Wednesday Prime Time

I know, I know…… it’s mid week, and a work night, but Mary arrived home from the grocery store tonight with a prime rib and we just had to do it.  I fired up the Primo and we had some of the best prime rib we’ve had in quite a while.  I used a fresh batch of Wicked Good Lump Charcoal and a couple chunks of hickory, and smoked the smallish roast at 275 degrees for about an hour and a half (internal temp was exactly 120 degrees) with the Primo grates in the upper position. I had a drip pan under the meat, so it was “kind of” indirect. I pulled it off at 120 and wrapped it in foil while I opened up the air vents on the Primo to stoke the fire up to around 550 degrees. I flipped the grates into the lower position closer to the fire, and then returned the roast to sear 3 sides (didn’t bother with searing the bone side) for about 2 minutes a side.  Then we let it rest for 15 minutes while loosely covered with foil.  Internal temperature was about 130 degrees when I finally carved it.  All I have to say is “Damn that was good”, especially the outer crust with the most fat.  This is really the most simple thing you can do on a ceramic grill, and yet it is soooooo damn good. Check it out.

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Dry Aging Beef

One of my favorite meals of all time was at a Basque restaurant in Madrid, Spain. There were 9 of us at the table, and I believe that 8 of us ordered beef dishes. Each dish was distinctly different from the others, and each was exquisite (we did a lot of sharing at this meal). The Basque chefs really do know their beef, and the preparation is so carefully considered. One thing for sure is that they select the best cuts of beef, and then pay very close attention to the aging process and cooking technique.  Here’s a nice little video of a Basque chef doing beef right. You can tell that this is good beef to begin with, but notice how the outer dry-aged “shell” is so dark and crusty. Of course, you trim away that shell to reveal the tender, nutty flavored meat below before cooking. Notice the pile of scraps off to the side of the butcher block in the video (scraps are definitely not meant to be eaten). This beef appears to have been dry aged for a long time, I would guess at least a month or so.

Restaurants usually have their own dry aging rooms (walk in refrigerators) which are kept at a constant temperature and humidity, with open shelving racks that have good air circulation.

Dry-aging room at Gallagher's in NYC

The process can be quite tricky, and you run the risk of spoiling the meat with contamination if you’re not careful. Dry aging meat involves the slow removal of moisture from the flesh by encouraging evaporation, but hopefully without allowing microbes to spoil the meat. It’s a delicate balancing act. By slowly removing the water content from the muscle tissue, the meat flavor becomes more concentrated, and the natural enzymes break down the connective tissue which tenderizes the meat. You end up with the most flavorful and tender beef possible. Check out this informative article on dry aging beef from The National Cattleman’s Beef Association. Essentially, there is no doubt that dry aging beef results in a more tasty, tender cut of meat, but at the expense of time and yield (about 15% to 20% loss by weight). That’s why dry aged beef is so damn expensive. Restaurants charge a premium for dry aged steaks, and butchers charge an arm and a leg for dry aged beef, that is if you can even find it.

Dry aging beef at home has always been an option, but it comes with many caveats. First, it’s very time consuming, requiring that you wrap your subprimal cut in gauze and do a “bandage change” every 24 hours, something I know I wouldn’t be able do. Second, it is important to main a pretty consistant temperature between 34° F and 38° F. Well, fortunately there is a new approach that involves using a special bag made out of a breathable material, kind of like Gortex for food, that you can vacuum seal and just leave in the refrigerator for as long as you want, usually 2 to 4 weeks, and the only thing you need to be concerned about is the temperature stability over that time.  The company that has introduced this is called UMAi Dry Bag Steak. They have a starter kit that includes a few bags of various sizes, and a snorkel type (very important) vacuum sealer. We just used our kit for the first time this weekend, and it went pretty smoothly. I picked up a 17 lb. USDA Prime strip loin from Costco.

17 lbs. of Prime

It took a little practice, and even then I ended up doing the vacuum sequence twice on my actual run.  But it is now in the fridge and has been dry aging for a little over 28 hours.  Everything looks like it is progressing as it should, and I expect to have some kick ass 28 day dry aged NY Strip steaks ready for Mary’s birthday celebration on February 25. Check out a couple pics from the process. I’ll post a few more pics as the aging progresses. Stay tuned.

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After 1 week of drying the NY Strip, we decided to dry a Ribeye as well, only this time I figured I would only buy USDA Choice, not Prime.  We’ll see, but I’ve read that proper dry aging minimizes the differences between Prime and Choice, so maybe it’s a way to save a little cash.  Even at a decent savings, Costo Prime is still $11.99 a pound. So after 2 weeks of aging on the Strip and 1 week on the Ribeye, here’s what they look like. The process is moving right along. It’s going to be tough to hang on for 28 days, but we’ll have to try. Check out the way they look now.

Close up showing color and texture of 2 weeks of aging

Double Rack

 

The BBQ Guru DigiQ DX2

Even though a ceramic grill can be set to temperature pretty easily using the upper and lower air vents, and can then hold that temperature pretty accurately over long periods of time, there are times when the temperature needs to be controlled more precisely, and over very long periods of time, more than 9 hours.  This is true when doing a beef brisket or Boston Butt for pulled pork.  It’s not uncommon to do these long cooks overnight, or perhaps during the day when you are away at work or whatever.  For these times, it’s really nice to have a device that can control the flow of air into the lower vent, and vary the flow rate based on feedback from a temperature probe placed in the cooking chamber.  There are a few devices on the market to do this, some more sophisticated than others.  You can even control some devices remotely using your iPhone if you want to go that far.  I live only an hour or so from the BBQ Guru in Warminster, PA, and have often bought my Wicked Good Charcoal from them, so I’ve seen their BBQ control devices before and have been wanting one for some time to use with my Weber kettle. It seemed like overkill for the Weber (which it is not after all), but when I bought the Primo, I knew I had to have one. After a lot of research, I settled on the DigiQ-DX2 with a 10 cfm Pit Viper fan. Although I can’t control it with my iPod Touch or iPad, it really does all I need it to do, which is to monitor the meat temperature and control the chamber temperature accurately.  It’s also nice that the control unit has a bright red LED display that is very easy to read from inside my kitchen.

DigiQ from inside kitchen

So far, this thing has been really valuable for a few longer cooks, Thanksgiving turkey, Boston butt for pulled pork, Christmas prime rib, and the New Year’s whole pig. I’m about ready to try a beef brisket, and I’m sure it will do the trick for that. My brothers make fun of me and claim that it is cheating, or just not real BBQ when you don’t have to slave over the pit and keep making little adjustments now and then. Well, I used to think that way as well, so I see where they’re coming from. But after using this thing for a few cooks now, I’ll never go back, at least when there’s a long cook or something where the internal temperature of the meat is so critical.

There is a lesser expensive, battery operated version of the DigiQ called the PartyQ. Actually, this little unit is nice in that you don’t need an outlet handy near the grill (not a problem for me), and it’s an all in one unit. The fan is less powerful, though probably enough for 90% or more of what any home rig would ever need.  You can’t beat the price either.  They didn’t have these in stock when I bought my DigiQ, or I would have been tempted to go with this unit.

Getting Started

After being blown away again and again by the succulent beef ribs and such from my friend’s Big Green Egg, I finally purchased a ceramic grill of my own. After doing a ton of research online, I purchased the Primo Oval XL at a local shop, Halligan’s Hearth and Home in Malvern, PA, and installed it just before Thanksgiving 2011.  We had a house full of family arriving for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I had agreed to cook the 26 pound free range turkey on the Primo, so I had to run a couple trial cooks to get myself situated with the grill. I didn’t want to screw up the turkey with 19 hungry people holding forks and knives at my table.  The first cook was simple, 2 gorgeous dry-aged Ribeye steaks.  I know, steaks are not the true test of a ceramic grill, but we had them on hand and the grill wasn’t ready to use until late that evening, so a fast cook was in order.  The steaks were perfect, and we were off to a good start with the Primo.  The next night, we had a little more time, so we cooked a small “practice” turkey (see the pic below).  Not only was it picture perfect, it was the best damn turkey we have ever had.

My first slow cook on the Primo grill

Since then, we have used the Primo at least 2 or 3 nights a week, even when the outside temperatures were well below freezing.  With the exception of one less than satisfying meal (my mistake, not the grill’s), this thing has produced some of the most gratifying meals we’ve made at home.

I hope I can add some entertaining and useful information to the site on a regular basis, and you find it compelling to visit again.  I also encourage you to add your own comments about grilling and BBQ, regardless of whether you own a Primo or not.  I’m sure a lot of great stories and tips are out there.

Cheers, Geoff