my new table

for Christmas my father & his best friend built me a custom table for my smokers.  YES, smokers as in plural.  both my dad & friend are excellent wood workers/craftsman.  and they put a lot of effort into this table.  you can tell.  all i can say is AWESOME!  it has raised panels on the drawers & door.  the tracks for the drawers are the ultra high end.  they went all out on it.

here is a picture of it.

Smoker table

here is a few more photos.

Smoker table drawer

yes, that is a shrink wrap heat gun. that is my trick to starting my coals. it creates lots of heat & air flow. that is great for making fires.

Smoker table charcoal

i am using airtight containers for my charcoal. 1 bag fills the 6 containers.  i use the airtight containers to keep the Georgia moisture out.  currently i have 6 containers full of BGE charcoal.

Smoker table tagged

the left smoker spot is setup for a Small BigGreenEgg.  the right smoker spot is setup for a Large BigGreenEgg.  i have had the large for couple years now.  didn’t have the small one when i gave the general specs to my dad.  but i did buy the small one on Christmas Eve day.  it has two small drawers on the left.  they are good for the electronics, probes, gloves, etc.  one big drawer no the right for larger items like the heat gun.  The center cabinet is large enough for a bag of charcoal. instead of storing in the bag, i use airtight containers.  i can store 6 containers with no issues.

i will post an update once i get the smokers into the table.

Simple Smoked Salmon

This is by far my family’s favorite smoked salmon recipe. It’s simple to make and it’s absolutely delicious! Really all you need is a standard brine, one salmon filet, some good rub and a smoker or grill. Speaking of cooking, regardless of what device you decide to cook this in you want to use INDIRECT heat only or it will dry out very quickly.

When most people think of smoked salmon, they think of what you would call “cold” smoked salmon where the smoking process is typically done at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit over a long period of time. Cold smoking doesn’t cook the fish, but it deeply flavors it. Correctly prepared cold smoked salmon never reaches an internal temperature above eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Technically, the fish is still raw, but cured. The long bath in a nice salty brine causes the proteins to denature, actually modifying the structure of the salmon flesh by “cooking it” via a chemical process, but you’ll read more about that later on…

This recipe is a what you would call “hot” smoked salmon where the smoking process also cooks the fish while layering on the right amount of awesome flavor. The hot smoking process is typically done at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit over a short period of time to prevent the fish from drying out.

 

The Fish
I’m a big fan of natural meats (NO growth hormones, NO preservatives) and I would always suggest that you use wild-caught, not farm-raised fish for this recipe. I’ve found that a 2 lb filet is perfect for the average size family.

I like to trim off the lower, thinner belly meat and the tail end to prevent the fish drying out during the cooking process. This leaves a nice center-cut filet that stays moist and presents well when finished. (filet has been turned 180 degrees)

 

The Brine
Always, always, always brine seafood (and poultry) for best results when putting them into a smoker or grill; otherwise it will dry out much faster. Mix all ingredients below in a food safe plastic container until completely dissolved and then add the filet.

½ cup kosher salt
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp rub mixture (if desired)
The juice of one lemon and one lime

64 ounces cold water

As you can see I’ve left the skin on, I’ve found this helps keep the fish together and protect the bottom from drying out. I recommend brining the fish flesh side down for best results.

Please see the link below to the Virtual Weber Bullet post on food safe plastics for more information. Also, general guidelines for brining length would be 1 hour per pound, no less than one ½ hour and no longer than 8 hours.

You ask, why brine at all? Please continue reading…

How It Works
Brining works in accordance with two principles, called diffusion and osmosis, that like things to be kept in equilibrium. When brining a fish, there is a greater concentration of salt and sugar outside of the fish (in the brine) than inside the fish (in the cells that make up its flesh). The law of diffusion states that the salt and sugar will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells). There is also a greater concentration of water, so to speak, outside of the fish than inside. Here, too, the water will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells). When water moves in this fashion, the process is called osmosis. Once inside the cells, the salt and, to a lesser extent, the sugar cause the cell proteins to unravel, or denature. As the individual proteins unravel, they become more likely to interact with one another. This interaction results in the formation of a sticky matrix that captures and holds moisture. Once exposed to heat, the matrix gels and forms a barrier that keeps much of the water from leaking out as the meat cooks. Thus you have a fish that is both better seasoned and much more moist than when you started.

Source: Cooks Illustrated – Brining Basics http://www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/ND01_ISBriningbasics.pdf

Also, never, never, never use a regular aluminum (non-iodized) pan when brining or marinating. The acid and/or salt mixed with the water will react with the aluminum resulting in an altered flavor in your cut of meat.

Source: Virtual Weber Bullet – Food Grade Plastic Containers For Brining
http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/plastics.html

 

The Rub
I love to make my own rubs, but I also use many off the shelf, even store brand rubs as well. One of my favorites is the Kroger brand Private Selection Citrus & Savory Signature Rub. It also has a slightly sweet component that helps round out the flavor.

 

The Pellicle (optional)
Most people are not familiar with the Pellicle or its purpose and it wasn’t until I started researching the basics of smoking food that I uncovered it. I say its optional, but if you have the time I would recommend it…here’s why…

By air-drying the salmon after it’s been brined it allows a coating to form made up of dissolved proteins that are created during the brining process. Not only does this coating help protect the fish from drying out during the cooking process, it also provides a better surface in which the smoke will adhere to thus resulting in a better flavor. I think we’ve all seen this, without a sufficient pellicle, the white fat will ooze out of the fish as it cooks, resulting in an unsightly presentation.

 

The Smoke
To enhance the flavor of the Citrus & Savory rub I like to use Apple hardwood for this recipe, I’ve found that Hickory and Oak are too smoky. You don’t want to overwhelm the flavor of the rub or the fish itself!

If you’re using a wet smoker, which I would recommend, ensure there is an adequate amount of liquid for at least a two hour period. If you’re not using a wet smoker, I would recommend using foil on the grate to prevent too much liquid from escaping.

Tip: The water pan in a wet smoker serves more than one purpose, in addition to the greatest benefit of all which is keeping the food moist while cooking. It also acts as a buffer to separate the fire and the food for indirect cooking as well as acting as a regulator to absorb the dips and spikes to provide for a more constant cooking temperature.

Normally I use a pre-perforated foil sheet, this time around I decided to try a cedar plank
to see how it affects the flavor.  Out of pure coincidence, I purchased a plank that roughly fits the size of one of my sinks, so it makes soaking easy.

 

Sample Timeline

Noon – Trim the filet as shown above and place into the brine. Refrigerate for the next two hours in a food safe plastic container or plastic brining bag.

2:00pm – Remove the filet from the brine and rinse thoroughly with cold water to remove the excess salt. Place on a wire rack in a cool spot or near a fan to air-dry.

3:30pm – Preheat smoker or grill to 250 degrees Fahrenheit for the next half hour.

4:00pm – Place filet in smoker or grill and cover.

Continue to check the temperature hourly or if you have remote thermometer keep an eye on the temperature to make sure it doesn’t go too low for too long or cook too fast and dry out. Also, depending on the amount of smoke flavor you desire add the appropriate amount of wood chunks. Lastly, if you’re wet smoking keep an eye on the liquid level.

If a constant 250 degree Fahrenheit temperature has been maintained for an hour and a half the fish should be done. To verify, the internal temperature should register at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the filet.

 

The Finished Product
I like to let the fish set for 5-10 minutes prior to serving to allow the juices to absorb and to allow it to slightly cool. If you followed these directions to a tee, the results should be a super moist, extremely flavorful, smoked salmon filet. Enjoy!

- Chris

Smoked Pork Tacos

I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate the use of my smoker into the food I cook for my family. My wife is a big fan of southwestern food, so I thought I would make some smoked pork tacos today to satisfy both of our cravings.

 

The Rub
I love to make my own rubs, for this recipe I put together something simple, yet tasty. My family loves the food I cook, but not always the spice level that I do. You can switch out the ancho chili powder for chili powder or cayenne if you want to kick it up a notch. I have to keep it mild for the kids.

1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

 

The Smoke
Normally in a dish like this I would use mesquite wood chunks, but the kids wouldn’t eat it if I did. So, to compliment the mild ancho chili flavor I’m using cherry wood chips (I prefer chunks, but cherry seems to be tough to find around here which I find strange since I live in the self-proclaimed cherry capital of the world…Michigan, but I digress). I soaked the wood chips for thirty minutes in cold water to keep them from bursting into flames (something you would never do with chucks…great post on that here). With a small piece of pork like this tenderloin you don’t want to over do it with the smoke or you’ll completely mask the flavor of the meat itself. Normally, the goal would be to enhance the flavor the pork with a nice smoky finish, but I know people like my father-in-law that want an intense smoke flavor to their meat. “To each, his own” - Cicero

 

The Meat
I’m a big fan of natural meats (NO growth hormones, NO preservatives), I was able to pick up this pork tenderloin at Whole Foods but I’m sure most larger markets carry natural meats at this point. Make sure to trim the excess fat and sliver from the meat for best results.

For this recipe you can use a 1-1.5 lb pork tenderloin to make 4-6 servings respectively, with a single serving being 2-3 tacos.

With all BBQ (tacos or not) I like to go low and slow in the smoker at 225-250 degrees fahrenheit for 2-2.5 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees fahrenheit, any higher and/or longer and you risk drying out the meat. The trick to keeping such a lean piece of meat moist over that time period is a combination of techniques. First, if you’re using a “wet smoker” like the Weber Smoky Mountain I use the water pan will obviously help. (Tip: Did you know the water pan helps regulate the smoker temperature?) Second, I like to mop or in this case lightly mist the meat hourly with apple juice to keep the outside from getting too dry. Lastly, I prefer to finish with the meat wrapped in foil for the last 30-45 minutes in the smoker to help keep those juices inside and bring the meat to its final temperature.

Let the meat set still wrapped in foil for 15-20 minutes prior to slicing to allow the juices to absorb and to allow the meat to slightly cool before handling.

If all goes s planned you should have a nice, moist piece of meat with a great smoke ring.

Next, cut the tenderloin into about six pieces (about 2-3 inches long) and then use two forks to shred into bite-size pieces.

 

The Salsa
To top off the smoked pork I mixed up a little of the following black bean salsa to add texture and flavor. We’ve tried many variations of this salsa and this one seems to be our favorite.

1 can (15oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup finely chopped tomato
1/2 cup finely chopped tomatillos
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
juice from half a lime
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp minced pepper of your choice
1 tbsp minced garlic
add kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste

 

The Final Product
I like to use corn tortillas for this recipe, even though my wife prefers flour. I ever-so slightly brown them on one side in a little butter on the flat top to keep the inside for soaking up too much of the tacos juices causing them to tear and your taco to fall apart.

Add your favorite sides and enjoy!

- Chris

EPIC BBQ FAILURES – Let’s Hear Your Story!

I’ve been thinking of writing this post for some time, but I haven’t had a good example of an EPIC BBQ FAILURE (lately) to share. Actually, the last one that comes to mind was an awakening for me…I was still using a gas grill and I thought I was making BBQ, but I was doing exactly that….grilling. I had no clue what true BBQ was back then and it was the following EPIC BBQ FAILURE that helped me see the light…

It was five years ago and we just moved into our newly built home, we decided to have our families over for a BBQ to show off the place. We were working as a team all morning to get the food prepared and my wife insisted I wrap the untrimmed racks of ribs in tin foil (she’s not here, so I can blame her…) and put them directly on the lowest grate of the gas grill (I bet you can see where this is going). Exactly what you’d expect to happen, happened…while I was doing some last minute yard work the ribs caught fire and burnt to a crisp, I mean really burnt, like the charcoal looked better than these ribs. They were inedible and dinner was ruined, well almost….I happened to have a few packs of pre-made hamburger patties I was saving for the next day, so I dropped them on the grill and we were able to salvage dinner. I vowed this was the last time I would fail at BBQ.

Out of pure shame I didn’t take a picture of the final product as I do now, before and after, every single time. Some people have tons of pictures of places they visit as a vacation photo gallery…I have a BBQ photo gallery. Yes, my wife thinks this is strange as well…

If you have a similar or better EPIC BBQ FAILURE please share it here with photos if possible, we’d definitely love to hear your story!

Chris

Lamb in Fig Balsamic/Garlic Marinade

I used some chops from a 4H lamb raised in my valley.  The fruitiness in the fig balsamic marinade is a nice contrast to the bold and savory lamb.  I grilled the lamb over indirect heat on the Weber.  A  front was coming through – you can see the lenticular clouds.

The Marinade

Pressed garlic
Fig balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt
Fresh-ground black pepper

1 medium garlic clove per chop.  About a 3T:2T ratio of vinegar to olive oil.  Marinate for a couple hours to overnight.  I also like this marinade on  beef tri tip.

Avoid a Bonfire

I arranged the very hot coals on the circumference of the grill.

Then I put the lamb chops in the center of the grill, none directly over the coals.  The meat would do fine over direct heat, but the lamb fat ignites.  The indirect approach is less incendiary.

It Doesn’t Take Long

Grill the chops till medium rare, remove from the grill and let stand (covered with foil) for 5-10 minutes.

Dinner is Served

Lamb, oven fries, and tomatoes dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil, and smoked cheddar.

Wine Pairings

Altos de la Hoya (Olivares) is a Spanish monastrell for the salad course.  The Oracle (Miner) is a very nice cabernet for the main course.

Dessert

Peach cake with a Taylor Fladgate port.

A little southwest of the border BBQ

I decided for my next smokeout I was going to make something more in line with my favorite kind of food: Southwestern/Mexican.  One of my favorite dishes is Brisket Tacos. I actually have two restaurants here in DFW that make killer Brisket Tacos and I used these as templates to do my own.

So here is what I did:

The Brisket

IMG_2715First I purchased a 3.65 lbs. trimmed brisket. I got the one with the most marbling of fat and the richest red color. It still had a nice layer of fat on the top as well.

I bought a brisket much smaller because I really just needed enough for a decent set of tacos. The plan was to use a mixture of dry rub and an Adobo (Spanish: marinade) to impart flavor.  Since this was under 5 lbs. I could IMG_2716smoke this easily for the entire cooking time.

I decided to use a dry rub from my favorite BBQ joint, Rudy’s as a base. I had made my own dry rub last time but I had to try this as I had just picked some up in Killeen, TX the week before. I debated heavily with myself if using a dry rub with an Adobo was wrong. in the end I decided that for the proper crust I wanted I needed the rub. While the Adobo would impart the spice and special flavor I was targeting.

I used the regular old mustard trick while keeping it light and not to heavy.

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The Adobo

For my first try at an Adobo I decided to mix in something that I am a huge fan of:  Hatch Green Chilis. When these come into season and start appearing at Farmer’s markets and restaurants I start salivating. I decided I would use some medium-level green chilis for the heat and flavor base in my Adobo.

Here is some pictures of the build:

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IMG_2724The Hatch Green Chilis (Roasted)

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After blending the Adobo with a hand processor I coated the brisket completely and put it to soak for 30 hours. Normally you should actually let an Adobo soak for 3-5 days but I was starting this a little late.

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The Stack

The next day I fired up the smoker. This time I decided to try a trick pointed out to me on Twitter. I built a base of cold charcoal first and then dumped my hot coals from the charcoal chimney directly on top and spread them evenly. Last time I put the hot coals down first and then added over time.

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The Salsa

I decided I was also going to make a fresco salsa out of the roasted green chilis. I had some fresh jalapenos left over and decided to go ahead and smoke them for a while with the brisket to use in the salsa. I also used sweet onions which is a bit of a departure from the norm but tastes incredible with a spicy salsa. Here are some pics of this build:

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I also made some fresh Guacamole. Here is an obligatory Avocado shot:

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The salsa came out tasting off the chart amazing. It was fresh tasting (using water, fresh tomato, and only blending the chilis) and still nice and spicy with that quick burn you get with green chilis.

The Result

A short while later and the brisket was done. I got exactly what I was shooting for. A nice good crust with a solid glaze of Adobo on the outside. My Wife got the first taste and exclaiming it was the best she had ever had. My smoke ring was good though a little less thick than normal since the Adobo was absorbing the smoke. The flavor was hard to described but a mix of smokey meqsuite and spicy green chili. The cumin mixed extremely well with the mesquite. Something I was a little worried about.

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After some chopping and slicing (with the Wife’s help) it was time to make the Brisket Tacos. I picked up some freshly made tortillas from a local restaurant. These were literally right off the machine. And I stuffed each one with the brisket and lightly seared each side in a pan with a bit of unsalted butter. I used this to shape the taco and add flavor to the tortillas.

 

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The end result was the best Brisket Tacos I have ever eaten. They were off the chart with spicy, buttery, smokey, and fresh taste. I topped everything off with some Nutella and marshmallow pastries for dessert.

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I didn’t mention this above but, the new stacking method for the charcoal worked so much better. I didn’t have to babysit the smoker at all. It maintained 210 degrees consistently through the 4.5 hours I needed it to.

This was definitely a success and has only got me hooked deeper into the smoking meat experience.

.nick

My 2nd smokeout : Brisket

My first brisket smokeout was actually over a month ago but 5 weeks of travel has kept me from posting this.

This is only my second try at smoking meat and with the first going so well I though I was ready for a tougher challenge: smoked brisket.

I purchased a 9.5lb beef brisket with decent marbling and a nice red color at a local grocery (higher-end).  I decided to once again do a dry rub.

I figured my total cooking time at around 11.5 hours with the first 7 being prime for adding flavor and the last 5 to finish cooking through. I decided to let it cook directly in the rack for the 7 hours and I wrapped it in aluminum foil after along with some Strongbow cider at the bottom of foil to add moisture and flavor. I kept the temperature between 200-220 degrees for the entire 11.5 hours and used mesquite for the wood.

Here are some pictures of the before and after:

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And the dry rub recipe (I doubled this one):

2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons celery salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

I was really surprised at the flavor. I also found that the cider + foil trick worked extremely well at making the final product very moist. I added Stubb’s Mesquite BBQ sauce to the chopped to bring it up a notch.

I am planning on taking on another challenge before VMworld gets here. I haven’t decided what I am going to try yet.

.nick

Pulled Pork – Takin’ it sloooooow

The first pulled pork I roasted wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Although some parts where fine, most of the pulled pork couldn’t be pulled at all. In my second attempt I prepared myself better, read some more tips and, maybe most important, I bought a digital thermometer.

At the butcher’s I got a 1.2KG piece of collars and used a BBQ rub on it which I got from the local BBQ shop.

I prepared my Char-griller Smokin Pro, by putting all the Weber coals in the smoker on the right hand side. It takes a little longer to get the temp I need inside the main BBQ, but I now have little chance of burning the meat.

At 4pm I started and around 5pm I had the BBQ at 131C / 272F and the meat at 43C / 107F. BBQ temp was a little high so I decided to just leave it alone. “You’re not cooking when you’re looking”.

6.30pm: Been away for a while and I noticed the temp of the BBQ had dropped to 120C. I added some coals and temp rose to 122C. Meat has risen to 65C

7:30pm Added some more coals to keep the temp above 120C. Meat now at 77C.

At 8:15pm 126C in the BBQ, 84C meat.

At 8:45pm 126C in the BBQ, 86C meat

At 9:15pm 122C in the BBQ, 90C meat, we’re done!

Immediately wrapped the meat in aluminum foil and let it rest for half an hour. Then the moment is there, let’s pull the pork.

This second attempt clearly has a much better result than my first attempt, although even now some pieces were hard to pull apart.

Things I want to improve at my next attempt:

  • After applying the rub, I will let the meat absorb the rub for a few hours before putting it on the BBQ
  • Will use wood chips to add some smoke flavor
  • Will ask the butcher for a slightly different piece of meat, maybe more shoulder

 

 

Tools of the Trade – Chicago Style

I really got into BBQ about 5 years ago.  It had always been a passing hobby and something that I’d look forward to doing once a month.  As I’ve gotten more into it, I’ve found it to actually be my escape from work and other real world problems.  Chicago Winters are a bit rough on the grill enthusiast, especially those who, like myself, utterly refuse to use anything but good old fashioned charcoal.  I make my money back in the Summer time.  I easily grill out 3-4 nights a week with various burgers, pork chops, chicken, salmon…pretty much anything that can be stuck over a flame and eaten.  When I was just starting, I tried every gimmicky grilling trinket found in the “Seasonal Aisle” of my local hardware store.  Over the years I’ve managed to develop an affinity for various tools of the trade that are required for anyone who is a step above an enthusiast when it comes to backyard cooking.

Gloves

This is easily one of my most important recommendations.  I’ve gone through more pairs of gloves than I can count.  I’ve lit gloves on fire, I have permanent burn scars from where a firebox door slammed shut on me (3x now), and I’ve lit myself on fire (in fact just this evening I got a flash off the grill that would have removed the hair from my left arm).  A good pair of gloves is vital.  The stuff that they sell off the shelf just doesn’t cut it when you’re working around a cast iron firebox attached to your pit.  Get a pair of welding gloves.  They won’t light on fire, they do a great job of keeping heat out, and they normally cover enough of your arm for adequate protection.  I myself own the pair shown to the right.  They can be picked up at Amazon for less than the marked up garbage you can find at WalMart.

Tongs

Again, this one may seem basic, but I’m very particular about the tongs that I use.  I have found that many sets of tongs are simply too flimsy.  The metal used is very thin and flexible, and bends too easily.  In addition, the tips of the tongs come to a point, which does not provide adequate surface area to properly grasp a steak.  If I’m picking up and flipping around racks of ribs or a brisket, the LAST thing I want to have to worry about is whether my tongs can support the weight.  There is nothing worse than staring at a rack of ribs hitting the patio.  It’s the grown-up equivalent of spilling beer at a party.  You want to make sure there is a good surface area to grab the meat at the tips, and still enough give in the metal to grab onto a rack of ribs the long ways and flip them with good control.

I once had an awesome pair of tongs.  I swear I could rip a mans arm off with them if I wanted to.  I had them forever.  Then one day my wife did some spring cleaning and threw them away because they “looked old”.  Let’s just say she’d be walking around with 1 arm if I had a backup pair of those tongs.  I currently have a pair that are adequate, but not spectacular.  I have yet to find a pair that gave me the rib flipping satisfaction that my tried and true tongs had.

Grill Markers

OK, I’ll be the first to admit that this sounds extremely gimmicky, and I treated it as such for the longest time.  A real grillmaster will know when his meat is Medium Rare vs. Medium Well like it’s a 6th sense.  Then an amazing thing happened the first time I decided to test my own rub recipes.  I utterly lost track of what was what on the grill.  Between rotating racks around heat, the fact I tested 4-5 rubs at once, and at the end, they all looked nearly identical when cooked, I wasted a full day because I didn’t know what I was tasting when all was said and done.  Enter a good set of grill markers.  I stumbled across these on Amazon one day, and while costly, they have been a part of my rub experimentation the moment they arrived.  When you get into tweaking and testing various concoctions organization both in the kitchen and on the grill is vital, and these guys are just what the doctore ordered.  They are marketed towards the complete amateur with various designs, but you can never have too many ways to differentiate what’s on the grill.  I got mine at Amazon.

Meat Thermometer

A good meat thermometer is a tool that can be leveraged regardless of skill level.  A novice grillers require a little assistance to make sure they don’t let a good steak slip into medium well. As you graduate to the art of low slow BBQ, you may need assistance to determine when the ribs or a brisket is at the right temperature to indicate completion.

There are more types of thermometers out there than you can shake a stick at.  You can find basic analog probes, digital wired, digital wireless, infrared, laser, etc.  I used to use a Wireless probe that I picked up from Crate and Barrel about 4 years ago.  This allowed me to set the temperature limit and would beep at me when the meat was done.  It worked great when I was getting started, but after a while, I realized that I just didn’t need to be THAT updated on temperature.

I now have my ribs down pat.  I know exactly how to keep my temp at 225*, exactly when I need to add more wood and charcoal, and exactly when the ribs are done.  I could set a watch to it. Instead of using a permanently connected probe (which gets utterly disgusting after the first use) I switched to a good, high-quality Insta-Read analog probe.  It works VERY fast, so if the ribs aren’t quite done yet, I spend the minimal amount of time with the lid open losing heat.  Very reasonably priced from Amazon for the amount of use I get out of it; both on and off the grill.

A Grilling Hat

A full day in the sun smoking ribs or a brisket can take a lot out of a person, especially when the beer flows as easily as it does when I’m grilling.  Keep the sun off your face and neck with a good full-brim hat.  This adds a spark of individuality and personality into not only what you cook, but how look while doing it, which is arguably the most important aspect of hosting a BBQ.  I’ve used baseball caps, but the back of my neck gets burnt quickly.  I used a farmer hat that my wife picked up at a .99c store for a classroom prop.  My prized possession came to me by complete accident while walking around downtown Boulder, CO with my wife.  There was a small hat stand in the walking mall area of town, and for $35 I found an Australian Akubra style knock-off that is now my daily hat, especially knowing that my wife despises it with every fiber of her being.

Various styles of hats I’ve been know to rock while Grilling.  If they made the last one in adult sizes, I’d have a new daily hat!

Farmer Hat

Farmer Hat

Oktoberfest Hat

Oktoberfest Hat

Aussie Hat

Aussie Hat

Turtle Hat (Kids Only)

Turtle Hat (Kids Only)

 

Beer Can Chicken

If you’ve never made or had beer can chicken, you definitely don’t know what you’ve been missing. The following recipe is one of my “go-to’s” that I would recommend to anyone. It’s simple to make and it’s delicious! All you need is one whole chicken, one can of beer, some good rub and a smoker or grill. Speaking of cooking, regardless of what device you decide to cook this in you want to use INDIRECT heat only or it will dry out very quickly.

 

The Meat
I’m a big fan of natural meats (NO growth hormones, NO preservatives), so I would always suggest that you use something like an Amish chicken or equivalent for this recipe. I’ve found that a 4-5 pound bird is perfect for the average size family.

 

The Brine
Always, always, always brine poultry (and seafood) for best results when putting them into a smoker; otherwise they will dry out very quickly.

1 cup kosher salt
1 cup light brown sugar
64 ounces cold water

Mix all ingredients in a food safe plastic container until completely dissolved.

When possible I like to use Ziploc or food safe plastic bags when brining or marinating to completely submerge the cuts of meat. (Please see the link below to the Virtual Weber Bullet post on food safe plastics for more information.)

General guidelines for brining length would be 1 hour per pound, no less than one ½ hour and no longer than 8 hours.

You ask, why brine at all? Please continue reading…

How It Works
Brining works in accordance with two principles, called diffusion and osmosis, that like things to be kept in equilibrium. When brining a chicken, there is a greater concentration of salt and sugar outside of the chicken (in the brine) than inside the chicken (in the cells that make up its flesh). The law of diffusion states that the salt and sugar will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells). There is also a greater concentration of water, so to speak, outside of the chicken than inside. Here, too, the water will naturally flow from the area of greater concentration (the brine) to lesser concentration (the cells). When water moves in this fashion, the process is called osmosis. Once inside the cells, the salt and, to a lesser extent, the sugar cause the cell proteins to unravel, or denature. As the individual proteins unravel, they become more likely to interact with one another. This interaction results in the formation of a sticky matrix that captures and holds moisture. Once exposed to heat, the matrix gels and forms a barrier that keeps much of the water from leaking out as the meat cooks. Thus you have a chicken that is both better seasoned and much more moist than when you started.

Source: Cooks Illustrated – Brining Basics http://www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/ND01_ISBriningbasics.pdf

Also, never, never, never use a regular aluminum (non-iodized) pan when brining or marinating. The acid and/or salt mixed with the water will react with the aluminum resulting in an altered flavor in your cut of meat.

Source: Virtual Weber Bullet – Food Grade Plastic Containers For Brining
http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/plastics.html

 

The Rub
I love to make my own rubs, but I also use many off the shelf, even store brand rubs as well. One of my favorites is the Grill Mates Cowboy Rub made by McCormick & Company.

Grill Mates Cowboy Rub.
http://www.mccormick.com/Products/GrillMates/Dry-Rubs/Grill-Mates-Cowboy-Rub.aspx

McCormick and Gill Mates are registered copyrights of McCormick & Company.

 

The Beer
After some crowd-sourcing on Twitter I learned that Shiner Bock is the best beer for Beer Can Chicken, so I decided to get it a chance…and it is….

12 ounce can of Shiner Bock

NOTE: If you cannot find Shiner Bock in the can, like me, you can use a rinsed can from soup, Spaghetti-O’s, etc. with a few holes from a church key opener on the top.

 

The Smoke
To enhance the flavor of the Cowboy Rub and Shiner Bock mixture I like to use Oak hardwood for this recipe, I’ve found that Apple is too sweet and Hickory is too smoky. You don’t want to overwhelm the flavor of the rub or the Shiner Bock.

While you can use the can and legs to support the chicken during the smoking process, I prefer to use a stand like the one below, I think I found it at Lowes for about $5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Timeline

Saturday
Midnight – Mix brine and chicken in a food safe plastic container or bag and place in the refrigerator or ice-packed cooler.

Sunday
7:00am – Remove the chicken from its brine and lightly rinse with cold water. Next, use the chicken rack or regular wire rack to air-dry the chicken in the refrigerator for the next 4-5 hours to allow the excess moisture to drain.

Noon – Take drying chicken out of the refrigerator, rub with a light coat of olive oil (this will allow the rub to adhere to the skin much better) and apply generous amount of rub to the entire bird, including below the skin. In the can, mix 2TBSP of rub with about 8 ounces of Shiner Bock to allow the rub flavor mixed with the Shiner Bock to penetrate the interior cavity. Leave the chicken out at room temperature while you preheat smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

1:00pm – Load Oak hardwood chunks in to fuel chamber of the smoker. Place chicken in the preheated smoker. Set timer for three hours.

Continue to check the temperature hourly or if you have remote thermometer keep an eye on the temperature to make sure it doesn’t go too low for too long. Also, depending on the amount of smoke flavor you desire add the appropriate amount of wood chunks. Lastly, if you’re wet smoking keep an eye on the liquid level.

4:00pm – If a constant 225 degree Fahrenheit temperature has been maintained during the smoking period the chicken should be done at this time and should register an internal temperature of at least 165-170 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the breast without touching the bone.

 

The Finished Product
I like to let the bird set for 12-20 minutes prior to slicing to allow the juices to absorb and to the chicken to slightly cool. If you followed these directions to a tee, the results should be a super moist, extremely flavorful, fall-off the bone chicken.