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!

Breaded Steak Success

Breaded steak was probably my favorite Cuban food growing up. More than pork shoulder sandwiches and other things my mother made. I often helped her prepare it at home, but never got a chance to cook it as a kid. I’ve tried it a few times since growing up, but it’s hard to get the right thickness. Butchers here don’t know what it is, so they have a hard time helping me. But this time I got through to a butcher at Wegmans – who let me in on the secret – using a mallet to squish the meat skinnier than it can be cut on a steak slicer. The only thing that sucks is that my example of thinness was some Korean meat so he thought I wanted it cut into little strips. Still, I finally was successful at making a very tasty breaded steak:

BBQ Ribs

Ever since I bought my house and got a BBQ/grill I’ve learned that most of what I thought of as BBQ growing up was actually grilling. The key difference is that you BBQ at a lower temperature (typically around 225 F) and that BBQ is cooked via indirect heat. Grilling is cooking directly over a fire and, typically, done at the highest heat your BBQ/grill can provide (at the very least starting around 350 F and higher). Although I’ve been cooking ribs successfully on the BBQ/Grill for the past 6ish years, I’ve never really been BBQing them. So I looked around on the web and I found the recipe for Last Meal Ribs.

Ribs and wood chips
Ribs and wood chips for smoking

I thought about the best ribs I’ve ever eaten and one of the aspects that adds a lot of the taste is smoking. So I bought some hickory wood chips. I’d usually done Danielle’s family ribs marinade, but this time I wanted to make it American Style. So I put together Meathead’s Dust rub to dry rub the ribs before I put them on the BBQ.

Ribs on the grill with the thermometer probe
Ribs on the grill with the thermometer probe

When I BBQ this new way, it ends up being just juicy enough without falling off the bone

One thing that was essential for BBQing that’s not really needed for grilling – a thermometer. BBQ built-in thermometers are just not accurate. Also, they’re measuring temperature up where the lid is, not by the meat. I couldn’t get a photo (with my phone) where both thermometer were in focus, but this one shows the BBQ in focus and the numbers on the external thermometer are large enough to read, even if it’s out of focus.

Inaccuracy of BBQ thermometer
Inaccuracy of BBQ thermometer

Another reason you need the thermometer (even if you’re BBQing on a gas grill) is that weather and humidity affect the heat. For example, when I took these photos, this was the setting to maintain 225 F:

225 F setting in May
225 F setting in May

Only one of the burners on this setting with the others off. But when I BBQed yesterday, I had to turn the knob to the bottom setting.

Everything needed, including the sauce
Everything needed, including the sauce

So, having now done this twice, what are my lessons learned?

  1. I need a bigger BBQ if I’m going to feed more than just my immediate family. I can only make about 2 racks of babyback ribs on my BBQ.
  2. I need to work on getting the wood chips to smoulder/smoke better. I’ve gotten some flavor out of them, but not exactly what I’m looking for. Next time I’ll have to remove the grate and put it right on the fire to see if I can get a better amount of smoke.
  3. I always preheat the grill first – all high at 15 minutes. That’s supposed to help get the grates into a good state and help some of the fat or anything that remained on the grill melt off. I always wash them before use, but I can’t get everything off without risking ripping off some of the anti-rust coating of the grill.

Overall, I like the texture of the ribs better when I cook it this way. It tastes good when I cook it the old way where I was finishing in an hour, but it’s a bit tougher. When I BBQ this new way, it ends up being just juicy enough without falling off the bone (which is overcooked and probably pre-boiled). Next up for me is to try a Brisket. I’m slightly intimidated by the 10ish hours of cooking time, but I’d definitely like to try it.

Waiting for the cooking to be done
Waiting for the cooking to be done

Shadow Before Work

My Shadow in the Morning before work.On my way out of the house in the morning, and this great bit of art just happens due to the sun being in just the right place. I’ve never seen this in the half dozen years I’ve lived here. But this morning, it was there to give me a little mood lift.

Samgyeopsal-gui (Korean Pork Belly)

As an adult I have discovered a love of cooking. Sure, it can get mundane on a day-to-day basis, but I enjoy creating something tasty. I especially enjoy learning how to cook food that is much more expensive to eat out. Recently when I went to Costco, I was in the pork section and noticed they had pork bellies. So I wanted to try and recreate a  Samgyeopsal-gui dish. So I found a recipe that included the sauces that go along with the dish and tried it out. It was a hit on the first try. Enjoy some images of my cooking:

Pacific Northwest Trip Part 5

The day after the wedding we headed out to Mount Hood. While I learned how to ski at the Sugar Mountains in North Carolina, I did most of my skiing at Mount Hood when we lived there. When we first moved up we went to Mt Hood in August and there was some snow there. This was a much hotter year, so you had to go to the top of The Magic Mile to get some snow. I actually heard some people complaining about the quality of the snow….in July…..

It's always trippy to see abandoned ski lifts in the summer
It’s always trippy to see abandoned ski lifts in the summer

Even though it’s been 20 years (give or take) since I last skied here, I remember spending tons of time on the Pucci run. Why? Because we always used to reference Poochie from Yoshi’s Island 2.

Pucci, one of my favorite runs on Mt Hood
Pucci, one of my favorite runs on Mt Hood

One of these days I’ll probably reminisce more about skiing at Mount Hood, but looking at this Pucci photo again reminds me of the joy of skiing with Dan – enjoying all the runs. And swelling with pride at being made responsible for Dave since my parents didn’t enjoy skiing.

I love the bottom part of this sign:

If you're on the run....I recommend Canada...
If you’re on the run….I recommend Canada…

I’d completely forgotten they filmed this here:

Here's Johnny!
Here’s Johnny!

The Tyranny of the Little Brothers

It wasn’t until this year that I realized I was no longer in control of my personal narrative. I believed that I could be in charge of how private or public my life was. But it’s become increasingly obvious this year that it’s not in Facebook’s financial interest for me to be able to control my narrative. Too many of us are disengaging with the social network to a large degree. So now others can post about me and tag me and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s quite frustrating that all too many conversations nowadays begin with, “please don’t post this to Facebook.” It just makes me want to turn in on myself and spend less time socializing. Because, at least for now, anything that happens in my home when I’m by myself will only end up on the Internet if Danielle and I both want it online.

As I’ve said before, it’s not Big Brother you need to worry about – The Government doesn’t give a darn what you do on the weekend. It’s the Little Brothers catching you on a million cell phone cameras and any of them can decide to post and tag you.