Our 2nd place champion, Aamer Agha, exhibits an admirable passion for grilling, and is willing to share his wisdom (see below).
The judges loved his presentation and the robust flavor of his chicken. Hanif ‘Mo’ Islam, owner of The Gyro Shop, commented “This was very different. Everything went well together. All the ingredients were phenomenal. My favorite!”
Aamer’s recipe combines South Asian and Mediterranean flavors with only a few ingredients (kashimir red paste and Rajah tandoori masala) that require a trip to an Indian/Pakistani grocery store.
As part of our ongoing series interviewing the competitors, below are Aamer’s answers and his outstanding recipe.
What type of grill/smoker do you have? Currently I use a Kamado Joe Big Joe. I find that it is a very versatile item that can sear meats at high heat, smoke for long periods of time (> 12 hours) low and slow, hold moderate temps consistently for chicken with no flareups, and apparently can bake things (which I haven’t tried). Also it has an optional rotisserie which is fantastic for 1-2 chickens at a time or other items.
Many people swear by the Big Green Egg, and this does all the same things, but the seals are better designed (instead of felt, they use a heavy duty oven liner), the chimney has a more graduated opening, and there is a hydraulic hinge so you don’t have to be a body builder to open and close the thing. Also there’s a removable ashtray so cleanup is a snap. I won’t cook on anything else now, so I’m sure I’ll have to leave it one of my children in my will.
In conjunction with the Kamado Joe, I use a Flame boss temp controller which is a Wifi controller with a pit temperature gauge and a small CPU fan that blows into the air intake. You select the temp you want and the fan blows in enough oxygen to get the pit to the desired temp. Once reached, the fan kicks off and the oven holds the temp there. It’s wonderfully clever, and you can basically control your grill as easily as your oven at home. Only this gives you that magical smoke flavor!
What grills/smokers have you had in the past? Well, I started out probably 14 years ago with a Weber Summit Gold six burner natural gas grill. I had just finished residency and we were about to start a family and we built this house in Pearland, Texas. We had a natural gas line out back and I bought this Weber grill for about $1000 and really wanted to grill things for family. I liked it because you could control the flame with knobs and you had a decent thermometer on top. I cooked mainly steaks, vegetables, and chicken on it. Unfortunately, I never cleaned it properly and the burners eventually caked up with grease and soot. We moved to Plano in 2008, and we brought the Weber with us. And even though I got it fixed, there was one big problem with it: the food never tasted like barbecue. It was grilled, but tasted like it could have been done in a kitchen. We missed the taste of charcoal, and eventually gave the grill away. In its place, we got a medium sized Weber kettle grill. Cheap, but it was charcoal and that great backyard taste was back. The biggest problem with kettle grills like that are that they are notoriously difficult to control. Some days, it was easy to get super high heat to sear the steaks. Other days, I couldn’t even get grill lines. It was weather dependent, charcoal quality dependent, and human patience dependent. I always cook for family, and it was difficult sometimes to see less than impressed faces at dinner….or if someone commented that they wanted their chicken back on the grill for another 5 minutes. Honestly, I was so embarrassed sometimes, I had practically given up on the whole idea and found myself second guessing my cooks all the time. It was miserable.
I will have to say, I got inspired when my brother-in-law Kamran bought a house in Frisco and also got himself a Big Green Egg. He really showed me the light, and I have to admit, he was putting together some astonishing cooks! I guess the secret is out now, since he won our recent contest was a nearly perfect score. Anyway, we remodeled our backyard just last summer, and part of the plan was to get my own kamado style oven and hopefully try to regain the family title of “best grillmaster” from Kamran. That hasn’t worked yet, but I’ll keep trying! Honestly, I’ve had so much fun with it, it is terribly addictive and I have a very low threshold to fire it up. These last few months have produced the best barbecue I have ever done, hands down.
What is the favorite grill/smoker you’ve ever had and why? The Kamado Joe Big Joe. For all the reasons above.
At what age did you start grilling/smoking meat? I was about 30 or so when I really started to feel serious about grilling. Details are above.
What do you enjoy the most about grilling/smoking? No question. The results! Cooking is more than just about food. It’s about friends and family. Hearing people marvel over your food is very addicting. Watching your children run off with a big plate of your cooking is one of the great pleasures of being a father. Of course, tasting my own personal victories is a reward onto itself.
What’s your signature dish? I want to say that smoking brisket is my signature. But my wife’s favorite is picanha, which is a Brazilian dish consisting of fat cap sirloin that is cooked rotisserie style with only kosher or sea salt. I think I do both of those pretty well, so let’s say 2 signature dishes. I am a huge fan of Aaron Franklin of Franklin’s BBQ. He is very open about explaining everything there is to know about properly selecting, trimming, preparing and smoking a brisket. His videos should be watched carefully by anyone attempting a brisket, because he is so clear about the science and the characterization of the qualities of a perfectly smoked brisket. He is far and away my biggest grilling hero.
Give us one tip/hack to make improve our grilling/BBQ skills. I’m feeling generous and I’ll give two tips.
#1 – if you’re interested in good results, never ever buy meat and then freeze it only to thaw it later for grilling. Something irreversible happens when that natural water freezes inside and alters proteins. Always by fresh and cook/marinade fresh. If you decide to freeze it, you are already handicapping yourself.
#2 – always use a thermometer to tell when something is done. If you don’t have a good digital thermometer, they are cheap and take out all the guesswork. There’s all kinds of other methods people use, and they are very inconsistent. You can’t tell if your car tire needs air in it just by looking at it. You need a tire gauge. Likewise, you can’t tell when meat is cooked properly until you know its internal temp.
Recipe for my momma’s tandoori bbq chicken:
- 1 whole chicken
- 2 tblspn olive oil
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 heaping tsp Rajah tandoori masala (purchased from IndoPak Supermarket)
- 1 heaping tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder (purchased from IndoPak Supermarket)
- 1 heaping tsp garlic powder
- 2 Tbsp fresh ginger and garlic paste
- 1/2 tsp ground fresh black pepper
- 1 heaping Tbsp yogurt
Mix all that and marinate with spatchcocked (or butterflied) chicken (skin on) in fridge overnight.
I use the kamado joe, big joe size, in conjunction with the flame boss temp control system.
I’ve mainly used lump charcoal and post oak chips for all kinds of other cooks, but you might be surprised that I went with plain quick lighting kingsford charcoal. This might be sacrilege to some (including me), but I was trying to achieve a bit of old school backyard barbecue flavor we all grew up with. We have so many choices now, but 30 years ago we all one choice pretty much – cheap kingsford charcoal – for that slight lighter fluid aftertaste, lol!
But I still go new school with my tech. Set flame boss to 350. Kept internal thermometer in the breast and cooked it to 165 degree internal temp. I start with breast side up for 20 min first to tighten the skin up so when I flip to get grill marks I don’t get as much tearing off skin from the grill grates. I don’t cook to a time. Only to a target internal temp. On this cook I had a 2.9 lb chicken and 2 3.5 lb chickens. So the other two took 10-12 minutes longer to hit my temp. I keep another digital pocket thermometer to check thighs and legs to ensure I hit my targets and pull it off.
Now I also paired that with my dad’s homemade hummus. It’s the 1-2 punch my mom and dad have been serving the family for years in Houston.
My dad had texted me his recipe:
- One can chick peas drained
- 1/4 cup Tahini sauce
- Lemon juice 1-1/2 tablespoon
- Salt. 1/2 teaspoon
- Garlic 2 cloves minced
Grind together add water if necessary. Top With olive oil. Enjoy. Pretty simple. Best things in life usually are.
Oh I did also pick up Zhoug sauce from Trader Joe’s to tie them together a little.