Saying Goodbye to Last Year’s Summer

There are many ways people gauge the end of summer.  For some it’s as simple as looking at a date on the calendar.  For others, yearly rituals like closing up beach houses, pulling the leaf rake out of the shed or closing pools serve as a sad indication that autumn, with it’s shorter days and colorful leaves is just around the corner.

Nature of course has her own methods.  Heat and humidity (at least here in Delaware) give way to cooler days, and even cooler nights.  Summer flowers fade into memory as fall colors from mums and sedums start to prevail.  The night sky intrudes more into our daytime as the summer triangle (Vega, Deneb, and Altair) slides from sight and Orion begins to rise in the southern sky.

But some of us have other methods to gauge when summer is over, and indeed it doesn’t even have to be the summer in the current calendar year.  For me, summer 2011 ended on Sunday when the last of the vacuum sealed pulled pork was taken from the freezer.  Having taken a trip to BJs to stock up on some pantry items, Tracey suggested picking up rolls for dinner and hinted that perhaps, just perhaps, it was time to let last year’s summer finally go.

The prep was easy enough, some sliced onions in a pan until they were translucent and then in with the thawed pork.  Soon the tantalizing aroma of smoke, onions and meat was wafting through the kitchen.  When ever I walk into a Yankee Candle store get dragged into a Yankee Candle store by Tracey, I always give a silent prayer that someone there has realized the gold mine they would be sitting on if they would infuse this bouquet into one of their candles.  I hold my breath as I scan down the shelves hoping to find Smoked Pork® between  Sage and Citrus; and Soft Blanket™.  Always to be denied.  Don’t any men work in that place?

Looks good. Smells awesome.

Once the pork was heated through I hit it with kosher salt, two caps of apple cider vinegar and red pepper flakes – and stepped away.  I happened upon this simplistic preparation at a winery one summer where a local BBQ team was set up to serve sandwiches to people out on the wine trail.  Only three ingredients, but each having a very important and distinct role.  It starts with the tang of the vinegar balancing the sweetness of the meat and then the red pepper flakes adding a welcomed, but understated heat to the party.  Salt?  Well salt does what salt always does – make things taste better.  I quickly adopted this method  which I have playfully dubbed “naked” for serving my pork, but I am not a man of strong will power and found it impossible to give up on BBQ sauce entirely.   But I turned this into a positive when I realized that by not putting BBQ sauce on the pork, it was leaving me and my fellow diners the opportunity to take our sandwiches in any direction we individually wished.  After all, what could be better than BBQ sauce – well obviously having your choice of BBQ sauces!

So once the food hits the table, I break out the six pack of BBQ sauces.  I have to thank my friend Lisa for the inspiration here.  One year for Christmas she got me a set of white squirt bottles because I had mentioned how I loved Guy Fieri’s set up with his oils on “Guy’s Big Bite”.  When she bought them, our mutual friend John asked her, “Why are you buying him those?  You know he’s never going to use them.”  Of course John should know better then question the connection between two Aquarians born only a day apart.

The “six pack” stands ready.

Oh he was right, I couldn’t really use them for my oils like Guy does.  I already had a set up for that.  However, I could use them to bottle different BBQ sauces to put on the table.  So I grabbed a couple of my favorite sauces (that’s another post) and a couple I wanted to try and bottled them up.  To make them all transportable, I put them in a Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady ESB six pack holder which is an excellent use for it, second only to transporting six bottles of Scarlet Lady into my house.

Needless to say, the pork was very good and still tasted as smokey as the day I … well, smoked it.  And while I admit it was sort of sad to sit there and stare at my empty plate and realize that my summer of yesterday had finally come to end. I could take comfort that another summer was indeed around the corner and that Tracey was already thinking ahead.

“This was the last of the pork right?”

“Yeah”

“So when are you making more?”

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….