Sweet Baby Ray’s is Really Bad.

I’m going to make a statement that is going to be unpopular to the majority of people who are reading this.  Don’t worry, It’s OK if you disagree because I’m going to spend the next five minutes of your life convincing you that you’ve been absolutely destroying your meat with a disgusting sugar sauce that shouldn’t be allowed allowed to have the word “Barbecue” on the label.  So here we go.

Sweet Baby Ray’s is bad.  It’s really bad.

But why you might ask?  Most of you have probably been using Sweet Baby Ray’s your entire life.  These $2 bottles of “barbecue sauce” sit on end caps in your local grocery store every summer screaming for you to buy it.  That nice vintage looking bottle with “This Sauce is Boss!” written on the neck of every bottle.  That sweet tasting brown sauce that seems to enhance the flavor of your family’s boiled ribs, chicken cooked on the gas grill and even overcooked pork chops.  Sweet Baby Ray’s seems to make everything great!

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No.  Just no.  Sweet Baby Ray’s is not barbecue sauce.  Barbecue is beautiful.  Barbecue is flavored by wood or charcoal and gives the meat a naturally smoky flavor.  Not sauce with smoky flavoring.  Barbecue sauce can be a lot of fun and is often crucial to give piece of meat a nice caramelization on the outside — And before I go on, yes I know caramelization requires sugar.

But what if I told you that for every two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s you slather on your overcooked ribs, it’s the equivalent of eating the same amount of sugar as three Oreos?

Would you ever add 4 sugar cubes to your coffee?  I wouldn’t either.  Just a heads up, when you dump two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s on your chicken wings you’re eating just that.  Four cubes of sugar.

Did you know that every time you destroy a perfectly good piece of brisket with two tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray’s you’re eating 34% of your daily recommended sugar intake?

Here’s where things get really creepy.  There is no actual sugar in Sweet Baby Ray’s. Through advances in sweetener technologies over the years, Ray is able to lower the cost of his sauce by using both High Fructose Corn syrup AND corn syrup which has satisfied Wal-Mart customers across the country.

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Now let me wrap this up for you and clear up a few things. I’ve never claimed to be a health conscious eater.  I rarely read nutritional labels and have frequented many all you can eat buffets.  My point in all this is that you are essentially pouring corn syrup with smoke flavoring over a beautiful piece of meat.  Think about that for a second.  A living thing lost its life and you are pouring a substance on it whose creator won’t even go the extra mile to use real sugar.  Not trying to go all hard hitting on you with that statement, but seriously.  Use a quality sauce or no sauce at all.  The purpose of barbecue sauce is to add that tang to your meat, not to completely overtake the flavor with massive amounts of sugar.

So do yourself a favor and sample a different sauce the the next time you fire up the grill at home.  You can do better than Sweet Baby Ray’s.  There are hundreds of options out there who actually use sugar to sweeten their sauce and whose purpose isn’t to be the focal point in your food.  Barbecue sauce should be the Jamal Crawford of your barbecue, a crucial role player who comes through when you need him and has been there for you throughout the years.

If you really want to get crazy, here is a recipe for something that tastes just like Sweet Baby Ray’s but is actually good.

  • 1 bottle bottle organic ketchup (Real sugar, plus you shouldn’t be using ketchup for anything else anyways)
  • 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1.5 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (you could add more if you prefer a smokier BBQ sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions: Combine all ingredients.  Cook for five minutes  Enjoy not eating Sweet Baby Ray’s.

I hope this information has allowed you to move past this kindergarten barbecue sauce and graduate to treating your meat to something better.  You’re not a four year old dipping chicken nuggets in barbecue sauce.

You’re better than Sweet Baby Ray’s.

 

Tepache – An Explosive Tale

If you read my previous opost right under this one you are aware that my new interest lies within fermentation.  If you haven’t read that post do me a quick favor, scroll down and give it a read.  There are a couple of videos and things that will help this make more sense.  My first attempt in the fermentation game was Tepache — A refreshing pineapple drink that is popular with street vendors in Mexico.

The idea is pretty simple — Pineapple rind and ginger contain a lot of natural yeast.  Add sugar for the yeast organisms to feast on and they produce carbon dioxide waste which carbonates your beverage.  If you’re more of a visual learner, here it is in a nice simple picture:

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So what’s the point of drinking a fermented beverage?  Well, for me it was to just mess around with science and create a refreshing mixer for beer and dark rum.  If you’re into the health stuff, fermentation introduces bacteria to your system that helps with digestion and helps you absorb nutrients better.  You know how Jaime Lee Curtis talks about how Activia yogurt will help keep you “regular”?  Yeah, that.  Basically, fermented foods and drinks help you poop better.

So in summary you can either eat foods such as yogurt that introduce natural probiotics to your system or you can leave a bunch of fruit and sugar in a jar for a week to create a low alcohol beverage that you can mix with high alcohol alcohol beverages that makes you poop better.  Man, that was a long sentence.

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The version of Tepache I contained the following ingredients:

  • One whole pineapple, rind on
  • One piece of ginger
  • One habanero pepper without seeds
  • 1lb of brown sugar (more on this later)
  • One gallon distilled or boiled water

It then sat in a glass jar in dark area for four days while the yeast snacked on the massive amount of brown sugar I added.  Some people say you only need to do this for three but on day three I was tired from work and said F it.  On day four I had a slightly carbonated beverage that was much less sweet than when I first put it together.  I then strained the beverage through cheese cloth and into airtight glass containers to allow for further carbonation.

Here’s where this whole thing gets interesting.  I was having dinner in Ypsilanti when I get a call from my wife letting me know that something sounded like a bomb just went off in our home.  Turns out one of the glass bottles with my Tepache exploded due to carbon dioxide build up.  There was glass and Tepache everywhere.  It was an absolute mess.  Luckily, the other two bottles remained intact and produced a delicious drink that I quickly mixed with a wheat beer.  It was fantastic and I won’t go into any details about the health benefits that followed.

So here’s my only issue — either I added too sugar at the beginning or I filled my bottles up too high.  Problem is, there’s only one way to find out and that’s make more fermented beverages and see if they explode or not.  I’m up to that challenge and I am completely sure that my wife will be fine with the possibility of more glass shrapnel in our home.

NEXT UP : Fermented Ginger Beer!  Stay tuned!

Fermentation

I’ll admit, not much going on in terms of food these days.  I’m getting off three days of being sick and haven’t been outside in 48 hours.  What do I do while locked in the house for multiple days, you might ask?

I watch food and beverage shows on YouTube.  This time I around, I watched a few videos and pulled the trigger on something I have been wanting to experiment with for a long time:  Fermentation, or to make it really simple:  playing with bacteria in my food and drink.  To get me started, I have purchased single product.. a one gallon glass jar.

In this jar, I will start by making two things.  The first is Tepache, a Pineapple drink popular in Mexico that contains pineapple, brown sugar, water and cloves.  It then sits for three days while the bacteria eats the sugar and then you have a delicious bubbly, probiotic drink.  Apparently it also goes well with tequila or rum.  Or any kind of alcohol.

Side note, I urge you to watch the following video about the steps necessary to make Tepache.  Even if you have no interest, this series on Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel about cooking with bacteria is the best.

The second will be ginger ale which is done by creating a “ginger bug”, basically mixing ginger and sugar so the bacteria from the ginger feeds on the sugar and creates fermentation, then mixing with it with a homemade ginger tea.  This typically sits for a week before you have a delicious bacteria carbonated ginger ale.  I’ll be completely honest, I’m doing this because I’m curious how much better it will taste with Wild Turkey than my store bought ginger beer.  Notice a trend here?

If any of you have any experience in this field let me know.  I’m eventually going to want to make some Mead, AKA Honey Wine, and I’m sure I’ll fall into a rabbit hole after that.  I have created a new category to organize this exploration so if you’re interested, keep checking back.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

I remember very clearly the first time I saw something about barrel aged liquor.   I was in a subway in New York and there was poster advertising about how Jack Daniels is clear before it goes into the barrels.  After years of aging, it took on the colors of the barrel and came out a light brown.  I was in my late teens so I was more interested in Burnett’s Vodka and Bacardi Limon at the time, but this alway stuck with me.

Anyone who has drank a significant amount of alcohol with me knows that I’ve been a Gin man for quite a while now.  This was my sort of my graduation from shitty alcohol in my late teens and early 20s to something a little bit more sophisticated.  My curiosity for the culinary world began to drift into the alcohol I was drinking.  It was interesting to me how different brands seemed to have different spices and how you could pair it with things like cucumber and enhance the taste.  I began drinking my alcohol straight (or neat), or on the rocks without a chaser.  Alcohol became less of something that just gets you fucked up and more of a new world to explore.  About a year ago I starting drinking and enjoying Bourbon, which you could probably say has sent me down an alcoholic rabbit hole of exploration.

I have written a couple posts about my food travels through Kentucky, but the real reason I drove five hours through the worst state in the country (Ohio) was to gain a first hand education on American Whiskey, specifically Kentucky Bourbon.  The more I tasted and the more I read about this spirit the more I wanted to see how it was made, the people that make it and taste it directly from the source.  I planned out visits to six distilleries in five days and what resulted from it was a deep appreciation for all things Bourbon.

Now I’m not going to make this a post where I go into great detail and give a “review” about each distillery I traveled to.  I will say that I visited Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Woodford Reserve.  The thing I want to do with this post is share history of Bourbon, a little bit of the process and try to help you understand why I now have such a deep appreciation for something that seems like just another liquor that you buy in a bottle.  I’m also going to try and do it in a way that is interesting to you.  I hope I can help you appreciate the next drink of bourbon that you try and if you haven’t had Bourbon before, maybe it will motivate you to try it.

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So what is Bourbon anyways?  It’s actually very simple.  Bourbon is a Whiskey made out of a combination of at least 51 percent corn, malt(grain), wheat and rye.  The percentage of corn is very important, as you legally cannot call what you’re making “Bourbon”, unless it contains a minimum of 51% corn. That is the first legal requirement we will get into.  From there, everything is ground up and mixed with water.  This step is why 95% of Bourbon in the United States is produced in Kentucky. Kentucky’s rivers and lakes are covered in massive amount of limestone.  Limestone acts as a natural filtration for iron and produces iron-free water that is perfect for Bourbon.  You may bring up that there are plenty of places in the world where this much limestone exists as well, which brings us to our second legal requirement for Bourbon.  It must be produced in the United States.  You take grain and cook it in water. The water extracts the sugars from the grain and puts them into solution. This mixture is called the mash.  Next, adding yeast consumes sugar and releases alcohol through the process of fermentation. The mash ferments until it reaches approximately 11-12% alcohol. At that point, the alcohol kills the yeast and the fermentation process stops.

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It is then ran through a giant still, think of it as a giant copper chimney, and heat is applied to the bottom which separates the solids from the clear (the alcohol evaporates) and gives you what distillers call white dog, but the rest of just call moonshine.  This clear grain alcohol typically ranges from 125 proof all the way up to 160 proof, which brings us to our third legal requirement.  The white dog cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof and cannot enter the barrels at more than 125 proof.  Distillers use water to alter the proof throughout the process.

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Now we enter the fourth legal requirement for Bourbon — It must be aged in new, charged oak containers.  That’s right, a Bourbon barrel must be set on fire for a period of 15-55 seconds and may not be used to age Bourbon a second time.  The barrels are then placed in a large warehouse filled with other barrels for different periods of time, typically four to six years.  Depending on which floor the barrel sits on, the Bourbon will taste different due to pressure and humidity.  The liquid enters the crevices of the barrels in the Summer and is then expelled in the Winters.  Think of a ten year Bourbon has having the liquid enter and leave the barrel ten times.  There is no legal requirement on how long the bourbon sits, but the more expensive Bourbons sit for decades.  Bottles of a 23 year aged Pappy Van Winkle can go for $5,000 if you can find it.  The fascinating thing about that price tag to me, is it is made the same exact way a $20 bottle of Buffalo Trace is made — a combination of corn, wheat, rye and mash, then aged in oak barrels.

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Just like Jack Daniels told me all those years ago, the clear liquid leaves the barrels as a light brown liquid that can legally be called Bourbon, as long as it is as least eighty proof when it enters the bottle for sale.  This is the fifth, and final legal requirement to sell Bourbon.  These legal requirements are why you will never see a low alcohol Bourbon, fruit flavored Bourbons or clear Bourbons.  You may see a bourbon blended a flavor additive, but it is illegal to add any flavoring or coloring during the distilling process.  What you’re seeing is basically moon shine taking in flavors from the wood which gives is a deep, sweet flavor depending on the type of oak the distiller used and the amount of time the barrel was allowed to burn.  If you’ve ever had Makers Mark 64, you are tasting French oak that is added to give you a smoother taste than American oak. The long char opens the pores in the wood to add the sweetness.

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So if you actually read all that you might have a deeper appreciation for your next glass of Bourbon.  What you’re drinking is the product of hundreds of years of perfecting, potentially a decade or more of aging and generations of people working to create the perfect American Whiskey.  What’s more amazing is there is absolutely no waste when it comes to Bourbon production.  The leftover corn mixture is sold to farmers to feed livestock and the barrels are sold to make other types of Whiskey and barrel aged beers.

I will leave you with this.  The production, the history and the science are absolutely fascinating parts of something you could see as so simple.  Even more interesting are the people responsible for the production.  Master Distillers dedicate their lives to producing something that may turn out to be a complete waste of time but they won’t know for five to ten years while it ages.  Generations of families have been employees of distilleries and see it as their family calling to work for the business.  So much time, love and tradition go into the industry in Kentucky.  The perfect example of this is Freddie Johnson, a third generation employee of Buffalo Trade Distillery and led my two hour tour throughout the facility.  Even if you didn’t appreciate all of this, I hope you will read his story.

All Bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is Bourbon.”

Dad’s Favorites Deli

Whenever I’m in a different state on vacation, I typically will look for places that I probably will never have the chance to eat at again — Or at least not be able to find within 100 miles of home.  I’ll start out by reaching out to anyone I know in the area then I’ll move on to the internet trying to find anyone in the area who is writing about food. Sometimes I’ll simply do a search on Instagram for pictures of the food in the area and follow up with a search about the restaurant’s story.  I prefer smaller places owned by some guy that decided one day that he was going to sell his food for a living. I think the story behind the food is almost as important as the food itself.

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Enter Dad’s Favorite Deli, where a guy that cooked for family and friends for years decided to open up a little deli in 2008 in a random strip mall next to a gun shop and sell sandwiches, soups and his cheese spreads.  Now when I say random strip mall, I mean that when you GPS it you’re led directly into a fence.  From there, you must figure out for yourself that you must drive all the way around the fence (not into it, Michael Scott) and around a strip mall.  After navigating to the front of the mall, you must look for the small sign pointing you in the direction of a hallway that shares a gun shop, a jewelry store and a coin laundry.  In this hallway, sit five or six small tables and an open door all the way at the end.  Here, from 11am-3pm Mon-Fri, Dad is open for business.

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When you walk in to the small shop, the first thing you realize is Dad himself is making your food.  There are a number of other employees but how many places can you go anymore where the owner is the one putting everything together and making sure your order is done correctly?  The mystery location, the hallway and the presence of Dad make this such a better experience than going to some mass-produced sandwich shop where their only goal is to finish out their shift.  Care seems to be put into ever tray that goes out of their little assembly line style kitchen.

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Everything I read before my visit said the Asiago Pot Roast Sandwich was the way to go. This is exactly what it sounds like — pot roast and Dad’s Asiago Cheese Spread on French bread with a red pepper sauce for dipping that could probably making anything taste delicious.  Seriously, that red pepper sauce is like crack.  I ate there two hours ago and I’m still thinking about the taste.  The beautiful part of this sandwich is the lack of bullshit.  Four ingredients make up this sandwich, not one of them a “special” ingredient, but all four are done perfectly.  The bread is soft with the smallest bit of crunch to add some texture, the pot roast is tender and the cheese adds a slightly smokey bite.  The red pepper sauce tops it all off and adds a little tangy bite.  Since I’m on my way to obesity I added a soup which for today was Mexican corn chowder and was equally as great as the sandwich.  This entire meal cost me eight bucks.

Aside from the Pot Roast Sandwich Dad also offers seven other sandwiches, two soups made daily and macaroni and cheese.  Every menu item uses a different version of his cheese speads, which you can order in the shop or through his website.  On Tuesdays, he serves several different kinds of Tacos, in addition to the normal menu.

I absolutely love places like this.  Some guy enjoyed cooking food for family and friends and bravely decided he would give it a go to do it professionally.  This is what makes food so great — trying someone’s creations and knowing that they took a risk to serve it to you. There’s nothing flashy or special about Dad’s Favorites from the outside but once you avoid running into the fence and pass through a hallway filled with people eating his food, it’s quite obvious that Dad has created something special here.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Cajun in Kentucky

Hey guess what, I’m beginning another post with a question that I have no way of finding your answer to.  Remember back in March where I made the statement that food vacations are the best vacations?  No? well maybe you should go back and read that post before this one.  Yes?  Well, lets get started on another installment of John drives really far away and eats literally everything.

This time around I’m in Kentucky with six days of planned culinary checkpoints.  Not just that, but I’m visiting five bourbon distilleries in those six days. I’m in Lexington and Louisville — with stops at Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Makers Mark and Jim Beam.  I will also be making stops at three breweries before the week is over.  I guess if you wanted to come up with a catchy title for this vacation, you could call it John Consumes Kentucky.

So after five hours of driving, I decided it was time for me to establish myself within the Kentucky food scene.  Time to let the people of Lexington know that John Moors doesn’t fuck around when it comes to food.  Actually, I walked to a little Cajun-Creole joint called Bourbon n’ Toulouse I had been reading about on the intrawebz to get myself into some NAWLINS cuisine.

Here’s where I say that I know what you’re thinking, when you’re probably not thinking it at all, just so I can bring up something.  NOW I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE PROBABLY THINKING.  John, why on earth are you eating Cajun-Creole food in Kentucky?   Well, during my research before this trip I kept seeing people talking about this little joint called Bourbon n’ Toulouse.  Word on the street is back in 2004, a retired elementary school teacher spent every dime he had to open this place up with a basic business plan of serving some damn good food.  Apparently this model has worked, as everyone I talked to that is familiar with the Lexington area recommended it.

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Bourbon n’ Toulouse is a little spot, a step up from a hole in the wall, that has about ten tables inside with a large counter where you order your food.  Behind that sits a table with twenty or so various hot sauces that you are free to bring to your table.  All food is served on styrofoam plates with plastic forks.  I went with a half and half, meaning I got to order two different entrees.  My choices were chicken étouffée, which is basically a spicy roux gravy with shredded chicken next to their chicken, shrimp and sausage gumbo, which is apparently cooked for two days (!!!!).  There are ten or so other options that you can pick from including jambalaya, chicken chili, red beans with sausage — and if you’re not into any of that there is also a BBQ menu with pork, chicken and chili dogs.

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If you’re ever in the Lexington area this is probably your spot.  The spice in the food goes deep into your soul, which is that way Cajun food is supposed to do.  Portions, as you can see, are plentiful, and I can respect any joint that served their food with styrofoam and plastic wear.  The people there are friendly and are glad to help with any questions about the area.  The guy taking my order recommended a BBQ place which I will be going today.

More to come tonight, as John consumes Kentucky/Gets really fat.  Also, I’m in a bit of a rush so I didn’t proof read any of this.  If you see any mistakes, please let me know and I’ll get them fixed.  If you don’t see any, I either did a really good job writing this or someone already gave me a heads up.

Korean Shortrib Tacos

I’m going to begin this post with a question because it makes things feel more interactive even though there’s no way for me to find out what your response is to the question.  I guess that makes it a rhetorical question?

Have you ever walked into a restaurant you’ve been to several times and find a new menu item that completely puts that restaurant over the top?  Like, you’ve been there and had a few good meals but it was never a place you would go out of your way to return to?

That happened to me yesterday.  I was getting work done on the Miracle Whip (my white 2013 Ford Focus) and I needed to kill a couple of hours.  Rather than sit in the lobby and watch Harry Potter on their 24″ TV, I walked over to Ashley’s Beer & Grill, which has always been a good option in Westland but never a place I would go out of my way to visit for whatever reason.  Don’t get me wrong, I always have a good meal here and they have an amazing beer selection — But for whatever reason, I only eat here about once per year.

I looked over the menu for several moments until my eyes stopped on one of my favorite things.  Korean Tacos.

Korean Short Rib Tacos: Grilled bulgogi short rib, roja sauce, cilantro-green onion-lime relish and kimchi slaw.

I yelled across the restaurant at the waitress to immediately bring me these tacos.  Just kidding, I didn’t do that.  When the waitress returned I asked very nicely if she could bring me a plate of these delicious sounding Korean tacos and wondered…. Could Ashley’s do it?  Could they create one of my favorite dishes and offer it a mere two miles away from my house?

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The answer is YES.  Absolutely yes.  These Korean tacos are as legit as they come — And that’s not one of those things where I just make a blanket statement about how great something is with zero credibility behind it.  If I am eating ANYWHERE and Korean tacos are available, I pull the trigger.  I’ve had Korean tacos in five different states.  I KNOW Korean tacos.

Everything about these things work.  The bulgogi is plentiful and salty, the cilantro-lime slaw is fresh and doesn’t give you any kind of overpowering fruit flavor, the kimchi adds a vinegary tang and the roja sauce..  Holy shit, the roja sauce.  The roja sauce is SPICY.  So spicy I finished two large drinks while eating these tacos.  The best part is the spice level is not indicated ANYWHERE on the menu.  That means whoever is running this place is expecting people to assume that if you’re ordering Korean tacos you know they’re going to be spicy.  That’s exactly how it should be.

So if you’ve had Korean tacos before and have high expectations, go and get these.  If you’ve never had Korean tacos, go and get these.  If you’re a big fan of ground beef tacos with lettuce and not a lot of spice, please return to this site when you’ve improved your food game.

I see you Ashley’s.  You’ve stepped it up with these.  I will be back.

Ashley’s Beer and Grill is at 7525 N Wayne in Westland, MI