Sunday, June 10, 2012

Traeger - Lil Tex Elite - Smoker Grill

I received my new Traeger Lil-Tex Elite Grill this week.

I paid $799.00 with cover and two 20 lb. bags of pellets (Hickory & Mesquite) (Memorial Day Sale) direct from Traeger's web site with no shipping or sales tax.

The Everyday Cookbook is included in the box, but not the analog temperature gage, that is optional. Some assembly is required, but very simple, really just putting on the legs. Once fully assembled there is a 45 min burn in process to burn off the "Newness" and eliminate any manufacturing left over oils etc. Overall this all went fine, there was a minor bend in one of the slots where the legs had to slide in, but easily straightened out with a pair of pliers. After it had cooled down, I applied a coat of automotive wax to the outside and buffed to a shine. I read this would help protect it to do this annually.

First cooking adventure with the Traeger: BBQ Baby Back Ribs using the Treager 3-2-1 method and Hickory Pellets, with the addition of some ideas I have read about on the web. I started preparing the ribs around 10:30AM. Made up the mustard, Apple Juice and Worcestershire Sauce, and spread it on three racks of ribs (3 racks - about 9 lbs.) I was not sure on the pork rub, how much to use, but sprinkled evenly and rubbed it in. So now I was ready to start smoking!

Following the directions to start the smoker/grill I set it to smoke with the cover open. After it started and there was visible smoke, I closed the lid but the temperature kept rising all the way up to 375, and it was set to smoke (160 - 180 expected). So I watched it rise all the way to 400 and after a few minutes of this I called Traeger Technical Support. A young man answered the call and when I told him what was going on he told me the unit had to complete a cycle, and to leave the lid open for 10-15 min, then close the lid and all should be OK. I followed his suggestion, and lo and behold it worked as he said it would. It was smoking well, with temps running between 160 to 170 as I expected.

Cooking the ribs: I sprayed the grille grate with PAM, just to prevent sticking. Put on the ribs, bone side down, and sat back with a beverage and watched the smoker do its thing. After 45 minutes I sprayed the ribs with apple juice I had put into a new clean spray bottle (I read this trick from a few people on the web). I will spray the ribs during the smoke process once every 45 minutes. So the process looks like this:

·         10:30 - Prepare Ribs

·         11:00 - Ribs on Smoker (180 deg good smoke)

·         11:45 - Spray lightly with apple juice

·         12:30 - Spray lightly with apple juice

·         1:15 - Spray lightly with apple juice

·         2:15 - Remove for Phase 2 (set smoker to 225 deg)

·                         - Wrap each rack of ribs in foil (with brown sugar, apple juice, and honey)

·         2:30 - Back on smoker at 225 deg

·         4:30 - Remove foil add BBQ sauce

·         5:30 - Remove ribs

·         5:45 - Enjoy

The final product was great! Well worth the effort. The meat was tender, not falling of the bone, but just a slight pull to separate it. I am now looking forward to my next smoking project, maybe a Turkey, or chicken.

My final thoughts on the Traeger Smoker:  I can see why many folks are upset with the switch in 2007 from being made in USA to having the units made in China. The product clearly felt like "Made In China" as I took it out of the box and assembled it. The metal work, how thin it is, and the feel, all scream "Made In China". We are becoming accustomed to this today, with so many things, it is a shame. As with most things it did function as it was designed. I do feel with the shift to China the cost should have come down, at $799. the unit feels overpriced by about $300.00. These are now being offered at many Costco stores, and I'll bet Lowes or Home Depot is next! The Traeger Smoker/Grill is not a specialty product any longer.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cruise Vacation Review

Ship: Royal Caribbean International - Explorer of the Seas

Itinerary: Nine nights - Bermuda, St Maarten, St. Thomas/St John, San Juan
Departing from: Port Liberty - Bayone, NJ - April 12, 2012

Cabin: Royal Family Suite

The planning process was painful, using the RCI web site offered many challenges. Purchased amenities confirmations did not line up with what was actually purchased. The cruise planner did not always reflect actual packages and upgrades purchased. System only allows for four passengers per reservation, so the fifth is on a "linked" separate reservation, this proved difficult when planning. Due to the poor design of the web site many calls were required to RCL customer service to finally assure all packages were in place and we were ready for our cruise.

Parking at the Sea Port was $175.00 for the nine days, kind of expensive considering.

Suite Upgrade - Overall I found this a worthwhile investment in the trip. Separate boarding area to speed up the boarding process, along with Gold Level Seating at the shows, special area on the pool deck, breakfast and lunch in Portofino's, a roomy two bedroom suite with table and four lounge chairs on a generous size deck looking out the back of the ship. And of course early departure arrangements. You pay extra for a suite but they do make it a good value if you can afford paying a little extra.

Our Cabin Steward - This guy did not get it! I have read so many reviews with people stating how much the steward did, and how engaged their steward was. Ours did just the minimum, and was not very engaged in his job at all. On the first day I asked for covers for the lounge chairs on the deck (they were kind of dirty from the ships exhaust) he said he would get us some, the next day he showed up with them and just tossed them on a chair in the cabin. (You would have expected him to put them on the lounge chairs). He never (except once after I complained) wiped down the table and chairs on the deck from the soot. He never replaced the soap or shower gel or shampoo, again until I asked. I had pre paid the gratuity, but wish there was some way I could have held back 10% from this guy, he was clearly not ready for the job he had.

Dining - I did not expect this to be a gourmet dining experience, but I must say this is one area where RCI has it down to a science. All meals from breakfast lunch to dinner and snacks in-between were excellent. The wait staff were superb, engaged, and you could tell wanted to provide a first class experience for the guests. Steaks were done to order, sea food was fresh tasting, and vegetables cooked just perfect, and deserts were fresh and tasty. I would give them an A+ for food service overall. A must try is Portofino's and Johnny Rockets, a small up charge but well worth it.

Bar Service - Overall good job. The Platinum wine package worked well after a few days, but took some time for the staff to catch on that we had this package. Stayed away from the drink pushers by the pool, and always ordered fresh from the bar. All bartenders and staff were helpful and friendly. Drinks were for the most part well made with an adequate amount of liquor.

Getting on and off the ship - I don't know how they do it! At each port of call it was easy on and easy off, with little waiting. I would have thought with 3000 people getting on and off there would be long lines, but not so. We almost had no lines at all, at any port... Very good job by all staff in this area.

They say you either love cruising or hate it. Well I would say I don't hate it. We had good weather, and mild seas, so no problem there. I might try again, maybe Alaska, or Western Caribbean. Would I use RCI again? Maybe but given some of the issues we had and with nothing to compare it to, I might try NCL, or Celebrity next time.