There’s a new way to see the images I post.

Dam at Herron Pond (Smug Mug)

I have not been happy with the look of my images on this site.

Frustrated with the lack of detail and crispness to the images seen on Henrysmiths cottage, I have purchased a Smug Mug account, and will, from here forward use that as my photo repository.  It can be accessed here. Eventually I plan to set thing up so that the images can be purchased there, and printed at number of online photo finishers. Feel free to visit, particularly when a new article appears.

Hopefully, this will help the images here. You can compare this image(click on it) to the image in the previous article.

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Am I worthy? Shooting with High Resolution Imagers

 

Christmas Shed (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G handheld)

Two years ago, Nikon pushed DSLR resolution to new heights, by eclipsing their pro-level D3x and its 24mp full frame imager, with a similar sized 36mp chip in a semi-pro body called the D800.

This body became widely recognized as the most capable digital 35mm format SLR in industry,  not only because of resolution, but  also class-leading sensor characteristics such as dynamic range.

Yet there’s always a fly in the ointment. Even with the D3x (which was itself a large leap forward in resolution), experienced photographers recognized that high resolution can expose the flaws in one’s technique and lens collection, much more so than lower megapixel devices. This  potentially steals away some of the sensors resolving power. Some pundits went as far as to suggest  that inexperienced photographers “need not apply”.

Two Horses Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8 G, tripod, hand release, 100% crop)

In a previous article, I discussed my recent acquisition of a D800E, the slightly higher resolution version of the D800. With the introduction of the Nikon D810, along with the Sony A7r, there are now multiple 36 mp platforms which are relatively affordable. Just how hard are they to shoot? How will they do when fitted with less than pro level glass? Am I better off with this camera, or the lighter, simpler 24mp D600?

I’ve been shooting my D800E for several weeks now. I have been deliberately shooting in different situations and styles in an effort to see just how challenging it will be to obtain most if not all of the resolution that this instrument has to offer. For this report, I will comment on my experiences using the D800E with varying levels of “shooting discipline” in terms of camera stabilization,, and shutter release.

Creekside Loop (Nikon D 800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G, Monopod)

For the uninitiated; obtaining the highest resolution/sharpest image from any camera, requires good shooting technique. I’ve discussed this elsewhere.

Most full frame DSLRs, when compared to mirrorless cameras, announce their shutter release with a big mechanical “clunk”. This is because not only does the big focal plane shutter move, but also the largish mirror needed to divert the image to the viewfinder between shots. This momentum needs to be damped so it will not  blur the image. Add in the movement induced by depressing the shutter, as well as involuntary tics during the shot and a lot can go wrong. When you have 36 megapixels of resolution, any little motion blur is evident on careful review of the image, and may well be visible on the large prints made possible by this sensor.

To see just how challenging things are, I have been shooting the D800E multiple ways: freehand, with a monopod, and clamped to a heavy duty Gitzo tripod, and with or without a remote release (it’s a wired release in the case of the D800E).

Airport in the Snow (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8,Tripod, remote release)

Shooting the D800E has been an easy transition from my other Nikons. Though there have been subtle refinements, the camera body has much in common with both the prosumer bodies such as my D600, and the pro level D700 I sold several years ago.

I never thought twice about freehand shooting with the 12mp D700, but with the D600’s 24mp chip, I have tended to use it mainly on a tripod, with its convenient infra-red remote  to minimize camera movement. Thus, it didn’t get as much use as the lighter, 16mp Fujis, which I use to shoot more spontaneously.

Mylet Farm (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G,Tripod, remote release)

It’s easy to be fooled when reviewing images shot with this camera. Typical monitors do not have anywhere near the resolution of this imager which creates a 7,360 X 4,912 file. When the full image is viewed on the screen, the detail is underwhelming. In Adobe Bridge the previews often appeared smeared and unsharp. Only when zoom in to a point where the area viewed has roughly the same number of pixels as the monitor (the so called 100% view), do you appreciate the incredibly fine detail the camera can render.

Another issue is depth-of-field, which for wide apertures on larger imager cameras can be fairly shallow leaving much of the image out of focus. When evaluating an image, it is important to remember where you put the focus point, as details elsewhere may naturally look blurred, leading to you to believe that your shot discipline was at fault.

Here’s a good example, a landscape scene I almost deleted at first glance, because it looked blurred.

Down the Nescopeck in December(Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G,Tripod, remote release)

100% this impression is revealed to be illusion as there is no evidence of the camera shake I assumed had occurred.

!00% Crop

I wanted a challenging subject. Here is a picture of one of my usual models, Greg (not pretty, works cheap), in  pub lighting, at high ISO, but still a slow shutter speed (1/20th second).

Greg at the Ice House(Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G, hand held @1/20th sec)

On magnified review, there is really no blurring (but at 3200 ISO  definitely some noise) but it looks sharp and detailed as an 8″x 10″ print. At A3 size, it still looks  good but I would print it no larger.

100% crop

The Fuji X100 series with their very soft shutter, and better high ISO performance, for me still rule in this domain.

Still I think one could use this camera very much in the way I have used its lower megapixel Nikon brethren. Oh, you’ll see more of your mistakes, but the sheer resolution of the imager, makes possible very nice- looking fair -sized prints, even when there’s a bit of blur.  I certainly don’t think The D800/E is significantly ”fussier” than my D600.

Despite this, for me, this will be a landscape camera, used mainly with camera support. The small Fuji’s have more than enough imager for 99.9% of my usual work, and are much lighter, more discrete, and I think more fun to shoot. And without a mirror flying around within the body, they are much less like to suffer camera movement issues at low shutter speeds.

Hay Bales at Red Rock (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 85mm f1.8D,Tripod, remote release)

But for inclusive, immersive landscapes that demand to be printer large, the big Nikon imager will be just the right tool for the job.

And the 24 megapixel Nikon D600 will likely be listed on Ebay.

By the way…It’s in really good shape.

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The Accidental Camera

Pine Plantation (Nikon D800E, Nikkor 50mm g f1.8)

Well, it’s happened. I finally acquired the camera I said I wouldn’t buy. In fact almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a whole article about why I wouldn’t buy it.

But things change. So now I find myself the proud owner of a Nikon D800E… sort of by accident.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still love my D600. I’ve had none of the oil spatter issues reported by others.

The image quality is first rate. It has the wonderful build quality, and ergonomics of mid and upper level Nikon DSLRs.

But as a self-appointed “serious photographer”, I admit at times, to coveting the camera; what some would say was the finest 35 mm format Digital SLR on the planet. But then I would get rational, and take my own words from November 2012 to heart, and go back to shooting with what I have.

My interest in the D800/E piqued again recently with the announcement of the D800 successor, the D810. This camera replaced both the plain D800 and the E model, and featured upgrades that for me would not be that useful (with the possible exception of the mirror modification). A check of the comparative image quality on several websites, particularly DPreview, revealed that there was at best, modest improvement in the newer model. Most times a new model is introduced, people want to upgrade; I anticipated that there would be a lot of D800s and D800Es available on EBay, and at reduced prices. So I started to “sniff around”. I approached this with certain ambivalence, realizing in my heart that didn’t really need this camera as the D600 is perfectly adequate for my needs.

Sure it is.

Checking prices, I saw a lot  D800/E s at around $2100-2300, not  much of a price drop from last time I looked 2 years ago. Hmm. Then I came upon a D800E with low shutter clicks, seemingly in excellent condition, in an auction with 24 hours to go.

The price was currently around $1700US, and I decided to take a chance, but only so much of a chance, by setting my top bid around $1900. If I got it then I had a bargain, if not, c’est la vie.

I counted on the usual flurry of bids in the last minutes of the auction to steal the prize, which after all, I didn’t need anyway. I posted the bid, and kinda half forgot about it, until 24 hours later when my phone issued the little cash register sound that announces an EBay purchase.

I checked the listing…

No one else bid.

Wow.

This is the same thing that happened when I bought my X Pro 1, another camera I didn’t need (but subsequently grew to love).

I took delivery of the camera today. It was meticulously packed in the original box almost like it was new. There were a few blemishes on the plastic LCD cover, otherwise the camera was flawless.

So I have begun to use this camera. It will likely be for me a dedicated tripod camera given the need for careful shooting technique I understand  is demanded by this very high resolution imager. I do want to try it in other roles. If it proves to be too fussy to use, then I’ll resell it. If not (and I think this will be the case) then there will be a lightly-used, non-oily D600 for sale on EBay.

Then, let the bidding begin…Please.

 

 

 

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The Gear that I Use- the Fujifilm TCL-X100

Fall on the Barrens Loop (Fujifilm X100s, TCL x100)

 

Over the last year, shooting, mainly as I have been with Fujifilm X Series I have had a fundamental shift in my approach to lens choice. Prior to this period like most people, I favored  zoom lenses. 

I enjoyed the versatility and convenience that a zoom lens has to offer. I also own a variety of prime lenses, in Nikon, Panasonic, and Fujifilm mounts. Like many photographers however,  I generally reserved my prime lenses for specific circumstances,  for instance, when I would need to shoot indoor shots in low light. Here the wider apertures offered by single focal length lenses become extremely useful, especially if no flash was to be used.

Fall Kayak on Lake Francis ( Fujifilm X Pro 1,XF 56mm f1,2)

I think the Fuji X100/X100s was the catalyst for the transformation to shooting primes day–to-day. Because of their size, these cameras have been very compelling companions for travel and hiking with one caveat: the attached 35 mm lens . Before the X 100 series, I would typically hike with a body and a zoom lens with a field of view of let’s say 24-80 mm. I would zoom to frame a subject, sometimes forgetting to consider the effect of the new focal length on the depth of field and perspective needed for the image

The X 100s forced me to rethink this. Without the luxury of variable focal lengths, I was forced to find other ways to be creative, varying my distance from the subject to frame the subject. This forced me to confront the other characteristics of the focal length  It reinforced the concept that not every shooting opportunity is well matched to the 35 mm field of view.

Late Red Oak (Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

When I bought my X Pro 1, I bought with it the 35mm and 60mm lenses as no Fuji zoom was then available.  I loved extraordinary sharpness, and the speed available these prime lenses. I started to become a lens snob. I have even begun to shoot primes on my Nikon gear. With the introduction of the  XF 56mm f1.2( 85 mm equivalent ) I have been doing a lot of photography, with 2 camera bodies, the X100s with its 35mm equivalent lens, and one of the other interchangeable lens bodies with the longer prime lens,  perhaps, the XF 14mm in the bag. I really like the discipline it has brought to my work.

Working with primes I think,  makes one more thoughtful than when you have a zoom lens attached to your camera. I had one regret about X 100 series. The  fixed 35 mm field of view is wonderful for shooting events, and street work, except when one wants to indulge in more intimate portraiture. Plus I have really begun to enjoy the 56mm for landscape work So, when Fuji introduced a lens adapter for the X 100 series,the WCL-X100 I was initially excited until I discovered that this would be a wide-angle adapter. A field of view of 28 mm, is not that much different from that of 35 mm, at least in my hands.

Milkweed in the Air (Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

So, I passed, which meant I still carried two cameras to do street and event photography. But then Fuji did something wonderful. They introduced another lens converter the TCL-X100, a tele-converter with a field of view of roughly 50 mm. This had the potential to vastly improve the X 100’s versatility. After some initial reviews suggested that the converter’s optics were quite remarkable, I took the plunge.

As with all of the X series accessories, it arrived in high-quality packing materials, with a cloth bag that can double as a lens cleaner. It appears to be extremely well made, with a metal finish matching my camera’s silver lens. To mount the converter, you unscrew the trim piece on the front of the lens, or in my case, you remove the filter adapter, and lens shade I keep attached. The adapter then easily screws on. Once mounted, you need to visit the camera menus so to inform the camera at the tele converter is mounted (there is no electronic connection to the camera). This alters image processing, allowing the camera to adjust for the TCL’s distortion characteristics. You will need the latest firmware to enable this. I have assigned this selection to the function button by the power switch.

A Cornstalk Among Others(Fujifilm X100s, TCL x100)

One significant omission is the lack of a lens shade, especially as the front element is rather convex. I suspect Fuji did not wish to further block the viewfinder, which is already somewhat compromised, by the bulk of the converter. I have a Velcro lens shade that I have been using when shooting into the sun. The converter is threaded however, and will accept filters . The beauty of this tele-converter, is that it does not alter the speed or exposure characteristics of the native lens.

One of my first tests, was to visit my local pub, and shoot portraits in the dim light.

“Brooklyn” in Repose (Fujifilm X100s, TCL X100)

It was wonderful to have a 50 mm equivalent lens mounted  on that very quiet and discrete camera. The longer focal length means that camera shake will be more noticeable. I have my auto-ISO settings specifying a minimum shutter speed of 1/40th of a second. This is probably a bit slow (note to Fuji, why, not allow us to set a minimum shutter speed for each of the lens converters, plus the native lens?).

I also have used the camera/tele-converter for landscape work . I found it could fairly quickly move from the native lens alone, to the converter or, or vice versa. You do have  to remember to change the internal setting each time. As far as image quality goes, this lens appears to leave unchanged, the wonderful qualities of the native 23 mm lens. I find it to be very sharp, with lovely bokeh. I was curious to see how it would stack up, to the XF 35mm f1.4, prime (which  gives a 53mm FOV given the sensor size) mounted to my XE1. Here you can see the relative size of the two set ups.

Side By Side (Sony RX100)

The extra stop of aperture of the XE1-35mm combo was offset by the quiet, and very gentle shutter of the X100s. In fact I had slight problems with camera shake while taking the test images with the XE-1, which was not  a problem with the X100s (less shutter shake means one can carry for instance, a lighter tripod).

I used my usual subject to take comparison pictures, at f2, and at f8.

Test Scene

You can review the comparison below.

35mm@f1.4

35mm@f2

X100s/TCL@f2

35mm@f8

 

X100s/TCL@f.8

For a better look at these images visit my Smugmug gallery here.

I think the comparison reinforces the amazing sharpness of the XF35mm. Yet the X100s/ teleconverter definitely holds its own.

For a more detailed evaluation of the lens, you can visit the review on the Imaging Resource webpage.

Is there a downside to the TCL-X100? Certainly nothing that is deal-breaking. I have observed, without objective testing, that the focusing performance of the X 100s, seems to be somewhat adversely affected by the adapter. There were times, particularly in low light, when  I could achieve focus with native lens, but struggled with the converter in place. It is important to try to focus on a fairly high contrast portion of the scene you are attempting to capture. Perhaps, a firmware upgrade in the future can improve this. Parenthetically, because of the lens converter, I am carrying the X 100s more often without any of its “brethren”.

Spent Goldenrods(Fujifilm X100s, TCL x100)

 

Because I carry the X 100s solo when I am, for instance, a guest at a wedding, I needed a more presentable camera case than the well-worn Mountainsmith fanny-pack I have been using. I discovered the Think Tank Sub Urban Disguise 5 on Amazon for under $50.

Think Tank Sub Urban Disguise 5 (Sony RX 100)

This is a handsome , somewhat rigid shoulder bag with plenty of room for the X 100 series, even with the tele converter mounted. It has the usual clever pockets for things photographic, as well as an included rain cover.

One final thing: Fujifilm as most of you know has recently introduced the X100t. This is in incremental upgrade to the “S” model with features such as Wi-Fi, and some new focusing features for the viewfinder. The imager and lens are the same. Owners of the original X100 may want to consider this as a replacement. As I own the newer “S” model, I think I’ll hold for now.

I’m saving my money for the  X Pro 2 when it arrives.

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An Ancient Forest

Giants in the Forest Cathedral ( Fuji S2 Pro, Tokina 28-85mm f2.8)

“An old-growth forest (also termed primary forest, virgin forest, primeval forest, late seral forest, or in Britain, ancient woodland) is a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance and thereby exhibits unique ecological features and might be classified as a climax community”

-Wikapedia

I have always been fascinated by forests. When I was a young boy, growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I remember being drawn to a small patch of “forest” I would encounter on my walk to school.

Now these were safer times, when it was perfectly normal for a 6-year-old to walk unaccompanied 5 or 6 blocks to the parochial school I attended. In my off hours, I would return to the woodland (which my  father tells me it was no more than a “copse” of trees) imagining myself as a trapper or hunter in some distant wilderness.

Later, when my dad was done with his medical training, we moved home…back to northeastern Pennsylvania, to Mountaintop. Here there is real forest, and real deer, real trout, real bear. I spent my youth immersed in the outdoor life.

Big Birch on big Rock( Nikon D600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8)

Now, 50 years later, I still spend a good portion of my recreational time, in the ”woods”, hiking, mountain-biking , and cross-country skiing. Over the years I’ve become rather fascinated by forest ecology, and have read quite a bit on the topic.

I am particularly interested in the character of forests that existed prior to European colonization, particularly in my region of the continent. In the intervening centuries, the forests of the eastern US, were gradually denuded, by armies of timber men, converting what were vast expanses of Majestic Pine and Northern Hardwood forest, into the much more scraggly, deciduous forests we have today.

Behind the Back Lake at Nescopeck

But there are places, even in the populated East, where there are pockets of timber that have never known the lumberman’s axe. These are old-growth forests, found in both accessible and inaccessible regions of the eastern US. These wonderful places, are dominated by truly ancient trees, hundreds of feet high, and majestic in a way that  leaves one with a sense of wonder, much like the first European visitors must have experienced as they explored and settled in the forests of 16th century North America .

My own state of Pennsylvania, according to Wikipedia, has 17 old-growth tracts ranging from 26 acres, to almost 4000 acres of ancient forest. I have visited many of these areas throughout the years, as well as several sites in the Adirondack region of New York. It is always a challenge to obtain images from within these magnificent Woodlands, that truly conveys the sense of grandeur one experiences in person.

A stand of Big Trees at Ampersand (Nikon D 600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G)

In the eastern United States at least, old-growth forests can look very different from one another. I think of the Hearts Content area, within the Allegheny National Forest in Northwestern Pennsylvania, which had fairly large trees, some deciduous, with a fairly open canopy. There were many deadfalls.  I understand that more recently, there now is dense undergrowth, since measures were implemented to control browsing deer. When I last visited, ferns covered the forest floor.

Old Growth at Heart’s Content(Fuji S2, Nikkor 18-35mm f3.5)

Contrast this with Cooks Forest State Park, 45 minutes south. Here the aptly named “Forest Cathedral” features an unbroken canopy, and minimal growth at the forest floor. White Pine, Hemlocks mix with Oak and Cherry. These are among the largest trees in the East with heights up to one hundred and eighty feet, and tree rings that suggest that they are 250-350 years old. Short of the great redwoods of the Pacific coast, these are among the  largest trees in the country. I have visited this place many times, and am always left with a feeling of reverence for this magnificent woodland.

Snow Shoe Tracks in Cook’s Forest (Fuji S3 Pro, Nikkor 18-35mm f3.5)

The Adirondacks also has significant areas of Old Growth. One such ancient forest tract exists on the flanks of Ampersand Mountain, southwest of the Town of Saranac Lake, in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks. This is readily accessible from state route 3, via the Ampersand Mountain hiking trail.

I visited there earlier this year, carrying in a Gitzo tripod (old growth forests tend to be dark), a Fuji X100s, and my Nikon D 600 with a selection of prime lenses. I shot mostly with the new 50 mm f18G lens.

Trees Down ( Nikon D 600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G)

Ampersand’s forests have many attributes of old growth seen elsewhere. Ancient forest by definition, have not been disturbed by humans. So every bit of biomass that grows in the forest stays in the forest. This means that the forest floor is littered with the carcasses of all of the previous giants that have succumbed in the last century or so, to senescence, wind throw, or flame.

In other words, these woods are a mess. It is interesting to imagine how difficult it must have been for the first settlers to traverse these very chaotic conditions, let alone to clear the land and farm.

On The Forest Floor (Nikon D 600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G

The trees on Ampersand are said to be 300-400 years old, similar in age to those at Cooks Forest. Yet these trees, though stunning in their own right, tend be smaller than on the Pennsylvania sites. I wonder whether the shorter growing season seen in the Adirondacks, soil conditions, and perhaps genetics, might explain this,.

Another characteristic found in old growth is so-called “pit and mound” topology of the forest floor. Wind events can snap the trunk of a diseased tree, but often just push the tree over, exposing the root ball, which in these trees can be 10-15 feet high with a hole where the tree previously stood. Over many decades, the wood decomposes, and the captured soil forms a pile of soil where the root ball lay, hence “pit and mound”. You tend to see this effect on mountainsides and plateau tops, where the trees have little protection from a storm’s wrath.

An Opening in the Canopy (Fujifilm S2 Pro, Nikkor 18-35mm f3.5)

In old growth, the dense canopy protects the soils from erosion. In these old forests, any break in the canopy tends to fill in, as opportunistic saplings embrace the sun and race quickly upward to fill the void. Centuries of October leaf falls deposit a thick coating of soil on rocks and boulders and even tree stumps , where certain smaller trees (particularly birches) tend to get a foothold.

Stilted Birch (Nikon D 600, Nikkor 50mm f1.8G)

I hiked perhaps 2 miles towards Ampersand Mountain. Here the pitch of the trail kicks up abruptly. I know from previous climbs to the summit that I would need my hiking poles, left in the car, to protect my bum knee from the eventual decent. A light rain began to fall as I turned around and worked my way back to the parking lot.

Without wishing to sound overly dramatic, my visits to the ancient forests tend to be almost spiritual events, connecting me to the true natural history of the continent, and the conditions experienced by those who tamed it.

I am grateful that previous generations chose to protect these places for us to enjoy.

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Barbecue for Photographers

 

A Delicious Irony (Samsung Galaxy S4)

Southern barbecue is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to Europe’s wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes”.

John Shelton Reed

I have always loved outdoor cooking. My interest in this started as a boy. I spent most of my youth in the outdoors, hunting, fishing and camping. Cooking over fire was a joyful segment of these activities.

At first I was just thrilled with the novelty of preparing my own food over an open flame. Soon my buddies and I were stocking our backpacks with more than just fishing gear, but with salt, pepper, a little flour, and even perhaps a lemon, to add a little taste to the trout or catfish we would catch.

Later as a middle-aged male, the backyard grill became a focal point for me. Unfortunately I suspect that, like most people, I have been grilling badly for many years.

I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

In my 40s I became interested in Southern barbecue. Proceeding in exactly the wrong way , I went down to my local Home Depot, and for the princely sum of about $140 purchased my first barbecue pit.

New Braunfels Offset

This was a serious looking contraption known to barbecue aficionados as an “offset smoker.” This inexpensive cooker was meant to mimic much more extensive barbecue pits which are much better engineered. Unfortunately, $140 doesn’t buy very much value. At that price range, the pits are ill-designed. This results in uneven temperature distribution and poor temperature control. I had occasional good results, but I really didn’t know and I was doing. My ribs, chicken, and pulled pork were very inconsistent. Meat is expensive, and I hate to waste anything.

About 2 years ago, I landed upon a website that has changed everything I knew about barbecue, transforming my outdoor cooking, from a random act, at best, to a more disciplined, deliberate, and consistent pursuit. I can’t say for sure whether in the big picture I have become a competent pitmaster, but the food now comes off the barbecue, looking, feeling, and tasting as it is supposed to. People seem to like my output now. Rarely do we have any leftovers.

Ribs (Samsung Galaxy S4)

Armed with some knowledge, I’ve also made the investment in a piece of the equipment that has made a whole process a lot easier. I want in this piece, to introduce you to the resources that I think it is fair to say, transformed my outdoor cooking.

The first resource is a website called Amazing Ribs. Although there are many barbecue resources on the web, I think it is acknowledged that Amazing Ribs is the most encyclopedic of them all. It is run by a team of pitmasters led by Craig aka “Meathead” Goldwyn. This former food and wine writer, some years ago turned his attention to the manly art of barbecue and smoke. As the principal author of the site, Mr. Goldywn has been apparently very busy.

There is a vast amount of information here. There are equipment reviews, barbecue techniques; recipes for both smoked/barbecued meat, and the wonderful side dishes that accompany them. There is a huge amount of information on the various cuts of meats in “Zen”articles he titles for instance: “The Zen of Beef”. There are graduate level dissertations on wood, charcoal, wood pellets, and other barbecue fuels, as well as guides to the various cooking accessories. The site is written with attention to the science of cooking, as well as food safety, reminiscent of “Cooks Illustrated” magazine. “Meathead” debunks a lot of  myths, such as the superiority of so-called” beer can” chicken and misconceptions about “resting” meat. But he does so with actual science and measurements to prove his point of view.

Pork Butt and Kielbasa (Samsung Galaxy S4)

An important theme throughout the site, is the importance of cooking to appropriate temperatures using accurate digital thermometers to assure that: #1 that the food is safely sterilized, and #2 that is cooked to the appropriate degree of “doneness” for optimal flavor and texture. To top it all off, Meathead writes prose that is eminently readable and generally irreverent. There is even a collection of barbecue-themed music available within the pages.

Using what I have learned, I am able. I think, to turn out a more flavorful, consistent product, whether it is pork ribs, poultry, pork shoulder, or the Holy Grail of barbecue: Texas-style beef brisket. I have learned that pretty much if you follow Meathead’s instructions, things tend to come out pretty well. I also discovered through the website that my beloved Weber kettle grill is actually a much better smoker than the cheap offset pit I was using.

Weber Performer (Samsung Galaxy S4)

An interesting story: Grateful as I was to the site for the info I had received, I recently joined Amazing ribs premium “Pitmasters” club, which offers information and online seminars. I had trouble logging in for the first time, and emailed the site several times for assistance. When I received no reply, I emailed a somewhat stronger request.

I was at work at the hospital when I received a call from one of the assistants in my clinic. She told me she had recieved an unusual call from someone called “Meathead” who left the message that” everything would be taken care of”. The assistant thought this sounded sinister and worried for my safety. There was a phone number which I called and had a very pleasant conversation with the guy I had come to know from his writing. Turns out he tracked me down through Google. That’s impressive.

Using information from the Amazing Ribs site, I purchased last summer, an inexpensive” box store” vertical gas smoker. I used it quite successfully for 7 or 8 months, but longed for a more sophisticated barbecue pit. One of the problems with cooking “low and slow”, is that most barbecue pits require almost constant attention to maintain the appropriate cooking temperatures needed. Many of Meathead’s recipes include in their ingredients a case of beer and a lawn chair, preparing you for the need to be nearby for what may be up to a 14 hour cook.

Vertical Smoker (Blackberry Playbook)

Now I’m not really good at being inactive for that period of time (though the beer sounds good). So, I began to research one of the newest developments in the industry, the “pellet smoker”. These barbecue “pits” use hardwood pellets as fuel, but most importantly, come with electronics which allow you to set a temperature, and then walk away, much like your kitchen range.

After considering a number of devices, I settled on a company in Georgia called Rec Tec. They make a unique pellet grill that offers very advanced temperature controller, a huge pellet hopper, very high-grade stainless steel parts, and a very strong warranty, all at a very competitive price.

The Weber and The Rec Tec (Samsung Galaxy S4)

The Rec Tec as it turns out works very well. Load the 40 pound hopper with pellets, set a temperature, fill it with food, and go do something else. For most meats, I use a remote type thermometer that allows me to monitor temperatures from afar, even from my smart phone (with an IP camera set up).

Hopper (Samsung Galaxy S4)

This is incredibly liberating. It allows you to do the big cooks a lot more often. For instance, I can now start a pork shoulder in the early evening, and allow it to cook overnight while I sleep, at the prescribed temperature of 225°. It won’t be until the next day until it reaches an internal temperature of roughly 200° when it essentially turns into pig jelly and is ready to be shredded into” pulled” pork. Though the Rec Tec can allso do grilling (as opposed to barbecue which is actually roasting), I find my Weber is superior for steaks and hamburgers

What is unique about Rec Tec is their commitment to customer service. When you purchase your grill either factory direct or through Amazon, you receive a pack of materials that includes the business cards of a variety company personnel including the owner, Ray Carnes, who may be seen on the company’s, YouTube videos. The business cards include cell phone numbers, which you are free to utilize any time, weekdays, weekends, etc. I have done this on occasion, and they are only too happy to talk to you.

Rec Tec Brisket (Samsung Galaxy S4)

As they are essentially wood fired convection ovens, pellet grills are useful for foods other than meat. I particularly like pizza which requires a smoky flavor much like that obtained from a wood fired pizza oven. There are ample examples of surprising dishes that can be prepared on pellet smokers to be found both on Rec Tec website, and at Amazing Ribs.

This is a fun hobby. At some point I may steel up the nerve to enter a local or regional competition, but for now I’m still honing my techniques. And I do love good barbecue.

Amazing Ribs has a name for it: Porknography

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