Spring is in the air, yeah, it’s not official yet, but the dogwoods a buddin’ and the buttercups a bloomin’ tell me one thing loud and clear “It’s that time of year!”. Time to get outside and breathe in that fresh air and just be thankful for another beautiful morning. Now that I’m no longer sick and tired, I enjoy going outside if only to see what’s blooming. Gathering eggs is no longer a dreaded chore, now it is movement with purpose.
Spring, along with summer and fall also remind me that being stuck in the kitchen for meal preparations is an option rather than a requirement. Over the years I’ve grown to love cooking outdoors. It all started with the grill, but it didn’t end there. One summer we bought a little smoker that has since evolved into the one “appliance” I just can’t live without.
First things first, most people will tell you that it is the sauce that makes the barbecue. Don’t be fooled by the hype, sauce is only a cover-all for sub par barbecue. The make it or break it is dependent on 3 things, 1. the wood, 2. the meat, 3. the rub.
Step 1: Start with a good hard wood. I like hickory, oak, apple, and cherry. Since I seem to be able to acquire more hickory and oak than apple or cherry, hickory and oak are my smoking woods of choice.
Men make fire building look easy, but it’s not. There is a method to their madness, but they don’t like to tell their secrets. The secret is to be nosy, pay attention, and ask a lot of questions. (men don’t like a lot of questions, so when faced with telling the secret or answering numerous questions, sooner or later they dish us the scoop.)
Start with a little wood, small stuff, kindling. Make a small pile and then stand up more kindling on end like a teepee. Light the small pile and blow. It won’t take long for your teepee to become lit. Once this happens, using oven mitts or tongs, put a couple larger pieces of wood on top.
Step 2: The meat. Just like the melt in your mouth baby back ribs, choose a Boston Butt with a thick layer of fat.
Step 3: The rub. Some lovingly refer to me as a control freak when it comes to rubs. I’d have to agree because I like to know what I’m putting on the food that will eventually find it’s way to my mouth. My rub ingredients for this day were 1T seasoned salt, several grinds of fresh cracked black pepper, 1t chili powder, 1t onion powder, 1t garlic powder, 1t lemon pepper, and 1T regular sugar, all mixed up in a finger bowl to prevent cross contamination.
Step 1: Dry your meat with paper towels.
Step 2: Rub a little lemon juice all over the meat.
Step 3: Generously sprinkle rub all over the entire hunk of meat.
Step 4: Rub it in, making sure to get some in all the nooks and crannies.
Once you’ve got your fire built and rubbed your butt (yep, you paid for it, it is your butt now haha) go outside and check your fire. (It is also a good time to shut the door of your smoker box) As the fire dies down a bit more smoke is produced and that’s exactly what we want. We also want a bit of moisture, so if your smoker has a container of sorts in the bottom of the smoke box, fill it with water or mixture of water and fruit juice. After a few uses, you will have a seasoned bowl of “gruel” and really not have to worry about it until a couple times a year when you clean it out and start over.
Another good tip is to keep a bucket of water beside your smoker box. Place some wood in the water so you have damp wood to add periodically to your smoke box. (Do not start with damp wood, it’s hard to light, add it to your hot coals or your existing fire as needed to increase the smoke or keep the heat stable)
As we all know with ovens, when the door is open, we lose heat. The same is true with smokers. Smoking meat is already a timely process without adding extra time by peeking. To save time, we want our meat to work for us. When placing meat in the smoke box, always place it fat side up. This way the fat renders all over and through the meat on it’s way to the bottom of the box. This is an example of self basting. It saves us time because we are not having to open the door each hour to brush the meat. It makes it taste better because the meat is being basted in its own fat.
Shut the smoker door and pour yourself a cup of coffee. Pat yourself on the back because now you’re cookin’ with fire!
The hard part is over, you’ve got smoke and your meat is on it’s way to becoming something dreams are made of. Be sure to stay close, pull some weeds from your flower beds, or just play with the dog. Keep an eye on your thermometer at least every hour. If your smoke box temp drops below 250°, add a little damp and a little dry wood. If after a few hours of watching and adding more wood as needed your temp creeps up to 300°, well then it’s a good time check your meat.
You don’t want to leave the smoker door open for long. Always have a spray bottle or a small jar of water ready, so that you’re not wasting time or losing smoke.
Once you’ve poured or sprayed a little water on the meat, close the door. Check your temperature and add a little damp wood if needs be.
Some people like to check the temperature of their meat each time they open the door. Me, I leave it alone. All those little holes will do is let out the flavor you’ve worked so hard to keep in, and that not only results in less flavor, but also tougher meat.
With an 8 pound butt, I like to pull it out of the smoker and gently wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil at the 7 hour mark. (a little over an hour per pound, so let’s say about 9 1/2 hours total for this big guy)
You can see in the photo how the fat is shrinking and more meat is being exposed. Wrapping it for the remainder of it’s time in the smoker (the last couple hours) helps keep all those tasty juices inside.
After 9 1/2 hours in the smoker, this big guy is ready to come inside. Use oven mitts to remove it from the smoker, placing it on some sort of tray to bring it inside. It is at this point you can check the temperature. Stick the thermometer in the thick part, but not at the bone. You are looking for a temperature between 140° and 160°. Once you’ve checked the temperature, wrap it back up. Let is sit for a good 20 minutes and put on some gloves before pulling.
Once you’ve pulled your pork, pour a little of the juices over it. This is especially helpful when freezing the left overs. If you freeze it dry, it will re-heat dry. Keeping the fat and adding the juices to your freezer bags will help make the leftovers just as good as the original.
I leave you today with a picture of the finished product. Out of 8+ pounds of raw Boston Butt, we tend to get about 6 pounds of edible awesomeness. Pouring those juices over the meat made for great leftovers even after being in the freezer. Like the ribs, sauce is an option, not a requirement. I must warn you though, if you come to my house for pulled pork and ask for sauce I’m liable to hand you a bottle of apple cider vinegar and a bottle of hot sauce with a funny look on my face!