Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Time to do some pork ribs.

Ribs and Weber and I go way back. We received an 18 1/2" Weber kettle for a wedding present (which we still have, in fact.) I'm sorry to say that I didn't try it for a year or two. I was young and ignorant. Finally one day I bought some ribs and charcoal and fired the Weber up and slow cooked the ribs. They were one of the best things I ever tasted! I immediately regretted not trying the Weber sooner and used it more or less for the nearly four decades since.

I've had the Weber smoker for almost two years and I've never made ribs on it. I always backed off due to the cost of ribs vs. the cost of a butt (or more often the rib tip trimmings I get at Woodman's.) But there's something special about gnawing meat off the bone. And ever since that first time I made ribs on the kettle they've held a special place in my heart (or at least on my palate. ;) )

With what I've learned about grilling, BBQing and smoking in the decades since, I should be able to make them that much better. Maybe my fear is that they won't live up to my expectations. Anyway, I pulled the trigger today with 1 lb spare ribs and 8 ¾ lb back ribs. I'll pass on the baby backs this time, but I will get a chance to compare and contrast the spares with the backs.

There are schemes for foiling the ribs part way through and then finishing with a sauce to make them fall-off-the-bone tender. That's not my preference. I'm going to go with a dry rub and smoke them as slowly as I possibly can.

Weather - 79°, sunny and light wind (10 mph.)

I seasoned the meat with Jeff's dry rub (*)  with some modifications:
  • Hungarian Paprika and cut amount to 1/4.
  • No chili powder. I use Cumin and Cayenne instead.
  • Added some ground coriander as well.
  • Added Rosemary because it goes so well with pork.
They look like this when ready to go on.

For the fire I'm going to go with Mesquite lump from Sam's and for smoking wood I'll add Hickory, pear, Mesquite, Box Elder and Cherry. That should provide a nice mix for pork.

    5:20 PM
    Chimney full of Mesquite lump on a side burner. (Lights fast!)
    Lit coals on the fire. Actually the fire had a pretty good start just from setting the chimney on top of the fire lay. I immediately closed two bottom vents and left the third about 1/2 open. I'll give it a few minutes to stabilize and put some meat on!
    Meat on!
    6:11 185° Waiting for temp to come back up.
    6:21 194°/190 (grate/dome)
    6:49 198°
    7:04 198°/195° Coming along just fine!
    7:46 201°/195°
    8:07 194°/195° Opened one partial bottom vent full to support increasing burn/temp.
    8:25 224°/195° closed that vent just a tad. Don't want it to run away!
    9:30 233° Took a peek inside and flipped the ribs. At this point they don't look as good as the ones on the kettle. That may be because they are not as far along as I was more successful at controlling temps on the WSM
    9:50 208°/190° Nudging the vent open just a bit. seems like a bit of a balancing act holding the right temp here.
    10:10 199°/185° Opening that bottom vent full open again.
    10:35 204°/190°
    10:45 200° Time to stir the coals a bit. Some on the side and back never lit well.
    11:30 204°/185° More stirrage of the coals and opened another bottom vent. A bit of higher heat near the end will help to brown the ribs. Temp control was so low most of the water is still left in the water bowl.
    11:40 224° That's better.
    12:30 236°
    12:45 242° Checked again and looks like they're done as well. I brought them inside to rest.

    OK, starting more coal to run on a 22 1/2" Kettle. Can't fit three slabs of spares and three slabs of back ribs on two grates in the smoker. As it was, I had to trim the ends of the ribs on the smoker to fit. (I should probably get a second bottom grate and add supports for it midway between top and bottom grates for use with flat stuff like ribs.) I used Mesquite lump again and sprinkled hickory and apple chips on them and stuck a couple cherry chunks in for good measure.

    Meat on! They overlap, but I'll handle that when turning them. I don't have the benefit of electronic temperature measurement. The dome temp (dial thermometer in the lid) was about 200° when I put the meat on.
    6:20 215° cutting back a wee bit on the bottom vent. I think thet the dome temp reads low and I prefer to keep this on the low side.
    6:49 230° Flipped them on to the meat side.
    7:04 240°
    7:46 250° Flipped again. Temp is higher than I want. I cut back on the bottom vent a bit more. The spares are starting to pull back on the bome already. That's too soon!
    8:07 225° More like it!

    220° Perfect!
    9:30 180° Added some unlit lump to bring temp back up. Will need to check in a few minutes for temp control.
    9:50 240° Closing the bottom vent a bit.
    10:10 240° Closing even more.
    10:35 225°
    11:30 225° Meat off! I tried to pick up the back rib and it broke. The spare was similarly tender. It's inside resting but I snuck a taste.

    (*) This is from Jeff sells the recipe to make a couple bucks and probably help support the site. I won't spoil that by publishing his recipe here but I will describe some of my tweaks.

    Here's what they looked like when they came off. First the ones cooked on the kettle.

    And the ones cooked a little lower and slower in the WSM.

    Initial impressions. The slabs came off the kettle first due to higher temperature. Flavor was good with a nice (not overbearing) smoky taste. Some parts of the spares which were particularly thin were overdone to the point where they were jerky-like (and that's being kind.) Between the Cayenne and Hungarian Paprika they're a bit on the hot side, but not too hot for me. Some Sweet Baby Ray's will probably offset that. The back ribs exhibited none of those dry areas because they were thicker overall.

    I'm going to taste the ones from the WSM after they rest or perhaps in the morning. I've already eaten way more than I should this time of night. ;)

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Smoking Wood Test: Pecan

    Time for another smoking wood test. This time some store bought Pecan chunks.

    Once again, the mix is Salmon, Tilapia, pork, chicken, beef and a potato. There is no seasoning other than some oil to promote moistness. As usual, the test is performed in the mini-WSM (Weber Smoky Mountain) using the single smoking wood and Royal Oak lump charcoal.

    I have also installed a dome thermometer in the lid to compare readings with the Maverick remote.

    Weather is 81°, sunny and light wind (13 mph.)

    4:12 PM Meat, fish and veggies on!
    4:23235°/150° (*)
    4:28 230° Holding off on the temptation to open the bottom vent, recalling that the grate always tends to read low on the mini.
    4:40242°/270°Beef patties! Still on the counter. So I took the fish off and put the beef patties on.
    4:59 243° Just ordered LOTR-EE (BR) :D
    5:25 227°/170° Burger patties shrinking so they're off. Checking temp on the pork and it's at 160°. I'll wait for it to hit 165° to allow the chickenlegs to finish.
    5:39 245°/° Pork at 168245°/° - time to take the remaining meats off! (Chicken, pork and a split spud.)

    (*) grate/dome - Grate is measured at the top grate using the Maverick remote and dome is read from a dial thermometer installed through a hole in the cover.

    Here is what the results looked like:

    Here's an initial impression of the flavor added by Pecan:
    • Chicken legs - mild very pleasant smoky flavor.
    • Pork country rib - subtle pleasant smoky flavor.
    • Tilapia fillet - mild smoky flavor.
    • Beef patties - extremely subtle, not sure I can even taste the smoke.
    • Salmon fillet - mild smoky flavor.
    • White potato, halved - mild smoky flavor.
    Overall, Pecan reminds me a bit of cherry in that it seems to work well with fish and fowl and is relatively mild. This is a surprise as I expected something more along the lines of Hickory.

      Sunday, June 12, 2011

      A very special bird.

      I am happy. I had a very special bird to prepare and I feel like I did it justice.

      Our son and daughter in law used to raise chickens and turkeys on their 6 acres out in the country. A job promotion has resulted in the need to move and the result is no more turkeys and chickens for the foreseeable future.

      These birds were raised in chicken and turkey tractors. These are enclosures without floors that can be moved around the yard to allow the fowl to forage for whatever they can find to eat in addition to the feed they are provided. While not the same as free range, I think they come close. This 18 ½ pound turkey may be the last of these home raised birds. I think that my preparation did this excellent bird justice and I'd like to document the process here.

      I started by brining the bird. I used a combination of two brines that I had found from different sources. The first was provided by Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass. It starts with two quarts of apple juice and a cup of pickling salt to which I added garlic and onion powder. That wasn't enough brine so I made an additional 2 quarts with 1 cup salt and ¾ cup dark brown sugar. I put the turkey in a plastic cooking bag, poured in the brine and sealed it up with as little air as possible. This went into a cooler with some ice. I turned the bird periodically to expose all of it to the brine which pooled at the bottom of the bag. The bird was in the brine from 4:00 PM one day until 1:00 PM the next.

      I removed the bird from the brine and rinsed it and patted dry before applying an oil rub seasoned with crushed Garlic,  Sage, Cumin, Coriander, Marjoram, Thyme and Hungarian Paprika.

      Smoking was done in an 18 ½" Weber Smoky Mountain (WSM.) This bird was a perfect size to fit the grate and it was not necessary to stand it on its head like I had to do with the 26 pounder I did last Thanksgiving. I chose to use "Best of the West" Mesquite lump charcoal with chunks of Box Elder, Oak, Cherry and a little Black Walnut. The fire was built using the Minion method with a full chimney full of lit lump distributed on top of the rest of the lump and smoking wood. Since fowl benefits less from low 'n slow I did not use water in the bowl but instead foiled it to catch drippings. After adding the lit coals and assembling the weber with all vents wide open, it took about ten minutes for the smoker to hit 300° F. At that time I closed two of three bottom vents fully and closed the third about half way.

      Once the smoker hit 300° F I put the bird on the bottom grate and watched temperature. Ten minutes later the temperature had already recovered to 255° F. Fifteen minutes later it had  dropped to 245° F and then started climbing slowly. At three hours it was at 277° F and I adjusted air flow for the first and only time. I closed the one partially open bottom vent just a tiny bit. The result was that at four hours when the turkey hit 160° F, the smoker had dropped back to 254° F. One thing I really like about the WSM is temperature stability once you get the hang of getting it set right. When I finally opened the smoker, this is what greeted me:

      Here it is fully rested and ready to carve:

      I covered the bird with a foil tent and put it in a slightly warm oven to rest. (Just the pilot - about 110° F.) I had to run to the store for a few things so the turkey wound up resting nearly two hours before I carved it. There was certainly no harm done. That bird is delicious. I carved some breast meat and took some dark meat off one of the drumsticks and both were tender, juicy and had a wonderful smoky flavor.

      The meat just under the skin is a little salty. Perhaps I need to use a little less salt in my next brine. In all other respects it is exquisite. I'll need to set some aside for the next time we get together with our son and his bride so I can show them how much we appreciate their efforts raising such an excellent bird.