Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bespoke Poke Smoke

Carolina barbecue. It's pork. On this side of the state they use vinegar and hot sauce. Its pulled or shredded. Fine. That recipe has potential. But I have a complaint. Most barbecue places I've visited since I moved here don't bother smoking their meat, you guys. I know. Now I'm going to be charitable and assume this is because I've been going to the wrong places, and not because Carolina doesn't bother with smoke. If there's one thing this part of the country excels at, it's overindulging on meat and smoking. So, just to be sure we're on the same page, here is my tribute to Carolina barbecue.

Step 1: Buy your meat. In Texas we prefer brisket, but here the go-to cut is pork shoulder. Either a picnic cut or Boston butt will do. I picked the butt (which is really the front of the shoulder) because it's more conducive to puns.

Step 2. Marinate. The night before you cook, soak your butt (see?!). I use a combination of apple juice, apple cider vinegar, worcestershire sauce, smashed garlic cloves, olive oil, some citrus juice (this time I had some old limes laying around), a dash of hot sauce, sugar, and salt. I also had some white wine that I needed to use, but don't tell anyone I foo-fooed my barbecue with it. This is really more an art than a science, so as long as you have some acid, sugar, and salt, be a Picasso, man.

Step 3. Rub. After a soak, you need to take your butt out of the buttjuice (how fun is this?) and pat it dry with paper towels. Then liberally massage with your choice of dry rub. The point of dry rub is that a slow cooking piece of meat will exude all kind of juices, which will wash off most liquid sauces and junk. A good firm rub will get into the cracks, and dissolve INTO the juices, penetrating the meat. I use a mixture of brown sugar, salt, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne. For the pork, I added some cumin.

Step 4. Smoke. Smoke is the essence of barbecue. Without smoke, barbecue is something else. It's meat cooked outside. Now, a brisket or pork shoulder is a nasty piece of meat, filled with connective tissue, fat, collagen, and elastins. If you were to just grill it, it would be tought, spongy and gross. BUT. If you cook it slowly (like all day) over low heat, all that hoary gristly nasty melts away into sweet sweet nectar. The key is to cook your meat 90 minutes / pound at around 200-250 F. again, when you cook something for 9 hours, it's more of an art than a science, and these cuts of meat are forgiving.

Now, you could do the whole cooking time in the oven, but that's just a roast. I'm not you're Aunt Betty. I don't make roasts. Conveniently, a smoker will produce low levels of heat while bathing your butt in delicious carcinogenic vapor.

I don't have a proper smoker, but I do have a large charcoal grill. Here's my setup:

One one side, I have a small mound of coals, covered in woodchips. On the other side, the meat. If I place the lid on, and the vent open above the meat (not above the chips), the air current carries a stream of smoke over the meat constantly.

Ignore the lighter fluid, it plays no meaningful role in this process.

Periodically, I have to put new soaked wood chips on the pile of embers to keep things going. Wet chips smoke more and last longer. Soak your chips for an hour in water. I found that an extra couple charcoal briquettes every hour keeps the embers from going out.

Keep the smoke going as long as possible. I have problems keeping it up. There, I've said it. Usually, my embers die out before the meat is done. Finishing in the oven is nothing to be ashamed of, it hapens to lots of guys. As long as your meat has had 4-6 hours of smoke. But ideally, you'll do the whole thing in the smoke.

As of 10:35 am this pork butt is about 30% done. Notice the deep purplish color. Smoke reddens a meat, and then blackens it. This should be as black as coal when it comes off the rack. Not charred, but coated in pleasure.

Carolina style pulled pork is then shredded, served with a vinegar sauce, and sometimes put on buns. But if you've smoked and rubbed it appropriately, the sauce will be for the Philistines.

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