Making the world a better place…
A couple of long days are in the books now. I had my semi-annual training for work and while there is nothing new under the sun, it is amazing what the guys in the school house can come up with to make you think and occasionally look bad when all they do is the simulator but I get to the sim once every six months. What is fun is when they fly a real airplane and they are out of their element. All is well and here is part two of what we started last week. To bring you back up to speed in case you missed last week, I choose to celebrate Memorial Day slightly differently than most. I like to do the things that those who earned the right to have their holiday earned cannot do. I like to spend that day/weekend with family and friends. I also like to grill and burn some meat.
Last year, I took my grilling experience and added smoke specifically a dedicated smoker. I wasn’t willing (too cheap) to pay 1500.00 dollars for a brand name Little Green Egg or a Primo Brand smoker. I went to the local Home Depot and dropped 325.00 on their cheap version called an Akorn made by King Griller. I know pilots have rich history of having the highest priced toys, but they also have a tradition of being cheap. The old saying is the best way to make a copper wire is to place a penny between two pilots. Anyway I digress, the point of this article is to tell you everything I have learned about smoking meat so that you can too become a grill master. But unlike the guys on television and at the local restaurant, I am not going to play secret squirt games and if I know it then you will know it by the end of this article. I will be writing some things that go against conventional wisdom and I will probably make someone mad. Here is what I think, it is your meat, your smoker, your taste buds and your stomach. Cook it how you like. If some local, backyard purist doesn’t like it; they don’t get seconds.
Before I work with the meat, I start the fire. You can get the meat ready first if you want but I like to go straight out and get the meat cooking rather than wait the ten to twenty minutes for the fire to be ready. This is IMPORTANT: use lump coal that is NOT coated with lighter fluid. That will change the taste of the meat. I put a large chunk of hickory wood on the fire at this point. You only need smoke for the first two hours. Afterwards, no wood just coal. Also I do not soak the wood because I use larger portions. One of the resources I trust for smoking says that wet wood doesn’t burn because all you are doing is burning water until it dries out. Then the wood burns. That makes sense to me but other people swear the Earth will stop rotating if you don’t soak the wood.
I am going to focus on smoking pork ribs and shoulders. But I learned a valuable lesion on Saturday, don’t read the label on the package, look at the meat and see what you got to work with. If it says pork shoulder but looks like a ham you can be reasonably certain that it is a ham. But I am getting ahead of myself. If you are working with frozen meat, depending on the size start unthawing it a day or two in advance. The first thing to do with the meat is to remove the packaging, identify if it is what you expect it to be, wash it off, dry off the moisture, coat it with oil (I prefer olive oil but I think any oil will work), and put some type of rub on the outside. You can also inject it with juice, I like apple juice if I am going to do this. My big hint in this phase is to get medical gloves so that you don’t have to wash your hands every time you reach a new step. Also I like to cover the counter top with newspaper to help with the clean-up.
It is very important to adjust the openings so that you don’t get the fire too hot or too cold. I really try to get the temperature to hover around 250 degrees but most of the time I am at 300 and at least once in a eight hour cook, my fire is going to go out. If I had a higher quality smoker this might be easier but now that I know what to expect and how to adjust the mixture. I like my cheap smoker. When your fire goes out, I have found the best way to restart it is to use the leaf blower and direct some extra air into the bottom of the smoker. Be careful because you don’t want to blow ashes all over your meat. And once the fire gets going with the high intensity air, it will burn hot and fast. Just enough is perfect, a little too much is like throwing lighter fluid on the fire.
Make sure you do not put the meat directly above the fire. Always, always, always use indirect heat which means put the meat as far away as possible from the flame. If I have a large cut of meat, I will put in the heat diverter in the center of the grill. All it does is prevent the flame from touching the meat. Cooked is juicy, burned is extremely dry to the point of crispy.
This is the most important step. Check your temperature at least once every thirty minutes to start and shorting that time span as the cook time draws to a close. Also add coal after the first two-hour mark and then every hour whether you think it needs it or not. This will keep your fire burning. The rest of the time is yours. Find a good book to read, listen to some music, swim in the pool, watch the game or whatever you want. But remember to check your fire every thirty minutes. Set your alarm, watch or sun dial to remind you to check your fire. You will be glad you did.
So now we are five to six hours into the cook. You will have your digital thermometer in the meat and you turn it on for the first time. You should see about 160 degrees if you have been cooking at 300 degrees and it weighs about 8-10 pounds. I always check the meat temperature when I check the smoker temperature because I am a chicken. You will find that the temperature of the meat will stall at about 165 degrees and it will take an hour or two to get the meat above that temperature. I don’t understand the physics of it but essentially the moisture of the meat is evaporating from the skin of the meat so that the heat is released causing a longer cook time. I am told the Texas Crutch technique was invented in Texas and that is the reason why it isn’t called the West Virginia Crutch. Anyway, simply wrap the meat in aluminum foil. This will allow the skin to heat up and prevent the internal temperature from stalling. I will swear by the Texas Crutch as long as I am smoking meat but you can call it what you want.
Now is the time I start thinking about Barb-Que sauces. There are about a million and one recipes but I am too lazy to re-invent the wheel. Also, every region of the world (except the Middle East) has its own style of barb-Que sauce. If you want to have fun go into a Kansas City Barb-Que joint and ask for Memphis style sauce. Or go to Georgia and demand mesquite wood smoke flavor or go to Carolina and request a sweet sauce. About all those places have in common is sweet tea otherwise you are about to start a riot. Being a Memphian, I like a sweet, sugar based sauce. My go to base sauce is Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce because it tastes good to me and it is cheap. All of the following sauce combinations have Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce as the base. But use whatever you like.
According to my sources, the perfect meat internal temperature is 202. Why you might ask and I have no answer but my favorite guy calls himself Meathead so I am inclined to trust his methodology. Go see his site at http://amazingribs.com
I like to put the meat in a crockpot and then bring it inside. I feel that I can carry it easier and cut it better in the pot. I use meat tongs or a large fork and a sharp knife to shred the meat. Whatever you do just remember that you are working against time because the meat is hot and cooling off and your friends are probably hungry because you told them eat at four and it took you an extra two hours to cook.
So that is it. I highly encourage anyone who thinks they want to start smoke meat to not be afraid. It really isn’t as hard as the guys on the barb-que shows act. Practice, play around with the meats and the grill and don’t be afraid because the worst thing that will happen is you burn your meat and have to cook hot dogs.
Until next time, keep on rockin