Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Pay it Forward

March 28, 2011
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Humble appreciation is a tricky thing. It can cause even the most secure bloke to question his worthiness. Gratitude- in the mind of one who has benefitted handsomely from the generosity of others- is often not enough. A creeping desire to return the favor causes neurosis… at least when you’re neurotic like me.
This week has undoubtedly marked one of the most remarkable in my career. I say “career” not to insinuate that this blog is any sort of bell cow, but I felt it most appropriate to not even bring the birth of my daughter, the marriage to my wife, or the day that Quantum Leap came out on DVD into the mix. So, from a food and wine perspective, the past week has been phenomenal.
Folks opened their cellars and let me take a drink, asking nothing in return. I enjoyed magnums of Grand Cru White Burgundy (that will make your toes curl and kick the “anything but Chardonnay” crowd in the groin), Riesling-based Eiswein that outdated me by 8 years, and Red Burgundy double that spread. There was aged Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and some of the finest, hardest-to-find wines from California. They even shared wines they made themselves… microscopic-production stuff tasting of their own foot-treading and an honest desire to create something great. Something to share with friends.
In 4 days, I tasted through a lineup many will never experience. But I don’t say any of this to brag. I’m simply pointing to the fact that I can’t bring game like this to the table yet. I’ve only been buying wine- really buying wine- for a few years. Even my oldest, best stuff is too young. Yet the real rub lies in the fact that these venerable bottlings go for two, three, four hundred bucks a pop. This guy’s got to buy socks without holes in them first.
So, I’m stuck with the aforementioned humble appreciation, and a sneaking suspicion that those who offered up their best could receive no better payback than seeing others enjoy. Be this the case, the only courses of action left are to be thankful and to pay it forward.
This week have been an epiphany of sorts, and I can’t wait to pop some dusty corks for my friends and family. That is, as soon as they get some dust on them.

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Dream within a dream.

March 23, 2011
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It was a beautiful Saturday in Georgia… one of those weekends one can only dream about at the twilight of winter’s long freeze.

Carnivorefest is an event conceived by some friends several years ago to bring together meat and drink. It has become a celebration of transition; an ushering-in of warmer weather; and, an homage to all things bad for your cardiovascular system. No vegetables. No starches. It’s as if Dr. Atkins himself were presiding.

Okay, so there were a few poblano peppers present. But they were stuffed with sausage. We’re getting older and need the antioxidants.

All-in-all, the 2011 Carnivorefest was a magical event (granted, one my body can’t handle as well as years pass). On one dreamy Saturday, a subsequent vision of gastronomic proportions manifested. Some might say it was a “dream within a dream”…

Drink like a Robber Baron

March 21, 2011
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You’ve heard the names: Latour, Haut-Brion, Lafite, Cos D’Estournel, Palmer, Pétrus, Cheval Blanc
And if you haven’t heard the names, we’re talking wines that fetch $500, $800, $1200 dollars… a bottle. Basically, if you took a blogger salary, multiplied it by ten, then added $1200, you’d have enough to buy a $1200 bottle of Château Pétrus.-
These are the legendary, age-worthy Grand Cru reds of Bordeaux. Powerful, elegant expressions based on Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. They are the wines of English royalty (Bordeaux was under British rule from the mid 12th century to the mid 15th century), presidents, dignitaries, captains of industry, railroad tycoons, and robber barons. Got a fistful of dough and want to make a statement? Nothing says “power lunch” like a lion standing atop a fortress; the trademark of a commanding bottle of Château Latour.

However, most of us are not named Andrew Carnegie or C. Montgomery Burns. We own no hotels on Boardwalk, nor do we go swimming within the gilded confines of our Money Bins. How can we get our grubby, unmanicured mitts on these treasures?
Rather easily, actually. As it turns out, the Grand Cru wines account for a very small percentage of red wine production in Bordeaux (red representing 89% of total wine made). 50% of total production falls under the “Bordeaux AOC” or “Bordeaux Supérieur AOC”, the latter basically meaning 1% higher required alcohol. These designations constitute wines that can be made from grapes grown anywhere in the Bordeaux appellation. While not as age-worthy, complex, or expressive of unique bits and pieces of terroir (a “sense of place” that the French hold in much higher regard than the fruit used- thus, the reason why most wines are labeled by region, not by the variety of grape), these gems can offer great value.
Exceptional value, really. I know this, because I’ve been nursing 5 bottles (lovingly sent to me as samples by Balzac Communications for a “Planet Bordeaux” tasting) all weekend, and I hate that they will eventually go bad. Listen: I’ve been stuck at home with the baby all weekend, and drinking five bottles of wine by yourself is hard. Especially when you know you’ll be waking up at 7 AM to hungry whimpers, no matter where you fell the night before.
All of these wines- spanning a few different vintages- are either 100% Merlot or Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends. Much of the Cabernet Sauvignon sits on some blue-blooded real estate in Bordeaux, while Merlot gets around like Tiger Woods on ecstasy; the most widely-planted grape in the region. Cheaper land = cheaper grapes = more affordable wine. Ergo, these bottlings are Merlot-heavy (and that’s okay). They run the gamut from fruit-bombs to earthy, acidic and tannic, explosively aromatic to as subtle as an outdated and misguided attempt at golf humor.

But while many offer more fruit-forward nature than is typical in lots of “old world” (European) wine, they all demonstrate a “food friendliness” and balance- slightly lower alcohol, more restained fruit, higher acidity- often not found in the wines of California, Australia, or Argentina at this price point… between $12 and $20. I can’t say many wines from the ubiquitous California producers seen in every store and at every party can offer this level of quality and balance for around $15. Oh, you French. Spectacular winemakers, terrible marketers.
Regardless, I applaud their latest efforts to get these wines in the hands of American consumers. In fact, this weekend’s samples represent the second batch of “value” Bordeaux wines I’ve received in 7 days (the remains of the former allotment dispatched after evaluation, courtesy of some large-livered friends). I hope that one or two folks make it this far into the post and feel compelled to try something new.
If you’re one of those people, screw the “buy American” ethos that a global economy has nearly obsoleted and take on chance on a bottle of Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur. You’ll be sure to find value, quality, and hopefully a new favorite.
If anything, you’ll be able to brag that you at least drink like a tycoon.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2011
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One of my favorites. I’m pale and red-bearded. Put me out on an sunny beach, and you’ll soon know sex appeal as I burn and freckle like the dickens. (what is the etymology of “like the dickens?” Actually, I looked it up. Has nothing to do with Charles Dickens. Supposedly a euphemism for “the Devil”. What the devil?!). Anyway, I guess the devil is red, so I do look like him after sitting out in the sun for a while. Dickens, indeed.

But I digress. The point is, my roots are Irish. And I love Irish food (that’s not a joke). Lamb and potatoes and bacon (ham, basically) and carrots and barley and Irish butter and cold-water seafood- deep fried or otherwise. And Guinness. Oh, the glorious Guinness. Then, of course, there’s uisce beatha, aka “water of life”, aka whiskey.

I hope you raise a glass of stout or whiskey (or both) to the man who brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle. And if you don’t swing that way religiously, then raise a glass to the man who’s namesake brought you an excuse to drink green beer at 8 AM.

I often toast with Sláinte (I say “SLAHN-chuh”), not only as a nod to my Irish roots, but also with the literal meaning- “health”- to all those around me. And while raising a pint might seem good enough to you, I’ve decided to also lazily repost a video I made a few months back. Why? Because it features lamb and potatoes and carrots and Guinness. Giddyup (which is not an Irish term).

Wine Blogging Wednesday #71: What the crap is all this "Rhône" mess?!

March 16, 2011
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Do you get irritated by words with accents, umlauts, lines through the “o”, “CCCP” standing for “The Soviet Union” somehow, tildes, backwards accents, the Greek alphabet as a whole, and those damn hieroglyphics? Maybe you don’t. Perhaps you’re more “worldly” than the rest of us jackasses. Okay, more worldly than me. Sorry I called most of you jackasses.
To me, if it’s difficult to find on the keyboard; if I have to access the “character map”, copy, then paste (making sure the font is consistent), well… it’s irritating. Listen; I’m not language xenophobe, and I get and respect the need to accuracy. But that doesn’t mean I can’t bitch about it.

Compound the irritation when someone not only takes a word that requires a funky rooftop above the “o”, but slings it around in his lexicon like a warm and familiar word that everyone will understand. “Here, we’re pouring a classic Rhône blend. Mmm, it just smells like a Rhône blend, doesn’t it? Oh, you don’t know what a ‘Rhône blend’ is? Well, I guess I have the psychological upper-hand at this wine tasting, don’t I, shit-for-brains?” (for the record, “shit-for-brains” is one of those very familiar terms I was talking about that everyone knows. )
My point- which absolutely required graphic cursing- is that wine folks all-too-often throw out obscure terms and industry-speak to the curious masses that are assumed to be commonplace. Blogs are probably the worst about this. I bet this blog is terrible about it. And sure, wine lovers are likely the ones reading wine blogs (actually, it’s probably just other wine bloggers). But I think we get too comfortable speculating on what our audience already knows, without taking the time to explain what the terms mean. Coupled with the fact that many of those terms are foreign and contain weird slashes and dashes and flip-flaps only exasperates the problem.
When in doubt, a little education never hurts. Remember: it’s okay to be geeky. People actively seeking wine blogs and articles are probably into that stuff. But assumptions can be very alienating. Subscribing to this proviso, I will probably lose all the super-knowledgeable folks with the rest of this post. But I’d rather hope one eager vinophile gets learned on some tight science. Some things just deserve a thorough explanation.
And such is the case with the Rhône. Ever heard the term “Rhône blend” and wondered what that meant? Much like “Bordeaux blend” or “Super Tuscan”, a “Rhône blend” is something thrown around in the tasting rooms of California, Washington State, and Australia, among others. But what does it mean? First off, the Rhône basically refers to the Rhône river valley in southeastern France. It’s a very famous wine region, containing some sub-regions that you may recognize: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Condrieu, to name a few. The region is basically broken into two geographic sections: the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône… I know; it’s not very creative. Maybe they should’ve brought in Big Ten Conference big wigs to name the regions (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

Anyway, the Northern part focuses on dry red wines made primarily from the Syrah grape, and the most-notable whites made from Viognier (and some from Roussanne). In the Southern section (sorry, I just can’t say “Rhône” anymore, and I’m sick of the extra keystroke to put that hat on the “o”), Grenache [Noir] is king of the reds, but you’ll see tons of different grapes, including the aforementioned Syrah, along with Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Carignan (among others). On the white side, there’s Viognier and Roussanne, but there’s also Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, and on and on. Confused yet? Me too.
So let’s simplify: the phrase “Rhône style blend” is probably used by someone not in the Rhône. But when a winemaker in Santa Barbara County, California or Walla Walla, Washington says that, he/she means that it’s a wine made from a blend of traditional Rhône grapes. That’s it. Tasting a Syrah with a little Viognier blended in? You’ll probably impress someone if you describe that as a “classic Northern Rhône” blend. Or irritate someone. Depends on the person.
In Australia, they grow a lot of Syrah, but it goes by a different name: Shiraz. Same grape, different name. Those wacky Aussies; don’t let them trip you up. Down under, you’ll see a lot of bottles labeled GSM. That’s short for “Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre“. That is a great example of a “Southern Rhône” blend. Or maybe you’ll run into a white wine made from Roussanne, Marsanne, and some Grenache Blanc. Same deal.

Stateside, you’ll see quite a few varietal bottlings. Blends just aren’t as hip yet here. Syrah is the predominant variety I see (though sales are slipping). You’ll also probably find some Grenache on its own, Viognier, Roussanne, maybe a Mourvèdre or two, and that odd Carignan. As for the 20+ other predominant grapes that grow in the Rhône… well, you shop at interesting places if you see many (or any) of them grown domestically and bottled by themselves.
Well, there you go. Pretty sure I scared 99% of folks off with all that technical mess. What a boring post. But I couldn’t throw phrases out without an explanation. Hopefully, just one person was eager enough to learn something new. If that’s the case, then all the “ô” typing, the hyperlinks, and the damn, damn italicizing was worth it.
This edition of “Wine Blogging Wednesday”- something I accidentally only seem to participate in once every 6 months or so- is hosted by Winecast. Wine bloggers across the world write on a common theme. This month’s is “Rhônes not from the Rhône”. I’m pretty sure I bastardized the topic a bit, but I guarantee you don’t want to read tasting notes here. Ever. Anyway, thanks to the host. Rhône wines- either from there or made elsewhere from the traditional grapes- really are fantastic, and worth a few too many words.

Atlanta has a Wine School?

March 15, 2011
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I know it seems odd for me to write an Atlanta-centric post. I recently discovered that I have more readers in California than I do in Georgia. But that’s okay. Because I know that those 3 California readers might have to connect in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson someday, and- with layovers- they may be searching for some quick wine education.
As for you other 2 Georgia readers, maybe this will be news to you as well: Atlanta, the home of the Budweiser plant in Cartersville and No Alcohol Sales on Sunday, has a wine school. Yes, a mecca of booze-centric education, right slap-dab in the heart of the Bible belt.
But why? Aren’t we happy with our Coors Light “Big 18” packs, slugged down after cutting the grass (or during, in the case of you lucky SOBs with those riding jobs)? Who needs to know about wine? I drink the red jug with my hot dogs and the white jug with my fish sticks. I got it figured out. What more is there to know?
The fact is: in a city of over five million people, there are significant pockets who aren’t satisfied with the Bud and the Coors Light tall boys and the jug wine and the hot dogs and the fish sticks. They thirst for knowledge; clamoring to understand a restaurant wine list; pining to discover that there’s more to pairing than “white with chicken, red with beef”; dying to learn what Gutsabfüllung means.
These inquisitive souls are desperately seeking a good dose of “wine evangelism”. And this man is their John the Baptist:
Michael Bryan is a smart dude. He started Atlanta Wine School out of exasperation with the rat race, aka “business-as-usual”, aka “the bane of my existence”, wanting to create a structured forum for folks to learn and grow with the beverage that seems to bring everyone together, from Skid Row winos to the sophisticated denizens of Cherokee County, GA (the non-meth dealers, that is). Bryan spent seven years learning and perfecting French. I’m speculating that he did it primarily to not sound like a dunce pronouncing all those wine labels. He’s been all over the globe, touring and investigating it’s greatest wine regions, like Paris Hilton with a purpose. The guy knows his wine, and he loves sharing that knowledge with his audience.
I hadn’t been to the Atlanta Wine School in quite a while. I have a demanding day job. There’s a little tike at home that needs my love, attention, and expertise in fart noises. I also have a wife who can’t cook, so that 7 PM spread of hot dogs and fish sticks ain’t cookin’ itself.
But when I did finally make it back last Wednesday- a rare appearance since my regular visits during CSW training- I was reminded why I enjoyed it so much. The reason: Michael Bryan. Yeah, he uses haughtier language than I. And his pronunciations of foreign wines are more polished (perhaps that’s why I stick to print). We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, and he’d possibly have a coronary in the presence of some of my wine-related shenanigans (like dumping hot sauce into a fine German Riesling). That being said, the guy has an unequivocal passion for the fermented grape. And it’s infectious. He leads the class with such comfort and warmth, you feel like he’s an old buddy. Bryan handles the powder-keg topic of wine in such a way that comes off as polished but not pretentious. He answers questions in a manner that is not condescending to the audience- a talent devoid in more than a few wine professionals.
I’m not writing this because I got paid to do so. I’m not chirping because I got a few free sips of wine (which were moot on account of a nasty stuffed nose. Damn you, Airtran). I’m giving this unsolicited endorsement to Atlanta Wine School because 1) I’m from Atlanta and I love Atlanta; 2) I dig wine, and I want folks to dig it as much as me; and 3) I think there are plenty of folks in this city who want to know more, and they don’t know where to turn. The deranged, obnoxious, and slightly-off will always have a home here at Suburban Wino. But if the voice of this blog doesn’t scratch you where you itch, Michael Bryan and the crew are eager to preach the Good News of Booze in a comfortable, educational, and entertaining setting:
Atlanta Wine School
1570 Holcomb Bridge Rd. #705
Roswell, GA 30076
(770) 668-0435
Oh, and Gutsabfüllung means “estate bottled”. Yeah, I’ve got some chops too, kids.

Booze in the News: March 11, 2011

March 11, 2011
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Born Small… Now Huge… Winning since 2010 (despite cursed human blood).

Don’t have any particular stories here about Charlie Sheen. But, as dedicated Booze in the News staffers, it’s our duty to recommend you follow the alcohol-and-drug-fueled grease fire as it progresses:

“Ale” to the Chief: He’s an accused long-legged mac-daddy. He’s a smoker. Based on the female persuasion’s misguided notion that “bad boys” are cool, you have to admit the President is a pretty hip cat (clearly, a statement seething with the repressed dating angst of a former goodie-goodie). But I digress. Did you know that the Commander in Chief also brews his own beer? NPR reports that the Obamas will serve the White House’s second batch of beer- a Honey Ale- during St. Patrick’s Day (the first having been served during the Super Bowl). While it’s reported the prez himself has little to do with the actual production of the beer, the Obama administration is still credited as the first the brew at 1600 Pennsylvania. And as much as I want to say all of that is really cool, I happen to know that homebrewing is an incredibly geeky, exacting, and scientific process. Score one for the goodie-goodies.

Monk-y Business: An Iowa man is giving up everything for Lent. Everything but beer, that is. “Charlie Sheen doesn’t live in Iowa,” you’re probably saying, “and does the Lenten sacrifice include cocaine and prostitutes?” A reasonable inference, indeed, but seriously, this guy is legit. The gentleman- known simply as “J. Wilson”, is conducting a historical experiment based on the lives of German monks of the 1600s. During the 46-day stretch of Lent, these wacky guys lived on virtually no more sustenance than 4 pints of doppelbock-style beer and water. Intent on recreating this spiritual and gastronomical purification, Wilson is living on a beer of his own creation and documenting the progress on the blog, “Diary of a Part-Time Monk”. Personally, I commend the guy, as his opus is sure to come in handy whenever I try to drink beer at the office. Human Resources really frowns up religious persecution in the workplace. So what if I’m operating heavy machinery with a hefty buzz? God is my co-pilot, holmes.

Well…what can I say that this guy hasn’t already said:

English Roots Reggae and Pimento, please.

March 9, 2011
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This post is a verbose explanation of this video I posted Sunday night.

On the eve of Lent, I (not so) fondly reminisce back to last year’s challenge: giving up all meat and animal product for 40-47 days. Eventually, I failed, but I set myself up for failure. Meat is good, and so omnipresent in our culture (especially Southern culture). I’m not sure if I gained respect or concern for vegans during that odyssey. Let’s just say I’m glad it’s long-since over.

This year, I will sacrifice no such thing. Rather, with March’s thaw in full swing below the Mason-Dixon, my primal instinct to place hunks of beast over crackling open flame has stirred. And, as one is drawn outside by coming Spring’s pleasant and sunny disposition, I desire festive sounds pumping from the porch speakers: Steel Pulse, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley…
…if by cosmic serendipity, this season’s first masterpiece needed to be Jerk Pork Shoulder. Now, to the uninitiated (technically, myself included, as I’ve never been to Jamaica), “jerk” refers to a spice rub or marinade based primarily on two elements: the allspice berry (called “pimento” in Jamaica) and the tongue-scorching Scotch bonnet pepper. The term “jerk” has debatable origins: some say it comes from the Spanish term “charqui” (used to describe dried meat). Other sources claim a term derived from “jerking” the meat around on the grill. Frankly, with all due respect to historical accuracy, I really don’t give one tenth of a damn about it. What’s important is that jerk is totally delicious. The combination of aromatic allspice (along with tons of other spices and flavors; not to uncommon for foods originating on the trade routes of the Caribbean), hellacious and heavenly burn from the Scotch bonnets, and salty, succulent smoked meat is something that speaks to me. Seductively. And feeds me smoked meats. And gets me a beer.
Indeed, jerk pork is like the wife I never had. And when my current wife reads this, it will not help my case with her.
For my inspiration, I turned to the consummate Jamaican- Steven Raichlen
…okay, well at least the guy sure does know his way around a grill.
Jamaican Jerk Pork Shoulder
recipe adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible: Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades

1 Pork Shoulder, about 8 lbs. (either boneless or bone removed, cap fat trimmed)
8 Scotch Bonnet Peppers (seeded if you like mild, wimpy stuff)
1 Medium Onion, chopped
2 Bunches Scallions, chopped, including white part
1/2 cup Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp Fresh Ginger, chopped
1/4 cup Kosher or Sea Salt
1 tbsp Fresh Thyme Leaves
1 tbsp Dried Allspice Berries, toasted and ground
1 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp Grated Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
1/4 cup Fresh Lime Juice
1/4 cup Packed Dark Brown Sugar
2 tbsp Soy Sauce
1/4 cup Water (if needed)

Pretty simple: combine everything but the pork shoulder in a blender (I had to do two batches), and blend until it’s an unappealing-looking liquidy goop. Reserve.

If your pork shoulder has been boned [Beavis & Butt-head laughter], it should fold open and be almost a large, flat rectangle. Start cutting slices- not all the way through the meat- on one side, then flip and make similar cuts where you did not on the other side. The idea is two-fold: flattening out the meat (like an accordion) will not only help decrease the cooking time, but it will also increase the surface area in contact with the jerky marinade goodness. Don’t worry about the intramuscular fat… if you smoke it right, that stuff will rend away. This is something I’ve done before, and I felt affirmed when Raichlen mentioned it in another one of his books, Planet Barbecue.
Put the meat and marinade in a huge zip bag or non-reactive tray. Make sure all the meat is in contact with marinade, and let all that mess get busy in the fridge overnight.

The next day, start soaking a couple handfuls of any hardwood chips (I like oak, hickory, or apple) with a handful of allspice berries in water for 1 hour before smoking begins. Set up your grill or smoker. I use a 22″ Weber kettle with a drip pan in the middle (filled with some water) and two piles of about 20-25 coals to each side. The meat will sit over the pan, not directly over any coals.

Once the coals are glowing and no longer have leaping flames that burn your tender knuckles, drop a handful of chips n’ berries on each mound. You should have a good bit of smoke, and the internal temp of the grill should be around 250-300˚ (a little high by traditional barbecue standards, but we’re after a nice crusty exterior here).

Have a knife handy. STAB ANYONE IN THE THIGH WHO TRIES TO OPEN THE LID OF THE GRILL TO “PEEK”*. After about 2 hours, you may need to add a couple coals and some smoke if the temp starts to drop. This is the only acceptable time to open the lid. After about 3, maybe 4 hours, you should have meat with an internal temp of 190˚, and it should pull apart with a fork. You, my friend, are now in flavor country.

If you MUST have wine with this dish, I can’t think of anything better than rosé. The wines of Tavel are particularly delicious. And quite frankly, if you made yours pretty spicy, a little sweetness from a White Zinfandel will work pretty well. I like red Zin with pork BBQ, but this is a different animal. Sweetness tempers spicy. Got a problem with a self-admitted wine snob recommending white Zin? As my mom always said: tough toenails.
Honestly, though, this is a meat meant for cold beer. I suppose Red Stripe would be the easiest Jamaican beer to find. However, if you want to seek out the slightly-more obscure, see if you can find Dragon Stout (same producer as Red Stripe, though).
*meant in jest only. This blog and it’s authors are not responsible for any subsequent stabbed legs. But seriously, opening that lid really messes with the barbecue, man.

Jerked Pork in Under Two Minutes

March 7, 2011
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Looking forward to go into greater detail on this one in a later post (which will occur Tues-Wed, as I do not have to go to meetings in Las Vegas all week). Anyone who likes flavor and likes pigs* MUST give this one a try. Something about the warming weather and Jamaican barbecue that just fit.
*If you only like pigs as pets and/or friends and you’re not-so-much into using them as food, then you shouldn’t try this. Even if you like flavor.

Posted in BBQ, jerk pork, pork, videos