The Beyond Burger!

Yack! It’s pretty much beyond horrible!

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I approached the topic of this article with my former office nemesis, Krista Kane, in mind. Krista doesn’t eat red meat, and I think she got a kick out of having me grill up burger substitutes at work cook-outs. Early on in the grilling hobby, for me cooking a turkey or vegetarian burger on a grill was a bit sacrilegious. And Krista would always have some sort of non-real burger for me to cook up for her. Krista recently moved to an area without fast-food restaurants, and had to wait until she had to evacuate for Hurricane Dorian before she could finally try the Impossible Whopper from Burger King. Krista, thank you for tolerating me at work, even though you teamed up against me with my wife at times. This taste test was for you!

My beautiful wife, Stacey, got me on this interest in meat substitute products. It started with her talking about wanting to try the Impossible Whooper, which I eventually wrote about after trying it when it went national. But first, I tried an Impossible Burger at a local chain; Moxi Burger. I was shocked by how good the Impossible Burger tasted and the inner food geek came out of me when I learned how the burger was developed.

I had also heard of Beyond Meat’s various products, the first being Del Taco’s Beyond Taco made with Beyond Meat. Soon after trying the Impossible Burger at Moxi Burger, I discovered that our local Kroger grocery store carries frozen The Beyond Burger by Beyond Meats. Well, it was time to try it out to see if it was as good as the Impossible Burger, and as good as REAL ground beef.

Plant-Based Burger-Patties…

The first thing I learned about the Beyond Burger is that it’s expensive! Two, small little 1/4 lb. patties were $5.99! But, that inner food geek wanted to try them, and they did actually look like hamburger patties in the packaging.

Speaking of the packaging, for those that find this important, it is made of 100% recycled materials. It also describes the product with a bunch of little icons as being kosher, certified vegan, soy free, and gluten free. The ingredients list reads like a list of items from the aisles of Whole Foods Market.

I’m scratching my head…

But it was soon time to see where the rubber meets the road. Or rather, where the meat meets the grill! The packaging recommends thawing the patties in the refrigerator before you grill them, but I had read online that they can be cooked frozen, only requiring a little more time. I preheated my gas grill to 400°, and opened up the packaging. Not so good. The odor of plant-based Beyond Burger wasn’t that awesome. To me it smelled faintly of cat food. That’s not appetizing at all! I then tossed a frozen Beyond Meat patty on the grill in anticipation of eating a cheese burger for lunch. A few twists of Himalayan rock salt and fresh ground pepper later, I closed the grill and waited for the smells to change. I was a little surprised by the lack of sizzling noise and smoke coming from my grill. Hmmmmm.

The directions are pretty straight forward and simple.
One Beyond Meat Burger on the grill with salt and pepper.

After roughly three and a half minutes, it was time to flip this thing and see what kind of grill marks were left on it. I was surprised by how much the grill marks actually stood out once flipped. The “meat” doesn’t caramelize as darkly as real ground beef on the grill; coming out only to an orangish, tan color with well defined grill marks. And, unfortunately, the smell didn’t improve either!

It doesn’t look that awesome, but it doesn’t look that bad.

After another three and a half minutes, I threw a slice of Kraft American Cheese on the Beyond Burger to quickly melt, and then dropped the Beyond Burger on a Publix bakery pretzel bun.

Let me go off on a tangent here. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with a Publix grocery store, and you haven’t done so, try out the Publix Bakery! Stacey and I only really purchase two items from Publix; Publix brand Restaurant Style frozen French fries (soooooooo damn good in the air fryer!) and bread from the Publix Bakery. Publix Bakery bread; best grocery store bread ever!

But back to the Beyond Burger. All plated up with ketchup, mustard, and mayo; and ready to eat on this awesome Publix pretzel bun, I noticed it still smelled like cat food! That was not cool at all! But maybe it would taste better than it smelled. I sliced the cheese burger in half to see what it looked like down the middle. The interior of the burger patty was a reddish/pink color that looked like a perfectly cooked burger. That wasn’t so bad.

A smelly burger on a great bun!
It actually looks like a real burger!

I carried my cheese burger downstairs to share with my wife, and get her opinion on it. The first thing Stacey said was, “It smells like cat food!” I actually felt some feeling of vindication, knowing it wasn’t just me getting put out by the odor. Stacey and I each took a bite, and felt relieved it didn’t taste like cat food.

Flavor wise, it was a little on the bland side. This is probably a good thing because what flavor that did come across wasn’t that great. It wasn’t horrible by any means. I didn’t feel like I was going to spit out my burger and throw the rest in the garbage, or feed it to the dogs. But it wasn’t beefy and rich in flavor like a real burger, or even the Impossible Burger. The more I ate it though, the more I found I disliked the flavor.

Texture wise, I feel like Beyond Meats got very close with the Beyond Burger. It is a touch on the dry side, and each bite felt a little dense, but over all it had a mouthfeel very close to that of real ground beef. Here too, however, the Impossible Burger seems to do a better job in the texture department, being practically indistinguishable from real beef.

A couple of minutes after finishing eating the Beyond Burger, I found the after taste to be pretty damn bad. Drinking water wasn’t doing enough to rid my mouth of the after taste, so Stacey cut me a slice of apple pie; that seemed to handle that problem. But then a short time later, I had a couple of Beyond Burger burps, that were just as unpleasant as the cat food odor of the patties and the after taste. It was time to drink some cold beer, which solved the problem with the burp flavors! Yuck!

The take aways:

  • Soylent Green is people!
  • The Beyond Burger seriously misses the mark in my opinion. Maybe it would taste better to someone who is really a vegan?
  • The Beyond Burger really makes the Impossible Burger shine!
  • REAL meat is the best!
  • Ugh. I need more beer.

Ridiculous and Special Kitchen Knives!

Sometimes you have to feel like a warrior in the kitchen!

I’m going to get away from writing about BBQ or restaurants for a second and tell you about two knives I recently acquired to use in the kitchen. One of them is ultra ridiculous and one of them became instantly special to me.

The first knife, the ridiculous knife, is a bit of a novelty and something I’ve wanted for the kitchen for a few years. My interest in this knife started when I came across a cooking YouTube channel started by a couple of Serbian guys; Almazan Kitchen. They make incredible looking food in rustic conditions using rustic cooking methods and tools. One of the cooking tools featured heavily in their videos is the “Almazan Kitchen Knife”. I’ve also heard of it referred to as a Serbian Chef’s Knife and a kitchen chopper. All I knew is I wanted one to play with, so I reached out to the Almazan Kitchen via Facebook to inquire on how to order one of the knives they sell.

After contacting them on Facebook Messenger, I heard back from them with some information on their knife. Almazan Kitchen explained that they would be happy to help me order one of their knives, which are hand made and can be ordered with a sheath. I was told to expect around seven months for the knife to be made and shipped out to me. That wasn’t the bad part though. I was told the knife would be $250 plus an additional $30 for shipping. Yes, $280 for a knife to use in the kitchen. I’m pretty sure that would not have gone over well at home.

I looked around a little on the internet and found another business selling the same style knife, out of Almazan, Spain. This knife, at the time, was $130 plus shipping; thus a no-go. And it got me wondering about the true origins of the Almazan Kitchen knife from Serbia. Rumors abound on the internet claimed that Chinese butcher knives were being re-profiled and sold for a ridiculous profit, and that people were falling for it. I put the idea of getting one of these knives out of my head, until recently.

And recently, while scrolling through Facebook, I saw an advertisement for the same style knife, for a VERY affordable price! (Now the same knife can be found here on Amazon for a slightly better price with a little more assurance you’ll receive it!) I had no doubts that the knife was made in China, but at $41.06 shipped, I couldn’t resist the temptation to get one in my hands. So I went ahead and ordered one, and then waited. And waited. And waited.

Photo Credit: www.mychefknife.com

It was actually a couple of weeks after I submitted my order before I ever got any shipping information from My Chef Knife. I had actually contemplated disputing the order with PayPal because I was worried I had been scammed when the shipping information came. And no surprise, it was shipping out of China. After several more weeks, my knife arrived in my mailbox! It was packaged very well, but the packaging was VERY beat up. It looked as if someone had kicked it from China to my mailbox.

The package looked as if it had been kicked to my home from China!
At least it was well protected on its long trip!

I have to say, I am very happy with the purchase of this knife! It is very heavy, very thick, and very sharp! It also has a rustic, rough hammered appearance, with the bulk of the blade having a black oxide finish applied over it. I think this is supposed to make it look like its very roughly hand made, but there is evidence of the finish being brushed on and not a natural byproduct of some forging process. The handle is a simple, black painted wood handle that seems pretty solidly riveted on. The knife was very sharp out of the box. In fact, with just a very slight pressure, the knife blade sank easily down into the multiple layers of packaging the knife had shipped in.

This knife has presence!
The blade surface has a very rough and rustic finish.
Compared to a Santuko profile chef’s knife.
The ridiculous knife (left) is ridiculously thick compared to the Santuko profile chef’s knife (right).
Simple wood handle, painted black.
The knife is very sharp!

The ridiculous knife also came with a real leather sheath with a retention snap on it. The sheath seems well made, but had a strong chemical smell, possibly from glue, emanating from it. The chemical smell seems to have gone away after a few weeks of the sheath being left out to off-gas. It’s very nice having a safe place to store the knife and keep the blade covered.

The ridiculous knife in the sheath.

The ridiculous knife is a very neat knife that has a beastly presence. My wife, Stacey, refers to it as, “the big scary knife.” When you hold it, you feel it would be great for carving up meat, slicing vegetables (yuk!), or carrying into battle alongside a Viking army! It slices through steak with ease!

The special knife now, that is a whole different story. This knife looks very elegant and almost surgical next to the ridiculous knife. And this knife is special, because of who made it and gave it to me.

A very good friend of mine and former coworker retired from law enforcement, Craig Easterwood, sent me a text message with a picture of a handful of knives he had made. The knives looked very nice, and I replied to him that I’d like for him to help me make a long knife for slicing smoked brisket. He told me that he’d be happy to help me with that, but to wait until he got better at making knives.

A couple of months later, I got a text message that my knife was done and we needed to meet up so I could pick it up. I was surprised and excited to see what he put together.

I was even more surprised when I met up with Craig to pick up the knife. It is absolutely beautiful! The blade is matte finished metal and 12.5 inches long. The overall length is 17 inches, with the riveted, laminated G10 grips. The grips are nicely polished and I really like the “Thin Blue Line” color combination that Craig chose. The knife feels hefty and has a healthy thickness to it. The length of the knife will make it perfect for slicing a smoked brisket against the grain. It also feels like a short sword!

This is a BEAUTIFUL knife!
The blade has a sedate, matte brushed finish.
The grips are a beautiful, laminated G10 material.

Craig made a solid sheath out of scrap wood that he had laying around. The sheath is a simple yet elegant clam-shell design with a simple press fit peg made of scrap G10 materiel use to retain the knife in the sheath. The wood was simply coated with mineral oil. The sheath looks perfect with the knife and is a welcome way to store the knife as well as keep it out on display in the kitchen.

A simple but elegant wood sheath finishes out the special knife.

An interesting thing about being “gifted” a knife; my good friend Craig INSISTED I pay him for this knife. He cited old superstition that receiving a knife can lead to some bad luck and told me to bring him something like a dollar bill to exchange for the knife.

I looked up this old superstition, and found an interesting explanation for it. It seems in the time of the Vikings, to give someone a knife implied that the receiver of the knife didn’t have the means to afford a knife good enough to kill the giver of the blade. This could cause the friendly nature of the relationship to be severed. A payment was traditionally received by the knife’s giver, typically in the form of a low denomination coin, in order to avoid insulting anyone.

When I picked up the knife from Craig, I thought I had a dollar bill in my wallet, but I was mistaken! We arrived at a deal; I gave Craig a quarter I dug out of my patrol car, and an IOU for some smoked brisket. It looks like I will need to get the smoker fired up soon so I can try out this beautiful knife on the brisket and make good on the rest of my payment!

Some words on these knives:

  • My $41.06 ridiculous knife seems to cut VERY well, and I saved a ton of money!
  • I hope my Chinese made knife doesn’t have some horrible chemicals in it from substandard manufacturing methods!
  • The ridiculous knife is fun to wield in the kitchen!
  • The knife “gifted” to me by my friend Craig is absolutely beautiful!
  • I will wait to use it until I am slicing the brisket I owe him in payment for it.
  • I can’t wait to see what else Craig has up his sleeve!

The BBQ Experience – Part III

Competitive BBQ will whoop your ass!

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In the past two articles in this series, I told you about my BBQ experience with Southern Thunder’s ‘Que University and my competitive BBQ team, The Heavy Smokers. In this, the final article of the series, I will tell you how we did in the 2019 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival in the Backyard BBQ contest class, and how it straight up whooped my ass!

It started for me at 7:30 PM on Friday, August 23rd. I arrived a little on the late side in anticipation of spending the night out at our cook site to help monitor the smoker. Two our my team members, Jobst Elster and Jeff Crimm, had arrived earlier in the day; and while braving a heavy rain storm, set up the cook site. All I had to drag in where my coolers, camp chair, and a couple of bags of provisions. And it was during the time I was bringing out my stuff that I realized how disgustingly nasty, and sticky, the humidity was. It was absolutely horrible! But I was eventually able to settle in and get the low-down on what was going on.

The Heavy Smokers’ cook site.

The KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) officials had already been by and inspected our meat, and the ribs had been trimmed and put back on ice. The pork butt needed rubbed and placed on the smoker at midnight, and the chicken legs were going to need to be prepped for brine before the morning. That meant that until 11:00 PM, it was time to sit back and enjoy a cold beer or more, and try not to move around much in the disgusting humidity! Team member Jason “JJ” James showed up to pull the over-nighter with me, and Jobst and Jeff took off for the evening.

The evening before JJ and I had to get to work passed nicely, as it eventually began to cool down a little and JJ and I talked endlessly about food. It was interesting watching the other teams; some were working feverishly on food prep while others were relaxing and enjoying the festival atmosphere. Around 11:00 PM, we got to work on prepping our pork butts for the smoker by getting it out of the cooler to come up in temperature and to rub in our blend of spices. Jobst had pre-loaded the smoker for us, so all I had to do was light the starter chimney and let the charcoal go. By midnight the smoker was holding steady at 250° F so the pork butts went on for the all-nighter.

JJ rubbing the butts!
The pit is lit and holding steady at 250° F!

After a little while, once we were satisfied the smoker was holding steady with our pork butts, I decided I was going to take an hour and a half to see if I could get a nap in. I went out to my old Ford Explorer, lovingly called “The Turd”, and climbed inside for a nap. It was a little rough and I only got 45 minutes of sleep in before I went to relieve JJ so he could get some shut-eye. Later, I returned to “The Turd”, set my alarm for 45 more minutes of sleep, and fell asleep instantly. When that alarm went off, it was so hard not to go back to sleep! But I had to get up because work needed to get done!

My bedroom for the night!

JJ and I got to work on prepping our chicken legs; this meant pealing back the skin to wipe off any fat from the meat, trim the bone on the knuckle end, and then slice the tendon; this had to be done for 24 legs!

Prepped chicken legs!

The sun eventually reappeared and Jobst and Jeff returned to the cook site so we could get things rocking for our first turn-in; the chicken. Luckily Jobst brought us coffee, so I was able to kick my day off the right way; with an ice cold PBR and a hot cup of black coffee!

Breakfast of the deranged?

After a short time in a brine, the chicken went onto a smoker after the pork butts were wrapped in foil and consolidated to the same rack of the smoker. The ribs were also brought out to be rubbed. Once rubbed, the four racks of ribs also found a spot in a smoker. Then it was time to relax for the last time before the mad rush to the first turn-in started.

Ribs almost ready to be foiled.

Once the ribs hit a target temperature, they came off to be wrapped in foil with a combination of honey, squeeze butter, turbinado sugar, and apple juice. The chicken legs came off the smoker to get their first BBQ sauce glaze coat and were returned to their smoker.

Ribs getting wrapped to go back on the smoker.
The first BBQ sauce glaze is on the chicken!
Jeff having too much fun glazing the chicken!

Box prep started, and the wings came out again for another glaze coat of BBQ sauce. The ribs were also unwrapped and placed on the smoker racks to have a BBQ sauce glaze applied to them. Then the chicken went in just long enough for the glaze to set and it was time to box them for the first turn-in!

The ribs have been unwrapped and are getting there first BBQ sauce glaze!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
It’s time to build the first box for turn in!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood

Boxing a meat for turn-in and delivering it for judging is always a very action packed, exciting time. The team gathers around and the best looking pieces of the particular turn-in item are selected to be carefully placed into the box. Great care is taken to ensure the box has a clean appearance without any sauce dripped anywhere. After the meat is placed in the box, it is touched up with BBQ sauce and a brush. Then, someone carefully wipes up any drips of BBQ sauce from the styrofoam box, the box is closed, and it get’s carried across the festival grounds to be delivered for judging.

Our chicken turn-in box.
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood

Once the chicken was turned in, we had thirty minutes to box and turn in our ribs. The ribs are all removed from the smoker and placed on a cutting board so the best looking ribs can be cut from the center of each rack. The team then picks the best of these ribs to be placed into the turn-in box. The ribs are stacked nicely in the box and touched up with BBQ sauce and a brush before they too are whisked away for judging.

Preparing to box some ribs!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Ribs, boxed and ready to turn in!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Here I’m escorting Jobst to turn in our rib box.
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood

Once the ribs had been delivered for judging, we had just another thirty minutes to prepare our pork butt turn-in box. The pork butts were first unwrapped and placed on the smoker to dry out just a touch. A BBQ sauce glaze was then basted onto them and allowed to set. Then the butts were brought out of the smokers for the meat to be pulled by hand and placed into our turn-in box. A little touch up to the flavor and appearance is done before the lid of the box is closed and it’s rushed off for judging.

Pork butts about to be pulled for boxing!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Pulling and perfecting the pork butt!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Boxing and touching up the pork butt.
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Our pork butt turn-in box is looking good!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood

And just like that, all of the boxes are turned in and the cooking is done! The problem at this point is you can’t allow yourself to relax at all; and it’s damn tempting to do just that. It’s hot, you’re covered in BBQ sauce, and you’re dead on your feet. All you really want to do is get off your feet and re-hydrate. But there is a ton of clean-up that needs to be accomplished and the cook site needs to be packed up and loaded into cars. Only after most of the cook site is cleaned up can you sit down and drink some beer and water. My wife Stacey arrived at the festival around this time and I was able to take some time to walk around with her and check out all of the vendors and food before it was time to report to the main tent for the awards ceremony.

During the awards ceremony, I was please to see our friends Sandi Edelson and Southern Thunder BBQ win awards in the desert and the “Anything Butt” categories. The Heavy Smokers had a call for 4th place in the ribs category. Unfortunately, that was the best we did in any of the categories, and we locked in a 4th place finish overall out of 15 teams in the Backyard Contest category.

The pleasant surprise though, came from one of the teams directly next to us at our cook site. The TFS Pit Vipers, a team of students from the private Talluah Falls School, totally dominated the Backyard Contest. These kids took 3rd in chicken, 1st in ribs, and 1st in pork butt! We got beat, badly, by a bunch of high school kids! But it was great seeing them working very diligently through the competition and then winning the Grand Champion award in Backyard BBQ. You could tell they are a dedicated group of students with some great coaching and the results prove this out!

Congratulations TFS Pit Vipers!
Photo credit: Tom Tilley

The take-aways from the 2019 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival:

  • It was incredibly HOT and HUMID!
  • I like my sleep!
  • Cooking with The Heavy Smokers is always a great time!
  • We’ve got some adjusting to do to elevate our turn-ins.
  • We got beat by an awesome group of high school kids!
  • BBQ with friends is the best, even if it is hotter than hell!
  • I was a whooped ass at the end of the Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival!

Thank you Craig Easterwood for taking photos of this fun hell!

The Impossible Whopper!

More from Impossible Foods!

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Back on July 6, 2019, I wrote about trying Impossible Foods’ vegetable based meat substitute at Moxi Burger. The whole experience was driven my by wife Stacey’s interest in Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, a product not offered at the time in our market.

Where is it?

Well, the time is now, and we have tried the Impossible Whopper! On August 8th, Burger King began offering the Impossible Whopper at all of it’s locations in the United States. The Impossible Whopper is a meatless, vegetable based burger patty created by Impossible Foods using all kinds of crazy science.

Stacey and I ordered a “real” Whopper with cheese, and an Impossible Whopper with cheese to go, to take them home to try. While speaking with the manager who took our order, we learned that each Burger King received only a limited supply of Impossible Whopper patties, and they were selling the hell out of them. One thing that surprised me was the Impossible Whopper meal was only $1 more than a regular Whopper meal; at Moxi Burger, the Impossible Burger patty is now $4 more.

The Burger King menu board. We ordered a #1 and a #3 meal.
So far, so good!

Stacey was adamant that I had to try each of the burgers without knowing which one I was trying to see if I could tell which Whopper was real and which was fake. So when we got home, Stacey had me leave the room so she could unwrap and cut each of the Whoppers in half to plate them.

So, which one is the “real” Whopper and which one is made of vegetables?

Upon first inspection, I guessed the Whopper on the left was the Impossible Whopper and the one on the right was the standard Whopper. I made my guess based off my experience with the Impossible Burger from Moxi Burger, and the texture of their Impossible patty. After eating bites from each of them, I found I was wrong! The real Whopper had a slightly looser texture to the meat, while the “meat” in the Impossible Whopper’s patty was a little more tighter and denser. If you weren’t eating the two side-by-side you’d never know! The flavors where almost indiscernible between the two Whoppers, both having a strong “flame broiled” smokey flavor. A word on that; eating the two Whoopers side-by-side will really make you understand how much smoke flavor is artificially added to the Burger King patties. Burger King Whoppers are not really awesome burgers, but they are still enjoyable for some reason. You know, good, bad food!

The Impossible Whopper.

After eating the Whopper and the Impossible Whopper side-by-side, I was not surprised by the Impossible Whopper at all. Especially after having tried the Impossible Burger at Moxi Burger and getting over the shock of how well Impossible Foods used vegetables to mimic meat. The Impossible Whopper tastes very much like a Whopper, with only the slightest differences in flavor and texture. I would bet that if I handed anybody familiar with a Whopper an unwrapped Impossible Whopper, and didn’t tell them what they were eating, they’d never know it wasn’t really meat!

For those of you who really, really don’t want to eat real meat, a warning; the Impossible Whopper is prepared in the same “flame broiler” that real beef and chicken are prepared in. Also, it has mayonnaise, a product containing eggs. So if you are the type of person that doesn’t want anything animal based touching your Impossible Whopper, you’ll have to request to have your Impossible Whopper cooked differently and to hold the mayo. Why would you though!?

How is it cooked?

If you are interested in trying an Impossible Whopper, I suggest you get to a Burger King sooner than later because this is a limited time promotion. I have no doubt that Burger King has seen some good gains by offering the Impossible Whopper and drawing curious customers into their stores. I am very interested to see if Burger King sees enough success from offering the Impossible Whopper that it ends up become a permanent fixture on their menu.

Limited time only. Patty made from plants.

The take aways:

  • It pretty much tastes just like a real Whopper!
  • Whoppers aren’t the greatest burgers on the planet but they are good, bad food.
  • If you want to try it, you better get to a Burger King soon before they stop carrying the Impossible Whopper!
  • Then get yourself to a Moxi Burger and try the Impossible Burger there!
  • I still prefer real MEAT!

The BBQ Experience – Part II

Competition Style!

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In my last article, I told you of my experience at Southern Thunder BBQ’s ‘Que University. This time I’m going to tell you the story of Team Thunder; known today as The Heavy Smokers!

Around mid-2017, Southern Thunder BBQ reached out to former students with a lucrative offer. Southern Thunder BBQ was interested in forming a team of students to participate in competitive BBQ and offered to provide coaching to interested students that signed up; all we needed to do was provide the necessary tools (from a provided list) and pay for the provided meat. Interest in this offer was high, and enough students signed up to participate that three separate teams were able to be formed to be to compete in the 2017 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival in Kennesaw, GA.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of the three teams, and contact information was shared around so team members could divide up the required list of materials. On August 5, 2017, all three teams came together at ‘Que University for a crash course in competition BBQ.

The students have gathered!

Right away, I could tell I was lucky to be assigned to Team Thunder. Team Thunder consisted of Jobst Elster, Jeff Crimm, Jeff Stewart, Jason James, David Rubury, and myself. The team seemed to gel together pretty quickly as we began learning the difference between the everyday BBQ that one might prepare for friends and family, and the extremely detailed BBQ required for competition. Southern Thunder BBQ did a great job of explaining the importance of perfecting the texture, flavor, and appearance of our required BBQ turn in dishes to be able to compete in the Backyard class of competitive BBQ.

Team Thunder quickly learned that they preferred legs over thighs!

In the Backyard class of KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) competition, teams are required to turn in chicken (legs or thighs), pork ribs, and pork butt boxes for judging by a panel. During our crash course on competitive BBQ, Team Thunder prepared each of these boxes to be critiqued by experienced KCBS judges who were present to help with the class. Team Thunder scored third place of the three teams during the quick course, but we came away with a lot of information and ideas on how we could improve on our boxes for the Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival at the end of that month.

KCBS judges critiquing the three teams’ pork butt boxes.

With the knowledge passed on to us by Southern Thunder BBQ, we made adjustments to our recipes and participated in the 2017 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival at the end of August. We also brought on Sandi Edelson, one of the judges at the practice cook, to help us prepare a desert for one of the elective categories. During the event, Dave, Pete, and Rick from Southern Thunder BBQ looked over our shoulders and gave simple advice at times, but they were very adamant that they weren’t going to get involved in preparing BBQ or the boxes we were to turn in. They said it was important that we did it on our own.

From left to right; Jeff Stewart, Jobst Elster, and Jason James perfecting Team Thunder’s chicken turn-in box at the 2017 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival.
I’m showing off our ribs!

The result of Team Thunder’s hard work was amazing! Team Thunder managed to win Grand Champion of the Backyard class by taking 1st in Chicken, 2nd in ribs, and 2nd in Pork! Sandi Edelson’s peach desert won 1st place in the elective desert category as well. All-in-all, it was an incredible experience that we were all proud of.

Team Thunder, from left to right; Jason James, Jobst Elster, David Rubury, Jeff Crimm, Sandi Edelson, Jeff Stewart, and John Battersby. The Backyard Grand Champions of the 2017 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival!

Shortly after our victory, our team was renamed The Heavy Smokers and registered with the KCBS. We have gone on to compete in a handful of BBQ competitions since 2017, and we still follow the tradition of lighting up the pit in early August to prepare ourselves for the Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival. This year we decided to focus on perfecting our rib turn-in.

Because it’s tradition, a cold beverage is enjoyed in the early morning. The pit has just been lit and the ribs are trimmed!
Look at these beautiful racks!

Just like the event that prepared us in 2017 for the Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival, we figured out what we can improve on during this practice event. Hopefully it pays dividends at this year’s Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival! If you are in the area, come out to 2019 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival August 22nd to the 24th in Kennesaw, GA and look for us; The Heavy Smokers! (August 23rd is the best day to come find us!)

We are The Heavy Smokers!

What’s it all about?

  • Competition BBQ is very different than the BBQ one usually cooks at home for friends and family!
  • Come check out the Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival in Kennesaw, GA August 22-24. We’ll be preparing our BBQ for judging, for the main event, on August 23rd.
  • Look for Southern Thunder BBQ at the festival and pick up some information on their ‘Que University!
  • Stay tuned for The BBQ Experience – Part III to learn how The Heavy Smokers did at the 2019 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival!

The BBQ Experience – Part I

Part one of a multi-part series detailing my experiences going from BBQ school student to competition BBQ team member!

Back in June of 2016, my wife Stacey sent me back to school. BBQ school, that is! Stacey had heard of a BBQ school through a co-worker, and she knew from the description that I’d love it. After she showed me the website for Southern Thunder BBQ’s ‘Que University, I was excited about the idea and got a good friend of mine, Craig, on board.

Leading up to the class, I was very excited and had read many reviews on it. I also learned that you could bring your own cooler of beer, so I was definitely prepared the morning of. My buddy Craig picked me up and we were at the location by 0730 to sign in.  Inside for breakfast they had sausage, biscuits and gravy, and a small bloody Mary bar set up.  It was a relaxing way to start an early morning and meet some of my fellow BBQ students. There were twenty students total enrolled in the class; one who came from Germany to attend.

After an introduction from the instructors; Pete, Rick and Dave, we officially got the day started with a ceremonial lighting of the smokers. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cracked my first Pabst Blue Ribbon at this point; enjoying a cold beer seems an integral part of lighting off any smoker, whether for a casual cook at home or a “serious” BBQ competition.

My choice for BBQ pit lighting ceremonies!

The classroom was set up very thoughtfully. Several workstations were set up on one side of the room while seating for classroom learning was arranged down the other side, with each student being provided with a binder of course material. And a very important point when considering the hot Georgia weather, it was comfortably air conditioned! The workstations were at a convenient height for food prep and had several food prep items laid out, and we were provided with aprons to keep our clothes from getting dirty while going hands on with the meats.

We started out with a classroom portion on pork shoulders and then, after being divided into groups, we got hands-on by trimming, injecting, and rubbing pork shoulders on the lab side of the room. Once the pork shoulder was prepared, outside we went to put them on the smokers for dinner. 

Pork shoulders trimmed, injected, and rubbed! Time to go the smokers!

The instructors were running multiple smokers, including a Primo kamado smoker that I had a particular interest in since I smoke on a kamado myself.  They also had two vertical Webber Smokey Mountains, two homemade vertical barrel smokers, a smoking cabinet, and a big horizontal trailer unit all set up and fired up. This was great because it gave the students the opportunity to experience using many different types of smokers. This is important when considering students may have different types of smokers at home, or may be looking into purchasing the right smoker for themselves down the road.

‘Que University keeps a good rotation of smokers going to give students experience on a variety of equipment.

We went back inside for a classroom portion on brisket and then got to work trimming, injecting, and rubbing brisket at the works stations.  This was a big part of the class for me as I was a little intimidated by the idea of barbecuing brisket. The whole process is laid out very well, taking a lot of the intimidation out of it; it is overall pretty easy to do. The brisket went on the smokers for dinner, and was tended to under the watchful eye of “the pit master” since it had to cook using the “hot and fast” method for it to be ready for in time for our BBQ banquet dinner.

Craig with our trimmed, injected, and rubbed brisket before it went on the smoker.

After the brisket went on the smoker for dinner, we started making lunch; pork lion, pork tenderloin, and chicken legs and wings done with dry rub. It was a particularly good lunch!

Some of our lunch being prepared. Hands-on learning with edible rewards!
Lunch was phenomenal!

After lunch we learned how to spatchcock prepare chicken, with injection and rub, after a classroom session. Those also went onto the smokers for dinner.  Out of everything I learned in class, this is probably what I use most at home; my wife loves chicken!

Spatchcock chicken.

Then it was on to St. Louis style ribs.  We started this with more classroom discussion and then trimmed the ribs St. Louis style, rubbed them, and took ’em out to the smoker.

St. Louis style ribs!

At this point, all of the meat was on the smoker and we again went back inside of the classroom to discuss a multitude of BBQ related topics such as tools, food safety, brines, rubs, injections, and sauces.  We also discussed brisket burnt ends before going outside and separating the point from the flat on the brisket to actually make burnt ends. Then it was time to pull the ribs from the smoker while discussing the “3-2-1” method of preparing ribs while adding honey, sugar, and butter to them. 

We learned the secret to great tasting ribs!

Once again we found ourselves back in the classroom where proper shredding of meat was covered, before we actually pulled the pork and chicken. Several more topics were also discussed while the instructors’ support staff set up a buffet with all of our hard work laid out on it.  Side dishes such as mac and cheese and BBQ baked beans were also added to the buffet, along with some really good cobbler.  Craig’s wife and my wife showed up just in time for the BBQ banquet, and Stacey seemed to really enjoy the brisket. At the end of the class, certificates where handed out before we all went home, full of good food and feeling like we accomplished something during a day packed with learning and activity.

My plate at the end of the day, loaded with brisket, pork shoulder, chicken, and sides. It was damn good!

Soon after attending the class, someone asked me how much it cost and if it worth it. When I sat back and thought about the amount of preparation, what was going on in the background with the support staff, the amount of food provided, and the quality of the instruction; I decided it was well worth it. I feel I can tackle a brisket now. It most likely wouldn’t win a competition, but it would raise a couple of eyebrows! Also, you get to walk away with your binder of class materials containing everything we discussed in class.  In the back of the guide were appendices that included recipes for all of their rubs, injections, brines, sauces, and even their side dishes. Most importantly, if I need to I can reach out to the instructors with any questions I have pertaining to BBQ.

So look them up! You can get information about the class and enroll on their website (and if you enroll with a friend you save money!). The instructors are a great group of guys and you’ll meet some good folks involved in the class!

Stay tuned to Good Food, Bad Food! to learn how Southern Thunder’s ‘Que University prepared a bunch of us students to be Backyard BBQ Grand Champions!

What you need to know about Southern Thunder BBQ’s ‘Que University:

  • It’s an all inclusive class that includes the instruction, the meats, and learning materials. All you need to do is show up! (Well, with beer maybe!)
  • You get to eat the fruit of your labors in the class! And the food is GREAT!
  • The quality of the instruction is top notch!
  • You get to take home your class material to reference during future cooks!

Air Fryer Hot Wings!

A quick and easy alternative to that bar-food favorite on National Hot Wings Day!

On July 29th, we celebrate a very special, uniquely American food; the hot wing. Call ’em what you want; Buffalo wings, hot wings, or just simply call them wings. This great tasting, horribly unhealthy food supposedly originated from Buffalo, NY. In 1964, Teressa Bellisimo, a bar owner, needed a quick solution to the problem of feeding her son and his friends who stopped by her establishment, The Anchor Bar, unexpectedly one evening. What resulted from that night has grown into a wildly popular and now traditional dish served at bars and restaurants across America.

Wings, as I tend to refer to them, are one of my favorite foods. I especially enjoy them with college football (War Damn Eagle!) and cold beer, but I find myself getting the craving for them often. While I’d love to do it, running out for wings and beer every time I have the craving isn’t very practical. Luckily though, they are easily prepared in the air fryer!

Hello wings! Your chariot awaits!

To prepare quick and easy air fryer wings, you’ll need the chicken wings of course. Frozen wings are great for this, as you can keep them in your freezer and break them out whenever the craving hits you! Tonight I used Kroger grocery store brand frozen “Party Wings” that my wife, Stacey, picked up for me on sale this past weekend.

Frozen goodness!

While this particular bag states they will “cook perfectly without thawing,” in order to prepare these to cook in the air fryer, they do need thawed first. Once you have some raw, thawed chicken wings, you’ll need to pat them dry and get your “dredge” ready. I use a mixture of flour, cayenne pepper, fresh ground pepper, garlic salt, and onion powder to coat my wings. My suggestion is start with a half cup of flour and add spices to your taste. Simply mix the flour and spice mixture together in a bowl and pour it over your wings in a gallon resealable bag. Close it up and shake it all around to evenly coat your chicken pieces. Sometimes I will seal up the bag with the left over flour mixture and store it in the freezer for future use.

All nice and coated.

Once your wings are ready for the air fryer, it’s time to set your air fryer up to cook them. I highly recommend you use non-stick spray to coat your air fryer basket as cleaning up afterwards without having used it is a nightmare!

Learn from my mistake! Use the cooking spray!

Take each wing piece out of the resealable bag and shake the excess coating off into the bag. Place the wings into the air fryer basket being careful to try and not overlap wings too awfully much to promote airflow around them.

All ready to fry with hot air!

To “fry” these bad boys, I set my air fryer to it’s hottest temperature, 400°, and put the timer to 20 minutes. The beauty of cooking wings in the air fryer is you don’t need to introduce hot oil to actually fry them. An air fryer is basically a small, quick heating, convection oven that circulates hot air around whatever food you are air frying. There is just enough oil in the skin of the chicken wing pieces so that when you add the flour based coating and circulating hot air, you get crispy skin!

They’re starting to get crispy!

While the wings are cooking, you’ll want to check on them every so often to see how well they are getting cooked. While I set the timer for around 20 minutes usually, I keep a constant watch on the wings and typically pull them when I feel they are crispy enough to hold onto the sauce properly.

While the wings are cooking, it’s a good idea to use the time to get your hot wing sauce ready. I like to start with a traditional wing sauce base; cayenne pepper sauce and melted butter. I prefer Frank’s Red Hot Original sauce, mixing about 2/3 of a cup of the Frank’s Red Hot Original with 1/2 cup of melted butter. You can add or subtract butter to play with the hotness of your wing sauce; simply adding butter will temper some of the heat. I also add about 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce and several dashes of Tabasco Sauce (my favorites are the Chipotle or the Jalapeno Tabasco sauces). Get inventive here and have some fun! Try adding different ingredients for different effects. I’ve made this wing sauce before with additions like ranch seasoning, melted cheddar cheese and dice pickled-jalapeno pieces.

The start of a good hot wing sauce!
The sauce is ready!

Once you’ve determined you are happy with the crispiness of your wings, use a set of tongs to remove them from the air fryer basket and place them in a bowl (preferably a bowl you have a lid or cover for). Pour your hot wing sauce over top, cover, and shake up the wings to make sure they are evenly coated in sauce.

Ready for coating in sauce!

I like to plate my wings with the perfect side for wings; Publix brand Restaurant Style Frozen French Fries are awesome prepared in the air fryer. As for a dipping sauce, my preference in ranch! The best thing about these home made wings is that you probably wont be able to tell them apart from the bar-prepared fried version!

These where some DAMN good wings! Happy National Hot Wings Day!

What you need to know about air fryer hot wings:

  • You need an air fryer and you need to try making air fryer wings!
  • They are DAMN good!
  • It is fun experimenting with the sauce ingredients!
  • It’s much easier cleaning up after air frying wings than cleaning up after deep frying wings!
  • Happy National Hot Wings Day!
  • This is my design.

Pita!

A quick taste of Mediterranean from Pita Mediterranean Street Food.

A coworker of mine told me a couple of weeks ago that he was enjoying the food blog, but he wanted me to write about restaurants he could actually go to. He lives north of Atlanta, GA. Actually, he lives north of the suburbs that are north of Atlanta! His selection of restaurants is slim and there is most likely a lack of anything new and exciting up where he lives. He mentioned Wendy’s and McDonald’s…

Today I was thinking about this conversation and about restaurants in the area where we work. Recently, a quick growing Georgia based chain opened up a new store in the Canton, GA area; Pita Mediterranean Street Food. This is a place he could try! Even better; it was a gorgeous day and I was in the mood to drive my garage-queen Ford Mustang to go out and get myself some lunch!

Pita!

Pita Mediterranean Street Food originally opened in Peachtree City, GA in 2011. Today they have 24 locations across Georgia (with more opening soon!), and additional restaurants in Alabama and South Carolina. They serve easy to eat Mediterranean style fast food dishes and have something on the menu for everyone. I fell in love with this place back when there was only the original store in Peachtree City. Today I’m lucky to have one down the road in the Marietta, GA area with one opening even closer to my house soon!

Having eaten at Pita Mediterranean Street Food before, I decided that today I wanted to try something different. No, not something from the menu, but the method of ordering. I pulled out my smart phone, quickly Googled the restaurant, and navigated to the online ordering section of the Pita Mediterranean Street Food website. Once I selected the location I wished to order from, it was easy to create an account and start selecting items off the menu. Of course, like always, I over ordered! I selected one of my favorites from their choices; the Steak Shawarma Street Pita with a side of seasoned rice. I also added extra seasoned rice and a small side of sriracha hummus with pita triangles. Ordering online was pretty easy and you are even able to pay online for a quicker pick-up experience.

Online ordering was quick and easy.

Once my lunch was ordered, it was time to hop in my Mustang and enjoy some window down cruising on an unusually comfortable July day down here in hot and steamy Georgia! I arrived at the restaurant shortly before my order was completely prepared, and hung out in the dining room for a minute while my order was being wrapped up. Pita Mediterranean Street Food in Marietta is a chic and clean restaurant with most of the food prep happening within site of the customers in an open prep area.

Here is a quick way to pic up a quick lunch!

Once I got home it was time to tear into my lunch. I started with the Steak Shawarma Street Pita. Shawarma is a traditional Middle Eastern meat dish, made from marinated meat cut into small, thin strips that are slow roasted on skewers in a similar manner to gyro meat. Pita Mediterranean Street Food offers both steak and chicken shawarma. I love steak shawarma with its rich Mediterranean spices and Pita Mediterranean Street Food serves their steak shawarma either on a pita or a platter (with the pita bread on the side and two sides). Both dishes are garnished with lettuce, tomato, and tahini sauce. The Street Pita comes with a choice of one side, and I selected the seasoned rice. I highly recommend Pita Mediterranean Street Food’s Steak Shawarma! It’s packed with unique flavors that are a little dissimilar from our usual American fare.

Steak Shawarma Pita with Seasoned Rice.

For some reason I love the seasoned rice from Pita Mediterranean Street Food. Fair warning; this is not for vegetarians (the chain features some veggie only dishes such as Falafel) as it is prepared with some sort of meat ingredient (most likely chicken broth). Unfortunately, I ordered an extra side of the seasoned rice. The original serving was more than enough!

I shouldn’t have ordered extra rice!

Just because I enjoy hummus, I also elected to try the sriracha hummus with some sliced up pita bread. I only ordered the small side and found it to be a generous serving. I think the hummus was the perfect accompaniment to the flavors of the shawarma and rice.

Siraracha hummus!

If you enjoy Mediterranean food, you’ll probably love Pita Mediterranean Street Food. If you haven’t really tried Mediterranean food before, get your ass into a Pita Mediterranean Street Food and try it out! You can start safe with a gyro (or the Signature Gyro with fries on it!) and expand from there. Like I mentioned before, this place has something for most people; offering steak, chicken, fish, vegetarian, gluten free, and Halal meat. Just don’t over order like me!

I ordered way to much, like usual!

What you need to know:

  • Pita Mediterranean Street Food is good!
  • They have tons of locations, especially in the Metro-Atlanta area.
  • If you haven’t had this kind of food before, BE ADVENTUROUS! It’s pretty good!
  • Don’t over order like me! I’m a fat-kid in training.

Catfish Hox

Honest, no frills, great tasting, Southern home cooking made with a ton of pride!

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Sometimes simple really is better. Sometimes a dish doesn’t need a ton of spices and complex flavors; it just needs good, quality ingredients and attention to detail.

This is a sign of good food ahead!

Catfish Hox delivers this simplicity with attention to detail in a very comfortable environment. Located near the corner of Sandy Plains Road and East Piedmont Road in Marietta, GA, Catfish Hox sits unassumingly in a small strip mall. When one approaches the front door, the first hint that good food lies ahead is the smell! Catfish Hox uses Big Green Egg smokers near the store front to prepare some of their menu items, and the smell is ridiculously good. Stepping inside, you’ll be warmly greeted and seated in a dining room with comfortable Southern charm. The best part of the dining experience, apart from the good food, is the Blues music. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the food served up by Catfish Hox’s chef, Philip Creasor.

Whatever was on the Big Green Egg was smelling good!

Catfish Hox bills itself as a mom and pop joint, owned by Chef Philip Creasor and his wife, Vivian Creasor. Chef Phil is a Marine veteran; something that is reflected in the attention to detail that’s evident when your plate arrives to the table. Chef Phil uses farm-to-table ingredients, as well as large catfish fillets brought in from Mississippi, to create his dishes. Catfish Hox covers all the bases, serving up not just catfish, but also smoked chicken, smoked pulled pork, occasionally brisket, and a small variety of other dishes and sides. Take note of their Facebook page for their daily specials, such as Tomahawk Taco Tuesdays (Southern fried catfish tacos), Trio Thursdays (NC style pulled pork, smoked chicken wings, and Southern fried catfish), and Fish Fry Friday. The aforementioned comfortable dining room has a small bar featuring local craft beers and a modest wine selection.

I could sit here for hours, eating, drinking, and listening to the great Blues music.

On this particular trip, I ordered like a gluttonous fool! I’ve had a couple of different items at Catfish Hox in the past (all of it great!), but I knew for sure I wanted their namesake catfish this go, so I ordered the catfish platter. I also added Catfish Hox’s fried green tomatoes and their mac & cheese to my order. Of course, I also had to have sweet tea with this meal!

Oops! I ordered too much food!

The fried green tomatoes are beautiful, they’re HUGE, and they’re served with some of that attention to detail I mentioned before by being plated simply on a small bed of greens. This Yankee became acquainted with fried green tomatoes shortly after moving to the south, and I’ve grown to have an appreciation for good fried green tomatoes. I’ve had some bad examples in the past; usually too greasy or not crunchy. Catfish Hox’s fried green tomatoes are simply the BEST I’ve ever had. They are coated in a very crunchy corn meal and perfectly fried. The fried green tomatoes come with a herb sauce that I actually didn’t like the first time I had tried them. I’ve since changed my mind about the sauce and find the flavor of the sauce to be the perfect pairing with the fried green tomatoes.

The BEST fried green tomatoes I’ve ever had!

The catfish platter is plenty for one person; coming with two nicely sized Southern fried catfish fillets, corn hushpuppies, coleslaw, and a remoulade. The Southern fried catfish is very moist with a nice, crunchy, cornmeal coating. The flavor is very nice and a little remoulade is a good addition without being too much. The corn hush puppies are also very good, adding something a touch sweet to the plate. Then there is the coleslaw, which is vinegar based. It provides a touch of acid to the plate and is a thoughtful addition as it balances the flavors nicely. Bottom line, I could eat more of the catfish; in fact I want to eat myself stupid with the catfish!

I should have just ordered the catfish plate!

Catfish Hox’s mac & cheese is the epitome of Southern, home style, mac & cheese. Of the sides I’ve had at Catfish Hox, this is the best! I can’t remember having had “real” mac & cheese until I moved to the south from New Jersey; and Southern, homemade mac & cheese made me fall in love with the dish all over again. Catfish Hox’s mac & cheese is top tier in my book! Even better, it’s served in a huge portion that would probably be just right for two adults (or one fat boy like me).

This is damn good mac & cheese!

Once you try Catfish Hox for yourself, you will see that Chef Phil and his staff take pride in the product they turn out. This is evident in the quality of the food, the warmth of the staff, and the charm of their dining room. The food is fresh, honest, unpretentious, simple, and prepared like homemade. Damn, I want more of that catfish and mac & cheese!

What you need to know about Catfish Hox:

  • Supporting local, veteran and women owned businesses is good!
  • The food is great! It’s simple! It’s practically homemade!
  • Try their Southern burger with bacon and pimento cheese too!
  • I already want more catfish and mac & cheese!

Kagoshima A5 Wagyu

Steak is our anniversary tradition and we always do it right!

Special Note: Please consider subscribing to and following Good Food, Bad Food!. Your support means the world to me, and if I get enough views, I may be able to monetize this little hobby. I would love to earn money to buy more Wagyu and to take my wife out to try more food!

Every year, for the past seven years, I have gotten to celebrate the most special moment of my life with my wife, Stacey, over a special steak dinner. Stacey and I started this tradition of celebrating our wedding anniversary with a steak dinner at New York Prime in Atlanta. Since that first anniversary dinner, we’ve eaten at a variety of top-of-the-line steak restaurants, including Chops Lobster Bar in Buckhead, and The O Bar & Dining in Sydney, Australia. However, this year was going to be different.

This year, I had the wild urge to fulfill a small bucket list item and try what is most likely the pinnacle of all steak; real, imported from Japan, A5 grade Wagyu. This is a very special type of beef! And this special beef is very difficult to find in restaurants and it is very expensive when you do find it

So what exactly is Wagyu? Wagyu, I’m talking REAL Wagyu, comes from Japan. In fact Wagyu actually means “Japanese Beef”, and it is typically named after the region or area of Japan the beef originates from. An example of this is Kobe Wagyu. Many Americans are used to hearing the term Kobe Beef being thrown around to describe a high end beef product here in the United States. Most likely though, what you are hearing about is typically a marketing ploy or a beef product that comes from American cattle bread from Kobe cattle that had been imported into the United States. This is not real Japanese beef, and it is rarely bred and raised to the exacting standards that the Japanese cattle producers pride themselves for. Real Kobe Wagyu comes from Kobe in the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan, and although some U.S. sourced “Kobe” can be of a high quality, it is only bred from cattle that originally came from the Hyōgo Prefecture.

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

True Wagyu is graded on a scale from 1 to 5, and A5 Wagyu represents the highest level a cut of Wagyu can be graded. The “A” stands for the “cutability” grade of the beef, or simply the high yield quality of the beef; the scale runs from A to C. The “5” refers to the overall quality of the beef when graded for color (both of the meat and fat) and marbling, based on that 1 to 5 scale.

To avoid paying the extremely high prices for prepared Wagyu in an Atlanta area restaurant, I set out to save some money by sourcing it online and preparing it in my own home. This led to a lot of online research that resulted in me discovering Crowd Cow, an online purveyor of craft and specialty meats. I discovered Crowd Cow imports a very high quality Wagyu from the Kagoshima Prefecture of Japan, and I contacted them via Facebook Messenger to ask some questions. Crowd Cow suggested trying A3 Wagyu if I desired to enjoy it as a main course, and A5 Wagyu if I wanted to try something a little richer in flavor and texture as an appetizer. This resulted in me ordering a 4 oz. strip loin and a 9 oz. filet of Kagoshima A5 Wagyu. The transaction wasn’t painless however, as there was a big moment of sticker shock when these two items hit the shopping cart on the Crowd Cow website. Luckily, Crowd Cow was running a special that included a healthy percentage off the cost of the meat (I saved approximately $35 for being a first time customer) and free shipping. My grand total, for 13 oz. of meat, was $155. I couldn’t click the “Submit Order” button initially; the thought of ordering only 13 oz. of meat for that much money made my head spin. A question popped into my mind, “What if I screw it up when I cook it?” I actually hovered the mouse over the order button for a couple of minutes with my eyes closed. I thought about this meat being a once-in-a-life-time thing, and then I clicked to submit my order. After I allowed myself to start breathing again I found myself getting excited!

A couple of days later, I received my order from Crowd Cow! I’m kicking myself for not taking pictures of how it was all packaged, because it was done quite nicely. My little 13 oz. of meat came packed with six bags of dry ice, and each piece of meat was wrapped nicely in fancy butcher paper with a Crowd Cow sticker sealing it. I unwrapped each pack to find each piece of meat was vacuum sealed and labeled per FDA food labeling requirements, and also labeled as originating from the Kagoshima. Also included in the shipping box was a small canvas sack; in side I discovered they had included a small tin of sal gris. This was a thoughtful addition considering only the minimum of seasoning is recommended for Wagyu in order to let its natural flavors shine though. I tucked the frozen Wagyu into the freezer for safe keeping until 24 hours before I planned on preparing it for our anniversary dinner.

Top Left: Wagyu strip loin. Top Right: Wagyu filet. Bottom: Filet from Sprouts Supermarket.

24 hours before the big day, I transferred the frozen Wagyu from the freezer to the refrigerator to carefully defrost. Crowd Cow suggests to only defrost this way; advising to not defrost Wagyu by leaving it out on the counter and to definitely not use the microwave. Crowd Cow explains on their website that the marbled fat in Wagyu actually starts to render at 77° F, thus care needs to be taken in defrosting the meat properly.

Approximately one hour before I planned on putting the Wagyu on the grill, I brought it out of the refrigerator to come up to room temperature and seasoned it with the sal gris (the filet also got a dash of fresh ground pepper). While the meat rested, I took the time to prepare items for our anniversary dinner and to get the grill ready. I was using a kamado grill with a stainless steel cooking-surface insert to cook the Wagyu and the kamado was fueled with Royal Oak lump charcoal without any flavoring woods. As the grill came up to temperature, I sliced the 4 oz. strip loin into four servings; the filet was left whole for cooking.

Look at all that marbling on the strip loin! That’s all flavor!

It was now time to put the meat to the metal, and sear it off to a rare level of done-ness. I was surprised at this point by my lack of nervousness! I think had I watched enough YouTube videos of Japanese chefs cooking Wagyu at this point that I felt I could do it in my sleep. I carefully placed the strip loin and filet on the hot stainless cooking surface, and kept and eagle-eye on it. The smell was beautiful, and the searing went quickly.

This is what beautiful steak looks like!

I showed the small slices of strip loin the most attention on the kamado grill, using a flat-top grilling spatula to make sure each surface of each bite of Wagyu strip loin was seared on the stainless surface. The filet was left alone a little to allow it to cook to the proper level of done-ness; rare!

The strip loin is almost done, and it’s almost time to flip that filet!

Once I pulled the meat from the kamado, I let it rest briefly before slicing the filet in bite sized pieces for plating. I was shocked at how easily my knife fell through the filet; it was actually softer than butter! Stacey looked amazed as she could actually see how easy the knife sliced through it. The Wagyu was meant to be for us to enjoy as an appetizer (it was only 13 oz. after all!), and it was paired with a few bites of sushi and an enjoyable cold sake that Stacey had picked out for us.

Top Left: Sliced Wagyu filet. Bottom Center: Wagyu strip loin.

So I’m betting you’d like to know what we thought of it! I tried the strip loin first. I fell in love with the texture and flavor with the first bite! The texture was similar to a thick pork bacon, and it melted a little in my mouth, releasing that flavor of umami for my taste buds. Stacey, on the other hand, did not enjoy the strip loin; stating, “I felt like I was eating just fat. It wasn’t for me.”

I tried the filet next. It was EXQUISITE! The texture reminded me of tuna sashimi; with a nice, soft mouthfeel. It was flavorful, with a smooth beefiness that melted in my mouth. It was easy to slow down and savor each bite, and I caught myself looking at Stacey’s portions of Wagyu filet whilst licking lips. She caught me looking, and her body language visibly changed to defensive with a touch hostile as she pointed out I had four bites of filet just like she did!

After our fancy appetizer of Wagyu steak, I poured myself some more sake and set to making the main course for our anniversary feast. I cooked a filet for Stacey and I to share that we purchased from Sprouts Supermarket (excellent USDA Choice filet at a phenomenal low price!) and a lobster tail for myself. Stacey prepared mash potatoes and a Caesar salad to accompany the main course. It was all wonderful!

Our anniversary feast continues!
Not a bad main course, but not as good as the Wagyu appetizer!

To finish it off, Stacey had made a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake for me. It was phenomenal and I can’t wait for her to make it again!

So would I do it all again? I’d love to, but eating Wagyu seems pretty cost prohibitive. It was a great bucket list item to be able to cross off and I enjoyed the whole experience immensely. As a gastronome and connoisseur of good steak, I would highly recommend it to anybody with similar interests to try at least once. For me, I think eating Wagyu in Japan (along with sushi and noodles) is now on the bucket list, as well as maybe trying a Wagyu ribeye steak. (Sorry Stacey!)

The take-aways:

  • Real Wagyu comes from Japan! 
  • Real Wagyu is ridiculously expensive!
  • Wagyu is GOOD!
  • John wants more Wagyu!
  • Most importantly, John loves his Stacey! It’s been an awesome seven years! Thank you for tolerating me Stacey.