Barbeque or, Barbecue it’s All Good (a Personal History)

My love of barbecue came along with the love of my life, my wife. She’s a Texan, and from early in our relationship she expressed a profound love for Texas barbeque. We were in Florida at the time (mid 1990’s), there was no suitable barbeque. There was this one place I would frequent before I met her (mostly for barbeque/grilled chicken) but, when the restaurant did not have brisket or, sausage we found other places to eat. She would describe delicious smoked sausage with just enough “tooth” and the right amount of pepper, beef brisket with a smoke ring and smoky bark and a sauce that magically worked with all of it. I was intrigued by this Texas barbeque thing.

When we lived in Texas, I was able to taste it first hand. It was no wonder my wife was so enamored with it! Anyone who grew up with that tasteless, dry, braised brisket in their house was really missing out on how they cooked brisket in Texas! Holy cow!

Favorite Texas Barbeque Joints

When we lived in Texas we ate barbeque most often at:

After some time in Texas we moved to North Carolina and quickly learned about their style of barbeque. This was a disappointment to my Wife who longed for the barbeque of her childhood. For the most part, the North Carolina barbeque we found, didn’t rely on smoke for it’s flavor, rather the sauce. This was a big change for us and we didn’t immediately take to it.

Discovering an Online Barbeque Community

A few years after moving to North Carolina my barbeque education truly began. I searched for information online and had become involved with a very active (at the time) online newsgroup alt.food.barbecue newsgroup. In the group, I met a bunch of dedicated and supportive barbeque cooks, both pro and aspiring. From them I learned barbeque and experienced my first online community. I could ask any question (after I had searched for a similar question) and it was usually answered thoughtfully and thoroughly. Through the group I was pointed to the alt.food.barbeque FAQ. Personal things happened in this group as well, we had a few members die, one got married. We even had vegan trolls try and infiltrate the group and start a flame war against our choice of cooking and protein.

Barbeque Books
Along with the group I either bought or, was gifted the following barbeque books:

My involvement in the group led me to purchase my first barbeque pit.
In mid 2002, I purchased an Oklahoma Joe’s / New Braunfels Silver Smoker  Barbeque pit (since discontinued) and cooked my first brisket “point”.

2002 first barbeque cook on my brand new pit from Barbeques Galore.
2002: first barbeque cook on my brand new pit from Barbeques Galore.

A Baby Brisket
What news could trump this first cook? Well, as it so happens, we were trying to get pregnant and when my wife came downstairs she had big news… we were pregnant! That became quite a celebration, we had a baby brisket on the way! And my first brisket to celebrate!

 

RIbs from June 2003
Ribs from June 2003

And so began my barbeque cooking education. Time, smoke, wood, hardwood charcoal and temperature all played a role.

Modifying the Pit

Also in 2005, I made modifications to the pit. This made the cooking grates more stable.I also extended the smoke stack to help with circulation and added a deflector where the firebox joins the cooking chamber to help with heat distribution.

Pork from January 2006
Pork shoulder from January 2006 – partially broken down.
Pork from January 2006
Pork from January 2006 – final pulled pork

And the more you cook, the better you get. By 2009, I was getting some solid footing. The big thing I learned was “it’s done when it’s done“.

Brisket from 2009
Brisket from 2009
Brisket from 2009
Brisket from 2009
My barbeque pit in 2009
The pit in 2009 – Note the coffee can to catch drippings and the 2 x 4 to raise the pit for easier draining.

2014 The End of a Chapter, the Start of Another

2014 saw many changes. For one we left Texas and moved back to North Carolina. Along with this was the decision to not take my first pit back with us.
It had served me well, we simply didn’t have room for it. And it’s degrading condition had led me to question it’s longevity. I’m not sure they designed these bolt together pits to last 10 + years. Time for one more cook before we hit the road. I did wind up giving the pit to a neighbor who was excited to receive it.

July 2014 - Last cook in my pit
July 2014 – Last cook in my  first pit

 

2016 –  A New Beginning

In 2016, I returned to cooking outdoors. Eventually, succumbing to the outdoor cooking bug, I bought a grill on clearance at WalMart. It wasn’t a barbecue pit by a long shot but, I could simulate a pit (to a degree) in a new my charcoal kettle grill.

First brisket of 2016

2016 Brisket rubbed and ready for smoke
2016 two pieces of a packer cut Brisket rubbed and marinated overnight, ready for smoke.

2016 Brisket pulled

2016 – Brisket pulled and ready to eat

brisket, Salt Lick style slaw and Stubb's sauce
2016 – brisket, Salt Lick style slaw and Stubb’s sauce… time to eat!

Second Brisket Cook of 2016

brisket rubbed and ready for the smoke
brisket rubbed and ready for the smoke
second brisket of 2016 on the kettle grill with a drip/water pan. Coals to the left.
second brisket of 2016
Shredded brisket
Shredded brisket
Brisket, slaw and beans
Brisket, slaw and beans
Leftover brisket slaw and beans on a toasted bun
Leftover brisket slaw and beans on a toasted bun

I’ve learned a lot in my pursuit of barbeque nirvana. Most significantly, nothing can replace time. The right amount of time ensures a good cook and a good result.

MaxBack Review – MaxBack Cellphone & Tablet Buying & Selling Service

We had upgraded our phones recently and Verizon quoted us $45 trade in for each Samsung Galaxy S4 phone. I wanted to poke around a little and see if I could do better. I suspected I might have a shot at a little more money.

I knew the condition of the phones would be critical to obtaining the best value. We’ve had these phones in cases with screen protectors from day one (two years ago), and there were no scratches, chips, or other signs of wear. Peel off the screen protector and the screen was flawless. Wish I had taken photos, but trust me the phones were in flawless condition. Really.

I checked a few sites (Gazelle and some others) and in many cases, the price came back lower than the Verizon’s trade-in. Frustrated, I dug a little more.

After some additional digging, I found MaxBack. I had never heard of MaxBack but, I poked around on their site and was satisfied everything was on the up and up. In case you haven’t heard of MaxBack either, here’s my review of the cellphone and tablet buying service.

I dove into their process for selling a cellphone. First, I selected a manufacturer.

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Next, I chose the model of phone

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Then, I was presented with a screen to choose the carrier….

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After that, I selected the condition. Now, even though they say “90% of devices… ” I was fairly confident that ours would make the “Excellent” cut. So, that’s what I chose.

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I added the phone into my cart and that’s we things got a little weird. I tried both button options to try and edit the cart to increase the quantity… but, there was no such option on this screen.

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Frustrated, I chatted up the chat agent. They were friendly and offered me the option to call them. I really didn’t want to talk, I wanted to put another phone in my cart and get the sale moving. The chat agent couldn’t resolve the issue for me.

While I had the chat session going, I went back to the home page and started the process over again to add a phone to my cart. Thinking that might do the trick.

[Maxback, if you read this ^^^^^ it really needs fixing. For your reference I was in the Google Chrome browser.]

My going back to the homepage and starting over, it worked… two phones were now in the cart. A little wonky but, I got it done.

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I was able to complete my sale request and shipping material request.

A little less than a week goes by and my shipping materials arrive.

The box includes an instruction card with the order printed on the back, a pre-paid USPS label, a security seal and two pieces of foam.

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Instruction card.

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0415161715_HDRWhy thank you! ;)

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Squeezing the two S4s took a little bit of doing, but I managed to get them in there along with their charging cords. I wound up wrapping one phone in a paper towel so it wouldn’t get scratched during shipping. The package was bulging a bit so, I applied some packing tape. Then, the MaxBack supplied security seal.

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After shipping it back, it was a seamless process. MaxBack sent me an email that they had received my shipment and day or so later, a second email with the results of the inspection and serial number check. Turned out we were eligible for “Excellent” condition. Awesome!

A deposit to my PayPal account followed right after that, pretty easy.

Do you have a few phones hanging around? Give MaxBack a try. It might be worth a few extra dollars in your pocket. http://www.maxback.com/

 

High Brew Coffee Review – A Delicious Low Calorie, Low Sugar Cold Brew Coffee

It started on Twitter, I don’t remember exactly how, but I saw High Brew Coffee’s Twitter handle not long after we visited Austin for a parent’s getaway.

Curious, I checked out their website to learn a little more. And the timing of this discovery was equally awesome for me since we had started eating better at the beginning of the year.

On a whim, I asked if they could send me a few coupons to try a few of their varieties. The coffee gods smiled down on me (in addition to the fine people in marketing at High Brew) because when the “coupons” arrived there was a good great surprise. A case of High Brew Coffee was inside, plus coupons!

I was completely surprised!

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I put half of them in the refrigerator and the next day… tried my first High Brew Cold Brew Coffee – Salted Caramel. I was in heaven! A cold, canned, coffee drink with only a tiny bit of sugar and reasonable amount of calories. I was digging this!

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Next, I tried the Mexican Vanilla, not bad at all! And still a small amount of calories and very little sugar.

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Double Espresso.. .strong enough to put more hair on your chest (really)! ;-)

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Dark Chocolate Mocha was next, this was very, very good.

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My lovely wife got to try some, too. She was very happy with the Salted Caramel as well. Sadly, she didn’t get to try any others, because our teenage daughter edged into our stash. Teenagers these days!

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When we see them in the store, we’ll pick em up for sure! How can you go wrong with 70 calories and 7 grams of sugar!

I did receive free product (unexpectedly) and with no agreement to do anything. My opinions are 100% my own (and my Wife’s) true feelings and experiences.

Samsung Level U Wireless Headphone Review

We bought the Samsung Level U wireless headphones on a special over the holidays and now that the weather has warmed up, my Wife and I have really had a chance to put them through their paces.

These are the first wireless headphones we’ve owned and as such we were really looking forward to experiencing them. We typically use the headphones most when walking/running at the local track or, around our neighborhood.

We haven’t had any phone calls over the headphones as yet. That might be something I add at a future date. Also of note, we initially paired the Level U headphones with a Samsung Galaxy S4. We have since upgraded to new phones.

Our Impressions of the Samsung Level U Wireless Headphones

Overall, the headphones are very good. Not sure if it’s something inherent in Bluetooth but, it takes a second to get a clear audio signal when first powering on and playing some audio. Once the connection is made the sound is very responsive and the audio mix comes through very well. I’ve not detected any distortion of the sound and music seems full. In addition, the sonic imaging seems accurate. Highs, lows and mids are all in the right place. 

I do have some issues with the earbuds falling out of my ear. Not sure what the issue is. I might have to try some of the other type of earbud covers included in the box.

Features of the Samsung Level U Wireless Headphones

  • 12mm speaker units
  • Dual-mic noise reduction
  • Echo cancellation
  • Magnetic ear buds
  • Flexible ureathane “joints”
  • Samsung ear gels
  • Samsung Level app compatible
  • S Voice capability
  • Battery Life – up to ll hrs talk/10 hrs play

In the Box

Picture of Samsung Level U stereo headphones and what comes in the box.
Samsung Level U stereo headphones, USB to micro USB charging cable, replacement ear piece covers and a quick start guide round out the package contents.
  • Level U stereo headphones
  • Three sets of ear gels (2 standard sets, 1 stabilizing gel set (installed)
  • Micro USB charging cable
  • Rubber bands
  • User manual

Up Close: Samsung Level U Wireless Headphones

Location of the power button on the Samsung Level U stereo headphones.
Location of the power button on the Samsung Level U stereo headphones. The black parts you see on either side are the flexible urethane joints.
The location of the micro USB port with the cover flipped out of the way. It stays attached to the headphones so it doesn't go missing.
The micro USB port is located on the opposite side of the headphone from the on/off switch. This picture shows the cover flipped out of the way. It stays attached to the headphones so it doesn’t go missing.
A picture showing the location of the function buttons on the Samsung Level U wireless headphones.
In this picture you see the location of the function buttons near the end of one side of the unit. The buttons aren’t easy to use when you are active.

 

Overall we’d rate these headphone a solid buy. Do you own these headphones? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

Check out more details on the Samsung Level U wireless headphones

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Becoming The (Imperfect) Parent I Always Wanted

I am not a perfect dad. I will be the first to admit that (and I’m sure my daughter and wife would heartily agree). As a dad it was never perfect that I sought to be. It was being a Dad. Warts and all, just a Dad.

Why would I want to take on that almost seemingly thankless job of Dad/Father? To answer that question we have to time travel a bit (backwards) in my life. Much of this time travel was pieced together from shards of my own memories and combined with experiences shared with me by family members.

When I was five or, six my parents got a divorce and they headed their separate ways. Depending on who you talk to there were more than a few reasons why they split. The upshot of this split was that Mom stayed close to where we lived as a former “nuclear family“. Dad moved about forty-five miles south. As it turns out, Mom would have to hustle a full-time job, manage the household and figure our who would watch my brother and I until she made it home from the city during the week. There was clearly a lot on her plate. The reality of our post-divorce family was two-fold. Mom had to hustle for a full-time job that didn’t happen immediately. While she hustled there was some aid provided in the form of food stamps and other support from family members.

With the finalized divorce came a hammered out agreement. Child support for the kids, visitation for Dad and some other agreed to terms.

Two of the reasons I became a Dad are embedded in this divorce. First, visitation. Visitation was nothing I knew about as a kid, it was something experienced. All I knew was that Dad wasn’t around anymore. The only thing I actually experienced: actual visitations were sparse.

Second, with both parents working far away from home, there are few memories that either parent attended school functions, award ceremonies, plays, or other intermittent milestones in my young life. I know that was nothing I could change, they both had jobs and both had an economic need to earn income. But, I didn’t know that right away. It was something I learned over time. It bothered me way, down, deep. And it was something that would profoundly impact me later, in my adult life.

Ultimately, this experience drove me, in part, to want to be a Dad. I remember vividly setting out the first few chapters of my life while in my 20’s. My goals involved what I consider the usual career, financial and family aspirations. In particular, I wanted to be married and have a family. As anyone will tell you, goals only work with a deadline. And in my early 20’s, I set a future date of “my 30’s”. In addition, I wanted to be able to be involved in my child’s life. To somehow shape the future of a child my having the participatory parents that I couldn’t have. In essence, to right this perceived inequity.

Was I out of my mind? Who in their early 20’s sets out on this kind of path? Was I insane? Quite possibly. But, I wouldn’t have my sanity tested for at least a few more years. My goals were set and I went about doing what most 20-somethings do. Going out, meeting, dating, enjoying (mostly) the single life.

Funny little thing about goals is they tend to propel you in the direction you intend. As I entered my late 20’s and early 30’s I met and married my wife. After we had our child, she wanted to stay at home. To allow me to be involved as much as possible, I took jobs that weren’t far from home. Another way we made this work was modest housing and, for my wife, a part-time job at the local grocery store. This worked for us. I was able to attend some of the school programs of our daughter. My wife was heavily involved at school, to point of doing some volunteer work for an art program in school.

As our daughter grew up, we found ways to attend school programs, award ceremonies, volunteer for Girl Scouts and other activities.

So, what’s the upshot of this? Was it mission accomplished? Did we become the participatory parents I always wanted? I asked my daughter recently, and it seems we did accomplish the mission. She sees all of participation as normal. What surprised and pleased down to my core was that she knows nothing else. She knows nothing of the reality that I knew. She knows we were there celebrating many of her accomplishments with her. To me that’s one of the best things of all. And, as bonus, I get to do the job I always wanted – to be a Dad.