Ode to Apples
October is National Apple Month—not the mention, prime picking and eating time for some of America’s best apples. What better occasion to celebrate the contributions this storied fruit has made to American barbecue?
Apples possess a natural affinity for pork, which probably gained the fruit admission to the barbecue world in the first place. But don’t stop there. Apple juice, apple sauce, and cider vinegar are essential ingredients in regional American barbecue sauce. Apple wood is the fuel some of the most decorated competition pit masters swear by. Then there are grilled apples, smoked apples, and “baked” apples hot from the smoker.
Given the apple’s deep roots in American food culture, you may be surprised to learn that the fruit originated in Central Asia between the Black and Caspian Seas. The early colonists brought the apple to the New World along with the honeybees needed to pollinate the trees. More than 2500 varieties have been grown in the U.S.; about 100 are still grown on a commercial scale.
So how else should you use apples and apple-based products to take your barbecue to the next level?
As a marinade or injector sauce:
- Make an apple brine: Replace a portion of the water in a standard brine recipe with apple cider or apple juice for pork, turkey, and game birds.
- Make a simple apple marinade or injector sauce: Combine 2 cups of apple cider with 1/4 cup each apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, maple syrup and vegetable oil. Add 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce.
- Don’t forget hard cider, made by fermenting apple cider like beer. It’s less sweet than apple cider, which makes it ideal for basting or as a base for marinade.
As a spray, basting mixture, or mop sauce:
- Place apple cider in a spray bottle and spray it on ribs or pork shoulder as they cook on the grill. Keeps meat moist during smoking and adds an extra layer of flavor.
- Combine apple cider, cider vinegar, bourbon, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and a little water to make a “Cider Squirt” for basting pork and poultry. Squirt it from a spray bottle or brush it on with a basting brush.
- Make a hog slather by combining mustard, apple cider, Worcestershire sauce, and melted butter in roughly equal proportions. Brush on the meat with a basting brush.
- For a simple mop sauce for beef brisket, combine one bottle of beer with 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup cold brewed coffee, and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce. Swab it on with a barbecue mop at the 1 hour mark, and every hour after that.
So what’s the difference between apple cider and apple juice? Both are pressed from fresh apples, but the juice is filtered and pasteurized to make it clear and give it a long shelf life. I prefer cider—especially freshly pressed at a farm stand. The aroma and flavor will vary depending on the season and which apples are used.