Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Meat Labeling Characteristics

Several months ago I sent an inquiry to a pork producer asking a question about their website's statement that their pork is "All Natural". I don't know for certain, but I am guessing that most people don't really know a great amount of detail regarding what the term "natural" refers to on their meat.

I made an assumption that "natural" meant no hormones, no antibiotics, and non-GMO feedstock. But you know what they say about those who make assumptions....:-)

Today I received a response from the pork producer stating that their pork contains no hormones and no antibiotics, but that they do use GMO corn. I personally do not consider GMO corn as natural, but before I allowed myself to get too excited about it I did some additional research on .

Here are the definitions quoted from the Food Labeling page of

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed").

NO HORMONES (pork or poultry):
Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim "no hormones added" cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."

The term "no hormones administered" may be approved for use on the label of beef products if sufficient documentation is provided to the Agency by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.

NO ANTIBIOTICS (red meat and poultry):
The terms "no antibiotics added" may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.

I learned some things I didn't know and cleared up some assumptions that I made when purchasing meat at the local grocery store. I suspect that I am not alone in the basic assumptions I made, but I don't know for sure. Maybe no one but me really worries about things like that?  :-)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sidetrack Bar and Grill - Ypsilanti, MI

Linda and I were looking for some place different to eat lunch today and decided to try Depot Town in Ypsilanti. We've driven through the area a few times in the warm weather months and the restaurants in that area are always packed to capacity. Today we stopped by Sidetrack Bar and Grill.

I attended evening classes at Eastern Michigan University nearby a few years back, but aside from grabbing a bite here and there from a local run-of-the-mill franchise place near campus I never had the time before or after classes to explore the local hangouts. (Definitely my loss.) Apparently the movie about Betty Anne Waters titled Conviction starring Hilary Swank was actually filmed at Sidetrack. And last but not least, the 1/3 lb hamburger was ranked #19 on

Linda had the macaroni and cheese with andouille sausage. I had the handcrafted hamburger with a side of sweet potato fries. Both selections were delicous. The burgers are not the one-size-fits-all variety. You can choose from a large selection of add on condiments for the burger including a large selection of cheeses, raw or cooked onion, Ranch dressing, salsa, mushrooms, bell peppers, avocado, marinated portabello mushroom and even a fried egg.

Cheeseburger and sweet potato fries

Cheeseburger close-up, 1/3 lb

The Moose on the Wall
And lest anyone forget that this restaurant is situated very, very close to the railroad tracks in Depot Town...hence the name's likely an Amtrak train will fly by at speed when you least expect it and make you wonder if it's actually coming in through the huge picture window near the dining area.

Can You Earn Income From a Blog About BBQ?

I received an e-mail today presumably from a visitor to my bbq blog asking me to share a few thoughts about blogging and the potential for earning an income from it. I am flattered to receive questions asking me for advice about such things. I don't consider myself an expert at all, but I did my best to reply with information that might be helpful based on my experience. A short e-mail morphed into blog-post-length, so I thought I'd share it in a blog post here in case it might help someone else.

I love blogging. I've been blogging on the internet since 2001 in various forms. I started with a plain old website and then switched to Google's Blogger platform. I tried to switch over to the paid Wordpress platform a couple of years ago because I like the templates and plugins available, but I don't have enough knowleldge to do it myself.

If I were starting over from scratch, I'd definitely use the Wordpress platform.

I have 7 or 8 blogs, but my bbq blog is by far my biggest and oldest. It's ironic, but my smallest blog actually was the most profitable. I had a blog about vermicomposting that was very profitable. I wrote about composting and gardening in my backyard. I also wrote about raising eisenia foetida red worms and sold my "extras". I had referrals coming from several sources including the local Worm's Way retail store.

My wife and I at Martin's original location in Nolensville, TN
BBQ blogging has become very competitive. When I started there were only 3 or 4 real bbq blogs. There were some link aggregators compiling bbq sites, but only a few people writing high quality bbq articles. It's several years later now, but the interest in bbq has skyrocketed thanks to popular television shows on Food Network, Versus, Discovery, etc. who featured many programs about bbq contests.

I earn a steady income from my bbq blog, but it is not "big". I don't dismiss it though because over a period of years it starts to add up. I earn a little money that helps support my bbq hobby. The income keeps me interested enough in the website to continue writing articles for it.

There are ebbs and flows in blogging. As my readers have witnessed, I go through periods where my creativity declines and through other periods where I am writing content that is more engaging and interesting. My site has enjoyed a steady readership year after year and I have several hundred subscribers who receive updates from my site in their e-mail inbox. It continues to be the sincerest form of flattery to me. That someone would continue receiving my blog posts for a period of weeks, months, and years. I go through periods where more people unsubscribe to the blog than I'd like, but during other periods I have added new subscribers on a consistent basis.

If you like blogging about bbq, then go for it. Read other blogs about bbq and learn what you like and what others like. That will help you find your own blogging voice and position in blogosphere. I do not think it's realistic to start out with the goal of earning a significant income, but it is certainly possible. It is an endeavor like most get out of it what you put into it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

So You Want to Write a BBQ Book?

Let me start with a qualifier that I have not actually published a book at this point, but I have been writing one seriously for a while now. It's a work of fiction and has nothing to do with bbq. It's in the vein of David Baldacci's mystery/thriller work meets Ron Rash's southern character/setting/region influences.

Some of what I write in this blog article might not transfer perfectly to someone writing a non-fiction book about bbq. It is based on my research of the process. I am sure there are multiple ways of doing it, but I will outline one way that many have pursued. Please forgive me if I leave out some vital detail. My goal is to provide further information for your own research if you choose to use it.

I attended a workshop on publishing recently and learned that there are more than 500,000 written works published annually. Based on those numbers, the odds of each newly written book selling more than a few hundred copies to family, friends, and neighbors are against you. Based on the staggering odds against success, it's even more difficult for an unpublished author to obtain a traditional book contract from on of the major New York publishers.

If you're lucky a book contract may be worth a $5,000 - $10,000 advance on future sales and then 8% - 9% of whatever the publishing company may earn from sales of your book. And since books sales decline each year it's in print, your revenue stream will be in decline shortly after your book hits the traditional book store shelves. 

You will work on the book for 2 or 3 years, wait at least 1 1/2 years to see it published, and then you hope and pray that enough people buy it to earn you more than a few small royalty checks before your book goes out of print.

Well, don't give up yet. There's another way. It's called self-publishing. Many reading this may be saying to themselves, "but I don't want to self-publish". The cold hard facts of the matter are that you may have no other choice, if you want to see your book in your reader's hands. 

Before you dismiss what I'm saying about self-publishing you may be interested to know that 2012's best-selling written work 50 Shades of Grey started out as a self-published book. You may not agree with it being a book worth reading and you may not agree with the book's subject matter, but like it or not that book changed publishing and how it will be done in the future.

Those of you who wish to participate in writing books and getting them into the hands of those readers who will pay for the privilege of reading it will want to do more research in this area because if it's done well, it can be more lucrative than traditional publishing. Just ask Amanda Hocking or Dan Poynter.

Steps to Self Publishing
  • You've got to actually finish the book first
  • Treat the endeavor as a business
  • Learn how to obtain an ISBN for your book
  • Get a website
  • Get business cards
  • You need a brand
  • Start marketing the book 6 months in advance of publication
  • Sell your book
You can choose from several approaches to self-publish you book.
  • Do-It-Yourself:  Cost $4 per book and profit $3 per book sale
  • Indie Print:  Cost $5 - $6 per book and profit $3 per book sale
  • Literary Services:  Cost $8 - $10 per book and profit $1.50 per book sale
  • Electronic Publishing: Cost $75 - $100 flat fee to design the e-book format
Traditional book publishers are upset with the growing popularity of electronic publishing. After you understand how some authors are bypassing the New York publishing houses completely and earning more money, it's easy to understand why.

Amanda Hocking turned traditional book publishing on its' ear.  She cracked the code, so to speak, to earning millions from her books without any assistance from traditional publishing companies. In 2010 she earned $20,000 in a few short months selling her paranormal romance books on She had no prior experience in publishing. She was a complete novice.

Amanda sold her books in electronic format for $.99, $1.99, and $2.99 as serials (i.e. each new book built on the one before it). This kept readers coming back for more, but the lower price point was key. She knew that readers would buy more books for $3 or less than they would for $15 or more. Within a few months, she earned a million dollars from her work.

A certain amount of luck was involved, but in my opinion the odds of Amanda's success in self-publishing was much greater than if she'd chosen to follow the traditional path. She had control of almost everything and she kept more of the proceeds. Win, win.

This article is getting on the longish side, so I'll close with a few resources that you may wish to research further.

You will also probably want to research the pro's and con's of the following electronic book publishing formats:

.RTF (not recommended)
.TXT (not recommended)

If you choose to write a barbecue book and publish it in e-reader format (i.e. Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.), it's probably best if you read a few books on an actual e-reader so that you understand the in's and out's that your readers will experience if they choose to purchase your book.

It's not absolutely required, but you will likely find the services of an editor valuable. A good editor will help polish your novel to ensure there are no glaringly obvious grammatical errors, duplicate paragraphs, etc. to help you avoid embarrassment and look-out for your readers happiness on your behalf. If you choose to hire an editor expect to pay roughly $3 a page. Look for an editor that has experience editing in the genre you're writing in. Don't ask an editor who specializes in teenage vampire books to edit your dutch oven cookbook.

Armed with this new information, resources, and knowledge gained for free on the bbq blog, you now have a leg up on almost any unpublished bbq-author-wannabe who day dreams about publishing a book about bbq so they have enough money (and time) to actually cook some bbq.  All you need to do is write 50.3 Shades of BBQ Cookbook or The Barbecue Hunger Games trilogy and you'll be well on way to bbq author prosperity (said with tongue firmly planted in cheek).  :-)

And if you find yourself struggling with a lack of motivation to keep-on-keeping-on with your writing project may I suggest reading some of Jim Butcher's thoughts about writing on his blog about writing.

Special thanks to the Bellville Michigan District Library for sponsoring the workshop this past weekend.  And thanks to Beverly Jenkins and Sylvia Hubbard for taking the time to answer so many questions from those who attended.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Low Country Boil

With the NFL playoffs in full swing, many people are planning parties to celebrate their favorite teams. If you are looking for something different for your football get-togethers this year, try a low country boil. There are many definitions for "low country", but for this recipe low country refers to South Carolina and Georgia coastal areas. It's a quick and easy way to feed large numbers of people.

I've never lived in South Carolina or Georgia to know whether my recipe is authentic (or not), but the basic idea of it comes from an insert that was included with the turkey fryer my brother-in-law gave me for Christmas more than 10 years ago.

The turkey fryer kit consists of a propane burner, a 5 gallon aluminum cook pot, and strainer that fits inside the cook pot to contain the food.

Here's my version of the recipe.

  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • 4 ears of corn on the cob (cut to 3 inch sizes)
  • 2 lbs red potatoes (new potato size)
  • 1 lb baby carrots
  • 1 large sliced onion
  • 1 - 2 lbs of andouille sausage (I use pre-cooked)
  • 2 lbs of shrimp (fresh is better)
--Start with 2 1/2 gallons of water in the cook pot.
--Bring it to a rolling boil.
--Add 4 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning.
--Add new potatoes and baby carrots.
--Cook the potatoes and carrots for 25 minutes in the boiling water.
--Check the potatoes and carrots for tenderness.
--Add 2 more tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning
--Add corn on the cob and cook for 5 more minutes
--Add andouille sausage and cook for 3 more minutes
--Add the shrimp and cook for 4 more minutes (if using fresh shrimp cook until shrimp turns pinkish color).


If you don't have any Old Bay Seasoning, you can try making your own. I've not tried it yet, but the following sounds about right to me:
  • 6 parts paprika
  • 4 parts celery salt
  • 1 part cayenne pepper
  • 1 part black pepper
If you've got a favorite seafood seasoning recipe, I hope you'll share it by posting a comment!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Martin's BBQ in Nolensville on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives

My sister-in-law lives in Nolensville, TN so I have eaten at Martin's several times while visiting and you should too.