Thursday, April 26, 2018


Often, when it comes to smoking poultry, many people become quite nervous as they may have had a previous experience that resulted in a dry outcome.  Or, they may have read how difficult it is to maintain moisture when you smoke poultry.  Today, I’m going to show you how to smoke Cornish game hens on the Orion Cooker.

Why does the Orion Cooker make a difference?  Because this isn’t a traditional smoker.  This is a convection cooker that you can smoke with.

Preparing the Orion Cooker

One difference with the Orion Cooker is it requires about 13lbs. of charcoal briquettes to produce enough heat to sustain cooking.  I recommend you start the charcoal for the unit first, especially if using a chimney starter, which is my preferred method.  I like to line the drip pan with foil to reduce the amount of clean up once the hens have cooked.  There is no need to add water to the pan.  I also add SmokinLicious® Minuto® Wood Chips in a blend of Sugar Maple and Wild Cherry to the area around the drip pan.  These chips will smolder and give off great wood flavoring while the hens cook, producing a beautiful finished color and flavor.

Preparing the Hens

The preparation for our hens is very simple.  First, as with any poultry item, you want to remove the giblets, wash off the hens, and pat dry.  There is no need to truss these birds as the Orion Cooker will cook every part evenly. Once cleaned, it’s time to decide how you want to enhance the flavors of the hens; dry or wet rub, brine, etc.  I like to put a dry rub on the birds first then drizzle with a bit of oil to make the skin crispy.  Feel free to apply whatever rub ingredients give you the flavors you prefer.  Mine contains brown sugar, pepper, red pepper flakes, coriander, cayenne, curry, cumin.  Apply the rub generously and then drizzle with oil – mine is almond oil.

Once the hens are ready to go on the grill, I add a softened butter that’s been mixed with a couple of tablespoons of orange juice all over the skin.  This will contribute flavor as well as aide in the crisping of the skin.

Cooking Perfection

With a dry rub, orange butter, and a little oil, these Cornish game hens cook using convection heat from the Orion Cooker.  Great smoke flavor is added using Minuto® Wood Chips from SmokinLicious®. In just 75 minutes, you will have the most moist, flavorful, tender hens you could imagine.  With a crispy skin and great bronzed color, you couldn’t ask for anything more.  Remember, the Orion Cooker can hold comfortably about 8 hens so make it a party. We hope you enjoyed our blog CORNISH GAME HEN MEETS SMOKE IN THE ORION COOKER

Thursday, April 19, 2018


The History of Fire Cooking Part IV
In THE HISTORY OF FIRE COOKING PART IV, we examine how wood fired cooking has evolved around the world, focusing on those countries who still rely solely or in great part on wood fired cooking for sustenance.


Many Still Rely on Fire

The numbers can be staggering when you take a close look.  In developing countries, some 2.5 billion people rely on biomass to meet their energy needs for cooking.   For many, these resources account for over 90% of the household energy consumption.  Biomass includes charcoal (derived from wood), fuel wood, agricultural waste, and animal dung.  As area populations increase, the number of people relying on biomass for cooking also grows.  By the year 2030, it is estimated that 2.7 billion people will relay on biomass for cooking!  The immediate concerns are that biomass will be used without sustaining harvests and that technologies for energy conversion will not be used properly.  In fact, 1.3 million people, the majority of whom are women and children, die because of exposure to indoor air pollutants from biomass.  Slowly, the goal for switching to modern cooking fuels and/or promoting more efficient and sustainable use of traditional biomass is under way.  For now, there are millions who wood fire foods for their family’s nutrition using traditional methods and recipes.


The Many Methods and Meals of Fire Cooking

Without question, the continent of Africa houses most of the countries who are reliant on wood fires for cooking.  The top 12 countries using wood fires for cooking are: Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Guinea, Laos, Ethiopia, and Central African Republic.  However, there are many other countries that carry generations of wood fired cooking recipes into today, making them a family gathering special occasion.  Let’s examine some of those countries and what they cook.



Moroccans cook in earthen ovens called tagine, a conical shaped terra-cotta lid that sits on a flat terra cotta bottom. It sits on a base called a majmar, an unglazed brazier full of hot coals that cooks the tagine slowly. In the market place, tagines are lined up with various foods like fish & potatoes, chicken & olives and lemon, or lamb with prunes. They also use small elevated grills in the port areas to cook various fish.



Although the people of Laos do grill some items, including water beetles, they mostly make soup in large pots set over an open wood fire.  This is much like the American style of cowboy cooking. Vegetables, sprouts, and noodles are often added to the broth to make the traditional Laotian daily dish.



Guatemalans use a method of wood cooking known as three stone cooking. A fire is started between 3 fire proof materials, usually stones that are used to support pots placed over the fire.  Pepian, the national dish of Guatemala, is a mouth-watering chicken stew made with different types of native chilis, seeds, and vegetables.  In addition to hand-crafted tortillas, it takes 3-4 hours to make this recipe traditionally over a fire.



Here they call barbecue asado and it is certainly about the meat.  Vegetables, calamari, bread, and other foods are introduced to fire and heated either on heavy grates or iron pans.



One of the biggest misconceptions is that tandoori is a recipe from India.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Tandoori is a technique of grilling meat over fire in a tandoor, a clay oven.  The tandoor is buried.  Heat escapes from the top.  Tandoori is very hot!  Skewered meat or fish is inserted into the tandoor vertically to cook.  The traditional bread, Naan, is placed along the sides of the clay vessel.



Koreans use a very unique method of wood fire cooking while at the same time utilizing the heat from that fire to heat their homes.  They are one of the earliest users of radiant heat.  Outside the home, a fire proof container is hung over the fire area.  A series of flues travel horizontally under the house.  Ondol is a layer of flat stone located directly beneath the house floor.  A chimney flue is located on the opposite side of the house from the fire source preventing any smoke from entering the actual home.  As the smoke travels through the underground flue system, it acts as a preservative to the wood house by preventing insects, mold, and bacteria from developing.


Don’t Think All Wood-Fired Cooking is BBQ

The variety of foods and techniques noted are not considered BBQ but have traditions that originate in every corner of the world.  Through trial and error, sourcing material that was available in each country, and incorporating foods and other edible items into recipes to feed families, fire cooking has advanced in some countries, while others still have seen little change.

Now we see the essence of barbecue by other names in other countries.  Asado in Argentina, braai in South Africa, lechon in Philippines, mezze in Lebanon, and parrilla in Uruguay.  Without question, the days of fire cooking are far from over as our innate nature seeks the flavors only provide by flame and smoke. Hope you enjoyed THE HISTORY OF FIRE COOKING PART IV, the final installment of the fire history series. 


Thursday, April 12, 2018


In Part I, we covered scientific theories on how cooking with fire began approximately 2 million years ago.

Part II, we presented information on how our bodies developed from the introduction of cooking meat. THE HISTORY OF FIRE COOKING PART III, we delve into the early risks of cooking with fire and gender roles.


It May Not Have All Been Good

Although we’ve discussed the benefits of the discovery of fire for cooking, including the higher caloric content needed for survivability, there are other effects to fire cooking that aren’t so positive.  This is a relatively new focus in research concerning fire cooking and human evolution.

A USA study suggests that a genetic mutation may be present in modern humans that allows certain toxins, including those found in smoke, to be metabolized at a safe rate.  This genetic mutation was not found in other primates like the Neanderthals or hominins.  Breathing toxins found in smoke can increase the risk of respiratory infections, suppress one’s immune system, and even cause disruption in the reproductive system.  It is possible that by having this genetic mutation, the tolerance to smoke toxins was a needed adaption that gave early humans the ability to survive in this very toxic environment.


Closeness Brings Disease

We also know that fire allowed for not only cooking but warmth, light, and protection.  To gain the positives of fire, early humans would gather together in close proximity to one another.  A 2016 study suggests that with the advancement of fire’s uses, people remained in huddled groups for long periods of time, suffered persistent coughing resulting from the smoke toxins, and subsequently damaged the lungs.  This may be what spurred the spread of tuberculosis which some scientists believe emerged 70,000 years ago.  In fact, most scientists believe that fire was regularly used around 400,000 years ago, thus supporting the advent of tuberculosis.

Other scientists believe the use of controlled fire introduced additional airborne diseases.  Plus, many opine that the early days of exposure to inhaling smoke from open fires stimulated our discovery of smoking tobacco.  Without question, these believers feel that climate changes resulted from the ongoing burning of carbon.  For them, biological and environmental changes co-mingle.


Gender Identities

It is amazing that in those early years of fire discovery the establishment of gender roles occurred and seems to have held in general theory. As tools developed and cooking with fire expanded, men did the hunting and women stayed with the fire, maintaining it and cooking previously hunted and foraged foods on/over it.

Although today both males and females hunt, the number of men still outweighs the woman.  Despite the number of male chefs outnumbering the women, women still dominate as the primary cook in the home.  Yet, males still barbecue and grill in a greater number.

It seems clear that there are other influences on the roles men and women play when it comes to fire cooking around the world.  Finally, in Part IV of our series, we’ll explore the variations in method and technique from around the world. Finally, we hope you enjoyed THE HISTORY OF FIRE COOKING PART III blog.


Smoky Cocktail Sauce is very easy to do by simply smoking the Tomatoes for the recipe!
You’ve seen me use the Orion Cooker before for cooking and smoking more traditional items.  Now, see how I produced a great hot smoked tomato using a blend of Sugar Maple and Wild Cherry wood chips to bring subtle smoke flavor.   Once smoked, I take the smoked tomato and produce a smoked tomato cocktail sauce that has so many uses.


Easy Hot Smoking

I like to smoke food items that take 40 minutes or less on the Orion Cooker that has been used first for a longer protein cook.  Remember, this cooker is a convection cooker so the heat retention can’t be beat.  It’s just perfect for our plum tomatoes which can be smoked in 30 minutes or less.

Simply take plum or on the vine tomatoes, and cut in half.  Place directly on the grill grate.  Use the residual wood chips and briquettes already in the Orion Cooker to smoke the tomatoes.  Once smoked, remove and use in your favorite recipe or store in the refrigerator for later use.


Cocktail Sauce Ingredients

With the tomato halves smoked, it’s time to gather the other ingredients needed for our Smoked Tomato Cocktail Sauce.  In addition to these ingredients, you’ll also need a food processor.
  • Olive oil – about 1 tablespoon
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 chipotle in adobo or 1 tablespoon chipotle hot sauce
  • 3 heaping tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • Chopped cilantro leaves – about 2 tablespoons worth
  • 12 smoked tomato halves


Processing for Flavor Outcome

Using a food processor, you will add all the ingredients for our smoky, spicy cocktail sauce.

Tomatoes, honey, prepared horseradish, chipotle in adobe sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, cilantro leaves, salt, and fresh ground pepper.  Add just a touch of olive oil.  Process all the ingredients until slightly smooth in consistency.  Remove, and place in a serving bowl or you can store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


So Many Uses

There are two distinct flavors that work so well in this unique cocktail sauce: spicy chipotle and smoky tomato.  Combined with the freshness of cilantro and lime juice, a beautiful balance of flavor develops that makes this perfect as a dipping sauce for calamari, shrimp or used as a sauce on your favorite fish.  I’ve had guests who simply want to treat it like a salsa and scoop up some sauce with tortilla chips.

Whatever you decide to use this smoky cocktail sauce with, you sure won’t be disappointed with the flavors.  Remember too, you can smoke the tomatoes in the Orion Cooker, on a charcoal grill, on a gas grill with wood chunks, in a stove top smoker pan, or even with a handheld food smoker.  The choice is yours for the same easy, great flavor.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


The history of fire cooking part II
In Part I, we covered the scientific theories on how cooking with fire began, including the scientific documentation that puts this method’s discovery approximately 2 million years ago.  In The history of fire cooking part II, we will present additional information on how our bodies developed from the introduction of cooking meat as well as the evolution of the wood fire to the oven.


A Change in Anatomy

Our ancestors were chimp-like creatures and thought to be the most advanced animals on earth.  These creatures had long arms, short legs, hand-like feet, large mouths and powerful jaws.  Covered in fur, they slept in the trees. That is, until they discovered fire and learned to cook.

Once fire cooking was founded, these ape-like creatures became erect, their brains enlarged, and their jaws became smaller.  Why?   Because cooked foods provide a higher caloric value.

Research has shown that weight loss is guaranteed to people who consume raw-food diets only.  In fact, the more raw food consumed, the more weight loss.  The only problem with this diet is it takes a lot of raw food to generate a caloric level to sustain an active animal.  Our primate ancestors had to graze all day to generate enough calories to keep going leaving time for nothing else.

With the discovery of fire and all its benefits, ape-men emerged.  Originally covered in fur, a few thousand years following fire’s discovery, the fur disappeared.  As a result, this helped to improve hunting skills as the weight of fur made ape-men faster.  Also with the discovery of fire, these creatures had no need to escape to the trees at night as fire provided protection from predators.  Without the climbing, long legs developed and feet that looked less like hands.


The Start of the Family Dynamic

Once animals were trapped and cooked within flames of forest fire and these creatures sampled cooked vegetation and meat; that changed everything.  They began to develop skills at designing knives for hunting.  This in turn developed some level of social skills and brain development, as the brain was being fed more nutrients.  Flint was discovered and used to produce sparks when rubbed against rocks, allowing for control of fire.

Hunting became a daily event.  The first gender structure was designed with males hunting and females cooking.  It was cooking that forced early humans to live by cooperation.  Both males and females relied on each other.  This was the start of family, and more socialized and calmer tempers.  With regular ingestion of cooked foods, the brain began to grow since cooked food takes less energy to digest, more energy defaulted to brain development.  Learning to cook gave these developing humans more time which allowed for more food discoveries and time management.


The Oven

Once fire was discovered and harnessed for the betterment of life, it was a slow transition to bring cooking from the outdoors into the indoors.  First, as mentioned in Part I of our series, it transitioned into cave dwellings.    We know that in ancient times, the period of 60,000BC to 650AD, ancient Egyptians, Jews, and Romans all used some form of stone or brick oven cooking, fired with wood, to produce breads.  In fact, that early design remains very much like the pizza/bread ovens of today.

Beehive-shaped brick ovens came about in Colonial America, the period of 1492 to 1763, and was the advent of learning to control the amount of wood to ash to regulate temperature.  If you’ve ever heard of or used “the hand test” to measure temperature of a grill or outdoor cooking fire, then you know how Colonial Americans tested their ovens.  Hold your hand about 5-inches from the cooking surface.


The number of seconds you can hold your hand there equals a temperature level:

High (450° to 550°F): 2 to 4 seconds
Medium (350° to 450°F): 5 to 7 seconds
Low (250° to 350°F): 8 to 10 seconds

Colonial Americans would add more wood to increase temperature or open the door to reduce it.
The invention of cast iron stoves began to replace wood hearth cooking in the 1700’s.  In 1795, Count Rumford invented a version of the cast iron stove that was different from earlier versions in that it had a single fire source that could be regulated individually for different pots being used at the same time.  Additionally, it could heat the entire room.  Unfortunately, it was extremely large making it difficult for most kitchens to accommodate it.

With the discovery of electricity, man continued to find new uses for this source of energy.  In fact, one of the keys was to incorporate it into the home and the electric stove was key to making home life easier.  In 1892, an entire meal’s preparation was demonstrated at the Ottawa Windsor Hotel in Canada, paving the way for sale to future homes.


Continued Discovery in The History of Fire Cooking

These early discoveries are what formed our continued thirst for finding the best methods of cooking in the fastest yet most flavor means possible, while feeding our brains to keep us developing.  Charcoal grills, brick and clay pizza ovens, gas grills, infrared grills, campfires were all shaped by the very first cooking event, even if the first event was by nature’s hand alone..  In conclusion, we hope you enjoyed the The History of Fire Cooking Part II. Finally, stay tuned for part III.