Wednesday, March 12, 2008

KC Shopping: Smoke 'n' Fire

This post is the first in a series about shopping in Kansas City. Since I'm new here, I want to see the best the city has to offer. For example: Where do they sell the best imported Italian ingredients? Where can you find awesome artisanal cheeses? Who's the best butcher in KC? Where do restaurants buy their supplies--pots and pans, dinnerware, food?

A Honda Civic my Argo, I'm in pursuit of the many Golden Fleeces this city has to offer.

My first stop on this journey was Smoke 'n' Fire, "a family owned fireplace and barbeque store established in 1998, specializing in both indoor heating and outdoor cooking." Now that I live in one of the BBQ meccas of the country, I knew I needed to find a comprehensive source for all things grilling and BBQing. With friendly, helpful employees and more spices than you'd find in Paul Prudhomme's pantry, Smoke 'n' Fire is a wonderful store for both the amateur and the professional grillmeister. Although the prices are slightly higher than what you might find at a grocery store, the selection at Smoke 'n' Fire is far more extensive than what you'd find anywhere else -- and I prefer to support local businesses and vendors.

The photos on the store's website were more than enough to convince me to drive 20 minutes to check the place out. The banner at the top of the homepage is a panoramic shot of the inside of store, showing not only the different grills and smokers, but also the aisles of cooking utensils and food products.

The site has a specials section from which I printed a page of coupons. The coupon that appealed to me most was the spice cabinet "spring cleaning": bring in any old rub, spice or seasoning and get $1 off the purchase of a new rub or seasoning. So, I condensed multiple bottles of the same spice, threw some of the nearly empty ones in a bag and looked forward to swapping out the old for the new.

I also looked forward to snapping some great shots of the inside of the store. But I was put off by the sign on the window of Smoke 'n' Fire that said something along the lines of, "No video cameras or photography permitted." I didn't ask anyone if they'd make an exception, remembering that the banner at the top of the homepage was a better shot of the whole store than I'd be able to get on my own. The banner on the site changes depending on which page of the site you navigate to, so you can pretend you're taking a mini-tour through those photos.

My own tour of the store focused completely on the retail section, which was stocked with every grilling accessory imaginable, from the standard -- wood chips and chunks, charcoal, grill brushes, sauce mops, kabob racks, thermometers -- to the unorthodox -- telescoping forks, 20" tongs with an LED flashlight, seasoned wood skewers, the "turkey cannon." The store also carries all sorts of cookware, including Lodge cast-iron products. As a single girl who's not quite ready to invest in a full-sized grill, I picked up a one-burner Lodge Logic reversible grill pan/griddle instead ($37.95).

The next step was figuring out what to cook on my new toy. An entire wall is stocked about five-feet high with rubs, marinades, spices, oils, vinegars, sauces and dry mixes. I must've looked as confused as a guy at Victoria's Secret, because after just a couple of minutes of clueless gawking, a handsome young employee sauntered over to me and asked if I needed any help. I took him up on his offer and kept him occupied with questions for at least the next 10 minutes.

He helped me pick out a sauce: Blues Hog BBQ ($5.25/pint), which he declared the best BBQ sauce ever.

He helped me pick out a rub: Obie-Cue's TX Sweet Rub ($8.00/12 oz.), which he recommended for use on chicken.

He helped me pick out a crust: Char Crust Sundried Tomato and Garlic ($6.00/4 oz.), which he said would work on any type of meat or fish. I found it at Price Chopper for a buck less, evidence that some of the products in the store can be found for (marginally) less elsewhere.

I picked out a dry mix on my own: The Garlic of Eatin' ($3.75/2 oz.).

I hauled my wares to the cash register, passing the grills as I made my way. In addition to standard Weber and Ducane grills, Smoke 'n' Fire sells custom-built grills and islands. The large showroom contains numerous examples of what you can have installed on your patio or in your backyard.

I also peeked at the kitchen, where classes are held almost every Saturday and on the occasional Thursday. Regular classes last two hours and mini-classes last one, and cost $55 and $25, respectively. Chef Richard McPeake, a regular instructor at the Culinary Center of Kansas City, teaches the majority of the classes, which are on techniques of grilling and smoking.

After staring at grills and other large things I cannot afford, I finally made it up to the cash register. I presented my coupon, which I was able to use for the rub and the crust. The lady ringing me up said the Garlic of Eatin' mix is delicious, and that the recipe on the packaging for garlic and artichoke dip is worth the calories in the mayo. With full endorsements from the staff on all of the food products I bought, I was very excited to bring them home and try them out.

The next night, I tried the Char Crust on some boneless, skinless chicken. The grill pan did its job, creating perfect, parallel sear marks on the chicken. A little rotating created those awesome hatchmarks.

And the Char Crust did its job, too, forming a flavorful, not-too-salty crust wherever it was dredged on the chicken.

With or without BBQ sauce, the chicken was delicious. I used a very small amount of the Char Crust on the two breasts I cooked, so I think I'd be able to coat at least another dozen. I'm looking forward to tasting the other products I bought at Smoke 'n' Fire, as the Char Crust didn't disappoint and the grill pan made a fine debut.

If you like to grill, BBQ, smoke or do any sort of cooking, head over to Smoke 'n' Fire. Don't bring your camera, but do bring an appetite for grilling -- and some coupons of those printable coupons.

Smoke 'n' Fire
8030 W. 151st St.
Overland Park, KS 66223


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Lisa said...

Dang I've loved your blog for a long time. But where art thou? I've been waiting for some KC BBQ reviews!

Grill Brushes said...

Great pictures. Taking the time to grill food certainly has its perks. That chicken recipe looks quite appetizing. Thanks for sharing this. Keep up the great work!