Stella Year 1 Portraits

We did it, we got through a year with twins. We had a lot of help – mostly from my mother in law, but also from my parents and with a little help from our friends. With Stella it was extra tough because we didn’t know for the first couple months that she was lactose intolerant. Once we figured that out, she was less miserable and life was good.

First Smoked BBQ Pulled Pork

Long-time readers of my blog will know that while I’ve been working at mastering my grills for a few years now, it was in 2016 that I decided I would take my BBQ to the next level. Back in June I smoked baby back ribs for the first time. Then I realized that I wanted to step up my smoking game I’d need a Weber Kettle. Mom got me one for my birthday and at that time I started pining for a chance to take on one of the two kings of BBQ: Pulled Pork or Brisket. The local area made up my mind for me. Apparently it’s next to impossible to get full packer brisket in Maryland. So pulled pork it would be.

I’d already been spending a lot of time in Reddit’s BBQ Subreddit, but to master a winter smoke, I turned to the Smoking subreddit. A special thanks to the two users who helped me here. (As of now going by the handles: HolySchnikeys and golfzerodelta) There will be room in the future to experiment with other recipes, but for now I’m mostly following Meathead Goldwin’s recipes. This time it was this one for pulled pork. I recommend reading the website once to get Meathead’s very wordy tips. Then use his cookbook to do the actual cook as the realities of printing costs mean he has to be more economical with his works. Meathead recommends trimming the fat (because most people aren’t going to eat it and they’ll end up throwing away your bark – where most of the flavor is) and salting it 12-24 hours ahead of time. I ended up being able to salt it 18 hours-ish ahead of time:

Trimmed the fat as best I could.
Trimmed the fat as best I could.

Meathead warns that a 5 pound pork shoulder could take 8-12 hours depending on conditions and this was nearly an 11 pound shoulder. I had a feeling it wasn’t linear (meaning it wouldn’t take twice as long), but I had no idea how long it’d take. So I planned to get it on the Weber Kettle by 0600. I didn’t want to be running around the house while everyone was asleep, so I got everything ready ahead of time:

Supplies for the smoke session

I got up at 0515, brushed my teeth, and got ready to go outside.

ready to go out and BBQ in February!
ready to go out and BBQ in February!

The winter gear is pretty self-explanatory – it was 29 out there when I first went out. The headlamp was so that I would be able to see even if my body was blocking the porch light.

The guys on the smoking subreddit recommended the snake or fuse method to keep a nice, consistent flow of heat because a lot of it was going to be radiating out of the Weber Kettle due to how cold it was outside.

Set up a snake method 2x2 of Kingsford blue bag
Set up a snake method 2×2 of Kingsford blue bag

I set up a snake of 2 coals topped with 2 coals going around as you see above. Here’s a closer shot:

Closeup on the snake
Closeup on the snake
Some hickory wood chunks
Some hickory wood chunks

I used hickory wood chunks as I like the hickory flavor – it’s the one I associate most with BBQ. (Although I’ll be experimenting in the future) Meathead usually has one weigh wood so the pitmaster can be consistent in the future. I didn’t have time the prior day so I tried to approximate about 1 lb of wood.

I put 10 coals into the Weber chimney and about 7 were fully lit when I placed them onto the right side of the snake fuse. I filled the water pan with 208 degrees F water from our instant hot water tea maker. I used the entire capacity and ended up filling the pan somewhere between 75% and 80% full. Then I closed the lid with both the top and bottom vents fully open. It was 0609. So I was a bit behind. I went and grabbed the butt (yuck yuck) to put the seasoning on it while I waited for the BBQ to come up to temp.

Adding Meathead’s Memphis Dust

Then I added the temp probe:

Adding the temperature probe
Adding the temperature probe

The pork ended up on at 0645. The grill wasn’t up to temp yet, but I figured I’d start the cooking rather than waiting for the perfect temp. Things went well and the snake kept things relatively sane. I only had to adjust the vents a little here and there (probably when a wood chunk would ignite). Here are some shots of the kettle and settings at 1113:

Closeup of the bottom vent setting
Closeup of the bottom vent setting
Temp Readout
Temp Readout

A little after 1400 I noticed my temps starting to drop precipitously. I’d been checking the snake every time I adjusted the vents, but given how cold it was outside I didn’t want to do that too much and leak more heat out than the Kettle was already leaking. Turns out my snake was about to die. So I removed the cooking grate, moved the water pan, cleaned out the ash, continued the snake onwards, and watch the temps. They were taking too long to climb back up, so I took 1 chacoal lump, and the newly created charcoal (the hickory wood from before) and lit that in the chimney. I then added that to the snake. Temperatures began to climb back up. This was also around the time I had a stall. Was the stall because I’d reached stall temp or because the meat was cooled by being taken out in winter (I think in the summer the effect would be negligible)? Anyway, here’s how the pork shoulder looked at that point:

Pork mid-cook after rebuilding snake
Pork mid-cook after rebuilding snake

Before I get to the finished product, here’s a chart of various temps throughout the cook. The least accurate is the ambient temp as that was from my phone which probably updated on the half hour.

Pulled Pork 20170205 Temps
Pulled Pork 20170205 Temps

Near the end there as it started to get cold again and the coals were starting to run out on my second snake, I had to clean out the ash a lot to maintain my temps.

Pork done at 196 F.
Pork done at 196 F.

It was getting late and I pulled it at 196 rather than wait for 203. It was super tender and a bit actually stuck to the grate and I had to remove it with a spatula (that’s the part on the right of that photo). The bark tasted amazing on average. However, there were some parts (especially on the edges (as opposed to top and bottom)) that were actually burnt rather than just looking burnt. That was regrettable because it was bark and flavor no one wanted to eat. I might end up cutting it up so that it’s smaller and easier to eat while still giving flavor.

Danielle Shredding the pork shoulder
Danielle Shredding the pork shoulder

My wife shredded the pork as I had no experience with that whatsoever. Then we took her homemade coleslaw (buttermilk instead of mayo and 2 kinds of cabbage!) and made sandwiches:

Smoked Pulled Pork Shoulder Sandwhiches with home-made coleslaw and some Trader Joe Kansas Style BBQ Sauce.
Smoked Pulled Pork Shoulder Sandwiches with home-made coleslaw and some Trader Joe Kansas Style BBQ Sauce.

I never had to crutch so my bark was somewhere between simply tough and crunchy. I liked it, but my wife did not. Perhaps in the future I will crutch it or rest it with foil to soften the bark a bit for her? Another lesson learned is that since it really does have nearly all the flavor in the bark (like 90%), I’d do better to have 2 five pound shoulders instead of one ten pound shoulder to increase the bark to inner meat ratio.

Overall it feels great to have conquered my first long cook. My wife liked it (and she does NOT mince words with me when it comes to food taste – she will not hesitate to tell me when food flat out sucks) and I took some to work the next day and the guy with whom I usually talk BBQ shop loved it. People did not want to stop eating and share with others. So that’s a good sign. In fact, I actually found that it tasted a bit better to me the second day. Aforementioned BBQ expert agreed with me, but your mileage may vary. Next….time to find some whole packer brisket!

Sam and Stella’s 1st Birthday

Finally got time to review the photos from the birthday party. We got lucky because we took a bet that the weather wouldn’t be too cold to have an outdoor birthday party at the park. Everything worked out and the weather was great! Sam and Stella were still a little too young to enjoy the park, but the older kids had a blast. Dina did a great job with their birthday cakes, recreating the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in fondant. Overall, Sam and Stella behaved really well – not trying to smash the cake or anything – and it was fun all around.

Look soon for the photos I took to commemorate them turning 1.

Last.fm 2016 Listening Trends

For now, my music listening continues to be in decline relative to earlier in my life. Because the babies are often napping, I don’t have music playing throughout the day. And if I’m playing video games I’m usually not listening to music so I can stream. That said, when I do listen to Spotify at work, it usually Scrobbles and that has increased the number a bit higher than it would have otherwise been.

Artists

1. Weezer (185 listens) – After hearing the writer on Song Exploder I started listening to some of the older albums. I’d only ever heard the singles, so it was interesting to hear the albums.
2. 4minute (149 listens) – KPop day at work plus a bug on Spotify and last.fm on Android that makes a song keep getting counted over and over.
3. American Pinup (102 listens) – it’s on my phone, so their songs come up a LOT when I’m driving
4. Chance the Rapper (102 listens) – Chance finally released his third album. I liked some songs, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as Acid Rap.
5. Barenaked Ladies (87 listens) – just jumped back in to a band I was into in High School
6. The Beatles (84 listens) – as usual, they’re always here because I have SO many Beatles songs.
7. Rihanna (82 listens) – Nerdwriter’s look at Work had me listening to some more Rihanna on Spotify.
8. Five Iron Frenzy (75 listens) – I wanted to listen again because it’s been a while.
9. Drake (71 listens) – From listening to Rihanna, I ended up listening to Drake a little at work
10. Ramin Djawadi (66 listens) – After I got into Westworld and its great piano covers of songs, I went to listen to the soundtrack (and eventually bought it) and discovered he was also the composer for the Game of Thrones soundtrack. Spent a while listening to great songs.
11. Paul and Storm (64 listens) – Continued to listen to the closest thing we have to Tom Lehrer nowadays.
12. Thousand Foot Krutch (63 listens) – I went back to see if I still liked it. I don’t like the group as much as I did before, but there are still some fun songs.
13. Relient K (58 listens) – Again revisiting an old favorite band.
14. Billie Holiday (55 listens) – She is awesome. No reason not to listen to her.
15. G.NA (55 listens) – More K-POP!

Songs

1. 4minute — Cut it Out (92 listens) – this is the song that ended up being Scrobbled so much because of the bug on Android
2. Weezer — I Swear It’s True – Pre-Production Recording (46 listens) – it’s funny, I hadn’t realized this was a Weezer song until I went through their albums this year.
3. Drake — With You (33 listens)
4. SG Lewis — Yours (24 listens)
5. Prince — Stare (22 listens)
6. Chance the Rapper — All We Got (feat. Kanye West & Chicago Children’s Choir) (16 listens) – Of all the songs in Chance’s third album, this is the one I like the most
7. American Pinup — The Upper Hand (14 listens)
8. Beautiful Bodies — Invincible (13 listens)
9. American Pinup — Joy Ride (13 listens) – My favorite song from this album, it really has a great feel and I love playing it while I drive around.
10. [unknown] — Star Wars (13 listens)
11. Freezepop — Starlight (13 listens)
12. American Pinup — Storm Chaser (13 listens)
13. Chance the Rapper — Summer Friends (feat. Jeremih & Francis & The Lights) (12 listens)
14. American Pinup — Shelter (11 listens)
15. Rihanna — Work (11 listens)

Albums

1. American Pinup — Change Machine (100 listens)
2. Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Thomas Dausgaard — Schumann – Rise of the Masters: 100 Supreme Classical Masterpieces (99 listens)
3. Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book (94 listens)
4. 4minute — Crazy (93 listens)
5. Billie Holiday — The Complete Billie Holiday (52 listens)
6. Drake — Views (51 listens)
7. Weezer — Weezer (Deluxe Edition) (51 listens)
8. The Beatles — The Beatles (50 listens)
9. Lana Del Rey — Honeymoon (49 listens)
10. Acerina Y Su Danzonera — Danzones de Siempre (42 listens)
11. Thelonious Monk — Plays Duke Ellington (42 listens)
12. Ramin Djawadi — Westworld: Season 1 (40 listens)
13. Paul and Storm — Ball Pit (38 listens)
14. Beautiful Bodies — Battles (38 listens)
15. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment — Surf (35 listens)

Top All-Time Artists

They all remained in the same rank as last year.

1. Fantastic Plastic Machine Fantastic Plastic Machine (3,595 listens)
2. Anberlin Anberlin (2,768 listens)
3. Five Iron Frenzy Five Iron Frenzy (2,701 listens)
4. The Beatles The Beatles (2,425 listens)
5. Relient K Relient K (1,905 listens)
6. “Weird Al” Yankovic “Weird Al” Yankovic (1,693 listens)
7. Fall Out Boy Fall Out Boy (1,300 listens)
8. Gnarls Barkley Gnarls Barkley (1,121 listens)
9. I Fight Dragons I Fight Dragons (1,011 listens)
10. Gwen Stefani Gwen Stefani (904 listens)
11. Andrea Echeverri Andrea Echeverri (894 listens)
12. DC Talk DC Talk (891 listens)
13. Tom Lehrer Tom Lehrer (875 listens)
14. Lostprophets Lostprophets (827 listens)
15. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (805 listens)

Top All-Time Songs

1. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — Over and Over Again (Lost and Found) (116 listens)
2. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood (116 listens)
3. Jonathan Coulton — The Princess Who Saved Herself (109 listens)
4. Fantastic Plastic Machine — Take Me To The Disco [Malibu Mix] (104 listens)
5. Fantastic Plastic Machine — Steppin’ Out (102 listens)
6. Gnarls Barkley — Who Cares (99 listens)
7. Gnarls Barkley — Just a Thought (93 listens)
8. 4minute — Cut it Out (92 listens)

All of these got dropped a rank by 4Minute JUMPING up the charts thanks to the Spotify/last.fm bug.
9. Gnarls Barkley — The Last Time (87 listens)
10. Anberlin — Audrey, Start The Revolution! (85 listens)
11. Andrea Echeverri — Quédate (85 listens)
12. Gnarls Barkley — St. Elsewhere (85 listens)
13. Gnarls Barkley — Crazy (82 listens)
14. Fantastic Plastic Machine — Love Is Psychedelic (82 listens)
15. Gnarls Barkley — Smiley Faces (82 listens)

Scrobbles at end of 2016: 99,546

Scrobbles in 2016: 6,243 – about 3000 less than last year. Scrobbled music has been on a steady decline for me. Because last year had also fallen by 3000.

Various stats from Last.fm’s year in music page:

  • Avg Scrobbles/Day: 17
  • Total Listening Time: 14 Days 11 hours
  • I mostly listen from 6 AM to 6 PM
  • I listen most on Wednesdays
  • 39% This year was listening to new artists
  • 53% New Albums
  • 48% new songs
  • I beat Dan in scrobbles this year – he doesn’t show up in my Top 5
  • But Dan beat me in artist discovery – 55% vs 39%
  • Longest streak was 39 days from 23 Oct to 30 Nov
  • 13 April I listened to the most music – 394 songs
  • 15 June listened to Weezer 63 times; 13 April listened to 44 tracks from Schumann.