Denver Home Barbecue Expert Writes a Cookbook for Pellet Smokers

This brisket might be more than a weeknight project, but if you're working from home or wait for a weekend, it's still doable.
This brisket might be more than a weeknight project, but if you're working from home or wait for a weekend, it's still doable. Adam McKenzie
Seventh-generation Coloradan Adam McKenzie is better known as This Jew Can Que, the name of the food blog and Instagram page he maintains to spread the word about home barbecuing. McKenzie is a schoolteacher by day, but once he gets home, he can usually be found firing up his backyard pellet smoker to put good grub on the table for family and friends. His love of cooking — and sharing recipes — has led to a new cookbook created in conjunction with Traeger called Weeknight Smoking on Your Traeger and Other Pellet Grills.

The premise of the book, McKenzie explains, is that most people think of using a smoker as an arduous, all-day (and sometimes all-night) process to turn big cuts of meat — like brisket, pork shoulder and slabs of ribs — into something edible. But modern pellet smokers have made outdoor cooking easy and accessible by adding precise time, temperature and smoke controls. "I've always tried to make cooking easy and approachable," McKenzie explains, adding that he uses his own Traeger six or seven nights a week.
click to enlarge Reverse-searing is a great way to use your pellet smoker, according to Adam McKenzie. - ADAM MCKENZIE
Reverse-searing is a great way to use your pellet smoker, according to Adam McKenzie.
Adam McKenzie

McKenzie teaches electronics and robotics at a STEM elementary school, so he has an innate love of both gadgets and teaching. That comes through in his choice of cooking equipment as well as in his recipes, which are easy to read and follow. In the introduction to the book, he says that many of the dishes can be ready in an hour, and some clock in at under thirty minutes. There's a whole chapter on seafood, for example, labeled as "lightning fast," so you can have scallops, shrimp, halibut or salmon — each in less than half an hour.

Of course, there are also traditional recipes that take a little more time. But even those have been whittled down to something doable in an afternoon, if you plan ahead. Pork shoulder clocks in at four and a half hours, but it needs another hour to rest in an insulated cooler. "Beef ribs have become a favorite of mine," McKenzie adds; those take five or six hours and the recipe calls for mesquite pellets — and using the "Super Smoker" setting on your smoker if it has one.

McKenzie is also a fan of "reverse-seared" steaks. "That's cooking at a lower temperature at first — ten to fifteen degrees below the finished temperature," he explains. "It works great for tri-tip, flank steak and skirt steak, and you definitely still get that smoky flavor."

If you're not sure where to get the best cuts, McKenzie recommends Snake River Farms on the higher end, but adds that "you can also find good quality meats at Costco." There's more than just meat on the menu, though. Macaroni and cheese, garlic naan, grilled veggies and a cast-iron Dutch baby are among the meatless options.

McKenzie's experience extends to judging local barbecue competitions, so he's tasted a wide variety of smoked meats from amateurs and professionals alike. He doesn't enter barbecue competitions himself, though, because he prefers more creative ways of using his backyard smoker. "Barbecue is meant to be eaten in quantity with friends and family," he concludes.

Weeknight Smoking on Your Traeger and Other Pellet Grills officially releases on May 11, but is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Once out, look for it at Proud Souls BBQ & Provisions, select Ace Hardware stores around town, and other shops specializing in home barbecue equipment.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation