Tuesday, May 15, 2012

BBQ Blues

I freakin love BBQ. Not grilling mind you, that's a whole 'nuther deal. I'm talking about BBQ. Cheap cuts of meat turned into amazing, moist, juicy, lip-smacking good stuff by means of a long, slow, low-temperature cook...and a bit of smoke for good measure. I'm far from an expert on the matter, the guy who runs this website/blog however is: http://www.amazingribs.com/  If you are looking to learn "how to smoke some meat" that is the best place to start. 

I'd characterize myself as more of an enthusiast. My smoker is nothing special but I've made a few modifications to it so it works far better than it ought. My recipes aren't traditional nor are they particularly original either. But I've put a little spin on things here and there to tweak them to my taste and that of my friends....who seem to like the end result.

Last weekend we hosted a going away party for a very close friend who is taking a temporary work assignment out of state and we were expecting ~25 guests. That's a lot of people to cook for no matter what you are cooking, but BBQ is IMO a bit easier to manage because the quantity of meat that can be produced at once is rather high and it allows ample time to do other things around the house while the smoke is going on. 

I fired up the smoker at about 8:30am to get it up to temperature (225deg F) meanwhile, we'd pulled the brisket out of the fridge to let it come up to "room temperature" a bit before going into the smoker.

That's 15lbs of beef pectoral muscle. Tough as boot leather as it sits now due to all the connective tissue and the sheer density of the muscle fibers. I'd prepped it the night before by trimming off a few bits of silver-skin here and there, cross-hatching the fat cap to help it render out a bit better and get my spice rub closer to the meat. The rub I use for brisket is not "traditional" but since I'm cooking for myself and my friends and not a BBQ competition (yes, those exist) I don't particularly care. After a few experiments I've settled on a base of a commercial Chipotle pepper spice mix that I get from a small company in New Mexico to which I add a healthy dose of garlic, ground sun-dried tomato and a few other things that I've added to tweak it to my preference. It's not particularly "hot" but it ads a nice flavor that compliments the richness of the beef without overpowering it. I find that it goes really well with this sauce recipe: http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/BBQ_sauces/texas_BBQ_mop-sauce.html I don't screw with the sauce recipe at all. It's perfect the way it is. Before I apply the rub I smear the brisket with a bit of olive oil. Many of the components of the rub are fat soluble and as I've learned, this aids the transfer of the flavor to the meat.

The brisket went on at about 9:30am and I "expected" roughly 10hrs of cooking time. I put that in quotations on purpose because this isn't an exact science. The density of the tissue and the relative quantities of fat, water and connective tissue all contribute to extend or truncate the cooking time. In short, there really is no way to know how long it'll take. In "cooking" 1hr per lb sort of formulae work. In BBQ they don't. Once it goes in the smoker the temp comes up pretty steadily until around 150deg F then stops. This is referred to as "the stall" which is commonly thought to be the result of collagen melting but this has be proven to not be the case http://www.amazingribs.com/tips_and_technique/the_stall.html it's evaporative cooling. In this case that stall lasted close to 5hrs. This can be somewhat maddening but it's necessary to the process. There are ways to push through this, but I've yet to master them so I have to ride it out because I don't like to experiment when I'm cooking for guests. This will drive your significant other a bit batty if they have an expectation of having dinner on the table at a specific time. 

Additionally, this particular cook presented an additional wild card in the form of a secondary stall at about 190deg F. I've no idea what that was all about but I've a few new gray hairs as a result.

In addition to the brisket I also threw a few racks of baby-back pork ribs into the smoker as well. I use a different rub on these that is essentially a mild "Caribbean Jerk" seasoning. I find that the sweet/spicy mix with a heavy dose of the botanical herb flavors goes really well with pork. I like it so much that I rarely if ever put sauce on mine. Some of my guests though do really seem to like it with this Eastern Carolina Style sauce http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/BBQ_sauces/lexington_dip.html or this KC Style sauce http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/BBQ_sauces/kansas_city_classic_BBQ_sauce.html  Like I said, I prefer them dry but I do like the Carolina sauce quite a bit. I don't care for the KC style but lots of folks do seem to like it. I think it just has a flavor profile that people tend to associate with BBQ in general though it is a specific regional style of sauce. 

I don't screw around with internal temperatures when I cook my ribs. I've found when I cook them dry as I do that a simple test works every time. I grab the rack with both hands (I wear rubber gloves when handling the meat) and flex the rack. When the bark on the outside begins to split when flexed they are done. It usually takes about 4hrs at 225deg F to get there...give or take a bit. Many folks will wax poetic about "fall off the bone" pork ribs. I find that to be overcooked. I think there should be a little tooth to them.  

The rub I use yields a very dark exterior bark. It almost looks charred but it's the caramelized sugars from the jerk seasoning. I dig it. The texture is just right with a bit of chewiness to the bark and really tender (but not overcooked) juicy meat. Yeah...I'm pretty proud of the way these turn out.

Coloring looks entirely different through a friends camera below. Odd.

...and here is a photo of the finished and carved brisket. It was arranged neatly on the platter but our guests tore into it before I could get my hands washed and grab my camera.

Apropos of nothing, here is my cheapo smoker. Dubbed "The Meat Train" by a close friend.
Which inspired the following........

It's a little known fact that Johnny Cash originally wrote Folsom Prison as a radio jingle for a Tuscaloosa BBQ joint. Here's the original lyrics, click play and sing along: 

BBQ Blues 

I smell that meat train burnin', A fire I gotta tend 
I ain't had no brisket, since I don't know when 
I'm stuck in porkless prison, my hunger growin strong 
I'll keep that meat train rollin, till my ribs are done... 

Whenever I got hungry, My Mama told me, "Son, 
Always be a fine host, put the pulled pork on good buns," 
But I shot a hog near Fresno, Just to fry his hide, 
When I smell that meat train burnin', I push the salad aside. 

I bet there's rich folks eatin', truffles and foie gras, 
They're probably drinkin' fine wine, And actin all bourgeois, 
But that ain't how I'm livin', I'd rather have a beer, 
And keep that meat train burnin', with some good friends near. 

Once outta porkless prison, my fingertips'll shine, 
With the grease off some pork ribs, and a little bit of brine, 
Let's bust outta porkless prison, and let our diet stray, 
and let that cloud of wood smoke, carry our Blues away. 

.......I might have made up all or part of that.

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