Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Brisket on a stick burner

I've been inspired by Aaron Franklin's videos on brisket and have glommed on to a halfway decent (not too expensive) stick burner. (Whereas Franklin's smoker goes for $900, I found a New Braunfels Black Diamond for $40 on Craigslist.)

I picked up a 14 pound brisket at Sam's today and will get it on the smoker as early as possible tomorrow morning. (Tonight I have some butts to finish.)

Weather was about 70°F and cloudy with light wind at the start of the cook. Temps hit 80° mid day.

The brisket received a simple rub of salt and pepper which was applied before the fire was lit. As much fat as possible was trimmed from the brisket as well, though a healthy fat cap was left on the meat.

Equipment prep started the night before. First I split some old oak and box elder to provide some wood. Will this be enough?

The smoker itself could really stand to be refurbished but for this first cook I'll simply perform a couple simple modifications. I removed the cooking grate from the fire box. It won't be needed for this cook. There are charcoal grates in the smoke chamber that I won't need for this cook but they seem to be good size to wrap in foil and make tuning plates.

The purpose of tuning plates is to help convey the heat and smoke along the smoke chamber to even out the heat a bit. However I don't want it completely even as I want a little more heat for the thicker point end of the brisket. After the picture was taken, I opened the gap between the grates. I could easily tear some of the foil during the cook if needed.

The other mod is to extend the stack down to grate level with a collar of foil. The purpose is to bring the smoke and heat back down to grate level before it exits.

I couldn't fire it up from last night's cook because the coals had gone out. I relit some and transferred then to the offset's fire box.

Rubbed with S&P and ready to go on.

timetemp comment
7:25 AM
Fire in the hole!
Threw more sticks on and put Thermometer probes on either side of the smoke chamber.
More wood. The oak was not lit and the box elder had mostly burned off.
8:52352°/358°Looking good! Brisket will go on in a bit.
9:00~320°Meat on! And a couple more sticks in the fire.
9:28180°/221°More wood!
9:39239°/343°Fewer splits next time...
10:15194°/244°Added water pan and couple more splits.
10:35190°/221°More fuel, closed intake to half.
10:46176°/212°Fire almost out! Added more box elder and blew til lit.
10:55193°/234°A little smokey so I opened the inlet a little and threw in another piece of oak.
11:11165°/196°Fire trying to go out again! More box elder and open the inlet.
11:43268°/298°After throwing in a couple more splits.
11:56257°/295°After hitting 300+. Time to check again. Moved one stick from side to fire. Added one stick with end in the fire. Maybe progressive burning will even out the swings.
12:11208°/241°Time to tend.
12:32205°/235°Added meat probe.
12:43261°/293°/167° (lo/hi/meat)*
1:20212°/237°/178°Time to stoke.
1:54419°/302°/185°Temp spiked when wood preheating in the fire box caught fire.
2:16221°/246°/189°Couple more sticks on.
2:39264°/284°/190°Just threw in a couple more sticks. 327° in the middle.
3:01208°/232°/195°Threw in a big oak chunk and box elder split.
3:22205°/223°/195°Temp came up and is drifting back down - did the big piece light?
3:39219°/246°/195°Add a couple more sticks to overcome difficulty with lighting the big chunk.
3:51212°/239°/195°Where are we going? Nowhere! Threw another stick on. I should probe the meat. The brisket probes tender at the point end and firm (and about 180°) at the far end. I closed the tuning plate gap to see if I could direct more heat toward the stack end.
4:04248°/279°/196°Moving again.
Got a picture, swapped the brisket end for end and threw on another big oak chunk. Threw in a piece of cherry a little later.
4:38225°/286°/178°WTF? Add more wood. Split some big chunks of maple.
5:42262°/268°/198°Probes tender in some spots and not in others. Coming off to rest!

* lo/hi are measured with probes on an ET-732 laying on the grate. meat is using an ET-73 in the point end of the meat.

The brisket tasted great! Parts in the middle were still a bit firm and some of the bottom edges were hard. Heat distribution seems to be an issue.

Brisket in the stick burner would probably benefit from fat cap down. That should help prevent the hardened edges. Heat distribution also needs to be improved. Tuning plates? I also need to work with wood size and supply. I literally burned through the supply I had. I also need to work with larger pieces of wood. One recommendation from BBQ-Brethren is chunks rather than sticks. I'll experiment with that the next time I fire the stick burner.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I like big butts and I cannot lie

With apologies to Sir Mix-A-Lot. (Can I be Sir Smoke-A-Lot?) I need to thank someone for letting me leave my motorcycle on their premises until I can come up back with a trailer to fetch it. Of course the first thing that comes to mind is BBQ! I hastened to my local Sams and bought four butts totalling about 42 lb.

Weather is hot at 83°F and sunny with winds light at about 5 mph.

I used my standard rub recipe as follows:
  • 2 Tbsp black Pepper (whole)
  • 2 Tbsp Rosemary (dry, whole)
  • 1 Tbsp Coriander (whole)
  • 1 Tbsp mustard seed
  • 2 Tbsp Hungarian Paprika.
  • 1 Tbsp Adobo seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp powdered onion
  • 2 Tsp Cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Cumin
  • 2 Tbsp powdered garlic
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
Butts have been rubbed and are sitting in the kitchen while I set up the cooker.

This cook will be done on the 22.5 Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) using Royal Oak Briquettes. Additional smoke provided by hickory, oak and box elder. The water pan is foiled. I've embedded the smoking wood chunks in the bed of briquettes and lit a fill mini-chimney of briquettes, While they were still starting, I set the chimney on the charcoal bet which ignites some of the fuel under the chimney while the rest of the charcoal in the chimney gets started.  I'll be using the ET-732 to measure temperature at the top grate of the cooker.

timetemp comment
1:15 PM
A fully lit mini-chimney of charcoal was dumped on the bed and the smoker has been closed up. Three bottom vents are left about 1/3 open. (Top vent is fully open as it always is until the cook is complete.)
Meat on! Dome temp is about 275° and smoke looks good! Oops, meat probe is sitting on the SS table of my Performer and reads 122°!
2:0561°/246°/240° (meat/grate/lid)Good start! Well... late start. I'll be up late tonight or very early in the morning.
4:34133°/262°/275°Three hours and no adjustments or fiddling needed!
7:05167°/221°/2005:30 w/out touching the cooker - not bad! I just stirred the coals to knock the ash off. They're a bit more than half consumed.  Minutes later the temperature is already starting to recover.
7:44169°/228°/?Cooker not really going where I want so I'll add some fuel - threw in some left over lump and briquettes from the other cookers and a little more smoking wood. Opened one bottom vent full.
8:27171°/239°/220°Seems to be back on track.
9:56183°/264°/240°Really smells good!
10:45190°/259°/235°Opened the cover and the bones still feel pretty firm as I try to wiggle the bone. I picked one up and a small piece stuck to the grill (for some cook's treat - really good!) They still need a little more time.
11:24194°/252°/225°The bone did not wiggle but I declare them done. While trying to pick them up, they were falling apart! The little bites that stick to the grill are particularly good. Now they need to rest. I closed the fire up mostly, hoping to bank it to save some coals to start tomorrow's fire in the stick burner. May not work as it looks like heavy rain is just moving in.

Results: Flavor excellent. Texture a bit firm. It could have been easier to pull. Perhaps I should have allowed it to cook a little longer.

What to do differently next time: Give the bone wiggle test another try.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Two racks for Sister Sarah.

No, not really. No Sister Sarah involved. We have no more ribs left in the freezer and we're doing stuff around the house so I broke two racks of spares out of the freezer to smoke today. I'll be giving them a try using the hanging method. I did back loin ribs this way before. One will be using my previous rub and one using Harry Soo's Slap Yo' Daddy rub. Both got a little oil as well.

At about 10:30 when I'm firing up the cooker, it is a gorgeous 72°F with some clouds and wind light at 10 mph.

I had some rub left from this cook and used that on one rack. On the other one I'm trying Harry Soo's Slap Yo' Daddy rub. (Note: Commercial link) As noted, I am hanging these and this time I've added some support string to prevent the phenomena of the rack falling apart and falling into the fire. <roll eyes> I also squirted some oil on both racks because I think that helps to keep them moist. I started to remove the membrane and then decided to leave it on to help support the ribs. And it was not coming off very easy.

This is going on the 18.5 WSM with the hanging supports in place. I'm using a charcoal ring mostly full of Royal Oak briquettes with some hickory, black walnut, maple (box elder), and some apple for smoking wood. I had a few small pieces of cherry left over from a previous cook and threw them in as well. I lit the fire with a mini-chimney full of briquettes. It's perfect size for lighting enough charcoal for a Minion method fire. After the fire was starting to spread I closed up the cooker and left two vents about half way open.

timetemp comment
10:50 AM °Meat on!
11:00221°/220° (remote/lid)
12:30 PM286°/285°
1:21279°/?°It is surprising how consistent the two temperature measurements are.
1:30268°/263°Temps are running surprisingly steady with no adjustment on the bottom vents. I just opened the cooker for a bend test. Meat is not pulling back on the bones too much and the racks don;t bend much. More time!
2:25268°/260°Done (by bend test) - meat off! 

(remote/lid) => (ET-732 cooker probe stuck in the grommet near the top grate supports/lid thermometer.)

Here they are at two hours.

And done.

They were good but not great. The end towards the fire was sort of like jerky. They seemed like they were a little overdone and didn't have as much meat as I have come to expect with spares. Both rubs tasted good, the chief difference is that my rub had a little heat to it. Could be a little oversmoked as well.

What to do differently next time? Little less smoke, little shorter cook? Maybe do spares on the racks but w/out the water pan.