Jeff Rexinger has had a long and happy relationship with cooking gadgetry.
As a child, Rexinger earned the nickname "Grill Boy" for his nightly work sweating over a charcoal fire to feed more than 20 members of his extended family, shoehorned into a five-bedroom Crystal Beach cottage.
Trying to cut down on the beach-dinner transition time, Rexinger, The News' June Cook of the Month, turned to his first memorable culinary hack. After starting briquettes aglow with an electric element, Rexinger added an oxygen blast with a box fan borrowed from the cottage. "You'd have fire in an instant, because it was all about how late you could come back from the beach and get the grill ready," he said.
Now, Rexinger sells high-end kitchen equipment as sales manager for Artisan Kitchens and Baths. His cooking experiences come in handy when he's trying to sell customers on the latest gizmo, and he has continued to find alternative uses for existing technology.
Lots of newer stoves have a built-in warming drawer, which people are mainly using to store pots and pans. Rexinger has figured out to use his drawer as a substitute for a barbecue smoker, minus the fire this time.
The most important factor in Southern-style barbecue is long, slow cooking at relatively low heat. Barbecue cooks have to figure out how to keep the temperature stable while tough collagen structures melt in pork ribs, shoulders and beef briskets, making them tender and juicy.
With two old friends, Rexinger cooks for a 150-person barbecue party each August. He knows how much work it is to set up a smoker outside and baby-sit it through a cooking session that could go 12 hours or longer. Once he figured out he could use the warming drawer for stable low-temperature cooking, unsmoky but still deeply delicious, he was all for it.
The night before The News visited, Rexinger seasoned his brisket, wrapped it in foil and put it into the drawer. Then what? "I went to bed," he said.
Raised in Amherst, Rexinger graduated from Amherst High School in 1981. Before starting at Artisan Kitchens in 2002, he worked for Orville's Appliances for 18 years.
Father to two teenagers, Lindsey and Austin, Rexinger does most of the cooking for the household, he said. Chicken Parmesan and Scime's Italian sausage with peppers and onions are family favorites. Lately he's been working on variations on the classic Caprese salad of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, as a pizza, or a pasta dish.
During the winter, he likes to use his mother's recipes to cook big pots of soup, like chicken, cream of broccoli, or oxtail, so there's always something for his kids to warm up. "It's nice to have it in the fridge, because it's a wholesome thing that satisfies them," Rexinger said.
Working at Artisan Kitchens has influenced Rexinger's cooking style by bringing him into contact with culinary professionals competing in the Iron-Chef-like Nickel City Chef cooking competitions held in its appliance showroom.
"The thing I picked up from most of them was the simplicity," he said. "Not to overthink it."
He's also much more attuned to using fresh materials whenever practical. He drove to Niagara County last Thanksgiving to pick up two fresh turkeys – a change noticed by those at the table, he said.
"I've become more of an ingredient snob than I'd ever thought I'd be. I think it's the association with so many suppliers that I've met," he said. "If I'm going to do schnitzel or do sausage or something, I'm going to call Joe at Spar's [European Sausage Shop]. That's where I'm going to go."
> Beef Brisket
1 beef brisket flat, 8-10 pounds
For the rub:
5 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon hot chili powder
1 can Guinness stout
Mix all the dry ingredients together and thoroughly rub the mix into brisket, heavily coating the meat. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.
About 90 minutes before cooking, remove meat from refrigerator and allow it to reach room temperature.
Liberally coat a broiler pan (without the tray) or a low baking pan or dish with cooking spray. Place brisket fat cap down in pan. Pour the Guinness around the brisket in the pan. Be careful not to wash off the rub when pouring.
Preheat the warming drawer of your range to low. If the warming drawer has a moist setting, use it. If you don't have a warming drawer you can use your oven at 200 degrees.
Place the brisket in the oven or drawer, and allow it to cook for about 7 hours. You can open the oven to check it periodically, but do not do this often, because the slow cooking process will be compromised. After about 7 hours, the brisket should feel jiggly when pressed. Remove the brisket and wrap in aluminum foil. There should be an abundance of juice in the pan. Pour the juice into a bowl and set it aside.
Place the foil wrapped brisket back into the pan and allow it to cook for about another hour. Remove it and then let the meat rest in the foil for about 30-45 minutes. Heat up the juice that you reserved from the pan during cooking.
After resting, cut the brisket into slices approximately 1/8 " thick and then pour the juice back over the meat.
Serve alone, or on your favorite roll. Top the meat with a small amount of your favorite barbecue sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's is our favorite), and then add a scoop of the coleslaw.
> Horseradish Coleslaw
a pound peppered bacon, chopped
5 cups shredded green cabbage
5 cups shredded red cabbage
2 cups shredded carrots
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4 -inch cubes
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
a cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
a cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish or 6 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon Creole mustard or other coarse-grained mustard
Cook the peppered bacon in a skillet and place on a paper towel after cooking.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the green and red cabbages, carrots and green onions. In a small bowl, toss the cubed apples with the lemon juice and add to the cabbage mixture.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the seasoned vinegar mixture over the cabbage mixture and toss to thoroughly combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, horseradish and mustard and stir to combine. Add to the coleslaw and toss to combine thoroughly. Add the bacon and continue to stir. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight before serving.
> COOK OF THE MONTH
Mouths to feed: 3
Go-to instant meal: Grilled hamburgers
Guilty pleasure: Coconut cake