Food & Drink: June 2023

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Smoked to Perfection

For years, Joel Porter has had an offset grill sitting on his back porch, the kind with a big firebox off to one side that holds the wood, and a chimney on the opposite end that controls the airflow and the cooking temperature. And it’s gotten plenty of use. He’s used it to smoke briskets and chicken and ribs and a bunch of other stuff.

But it took a fair amount of work since he would need to check the temperature about every hour. So if he wanted to smoke a brisket overnight, that would make for a fitful night’s sleep.

“I used it extensively and really liked it and cooked a lot of meat on it,” he said. “But I wanted something that I thought was going to be a little bit easier to use.”

And that something turned out to be a pellet grill he bought at Lake Air Pool Supply about a year ago. That grill has an electric thermostat that keeps the temperature consistent, regardless if the air temperature fluctuates.

“If you set it for 250, it’s going to be at 250, and it’s going to keep it at that and I can walk away,” said Porter, who is the assistant dean and director of undergraduate advising for the School of Education at Baylor, where he has worked for 25 years.

Porter has had success with his pellet grill by smoking chicken — just placing it directly on the grill, and by smoking it using the “beer can chicken” method — as well as with brisket, bacon-wrapped jalapeno peppers and Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice.

But Porter was especially enthusiastic about a recipe he received from a colleague. Herb Cox, clinical assistant professor in educational leadership, shared his recipe for smoked queso, and Porter rated the dish “brutally good.” And it’s a pretty simple concoction: Place all the ingredients in an aluminum roasting pan and place it on the smoker. Let it go for a couple of hours, give it a stir, and smoke for another 20 minutes or so.

The recipe makes enough for a crowd, and Cox usually prepares it for entertaining, but the recipe can easily be cut in half for a smaller crowd. (Previous to his position in the School of Education at Baylor, Cox spent 29 years in public education, and was principal at Midway Middle School for nine years.)

About the only advantage Porter said his offset smoker offers is that is that food cooked on it has a bit more of a smoky flavor than that prepared on the pellet grill. He found a solution to that issue, however, in the form of a smoking tube, which is a metal cylinder that’s full of holes. Fill it with the same wooden pellets used for the smoker and light them on fire, and they slowly burn and release smoke that flavors whatever is being cooked.

After talking with Porter and our friend Hank DeHay, we took the plunge and bought our own pellet grill at Lake Air Pool Supply. We’ve been pleased with most everything we’ve prepared on it, but especially flank steak, rotisserie chicken and hamburgers.

The only thing that hasn’t worked great for us so far is pizza on the smoker. We took the baking stone from our oven and placed it on the grill while it was heating. Our mistake came when putting the pizza dough on the pizza peel that we had covered with cornmeal that was supposed to allow the dough to slide off easily onto the stone. We left the dough on the peel too long, which allowed the cornmeal to be absorbed, so instead of a round-ish pizza, we ended up with a mess of torn and misshapen dough. The oddly-shaped pizza tasted good, but we learned a lesson for next time: roll out the dough on the counter and add all the pizza ingredients. Then slide the dough onto the peel just before taking it out to the smoker.

A pellet smoker can also be used for baking and braising, but we haven’t had ours long enough to try either of those techniques. We’ve found a recipe for cold-smoked cheese that we’re looking forward to. And smoked ingredients can be used to make several varieties of cocktails, such as the old fashioned recipe below.

The Recipes

Smoked Queso

  • 2 pounds breakfast sausage, browned
  • 1 pound Velveeta cheese, cubed
  • 1 pound blanco cheese, cubed
  • 2 cans (10 ounces each) diced tomatoes, such as Rotel (use the hot variety for a spicier dish)
  • 2 cans (10 ounces each) cream of jalapeno soup
  • Generous shake of steak seasoning

Heat smoker to 225 degrees. Place all the ingredients in an aluminum roasting pan. Smoke for 2 hours, then stir. Smoke for an additional 20 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 20-25 servings. (The recipe can be cut in half to make a smaller amount.)


Smoked Ribs

  • 2 slabs pork ribs, about 3 pounds each
  • Yellow mustard
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into large pieces

For the dry rub:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

To make the dry rub, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together. Store leftover rub in an airtight jar or in a sealed plastic bag, with as much air removed as possible, in the freezer.

To prepare the ribs, remove the membrane. Slather a light coating of yellow mustard over both sides of the ribs, then season generously with the dry rub. Place the ribs on a baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To cook the ribs, heat the smoker to 225 degrees. Smoke the ribs for 2 hours. When the meat just begins to pull back from the bone, remove the ribs from the smoker and place on a large sheet of foil. Add more dry rub and then place the butter pieces on the ribs. Wrap tightly with the foil, then return to the smoker for another 90 minutes to 2 hours, or until the meat pulls further from the bone. Unwrap and place the ribs on the smoker for another 30 minutes or so to create a charred layer. Remove from the smoker, let rest for 15 minutes, then cut the ribs apart and serve. Makes 10-12 servings.


Pellet Smoked Chicken

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 4 chicken breasts

In a large bowl, mix together the vegetable oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in the pepper, parsley, ginger, mustard and garlic. Pour into a resealable plastic bag and add the chicken breasts. Massage the marinade into the chicken, then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Heat the smoker to 325 degrees. Cook the chicken for 25-35 minutes, turning once halfway through the cooking time, until cooked through. Makes 4-6 servings.


Pork Tenderloin

  • 2 pork tenderloins, with the silver skin removed
  • 1/3 cup bourbon or apple juice
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

To make the marinade: In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the bourbon or apple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Seal the bag and shake to combine. Add the tenderloins to the bag and refrigerate for about 8 hours or overnight.

Heat the smoker to 320. Cook the tenderloins for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until the internal temperature is at least 165. A slightly pink middle is OK as long as it reaches 165. Don’t overcook the pork as it will dry out. Makes about 8 servings.


Smoked Old Fashioned

  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted
  • 3 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce simply syrup
  • 4-5 dashes bitters

Heat the smoker to 180 degrees. Place the cherries on a baking sheet and place on the grill. Place the orange slices directly onto the grill. Smoke for 30 minutes, then remove the orange slices. Smoke the cherries for another 30 minutes, then let them cool.

To make the drink, pour the bourbon, simple syrup and bitters into and glass and add ice. Stir for about 45 seconds, then strain the drink into a clean glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange slice and a few cherries. Makes 1 drink.