Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 26 - Hot Smoke

I am not a "real" barbecue pit master. You know how I can prove it? I'm actually going to tell you how I smoke my meat, make my rub, and make my sauce.

Oooooh.. sacrelige. You may be reading my obituary in a few days when the elite pitmaster hit squads take care of me.

Well, down to business.

Simple Supermarket Rub
6 cups brown sugar
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup medium ground black pepper
1/2 cup garlic powder
1/2 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup ground hot mustard
1/4 cup cayenne powder
1/4 cup chipotle powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 cup celery salt
1/4 cup cumin
1/4 cup ground fennel
1/4 cup dried thyme
1/4 cup dried oregano

Costco Special Sauce
2 gallons ketchup (I GREATLY prefer Heinz here)
1 gallon prepared yellow mustard (I like Frenchs or Plochmans)
1 gallon Franks RedHot or Texas Pete (yep, we're cheating)
1 quart KC masterpiece or Texas longhorn sauce (cheating some more)
1 quart A1 steak sauce (and even more)
1 pint Dijon mustard (grey poupon is the convenient choice)
1 pint maple syrup, or dark molasses (optional, depending on how sweet you want it)
1 pint lemon, lime, or pineapple juice (in order of how sweet they are)
1 cup of the rub mixture above
1 cup Worcestershire sauce

Honestly, the whole mythical barbecue cult is hugely overblown. Smoking is no great mystery, it's just a process, like any other:
  1. Get good wood
  2. Make a good rub
  3. Pick good meat (meaning not so great in the conventional sense; but good for smoking)
  4. Tend your fire properly
No special technique necessary, no black magic, just time and patience.

Lots of time, and lots of patience... but that's for later. First let's talk about the rub and the sauce.

I call these the simple supermarket rub, and Costco sauce, because there isn't anything special in them. You can pick all of that stuff up at a local supermarket, and at Costco or Sams club (or if you want to make small batches of the sauce, not even that).

Yes, I can make a better rub, and I can damn sure make a much better sauce, but both require more interesting ingredients, and more time (specifically, brewing your own BBQ sauce can take hours over a stove; and in large batches requires a HUGE pot). These things anyone can throw together at any time, from just about any supermarket, and still make great barbecue.

Oh and you should note, I've made them with entirely even proportions for scaling up and down easily. I like to mix these things in big batches, because when you're smoking a lot, you'd be amazed with how much you use; and because it's actually easier to work with the large quantities (unless you've got a micro-kitchen anyway).

The prep for the sauce and rub is very simple.

First, get a great big bowl, dump all the dry rub ingredients together in it, and thoroughly mix it all together with your hands. Then store it in a large air tight container, with an opening large enough to conveniently grab handfuls out of, with enough headroom that you can shake the stuff up in it (to reduce clumping).

You absolutely need to keep it air tight, or the brown sugar will clump; but if you've got the sugar to spice balance right, in normal usage the stuff wont brick up or oxidize; and the rub can be kept for a few months.

Next up, buy yourself a clean, new, food grade five or seven gallon bucket (you can get them at any kitchen supply place)... or if you're cheap, just take any clean five gallon bucket and clean it with soap and water, and dilute bleach, and rinse the hell out of it. Oh and this recipe will COMPLETELY fill a five gallon bucket.

Dump in your watery liquids, dissolve the dry seasonings into them; then add the rest of the thick liquids except the syrup or molasses, stirring constantly with a gigantic spoon, paddle etc...

Finally, you're going to want to adjust the sweetness to taste, using the syrup or molasses.

It's a lot better if you let the flavors meld overnight; and it's a HELL of a lot better if instead of just mixing them in a bucket, you simmer them in a large kettle on the stove for at least 4 hours; 12 hours if you can manage it.

So, now that the sauce and rub are ready to go, its time to pick your meat.

Ooooooh boy.....

Now this is probably the most controversial topic in the whole of barbecuing... The second most controversial is probably "wet vs. dry", followed by "mustard, vinegar, or neither" or maybe "Molasses or brown sugar"... or maybe "Hickory, mesquite, or other"....

But I digress...


Most folks meat choices fall into one or more of the following:
  1. Pork ribs
  2. Beef ribs
  3. Pork butt
  4. Brisket
  5. Sausages
Those are certainly the classics; and I confess, I have a strong liking for all of them; but I suggest to you now, that you try other meats as well.

The reason those cuts work so well, is because they all have a fair bit of fat, and connective tissue (though chopped up in the case of the sausages) . The low and slow heat of the smoker melts the fats and softens the connective tissues; which keeps the meat juicy, and tenderizes it. At the same time, the softened fat and tissue absorb the aromatic and flavorful smoke.

Of course it doesn't hurt that in times past, those were also generally on the cheaper side of cuts; because up until recently, barbecue was mostly poor people food (which you might notice tends to be some of the tastiest stuff out there).

Unfortunately, the recent rise in popularity of real barbecue (as opposed to grilling, which uses hot and fast heat, and doesn't break down fats or connective tissues; thus is best suited to more tender, traditionally more expensive cuts) has made even brisket (which was once thought of as a cut only for stews, jews, and sharecroppers) MUCH more expensive.

Now, by extension of the above principles, most any cut of meat with a fair amount of fat and connective tissue can work well in the smoker. That means most meats that you would normally dry roast, or braise, will come out pretty good when smoked. Just make sure when you get yourself a roast, you get it with the fat cap still on; so the meat can self baste in the smoker.

Also, more delicate meats that absorb flavors well, like chicken, and fattier fish (salmon, tuna) take the smoke just fine; though you have to be more careful with your timing and temperature control.

Generally speaking, less fatty cuts don't work as well; because they tend to dry out. You can get around this, and smoke things like scallops, shrimp, and lean tenderloin to great effect, by applying the wonderful magic of bacon.

Mmmmmmmmmmm bacon.

Just wrap the bacon around whatever it is you want to smoke; and it will flavor, and baste the meat over time. Plus, the bacon tastes even better after a few hours bathed in aromatic wood smoke.

Really, everything is better with bacon.

Just last night, we diverged fomr the traditional, and had split (bone in) chicken breasts. Tonight we smoked a leg of lamb, and made lamb pitas (yes, they were VERY good).

Once you've got your meat picked, it's time for the wood.

Yep, another major controversy.

The first question really is what meat you're going to be smoking; because different meats work better with different woods. Generally speaking, the more delicate the meat, the more delicate the smoke you want; by which I mean the pungency of the smoke.

Fruitwoods generally have a lighter, more subtle smoke flavor; and are generally the best woods for fish, and other delicate meats. They aren't generally good as the only fuel for the smoker however.

Nutty hardwoods, like oak, walnut, almond, and pecan; have moderate amounts of somewhat heavier, more intense smoke, depending on the resin character, and moisture content of the wood.

When properly seasoned, the nutty hardwoods burn at a moderate to high temperatures, are easy to regulate the burn on; and when properly regulated, sustain an even burn for a long time, with a solid and long lasting coal bed.

Resinous hardwoods like mesquite produce an intense, thick, and voluminous smoke. Their resinous nature makes them best suited as an accent wood, rather than a primary fuel; and it takes a robust meat to stand up to their intense flavoring.

Softwoods in general are unsuited for smoking; unless they are EXTREMELY well seasoned. Their resins tend to produce unpleasant flavors in smoke (in fact, some are even toxic); and even if they didn't they tend to burn hot and fast, with ashy smoke.

The next question is what works well in your smoker. Some types limit your options, or require you to work around their particular characteristics. I won't go into details here, because every smoker is different.

So, just for purpose of argument, lets assume a baseline of beef brisket, with a sidebox, wood fired smoker.

Yes, there are gas and electric smokers out there if you didn't know; but you still need wood for the smoke (well... there are liquids that you can smoke, but I find them markedly inferior to real wood). Wood fire smoking is of course the traditional way; and if you're gonna need the wood anyway, might was well make it wood fired.

My personal preference, no matter what I'm going to use for a flavor wood; is to make a base fire of hardwood lump charcoal, and a neutral hardwood like white oak.

I use lump charcoal, because briquettes don't burn in as desirable a way; and the binders used in their manufacture can produce off flavors, and ashy smoke. I use the neutral hardwood as fuel, because it adds to the total smoke volume; as well as producing a moderate temperature, longer burning fire than just charcoal. I use the charcoal at all, because it initiates the smoke better, produces a better coal bed, and because it is easier to start and maintain a consistent fire with it.

As to flavor woods, I'm partial to hickory, pecan, and applewood. All have distinctive, but not overwhelming aroma and flavor; and all burn well, and are easy to regulate. In fact, all are suitable for use as the primary fuel wood as well, especially when used with charcoal.

I dislike the highly resinous hardwoods, like mesquite (unless you're going to cook the food in another way, and use the smoke as just a flavor accent); because they overwhelm all the other flavors and aromas of the meat you are smoking. To my mind, you should be tasting the meat, with the smoke as an accent (even if it's a strong accent); not the smoke, with the meat added in.

If you want to have a little something different, throw a handful of green, or lightly roasted coffee beans into the fire in the last 20 minutes or so of smoking. Yes, it smells as good as you think it will; but too long on the fire and it just smells burnt.

What else is there? I'd give you advice on time and temperature, but there are no hard and fast rules. Different meats, and different cuts, respond better to different temperatures; and obviously time and temperature are related. Also, some cuts are great done both hot and fast, or low and slow; producing to equally good, but different, results.

The only recommendation I'll give you here is, for meats or cuts that aren't fatty with a good amount of connective tissues; you want to be smoking to an internal temperature that matches medium rare for the meat. Anything higher, and it will probably dry out a bit more than is best. You can finish cooking wrapped tightly in foil, either in the smoker, or in your oven; and it won't dry out.

Oh and you need to get to an internal temperature of over 167 degrees, and stay there for at least an hour; if you want connective tissues to render out.

Best of luck.

Oh, and just for fun, here's a special bonus sauce for all y'all cajun boys:

Mix up a double batch of the spice rub above, and brew a big'ol (at least 10 6oz cups) pot of extra extra strength coffee (strong as you can make it without ruining it by overextracting or burning).

Put the coffee into a pot big enough to hold twice as much, heat it near to simmering, and then take the second batch of rub and dissolve it into the coffee.

Reduce the mixture to a thin syrup, take it off the heat, and then use that mixture to replace the A1 sauce, and the bottled barbecue sauce in the recipe above (preferably in the variant that involves simmering it on the stove).

If you don't like coffee (foul heathen), you can do the same thing with Coke, Dr. Pepper, wine, beef stock, or even a good dark beer (Guinness is traditional). Any flavorful liquid could do potentially; but I think it's best with liquids that combine some bitterness, with some sweetness, and some acidity.

Of course, if you're going that far, you might as well brew up your own scratch sauce, and skip over the ketchup, prepared mustard etc... Trust me, it's worth it.

And be sure to check out:

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 25 - That's a Spicy Polpette

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 24 - It's Meat, in Loaf Form
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 23 - Some Like it Hot
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 22 - Full Fat, Full Dairy, All Killer, No Filler
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 21 - Forget About the Dough Boy
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 20 - QDCBS (Quick and Dirty Chili Bean Stew)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 19 - Chicken Salmonella
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 18 - I'll give YOU a good stuffing turkey (1)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 16 - DTG (Damn That's Good) dip
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 15 - More Chocolate Than Cookie
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 14 - Millions of Peaches
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 13 - Mels 10,000 Calorie Butter Cookies
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 12 - Lard Ass Wings
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 11 - Bacon Double Macaroni and Cheese
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 10 - It's the meat stupid
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 9 - Labor Day Potatos
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 8 - It's a pork fat thing
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 7 - It may not be Kosher...
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 6 - Andouille Guiness Chili
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 5 - Eazza the Ultimate Pizza
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 4 - Two Pound Meat Sauce
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 3 - Highbrow Hash
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 2 - MuscleCarbonara
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 1 - More Beef than Stew