BBQ Crawl finale – Mission BBQ close to home

We finally got home on Friday evening, January 2nd, about 5:30 pm, after driving a little over 3,000 miles over the previous two weeks.  After doing a little unpacking, and generally just kicking back and relaxing for a little while, we decided to finish our BBQ Crawl with a relatively local joint that opened up in Columbia recently, Mission BBQ.

Mission BBQ is actually a chain of restaurants with thirteen locations ranging from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.  So you might be immediately suspicious that this could turn out like our trip to The Pit “Authentic” BBQ in Raleigh.  I’m absolutely geeked to say that nothing could be further from the truth!  WE ACTUALLY HAVE A FANTASTIC BBQ JOINT NEAR HOME!!!!  Woo-Hoo!!! (At this point, you have to visualize me doing the happy dance, because that’s how I felt when I left). Continue reading

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BBQ Crawl stop ten – The Alamo in Richmond (again!)

We enjoyed the Alamo BBQ in Richmond so much the first time around, we wanted to stop in again so we could try their tacos, which another guest had told us were awesome.

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BBQ Crawl stop nine – The Pit in Raleigh, NC

So we slept in on New Year’s Day (no surprise), and didn’t really hit the road until about 11:30 am.  Our intention was to head up I-85 out of Athens towards Charlotte, and eventually finish the day in the Raleigh/Durham area to visit Amy’s brother and his family.  On the way, we planned to stop at the world famous Lexington BBQ in Lexington, NC.  This little joint is the sort of small hole in the wall kind of place that simply serves up awesome, unpretentious BBQ, and it is supposed to be a standard bearer for North Carolina BBQ.

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BBQ Crawl stop 8.5 – New Year’s Eve at The Branded Butcher

After having lunch at The Oink Joint, we continued north to Atlanta, then east to Athens, GA.  We had decided it would be a good idea to get off the roads before dusk, given that it was New Year’s Eve, and stay over in the Atlanta area.  We wanted to go to a nice upscale restaurant, and had decided on Hugh Acheson‘s Five and Ten in Athens, GA.  Unfortunately, the only reservation we could get was for 5:30 pm, and as it turns out, we couldn’t get into town in time to make it, so we had to cancel.  Once we got checked into our hotel, however, a little research uncovered The Branded Butcher, which was serving a special Prix Fixe menu that night.  So we managed to get reservations for 9:30 pm (which was fine, because we were still a little full from our late lunch at The Oink Joint), and showed up a little early for cocktails. Continue reading

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BBQ Crawl stop eight – The Oink Joint

Well, it’s time to start our drive home, unfortunately. We’ve had a great time visiting with relatives here in Dothan, and Christmas was wonderful, but I don’t have unlimited vacation, and we have to be home before Saturday, so we’re heading out today.
We got out of Dothan around 9:30 am, and it took about 3.5 hours to get to Zebulon, GA.

Zebulon is a charming little town maybe an hour south of Atlanta, with nice central square at the center of town.  That’s where you’ll find The Oink Joint. Continue reading

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Side trip to New Orleans and The Shed

A dear friend of ours from our college days at UMBC moved to New Orleans many years ago and got married, and we have not seen her in years. Since we were relatively close by, we decided to make a day trip, stay the night, and come back the next day. And of course, we hoped to get some great food while we were there (and perhaps even on the way).

As we were driving to New Orleans, we anticipated stopping in Mobile to get some BBQ, but while Amy was searching the web for places to go, she realized that The Shed in Ocean Springs, MS, was right on our way.  This place has been featured on nearly every TV channel and program devoted to food, as their owners are true masters of promotion – they even got their own reality TV show!  So I was dubious whether this place would live up to its hype. Continue reading

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BBQ Crawl stop five – the legendary Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ

We left Nashville about 2 pm and headed south to Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ in Decatur, Alabama. We rolled into their parking lot about 4:30, and on opening our car doors, were greeted with the most delicious smoke smell I think I’ve ever experienced.

Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q sign

Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q sign

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BBQ Crawl stop four – Jack’s BBQ, Nashville

After our breakfast at Puckett’s, we lumbered down the street to Broadway in Nashville, and did some shopping in the boot shops.  I bought myself some nice cowboy boots (my dress shoes for work needed replacing), and wandered over to Jack’s BBQ, nestled between the many honky-tonks and boot shops.   Continue reading

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BBQ Crawl stop three – Puckett’s for breakfast

So we got yet another late start to the morning, in part because the fire alarm in our hotel went off at 12:30 am. We found out the next morning that one of the guests tried to disable the smoke alarm in their room so they could smoke. Idiots.

So after getting moving, we mosey’d on over to Puckett’s for some breakfast. We had not counted on BBQ for breakfast, but they had it. Continue reading

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BBQ Crawl stop two – Luella’s

We left Wake Forest, NC around 1 pm, went slow and made a lot of stops, and we were ready for dinner by the time we got to Asheville around 6 pm. Unfortunately, the BBQ joint we had listed for Asheville, 12 bones, is not open Sunday.  So we did some quick Googling, and found a place called Luella’s. Continue reading

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BBQ Crawl first stop – Alamo BBQ

We got a late start leaving home, but we made it to Richmond by 7 pm for our first stop on our BBQ Crawl: Alamo BBQ.  The first good sign was the pile of wood next to the smoker outside, but as we pulled up, we could already smell the smoky goodness.

Alamo's wood pile and smoker

Alamo’s wood pile and smoker

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Christmas BBQ Crawl

Amy’s parents moved to Dothan, Alabama this last summer, so we are traveling to southern Alabama for Christmas. Shortly after her parents left, Amy asked me “Have my parents ever actually looked through your telescope?” to which the answer was, in fact, no. So we hatched a plan – since Dothan, Alabama has much darker skies than where we live in suburban Baltimore, I wanted to drive to Alabama for Christmas so I could bring my telescope (it is far too large to ship or to put on in my baggage for an airline flight). That way, we could enjoy the dark skies of southern Alabama during our Christmas vacation. Continue reading

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First BBQ brisket

Well, I’m trying my first BBQ beef brisket. I picked up a nine pound brisket from JW Treuth (I neglected to get USDA Choice, and instead got USDA select; that could be a mistake).

We will inject it with Myron Mixon’s beef injection and marinade and let it set in the fridge overnight.

Made Myron Mixons beef injection using two cups water, two cups Natures Promise beef broth, and three Knorr’s bouillon cubes. Brought the water to a boil, then added the broth and cubes and stirred until dissolved, then removed from heat.

Trimmed the brisket per Aaron Franklin’s instructions on his YouTube channel.

Took the trimmed fat from the brisket, and placed it on foil and put it in the smoker to season the smoker. I filled up a chimney with briquettes and lit it, and this time I waited until I had flames coming a good six inches above the chimney, but before the top most briquettes had grey ashy corners. Dumped that out in the smoker and put the thickest bits of fat on the bottom rack and the thinnest bits on the top (with aluminum foil underneath). I tossed four chunks of cherry wood on the fire. All vents are full open, but I’m only getting about 260 degrees. Interesting.

Then I injected the brisket per Myron’s instructions and covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge.


At this point (about 8:45 pm), the smoker was still reading about 275 degrees, and the fat on the top layers was turning brown. Not sure if that is seasoning the smoker or not, but hey. It is about 73 degrees ambient and there is no breeze to speak of.

By 9:45, the smoker was still at about 260.

Next morning, I took the brisket out of the fridge at 9:30, and started cleaning up the smoker.

Rubbed the brisket liberally with half kosher salt half pepper.

It took me nearly an hour to get the smoker going. Filled the ring with coals, and after they were all going, I added four cherry chunks. By 12:30, it was at 350, so I added boiling water (two pitchers) to the pan, which dropped the temp about 50 degrees. I probably should have added the water when I closed the smoker. I then put the brisket on without foil or pan at 12:38. Temp is about 275, so I need to watch it to see if the temp comes up. Unfortunately it is about to start raining.

No rain has come one hour in. Smoker is at 250. I added 6 wood chunks and stoked the fire, and that brought the temp up about 5 degrees.

By 2:15, temp was 240, so I fired up half a chimney of coals. Added them at 2:21, and temp immediately rose to 285.

At 3 pm, temp is 285. It was down to 260 by 4:15, at which point the meat thermometer read 170.

At 5 pm, smoker was 250 and the meat was 175 and starting to look nice.

At 5:30 pm, smoker was about 240, and we wrapped the brisket in aluminum foil. By 6:20, the smoker was down to about 230, and the meat was about 185. I think we’ll let it go about another hour, and then take it off and let it rest.

Took it off the smoker at 6:55, at which point it’s internal temp was 195 or more (the stupid meat thermometer does not go above 200).

We let it rest until 7:45, when the internal temp was down to 155. We sliced it up and… It was delicious! It had a nice 1/4″ smoke ring and a great flavor. The point was definitely better than the flat, but even the flat was pretty good. It had a decent chew, but wasn’t too chewy.

In retrospect, I used a little too much pepper in the rub, or used too much rub, but I like it.


Next time, I think I’ll take the more traditional low and slow by using the Minion method with a full water pan, and using two whole chimneys worth of briquettes by putting one chimney of unlit around the edge and dumping a lit chimney in the middle.

Having some leftover point for lunch the next day. Seems to heat up pretty well in the microwave. I didn’t do a pull test yesterday, but it doesn’t pull apart like it should, so I didn’t break down all the collagen. So I need to cook it longer so the internal temp gets higher for longer.

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October CCA meeting

Greg Steeves gave a great talk on Lake Victorian cichlids (primarily haplochromines), as well as the C.A.R.E.S. program, which is designed to encourage hobbyist fish keepers to maintain and propagate species that are at risk or already extinct in the wild.

In the auction, I picked up a Benga peacock from David G. and a bag of 5 Australoheros oblongum to go along with the bag of five oblongums I got from Sam before the meeting.  I also picked up a fully mature Aulonocara maylandi from Tony.

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New Alita air pump for tank filtration

I bought an Alita AL-6A Linear Air Pump with the 12-gang manifold from Ken’s Fish for $115, along with some airline tubing and three large sponge filters.  I’ve been frustrated with my current filtering options on my 90g Oscar tank and my 110g African cichlid tank, so decided to do what a lot of my fish buddies have done and go with sponge filters for biological filtration.

One of the reasons I went with the Alita AL-6A is because of reviews from several CCA members that indicated how quiet they are.  I’ve never liked the AquaClear HOB filters, despite their reliability, because they tend to be fairly loud.  I cannot believe how quiet this air pump is.  It is probably as quiet or quieter than most of my Eheim canister filters.

The big advantage of sponge filters is that you can get a lot of bio load filtering capacity fairly easily and cheaply, they are easy and cheap to clean or replace, and an air pump is fairly energy efficient (the AL-6A only consumes 13 Watts).  And it is powerful enough to handle up to 20 outlets, which means I could provide filtration for 10-15 tanks.  It will certainly be more than enough to handle my 90g, 110, and the 150g when I get that setup.

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September 2012 CCA Meeting

The September CCA meeting was eventful. Anthony Tu gave a talk about Frontosa, detailing all the different varieties found around Lake Tanganyika, and showing several videos showing the awesome colors these fish have. He was finishing his talk with a video of a conjoined twins Frontosa when the power went out at the high school because of a passing thunderstorm.

Despite the power outage, Bill Barbito from East Coast Cichlids was still able to run the auction because of his prodigious voice. I picked up some nice things in the auction:

  • A group of five Geophagus Brasiliensis for only four bucks!
  • A group of six juvenile Protomelas ‘Steveni’ Taiwan Reef for $40
  • A single male Pundamilia nyerei ‘Pruti Island’ for just a few bucks
  • Some plants

Before the meeting, I had picked up a pair of German Blue Rams, a pair of Aphyosemion australe ‘Orange’, and several Sterbai Cories from Frank Cowherd, and a large school of Giant Danios from Michael Barber.  All in all, it was a great meeting, capped off with beer and dinner at the Stained Glass pub with Kevin, Marge, and Richard.

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AHSP 2012 – Monday

Saw two good talks Monday. Kevin Quin gave a talk on two software tools for planetary imaging, Fire Capture and Autostakkert. He covered the nitty gritty details of settings, workflow, and approach for both programs. I’m excited about Autostakkert, because it appears to be far easier to use than Registax (which I have always found incomprehensibly complicated).

Then Ken Tatum gave a talk on planning and preparing for astro imaging. It was targeted towards beginners or less experienced astrophotographers, but there were many good tips. His main emphasis was on how to manage your time. Finding ways to cut down how long it takes to do a task will make you more successful. Take notes, and create a list of stuff to pack, as well as your workflow sequence (what you need to do, and in what order). If you create a reliable, repeatable packing and workflow sequence, you’ll produce more reliable results.

If you can use a CCD with regulated cooling, you can dispense with taking darks at night, you can just create a darks library and literally double your imaging time. He also suggests buying a cheap laptop dedicated to imaging, so you don’t have to worry about software compatibility or hard drive space. Most of the software works best on Windows 7 64 bit, while there is much less available for Mac OS X. Also, you won’t cry if your $400 laptop gets ruined by dew, but you would if it were your $2000 MacBook.

Figure out an efficient way to pack all your stuff, to decrease the likelihood you’ll forget something. And for stuff that isn’t fragile or valuable (counter weights, observing table and chair, etc.), just leave them in your car all the time. Some people even leave the big 12V batteries in the car.

The CSC indicated skies were supposed to clear around 6 pm, so after Ken’s talk, I setup my batteries to charge. Clouds actually started clearing around 4:30, so I even got a little bit of solar observing in before dinner. After dinner, the skies just kept getting clearer, and at the zenith, the sky is a nice deep blue right now. Looks like it going to be an awesome night!


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AHSP 2012 -Sunday

I didn’t win anything in the raffle. It was completely cloudy, but since the CSC said it would clear up between 9 and midnight, I went ahead and setup my Astrotrac and both cameras and got my scope collimated. Nine o’clock rolled around and instead of the clouds clearing out, it started raining. I quickly moved all my camera gear into the tent and covered my scope, and just sat there in the rain crying into my bourbon.

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AHSP 2012 – Saturday

Saturday afternoon, I went hunting for a new coat, because I forgot to pack my green LL. Bean parka. My father in law got me that coat before we moved to Pittsburgh, which means it is roughly 18 years old. While it has seen better days, it still works really well… when you remember to bring it. Friday night the temps got quite cold, probably into the upper 40s, so I got pretty chilly and didn’t sleep well.

So after lunch Saturday, I drove to Moorefield to a hunting supply shop I had stopped at on my way to AHSP, because I had seen they had Carhartt gear. I picked up an awesome Carhartt jacket and a pair of fingerless gloves with removable mitten covers. These are really useful if you need to handle eyepieces or little things, but then you flip the mittens up again and your fingers stay toasty.

The new gear worked fantastically Saturday night, which was slightly warmer than Friday. Unfortunately, we fought mostly cloudy skies for much of the evening, hunting down sucker holes that often lasted less than 5 minutes. Fairly early on in the evening, a crowd gathered around my scope, in part because of my location, but in part because I was finding stuff. I was able to share views of M17, M22, M31/32/110 (which looked pretty good, being near the zenith), M101 (not the best I’ve ever seen it), the ET Cluster (NGC457), the Coat hanger Cluster (Collinder 399), the Double Cluster, M52, M15, M57, M27 (which looked fabulous), and NGC6960 (the Witch’s Broom portion of the Veil Nebula). In between the puffy cumulus clouds, the transparency wasn’t great, and the seeing was terrible within 30 degrees of the horizon. But given the conditions, it was nice to be able to share some views, and I think everyone had a decent time despite the weather. By about 1:30 am, it seemed like it was going to be mostly cloudy for the rest of the night, so I went to sleep.

I setup my T2i to do time lapse, and while the result is not great, it does give you a pretty accurate idea of what the night was like. I haven’t finished completely processing them, but I will upload two sequences I was able to obtain.

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AHSP begins

When I left home at 10:30 am, the skies were beautiful and clear blue. By the time I arrived at TMI at 3:30 pm, it was completely cloudy and raining very slightly.

Every year I’ve ever been here, Tom Kennedy and Byron Bergert have already been setup in the ring area in the red field. This year they aren’t here, so I snagged it! :-)

I got my gear setup pretty quickly, and headed down to the yurt for dinner and the talk by Dan Wertheimer, chief scientist of the SETI project at UC Berkeley. Dan gave a great talk on the history of SETI research, going back a couple hundred years. He covered not just the SETI @ home project, but several other SETI research projects at other organizations. He finished the talk with a few SETI haiku, my favorite of which was:

One million earthlings
Bounded by optimism
Leave their PCs on

It rained during dinner, but stopped during the talk, so I spent the evening just hanging out under my canopy chatting with my neighbors, until the clouds started parting a bit around 11. The sucker holes were only big enough to see one constellation at a time, but we saw a bit of the Milky Way, so that was nice. When it got completely cloudy again around midnight, I went to bed.

It cleared up from about 2 to about 5:15 am according to some folks. My bladder woke me up at 4:30, and it was completely clear. M31 was naked eye almost at the zenith, and Orion was beautiful just over the mountain to the east. Venus was blazing so bright it was casting shadows.

So far this morning it’s been partly to mostly cloudy, and the forecast isn’t great, but it’s still nice to be here.


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