Smoking Low and Slow Meals
SMOKING LOW AND SLOW MEALS
–due out next spring. He has also taught two more sessions of Barbecue University at the Greenbrier, taped Season 4 of the Barbecue University TV show (launching next April on Public Television) and designed 25 new products for the Best of Barbecue grilling accessory line.
Before I turn this month’s newsletter over to Steven, let me respond to those of you who have written or emailed to inquire about next year’s Barbecue University schedule. Dates have now been finalized. But if you or someone you know is interested in attending Barbecue University in 2006, please act quickly: Sessions I and II are already sold out and wait-listed, though there are still openings in Session III (August 31 – September 3) and Session IV (September 10 – 13.) For more information, visit the BBQ U page on our site, call 1-800-228-5049, or email email@example.com
And now, back to you Steven!
-Amy Lewis, a.k.a. Info@Workman
NEWS AND VIEWS
In the last issue, we covered “speed” grilling, as it were – how to make the best use of your grill if you have a big hunger for flavor, but precious little time for cooking.
In this issue, I want to cover the very opposite – the long, slow, low-heat cooking technique required to make authentic barbecue: smoking.
Smoking. The very word sparks visions of fragrant clouds of hickory or apple wood smoke. Of big rigs and offset barrel smokers, parked in your driveway or in your backyard, tantalizing the neighbors and making them envious. Of pork shoulders as dark as anthracite but tender enough to pull apart with your fingers. (Hey, that’s why they call it “pulled” pork.) Of glistening, smoke-infused briskets and spare ribs so good they make you want to cry.
If barbecue is a religion, smoking is one of its most sacred rites: to master all its fine points would be the work of a lifetime. So here’s a quick overview to get you started.
First, what smoking is not: It’s not direct grilling, in which food is cooked directly over the fire. Smoking is always indirect – the food cooks next to, not over, the fire.
Smoking is not indirect grilling, although the two are closely related. Indirect grilling is done at a moderate to medium-high heat (325 to 400 degrees). Smoking is done at a low heat (225 to 275 degrees-ideally between 225 and 250 degrees).
Smoking is not something you generally do on a gas grill (although there are gas-fired smokers). You can do it on a charcoal grill (set up the grill for indirect grilling, but use only half as much charcoal). But it’s really best done in a smoker – a device specifically designed to cook low and slow.
There are four basic types of smokers on the market.
The upright water smoker (which resembles the Star Wars’ robot, R2D2), typified by the Weber Smoky Mountain (affectionately nicknamed “the bullet”). The charcoal goes in the bottom; water in a water bowl in the middle; the food on the cooking grate under a lid with vents to keep in the smoke. A new upright that looks really cool to me is the Big Drum Smoker
The offset barrel smoker (typified by the Horizon Classic). This smoker features a horizontal barrel (or box) that serves as the actual smoke chamber and a smaller firebox set at a lower level and welded to one side of the smoke chamber. This design keeps the direct heat away from the meat, so the pork, poultry, beef, or fish cook low and slow, bathed in clouds of wood smoke. Look for the heaviest possible metal construction, so the smoker maintains its heat-even in cold weather.
The electric smoker (typified by Cookshack). It looks like a miniature refrigerator with an electric heating element to do the cooking and hardwood pellets to supply the smoke.
The big rig-the sort of smoker towed behind your 4×4 to barbecue competitions. If you own one, you likely know how to use it, and if you’re in the market for one, a good source of information, including where to purchase them, is the National Barbecue News
Once you’ve got your smoker, fire it up following the manufacturer’s instructions. Put the seasoned meat in the smoke chamber and the wood chips or chunks on the coals. Remember to keep the cooking temperature low: 225 to 250 degrees. Use the vents on the firebox door and the chimney or lid to control the temperature. (Open wide to increase the heat; more or less partially closed to lower the heat.) Replenish the coals and wood chips or chunks every hour. It’s that simple.
A few other tips:
- Soak the wood chips or chunks in enough water to cover them for 1 hour before adding them to the fire. This makes the chips smolder rather than burn, maximizing the smoke output.
- Avoid over-smoking: I generally apply smoke the first half of the cooking time and cook without smoke the second half. With larger cuts of meat, like briskets and spare ribs, I like to wrap them in foil the second half of the cooking time.
- Mop the meat with a mop sauce to keep it moist. Foods can get dried out during the 4 to 12 hours you smoke them. An effective way to keep the foods moist is to apply a mop sauce every hour after the first hour. Unlike barbecue sauces, mop sauces tend to be runny and not at all sweet (see recipe below). So why are they called “mop sauces?” You swab them on with a barbecue mop. In the old days, legend has it that pit masters used cotton floor mops (clean, presumably) to keep huge hunks of ‘cue moist.
- I don’t normally smoke chicken (especially beer can chicken) or small turkeys, preferring instead to cook them at a higher temperature using indirect grilling. The reason is simple: the skin crisps at a higher temperature, but becomes leathery at a lower temperature. Smoking large turkeys is a great way to keep them from drying out.
- Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the cooking progress and doneness. Smoked meats are always cooked to well-done at 190 degrees. The key to tenderness is to achieve this temperature slowly.
- Remember the adage: patience is a virtue. It takes 4 to 5 hours to smoke ribs, 8 to 10 hours to smoke pork shoulders, and 12 to 16 hours to bring full-size briskets to tender, smoky perfection.
TOOLS AND FUELS
While we’re on the subject of smoking, let me tell you about my favorite woods. I used to use a single variety of wood for smoking – oak for beef, for example, or hickory for pork. Then I started hanging around the competition teams at Memphis in May and the Kansas City Royal, and I quickly observed that many of the big winners use blends of woods – maybe hickory for the first hour, then apple or cherry after that.
That’s the inspiration behind my Best of Barbecue Smoking Woods. Each blend is designed for a different kind of meat. The Beef Blend leans to the robust flavors of mesquite and oak, for example, while the Pork Blend favors hickory and apple. The Poultry Blend combines fruitwoods and maple, while the Seafood and Vegetable Blend contains cherry and alder.
Don’t forget the resource that is your own backyard. Check out the information on the Barbecue Board about wood you may find locally that works great for smoking (as well as which trees to steer clear of!)
Some other useful tools:
Barbecue mop and mop bucket: For mopping those slow smoked briskets and ribs. The head detaches for easy cleaning (my wife Barbara’s idea), and the real galvanized steel bucket (with a food safe plastic liner) continues the mop metaphor. Use with the mop sauce below.
Instant-read meat thermometer: Helps you identify exactly when your smoked meats are cooked. Take smoked turkeys and chickens to 170 degrees. Smoke briskets, pork shoulders, and ribs to 190 degrees. And remember, insert the metal probe deep into the meat, but not touching a bone. (The bone conducts heat and will give you a false reading.)
So now that you’re a smoke master, here’s a recipe from my forthcoming rib book to try out.
LONE STAR BEEF RIBS
Serves 6 to 8
For the Lone Star Rub:
2 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
2 tablespoons pure chili powder
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Coffee Beer Mop Sauce (recipe follows)
2 racks beef long ribs (5 to 6 pounds)
You’ll also need: 3 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably Best of Barbecue Beef Blend), soaked in water to cover for 1 hour, then drained; Best of Barbecue Mop or a basting brush; Best of Barbecue Rib Rack (optional)
Make the rub. Place the salt, chili powder, peppercorns, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, and cayenne in a small bowl and mix with your fingers, breaking up any lumps in the garlic powder. Set aside 2 tablespoons rub for the mop sauce.
Prepare the ribs. Remove the thin, papery membrane from the back of the ribs: Turn a rack meat side down. Insert a sharp implement, such as the tip of a meat thermometer, under the membrane (the best place to start is right next to the first rib bone). Using a dishcloth, paper towel, or pair of pliers to gain a secure grip, pull off the membrane.
Place the ribs on a baking sheet. Season both sides with about 1 tablespoon rub per side, rubbing it into the meat. Cover the ribs and refrigerate while you set up your smoker.
Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225 to 250 degrees. Place the ribs in the smoker and toss 1 cup soaked, drained wood chips on the coals. Note: if smoking on a charcoal kettle-style grill, set up for indirect grilling, using half as much charcoal as normal. Arrange the ribs on the grate over the drip pan away from the heat. If space is tight, stand the ribs upright in a rib rack.
Cook the ribs until dark brown and very tender, 4 to 5 hours. When the ribs are cooked, they’ll be tender enough to pull apart with your fingers and the meat will have shrunk back from the ends of the bones by about 1/4 inch. After 1 hour, start mopping the ribs with mop sauce and mop ever hour. Replenish the coals and wood chips every hour. However, after 3 hours, it will not be necessary to add more wood chips.
Transfer the ribs to a large platter or cutting board and let rest for 3 minutes. Cut the rack in half or into individual ribs. Serve with the barbecue sauce of your choice. (Hate to be too much a booster for the home team, but our Best of Barbecue Chipotle Molasses Barbecue Sauce would be great.)
COFFEE BEER MOP SAUCE
Good for mopping any sort of smoked meat.
Makes 2 cups.
1 bottle Lone Star beer or other lager-style beer
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup brewed coffee
2 tablespoons Lone Star Rub (from above)
Place the beer, vinegar, coffee and 2 tablespoons Lone Star Rub in a nonreactive bowl and whisk to mix.
“One of your three tenets of barbecue is to keep the grill grate lubricated (well oiled),” writes Wade Spenader from San Jose, California. “But the literature from my new Weber grill says to lube the food, not the grill. Who’s right?”
We both are, Wade. Many grill jockeys like to brush or spray the food with oil right before it goes on the grate. (Among them, Bobby Flay and Bill Counts, the pit master at the Tadich Grill in San Francisco-you can read more on the latter on page 483 in BBQ USA.) I do this for foods that are particularly prone to stick to the grate, like fish.
But I also recommend brushing and oiling the hot grate itself-no matter what you’re grilling. The oil helps prevent sticking and it gives you better grill marks. So, all together now, repeat after me:
Keep it hot. Keep it clean. Keep it lubricated.
“Hi Steven,” writes Larry Greenly from Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Love your cookbooks.” Thanks, Larry.
“There’s an argument raging on the Food Lover’s Discussion Group about gas vs. charcoal grilling, which centers around whether the water given off when methane or propane is burned tends to ‘steam’ the underside of the meat (if you briefly hold a plate over a gas flame, you will see water condense at the rate of approx. 1.5 quarts per hour with a 40,000 BTU grill) unlike charcoal that has no water driven off. One side says gas is, in effect, ‘cooler’ than charcoal. What are your thoughts on the subject?”
I do agree that charcoal produces a dryer, hotter heat, and consequently better searing, but it takes a bit more work to cook on a charcoal grill than gas. So unless you master heat control when using live coals, you can quickly lose the charcoal advantage. Of course, when it comes to smoking, charcoal makes it a lot easier.
The new generation of gas “supergrills” like the Weber Summit, Viking, and Barbeques Galore Grand Turbo do get hot enough to sear steaks and chops the way we like them.
Bottom line: get both.
That’s all for now, folks.