Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Big One - Inaugural Smoke

I was lucky to add a 22½ inch Weber Smokey Mountain to my collection. Ever since I've been dying to fire it up. With an adequate supply of pulled pork, ribs and brisket in the freezer I cannot justify smoking any of those. What I need is some fowl! (OK, I smoked a couple chickens in the mini not two weeks ago, but that will not last that long!) Jewel had BOGO sale on chicken including Perdue roasters. Not cheap at $1.99/lb but at half price I felt they were reasonable for their size. I picked up four eight pound chickens - the largest I could find. Instead of getting eight chickens, I got a twenty pound Butterball turkey to go on the other grate.

Weather is C-O-L-D - probably the coldest day so far this winter. It was 10° F when I got up and almost 20° when the turkey went on. Wind is nil reported at 6 mph.

The turkey is a frozen Butterball so it is already injected - no need to brine. I put it in a cooler in a water bath to hasten thawing. The chickens on the other hand have "at most three percent retained water." (I guess that's water they manage to seal in the cryovac bag to bump the weight by three percent.) The chickens get a brine consisting of:
  • 2 C pickling salt
  • 1 C sugar 
  • 6 C apple juice
  • 2 C orange juice
  • 1 C lemon juice
  • 1 C lime juice
  • Sufficient water to bring volume up to 2 gallons.
The chickens were put in a Reynold's turkey size oven bag in a 5 gallon plastic bucket and the brine poured over them. This was all a perfect fit in that the oven bag is a perfect size to line a 5 gallon bucket, the chickens just barely fit inside the bag in the bucket and the brine came about ½ inch below the top edge of the bucket. (I guess I have just over 3 gallons of chicken by displacement.) The bucket was put with the turkey in the basement where the temperature is about freezing. Chickens went into the brine about 11:00 PM and will brine over night. Before they go on the cooker, I stuffed some orange rinds, onions and rosemary and sage into the body cavities of the birds.

These will be cooked on my new (to me) 22½ inch WSM. The turkey will go on the bottom rack since it is expected to take longer while the four chickens will go on top. I plan to use a dry water bowl lined with foil. There is no benefit to holding low temperature with fowl. This will give me a chance to see what temperatures are typical in the larger WSM. I will fire with Kingsford Blue and add some apple, cherry, mesquite and a little hickory for smoke. I will use the Minion method to light the charcoal so I won't get the raging 500º start that I get with two lit chimneys on the 26 inch kettle. This will be more a smoke than a roast. Update on the fire prep. I was not able to use the igniter on my Performer. Also I had to abandon mesquite smoke as the mesquite chinks were in the bin on the Performer. After I closed the smoker up, I left two bottom vents wide open and a third closed. That produces a pretty reasonable temperature for fowl.

Update on plans... The coating of ice on the performer prevented access to the storage bin on my Performer and that is where the mesquite is. No mesquite. I used apple, cherry and hickory for smoking wood.

As it turned out that four eight pound chickens will not fit on a 22½ inch grate. The turkey fit fine.

But even three chickens were a little tight.

So I quickly set up the mini to handle the overflow.

Here is the temperature profile and notes for the cook in the 22½ inch WSM.

timetemp comment
11:15AM°Turkey on the smoker!
Three of four chickens on! That's all that fits. I'm quickly firing up the mini to handle the fourth. Before opening the cooker to put these chickens on I noted that the bottom grate was already over 300°
12:0388°/311°/62°/271°/? (trk/bgr/chk/tgr/lid)
1:30 PM142°/340°/126°/285°/?
2:04154°/327°/142°/276°/250°Could the turkey finish before the chickens? Or do I have the probe in not the best spot - maybe not a good reading.
2:30162°/315°/151°/270°/240°Opened cooker and checked turkey with WW and got ~140°. I tried to relocate the probe but now getting an even higher reading. I'll trust that the turkey will not be overcooked when the chickens are done.
3:10171/273º/163º/256º/Chicken off!
3:24172º/?/-/-/250ºTurkey probes at 151º deep in the breast. Relocated the ET-732 probe to that location.
4:03162/282/-/-/?Turkey coming off!

Temperature readings are (trk/bgr/chk/tgr/lid) => (turkey breast/bottom grate/chicken/top grate/lid) Turkey and bottom grate are via Maverick ET-732 while top grate and chicken are via old reliable ET-73. The lid is the factory installed thermometer in the cooker.

The following time/temperature record is for a single chicken in the mini-WSM. All electronics are in use on the 22½ WSM so this will be monitored via the lit thermometer and near finish, using the Taylor Weekend Warrior quick reading hand held.

The fire is prepared using briquettes and I'm using some pecan for smoke wood. All vents are wide open as this seems to produce a pretty good temperature for smoke-roasting fowl.

timetemp comment
12:10225°Bird on!
2:11300°/136°Closed bottom vent to about half. Going a little faster than I wanted.
2:30 260°/142°Better.
3:14260/160Bird off!

This is what the birds looked like when I checked turkey temperature.

The birds picked up even more color before they were done.

All of the birds were great - flavorful and moist. None of the temperature indicators popped. The chickens were a tad salty. Next time I brine that long, I should rinse for about 15 minutes to leach out some excess salt. The stuff in the body cavity smelled great but I'm not sure how much it contributed to the flavor. The smoke flavor on the turkey was subtle. I wonder if a slower smoke would make a difference. I pulled the chicken and turkey and have a lot to freeze as well as lots of bones and skins to make a nice stock.

Soak the brined birds for about 15 minutes to leach excess salt.
Try shoving herbs under the skin instead of the body cavity.
Maybe cook at a lower temp for more smoke flavor. But it's hard to fault these birds. Maybe only for a turkey.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Chickens - first smoke of the new year

I had hoped to fill the 22.5 Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) with chickens for it's inaugural smoke. Unfortunately the grocers have not cooperated. The best price I can find for whole chickens is 89¢/lb and they were small at about 4 lb. I went with a pair of birds from Sam's Club at 99¢/lb and about 6½ lb. What I didn't realize was that they were so called enhanced birds. As I rinsed the birds prior to brining, I noticed the skin over the breast peppered with little holes. I looked carefully at the cryovac the birds were packed in and saw they were enhanced with up to 12% "natural broth." Ugh! I had already prepared the brine so I went ahead and put the birds in. They will be double brined I suppose.

OK, here's my gripe with Sam's Club. These are cryovaced birds packed two to a bag and then weighed and labeled. On the left is Sam's Club sticker. Note at the top it states "TWIN WHOLE CHICKENS 1009% NATURAL" You would think that means no 'enhancement'. You (and I) would be wrong. The inner packate states "Flavor and Tenderness enhanced with up to 12% Natural* Chicken Broth" On the other side the broth incredients include (in addition to chicken broth) 2% or less of Sea Salt and carageenan. Sea salt and carrageenan do not naturally occur in chicken! I really need to start reading these labels a lot more carefully. So... 1/8 of my chicken is salt water that probably had some chicken bones (and other 'parts') waved over the pot.

Weather at start is 35° and sunny with wind brisk at 17 mph. (I'm using the covered gasser as a wind block.) Near finish temperature has dropped to 31° and wind is down to about 14 mph.

I made a gallon of brine using water, a ping of apple juice, juice from two lemons, juice from 5 desiccated limes (I hesitate to use the term 'fresh' as the skins were like leather.) Added to this is a cup of pickling salt and ½ cup sugar. Birds went into the brine about 11:30 AM and came out about 3:30 PM. I didn't do any more seasoning of the birds preferring to rely on the smoke for flavor.

This is going on the mini-WSM. I used mostly Grove Lump and a little blue bag briquettes. For smoking wood I chose apple, cherry and a little mesquite. It turned out that there was insufficient clearance for the chicken under the lid so I split the bird on the top rack.

I'm using my ET-732 for the first time on this cook. I'm also not working at controlling temperature. Both top and bottom vents are wide open and there is no water in the bowl. After closing the cooker the temperature spiked at about 360° and has settled to about 330° a couple minutes later. It still seems to be dropping.

timetemp comment
3:40 PM
Birds on!
4:00 66°/324°

4:47138°/349°Moving right along...
5:38158°/322°Almost done.
5:53162°/318°Cooker seems to be dropping faster than the bird is gaining. I'll stir the fire a bit. (There were still plenty of coals.) The skin on the leg on the split bird was just starting to pull back so I'll give it a couple more minutes and call it done.
6:03163°/302°Time for the split bird to come off. I'll move he meat probe to the whole bird.
6:36167°/349°Bird done and off.

The birds came out good. Skin was not crisp but far from the rubbery texture that a low 'n slow produces with fowl. It was noticeably salty but not unpleasantly so. It took on a light amber color and pleasant smoky flavor.

Next time read the labels more carefully! also consider dropping the top grate an inch or so to provide additional head space under the lid. The relatively high heat cook seems to be fine for the bird. I didn't really see deficit compared to slowing the cook down.