Daydreaming about springtime and morels has got me thinking about one of my favorite summertime activities; BBQing! Depending upon where you are in the country, BBQ can take a variety of forms, It could be beef brisket, hot links, chicken, or baby back ribs.
Let me define what BBQ isn't: It is not hot dogs and hamburgers on a gas grill and it is definitely not boiled ribs smothered in Kraft BBQ sauce!
I'm not knocking gas grills, there is nothing more convenient if you just want to cook a few burgers or hotdogs than a gas grill, and if you like boiled meat...well...
Real BBQ only requires three components: meat, wood fire, time. Seriously that’s it! If you took a piece of meat and slow cooked it over a smokey wood fire you would produce real BBQ.
Now most BBQ enthusiasts myself included, like to add a few other elements namely spices in the form of rubs and marinades, and we like to cook in smokers, but the fundamentals are the same; cook your meat low and slow over a smokey wood fire.
The intent if this article is not to bash how some folks like to cook; I know for some people, especially apartment dwellers, cooking on a grill let alone a smoker is not an option.
What I would like to do is help new and would be BBQ enthusiasts improve their BBQ.
A good many people I know (Ok, most of 'em) don't do real BBQ, oddly enough most of them LOVE real BBQ. I'd imagine this is true across the country, some of the most popular restaurants (and expensive by my standards) are BBQ joints. Around here it is not uncommon to see a slab of ribs go for twenty bucks! I've seen brisket and pulled pork sold for ten dollars a pound! Now don't get me wrong, good BBQ is worth every cent, but lets not forget the cuts typically used in BBQ are considered the lower grade inferior cuts of meat. With just a little bit of shopping around I can typically find a full rack of ribs untrimmed for 6.00-7.00$ if not less. A good brisket shouldn't cost you more than $3.00 a pound and you are really getting burned if you shell out more than $2.50 a pound on pork shoulder.
Ok enough of that lets get down to business...
To make real BBQ you need a few things
I will start with the smoker:
My preference is an charcoal grill with an off-set smoke box.
I like this kind of smoker because I can use it as a grill for steaks, fish, chicken etc. and because when using it as a smoker I can add fuel to the smoke box without opening the cooking chamber.
This bit is critical because opening the cooking chamber lets out lots of heat and adds to your cook time.
I have used the vertical style smokers with varying results, but I can tell you the are a pain in the butt to work with when you need to add fuel, water or pull out meat. For the money you cant beat an offset smoker.
I have heard of some folks smoking Weber style kettle grills; I'm sure it can be done, but I haven't tried it so I won't comment on it here.
Off-set smokers are very common and can be found at most home improvement and super stores.
Price wise these grills start at about $120.00. I have a cheapy and it works fine.
The more expensive grills are typically made of heavier gauge steel and are more air-tight.
Heavier, better fitting smokers do offer a number of advantages;
- They heat more evenly
- They hold heat better
- Should resist corrosion and warping much longer
When my smoker wears out I will probably look for a better made model, but the point is if you are just getting your feet wet with BBQ the low end off-set smokers work just fine! And don't forget, they pull double duty as a charcoal grill from steaks and such. I have used my smoker to make chipotle peppers, so they are well worth the money!
So after you have your smoker you need some fuel. For years I ran briquets (Kingsford) and it made very good BBQ. However two years ago I made the switch to 100% hardwood lump charcoal.
And folks let me tell ya, switching from briquets to lump charcoal was the absolute best thing I ever did for my BBQ! Now I use lump coal for BBQ, Burgers, Dogs, Brats etc etc. If I'm cookin outdoors you better believe its over lump charcoal!!!
Ok so what is the difference? What I found is that you get a much mellower, sweeter smoke flavor than over briquets. Anyone that has cooked over briquets knows that distinctive “charcoal” smell I'm talking about. The problem is that “charcoal” smell imparts a bitter acrid flavor into the meat.
This maybe a non-issue if you are cooking a T-bone or a hamburger over the coals for 15-20 minutes, but if you are running a big brisket for 15-20 HOURS it can be a real problem.
Ok and in case you don't know the difference between lump or briquet; Lump charcoal is literally lumps of hardwood that has been charred where as briquets are composed of hardwood sawdust & chips held together with some sort of binder AKA glue (think particle board or OSB).
I am convinced that its this glue which gives charcoal that bitter smell.
So if you haven't tried it yet, next time you fire up the smoker or grill, try a bag of 100% hardwood lump charcoal It will make a world of difference!
So you have a smoker and you have fuel (lump preferably but briquet is OK), now you need some meat.
In my opinion the easiest and most forgiving meat to work with when it comes to BBQ is pork shoulder. Pork shoulder, specifically the Boston butt (or just butt roast in some parts) has lots of imbedded fat so it is really hard to overcook and dry out a butt roast. The picnic roast is the lower portion of the hog quarter and works just fine, but typically has less fast than the Boston butt.
At a later date I may go over smoking brisket and ribs, but for this article I will be talking about pork shoulder roast.
When you go to your supermarket or meat market look for a couple Boston butt roasts weighing 5-7 pounds each. Two roast in this weight range will give your enough Q for at least 10 to 15 people, of course you could cook just one roast, but I typically do two simply because I can cook two roasts in the same time and with the same amount of coal as cooking one. I have never had a problem finding people willing to take the extra pork, and I doubt you will either.
If you don't see butt roast in your meat counter just ask the butcher for one. They almost always have them on hand, this is the same cut of meat typically used for pork steak and “country style ribs”.
If you are having the meat man cut yours special you could have him make it into one big 10-15 Lb roast but I like two smaller roast because you get more outside surface area (AKA bark) which really adds flavor. Plus smaller roasts cook faster.
Ok so now you have your pork, you need to season it.
If I have sufficient time I will typically marinade my roasts over night in a mix of 50% spring water and 50% apple cider or white vinegar. To this mix I typically add a teaspoon of paprika, sage, salt, black pepper, and dried cayenne pepper flake.
This soaking is completely optional; I don't do it every time, but it does get the flavor a little deeper in the meat and seems to make for a juicier piece of pork.
Next thing you need to do is make a dry rub. A dry rub is simply a mix of spices that is rubbed into the meat. The rub really adds a lot of flavor and shouldn't be skipped.
Here is my rub recipe:
¼ cup salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon each of rubbed sage, black pepper, cumin
2 teaspoons each of garlic and onion powder
1-2 teaspoons of dried cayenne or Habenero pepper flakes. Adding hot pepper to the rub is optional.
The base of this rub is the salt,paprika, and brown sugar. If you need more or less rub adjust the amount of these base items equally. This should render about a cup of rub. That should be plenty for two 7 Lb roasts.
After you have thoroughly mixed all the rub ingredients together, rub a generous amount into the pork.
Now when I say rub it into the pork, I don't mean sprinkle it on there, I mean really rub it in there, just like you where giving it a massage!
I usually give the roast a good going over and then let them sit and soak in the spice for about 30 minutes. After they have rested, the rub should look wet after it has mixed with the pork’s natural juice. Go ahead and give them another good coating of the mix and cover them with plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge for 12-24 hours.
Ok after they have had a chance to soak in the rub (12-24 hours) its time to get the grill ready.
Go ahead and sit the pork out on the counter so it can start warming up as you prep the grill.
To start your grill you can do it a couple of ways; You can use what is called a charcoal chimney
they really work great and get your coals hot fast!
Or your can fill the firebox with coal and start them in there with kindling, fat wood or lighter-fluid. If you start the coals in the firebox, you may need to stir them, just to ensure they are all burning evenly.
I should have discussed this earlier; at this point you will need some extra wood chips or chunks to throw on top of your hot coals. This will add the wood smoke. Technically with lump coal you are all ready getting wood smoke, but seasoned Un-chared wood puts off a lot more smoke and really enhances the BBQ.
As for species of wood, I like in this order: Apple, Cherry, Hickory, Mesquite.
You may like the flavor of other woods, and I would encourage you to experiment and find the combo of wood that you like.
How much, how hot and how long?
Ideally you want the cooking chamber to stay between 200-230 degrees throughout the cooking process. Most smokers have temperature gauges built into the lid, but these are typically inaccurate.
I use a wireless thermometer to monitor the temperature of the cooking chamber.
I place a large baking potato on the cooking surface. I then stick the probe of the thermometer into the potato about an inch or two. If you use this technique it's important to remember that you want to measure the temp of the smoker not the inside of the potato! Only stick the probe in far enough to keep it from falling over!
I feel that this method gives an accurate reading of the temp at “meat level”.
So now your coals are good and hot, and the cook chamber is between 200-230 degrees, go ahead and put your meat in the cook box.
In the fire box I like to toss in a few big chunks or a couple big hands full of Mesquite on top of the coals when the meat first starts to cook. I also throw in a handful or two of fresh sage and rosemary out of my herb garden . I only burn the herb when the meat first goes in, because after then smoke ring starts to form the flavor from the fast burning sage and rosemary won't penetrate the meat.
Like I said Apple and cherry are my favorite smoking woods, but I usually burn Mesquite for the first hour. After that I switch to Apple, Cherry or hickory depending on what I have on hand. I don’t use mesquite throughout because it adds a strong flavor and can become bitter if over used.
How much wood you burn really varies. You want enough smoke wood to keep a steady stream of white smoke streaming out the chimney but not so much as to over heat the cooking chamber.
It is important to keep an eye on the cook chamber temperature, I usually check it every hour or so.
To adjust it you will need to open or close vents and add coal as it burns down.
Remember, the goal is to keep it between 200-230 degrees.
I typically try to keep the smoke rolling for about 4 hours or so. By then the meat has soaked up about as much smoke as it is going to get. At that point you can lay off of the wood chunks and just cook by coal. I typically wrap the meat in foil and put it in a deep aluminum baking pan at this point to help retain moisture. If you don't put it in a deep pan some of the juice will run out of the foil and collect in the bottom of the grill. This makes a mess of the smoker and wastes the juice.
BBQ purists may frown on this and insist that is should be cooked in the open for the duration. In my experience this leads to drier meat, but to each his own... How much smoke you decide is enough is really up to you, but for me 4-5 hours is plenty.
So you have smoked your pork for a few hours, but this doesn't mean its ready to eat.
You will need to continue cooking your pork until it reaches and inside temp of 195-210 degrees.
Pork should be safe to eat when it reaches 165, but for fall apart tender pulled pork it needs to be closer to 200 degrees. In my experience, overall cook time can range from 7-12 hours.
Now this is where a lot of people get put off; most folks do not want to babysit a grill for 12 hours.
And I admit it makes for a long day when you have been smokin' pork since midnight to prepare for a 2- o’clock cook out.
Here are some tips for making the cooking duration less painful.
-If you are preparing for a Sunday afternoon cook out, do you smoking on Saturday. The pork will re-heat just fine and if you do it the day ahead you wont be watching the clock if your Q takes longer than anticipated.
-If you must smoke it the same day it is to be served, leave yourself plenty of extra time, I like to estimate how long the meat should take to cook and then add 4 hours to that time. So If I think It will be coming off the grill at noon, the earliest I would invite dinner guest over would be 4:00pm.
That can still make for a tight schedule, but should cover any problems you may encounter.
-Finishing in the oven is acceptable. Now if you asked me a couple of years ago if good BBQ could come out of an oven I would have said no way!
Last summer I was smoking a couple of roasts, they had been in the smoke for right about 5 hours and were ready to be wrapped up. As I went back out with foil and pan in hand, I noticed pitch black skies to the west. I quickly wrapped the roast and placed them in the pan and back into the smoker.
I went back in the house and clicked on the weather channel, only to see a huge thunderstorm rolling my way.
Now a drizzle or stray shower is one thing, but I was looking at a major down pour!
I had two options; call off tomorrows dinner or try my luck finishing the pork in the oven.
Not being one to quit, I decided to give the oven a try.
I set the oven at 220 and made sure to check the pork every hour and a half. About 4 hours later the roast was reading right at 200 degrees!
I pulled the pan out and let the meat rest for an hour.
When it was done resting I was pleasantly surprised to find it was just as good as pork finished on the grill!
So I learned a couple of things that day; pork roast finished in the oven can be just as good as pork finished outside, and two always check the forecast before you start up the smoker!
Now, before I go much further, let me clarify you must smoke the meat properly for 4-5 hours before putting it in the oven. Once you are done smoking and cover it in foil, all you are doing is applying heat to finish the cooking process, it doesn't matter much if that heat comes from your fire or your oven, heat is heat!
So now you have smoked your pork for 4 or 5 hours and finished it to an internal temp of 195-210 degrees either on the grill or in the oven, your choice. Once the roasts are done cooking, you need to let them rest for at least 30 minutes ( I prefer to let them rest for an hour) this allows the juice to settle back into the meat. If you start shredding the pork before it has had a chance to rest, you will loose some of the moisture.
So after the pork has rested you can shred it either by hand or with a couple of forks(be sure to pick out the bone and any large hunks of fat). I typically place the shredded meat into a crock pot.
I will then dip out a cup or two of the juice at the bottom of the roasting pan the pork had cooked in and pour it over the meat in the crock pot. Ok, so its not really juice, its pure melted pork fat, but its delicious and will ensure your pulled pork stays moist and tasty!
If you haven't guessed by now I do not like dry pulled pork!
So after that its up to you; serve it by itself, on a bun with or without sauce.
Either way I guarantee it will be good!
Thanks for stopping by!