Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A New Smoker & A Quick Weeknight Cook

I'd been working with an old, inexpensive offset smoker for years. With a number of modifications I'd figured out how to get it to produce some pretty good BBQ. But, by virtue of it's cheap materials and how it was constructed it was horribly inefficient, it had seriously broad temperature variations in the cooking chamber, and it was very difficult to maintain reasonably consistent temperatures.  All of which should be expected of any of this sort of "Cheap Offset Smoker". See HERE for an detailed explanation as to why.

So decided to bite the bullet and purchase a quality offset smoker designed to run purely on wood or a "Stickburner" as they are called by the broad BBQ community. The type of smoker I was looking for had to be made of 1/4" thick steel, have reasonably consistent internal temps or a means of controlling/adjusting them and meet my expectations for quality workmanship. I'd considered a pellet smoker but decided that I rather enjoy the process of tending to the fire. Also of concern was the number of potential failure points in a pellet smoker what with electronic controls, motors, electric igniters etc. I shopped around, asked a bunch of questions on various forums and decided to purchase a 36" Lang Patio Model . It has just about the same total internal space as my previous smoker, but due to the consistent internal temps it has much more actual useable space. On the old cooker ~1/3 of the space was far too hot to use.

Most cookers in this category use tuning plates to control the internal temperature. The Lang however is a reverse flow design that provides the same result without having to adjust tuning plates relative to the temperature you wish to cook at. I was able to speak directly with the owner of the company, Ben Lang, who answered all of my questions and even made some custom modifications to the smoker that I wanted. The lead time from order to delivery was about 4wks and while the shipping wasn't cheap, it worked out to less than $1 per pound. I couldn't ship a pound of CA Apricots to Georgia for less than that. Every person I dealt with at Lang was really pleasant to deal with and they provided a very nicely constructed smoker at a price I felt good about.

So....how does it work? Well, I'm still learning the tricks of maintaining lower temperatures consistently, but I have done a few cooks using what some call "Hot & Fast" (~300deg) cooking rather than the more common "Low & Slow" (~225deg). The results thus far have been pretty great.

Above is a slab of St. Louis Cut pork ribs I cooked last night. The color is mostly a function of the rub that I use. My ribs come out a bit on the dark side because of it regardless of which temp/time I use. But this is home BBQ and not "Competition BBQ" so I feel no need to shoot for that weird glossy red/pink color that seems to dominate "Competition BBQ". They were cooked just to the point that the bark fractures when the rack is subjected to bending.

As you can see in the photo below the smoke ring is rather subtle. I don't know if this is a function of the "Hot & Fast" process, or if it's because I used Apple wood for the cook. I'll have to do some investigation on that, but it didn't impact the flavor at all. The Apple provided a light-sweet smoke flavor that went very well with the Caribbean Jerk inspired rub that I use for pork. 

What you can't see is how tender and juicy the ribs were. While most people think "fallin off tha bone" is the mark of good BBQ, it is actually more desirable to have the ribs cooked to the point where there remains a tiny bit of tooth to the meat such that when you take a bite you get only the bite and the rest of the meat doesn't slip off the bone, slap you in the chin and leave pork grease in your goatee. It's a tough mark to hit, especially if you are cooking a bunch of ribs at the same time as the level of "doneness" will vary from rack to rack. But when you hit it, it's awesome.

I served the ribs with a quick Mac & Cheese that I whipped up and I'll drop the recipe in below.

Mac & Cheese

  • Saucepan
  • Pasta Boiling Pot
  • Baking Dish (10")

  • 5tbsp butter
  • 4tbsp flour
  • 4c Milk
  • 1/2lb Cavatappi Pasta
  • 1.5c English Cheddar (grated)
  • 1.5c Gruyere (grated)  
  • 2Tbsp of your favorite Hot Sauce (I like Palo Alto Firefighters Pepper Sauce)
  • Salt & Pepper
In the saucepan, make a simple bechamel using the butter, flour & milk. Add the hot sauce and salt & pepper to taste and set aside the bechamel sauce. Boil the pasta and reserve ~1/2c of the pasta water before draining. Fold the bechamel and grated cheese into the pasta, add a bit of the pasta water if needed to keep things creamy & moist. Spray your baking dish with a bit of Pam or butter it then pour the pasta, sauce, cheese mix into the dish. As an option you can top the dish with more cheese or a buttered breadcrumb topping, I prefer it without either. Bake at 400deg until bubbly and the top begins to brown. 

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