The Ultimate Outdoor Kitchen / Texas BBQ Religion Part 1.5

Thursday, June 17th, 2010 | Posted in Cooking

From the Hello Kitchen Design Blog

My buddy has been looking to build an outdoor kitchen in the backyard of his new house in Houston, and being a BBQ/cooking nut, I started to help him plan it.

There’s a few ways you can go with planning any project/product, you can do it simple/basic, or highly idealistic/almost-unattainable.. we chose the latter.  This is why it makes it to The Sportsman Dispatch, anyway.

So, if you’re going to build an outdoor kitchen, what do you incorporate? From a high-level perspective, I started thinking about my my favorite cooking methods, even idealistic ones I want to try, ALL built into one:

1.) A REAL smoker pit.  See Smitty’s in Lockhart, Texas.   If you read Texas BBQ Religion Part 1 on last edition, you’ll know what wavelength I’m on here.  I’m talking brick and mortar, ground-level firebrick smoke “box” (even open top, maybe), and rectangular cook-box.  Plywood lid.  “OK, Colin, we can make it something more appealing, sure”.
2.) Tuscan-style or other Wood-fire grill – simple flat grill area to make wood (or charcoal) fires for direct heat grilling.  Pecan Burgers, Mesquite Fajitas, “Asador” (see article) South American Style Meats, or Tuscan-style grilling, whatever that is.
3.) Gas Grill – lets be honest, this is easy and convenient and makes excellent food.  You don’t always have time to burn down a 1/4 cord of oak for a couple burgers.
4.) Gas Burners – stir-fry, crawfish boilers, stinky/herby stuff you don’t want to stink the house up with.  Plus, its always more fun to spill stuff everywhere outside cause you know cleanup is not that big a deal.
5.) Flat-top grill – this is a greasy-spoon secret, and can be used to cook damn near anything.  Plus you can entertain your friends by pretending you’re a Japanese grill chef right up until you light your hair on fire with rice wine.

I’m going to try to bring in some “experts” on this one too – friends who take cooking/grilling seriously and know what it takes to make the perfect food.  I’ve got a crawfish man (who is a writer on the site) that I’m gonna ask about the gas-burner section of the kitchen.

One very important reference here:  Hello Kitchen Design, out of Austin, TX, featured the design of a similar outdoor kitchen in a blog post titled “Primitive Outdoor Kitchen… on a Tiny Urban Half-Lot?” (seen here –  This excellent article (including the photographs and planning drawings) both helped to further inspire this idea, and reassure me that there ARE others out there who share this vision.

More to come.. ideas for now..

7 Things About the Buffalo

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 | Posted in Expedition

1. Gear, Gear, Gear

We were in Austin, TX the night before we left trying to minimize as much of the equipment we were taking as possible.  It more or less resulted in one 30-50 liter dry bag per person, one cooler per a canoe, and three fishing bags(one per canoe, though they were personal ones.

On top of this we had tents, sleeping bags, pads, and one chair(A huge mistake), and Five 2 gallon Ozarka water jugs.  And we had plenty of room for more bags, chairs, and fishing supplies.

We all had pocket knives, Leathermans, and wetfit shoes, and I would advise on a tactical knife for your belt, and a pair of flip flops for the end of the day so your feet don’t stay wet till bedtime.  A lot of these “packing difficulties” definitely come from inexperience.  Hell, it was the first time any of us had ever been camping for more than a night from the back of a car, and the first time any of us had ever used dry bags, which I am convinced you can’t own enough of.

On that same note of gear, and limiting what we took, we all only took one change of clothes from fear of over loading our bags, but I would definitely recommend a change of clothes for each day.  Also, chairs.  Being in a canoe for 8 hours a day just to get camp set up and not have a place to sit, even if just for an hour to eat and drink, was a major pain.  There is plenty of room in the canoes to slide a chair/hunting stool/or pad into. Do it.

2. Damascus is a speed trap, Clinton is a speed trap, back country roads are not an interstate

A member of our party, to be unnamed, found out the hard way the differences between the interstate and a two lane road going over a hill.  That difference would be the amount of state troopers waiting for people to come around the hills.  But for anyone thinking of going, it is important to remember that those small communities up in the mountains are waiting for tourists to drive through them a little too fast.  At least that’s what the locals told us.

3. Plenty of time and plenty of campsites, enjoy the river, go up and down it, fish where you want

Our first night’s campsite. There are shoals like this everywhere

On our second day on the river we went a total of 18 miles.  Now, on a 25 miletrip, 18 miles in one day, and 3 miles on the first, leaves about 4 hours of canoeing on the last day.  And on that last day, towards the end of the Buffalo River, due to temperatures, underwater structure, or timeof day, our fishing hit a small stall.  And on that second day we passed up plenty of good fishing spots in our attempt at finding a new campsite, paddling for the sake of paddling, or just nor realizing how far we were going. So, enjoy your time on the river, there is plenty of day light to backtrack, stop and swim, wade, snorkel or anything else you want to do.

4. Swimming, snorkeling, and wet wading

When we were finishing our packing on the night before our trip, I made the comment a few times that in my fishing bag was a pair of goggles and a snorkel.  And when I said this, I am a jokester so it was a regular response, most of the guys in the room with me all laughed, assuming I was joking.  Well, when we made our first stop on the first night one of the guys went swimming, and I pulled out the goggles and snorkels and threw them out to him, and everyone was extremely surprised I actually had them.  But, to quote Phil, much of the river was like, “Canoeing over an aquarium.” The water is 6,7, 10 feet deep and you can see straight to the bottom.  You can see the fish down on the bottom, try to spear them, kick up some rocks and watch them eat some algae, or just swim around with them.  Take some time to enjoy that, it’s not every river that you can do that.

5. How to Fish and what to fish with

For a lot of people, this might be the more important section, but I’m going to try not to elaborate too much because in my experience everyone fishes different, even with the same rigs.  I will say this: dark worms, salamanders, Texas Rigs, and Rapala Shad Raps all worked wonders.  But all in very different ways.

The plastic rigs really worked well being thrown up into the bank, dragged through some of the growth, sinking into the rocks and popped in and out.  The way those small mouths struck those worms felt like you just hooked up with a five or six pounder, not a little twelve or fourteen incher.

Now for the Shad Raps. You damn near can’t do anything wrong with these to be honest, from throwing them into the bank, a deep diver 4-6 feet, and reeling it back, dragging it across the rocks, to throwing it out into the deep holes perpendicular to the flow and reeling it across the river. I found though, in complete honesty what I have found to work best with trout and Rapalas, is the casting downstream and reeling up, or casting upstream and reeling down methods, were the most effective ways to use them.  And I’ll get into why I think that in the next section.

I also think that having a weighted plastic rig set up(Texas or Carolina Rig) and dropping it down under some of the larger boulders and rocks at the bottom, is the way to bring out the bigger fish, especially in the afternoon and early evening.  Next time I am definitely giving that a try.

6. Bass compared to some trout

Most bass fishing I’ve done in my life has been in lakes, tanks, slow moving streams, and ponds.  Never in a quick moving river.  And it really changed what I could see of the bass.  For the most part they still hung out in shallows in the morning, moved in and around structure, hit on top water in the late evening, but the one thing I noticed different was their strange behavior in the currents.  Almost like a trout, I often could see, as explained earlier it was like looking into an aquarium, bass stalled in currents swimming up and down, which is why I believe the Shad Rap strategy of casting up and down the river, opposed to across, was so successful.  Just a small observation about the fish that was very different and unexpected for me.

7. The company of the trip is most of the pleasure

And to hit the ol’ cliché on the head, these trips aren’t about the fish or the location, but about the experience.  And the experience of being with six other great guys who have been great friends to me over the years, really changed this trip into something special.  Sitting around, having a few beers, talking fish and guns and Arrested Development quotes separated this from a generic camping trip and made it into an amazing experience that I can’t wait to have again.

Phil, James, Stephen, Fassett, Fielding, and George

A Hole in the Back Yard

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 | Posted in Fishing

I’m spoiled.  There is no getting around that fact.  I have had the chance to experience fishing in places that most others will never get to.

The White

My first fly-fishing trip ever was on the White River in northern Arkansas in the Ozark Mountains.  I had never tied a fly on, nor cast a fly rod in a body of water when I waded out into the river.  And I had a great time learning, as I reeled in trout after trout, even catching a nice size brown trout.

But, in contrast to the trip, I have also been fishing the same holes at some old family land.  It’s two tanks, maybe 50 yards across and 100 yards long, total.  I know the structure and drop offs from swimming in them, I know the little valleys from seeing the wash outs leading into them, and I’m damn sure I’ve been catching the same 10 bass for the past 20 years.  But that’s not the reason I love it.  I wouldn’t care if I had a swimming pool in my back yard with one fish in it, I would sit out there and try to catch it over and over.

The point of this post is to emphasize the importance of not the location, but the experience.  Because when the day ends, tackle is being put up, and a cold cousin(Coors) is  being popped before the ride home, it is the fact that feeling a bite, setting the hook, and hearing the drag spin as you reel is an experience that separates the fisherman from the rest of the world.

It’s a feeling of success, a quick rush of adrenaline, when you get to yell, “Fish on!” It’s different then hitting a good drive on the course or making a basket to win the game.

It’s you and the fish.  That’s it.  No crowd, no points to score.  And that’s what makes it different.  Whether you are in the middle of the greatest fishing hole in the world or under the interstate with a Zebco reeling in some perch.  It’s the experience that I crave.  After catching hundreds, maybe thousands of fish in my life, I still want to catch more.

Random Meats, Part 2: Beef “Bourguignon”

Friday, May 7th, 2010 | Posted in Cooking

This series, fully titled “Buying Random Meats, and Putting them into Pots”, was inspired by the realization that great meals can be cooked by simply browning any meat in a pot, adding some vegetables and juice, and waiting several hours.  This has excellent applicability in expedition, camping, hunting and fishing cooking, where simplicity is ideal.

In this image: Zwilling/J.A.Henckels Professional "S" series knives, Boos Block cutting board.

As a follow-up and continuation of the promised aforementioned series in last month’s article “Last Minute Cast Iron Supper”, I decided to buy some more meat for the cast iron pot.  This time, it was inspired by an episode of “Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations”, which, I’ll admit, will be a large influence on many of the cooking articles on this site for awhile.  In this episode, Bourdain claims that every American should know how to make a stew, and showed a simple 5-ingredient Beef Bourguignon.

Burgundy, I presume..

So I went to the store and bought the best non-leaky-package pot roast I could find, an onion, carrots, and a handle of $7 Burgundy (a necessity in this dish according to Bourdain) Wine.  That’s cheap wine, but it was the only Burgundy I could find.  The recipe?  As usual, season and brown the meat, set it aside, season and saute the vegetables, add liquid (wine), add back the meat, and wait. (more…)