×

Help us help you

If we have helped you become a better cook, please become a Pitmaster Club member and help us become a better website. Benefits for members include:

(1) Seminars with famous Pitmaster Professors
(2) Access to The Pit forum
(3) An all new expanded Temperature Guide Magnet
(4) Gold Medal Giveaways of free grills and smokers
(5) Support for Operation BBQ Relief
(6) Support for AmazingRibs.com!

Learn more about the Pitmaster Club

Not ready to subscribe yet? Return to AmazingRibs.com

bbq grill and accessories ad
AmazingRibs.com BBQ Logo

message from meathead

Meathead the Barbecue & Grilling Lover Cartoon

Get Smoke Signals,
our FREE e-letter.
No spam. Guaranteed. Enter your email:

bbq ad

http://tinyurl.com/amazingribs

If you like AmazingRibs.com, please save this link and use it every time you go to Amazon. Amazon and many other websites pay us a small referral fee when you click our links and purchase from them. It works on everything from grills to diapers, Amazon never tells us what you bought, it has zero impact on the price you pay, but has a major impact on our ability to improve this site!

Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

bbq thermapen

Join our new Pitmaster Club!

Support the website that supports you and get some nifty benefits:

A Comprehensive Food Temperature Guide Magnet that sells for $9.95 on Amazon.com.
Live video seminars with top Pitmasters.
Access to The Pit forum.
Entry into Gold Medal Giveaways.
Support for Operation BBQ Relief.

Click here for details.

benefits to pitmaster club

GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

BBQ_grill_grates

Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $289 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

steak knives for bbq

The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.


The space above can be yours at our lowest rate. Click here to go to Blogads where you can upload your ad, pick the duration, and pay with credit card. It's easy!

tailgater magazine
digg

chocolate trufflesThe Zen of Chocolate

"Our body temp is 98.6°F and good chocolate melts at 93°F. That means we were created to eat chocolate." Michael Canady, Canady Le Chocolatier

By Meathead Goldwyn

Working with chocolate is tricky, but the rewards are worth it. There are all kinds of rewards for making things with chocolate, chief among them, shall we call it "affection"?

Here's what you need to know about how it is made and how to handle it.

Not all chocolate is the same. Not by a long shot. As in wine, the source of the fruit and how it is handled makes a massive difference in taste and price. Chemically it is amazing stuff, and working with it can be tricky. It's important to know how it is made.

How chocolate is made

Chocolate comes from the ripe football sized and shaped fruit of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, which translates roughly to "food of the gods". It can be grown only within 20 degrees of the equator. Both the species of tree (Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario are the most common), the soil, climate, and grower's expertise influence the quality. The bright red, green, and orange fruits, called cocoa pods, have a thick skin, about 50 hard almond sized and shaped purple beans inside, and a thick white jelly like sweet pulp surrounding them.

cocoa pods

After harvest, the beans and pulp are fermented in bins and the heat turns the beans brown and they develop complex flavors. The beans are then spread in the sun for about a week to dry after which they are shipped to chocolate manufacturers around the world.

cocoa beans and nibs

There they are roasted like coffee in revolving drums, shelled, and the center, the nib, is extracted. The nibs are ground and liquefied, producing something called chocolate liquor, which, despite the name, contains no alcohol. It is then pressed and filtered and separated into cocoa solids and a complex oil called cocoa butter. Neither are sweet.

The manufacturer then creates blends by mixing varying beans from different plantations around the world and different amounts of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk extracts, flavorings, sugar, and emulsifiers. Soy lecithin is the most common emulsifier, small amounts of which are needed to help hold the blend together, and vanilla is the most common flavoring. Each rarely exceeds 1%.

The blend is then conched, a process of squishing or polishing the liquid chocolate with rollers that further develops flavor and makes the texture even finer. This conching can be done for a few hours or for as long as a few days. The final step is tempering, when the chocolate goes through heating, cooling, and stirring cycles to help form the desired texture. It is then ready to be made into bars or chunks called couverture. Couverture is the high quality tempered chocolate with about 32-39% cocoa butter at least 22% cocoa solids from which candies are made. In other words, cocoa butter and cocoa solids must be at least 54% with almost all the remaining content sugar plus tiny amounts of lecithin and vanilla. The total "percentage" cited on many brands of chocolate is made up of some combination of cocoa butter to cocoa solids (cacao). In order to be properly labeled as "couverture", the percentage of cocoa butter must be between 32% and 39%, and the total percentage of the combined cocoa butter plus cocoa solids must be at least 54%. Sugar makes up the remainder, and up to 1% may be made up of vanilla, and sometimes soy lecithin. Couverture is used for dipping, enrobing, molding, and garnishing.

So many things influence the quality. The species of tree, how and where it is grown, how the beans are fermented and dried, how long they are roasted, graded, and liquefied, and then the ratio of the ingredients in the blend and the fineness of the grind from conching all contribute to producing each house's signature style.

The different types of chocolate

Here are the different types of chocolate.

Cocoa powder is mostly cocoa solids although it can contain 10-35% fat. It is very dense and is used in baking, cooking, and making chocolate drinks.

Dutch process cocoa is a type of cocoa powder that has been processed with an alkaline to lower its acidity and change its color. Because it is chemically different than other chocolates, it should be used only when the recipe calls for it.

Unsweetened chocolate contains only cocoa butter and cocoa solids. It is used in baking and cooking.

Semisweet and bittersweet chocolate contain cocoa butter, cocoa solids, and sugar. The amounts vary from company to company, but US law requires at least 35% cocoa product. They are used in baking and cooking and can be eaten straight.

Dark chocolate contains cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar, and occasionally vanilla. The best dark chocolate blends are at least 70% cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It is popular as a candy.

Milk chocolate contains cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar, vanilla, and milk powder or condensed milk. Milk chocolate usually contains about 50% cocoa product, but the law says it can be as little as 10%. Invented in Switzerland, this is the most popular type in the US.

White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, and milk powder or condensed milk. There are no cocoa solids in the blend. White chocolate is about 33% cocoa butter. It is used as a candy and in baking.

Compound chocolate usually contains cocoa solids, vegetable oils rather than cocoa butter, imitation vanilla, milk powder or condensed milk. It is used in cheap candies.

Flavored chocolates can be made from any grade by adding flavors including caramel, mint, coffee and fruits such as raspberry or orange.

Different kinds of chocolate candies

The wonderfully talented alchemists who make chocolate candies form it into a wide range of treats. Here are some of the more common varieties.

Bars, chips, kisses. Solid hunks of chocolate, dark, white, milk, sweet, semi, etc.

Truffles. These are soft, rich balls made mostly of genache, a mix of chocolate and cream, perhaps with flavoring. Sometimes they are enrobed in hard chocolate, often they are just rolled in cocoa powder or ground nuts, coffee, coconut, powdered sugar, etc. They are remarkably easy to make at home and a great way to express your love. Click here for my simple recipe and instructions for Raspberry Truffles.

Bark. Sheets of chocolate, usually about 1/4" thick, with nuts embedded.

Bonbons and dipped chocolates. These are hard chocolate shells wrapped around a filling. The fillings can be fresh fruits, dried fruits, creamy fondants, caramel, ganache, marshmallows, malt balls, nougat, coffee beans, nuts, toffee, even bacon and whatever the heart desires. Bonbons are more difficult to make at home because they require tempering the chocolate for the shell, a time consuming and precision temperature procedure. In the picture above, that's a chocolatier emptying excess chocolate from a mold to make cups for filling bonbons.

Working with chocolate

Which brand? For making chocolate truffles, I usually use Scharffen Berger or Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips, because they are readily available at my local grocer. My friend, Chef Tom Beckman, a baking instructor at Chicago's Le Cordon Bleu recommends Callebaut or Valrhona. Michael Canady of Canady Le Chocolatier in Chicago, one of my favorite chocolatiers, prefers Valhrona.

You should store chocolate at room temp, not in the fridge. Ideal temp is 60 to 70°F, so if you have a wine cellar, put it there.

Because chocolate is such a complex compound, it can be tricky to work with. It melts at body temperature, which is why hard chocolate becomes molten in your mouth. If you get it to hot or get too much water into it, it can do weird things, like "seizing" and separating into hard chunks swimming in oil, and you cannot put it back together. This can be a terribly expensive mistake.

The best advice I can give you is to work with a well tested recipe from a reputable source, use high quality ingredients, and follow the recipe exactly. Don't experiment, make substitutions, or try variations. For example, unsweetened chocolate is 100% cocoa solids and cocoa butter. But bittersweet may be only 50%. So if a recipe calls for unsweetened and you use bittersweet, it will have only have as much chocolate flavor as intended.

There are several ways to melt chocolate.

1) Microwave. Many pros prefer the microwave. First chop it to peasize, put it in a microwave safe bowl and heat on half power for 30 seconds. Then stir it for at least a minute. The chocolate melts slowly from the heat within. If it does not dissolve thoroughly, give it another 30 seconds. Stir for another minute. Repeat as necessary.

2) Double boiler. Chop it to peasize. Bring the water in the bottom to the lowest simmer possible and then take it off the heat. Now put the upper half in and add the chocolate. Whisk constantly until it is melted.

3) Bowl over a pot. You can make a double boiler by sitting a glass or metal bowl into a pot with a smaller diameter. The bowl should not touch the water. Chop the chocolate to peasize. Start water simmering as low as possible in the pot and take it off the heat. Add the chocolate to the bowl. Whisk constantly until it is melted.

If the recipe calls for adding milk or cream, warm it first, but do not boil it. Never add cold or boiling milk or cream. When the chocolate is melting, you must stir constantly to make sure the heat is even throughout.

Whatever you do, you must keep water and steam out of the bowl. It's like garlic to vampires.

Here are some good videos about chocolate

This page revised 9/20/2010


Please read before posting a comment or question

grouchy?1) Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help, then please post your question on the appropriate page.

2) Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

3) If you post a photo, wait a minute for a thumbnail to appear. It will happen even if you don't see it happen.

4) Click here to learn more about our comment system and our privacy promise. Remember, your login info for comments is probably different from your Pitmaster Club login info if you are a member.

Moderators

LeaderDog.org Ad on BBQ site

About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

This site is brought to you by readers like you who support us with their membership in our Pitmaster Club. Click here to learn more about benefits to membership.

Advertising on this site. AmazingRibs.com is by far the most popular barbecue website in the world and one of the 50 most popular food websites in the US according to comScore, Quantcast, Compete, and Alexa. Visitors and pageviews increase rapidly every year. Click here for analytics and advertising info.

© Copyright 2014 by AmazingRibs, Inc. AmazingRibs.com is published by AmazingRibs, Inc., a Florida Corporation. Unless otherwise noted, all text, recipes, photos, and computer code are owned by AmazingRibs, Inc. and fully protected by US copyright law. This means that unless you have written permission to publish or distribute anything on this website you have committed a Federal crime. But we're easy. To get reprint rights, just click here. You do not need permission to link to this website. Note. Some photos of commercial products such as grills were provided by the manufacturers and are under their copyright.