Wednesday, April 11, 2012


11 April 2012

I love the smell and taste of smoked meat and I love the process of smoking food. I love making fire and at O’dark thirty this morning I am cranking up my smoker for the first time this year. This is major excitement for me!!!! I will be smoking up a 10 pound Pork Butt for some good ol’ Pulled Pork sandwiches later this afternoon! There’s a lot of work involved when it comes to preparing and smoking meat. It is a time consuming process that typically starts the day before I throw my butt on the fire, in a manner of speaking!

To authentically smoke your meat, using gas is completely out of the question. My comments today will be regarding the use of charcoal and wood smokers. There are several different brands of smoker grills or “smokers” available but finding the right one is critical. Basically there are two types, horizontal and vertical. Horizontal smokers are the ones with the fire box attached to the side and are the typical type of smoker most people use. Vertical smokers are the cylindrical ones commonly referred to as “water” smokers. They are usually smaller and look like cans and have a tray for water.   The water helps your meat maintain moisture while cooking. I have used both and both have their pros and cons. For me right now, I am using the Brinkman’s Gourmet vertical water smoker.  I chose that one primarily because a friend gave it to me as a gift and I am very thankful to have it today!   It’s a little cumbersome to use. The fire pit is in the bottom compartment and it does have an access door to put more wood in the fire if needed but the water tray gets in the way. So to put more wood on I generally lift the upper compartment off, place my wood or otherwise tend to the fire then replace the upper compartment back on the fire pit. Also the size of the “can” doesn’t allow for smoking in big quantities. But, I can get a pork butt on there and there are two racks in there so it will handle most of my requirements. It does perform exceptionally well. The water makes for moist meat and the design provides for a great well balanced smoking of anything I put in there. And so far, everything that I have smoked in it has come out outstanding! The key thing here is that whatever smoker you use, make sure you learn about how to use it properly and make sure that it fits your needs.

Let’s talk wood. As I said before, I use a mix of charcoal and wood. I’m smoking meat so I will be using mostly wood with charcoal being used mostly to help maintain even and steady coal temperatures. I’m smoking a 10 pound pork butt so it’s going to take a lot of wood. For smoking I will use hickory.  Hickory is a great smoking wood and works well with everything. I use chunks that I buy from the local Lowes outlet. I would love to use logs instead but the “can’s” fire pit only has so much space. I will soak my wood chunks overnight in a bucket of water. Soaking them in water makes them last longer and provides for more smoke as well. A 10 lb. pork butt cooked at 225 – 250 degrees cooks at about 1 – 1 ½ hour per pound so that is going to require a fair amount of wood chunks.

I will prepare the pork butt the night before it is to be cooked. The first thing I do is trim off any excess fat from the cut. The one I bought for tomorrow looks like it’s been trimmed already. Pork butt is very fatty so don’t try to get all the excess fat off. It’s the fat that gives some of its flavor and a lot of its tenderness. When the meat is cooked, and cooled enough, you will then be able to get most of the fat, bone and skin off. When I smoke food I do not use a lot of dry rubs. I let the meat and the smoke from the fire do the talking. I’ll put sauce on the side for anyone eating to use if they feel it needs it. I will season the meat with my standard salt, pepper, garlic powder and cumin mix. I may throw in some paprika. I rarely use marinades and restrict those to a few select recipes or cuts. Once prepared, the meat will sit in the fridge covered, overnight.

To start the fire, I use the chimney and as I am waking up at O’dark thirty to get the fire going, I will have the chimney packed with starter (shredded paper, wood chips and charcoal briquettes) ready to be lit. Once the chimney is lit and the coals are ready to be placed in my smoker’s fire pit, I will place some additional briquettes and dry wood chunks in the pit before dumping the lit coals. I’ll set the upper compartment, with its water tray filled with water on the fire pit and let it come to temperature before placing the meat on the smoker rack. When the cooking temperature of 225 is achieved, that’s when I place the meat in the smoker. Considering the weight of the pork butt, the amount of weight loss due to the fat dispersing and the ambient temperature of the smoker (allowing for its sitting in the Texas sun as it cooks), I anticipate this butt will take at least 8 – 10 hours to cook through.

Once the meat is in the smoker and cooking, I will periodically baste it with what’s called a mop sauce. A mop sauce is just a liquid basting sauce used to help keep your meat moist. The best mop sauces are made from whatever you use to season your meat with. You want your mop sauce to taste the same or closely similar to what your seasonings are. I use a chicken broth base, with the same ingredients I use in my seasoning mix and I’ll throw in some of the excess fat as well. You can buy sauce mops and brushes or you can make them yourself. I will apply a baste once every 30 to 45 minutes.

Like I said earlier, I expect the meat to cook in about 8 – 10 hours if I maintain a cooking temperature of 225 – 250 degrees. If temperatures start getting beyond that, I can temper with adjusting the airflow. It’s a canister, vertical smoker, so it’s not going to take a lot of fuel to maintain that temperature. How do you know when it’s done? I tend to go by time and appearance but if you want to do it right, buy a meat thermometer. Do not cut your meat to see how clear the juices are, you will lose all your tenderness and flavor! For pork butt, you want an inner temperature of at least 165. You do not want to go much over 185. Taking it off at 175 and allowing it to rest for 30 minutes is a very good idea. During this time the meat will continue to cook inside, raising the temperature at least another 10 degrees before it actually begins to cool. This will help make your meat easier to shred and much more tender. Letting any kind of meat rest for 30 minutes after cooking allows for the meat to retain its juiciness and thus, its flavor.  

When it’s done, rested and cooled, I am ready to serve! The method above is just my way of doing things. Yours may be different and everyone eventually develops their own way. Hopefully I covered the basics and that some of what I wrote here does you some good. But for right now, I am going to go see how good it does for me!!!

Have a Blessed Day Ya’ll!

Today’s “Did Ya Know?”  Did you know its “National Eight Track Tape” Day?? Oh yeah. You haven’t enjoyed good music unless you have heard it on a nice eight track tape! Imagine listening to the Captain and Tennille’s “Muskrat Love” and having it cut off so the tape can switch sides!!! Pity we can’t have 8 tracks today to lug around with us like those little hand held thingy’s the kids have today. Yeah you kids have it easy these days!!!

Related Links: article on smokers and BBQ: article on Pulled Pork:

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