Following a dream.

SSBBQ-LOGO-HRWhile you are working, have you ever day dreamed about owning your own business? Well for years I always had the thought that “one day” I’d take the plunge but of course life just got busy and the timing never felt “right”. Well, the universe seemed to take matters into its own hands last year and gave me the time to actually give the dream a serious consideration.

I know there has been quite the bit of time between blog posts but there has been good reason. South Street BBQ is coming to fruition and it has been my sole (soul?) focus for the past few months.

Between finding a suitable location to outfitting the trailer to navigating the pathways of permits and subcontractors to developing the menu to figuring out social media, my days have been full. I am going to be documenting the adventure in a blog format but have migrated everything over to our new website ( – which will be fully live any day now…I just need to actually carve out some time to produce some copy that makes sense) and new blog posts will be placed there instead of having two accounts. I figure it would make it a wee bit less confusing (and time consuming on my end).

You can also follow me on Twitter (@southstreetbbq) and on Facebook (South Street BBQ) and on Instagram (@southstreetbbq) for all the insights and photos of what should be a very exciting summer. I hope you will join me on this ride.

Sorry to be melodramatic but this will be our final blog post here on Earth, Meat & Fire…..but fear not…the title has become a hashtag so when you are out in cyberland, just search with #earthmeatfire and it will lead you to all things South Street BBQ.

Thanks and smoke on! 🙂



Dino Bones!

1511218_10152641450285978_7528944866345708294_nWhen I was a kid, one of my favourite cartoons was the Flintstones and I was always in awe of that final scene of the opening credits when Fred and family pull into the diner, the waitress comes out with a huge rack of ribs and the car tips over…I thought “WOW! Imagine how awesome that would be to be able to eat something that big!”. Little did I know, that many years later, I would learn that dino bones do exist! Here’s a look into my recent adventure….Flintstone style:

I don’t live in Bedrock but I figured “How hard could it be to find a good cut of beef short rib?” Seems grocery stores had no clue what I was talking about, Costco said nobody buys them so they never have them and a couple butchers said the same thing as Costco and offered me beef back ribs instead….fortunately, I stumbled upon a new local spot that had a problem, they had short ribs and couldn’t find anyone to buy them….it was like fate brought us together! 🙂 Short Rib Marbling Beef short ribs are not called “short” because of their length, it is because they are cut from the the short plate of the primal. One key difference between short ribs and back ribs is that the meat is on top of the bone of a short rib….on a back rib, there is meat on both sides of the bone. Here is a pic of a nicely trimmed short rib. You can see the bones on the bottom and all the meat is laying on top. The marbling in this slab is quite nice which will really give some great flavour during the cooking process.

Next up is a simple salt & pepper rub. One thing I loved about the butcher that sourced these is that he is a firm believer in the ethical treatment and raising of the livestock. Everything he sells has been grass-fed, locally pasture raised and no hormones or other crazy stuff has ever been injected or given to them.Rubbed Short Rib What is one way to quickly determine if the livestock has been ethically raised or not? Just take a look at the colour of the fat on the cut of meat. If it’s yellowish, then it has been living off grass and organic food. If it’s a nice pearly white, then it has been fed a diet high in corn, cereals and god knows what else that isn’t a natural diet for them. As you can see here, there is a nice concentration of yellow fat in these ribs. Exactly what I was looking for.

Short Rib Thickness

After Stumpy got heated up to 285F, these ribs were then cooked for approx 6 hours. Time to pull them out and have them rest a wee bit so they will be relax and be ready for cutting and eating. While resting, I just had to grab the tape measure because I could not believe how thick these things ended up being! When I brought them inside, I knew what that poor waitress felt like when bringing over a rack to Fred’s car. 🙂

Short Ribs Cut

After close to an hour of resting, it was slicing time. As someone mentioned to me, they were like brisket on a stick! You can see the smoke ring and the nicely rendered fat that made everything juicy and tender. Time to put on a bib, grab a rib with two hands and yell “Yabba-Dabba-Doo!” 🙂

American Royal – Competition Mecca

Baseball has the World Series. Football has the Superbowl. Soccer has the World Cup. Hockey has the Stanley Cup (being Canadian, I had to throw that in!) and BBQ has the American Royal. If you are looking for THE place to go for seeing and immersing yourself in BBQ culture then the American Royal is the perfect place to do so.

So without further adieu, here is a quick historical tour of what this event is all about:


The American Royal began in a tent in the Kansas City Stockyards as a national Hereford Show.  This show has grown into the annual American Royal Livestock show drawing owner/breeders, future business and agriculture leaders (high school and collegiate), and animal enthusiasts from across the country.

The first American Royal horse show was added in 1905, and has grown to include five shows (Quarter Horse, Hunter-Jumper, Arabian, Saddle Horse and a Youth Show).  The horse shows draw horse-enthusiasts, owners, trainers, grooms and riders nationwide from 36 states and Canada.  The UPHA/American Royal National Championship Horse Show was voted best horse show in the country in 2002, by the UPHA (United Professional Horseman’s Association).

The American Royal grew to include a rodeo in 1949 with the first PRCA-sanctioned rodeo being held in 1976.  The American Royal Pro Rodeo was voted one of the top five rodeos in the country in 2004 and again in 2011 by the PRCA.  The 2011 American Royal Pro Rodeo was also awarded the PRCA “Remuda” Award. The prestigious award, created by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 2004, is given to the organization which provides the most elite pen of rodeo stock. The American Royal joins a group of the top rodeos who have received this award.  In conjunction with the rodeo, the Royal hosts some of the country’s top music entertainers and has recently presented Reba, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Allan and Dierks Bentley to name a few.  In 1995, the Royal also began hosting an Invitational Youth Rodeo, drawing top youth competitorss from throughout the Midwest who are selected to compete through their leadership, academics, community service, and rodeo expertise.

The American Royal World Series of Barbecue® has continued to grow since the inaugural event was held in 1980.  Spreading over 54 acres in Kansas City’s historic Stockyards District, and with over 500 teams competing in four meat categories, The Royal is the largest barbecue contest in the world. Combine this with a barbecue-related trade expo, this four-day food festival is truly the World Series of Barbecue®!  In 2011, this event was voted Favorite Family Festival/Event by Kansas City Visitors’ Choice.  The Barbecue, according to best-selling author Patricia Schultz, has been designated as one of 1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die.

The American Royal continues as a well-loved Kansas City tradition, supported by the Metropolitan Business Community, Nationally recognized sponsors and a 900+ membership base (American Royal Governors), who represent a cross section of the Kansas City Metropolitan community. – (

If you have a few minutes to watch, here are a couple videos showing some historical and current footage:
 So what do you think? Would the Royal be a spot for your BBQ pilgrimage?

The “Science” of BBQ.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Bill Nye on you because BBQ is quite simplistic but there is something magical about how smoke and heat creates such tasty results.

Two of the most prominent aspects of BBQ is the formation of Bark and a Smoke Ring which are what separates real BBQ from anything done in a crockpot. Here is a quick breakdown of the science behind both:


Brisket BarkWhen you first look at this brisket, most people would assume that it has been burnt to a crisp and would be a dried out hunk of meat. Sure that may happen if done on a gas grill at high heat (There is a reason my father earned the nickname “Torch”) but when done over a long period of time at lower heat over coals, the meat is moist and juicy and the outside is like candy.

You see, the bark (or crust) that forms is due to a chemical process between smoke, water (moisture) and the salt that is generally in a dry rub. As your meat of choice slowly cooks, moisture from the meat and water vapor in smoke dissolves the water soluble compounds in the rub, such as the salt and sugar, melting the rub into a gritty slurry. Fats then bubble up from within, mix with the rub and dissolve some of the spices that are fat soluble. Finally, the smoke particles cling to the surface goo and the colour change happens depending on how much wood is used to create the smoke and the length of time the meat is left exposed.

charcoal_vs_gas3This pic shows how two different barks can form on ribs depending on the length of exposure. Both of these were cooked at the same temperature for the same length of time yet the one on the left was exposed to smoke longer than the one on the right. You may be surprised to know that both have the same tenderness to the meat…only the outside texture is different. So depending on your personal taste and visual preference, you can opt for a slightly darker but saltier/sweeter taste or the traditional mahogany look. Personally, I am a fan of the red mahogany for ribs and dark bark for a brisket.

Smoke Ring:

One thing to always be aware of when smoking meat is that the actual smoke should be a pale blue tint…not a sooty white fireplace kind of smoke. blue_smoke_by_grant_erwinThe last thing you want to do is have your food taste like an ashtray and white/grey smoke will do that. As you can see here, the cooker closest to you has hit the “holy grail” while the one behind it is spitting out the nasty stuff. 🙂

Ok, now that that public service announcement is out of the way, lets take a look at what the Smoke Ring is all about:


One of the sure fire ways to tell if meat has been actually smoked is the ridge of pink that forms just below the surface of the bark. Granted, a smoke ring does not impart any flavour but it does provide the authenticity to your product.

Basically the key to a smoke ring is moisture. When BBQ’ing, moist meat holds onto smoke more readily than dry meat. Less smoke sticks as the cooking continues because the surface of the meat begins to dry. For this reason putting a pan of water in a smoker helps create a smoke ring because the evaporating water condenses on the meat. It is also equally important to spritz the meat during the cook to help keep the moisture content up on the surface.

As smoke particles and combustion gases land on the surface of meat, especially cool moist meat from the fridge, they condense, dissolve, and some are moved deeper into the meat by diffusion and absorption. The cells are simply seeking equilibrium. The process is the same as when someone lights a cigar in a room. All the smoke starts out near the cigar, but eventually it spreads throughout the room as it achieves equilibrium. After a while it penetrates clothes, furniture, and even food. Because it is water soluble, cigar smoke will get into wet things first, like your wife’s eyes. Before long you and your cigar will be seeking equilibrium in the garage. 🙂

The result of the smoke entering the meat is that pink ring. The thing to remember Smoke Ring Exampleis that regardless of cook time, the smoke can only penetrate so deep so you cannot get a smoke ring much thicker than what is pictured…roughly 1/8 – 1/4″. One other takeaway for you is that a smoke ring best develops on a cool, thawed piece of meat…meaning don’t let the meat sit on your counter and get up to room temperature before putting in on the cooker. As soon as you take it out of the fridge, rub it up and throw it on to help achieve that professional looking smoke ring!

Well there you have it. A quick lesson in the science of BBQ. How do you prefer your bark to be? Is there a special rub that you use to help create that crust? Now that you know that moisture is key to a smoke ring, go give it a try on whatever cooking device you prefer…I’d love to hear about your successes.

Happy New Year everyone! 🙂

It’s a Pulled Pork kind of day.

When it comes to cooking meat, pork is known for being fairly forgiving but for some reason I have had some recent issues with getting pork butt done just right. Ribs, not a problem. Brisket, nailed it. Pulled pork, meh.

I thought long and hard about potential reasons for the less than stellar results and only one thing stood out as to why…the pork I’ve been using was boneless. You see, I was in Costco a couple months ago and they had a sale on cryovac pork butt so I grabbed one package that weighed in near 22 lbs. I expected there to be a bone but alas when I opened up the package everything spilled out in 4-5 hunks of pork. They were not uniform in shape and flopped all over the place because the shoulder bone was completely removed! The results from these specific butts was nothing to write home about.

Now after that lengthy prelude, we now turn our attention to this past weekend where I was determined to solve my pulled pork struggles. First off, a proper cryovac pork butt was found:

Cryovac Pork Butt

I got this 10 pounder at a small, independent supermarket. It had a nice mixture of fat and meat. As you can see, it is fairly uniform in shape.


Bone in Pork


After removing the packaging, the entire butt stayed in one piece…thanks to the intact shoulder blade bone (which I am pointing to). The bone is also the secret component to knowing when the butt is done.


Rib Rub


Now it was time to apply my homemade dry rub. It’s a super simple recipe of salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder. It gives both a nice flavour profile and forms a good bark.


Rubbed Butt 1

Here it is all rubbed up and ready to hit the smoker. When applying rub, don’t forget to hit all around the edges as well so the bark is nice and uniform.



Stumpy in the Snow

While prepping the butt, Stumpy was getting all warmed up despite the early blast of winter weather that we got. Have no fear…thanks to the cooker design it will hold a desired temperature pretty much bang on even when the mercury dips below freezing.

With the butt rubbed, its time to throw it on the pit and lock it down. A 10 lb butt takes roughly 1 hr of cooking per pound…so I won’t see this baby for a long while and remember: “If you’re lookin’ you ain’t cookin’.” 🙂

So..what does one do to pass the time away during a long cook? There’s always side items to make or tv to watch or naps to take….but I decided to knock an item off my to-do list: Finding a home for some firewood for Stumpy.

Oak firewood

It’s been a solid 8 hours and how do I know that the pork is done cooking? Well you could slice it open to look at the inside for doneness or stick a thermometer in it to get a temperature reading or you could say a few prayers to the BBone TestBQ Gods and “hope” it’s done…or you can just check the pork butt’s own self contained doneness indicator. The Bone. Yup, just grab the bone and if it starts to lift away from the meat, it is done. Simple. No fuss, no muss. 🙂 This was why my previous attempts didn’t turn out so well..I had no true way of knowing when it was done since the Costco butts had no bone. I felt vindicated!

Now it was just a matter of a little more patience while the butt rested. Then pulled it to shreds, loaded it up on a kaiser along with some homemade coleslaw and VOILA….now its time to have a nap. 🙂

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Sammie







Meat 101

Ham, Pork Shoulder, Bacon, Back Ribs, Side Ribs, Spare Ribs, Brisket, Sirloin, Ribeye…we’ve all heard of these cuts of meat (and many others) but sometimes they sound like they come from a certain area and in fact they are on the opposite end!

Since I’ve learned a lot recently from local farmers, meat purveyors and good ol’ trial and error, I figure that this post would be a bit of a Show and Tell to help you get oriented with your favourite pieces of protein. So lets start with pork:

This may be the most confusing critter or the world of meat processing has a warped sense of humor. You see, when you want to smoke up some pulled pork the cut of meat has about 157 different names (ok, slight exaggeration but you’ll see what I’m talking about) and it depends on the regPig Meat Cutsion you live in as how to go about finding this specific cut.

Pulled Pork is best made from the Pork Butt…but it’s not the back end of the pig where the name suggests but actually the shoulder area. It can also be referred to as a Boston Butt or Shoulder Butt and can come bone-in or boneless. (FYI: All you Ham fans out there…you gotta go to the rear for that 🙂 )

With ribs, these are naturally found smack dab in the middle of the pig and are known as Spare Ribs, yet if you wanted Baby Back Ribs you’d have to go looking in the Loin for those…the same spot where you would find chops and roasts. Got a hankering for some Side Ribs? Well, they are found in the same spot as Bacon.

Now our friend the cow seems to have proper names for the location of the cuts. Rump comes from..well the rump and ribs are all located where you’d expect them to be but what you may find interesting is that the biggest yBeef Cutsield of meat comes from the front and back of the cow (nearly 60% is found in those two sections) yet they are the most difficult cuts to work with.

For example: Brisket is the pectoral muscle of the cow and since cattle walk around on four legs, that pectoral is used day in and day out. It becomes this big thick slab of muscle and tendons intertwined with fat. That is why the only way to cook it is over a long, long period of time so that everything renders and relaxes. If you tried to carve a brisket into a steak and throw it on the grill for 10 minutes, you might as well be tucking into a saddle. 🙂

Chuck is also the location for the plethora of roasts you that would buy. Pot roast, blade roast, eye roast along with stewing beef and ground beef all come from the difficult front end.

For the meat connoisseur, you would focus on the Sirloin or Short Loin sections as that is where Filet Mignon is found along with T-Bone’s and Porterhouses. Nice trim cuts that when grilled just melt in  your mouth…of course with only 17% of usable meat found here, you do pay a premium at butcher shops and restaurants.

So there you go, a quick lesson which will hopefully help you when you are chatting with your butcher or shopping around for your next get-together. Do you have a favourite cut of meat? If so, what is it and how do you like to prepare it?



First cook.

Prior to finding Stumpy, I had been doing a ton of research on how BBQ should be cooked and found that there are many subtle nuances depending on the type of meat and the type of cut.

The holy grail of BBQ turns out to be beef brisket because it’s an awkward piece of meat that takes many many hours of cooking in order to get it tender…so being the gung-ho type (or maybe a sucker for punishment) I decided to tackle a brisket right from the start. Little did I know, at the time, that finding a proper sized brisket in my neck of the woods would be difficult and also cost-prohibitive. When I say “proper sized” I’m meaning a full 12-15 lb uncut brisket and it seemed that my only option was a local butcher who was charging $7.99/lb. I know I’m crazy at times but paying over 100 bucks for a cut of meat for my first cook seemed just insane!

Ironically, we have a local farmer who rents some of our land and grows crops for the Angus cattle that he raises. One day I was chatting with him and mentioned how outrageous brisket prices were and he looked at me and said “What size are you looking for?” I told him and two days later his wife shows up at our door with a 13 lb full brisket…no charge! Sweet fancy moses..I felt like I won the lottery! So now it was time to clear the calendar, fire up Stumpy, prep that hunk of meat and see if my copious amount of research (and a bit of luck) can yield something tasty for dinner:

Here iBrisket Cryovacs the packaged brisket. It is known as a “Full Packer” which is the entire pectoral muscle of the cow and consists of both the point and flat. To help give you some size perspective, the cutting board its sitting on measures 15″ x 21″ and this sucker will expand a bit once out of the cryovac package!

Brisket Pre-rub

Now I’ve removed the raw brisket from its packaging and you can get a sense of how it lays out. It is a huge cut of meat and there are some uneven parts sticking out so they need to be trimmed off along with some of the fat. There are varying opinions in the BBQ world whether to trim fat off the cap or not bTrimming Brisket 1ut I’m going to thin it down a wee bit so my rub can help form a nice bark. At this point in time, its 5am and Stumpy has been pre-heating for a little bit..he’s getting hungry so just one more step to go before throwing this baby on.

Brisket cut & rubbedAfter trimming, all that’s left to do is apply some top secret brisket rub which will help form the bark and give the meat some extra zest. Wanna know the recipe to the secret rub?? Lean close and I’ll whisper it to you…..salt and pepper. Yup, that’s it. 🙂

Now the fun begins and after approximately 12 hours of patiently waiting (read: nervously worrying that it wasn’t going to cook right), I opened up the cooker to findFirst Brisket - resting this glorious dark piece of meat. So far so good! As you can see a very nice bark (crust) has formed around the brisket and before we can get to eating, this hunk has to relax and rest. Resting is very important because the meat has been under a lot of stress and now needs to unwind and allow the juices to soak back in a bit. So I’ll just lightly wrap it up and have it sit on the counter for another couple of hours…I thought it would cool down too much over that time but surprisingly it stayed very warm and now ready for slicing!

Slicing a brisket can be tricky because the grain runs in different directions depending on if its the point oBrisket Flatr the flat that you are cutting. Here are the final results and you know what, not bad for a first go around. Everything had a nice smoke ring to it (that’s the pink you see along the cut edges so you know smoke penetrated the meat) but the flat (which is the leaner section) turned out to be a bit dry…so some tweaking had to be done for next time. The larger point section came out quite tender and you can see the nice rendering of fat wiBrisket Point 1thin the meat. By this time we were starving and dove right in. A brisket of this size could feed a small army so there were plenty of leftovers to be had but nothing beats a successful cook for a first timer!

Man, creating this post sure has gotten me hungry…time to forage for some lunch. Bye for now! 🙂

My buddy Stumpy.

When it comes to smokers there are many options ranging from the traditional “stick burners” or offset smokers to vertical water smokers to pellet smokers to rotisserie units…there are even homemade jobbies called Ugly Drum Smokers (or UDS for the pros out there).

Each has their own technique and learning curve along with a variety of fuel options (wood, lump charcoal, briquettes, propane, wood pellets) plus the prices can vary quite dramatically…from free (if you can build your own from scrap parts) all the way up to thousands of dollars for industrial sized rigs.

So as a true noobie, where the heck does one start? Well, I looked at a few things namely my experience or lack thereof, my geographic location (because it gets darned cold in the winter), the fact that I would prefer to not have to babysit a fire all day and night while cooking and I was on a wee bit of a budget due to not having a job.

After going through the pros and cons of each style available, I narrowed it down to a gravity-fed insulated vertical smoker. Whew…quite the mouthful right?!? So what the heck is it?

StumpsWell, let me introduce you to my new buddy named Stumpy. He stands 49″ H x 36″ W x 24″ D and has enough room inside to hold ribs, brisket, pork butt and even some stuffed jalapeños. The learning curve is relatively short due to the fact that you fill up a side hopper with charcoal and the firebox with wood chunks of your choice. Once lit, the charcoal drops down onto the wood creating the smoke profile that cooks the food (this is the gravity portion of the smoker). Since Stumpy is fully insulated, it holds heat in really well (which is needed in my neck of the woods) and this little guy will burn on its own for over 6 hrs without being tended to which allows me to focus on the meat…or getting items off my honey-do list 🙂 Pretty cool eh?

So where did I find Stumpy? Well, needless to say these kind of smokers are not indigenous to the Great White North and are built down in Centerville, GA which is a bit of a hike from home. The BBQ Gods must have been smiling on me because as I was checking some online classified forums ( , wouldn’t you know it someone only 2 hrs from me was selling one! He was an executive chef that used Stumpy in competitions but was going through a divorce and had to unload a bunch of items including the smoker..the price was right in my budget so Charlene and I drove to Toronto and loaded the svelte 400 lb smoker into the truck.

Needless to say, I felt like a little kid at Christmas and couldn’t wait to get him home and fired up for a first cook…..

What’s in a name?

When I was first thinking about creating a blog, the concept for what would be in the blog was fairly straightforward but coming up with a name was a whole other animal!

So how do you come up with a blog name? Well, luckily for me, I have an amazing partner who also teaches Digital Marketing for Durham College. Charlene has her students create blogs and requires them to be industry related and professional but also memorable… she did not come up with the name but she helped guide me in the initial thought process. As she said “this is your blog Gavin, not mine so you have to own the name given to it and be confident in the message you want to create.” It was good advice and the brainstorming began…but not in the typical fashion as you may think.

You see, normal brainstorming would involve sitting down with a paper and pen and just start writing down whatever comes to mind. With me, well my brain would process possible names and I would blurt them out whenever Charlene and I were hanging out together. It didn’t matter if we were having breakfast or driving in the car or working in the gardens or just vegging in front of the TV at night, my ideas just came out. Here are a few of the initial names that I spouted off that didn’t make the cut..for obvious reasons:

  •  Meaty Goodness
  • Down South in the North
  • Swine ‘n Dine
  • Low, Slow and in the Know
  • I don’t have a “Que” what’s going on.

Ok, that gives you the idea of what my poor spouse put up with and thankfully she kindly nudged me away from all of these plus the oodles of other odd concepts and suggested that I keep at it. So how did “Earth, Meat & Fire” come to be?

No, it’s not because I’m a fan of a certain musical band from the 70’s but in a moment of divine intervention, the words just came together and it made sense. Earth (because I live on 73 acres and I believe in the farm-to-table movement), Meat (well, that’s just a given) and Fire (due to the process of how BBQ is cooked).

There it is, simple and to the point. I hope you agree. 🙂