The End of Season BBQ Review

Last Season's Shredded Brisket

Ok, I’ve been promising to write this one for awhile, and I thought I’d better get on it before it turned into the “Beginning of the BBQ Season” post.  For any of you keeping score out there, I think of my BBQing in seasons.  The simple reason being that where I live in Delaware, the winters get to cold for me to drive my smoker to the 225 degrees I need to do BBQ.  It’s far easier to do it in the summer when my smoke box is 120 degrees in the sun with no fire in it.  Let’s run down some thoughts and things I’ve learned last season.

First, I seem to have pretty good control of the basic stuff.  Smoking sausage, chicken (especially wings), pork loin, turkey legs and the similar are pretty straight forward.  I still have things I can learn about seasoning and wood selection, but the basic process is pretty straight forward.  Tracey even came across a recipe for smoked round eye that’s now a regular in my smoking rotation.  As to the big stuff like pork shoulder and brisket…

The oven is my friend.  Ok, the thundering noise you hear in the distance is all the BBQ purists running over to my house to beat me to death with a bag of hickory chips.  And look, nothing is more amazing to me then watching BBQ Pitmasters and seeing Myron Mixon pull off a perfect piece of brisket that he’s been cooking all night in the smoker.  But the reality for me is that I don’t have the time or fuel to run my smoker for the 12-15 hours that’s needed to pull that off.  I’m not blessed with groves of hickory or apple trees at my disposal.  The bottom line for me is meat will stop taking smoke around 140 degrees, and with the smoke box at 225, the delta T dictates that to get the meat from 150 to 190 (especially brisket which “pauses” around 154 when cooking) will take more wood than getting the meat from room temp to 140.  I’m sure there is probably a way I could be more effecient in my wood and charcoal use, but I haven’t stumbled upon it yet.  So in the mean time, I start my meat the night before at around 6pm, smoke it till I need to and then place it in a 225 degree oven over night.  By early morning, it’s done and the house smells amazing (take that Yankee Candle Company).  As for those mentioned pieces of meat….

I’ve got the pulled pork thing pretty well down.  I can get two very nice sized pork shoulders in my smoker.  A generous amount of rub and apple wood smoke and we’re good to go.  The oven method above works well, and it’s usually falling apart on its own by the time I pull it out.  I’ve been spritzing the shoulders with apple juice during the cooking, but a bartender at Two Stones, suggest I try apple liquor.  Not only is the apple flavor more intense, but the added sugar makes the pork bark a little sweeter.  It’s on my “to try” list for sure.  Then we move on to….

Brisket.  This is the king of kings here, and I’m close.  The oven method works well here, but when I do it I wrap it in aluminum foil with a little beer or apple juice inside to keep things moist.  What’s been haunting me is controlling the presentation of the final product.  Most times when you see BBQ shows on TV, the brisket is sliced like a london broil.  But in some places where I’ve had it, it’s shredded like a pulled pork (note : not chopped).  The first couple of times I’ve tried it, I ended up with a very nice slicing product.  However, the last time I tried it I let the meat finish at 200 degrees instead of 190.  I found this shredded a lot better.  Whether I’m on to something or it was a happy accident I won’t know till I try it again, so that will be a topic for a later post.  But as we all know, when it comes down to BBQ…..

It’s all about the rub.  I really liked my rub this year.  I made two varieties, my basic (recipe here) and an “island rub” I use for ribs which is my basic rub with some McCormick Grill Masters packets (baja citrus and mojito lime being two of my favorites) in it to give it some citrus flavors.  I’ve tended to change the basic recipe from season to season and I’m sure this year will be no different.  Where I’m going with it I have no idea yet, but I’m thinking of adding some cumin to it and also maybe some type of sugar – which is something I’ve never put in my rubs.  Oh, and did I mention ribs….

This still seems to be my Achilles heel.  Oh, I cook an OK rib.  But the process is inconsistent and they never seem to get done in the time frame I think they should.  Tracey takes this in stride, joking “It’s ok, I’m used to eating ribs at 11pm”, but it would be nice to have this down better.  This is the one case where I try to finish them totally in the smoker (or maybe a little toss on the grill) and leave the oven out of the equation.  This season I may have pass on the pork shoulder a few times and focus on getting my ribs down.

Well that’s about where I am coming off of last season.  My rubs are almost gone (I use them in just about everything) and I recently took stock of my left over charcoal/wood supplies.  Nothing to do now, but wait until spring comes.

Time for another beer….

Brisket, Beer and Badges

Several years ago, my girlfriend cemented her position in my life by giving me a Brinkmann vertical smoker.  I’m not sure how she knew I wanted one.  Maybe it was all the times I sat transfixed in front of the TV with the Food Network on watching guys pull huge hunks of meat from smoking metal contraptions whispering, “man I’d love to try that.”  Or maybe it was her deep, in-tune womanly psyche which in touch with the basic needs of her man.  Nah, it was probably the whispering.

The goal (and the result) - brisket sandwich with onion and horseradish; with a tomato, corn and basil salad.

Well of course I dove right in.  I read everything I could on the internet.  Subscribed to a couple of Enewsletters.  Even bought a couple of books.  Soon I was smoking chickens, sausage and pork shoulders (more on that in a later post) but the mountain I kept hearing I had to climb was brisket.  Brisket is a piece of meat from the belly region, and it can not be cooked anyway but low and slow in order to break down all the fat and connective tissue.  If you try to cook this like a steak, well you might as well dine on your dog’s favorite rubber chew toy.  So I dove in one day and tried it, I think I did fairly well but obviously I still have things to learn.

First it all starts with the rub – the dry rub.  Even if you’re a casual Food TV watcher you’re probably aware the roll that this spice blend has in BBQ.  Spice shelves at supermarkets are full of them, but part of the fun of BBQ is coming up with  your own blends of rubs and sauces.  Mine started as basic creole type blend that I got from a famous Food Network chef.  You can find it here.  Over the years though I’ve changed things either to suit my taste or simply because I found something neat I wanted to add to it.  My recipe this year is below.  I make a big batch every spring and if it lasts the season, I’m lucky. I started with a 4-5lb brisket, liberally applied the rub, wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. My rub recipe:

  • 1 part Smoked Paprika
  • 1 1/2 parts Spanish Paprika
  • 2  parts Kosher Salt
  • 1 part Roasted Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Black Pepper
  • 1 part Onion Powder
  • 1 part Dry Chipolte Powder
  • 1 part Dry Oregano
  • 1 part Dry Thyme

Because you have to cook it low and slow, brisket is not something you can just pop in the smoker at noon and eat at 6.  So I planned to cook it by starting it early in the morning and keeping it warm in the oven until my guests arrived.  Since I like to multi-task when I’m smoking I figured I’d take this opportunity to rack up some Untappd badges that I normally wouldn’t get.  I normally (read rarely) drink the same beer twice in a row, and I count on one hand the number of times I buy a case of something in a year – and most of them are Guinness at St Patty’s day.  So I bought a case of cheap beer (cheap beer is essential when you’re BBQing, it can be used in brines, marinades, sauces) and set the alarm clock to 2am!

I had already set up my smoker so that it was ready to go when the alarm went off.  The water tray was filled, and my charcoal starter was set up with a combination of briquets and lump charcoal.  All I had to do when I walked out on the deck was light a match.  When the coals were ready I poured them into firebox and waited for the  internal temp of the smoker to hit 225.  When it was ready I unwrapped the brisket and placed it in the smoker box and added some water soaked hickory chunks to my fire. Then I cracked a beer.  Yeah, at 2am – I’m a professional, don’t try this at home.

Let me just take a moment to editorialize here – sunrise, with the smoker going is heaven.  Ok, back to it…

At 7:30 the temperature of the brisket was 135.  At 140 meat doesn’t take a lot of smoke any more so I let it creep up to 145, removed it from the smoker, wrapped in aluminum foil and placed it in the oven which was set at 225 – and took a power nap.

The brisket - sliced and ready to serve.

When the digital thermometer read 195, I turned the oven off and left the brisket in it until it was time to serve.  When I sliced the meat it was moist and tender, but  not as moist as I’ve had at some smoke houses.  The flavor was amazing and a friend of mine who does BBQ parties on the side really liked it.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any experience with brisket so he couldn’t help with why it was a little drier that I’ve had from other places.

So BBQ fanatics, what am I missing in my brisket prep?  Do I need to mop on occasion?  Put some liquid in when I wrap it in the foil?  What’s you’re trick for making that amazingly moist brisket?

Oh the beers?  I won’t say how many I had throughout the day but here’s a list of Untappd badges I got :

Take it Easy, The Usual, Power Month, Six Pack, Drinking your Paycheck and Brewery Loyalist.  I wanted the Top of the Morning (5 beers before noon), but I didn’t get it.  But I did the next weekend.  Time for another beer – something different.