geek grilling tools
Summer has arrived, and that means it’s time to grill.  But before you start charring steaks, you’ll need a little equipment.  Here are my favorite nerdy accessories for the grillmaster within you.

1.  Extra-Long BBQ Tongs.  They don’t sound geeky, but this single piece of equipment can mean the difference between retaining your forearm hair or not.  Look for locking tongs at least 16” long, with metal ends since plastic and even silicone can melt at grilling temperature.

2.  TurboQue Turbo-Charged Smoker.  This battery-operated fan attaches to the inside of your grill and turns it into a convection smoker.  This means reduced cooking time and extra exposure to smoke from wood chips. 

3.  Infrared Thermometer.  Sure, you could hold your hand above the grill grate and count “one Mississippi… two Mississippi,” but it’s far more geeky to be accurate to .1 degrees Fahrenheit.  This non-contact thermometer instantly measures surface temperatures with the pull of a trigger, enticing you to be quick on the draw. 

4.  Instant Digital Probe Thermometer.  While the infrared thermometer will tell you how hot the grill is, it won’t give you a read on the internal temperature of your porterhouse.  Use a probe thermometer to quickly check the doneness of thick cuts without having to slice them open.  Choose a digital instant read over an analog model, unless you enjoy waiting while your fingernails melt over the fire.

5.  Onion Goggles.  You may look a little… special… flipping burgers with these on, but if you’re cooking with smoke, or better yet, over a campfire, they are indispensable.  The foam-lined glasses are highly effective at keeping the smoke out of your eyes, and keeping girls from ever talking to you.  But hey, form follows function, right?

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If you caught my post last week on smoking your own salt, you learned how easy it is to turn ordinary salt into an extraordinary seasoning.  But did you know that you can pull off the same trick with flour?  In this recipe, I’ve smoked Semolina flour – the most common kind used for pasta making.  The finished pasta takes on a subtly spicy smoke flavor and is a great match for Morel mushrooms. 

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sous vide flank steak tacos
Sous vide strikes again! This time, we’re exploiting science for perfectly medium-rare, ultra-tender flank steak.  And, since we’re throwing ethnic authenticity to the wind, why be predictable with our condiments?  Salsa and Monterey Jack are out, red onion compote and chèvre (goat’s cheese) are in.  If you’re not a sous vider (yet), you can cook your flank steak however you like: broiled, grilled, smoked, or fried.

Makes: 4 Tacos Scientificos
Total kitchen time: 30 minutes (+12 hours cooking time)
Special equipment: Vacuum sealer, sous vide water oven

Shopping list:

  • 1 lb. flank steak
  • 1 tsp. Mexican seasoning blend
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 four tortillas
  • 1 cup crumbled goat’s cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 bunch cilantro

  1. Pat the steak dry and coat all sides with Mexican seasoning blend and lime juice.  Vacuum seal the steak in a bag large enough that the meat lays flat (but still fits in your water oven).  Cut the meat into two pieces and seal separately, if needed.  (If you’re not cooking your steak sous vide, place it in a zip-top bag or a covered shallow dish and let it marinate overnight). Note: although it might be tempting to add aromatics like garlic to the marinade, don’t! Your kitchen will smell like ass by the time the meat is done.
  2. Set your sous vide water oven to 56°C.  Add the vacuum sealed steak, making sure the meat stays submerged.  Cook for a minimum of 1 hour, up to 48 hours.  The picture above shows the meat after cooking for 12 hours, which was perfectly tender.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat.  Add the red onion and reduce the heat to low.  Let the onion sweat 5 minutes, until it is slightly translucent, but not browned.  Add the dark brown sugar, sherry vinegar and salt and stir to combine. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, and making sure the mixture doesn’t boil or burn. 
  4. Remove the bag from the water bath and let the meat rest, still in the bag, for 10 minutes before searing.  Remove the meat from the bag and pat dry on all sides.  Sear with a blow torch, under the broiler, or in a smoking-hot pan.
  5. Slice the meat perpendicular to the direction of the muscle fibers, and on a sharp bias. 
  6. Assemble the tacos: tortilla, sour cream, steak, cheese, onion compote, cilantro.  Enjoy!

Cooking the steak sous vide rather than just grilling it may sound like a pain in the ass since you have to plan 12 hours ahead.  However, the hardest part of cooking flank steak is getting your timing right. Leave it on the grill 1 minute too long and it’s overcooked and tough; take it off too early and it’s raw.  And, if you’re entertaining company, you may be more focused on your margarita than your steak.  Cooking your meat sous vide lets you be laissez-faire with your timing – sometimes I even sear my steak before company arrives and return it to the water bath to keep it warm until we’re ready to eat.

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