In case you haven’t noticed, we take our food pretty seriously. In general, this passion gives way to like-mindedness that is easy to build relationships upon. Sometimes, however, this passion can spark heated debates.
“Virgil's is the best root beer on the planet!”
“Come off it. Virgil's is okay. There are much better options. You ever tried Natural Brew? What about Bandit or Jackson Hole?”
“Virgil's is just okay?! What about Henry Weinharts? (In a Macho Man Randy Savage voice) Oh Yeah!”
“Henry Weinhards? Dude, you need to get out more. You know, Danny Meyer only serves Abita at Shake Shack.”
“Well, we can’t all be root beer snobs like you. And frankly, if you can’t be happy with a can of A&W, you got issues.”
“Alright, alright. There’s only one way to settle this. We need to get serious about a blind tasting of top root beers.”
“Well . . . that sounds fun.”
“I know, right?”
For our root beer tasting, we acquired 19 different non-alcoholic root beers, sourced from local grocers here in the Utah Valley, specialty stores along the Wasatch Front, online special orders, and from Ryan’s own personal private collection. These were the rules:
6 taste testers.
Taste testers receive 2 oz of each root beer in question.
Testers much provide a score for nose, taste, finish, and overall impression. They must also provide comments on each selection.
Testers must give the first root beer a score of 50 for each category. Each subsequent root beer can be scored higher (up to 100), or lower (down to 0) as they see fit. No root beer can be scored closer to 100 or to 0, in any category than there are remaining root beers yet to be tested. Tester’s can give fractional point scores if they deem necessary.
All root beers are tasted blind and in a random sequence. Only the chef who pours for the tasters will know the root beer in question until all the selections have been tasted, scored, and commented upon. At which point, the bottles will be revealed.
Testers will be provided with citrus wedges, sparkling water, still water, coffee grounds, and plain bread to serve as palate cleansers between the tastes.
3 ranking systems will be created from the resulting scores: mean fractional rank, total numeric score, and Ryan's picks
Here’s the list of root beers we tried and their place under each ranking system, as well as the comments from the taste testers. These are listed in order of their average fractional rank since it seemed to be the closest representation of the taster’s shared and aggregate sentiments.After the tasting, Ryan commented, “Even blind, I recognized some of these root beers right away. However, I was also often stumped and/or second-guessing myself. Several times, I thought I had identified Barq’s and/or A&W but then wasn’t so sure, when another selection popped up that I also guessed was one of these popular mainstream sodas.My favorites were still my favorites, though probably not in the order I would have articulated prior to the exercise. More poignantly, when the selections were revealed I was surprised by certain selections I previously thought I didn’t care for that I scored rather high, and others I previously thought I really enjoyed that I scored rather low.”So what were some of our most notable insights and takeaways? First, there’s a lot of great root beer out there! Second, root beer is a very complex, layered, and nuanced soda pop - even exceptionally similar ingredient lists can result in vastly different flavor profiles. Third, there are definitely some selections that generally please, some selections that generally don’t, as well as (rather curiously) several selections that are quite polarizing - loved by some and hated by others.And perhaps most of all, we had a blast! If you’re interested in hosting your own private root beer tasting, we highly recommend it. And if you do, we’d love to see your results - send them to us at email@example.com.
Late summer in Utah is one of our favorite times of the year for cooking locally since local produce is at its most abundant, and we get to be cooking outdoors with live fire. This recipe combines both of these elements to create a simple yet innovative summer dish. The natural sweetness of the melon contrasts wonderfully with the smoke flavor from the grill. Delicious!
Fresh watermelon (in the late summer in Utah, for the best watermelon visit your nearest farmer’s market for melons from Green River)
Extra virgin olive oil- (see our previous blog entry about how to pick olive oil from the grocery store)
Kosher salt (we love and recommend the Redmond Real Salt)
Fresh arugula (can substitute rainbow chard, frisee or other greens as desired - in Utah County, our favorite greens come from Snuck Farm)
Fresh mint (or basil, thyme, etc. as desired)
Shaved cheddar cheese (see our previous blog entry about our favorite local cheeses)
Aged balsamic vinegar
Slice watermelon into thick slices (at least 1.5 inches thick). Lightly drizzle the olive oil and sprinkle the salt over the watermelon.
Grill the watermelon slices over a medium to high heat until the melon flesh is lightly charred (approximately 2 -3 minutes per side). A charcoal grill will maximize the grill flavor.
Serve the grilled melon over a bed of greens. Melon can be left in whole thick slices or cut into smaller pieces as desired.
Top with the shaved cheese, fresh mint, aged balsamic and lime zest. Additional oil and salt can be added to taste.
I love almost all types of food but if I had to pick a favorite it would be the hamburger.
To clarify, I'm not talking about the bastardization of this iconic dish that runs rampant in retail locations everywhere (this would be one of my least favorite foods). Rather, I'm talking about the result of a labor of love, most commonly found in backyard settings, and rarely found for sale.
My keys for the perfect burger are outlined below:
I like to grind my own beef. This is not as hard as it sounds and once you try it, you'll wonder why you didn't always do this. Most ground beef ready for sale is too wet and too finely ground to make a good burger. I generally opt for a blend chuck and sirloin tips (and/or flap, and/or skirt), coarsely ground. If you have a meat grinder, you can experiment with different setting to find that sweet spot where the patty holds well but doesn’t get too dense (like a meatloaf). If you opt to have your butcher grind for you, pick your own whole muscles first, then ask the butcher to chop and send through the grinder only once.
Burgers made from dry-aged beef can be a real treat. However, since dry-aging is generally reserved for expensive cuts (whose benefits compared to affordable cuts are greatly diminished once ground), it can be unnecessarily expensive to go this route. Enthusiasts may opt to dry-age their own. But for those who cannot, a dry-brine of the whole muscles before grinding can help reduce the water content of the final patty.
In general, I prefer the beef to be around 18-20% fat. Many shoppers tend to opt for leaner beef thinking it's healthier. Perhaps if you eat ground beef raw, or prepare it in very specific dishes, this thinking holds. However, I submit that the difference in calories from fat in a 20% fat burger and a 10% fat burger is negligible after cooking. The fat in a burger is meant to render and drip out during the cooking process. The final and key difference then is that lean patties tend to dry out, while fat ones tend to self baste and stay juicy.
I shape my own patties by hand. Machined (and often frozen) patties are lame. Even most hand shaped patties at the grocer are less than ideal, being far too firmly packed. The best burgers are shaped and handled lightly at every stage. The minimum amount of handling that still allows the patties to hold their shape is best.
With the exception of a dry brine on the whole muscles in advance (which gets rinsed away before grinding anyway), I generally avoid introducing salt until just before cooking. No salt gets mixed with the ground beef. Additional seasonings can be used, but options sans salt are best. Salt will tend to accelerate the breaking down of certain proteins, resulting in a denser and undesirably homogeneous patty. I often will mix into the ground beef only minced garlic, and just a little fresh ground black pepper. Sometimes I add some herbs and/or spices. Sometimes I add nothing. Then immediately before grilling, I like to add a healthy topping of a nice salt and fresh ground pepper to both sides.
I prefer to cook burgers from raw while still very cold. After shaping, I like to set the burgers to chill in the coldest zone of my fridge for at least a couple hours. Then I move the patties directly from the fridge to the fire to cook. The fat in ground meat tends to render much faster that the fat in a whole muscle cut. If the patty has warmed before cooking, it will render out too quickly during the cooking process.
I prefer to cook my burgers over a charcoal fire. Hardwood / lump charcoal is best, but briquettes will work in a pinch. Ground beef begs for a high heat sear and wood flavor that a gas flame just can't offer. When grilling isn't an option, a cast iron skillet or grill pan that holds a high even heat is the best alternative.
Burgers are turned only once on the grill and never smashed with your spatula. Again, delicate handling is key.
Although the beef is the centerpiece, the best burgers require the same level of dedication from start to finish. Why go to the trouble of grinding, shaping, and cooking the perfect patty, only to serve it up on tasteless bread with old produce and mass produced condiments? Strive to hand pick the best option for every single element of your burger. A homemade or artisan baked brioche or challah bun, vine ripened heirloom tomatoes, fresh butter lettuce, homemade mayo, etc.
While my next point is parallel to the one above, it deserves its own special mention. American is the go to choice for cheese because it’s a classic visual and melts so smoothly and easily. However, I strongly recommend you don't cut corners here. If you let the cheese soften and melt slowly (often while the burger is covered and resting), you can successfully melt a wide array of cheese options. Skip the processed cheese and go for something like an aged extra sharp white cheddar.
Keep it simple. Although the best ones require a lot of dedication to prepare, burgers should be a pretty simple dish to actually assemble and eat. Burgers are a classic for a reason. Stick to the basics. It can be fun and entertaining to try all sorts of crazy combinations. But these are rarely better. Indeed, although it may seem counterintuitive, it is precisely because the dish should be simple that each component deserves deliberate care. My favorite burger (listed here on the page in the same visual top to bottom order that I’d stack them on a plate) is simply:
Bun (preferably homemade, possibly brushed with a little butter and red wine and toasted)
Ketchup (homemade is best, but the Simply Heinz will work in a pinch)
Onions (sweet red onions, fresh sliced is great, but also very nice flash fried in duck fat)
Lettuce (fresh butter lettuce from Snuck Farm is my favorite)
Tomatoes (ripe heirloom tomatoes with a very light sprinkling of sea salt)
Cheese (aged extra sharp white cheddar - Beehive or Heber Valley is my recommendation - melted onto the patty after cooking while resting)
Beef Patty (chuck and sirloin shaped with roasted minced garlic and set to chill, then S&P right before grilling over charcoal to a medium / nearly medium-well).
Mayo (homemade with farm fresh eggs and evoo)
Bun (preferably homemade, possibly brushed with a little butter and red wine and toasted)
Lastly, to make your investment into making the perfect burger really pay off, make sure you have plenty of family and friends around to enjoy it with you.
Hot Dogs are without question one of the longest standing icons of an American summer cookout. However, if it’s been a while since you last enjoyed one, you might be pleasantly surprised about how the dish has evolved over the years. And although they have become a staple convenience store and large public gatherings for cheap, fast, and low-quality fare, there are many high end (yes, even gourmet) options to be enjoyed.Here are some of our tips on how to elevate your hot dog game this summer and turn this too often low-end staple into a treat sure to surprise, impress, and delight the neighbors:
Pick a better dog. This is the single most important step. Although it’s easy to stumble into a bad dog at the local grocer, if you know what you’re looking for, delicious options abound. For an elevated hot dog that preserves the classic approach, opt for an all-beef dog (the Kosher options are generally excellent - Hebrew National, Sinai Kosher, Chicago Reds, etc.). Further, some of the nitrate-free (sometimes labeled as uncured or all-natural) hot dogs preserve the rich flavor while avoiding the undesirable additives. It’s worth spending a little more $ for a good dog. And it’s worth sampling several different products to discover those that strike your fancy.
Give your dogs a beer bath. Dissolve some honey and/or molasses into a stockpot with several bottles of a great malty beer, and then bring to a light simmer over medium-low heat. Once the beer simmers, reduce the heat to very low and add your hot dogs, making sure they’re immersed. Warm the hot dogs in the beer bath, but don’t bring them to a full rolling boil (this will render out too many fats and oils from the dogs too early). The beer bath will glaze the dogs with extra flavor. And the preheating will make them easier to grill over a hot fire - since you’ll only need to worry about getting a great sear.
Create some texture. I love to score the top of a dog a few times just before grilling. The extra edges and surface area will create more places to build a nice crust/sear, and more places that your condiments can collect.
Grill over charcoal and/or wood. You can get a nice sear from broiling in the oven, flash-frying in a cast-iron skillet, or even with a blow torch. But only a charcoal or wood grill will add the delicious layer of wood smoke flavor that can be the perfect final touch to a gourmet dog. Check out our Grilling 101 post for additional charcoal grilling tips
Skip the Wonder Bread (and other similar tasteless, structureless buns). A nice split-top poppy seed bun or a chewy pretzel roll can take a good hot dog to the next level. Explore your options (including making your own). Note that the ratios of bread to meat are crucial. If you have a ¼ pound dog, you’ll need a substantial bun that won’t get soggy during the longer time needed to actually eat it. If you have a small dog, you’ll want a lighter bun that will support without overwhelming the meat.
Elevate the condiments too. Not many people make their own ketchup, but those do have good reasons. A whole-grain champagne mustard will have you never looking back for the mainstream yellow stuff again. If you like pickles, definitely try the Garlic Dills from YeeHaw. Also explore non-traditional condiments: bleu cheese with raspberry chipotle grill sauce, white cheddar slaw with cinnamon BBQ sauce (https://www.culinarycrafts.com/ryans-homemade-bbq-sauce/), pickled mushrooms with cheese sauce, and more!
In the summer heat, nothing beats a good popsicle. But ditch the sugar loaded store bought ones and try this gourmet popsicle that is sure to impress a crowd.
White Chocolate Cherry Popsicle- Makes 6 popsicles
1 3/4 cups cherries
3/4 cup of half and half
¼ cup Solstice white chocolate (available at Harmons)
½ cup Solstice white chocolate
½ cup crushed Red Rock pistachios
6 popsicle sticks
1 popsicle mold
Remove pit and stem from cherries. Blend well until smooth. A few chunks are fine.
In a 1 quart pan over medium heat, scald half and half. Remove from heat and stir in white chocolate. Add to cherries and mix until combined. Pour into molds. Freeze for about 30 minutes and then add popsicle sticks. This allows popsicle to set and hold the stick where it should be. Place back in the freezer until frozen all the way through- 3-5 hours. To remove popsicles, take a bowl of warm water and rest the mold in a bowl for 5 seconds and then slide popsicles out. If they don’t slide out easily with minor wiggling, put back in the water for another 5 seconds. Do not just pull from the stick.
Once popsicles are removed from molds place on parchment paper and back in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. While the popsicles rest in the freezer, in a microwave safe bowl put the ½ cup Solstice white chocolate. Microwave for 1 minute. Remove from microwave and stir. If not completely melted place back in the microwave for 20 seconds, remove, and stir. Continue that process until the chocolate is completely smooth. Place crushed pistachios in a bowl. Remove popsicles from freezer one at a time. Dip top corner in white chocolate and then in the crushed pistachios. Place on parchment and back in the freezer. Continue with remaining popsicles.
Try these other fun modifications to this recipe for additional fun popsicles
Switch the cream and chocolate to sweetened beet juice for a Cherry Beet Ombre Popsicle 1 3/4 cups cherries
¼ cup water
½ tsp balsamic vinegar
Pinch of pepper
1/2 pound of beets, juiced (1/2 cup of beet juice)
2 tbsp sugar
Combined beet juice, vinegar, water, sugar, and pepper together. Mix until combined.
Pour cherry mixture into the molds, about two-thirds of the way full. Put into the freezer for about 15-20 minutes, pull out and pour beet juice into the tops of the molds. Using your popsicle stick, you will distribute the beet juice into the cherry mixture just enough to give it that ombre coloring. Don’t stir the cherry but gently disrupt some of it so the beet juice can permeate that top layer. Place back in the freezer until frozen all the way through (3-5 hours)
Try a different fruit. Try fig puree instead of cherries! This unique fruit will get your guests tastebuds tingling. Cream fig popsicle 1 3/4 cups figs 1/4 cup of sugar 1/4 cup water
3/4 cup of half and half
¼ cup Solstice white chocolate (available at Harmons)
Fresh figs can be tricky to find in the summer, but dried figs work great here. Just make sure to hydrate them- soak in warm water for 20-30 minutes. Blend with water and sugar until smooth. Follow the instructions above.