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Cooking

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It doesn’t matter what city I travel to, it seems that every hot dog vendor I speak with has their favorite way to prepare the hot dogs they sell. Over the years I have learned that encased meats can be boiled, fried, grilled on or roasted in the oven.

hot-dog

With all of these options available to new hot dog vendors, we are consistently asked which way is the best.

While we could tell them what “we” believe sells the best…we ultimately inform them that this research is hyper local.

Hot dogs are an American comfort food. They are part of our culture, but since every region of the country has their own ways of preparing hot dogs, it seems like something that can only be found from asking in the area they plan to sell. Consumers have their own childhood memories of their first hot dogs. Mine comes from the times my father would take me to a Detroit Tiger baseball game. If you talk with someone else, their memories will be completely different.

Here are the pro’s and con’s of the three main methods of preparing hot dogs to help you make up your mind and to combine with how consumers may prefer their dogs in your community.

Steam

This is the process of using a hotel pan with the bottom filled with water. Inset into this pan is a perforated hotel pan that allows the boiling hot water below to steam up to the dogs. This method is used for buns as well.

Pro’s: Steam coming from a cart gives great visual appeal and allows for quick cooking of frozen foods and steaming buns.

Con’s: Steaming can alter the color of the hot dogs and doesn’t allow for long holding periods. Too much steam and your dog will shrivel and some dogs can turn grey.

Boil

Very simple process; boil water, add hot dogs.

Pro’s: Quickly boil large numbers of product at one time. Once cooked, they can sit in hot water until they are sold.

Con’s: Often referred to negatively as “dirty water dogs”. Hot dogs can split if boiled too long.

Grill

Cooking the hot dogs over an open flame.

Pro’s: Offers the customer those appealing grill marks. Smoke from the grill provides an odor that has been known to attract customers from blocks away.

Con’s: Grilled dogs do not hold long and thus need to be cooked a la minute which can create longer lines. Grilling also requires more space for equipment and uses more propane to operate.

As a bonus, we are throwing out a call to the current hot dog vendors to find out how they prepare the hot dogs they sell.

How Do You Prepare Your Hot Dogs?

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If you select other, please let us know what you in the comment section below.

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When a food truck serves steak they have entered a business that sells meat products that are produced for each customer they way the customer wants it. The doneness of a steak that customers ask for varies from order to order. While there are those who prefer their steak served medium-rare…there are those that prefer their steak to be cooked well done.

steak doneness chart

So how do you prepare these orders as quickly as possible but at the same time in a way that will please the customer and keep them from returning the product because it was either under or over cooked? How do you test a steak without cutting into the meat?

The are three common ways for a food truck chef/cook to do this…

Steak Doneness Test by Temperature

This is the scientific and most accurate approach. Poke an instant-read digital thermometer into the center of the steak (or the thickest part) and take a reading. Based on the internal temperature, you can tell when the steak is done to your customer’s  liking:

  • Blue rare - 120°F
  • Rare - 125°F
  • Medium-rare - 130°F to 135°F
  • Medium - 140°F to 145°F
  • Medium-well - 150°F to 155°F
  • Well-done - 160°F

Carryover cooking must be considered when using this method. Keep in mind that just because you take a steak off the grill doesn’t mean it’s through cooking. The heat built up in the steak will continue to cook the meat until it begins to cool off, adding up to an additional 5° or 10°F of doneness.

Steak Doneness Test by Touch

Use the following list as a guide, but experience is the best teacher. As you test the temperature with your thermometer, give the steak a poke and note its firmness. This will help you develop a feel for doneness and you can eventually put the thermometer away.

  • Blue rare - feels soft and squishy.
  • Rare - feels soft to the touch.
  • Medium-rare - yields gently to the touch.
  • Medium - yields only slightly to the touch, beginning to firm up.
  • Medium-well - firm to the touch.
  • Well-done - hard to the touch.

Finger and Hand Steak Doneness Test

  • Rare - Take your thumb and touch your index finger. Then feel the fleshy part of your palm below the thumb.
  • Medium-rare - Take your thumb and touch your middle finger. Then feel the fleshy part of your palm below the thumb
  • Medium - Take your thumb and touch your ring finger. Then feel the fleshy part of your palm below the thumb.
  • Well done - Take your thumb and touch your pinky. Then feel the fleshy part of your palm below the thumb.

steak doneness hand test

 

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Smoking food is a great way to introduce unique flavors into your food truck’s menu, and picking out the right kind of wood for each dish is important. Whether you’re cooking on your truck, using a fire pit, grill, or smoker, there’s nothing better to flavor your food than creating heat from 100 percent natural hardwood. Each type of wood has a distinct flavor; in this guide we will look at the best woods for every kind of food, and the best forms of wood to use.

smoke-wood-types

image from seriouseats.com

Most food truck owners that aren’t used to smoking can identify the type of wood used to smoke their food, but the choice does affect the flavor. Smoking is an art, not a science, so choose whatever wood speaks to you.

  • Alder: Fragrant and delicate with a sweet yet musky smoke that is the perfect complement for fish, especially salmon.
  • Almond: Imparts a nutty, sweet flavor that is good for beef, pork (ribs or ham), poultry, and game.
  • Apple: The most pungent and fragrant of all fruitwoods and an excellent choice for poultry, ribs, pork, sausage, and ham.
  • Apricot: A mild and sweet fruitwood; good with seafood, pork, and poultry.
  • Ash: Fast burning with a light smoke flavor that’s good for beef, pork, and poultry.
  • Beech: Mild wood with a delicate smoke flavor that is good for beef, pork, ribs, ham, seafood, and poultry.
  • Birch: Similar in flavor to maple but a little softer and burns much faster. Good for pork, poultry, seafood, and cheese.
  • Black walnut: An intense smoke that has a slightly bitter flavor; pair it with stronger flavored meats such as beef, ham, lamb, game, and turkey.
  • Cedar: Great for plank smoking but not for low-and-slow smoking; best with salmon and other seafood, but also works well with cheese and vegetables.
  • Cherry: Distinctive and flavorful with a sweet smoke that’s great with beef, lamb, game, poultry, and hams.
  • Chestnut: Slightly sweet, nutty smoke flavor that compliments beef, pork, and game.
  • Citrus (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit): These fruitwoods have a sweet and fruity smoke that isn’t overpowering and works well with more delicate foods, such as seafood and poultry.
  • Grapevine: An aromatic and tart fruitwood that burns quickly and is wonderful with chicken, turkey, seafood, and pork.
  • Hickory: Hickory is the most popular hardwood. It has a rich and full-bodied, sweet flavor, especially when used for smoking bacon—my favorite. It’s also great with beef, ribs, pork, ham, sausage, game, poultry, seafood, and cheese.
  • Maple: A wood that burns hot, with a spicy and earthy smoke; great with poultry, pork, ham, bacon, and cheese.
  • Mesquite: An extremely hard wood that’s milder and sweeter than hickory and is best used with beef, ribs, pork, lamb, poultry, and game. Mesquite is a southwest smoker’s delight.
  • Oak: A great wood for all types of meat and for smoking larger cuts for longer periods of time. It imparts a medium-to-heavy flavor, which is why it’s the brisket smoker’s wood of choice.
  • Olive: Smoky flavor similar to mesquite but much lighter and best used in Mediterranean-flavored dishes with lamb, poultry, and seafood.
  • Peach: Slightly sweet fruitwood; delicate in flavor and complements seafood and poultry.
  • Pear: Sweet and woodsy flavor that is similar to apple and great with poultry, game birds, and pork.
  • Pecan: Similar to hickory with a sweet, buttery flavor and great with brisket as well as other cuts of beef, pork ribs, ham, bacon, and poultry; works beautifully with cheese, too.

Now that you know the best kinds of wood to use for the food you smoke, it’s time to get out the smoker and start cooking.

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If you are like most food truck owners and have a love for cooking that is coupled with a love for sharing your food with others, you can use these traits to increase your business in your local area.

cooking_class

Sharing your knowledge can turn into a profitable business by giving cooking classes. Whether you conduct them at your food truck, commercial kitchen or simply have an in-home kitchen ideal for the set-up, you can offer classes in a niche area of cooking or offer basic and advanced cooking techniques. While leading such classes is often a lot of fun, it has to be looked at as an extension of your food truck business.

Determine what kind of cooking classes you will teach

If you are an expert in a certain type of food or technique, this would be a good place to start. For example, if you are an expert in Italian cooking, start with these types of classes or if you are an expert bread baker, offer classes in these techniques. Make a list of your skills, even skills that don’t seem important to you at first. It’s quite possible that once you go through the list, you will see ample opportunity to offer a variety of classes.

Know the law

Check with your local department of health as well as your county clerk’s office to find out if you’ll need any type of special license to provide this type of service. Due to the fact that you are not selling the food, it is unlikely that you will need to have an inspection like your truck. Offering classes in your clients’ homes can also be an option.

Gather equipment and set up

Be sure that you have everything you will need to teach your class. If your students will be cooking, be sure to have enough for everyone. You won’t need five mixers, for example, but you will need to have ample mixing bowls, ramekins, measuring cups and spoons. If your kitchen isn’t properly equipped, see if you can offer classes through a local retail store (think Sur la table or William Sonoma). This can be good marketing for them and gives you a place to do your cooking. If you can’t find a store to work with you, you may be able to rent the space from your commercial kitchen.

Develop your promotional materials

Add your class offerings to a brochure that can be handed out at your truck’s service window. Also include this service to your website. If you offer other services, such as catering, then be sure to incorporate all of these in your promotional materials.

Plan well

You might find that your first classes will go along so well you don’t need a plan, but creating a syllabus and making notes for yourself will help to ensure that you hit all the points you want to make. You don’t need to plan every class to the minute, but having general points you want to go over will make teaching easier and help the class go smoothly. (see the list below for tips on creating a class syllabus)

Start small

Once you get interest in your first set of classes; you’ll need to decide if these will be a series of classes or a one-time only thing–only accept a few students. This will help you get your feet wet, allow you to try new things and help you keep your nerves down if you are nervous about your new venture.

The following will help you create a syllabus for your own cooking class:

Theory before Practice

When teaching people how to cook who may not be very skilled at it, have never cooked before or have very limited knowledge, it’s a good idea to start at the beginning. When you first start a cooking class, your students have to know the fundamentals of cooking. These basics of cooking can include the type of pans you will be using in your class, why you use certain utensils and detailed explanations of various cooking techniques. You will also want to teach them the rules of the kitchen, appliance safety and knife safety. Go over what your plans are before you actually let them cook.

Prepare Handouts

Every good cooking class needs handouts. It should include information and reminders of important concepts you want them to remember. It should also include the recipes you will be showing them how to make. Try to get these done before your class even starts.

Start Small

You don’t want to throw your students into a practical cooking lesson by having them cook an elaborate 5 course meal. Start with small dishes with limited ingredients. As you advance from beginner dishes to more challenging ones, you can include useful cooking tricks.

 

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tip of the day

Recipes are much like road maps, a guide to help you navigate the process of getting food to your food truck customers. Following recipes is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can work against you in the kitchen. You and your staff should use your food truck recipes as a guide and always remember that it is never a good idea to pop something into the oven or pan, walk away, and come back only at the beck and call of your kitchen timer.

Cooking is not always an exact science and unless you’re baking, which is an exact science, you have to find a balance between your recipe and reality. Oven strengths vary; an electric cook top may not heat your sauté pan as quickly or evenly as a gas range. Check your food periodically and if your chicken breast is starting to burn after 4 minutes in the pan, lower the heat and flip it, even if the recipe says cook for 5 minutes per side.

Cooking is an art; the perfect storm of practice, common sense and skill, in that order. So relax, cook more often and have fun while you are doing it.

 

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tip of the day

Whether your customers are strict vegetarians, vegans or you simply want to add a few vegetarian meals into your menu rotation, you can make full-flavored healthy meals as easily as any meat-based dish. As long as you serve a variety of vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and beans, your customers should get the protein they need without meat, and in many cases without animal products at all.

Getting Nutrients

Include dark leafy greens such as kale, chard and spinach as well as whole grains in your vegetarian cooking. These provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, B-12 and zinc. If you are avoiding dairy products and eggs, include beans, nuts and seeds for protein. While soybeans provide a complete protein by themselves, similar to animal proteins, combining other beans or nuts with vegetables and grains will give your body all the amino acids it needs to assemble complete proteins from the incomplete proteins found in those foods.

Cooking Methods

When cooking vegetables alone, boiling is a simple method that lets you thoroughly cook vegetables for softness. However, it is easy to overcook boiled vegetables, making them lose their color, texture and nutrients. Steaming is an excellent alternative, and you can mix nuts and seasonings in with the vegetables before steaming to give them a cooked-in flavor. Stir-frying also lets you lightly cook vegetables, and you can mix them directly in the pan with seasonings, sauces and cooked rice for a complete meal. Baking or roasting also lets you cook the seasoning into your veggies, and works best for thick, hard vegetables like carrots, winter squash, beets and turnips, but you can also roast or broil peppers, tomatoes, corn, green beans, asparagus and other veggies.

Seasoning

You can season vegetarian meals just like you would meats. Marinade hard vegetables in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before roasting, baking, stir-frying or steaming, or toss the vegetables briefly in seasoning and oil before cooking. When making bean-based dishes, cook the beans in unseasoned water, then toss or blend in seasonings after the beans soften. If the beans or other vegetables are for a blended dish, such as refried beans or a split pea or lentil soup, add your seasonings when the legumes are soft enough to blend but before the final cooking to get the most flavor.

Substitutions

You can substitute vegetarian options for meat in most of your favorite recipes. Cooking times will generally shorten, and you may need to cut back on liquids because vegetables have a higher water content than most meats. When you’re just getting started, try substituting a blend of chopped mushrooms and cooked brown rice for ground meats in your favorite recipes, adding an egg white if you need the “meat” to stick together. Vegan egg substitutes are available for animal product-free diets. For your customer’s favorite non-ground meat dishes, substitute slices of eggplant, zucchini; instead of chicken breasts or beef slices, use extra-firm tofu.

 

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tip of the day

Next to actually cooking the food you serve from your food truck, tasting as you cook is arguably the most important part of cooking. Seriously, cooking without tasting would be like painting a picture without looking at it. Some chefs shepherd dishes from a mere scattering of raw and unrelated ingredients to plated works of art that, when tasted, suffer from unbalanced flavors, lack of seasoning, or, worse, no taste at all. Yes, we all eat with our eyes long before the food ever hits our taste buds, and we’re all about presenting beautiful plates, but aesthetics aside, the point is to eat the food. So make it taste good.

And how will you know it tastes good without tasting it?

Tasting and seasoning your food as you go should fast become a regular part of your routine while cooking, regardless of what your recipe says. We’re not giving you carte blanche to double dip with your tasting spoon or fork or to dump loads of salt and pepper into everything, but tasting is a critical part of preparing food. If you season and taste as you go, the food from your food truck will taste better.

 

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tip of the day

In cooking, as in life, it’s often the simplest of tasks that trouble us the most. Continually stirring or flipping the food you are cooking is a perfect example. Food truck chefs, beginners and experienced alike commonly stand over a pan and stir and stir and stir or flip and re-flip and flip again and again, over and over and over.

This is usually not done because a recipe has indicated this as part of the task list. It’s usually the result of a nervous cook who feels like even though the hot pan or grill is perfectly capable of cooking the food with minimal supervision, they have to move the food around constantly in order to feel busy.

Cut it out!

Put the spatula, wooden spoon, tongs, or whatever you’re working with down and step away from the food. This doesn’t give you license to leave the kitchen, you still need to watch the food.

Consider this – your food cooks by coming into contact with a hot pan or grill. The heat from the pan or grill is transferred to the food through direct contact. The food has to reach a certain temperature (depending on what you’re cooking) in order to reach “doneness”. Every time you stir or flip the food, it loses contact with the pan and has to start the heating process all over again. So by over-tending, you’re actually extending your cooking time and you run the risk of altering the food’s texture and color by moving it around too much.

Some foods do require constant attention and your recipe should indicate that (stir constantly or continuously). It should also give you a timetable for stirring or flipping: Stir occasionally or frequently. Cook for 2 minutes, then turn. Of course the occasional stir is necessary to keep food from sticking and to make sure all sides are evenly cooked. When in doubt, it’s best to put the food into a hot pan and then…wait for it, wait for it…let it cook.

 

 

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tip of the day

If you’re roasting a chicken, preheating the oven is a no-brainer. It’s usually the first step listed in a recipe and cooks of all skill levels seem to grasp the fact that a hot oven is required to cook the food. Unfortunately, this concept is often lost in translation when applied to stove top cooking.

Unless your recipe gives you specific instruction to do otherwise, give your pan (and any oil you’ve added) a little time to heat up before adding any food. Heat encourages foods of all kinds to release whatever moisture they have stored inside. Adding food to a pan that’s hot will create an instant seal around the food that will help keep all the moisture (and flavor) inside. In a warm pan, your food will lose its moisture and you’ll find your chicken breast or whatever else stewing in their own juices. Not good. A hot pan should give you a glorious sizzle when you add food it. If you don’t hear the sizzle, don’t be afraid to pull the food out while you wait for the temperature to rise.

At the same time, be careful not to overheat your pan, as well. If your pan starts to smoke simply remove it from the heat immediately and let it cool down. With a pan that’s too hot you run the risk of fire, breaking down any oil you’re cooking with, which can give foods an unpleasant taste; and, well, burning your food.

This brings about the question – how do I know if my pan’s hot enough? Over time, you’ll just know. Until then, here are a couple of tips to help you gauge your pan’s temperature. You may have seen a chef or two place their open hand over a pan before cooking. This is one method of testing a pan’s temperature. A hot pan will produce enough heat that you’ll be able to feel it when you place your hand 2 or 3 inches above. Some suggest sprinkling a few drops of water as a test. In a hot pan, the water will sizzle and evaporate instantly. Just be sure not to try this if you’ve added oil to your pan. Oil and water really don’t mix and could cause the oil to splatter and cause a nasty burn.

 

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tip of the day

For most people who have ever been taught to cook, whether it was from a family member or in culinary school, you learned early on that you need to taste your food as you are preparing it, and before you plan to serve the dish to a customer, you need to sit down and eat the entire meal yourself.

Why is this such an important tip for food truck owners and their staff members?

  • First, it acts as quality control during and after the dishes production.
  • Second, it allows you and your employees to speak in detail to how the product was created and the ingredients used in its creation.
  • Third, how do you tell your customers that you don’t eat your own menu items?

Unfortunately, this is a common problem in the food service industry as a whole. When a chef doesn’t taste the food during preparation and/or a serving staff that has never eaten the food you risk serving a poorly seasoned, or even poorly tasting food item. It’s simple enough to avoid this problem by consistently tasting your food products while you are preparing them. Take this simple step to help protect your food truck brand.

 

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