by mid-afternoon.

Look for items from the event here. The group is warming up with a discussion of the rules and such at the Blue Door this week. We’ll get a posting up as soon as we can.

Past rib events are at this link

Last years judge's row!
Last years judge’s row!

The Wait

Much like the overture to a fine symphony Adam’s Eagan patio was tense as smokers were started and each of the seven contestants moved pork to fire. The smell of hickory, cherry and apple blended with the aroma of cumin, tomato, and Dr. Pepper providing brief scents of what was to follow. Indeed, three of the seven admitted to using soda pop in their recipe. Five of the seven had rubs of some complexity beyond salt and pepper and all had some form of magic bullet sauce. The place looked like a bullet strewn CSI Miami site by the time it was over- red sauces of a variety of consistencies all over the tarmac. Could have been a Sam Peckinpaw set after filming was completed for the day.

Sampling the Competition
Official judges- Serious
Emeritus Judge in Action

Our day began around 10:00 am with judging starting just ahead of 5:00 pm. Seven invited judges and our Judge Emeritus, Scott, took their time and slowly considered one rib from each of the contestants. As they began their work the other attendees made their way through the piles of ribs to give a vote in the Best of Ribs Popular Vote category. Kind of like the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.  This is the first year we have split off the two awards. In the past we had observed  the seriousness and comments of some of the judges and felt we needed to provide a means of supporting their earnest sincerity.

Popular Voting Begins
Popular Winner Samples the Competition
Oldest Smoker

Isaac won the popular vote this year along with the Best Heat category. It was somewhat surprising to many that a fairly inflammatory sauce could win the hearts of the masses. But, nonetheless, Isaac’s Scandinavian confidence in the public won him the category. Amazing that a slightly socialist sauce would win in this political climate. It should be noted that the platter of ribs provided to the popular vote judges was marked “HOT” to save small children and Norwegians in attendance from being exposed to the heat of the moment. The winning popular smoker was the oldest of the collection. Only four letters of the Brinkman label can still be seen.

Overall Winner makes Final Adjustments
Best of Class
Aftermath

The Overall Winner this year was Jeff. As in the past, his secret was in the sauce and although he was a bit candid about the ingredients he did suggest the use of root beer had something to do with the victory. Jeff won our first rib contest using an electric smoker. It was good to see him back in the polyaromatic hydrocarbon world. Being a newlywed, Jeff had the newest smoker- a gift from two of the other contestants. Impressive ribs from an impressive contestant in an impressive device! This year’s trophy was again provided by Doug. Talk of a traveling trophy in the form of a WWF belt was mentioned with Adam knowing the location of a company that makes them.

For those counting, the author stayed true to his, “I make ribs I enjoy” and placed near or at the bottom of the competition again. Also true to form, the ribs he though were best did not place this year. Yet another reason for him to avoid fantasy football leagues. Nonetheless, it was a great day with plenty of good food, two home-brews, many flavors of donated beverages and plenty of sun. Really looking forward to next year’s event.

Modified Kettle 
Modified Smoker
Platters

Needing to do some prep for the Feb 4, 2012 Chilifest Isaac and I stopped by the local SmashBurger. It had been a great morning judging inventions created by elementary students at a local Inventor’s Fair. Seemed that sampling a new chili was in order given the cold morning and empty stomachs. SIRI suggested SmashBurger in Eagan so off we went to see if we could collect some chili recipe suggestions. With Doug’s new trophy for the event it may be time to get serious about victory.

English: Logo of the franchise SmashBurger.
Image via Wikipedia

I had the Baja and it was delicious. Warm enough to get the nose running but not stupid hot. Isaac sampled the chain’s Twin Cities Burger, kinda a burger in defference to the Juicy Lucy’s across the rivers. Better than average and with a great tasting bun as well. The chili was very good, perhaps as good as the bottom three entries last year.  Mild heat but with chilies on top. A good mix of meats with something to chew and something to gum. Very nice.

Nonetheless, several Mancuisine members have begun testing recipes.  No reasonable meats are being overlooked and the finicky judge attitudes towards heat are mostly being ignored. Should be a great event, especially if we do not get the snowstorm that arrived last year.

The Rack Shack on Cliff Road in Burnsville is further evidence that great food can be had outside the urban ring. We had heard way too many good things about this place to have waited this long to check them out.

A small place in a strip mall shared with an old established family Italian restaurant, a Subway, and a bakery it would be easy to look at the outside of the place and drive by.  That would be your loss. We walked in on a Wednesday night around 6:30 to a small line of locals getting takeout and a goodly number of tables for a place that appears to serve more food in bags heading out the door than at the tables- at least on this Wednesday. Walking through the door the first thing you see is the shelf of sauces in squirt bottles just waiting to be tested.

Ribs, brisket, and pulled pork were all up to expectations. The ribs were cooked soft and needed a small amount of effort to remove the meat from the rib- perfect. Side dishes were good but not exceptional. The beans were the best of the collection we had. Side portions seemed a bit small but the main dishes were plenty big. A good menu with more than enough selections. They have a HOBO bowl that looks like an amazing collection of food but none of us were up to it.  They do have a three Hobo’s in 30 minutes challenge that looked interesting. Seems it was interesting enough to draw in the Man vs. Food crew.

The highlight of the place was the selection of sauces. Hot and sweet, sweet and hot, hot and stupid tastes all all met by the row of sauces. The New Orleans Ghost was a big hit with all of us with good taste at the start and a slow remarkably hot build. The burn lasts for a good long time. The Houston Hot was too much vinegar and heat, generally panned by this nordic-influenced group expecting their heat to come with flavor.

By the time we finished all were satisfied with only a bit of the smoked potato remaining. The staff was friendly and people came and went the entire time we were there. We’d rate the meats better than the local favorite- Famous Dave’s but the sides were just equal.. We are starting to see more rib joints popping up with a disturbing number of less than tasty offerings. We’ll stop by the Shack again and as soon as the tundra thaws some Shack take-out will make for a great picnic meal. Maybe we’ll grab some and head inside of the urban ring to eat..