The Food Side : Smoked, Chipotle and Maple Chicken Wings

Maple Chipotle Chicken Wings

One  place Tracey and I love to go to for the day or an over night is New Hope Pa.  This town, on the banks of the Delaware River, is a unique collection of old time history and up scale chic.  The main street is lined with small eateries and artisan shops which draw a diverse crowd from high profile shoppers to bikers on any given day.  The town also claims home to Marsha Brown’s Creole Kitchen and Lounge (an amazing restaurant built in a converted church) as well as one of the Triumph brewery locations.  And I would never think of leaving New Hope without first stopping into Susie’s Hot Sauce, one of the best hot sauce stores I’ve ever set foot in.

And as if that wasn’t enough another interesting town, Lamberville NJ, is just a short walk via bridge across the Delaware River.  For you people reading this that live in my area, I know that sounds strange considering our bridge to get over the Delaware is close to 2 miles long!  And for you history lovers Washington Crossing Park, from where Washington made his Christmas night crossing in 1776 is right down the road.

One of the things I love about places like New Hope is that you never know what you might stumble across.  One night while we were walking down the street we passed John & Peter’s, a place that is as unique as it’s blue, yellow and red paint job.  John & Peter’s is billed as the oldest continuously owned music club in the US.  And with live acts 365 days a year, twice on Saturday and Sunday, it’s hard to argue that they are a (if not thee) driving force in the local music scene.

But it wasn’t the music that brought us in that night, it was an item on the menu – deep fried double stuffed mint Oreo’s.  Now I know what you’re thinking, when is this article getting to the wings!  Well, as these discoveries usually go it’s sometimes not about the item that brings you into the restaurant, it’s what you discover while you’re looking at the menu.  And what we discovered was Maple Chipotle chicken wings.

When we saw them on the John & Peter’s menu we quickly decided that people do not live on deep fried Oreo’s alone so we placed an order.  And they were awesome!  The balance of the sweet maple and smokey chipotle was fantastic and so appetizing that we actually debated on passing on the Oreo’s for another order of wings (we didn’t).  So as a person who likes to fancy himself a wing guy, I knew sooner or later I’d have to give these a try.

Ok, first if you’ve gotten this far (thank you) I have to state that if you’re looking for some well spelled out recipe – you won’t find it here.  I’m kinda a “cook by zen” guy.  So I’m going to lay out the basics, and leave you the ability to tweak it to your preferences and tastes – which to me, is the very essence of what cooking is about.

I started by smoking the wings for two  hours with hickory wood.  I thought the smoke from the wood would help support the smoke from the chipotle and give a little flavor to the wing, not just the sauce.  This isn’t a necessary step in my mind, to be honest it was a beautiful  summer Sunday morning and I wanted to light my smoker.  What IS important is that you don’t cook them all the way through in the smoker. You’re just trying to give the meat a hint of smokiness.

Next I hit them with a touch of my dry rub (recipe and info here) and finished them off in a 400 degree oven.  GASP!  I hear you yell!  Yes, I bake my wings.  I find that by baking them in a very hot oven, they turn out crisp, plump and juicy.  Plus, I have an oven handy in my house, not a deep frier.  This shouldn’t take long, maybe 30 minutes.  If in doubt, pull out a wing and check for doneness.

As for the sauce, well that’s easy.  Start with whatever maple syrup you have on hand and I would dare say, the better the syrup the better the sauce.  Next I cut it with a little liquid to get the consistency I want.   I want the sauce to cling to the wings, but not be thick and gloppy.  To cut mine I used champagne, hey it was a Sunday morning so there was a bottle open, but you could use anything you’d like.  And don’t be afraid to use this step to add some flavor and take the recipe in a different direction (PSSSST orange juice).

The Software - As Alton Brown would say

For the chipotle part I used two different ingredients.  First I used the chipotle peppers packing in adobo sauce that you can buy in a can.  I used three or four peppers (make sure you get as much of that good sauce as you can) and chopped them up and added them to the syrup.  The rest I placed in a zip lock freezer bag and popped them in the freezer so I’ll have them for future use.  To give it a touch more spice I added a couple of pinches of McCormick’s chipotle pepper spice.

Now this is where the zen comes in, give it a taste and adjust to your liking.  I like to start with as much syrup as I’ll think I need for the amount of sauce I want and then add the chipotle peppers a little at a time till I get the balance I want between the sweet and the spice.  Then a quick whirl in the blender (taste again to make sure it’s still where you want it), place the sauce and finished wings in a big  bowl and toss to coat.  Serve with  your favorite beer or glass of wine.

I thought these turned out great.  Sadly it’s been a while since I’ve been to John and Pete’s so I can’t be sure how they compare, but I do know that if I had gotten these that night I’d have been tempted to order a second helping as well.  So give them a try and if you come up with any variations that you love, let me know!

Time for another beer…oops, sorry…order of wings.

Brisket, Beer and Badges

Several years ago, my girlfriend cemented her position in my life by giving me a Brinkmann vertical smoker.  I’m not sure how she knew I wanted one.  Maybe it was all the times I sat transfixed in front of the TV with the Food Network on watching guys pull huge hunks of meat from smoking metal contraptions whispering, “man I’d love to try that.”  Or maybe it was her deep, in-tune womanly psyche which in touch with the basic needs of her man.  Nah, it was probably the whispering.

The goal (and the result) - brisket sandwich with onion and horseradish; with a tomato, corn and basil salad.

Well of course I dove right in.  I read everything I could on the internet.  Subscribed to a couple of Enewsletters.  Even bought a couple of books.  Soon I was smoking chickens, sausage and pork shoulders (more on that in a later post) but the mountain I kept hearing I had to climb was brisket.  Brisket is a piece of meat from the belly region, and it can not be cooked anyway but low and slow in order to break down all the fat and connective tissue.  If you try to cook this like a steak, well you might as well dine on your dog’s favorite rubber chew toy.  So I dove in one day and tried it, I think I did fairly well but obviously I still have things to learn.

First it all starts with the rub – the dry rub.  Even if you’re a casual Food TV watcher you’re probably aware the roll that this spice blend has in BBQ.  Spice shelves at supermarkets are full of them, but part of the fun of BBQ is coming up with  your own blends of rubs and sauces.  Mine started as basic creole type blend that I got from a famous Food Network chef.  You can find it here.  Over the years though I’ve changed things either to suit my taste or simply because I found something neat I wanted to add to it.  My recipe this year is below.  I make a big batch every spring and if it lasts the season, I’m lucky. I started with a 4-5lb brisket, liberally applied the rub, wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. My rub recipe:

  • 1 part Smoked Paprika
  • 1 1/2 parts Spanish Paprika
  • 2  parts Kosher Salt
  • 1 part Roasted Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Black Pepper
  • 1 part Onion Powder
  • 1 part Dry Chipolte Powder
  • 1 part Dry Oregano
  • 1 part Dry Thyme

Because you have to cook it low and slow, brisket is not something you can just pop in the smoker at noon and eat at 6.  So I planned to cook it by starting it early in the morning and keeping it warm in the oven until my guests arrived.  Since I like to multi-task when I’m smoking I figured I’d take this opportunity to rack up some Untappd badges that I normally wouldn’t get.  I normally (read rarely) drink the same beer twice in a row, and I count on one hand the number of times I buy a case of something in a year – and most of them are Guinness at St Patty’s day.  So I bought a case of cheap beer (cheap beer is essential when you’re BBQing, it can be used in brines, marinades, sauces) and set the alarm clock to 2am!

I had already set up my smoker so that it was ready to go when the alarm went off.  The water tray was filled, and my charcoal starter was set up with a combination of briquets and lump charcoal.  All I had to do when I walked out on the deck was light a match.  When the coals were ready I poured them into firebox and waited for the  internal temp of the smoker to hit 225.  When it was ready I unwrapped the brisket and placed it in the smoker box and added some water soaked hickory chunks to my fire. Then I cracked a beer.  Yeah, at 2am – I’m a professional, don’t try this at home.

Let me just take a moment to editorialize here – sunrise, with the smoker going is heaven.  Ok, back to it…

At 7:30 the temperature of the brisket was 135.  At 140 meat doesn’t take a lot of smoke any more so I let it creep up to 145, removed it from the smoker, wrapped in aluminum foil and placed it in the oven which was set at 225 – and took a power nap.

The brisket - sliced and ready to serve.

When the digital thermometer read 195, I turned the oven off and left the brisket in it until it was time to serve.  When I sliced the meat it was moist and tender, but  not as moist as I’ve had at some smoke houses.  The flavor was amazing and a friend of mine who does BBQ parties on the side really liked it.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any experience with brisket so he couldn’t help with why it was a little drier that I’ve had from other places.

So BBQ fanatics, what am I missing in my brisket prep?  Do I need to mop on occasion?  Put some liquid in when I wrap it in the foil?  What’s you’re trick for making that amazingly moist brisket?

Oh the beers?  I won’t say how many I had throughout the day but here’s a list of Untappd badges I got :

Take it Easy, The Usual, Power Month, Six Pack, Drinking your Paycheck and Brewery Loyalist.  I wanted the Top of the Morning (5 beers before noon), but I didn’t get it.  But I did the next weekend.  Time for another beer – something different.