Spring has sprung... the trees are leafy again... and apart from rain nearly every day for the last week and a half, the weather has turned nice.
One problem: I have a serious pork deficiency.
I sense the need for a barbecue sesson. My stomach demands it, my smoker demands it. As will my neighbors, when they get a whiff. And now that I'm more mobile, I think it's doable.
The 2008 Barbecue Season is going to be great.
See the bottom photo here?
Double it. That's what I pulled out of the smoker today.
And, daaaaayum, it is good... even if I do say so myself. I have absolutely mastered pork.
Now I have to work on my brisket skills.
This being a holiday weekend, as well as the weekend that most closely approximates my birthday, and following on the (relatively) good medical news I had last week, there seems to be only one appropriate way to spend the day tomorrow: cooking barbecue.
The meat — two large Boston butts — has been in brine all day, getting all yummied-up.
I'll be lighting the fire shortly after I get off work, sometime around 1am, I think. (Yes, I'm back at work after my brief hospital stay — more on that later.)
This time, I wised up and loaded the coals into the smoker before it got dark.
The tetanus-inducing coffee can you see in the center has a purpose; by letting the coals burn from the center out, the fire will stay low and last a long long time without replenishment. All I'll have to do is get the initial batch of coals lit in my chimney starter, then pour them in, and remove the coffee can.
I also pre-mixed smoking wood with the coals.
While the temperature in the smoker comes up to the desired range (I'm shooting for 225°) I'll prepare the butts with a good dry rub. My rub isn't secret... mainly because it's not an exacting recipe. It's really pretty generic, but it gives me results I like, and that's all that matters.
Once the cooker temperature stabilizes, I'll put the pork in the smoker, go to bed, and let the magic happen.
Update, 2:30am: It's on.
Barbecue season is finally arriving at my house. Other people have already been indulging themselves already, but I've been rather busy thus far in 2006.
Last night when I got home from work, the pork butts went into their brine, the brisket was rubbed, and the duck checked to make sure it had fully thawed. That should be enough meat to choke a velociraptor... but I'm not sure it'll be enough for my brother and his family, who arrive tomorrow afternoon/evening.
A few hours after I get home tonight, I'll light the coals, load the pork and brisket into the smoker, and go to bed for a few hours. Later on Monday, the duck will be poached for a while to render out as much of the fat as can be eliminated, then finished in the smoker.
You can find anything on the web, and my A-1 prize find this year so far is The Virtual Weber Bullet, essentially a fan club for folks like me who love their Weber smokers (just, not that way.) I plan to make good use of the tips and tricks I've found there — I've already replaced my water pan with something a bit bigger, and tonight I'll be using methods found there for extending the unattended burn time of the charcoal.
Reports to follow.
I may have to rethink my dislike of NPR, if they regularly come up with gems like this:
I believe in the art of generations of pit men working in relative obscurity to keep alive the craft of slow smoking as it's been practiced for as long as there's been fire. A barbecue cook must have an intimate understanding of his work: the physics of fire and convection, the hard science of meat and heat and smoke -- and then forget it all to achieve a sort of gut-level, Zen instinct for the process.Oh, yeah.
There Is No Such Thing as Too Much Barbecue by Jason Sheehan, on "All Things Considered"
Hey, it's the Fourth of July. You ought to have expected this.
Seven pounds of Boston Butt (suitably brined and rubbed) in there.
It's times like this when I really feel sorry for my observant Jewish friends with their proscription against pork. I'd say it was unfair, but for the fact that when G-d speaks, you pretty much have to listen. But y'know, you can smoke beef and poultry, and I recommend it. It's not barbecue, but it is pretty darn good.
About a year ago, I coined the expression "smoking like Mount St. Helens on vacation in Jamaica."
Was I wrong? I think not.
I was going to cook barbecue yesterday, New Year's Day, I swear I was. But due to circumstances beyond my control, the smoker didn't get lit.
Well, OK, the circumstances were entirely within my control — I overslept, and thus didn't get the smoker lit in the morning. A morning lighting is required to allow enough time for the smoker to do it's job properly if you want to actually eat before, say, 9pm.
But I really needed the sleep.
Last night I made sure to set my alarm clock. As a result, my own little Vesuvius has already been belching smoke for a couple of hours today, and there's a nice slab of brined and spice-rubbed pig inside, giving its all for my gustatorial delight.
Maybe I should spend my free time today learning to make good hushpuppies.
Update, 7:30pm: Yuuummmm.
Has it already been a week since Election Day? It hardly feels like it. It's finally over.
Now what am I supposed to do?
OK, OK, I was not an "election blogger," as such, despite my involvement with Blogs For Bush. I mainly did (and still do) the behind-the-scenes techy geeky stuff; I wrote very little over there. So it's not like I have to change gears and come up with a new schtick here.
Similarly, I've not been a "warblogger," per se. Yes, I'm a Milblogger and yes, I support the war; I'll even write something about it occasionally. I was indeed inspired (to some degree) to start blogging by the then-impending conflict in Iraq. But it's not my biggest reason for being here.
At least, I think not. I'll save the introspection for another time. Live-blogging my thought processes is bound to make me look like an idiot.
Since I consider myself dependant neither on the war nor on the election for my daily bloggery, I can continue with my little band of blog-friends and readers... I think. Writing about barbecue, for instance, will never get old for me, but reading about it...? Y'all would have to be pretty dedicated. Or committed.
I will, however, remain involved with B4B as it evolves.
The Commissar has a few thoughts on the post-election self-cleansing of the blogosphere — definitely worth reading.
... will be going straight down my gullet.
I lit the coals at about 9:30 this morning, gave the piggy (which brined overnight, of course) its rubdown and had it in the cooker by 10:30. Got home from church just after noon, and the temperature was still right on the money. All I had to do was add more wood chunks for smoke. Sitting there on the deck, smoking like Mount Saint Helens on vacation in Jamaica, it looks marvelous:
Cooking barbecue the natural way, with charcoal — the way it was meant to be cooked — isn't as hard as some people (e.g., those who swear by electric smokers) would have you believe.
It only takes a couple years of practice and anyone could do it, I suspect. But don't try it and then get all big-headed about it — my barbecue kung fu will always be better than yours.
Seriously. I will not tolerate dissent. Especially not from my brother.
- The piggy: 1 (one) 6-pound Boston Butt roast. No, I don't know why a shoulder cut is called a "butt."
- The brine: sugar, salt, bourbon, blackberry brandy, Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar, and one or two extras which shall remain nameless.
- The rub: kosher salt, sugar, onion powder, various chili pepper powders, garlic powder, black pepper, and one or two other spices which shall remain nameless.
- The water pan: water, bourbon, and blackberry brandy.
- The heat source: natural wood chunk charcoal, of course. No briquets for this guy. Electricity? Feh... that's for amateurs.
- The smoke source: damp chunks of hickory.
- The work involved? At this point, all I have to do is periodically check that smoke is actually being generated, and once an hour check the temperature (and add charcol chunks, if necessary). Easy as pie.
It's not work, it's Art... and this is what you get:
Eat your heart out, Steve.
Since the flamethrower incident last week, I've worn a bandage on my hand, putting on a fresh batch of antibiotic & gauze each day. I could tell it was healing nicely, so yesterday I left the bandage off. The scars of the scorching were still there (they aren't really too awful), and the skin was still a bit tender, but the blistering appeared to have gone away. That antibiotic ointment had really done the trick.
I went out to give the lawn a much-overdue mowing. It was a beautiful sunny day, temperature around 85°. Took maybe 45 minutes or so.
Apparently, however, it's not a good idea to expose recently-scorched skin to the sun. Big ugly blisters had sprung back up, so it's back to the bandage for me.
Well, at least I can still cook a fresh batch of barbecue. It's a bigger piece of pig than I usually cook, in the brine since last night. I'll start the fire shortly and let it smoke for a couple hours longer than usual.
Steve is cooking today, too. I have got to meet the man sometime; even though he uses an electric smoker, I imagine we could trade ideas on good barbecue.
Time to go get the fire lit....
Yesterday I fired up my smoker. The pork shoulder was brined and seasoned/rubbed, the weather was perfect, and I had a real hankerin' for barbecue.
About an hour into the cooking, I noticed that smoke was not issuing forth as it ought to have done. A glance at the thermometer showed the temperature was falling. So naturally, I grabbed a handful of hardwood charcoal chunks and opened the hatch.
Ever see the movie "Backdraft"?
The charcoal and wood-chunk fire had apparently been starved of oxygen (I later realized that I had not opened the vents. Dumb mistake.) Meanwhile, flammable fumes had apparently built up in the smoker... helped, I would imagine, by alcohol from the bourbon added (for flavor, of course) to the water pan inside.
I opened the hatch... letting in the aforementioned oxygen.
For just a fraction of a second, flame shot out of the opening. Even as brief as it was, it resembled the exhaust of an F-14's jet engine on afterburner. Fire like that could have done some damage if it had been directed at something flammable.
Fortunately, my hand was in the right place to keep the flame from escaping into the wild.
Result: almost no hair left on my arm. Oh, and there's also the little matter of first and second degree burns on my hand and wrist.
Everything I know, I learned in the Army. My old drill sergeant would have been proud of me as I applied my first-aid training. Either that, or he'd have been berating me as an idiot, I'm not sure which... but I probably deserved both.
So now I'm keeping my hand smeared in antibiotics and bandaged up. What a nuisance. This post took nearly an hour to type.
But the barbecue was amazing.
 Yes, everything.
I began the day yesterday with a bit over 10 pounds of brined, uncooked pork.
After cooking, there were about 8 pounds of barbecue for the party last night. I didn't think we'd need it all, and I was right.
15 people ate about 6 pounds of barbecue - almost half a pound each. I'd call that a success.
Oh, my. Oh, my. Oooh, my....
That's some good barbecue.
Oh boy, the barbecue smells good.
Temperature is right on the money... 235°... perfect.
I can barely stand the wait. Only an hour to go....
So far, so good. 240°. I'd like that to come down a little.
I've fed the smoker about 10 pounds of charcoal so far - that seems like a lot, but then I realize, it's been going for 7 or 8 hours. Not bad.
I could use a nap. This "getting up before 7am" stuff is for the birds - and tonight's party will undoubtedly go until 1 or 2 in the morning (not that that's a bad thing :-)
231°, and all's well.
The sad thing about having to tend the smoker....
What am I saying? Spending a day tending a smoker is as good as it gets!
Tonight is the party a bunch of us are having for the Independence Day weekend. Ya, ya, yesterday was the Fourth, but the party is tonight.
As previously discussed, I'm providing the barbecue.
Yesterday, I brined the newly-acquired pork.
Note: barbecue is pork. Not beef, not chicken - pork. Furthermore, "barbecue" is not a verb, it is a noun. You "cook barbecue" and "eat barbecue," you do not "barbecue some hamburgers" or steaks or hotdogs. You grill those particular foods. (They're good, oh yes, but they are not barbecue.) A backyard event where cooking is done is a "cookout" or a "pig-pickin'", not a barbecue.
Furthermore, barbecue implies low and slow - low temperatures - I try for between 225° and 250° - for a long time - all day, in this case. Yes, you can grill pork - a grilled pork loin chop is excellent - but it's not barbecue.
Sorry, got off track there.... So anyway, I brined the pork in salt- and molasses-laden icy water. A 12-hour bath, guaranteed to pump up the flavor of the pork. Went to bed.
Got up at 6:45 this morning. Egads, what a surprise - I can't think of the last time I was up this early on a Saturday. I even managed to wake up before the alarm clock annoyed me out of my sleep. Made a pot of coffee.
Lit the real-wood-chunk charcoal at about 7:30. There's something almost transcendental about building a fire in the cool of the morning with a good hot cup of coffee in hand.
While the coals were settling into their home in the bottom of the smoker, I applied a rub to the pork. No, I won't tell you what's in the rub. Well, there's chili powder, but that's all I'm saying.
By 8:30 the coals had settled down to a comparatively gentle and steady glow, I added mesquite chunks for the smoke to start the day with - I'll be finishing later with hickory - and inserted the pork.
As of right now, the temperature in the smoker is holding steady at 237°. Perfect.
I have to check it periodically - can't let the coals die. It's going to be a long day, but so well worth it.
I think I've had my punishment for threatening olfactory crimes towards grieving relatives at my deathbed some (many) years hence. [Not, mind you, that I am eager to be on my deathbed, but I figure if you have to go, go out with style (as opposed to class).]
Punishment, indeed. But allow me to fill in the backstory a bit.
Last week, we had (as we in North Carolina are wont to do) a thunderstorm or two roll through the area. The power went out for a while - I was working at home that day, and I still can't get out of my head the bloody annoying alarm sound of the battery backups for my computers & network.
Power was shortly restored - a matter of only five minutes or so - and after I reset all the non-backed up clocks in the house I got back to work and forgot all about it.
(Aside: when the power goes out, I have to reset the microwave oven, the regular oven, the internal clocks on the TVs, an alarm clock, and the clock on my stereo. How hard would it be for gizmo makers to include minimal battery backup? I wonder if APC makes batteries suitable for backing up a whole house?)
So anyway, power was back and I gave it no more thought. Until yesterday. But I'm getting ahead of myself again....
Are you all looking forward to the upcoming Independence Day holiday weekend as much as I am? There are only three "non-religious" holidays that I really care about. New Year's Day? Bah. Arbor Day? Feh. Labor Day? Humbug.
Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day. Sacrosanct.
This year (as last) my next-door neighbors are hosting the neighborhood festivities, and it's my job to provide the barbecue, for which purpose I had stowed a couple of whole pork loins in the freezer in the garage (along with the usual supplies of frozen vegetables, chicken, a duck, etc.)
So yesterday evening, while taking a break from lawn-mowing, I chatted with the "other-side" next-door neighbor about the upcoming party and about my upcoming porcine contribution. I've developed something of a reputation in the neighborhood for my barbecue -- I practice a lot, the reviews are universally favorable, and frankly I do like my own cooking....
We got to talking about the barbecue specifically -- how the whole neighborhood knows when Russ has fired up the smoker -- and my neighbor asked about the pork I had stashed for the event: how big was a whole loin, how long it would have to smoke before being fit for human consumption, that sort of thing. So we went to the freezer in the garage to haul one out and have a look. Opened up the freezer chest and...
As the lid/door opened, my eyes began to water, my gorge rose, and buzzards began dropping from s**t-wagons in a 5-mile radius.
There was no frost accumulated in the freezer.
The sides of the freezer were not warm, but almost hot to the touch. (It had been about 90° all day.)
The "power" light was off.
I quickly slammed the lid shut and, professional troubleshooter that I am, began to analyze the problem. Was the freezer plugged in? Yes. Maybe the outlet was faulty... quick test with a power tool said "no juice here." Dang? What was wrong? The circuit breakers were all good-to-go.... Could it be....
Damn. The whole garage is on a Ground Fault Interrupt circuit... and the circuit had cut off. The indicator winked mockingly at me from the other side of the garage.
Remember that power outage I mentioned?
I reset the GFI and sure enough, the freezer began humming merrily, blithely unaware of the diabolical wrongness contained within its metal walls.
Now it all came together. The power outage taking out the GFI circuit, followed by a week of warm and/or hot weather, combined with a metal box full of meat -- all adds up to a stench the like of which I have never before experienced (and I've lived in Korea, where stench takes on whole new nuances of meaning.) It was more than just an odor - it filled the garage, permeating my clothes and sticking to my skin. I had touched the inside of that freezer, I had felt the formerly-frozen contents thereof. I felt unclean.
What to do about it?
I couldn't just leave it like that. Then it struck me - Thursday (today) is trash day! My salvation was just around the corner. I resolved to load all the rot into the trash and let the town deal with it. After a couple hours of re-freezing (I was hoping that might knock down some of the smell -- it didn't, not perceptably), I ventured out and -- with held breath -- transferred the contents of the freezer to my trashcan, and wheeled the whole mess out to the curb. I had to hope that the local fauna would leave it alone. Then, into the house for a long soapy shower.
Those poor garbagemen - they must think I've finally disposed of Jimmy Hoffa. I expect I'll be receiving scrutiny for the next few missing-persons investigations in the county.
I'm out about $150 in frozen food, I still have to clean the freezer out completely (yes, there was some "leakage") and I still need to prep for the barbecue for the 4th of July.
So maybe there's a lesson here for me -- maybe I shouldn't threaten my aforementioned grieving relatives with olfactory torture.
Then again, maybe I've earned the right.