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Holiday Cooking Outdoors


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Well, it's almost Christmas, meaning time to do a bit more outdoor cooking.  On Thanksgiving I had just shy of the 25-person state-mandated limit (I was hoping to exceed the limit, though), and fried four turkeys for everyone to feast on.  I also offered to fry turkeys to go, and ended up frying four more that guests had brought.  Needless to say, I had two fryer stands going at the same time, for about four hours each.  Eight turkeys set a personal record I don't expect to beat anytime soon.  I also smoked a large ham (or double smoked, if you prefer, as hams are already smoked) over charcoal and alder wood injected with Tony Chachere's praline honey marinade and kept moist with a bit of apple juice.  Cornbread went on the grill as well, though eight boxes was overkill and the center wasn't perfect due to the grill cooling down.  I cooked a country ham in the oven, but it was nowhere near the hit that the praline honey ham was.

 

About six years ago I cooked Thanksgiving dinner entirely outside using both gas and charcoal.  From the ham to the turkey (one of the two times I used my Big Easy oil-less fryer), to the sides, everything went from the outdoors to the table in a few hours.  A few years earlier, I boiled about fifty pounds of shrimp with the temperature in the low teens.  It took a little while to get the 50 or so quarts of water boiling (I was using my 100-qt. pot), and this was before I had a lot of experience, but the food was great (minus the shrimp absorbing a bit too much starch from the potatoes I put in too early).  Next week's plans are still up in the air, but regardless of whether I have a small get together at home or visit someone else, I'll definitely be replicating the smoked ham (though probably with hickory this time).  My wife has been talking about another fried turkey, so I'm thinking of a larger bird instead of the smaller (10-13 lb.) ones we cooked last month.  I'm looking at another family get together before winter is over, and need to hit up my sister who claims she can get jumbo shrimp from her North Carolina connections for cheap (Louisiana spoiled me with $2.99/lb. shrimp stands being common--my neighbor down there gets them for about half that price).  

 

Anyway, who else considers outdoor cooking a year-round option?  I realize that not everyone here lives in a relatively temperate state like Virginia (less than two more years! then it's back to the Gulf Coast), but to me there's just not a lot of joy gained from cooking indoors.  My philosophy is that a grill is a primitive oven, meaning it's ideal for baking while also adding flavors that no indoor oven can.  A fried turkey beats a roasted turkey any day of the week, with even the larger turkeys taking under an hour (about 16-18pounds is the threshold, though, so those giant 20+ pound birds are out of the equation).  Perhaps best of all, in the winter your drink of choice stays cold and free of bugs, allowing you to focus on the cooking when you need to take a break from drinking.  

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I live in Chicago and cook outside all year long, even when it's below 0.  Right now I don't have a choice because we don't have a kitchen, but I would still be cooking outside all year.  You're right, one of the best things about cooking outside in colder weather is no bugs and your drink stays cold.  I agree, there is something about cooking outside that just makes it much better.  I don't have a fryer but would like to save up for one.  I currently have a charcoal grill that I use to use for smoking, but I have a Traeger that replaced it.  I use the Charcoal if I am cooking a good piece of steak or something along that line.  I received my Charcoal grill as a wedding gift back in 2003 and it is still running strong today.

 

For Christmas, I am smoking some Ribs and a Ham.  In regards to the government limiting how many people I can have in my house, good luck with that one.

 

I am going to take your recommendation and use Tony Chachere's praline honey marinade, sounds great. 

 

I have had one fried turkey before and it was delicious.  Once you have a fried turkey, it's hard to go back.  That is why I want a fryer so bad, just for the turkey.  I know other things are great fried, but I want that taste again.

 

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Eric,

 

I bought this kit as my second Thanksgiving set: https://www.academy.com/shop/pdp/outdoor-gourmet-deluxe-turkey-fryer-kit#repChildCatid=917554.  Academy is hard to beat on prices (East Coast Lowe's and Home Depot stores sell basic 30-qt. fryer setups for $60-70), and the set at the link includes both a 30-qt. frying/boiling pot and a 10-qt. pot which is perfect for frying fish.  I kept my original fryer stand outdoors for about 7 years and I think it's still in storage, while the pots are somewhat thin aluminum but hold up well.  

 

I'm looking forward to retirement at my house in South Louisiana in 18 or so months.  Down there, just about every store has a selection of outdoor cookware and an extensive Creole/Cajun foods section.  I've never tried my hand at making jambalaya from scratch, so a good jambalaya pot is on the list--I may modify one of my burners for use or buy a dedicated jambalaya pot stand.  I also need to boil some crawfish; I've assisted others but never took the helm myself despite steaming blue crabs quite a bit when I was younger.

 

Outdoor cooking makes the wife and family happy, leaves less cleanup, and gives the cook a chance to take a break from the hustle and bustle inside the house, especially during the holidays.

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I smoke a lot of pork ribs, but the beef ribs I smoked last week turned out great.  Also, pork shoulders and butts for pulled pork.

 

More recently, though, I decided to expand my horizons a bit.  We like to do roast beef or Rueben sandwiches on occasion so I decided to save money otherwise spent on pre-sliced meats and smoke my own beef.  I've done a couple of beef roasts and one slab of corned beef so far.

 

 

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I saw your other post about the jambalaya pot, that is awesome.  In regards to smoking meat, I have so much I want to try.  If you have any good seasoning or suggestions for the shoulder or butt, let me know.  

 

Speaking of presliced meats, I have been thinking about getting a slicer.  i want to smoke some meat and then slice it up.  My wife would kill me because we don't have a kitchen but I have always wanted a slicer.

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I want a slicer as well (I need to look in the shed at the other house as I think my father-in-law had one).  As for smoking larger cuts of pork, I like to use a softer flavored wood like cherry or apple, keep my grill at between 200-300 degrees (the Harbor Freight infrared thermometer is excellent for checking grill temperatures--its temperature threshold is higher than the General and Klein thermometers and with a coupon it's much cheaper.  Looking at the website, though, it appears they sell an Ames version now that's different from the Centech I picked up five years ago.

 

As for seasonings, I use whatever dry rub I have on hand, and if I have none I'll use Creole seasoning or (occasionally) Old Bay.  Bad Byron's Butt Rub was a go-to when I lived in Georgia, and I think it was Kosmos that my wife picked up last week.  I always have at least Tony Chachere's and Slap Ya Mama seasoning on hand as well.  If I have time, I'll brine the pork a few hours to a day in advance, using a non-scientific solution of water, salt, creole seasoning, and whatever beer I don't want to drink.  I picked up a variety pack of hard cider a while back that I didn't like the taste of, but which made an excellent marinade and brine additive.

 

I couldn't find any of the Tony's praline honey ham marinade around Northern Virginia (most stores only carry Creole Butter, with other varieties available around Thanksgiving), so I'm trying this recipe for tomorrow's ham: http://forums.smokintex.com/showthread.php?722-Pecan-Praline-Honey-Ham-my-way!

 

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Sweet, how did it turn out.  I went to my store to buy the Ton's praline honey and they only had butter flavor and a garlic.  I picked up the garlic to try but now have to get some meat to go with it.  I want to try the honey with the ham.  Thanks for the input on seasonings because I never know what to get and we are very limited up here in our stores for good seasoning.  

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The food turned out well.  I used the recipe linked above for the ham, substituting King syrup for the Karo dark corn syrup as the latter was out of stock everywhere I went.  In my opinion, the recipe could have been halved, as the pan my ham was in was full to the brim with syrupy marinade.  As such, the top half of the ham was a bit more smokey while the bottom was essentially simmered in sweetness.  The pecans themselves were ready to be turned into pralines, so I scooped and strained the ones left in the pan, put a little sugar on top, and enjoyed those separately.

 

My wife got inspired to make broth out of the remnants of the turkey, and the leftover ham was divided between breakfast and a pot of cabbage and potatoes.  The dogs feasted on what was left after a few days; it's always humorous watching the 50-lb. female mountain cur (hound breed) stealing a ham bone from the 100-lb. male black lab.  They were going back and forth over the remnants of the country ham for a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving.

 

I made some beef, vegetable and noodle soup yesterday.  I like relatively hands-off cooking, so my go-to inside the house is the Crock-Pot (my wife has bought into the Instant Pot craze).  I'll likely take the larger Crock-Pot with me as I head south today to finish some drywall and prime/paint a room.  It should be a good week for a large pot of chili.

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