The second in a 2-parter about Smoking. The first post is over here if you need to catch up. Post one covers the smoker & basic process of smoking, this post is all about the meat.
Before I get into the ‘meat’ (ha! puns are fun!) of this post there was one thing I forgot to mention about the hardware in the 1st post – the grill to smoker conversion is a far from permanent one and that is the core reason that we love it. I hate unitasker machines when it comes to kitchen toys, you won’t find any in my kitchen that I can think of. The bullet smokers are only good for smoking, that makes it kind of a waste of space most of the time, partnered with my generally finding them annoying to work with I was bound to find a way to do it differently. The Weber is still a great charcoal grill and can be used as such whether you smoke in it or not, just don’t put the drip pan in. I leave the bottom grate foil lined, though, charcoal falling through the grates is irritating and not conducive to a hot grill. On to the meat!
Smoking serves a dual purpose – it adds a metric f@*k ton of flavor and slow cooks tough cuts of meat, breaking down muscle fiber, tough fat and sinew making it melt in your mouth tender. Hart contributes a 3rd, and perhaps the most important purpose in his mind – there is no better excuse for drinking while ‘cooking’ for 9 hours. He says the beer makes the bbq better. Riiiight.
I started with pork butt and recommend the same for anyone trying out smoking for the first time or just playing with a new smoker – pork butt is so much more forgiving than most, so temperature fluctuations and things like that don’t deeply effect the final product, as can be the case with beef, ribs or poultry. Pork butt gives a learning curve that lets you get a feel for how the smoker works, what you need to do with it while smoking and when. Not to mention it yields smoked pulled pork!
In very general terms most smoker meat is cheap – you CAN smoke more expensive cuts and I have, but it isn’t something that I would recommend for beginners. The better cuts of meat just aren’t fatty enough to stand up to low & slow smoking and end up dried out unless done right, a post for another day. The non-steak cuts, cuts coming from the front & back of the animal and not the center, are mainly what you want to smoke – think rump or butts, shoulders, brisket, leg – cuts and pieces that are heavy on the connective tissue and fat and would require long cook times, smoked or otherwise. If it is something that you would roast or braise forever on the stove or in the oven it is probably an ok thing to smoke as long as it comes in big pieces.
Ribs are the one exception to the cheap rule, but their price has little to do with the meat being so awesome, it has more to do with the difficulty of processing ribs while butchering. I am not a huge fan of ribs, truth be told, I have always preferred pulled pork – all the delicious of ribs minus those pesky bones. Hart loves ribs though, so I do make them upon occasion and will share the recipe and method when I do. Ribs are definitely not for amateur smokers, they require some finess and confidence with the equipment to get them right and the last thing you want to do is dump $50 on a couple racks to turn them into rib jerky…not that I’ve ever done that ;)
Pork butt is my cut of choice 98% of the time. It is, hands down, the best cut to use for perfect pulled pork. I get a whole, bone-in pork butt from my butcher. You probably won’t find a whole butt in the case, so ask. You pretty much want it exactly how they get it in – not trimmed, not cut, not anything. Occasionally, like the day we smoked this pork, he was out of whole so we got 2 halves instead. I wouldn’t go any smaller than the halves, they were about 5# each, and ended up a tad tougher than the whole one I usually do because of all the extra surface area exposed to the smoke. On the plus side there was double the amount of bark because there were two of them…so I think it was a draw in the end. Still was incredible, but I will go for the whole butt every time if that’s an option. Bone-in is aso my preference, anything cooked on the bone is better than the same thing cooked off the bone, that I guarantee.
The Bark. Probably the very bestest part of bbq. The bark is created with a dried spice & dark brown sugar rub that slowly caramelizes as the pork smokes creating this spicy, sweet, slightly sticky, pungent crust on the outside of the meat while also flavoring the inside. The bark is what bbq pit masters work so hard to create, it is a balancing act between sweet, salt, spice, time and heat; every pit master has their own super secret to their bark. I make a bazillion different dry rubs that I doubt are ever the same twice to use on things I grill or smoke. Most of my rubs for pork or red meat are dry, I think it crusts up better, but have seen some that incorporate wet ingredients, too, just not what I prefer. At a glance you may think ‘whoa salt!’ but remember the base is dark brown sugar so it has to be very PRESENT to do it’s job.
One last note before we get into it – smoking is not about cooking TO a temperature, it’s about cooking AT a temperature. I used to find it hilarious when a guy I worked with would ask what temperature the pulled pork was to be pulled out of the oven at – ‘when it’s done’ is not a temperature he understood. Most people, when cooking meat, are accustomed to the ‘it’s done when it reaches blahblah degrees’ school of thought – not possible here. You are cooking a piece of meat for about 9 hours at 200-225 degrees. The meat, after about 2-3 hours, is going to be around 200 degrees, how could it NOT be? That is well over what I would cook a pork loin to, but it doesn’t matter. The mission here is to maintain a relatively steady 200-225 degrees in the smoker and let all that connective tissue and fat break down. The pork needs to cook for at least 8 hours, that his how long breaking that tissue down takes no matter the size of the roast; for the 5-6# pieces I usually pull around 9 hours, the full 10-12# butts 10-11 hours total. It’s done when I can start to pull it apart easily, how long that takes is different every time. Plan your day accordingly. We usually start around 10am-11am, but we don’t like to eat until after 8pm.
If you think your neighbors might get offended by your smoker I doubt it, really, and not just because I happen to think bbq smells like heaven. The smoke stays mainly in the bowl of the grill, that is kinda the point, and escapes mostly when you take the lid off. My gas grill puts out more smoke than my smoker does, usually.
Dark Brown Sugar & Ancho Chili Dry Rub
- 1 cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 3 Tbsp Kosher Salt
- a lot of Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper (+/- depending on your tastes)
- 2 Tbsp Ancho Chili Powder
- 1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
- 3 Tbsp Dried Mustard Powder
- 1 Tbsp Granulated Garlic
- 1 Tbsp Granulated Onion
- 1 1/2 Tbsp Dried Oregano
- 2 tsp Ground Cumin
- 1 tsp Ground Coriander
- 1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until completely combined. I use a whisk or a fork usually. Rinse and pat dry the pork butt.
Pour 3/4 of the spice rub into a pan of some kind, I use a 9×13 roasting pan, and start to coat the pork butt completely. Every nook & cranny, every crack & crevice. Let it sit for a few minutes and the rub will start to get wet, keep rolling it around until all of the rub in the pan is on the pork. Go start your smoker.
When the smoker is set up and ready use the remaining dry to coat the pork with a dry layer and get onto the smoker immediately. You want a dry layer on there to help keep the rub from dripping off before the heat can start to cook it onto the pork. Transfer from the pan to the cooking rack and place the cooking rack on the smoker over the drip pan. Lid it quickly, adjust the vents and let it go for about half an hour. At that point check back and make any adjustments you might need to to the heat and smoke levels. After that check on it avery hour to hour & a half. For more specifics about the process & adjustments to the smoker refer to Smokin’ 1, please.
DO NOT TOUCH IT. Seriously. Leave it the hell alone. The only things you will need to do is lift the cooking grate off to re-up the coals and wood chips. Never should you touch or move the meat as it smokes. This is harder than it would appear. Resist the urge to mess with it. No good will come of it. The photo collage above is the progression. Starting top left with when it first went on and about every 2 hours after, you can see the bark darkening and caramelizing all the way up to the centered pic of the finished pork butts. That is not at all burnt, that is some brutally delicious caramelized bark. YUM!
When you can start to pull it easily, at least 8 hours if not more after you started it, remove it from the smoker to a platter, cover it with foil and let it rest for a good 20 minutes – your pork has had a rough day & needs a breather. After it has relaxed some shred by hand or slice, which ever works for you. You can sauce it if you like, but it really unnecessary, the bark has a sweet bbq flavor that is more than enough for me. Its also good on a bun…or not…again, whatever makes your mouth happy :)
This makes enough to feed 4-6, easily, but I dig the leftovers. I served with a mustard heirloom potato salad and some green veggies for a pre-cribbage bbq feast. I think next time I am going to save some of the fattier pieces to make some baked beans out of after loving the way it crisped up in a potato hash.
In my mind there is no better way to spend a warm day; catching whiffs of mouth-watering awesome while relaxing on the porch with a beer or four, putzing around the yard or porching with friends. Even if I say this is a good place for beginners to start, it is still the one I revisit most often because it’s my favorite.
On deck for smoking season – pastrami, homemade bacon, chickens, sausage and more swine!