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Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest 2015 Results

nathans oldAt the annual hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, New York, Miki Sudo took the top women’s slot for the 2nd year running, with 38 dogs downed, leaving the Black Widow behind (but not her previous record).

In the men’s bout, eight consecutive year defending champion Joey Chestnut  ( @JoeyJaws ) was in fine form and pace from the start, but returning contender Matt Stonie had predicted an upset, and made it happen, beating chestnut for the world championship title!  Final tally:  Stonie – 62, Chestnut – 60. See you next year!











nathans hot dog eating contest 2015

Appleton Farms Ham Steak Review

Aldi Ham ReviewI have written about a lot of Aldi products; Aldi is the global discount grocer owned by the same German family as Trader Joes.  At Aldi, you won’t find many big brand names, but rather Aldi concocted brand names that are manufactured under contract to Aldi’s specifications. (Also it will cost you a quarter to rent a cart, refunded when you return the cart to the line. Oh, and bag your own).

Where as my spawn professes to be a “ham hater,”  I am a genuine ham lover, and adore it all. Except honey glazed.  My domestic favorite is the slow salt cured beauties from the Carolinas;  internationally:  jamon serrano, prosciutto and the like.

Much of the ham in grocery stores isn’t very good, tho, and so it’s nice to run into one that isn’t full of fillers and other bits.  The Appleton Farms Ham Steak is ham, water, salt, seasonings, and that’s about it.

It’s made for Aldi by a packer called “Gusto” and they’ve been running a  ham and bacon operation west of Chicago for over forty years.  Gusto was purchased by Butterball in 2012, Butterball is owned by Seaboard, a diverse firm dating back to 1918 and a single flour mill in Kansas.

They run a 200,000 sq foot facility in Montgomery, IL, capable of grinding out 6 million pounds of product weekly. Wow.

Their Appleton Farms Ham Steak?  Superb.  Highly recommended for real ham taste and texture.

Aldi Ham Steak Review

Aldi Ham Steak Review

Gusto Packing Factory

Aldi Ham Steak Review

Gusto Packing Aerial

Appleton Farms Ham Steak Review

Big Skillet Review – Elgin, IL

frontageAnother suburban Chicago breakfast, this one in the town of Elgin, far west of the city straddling the Fox River.  The 8th largest city in Illinois, it was founded as a dairy center (there was a Borden factory) and home to the Elgin Watch Company, maker of timepieces big and small.  It was the largest manufacturer of fine watches in the US for many decades.  The town boasts some incredible Victorian homes.

I was just looking for eggs, and the Big Skillet is a typical Chicago style “coffee shop,” meaning a very long menu covering all meals of the day, and an extensive bakery selection.

I’ve kind of always eschewed “skillets” for breakfast, no particular reason, I mean it’s the same food, just piled up instead of spread out.  But I’ll always go for a breakfast plate that gives you all three meats, and the “Butcher Skillet” did just that. A mound of hash browns, smothered in melted cheese, with ham, bacon, and sausage, topped with three eggs. Side of toast? Yes please, with an ample set of bread choices, I went for rye.

As with most area ‘coffee shops’, an ample dish of butter or butter like substance graces the table.  The massive dish in front of me, I didn’t make much of a dent. I managed two eggs, some of the meat/cheese, and 1 piece of toast.

Excellent food, great value.  Downside?  I left my favorite hat behind.  Sniff.

Big Skillet Elgin Review

Mmmmmm butter stuff

Big Skillet Elgin Review

Butcher Skillet





Click to add a blog post for Big Skillet Restaurant and Pancake House on Zomato
Big Skillet Review

Sams Choice Original Smoked Sausages Review

20150701_060836Right off the bat, even before trying them, I liked these better than the McCormick’s Grill Mates sausages I looked at this week (scroll down to next story). Reason?  First two ingredients are pork and beef, and not a mechanically separated poultry bit in sight. Also?  No “corn syrup solids.”  Sam’s Choice Original Smoked Sausages come in a 14 ounce package, four ‘larger’ size links, and retail for about three and a half bucks.

According to the USDA establishment number,  (4800), they are made for WalMart/Sams  by Eddy Packing, Inc., of Yoakum, TX.  Eddy has been around since the early 50s, and now operate a 300,000 square foot; the company is now in the hands of private equity investors, and cranks out processed proteins of beef, pork, turkey and chicken.  Eddy sells its own retail product under the “Eddy” and “Yoakum” brnads. (Pics of the plant below).  Yoakum is about 20 miles  south of I-10, about midway between Houston and San Antonio.

As these are “smoked,” they are fully cooked, and only require heating, if that’s how you prefer your sausages.  I lightly pan fried. This is a very mild sausage, suitable for a large bun sandwich, as an entree, or as a breakfast meat.  The flavor/aroma of smoke is slight. Consumers will find it more flavorful as bits of fat, which contributes to flavor, are evident in the mix. In short, I like it.

Sams Choice Smoked Sausage

In the skillet

Sams Choice Smoked Sausage

Cross section

Sams Choice Smoked Sausage

Eddy Packing, Yoakum, TX

Sams Choice Smoked Sausage

Eddy Packing, Yoakum, TX




Sams Choice Original Smoked Sausages Review

National Hot Dog Month

July is National Hot Dog Month, and we’re knee deep into the middle of the “hot dog season” in America.  The 4th holiday is one of our peak dog days. So here’s the poop on America’s favorite (and most portable) food!

Top Hot Dog Consuming Cities 2014

  • Los Angeles Hot Dog Consumption Statistics
  • New York
  • Atlanta
  • Philadelphia
  • Chicago
  • Birmingham
  • Boston
  • Detroit
  • Pittsburgh
  • San Francisco

Los Angeles residents consume more hot dogs than any other city (more than 39 million), beating out New York and Atlanta.

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport consumes SIX times more hot dogs, 725,000 more than Los Angeles International Airport and LaGuardia Airport combined.

On Independence Day, Americans will enjoy 150 million hot dogs, enough to stretch from D.C. to L.A. more than five times.

During peak hot dog season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans typically consume 7 billion hot dogs. That’s 818 hot dogs consumed every second during that period.

Los Angeles Dodger fans are expected to consume a record 3,077,537 in 2014. Across the major leagues, fans are expected to eat 21.4 million hot dogs in 2014.

At the Grocery Store

According to data for the year 2014, nearly 1 billion packages of hot dogs were sold at retail stores. That number represents more than $2.5 billion in retail sales.

Baseball Games

According to the National Hot Dog Council’s (yes, there is one)  2014 survey of hot dog and sausage consumption at major league ballparks in the United States, ballparks are expected to sell 21,357,361 hot dogs this season.

The Season

Hot dog producers estimate that an average of 38 percent or $614 million of the total number of hot dogs are sold during the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Ten percent of annual retail hot dog sales occur during July,

McCormick Grill Mates Sausages Review

McCormick Grill Mates Sausage ReviewWith over 8,000 employees and $4 billion in revenue, McCormick & Company is one of the undisputed leaders in the production and sale of spices and herbs.

They have been on an acquisition and strategic partnership tear as of late,which really appears to have been jump started in 2003 with the purchase of New Orleans based Zatarains. The union also gave McCormick an entry into the prepared meals arena.

In addition to their core brands, McCormick also owns Old Bay, Adolphs, Lawrey’s and others.

They are now (apparently) looking at expansion through licensing the use of their spice formulations and associated names. I noticed this at the market with a new product of “Montreal Seasoning” smoked sausages, which carry the McCormick label, but the reverse of the package informs us the links are distributed by Mexican food monster Sigma Alimentos’s US division, Bar-S, based in Phoenix. Bar-S markets over 250 meat products under eight brands, manufactured at five of their own production plants, as well as contract manufacturers.

This particular product was made at USDA Est 32009, Salm Partners in Denmark, Wi (near GreenBay). We previously took a look at them during our review of Jack Link’s (new) sausage line.There is a video of their plant in that review. (Pictures of plant below).

I didn’t look at the fine print on the packaging; had I been thorough, I might not have picked them up, as it clearly states these sausages are a “pork and turkey”product. The ingredient list goes on to say they use “mechanically separated turkey,” usually a no-no for me, and corn syrup and corn starch, other ingredients I’m not crazy about.

The links were around $3.00 (WalMart sale price) for six, total of 14 ounces.

Out of the package, there is no distinctive flavor-related odor, other than a slight hint of smoke.  The presence of the spices is evident in the picture below.  I chose the “Montreal Steak” flavor, because I am an enthusiastic user of that blend on burgers. and the McCormick website lists the blend having the following ingredients:  Coarse Salt, Spices (Including Black Pepper And Red Pepper), Garlic, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavor, And Extractives Of Paprika. Not sure what the “natural flavor” component would be.

I pan fried the sausages at medium low in cast iron for about ten minutes, until they achieved a little char, which is my personal preference, as the char emulates the texture (sort of) of a natural casing on the link.

There is less of a distinctive flavor than I imagined their would be.  On the plus side, there is a little bit of ‘heat,’ and also, the presence of the corn syrup is not overpowering as it was in the Jack Links product.

I’d buy them again, if they are on sale, but otherwise, I don’t see any competitive advantage over most “Polish” or smoked sausage brands.


McCormick Grill Mates Sausage Review

Prior to heating

McCormick Grill Mates Sausage Review

After heating

McCormick Grill Mates Sausage

Salm Partners Factory

McCormick Grill Mates Sausage

Salm Partners Factory

McCormick Grill Mates Sausages Review

Hormel Deli Roast Beef Review

Hormel Roast Beef ReviewI’ve been trying out a lot of deli meats, lately, mostly pastrami and corned beef. I’m a fairly big snob / choosy about what I buy, eschewing the more inexpensive brands, which tend to be what I refer to commonly as “chopped, pressed, and form,” meat and other additives reconstituted to resemble roasts.  I much prefer companies that use whole muscle meats for their deli offerings, like NY’s Carnegie and Chicago’s Vienna Beef.

Today I picked up a pound of Hormel Roast Beef ($6.99 a pound, Wal Mart), and upon investigation of the packaging, and noting the USDA establishment number (15835), I find this product is produced and packaged for Hormel by a company called  Dan’s Prize, in Long Prairie, MN.  Dan’s Prize was started in the 80s; Long Prairie is in the middle of the state, about 3.5 hours NW of Hormel headquarters in Austin, Minnesota.

The taste and texture of the meat is acceptable, and my only red flag is the printing on the front of the package “contains isolated soybean proteins.”  Upon further investigation, this is a powder used to emulate flavor in food products, and are a highly concentrated form of protein.  They were developed nearly 80 years ago for industrial purposes, mainly as (wait for it) adhesives for paper coatings.  Yum.

If you choose to shop the deli counter at most Wal Marts, your brand selection is pretty narrow.  Most of the product is Prima Della (Wal Mart’s house brand) (also made by a variety of contract manufacturers), at the store I stopped at today, in addition to the one Hormel product, there were about half a dozen Sara Lee deli meats.

They don’t stock any of the premium national brands at the service deli, however you may find some pre-packaged items elsewhere in the store.

Would I buy the Hormel beef again?  Well, most likely, it’s a fair price, and as I said, the taste and texture are palatable. And who can’t use a little more paper coasting adhesive in their diet?  Pix of Dan’s Prize factory below.

Hormel Deli Roast Beef Review


Hormel Deli Roast Beef Review






Hormel Deli Roast Beef Review

“My Mother Gave Me A Nickle…” Oh Snap Pickles Review

Oh Snap Pickle Review“to buy a pickle…”   so goes an old ditty my dad used to break into spontaneously on occasion.  I love most pickles, really love them.  I love kosher dills, half sours, hamburger dills….most anything but sweet relish and bread and butter. IxNay on those.  I’m not quite old enough to remember pickle “barrels” but I am old enough to remember pickle “jars” at corner groceries and at the movie theater concession stand. Don’t remember how much they cost – more than a nickle, but certainly less than a quarter.

Today’s version of the ‘pickle barrel’ can be found in C-stores and gas station, with individually wrapped pickles.  There’s one brand that has different (ample) sizes, and different heats, and yesterday I ran into a new brand (to me), “Oh, Snap!” Dilly Bites brand, made by GLK Foods, from upstate Wisconsin.  They were priced at 75 cents each, you could get a whole pickle or “chips” (slices).  Unlike the other brand I referred to, where you have to be careful to negotiate  your way around the amount of brine in the package, GLK calls theirs “brineless,” and they aren’t actually, they just have a very small amount of liquid in the package. I opted for the “sliced” variety, and the package boasts that they are “Super Crunchy.”

Got to say I really enjoyed them and will be a regular customer.  By the way, GLK claims to be the largest manufacturer of sauerkraut in America.


oh snap pickles review

Pie Five Pizza Review

Pie-FiveArguably at the top of growth chain for the fast casual dining segment, the relatively new “made on demand” concept  pizza places appeal to customers on three points:  value pricing, quality ingredients, and fast service.

There are quite a few entrants into the category already, including Blaze, MOD, and Pie Five, which was started and isowned by the same group that owns the successful chain, Pizza Inn (I like their buffets).  I think that gives them a leg up on the competition.

It works kind of like Chipotle or Subway, you walk through a line, pick one of the specialty pies, or design your own, choosing your crust (including a gluten free option), sauce, cheese, and toppings, all for one price.  The pie is popped into a scorching hot oven and one in just a few minutes, as opposed to the quarter hour a conventional pizza deck or conveyor oven take to go through the same process.

I tried out two today, at a pre opening fete.  The “Athenian” comes with a thin crust, olive oil, herbs, chicken, garlic, olives, onion, peppers, feta, mozzarella/provolone blend, fresh basil, and sun dried tomato puree.

The “High Five” is their version of an all meat pie, on a pan crust, with marinara, pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, ham, and a cheddar, mozz, provolone blend.

The “assembly line” is fast and furious, as is the oven time.  At the end, they will ask you “for here or to go” and whether you want additional Parmesan or pepper flakes; if you’re eating in, those add-ons are also on the table.  Pie Five has the ‘magic’ coke dispensers, when you can crank out one or a combo of a hundred beverages, and also three kinds of ice tea, as well as some bottled drinks.

The 9 ” pizzas were excellent, I preferred the thin crust, bubbly and charred, to the pan personally. High quality and kudos for the processed pork toppings.

You can find Pie Five locations here, and take a gander at the menu  (also below)to see what’s in store for you. (pizza, salads, desserts).  The company has about fifty units open, and are aiming for five hundred, coast to coast.  Wanna own one? Inquire.

Pie Five people?  Great job.  Great pizza.

Pie Five Review

Makin’ Pies!

Pie Five Review

High Five Pie

Pie Five Review



Pie Five Pizza Review

Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room…, Oven

Camerons Smoking Bag ReviewsI used to have a couple thousand dollars worth of barbecuing gear. Got disposed of when I wasn’t looking to fuel somebody’s addictions. Oh, well. So I’ve been looking at smokers again, and I spotted these “in oven smoking bags” made by Camerons.  They are a couple-three bucks, and come in a wide variety of woods: hickory, mesquite, apple, alder and others. They are widely available online, but I found them at Gander Mountain (locator).

The instructions are somewhat idiot proof. The bags contain wood chips, seasoning, and hardwood syrup. Open the bag, fill the bag with food, place in pre-heated oven, heat for appointed amount of time, remove bag from oven, remove food from bag. I thought I’d try pork chops and salmon.

(There is a caution on the bag to be aware of California Proposition 65. I’m too lazy or disinterested to look that up, however.

I will have to look up some “recipes” however, to see if I can figure an appropriate time and temp for these projects. There are some suggestions on the package, but not for what I have in mind. By the way, relevant to nothing? These bags are made in Finland. (The country, not the town in Minnesota).

The packaging is deceptive, the actual foil package is about 2-3x larger than the sleeve it comes in. I wasn’t expecting that. The bag is big enough for a small chicken or roast, for sure.

Very detailed instructions, and some recipes, are included. Basically, it calls for preheat to 475, put bag on lowest shelf, then reduce heat to 375 for balance of cooking time.

I put in four salmon filets, brushed with butter, and some fresh dill sprigs, for about 25 minutes total. This worked out well, and besides, no mess! Just toss the bag when you are done!  It’s not a really heavy smoke, but it’s present and flavorful.

Cameron Smoking Bag

Empty Bag


Cameron Smoking Bag

Salmon filets with dill

Smoked salmon w/dill, mustard greens with ham hocks

Smoked salmon w/dill, mustard greens with ham hocks




Oven smoking recipe

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