My First Brisket!

I had been wanting to do brisket for a very long time, but I couldn’t find anywhere convenient to buy a whole packer brisket. But right before I was convinced I was going to have to go to a butcher, Costco decided to carry them.

Brisket at Costco!

Yeah, it was 20 lbs, which is ridiculous for what was essentially going to be just 3 adults, but it was USDA Prime for only $3/lb! I had no choice. I put it in my shopping cart and resolved to deal with the consequences later.

After I got home I realized I had a problem, it was too long to fit in my 18″ Weber Smokey Mountain. So I had to cut off some of the flat. (I ended up using that to make some beef phở).

cutting off some of the flat

Then I had to trim the fat. There was a pretty good amount to take off.

trimming the fat off the brisket
trimming the fat off the brisket

I put on a Dalmatian rub and put it into the fridge to dry brine.

brisket dalmation rub

The next day I fired up the smoker and got to work on the Texas mop sauce.

ingredients for the Texas mop sauce
ingredients for the Texas mop sauce

Instead of vegetable oil, I rendered some of the brisket fat:

rendering brisket fat
rendering brisket fat

I should have cut it into smaller pieces to increase the rendered fat to fried fat ratio, but there’s a first time for everything. And here’s my completed mop sauce:

Texas mop sauce
Texas mop sauce

The taste reminded me a lot of my mom’s carne con papa sauce or a ragu. I think a bit over 20 hours later, the brisket was finally done smoking:

Smoked brisket
Smoked brisket

I used Kingsford coals with the minion method and some hickory as the wood. I always think it’s so funny the smoked food looks burnt until you cut into it and get that delicious food. But first I had to put it in the cooler for four hours.

waiting for the brisket to cool
waiting for the brisket to cool

and then finally was able to bring it inside:

ALMOST TIME!
ALMOST TIME!

then FIRST CUT!

Even the lean part was ridiculously moist. The whole thing was practically falling apart.

more brisket cutting shots!
more brisket cutting shots!

Here’s a look at the point where you can see muscle grains going in two different directions:

a cut from the point
a cut from the point

And here was my dinner that day:

Brisket dinner
Brisket dinner

A week later this is all that was left:

And after searching fo what else I could do with my brisket, I made brisket tacos!

Brisket tacos!
Brisket tacos!

So, what were my lessons learned from my first brisket? Basically, I was a little too focued on getting to 203 when I should have checked for probe tender at 195 and every few degrees after that. I ended up with an overcooked (although moist, not dry) brisket that just fell apart a little too much. Overall, it was good, but I also realized I’m just not that into brisket compared to other BBQ foods. I prefer ribs or chicken. I’ll make brisket again, but only if I’m cooking for a group so I don’t need to eat 10ish lbs of brisket over the course of a couple weeks.

Second Smoked Pork Shoulder

This past winter I smoked a pork shoulder for the first time. I learned some lessons, continued to work on getting better with my kettle, and decided it was time for pulled pork again.

Unfortunately, the price of pork was up $1.49/lb from $0.99/lb this winter.

I cut the pork shoulder into roughly equal halves. I had three things I wanted to experiment with:

  1. Would it cook faster?
  2. Would it be nice to have twice as much bark?
  3. I wanted to try a Mexican-ish rub on one to have pulled pork tacos.
The larger pork shoulder half
The larger pork shoulder half
The smaller half of the pork shoulder
The smaller half of the pork shoulder

In my opinion, for a long Weber Kettle cook you can’t beat a snake. If it’s going to go VERY long, it can be a pain as you have to move the water pan to continue the snake. But for medium-long cooks, it’s a nice, perfect way to have a consistent temperature throughout the cook.

Snake or fuse method
Snake or fuse method

This time around I went with Apple wood chunks to see if I could taste the difference from Hickory. Well, without them side-by-side I couldn’t really tell the difference.

Charcoal setup with the apple wood chunks
Charcoal setup with the apple wood chunks

Used the Weber Spirit as a safe place to light the first ten coals.

Lighting the charcoal
Lighting the charcoal

We were expecting rain, so I also setup my umbrella.

With the fire going, I set about to putting the rub on the pork shoulders while waiting for the kettle to get to 225 F.

Pork shoulder rubs
Pork shoulder rubs

It was quite windy and I ended up keeping the lower vents mostly open for most of the smoke.

And here’s a shot partway through the cook.

Two shoulders was just a bit too much side-by-side on the Kettle if you’re leaving enough space between them and keeping them away from getting direct heat from the snake/fuse. Here’s the graph of the smoke:

Pork Shoulder 20170506
Pork Shoulder 20170506

The fajita rub was off the fire first:

Fajita Rub Pork Shoulder
Fajita Rub Pork Shoulder

About an hour later, the Meathead rub shoulder was done:

One pulled pork and one freshly plucked from the kettle
One pulled pork and one freshly plucked from the kettle
Both pulled pork shoulders
Both pulled pork shoulders

First I created a pulled pork fajita:

pulled pork fajita

It was quite delicious! Then it was time for a pulled pork sandwich:

Pulled Pork with Shealy's BBQ Sauce
Pulled Pork with Shealy’s BBQ Sauce

I was reading through Meathead’s sauce page on AmazingRibs.com and saw that Shealy’s was the best South Carolina Mustard BBQ sauce. I ordered some from Shealy’s and …. I did not like it. It just tasted like mustard to me. However, as time passed and I tried the sauce with other pork dishes, I came to taste the subtle difference between this sauce (which is mustard, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce) and regular yellow mustard and I like it quite a bit now.

Finally, my wife had some pulled pork nachos:

Pulled pork nachos
Pulled pork nachos

This time the bark was perfect and my wife loved it. Not sure what’s different. The main difference is that it’s spring now and not winter and Meathead does say that humidity can affect cooks. It’s also possible I overcooked it last time. I’m not 100% sure. Either way, it was a resounding success and I had fun trying all sorts of different dishes with the pulled pork. Also pretty awesome (but I didn’t get a photo) was my pulled pork breakfast burrito.

Grilled Lamb Gyros

We were debating what to eat. There are a lot of dishes we like, but it’s easy to forget all of them when you’re constantly thinking of the half dozen foods your toddlers eat and the dozen or so foods your preschooler eats. Lamb was on sale at Costco, so I told the wife we should have lamb and I would cook it outside and we’d have gyros. Well, modified gyros because we used naan for the bread instead of pita. The image above is Danielle’s wet brine for the meat. Based on the size of the chunks Danielle chopped up, I decided to do a reverse sear.

lamb on the Weber kettle

In the middle of the charcoal there is a chunk of hickory. I wanted to just give the lamb a little something extra as an experiment. I didn’t try to make it 225 or 325 or anything special. I just threw a bunch a probes in the chunks and waited for it to get to about 120 F. Then I put it on direct heat until it got to about 135ish.

Then my wife sliced it nice and thin:

lamb and the gyro fixin's
lamb and the gyro fixin’s

The wife put together a tzatziki sauce sauce and we created our delicious gyros:

gyros!
gyros!

My boss, who happens to be Greek (and not from generations ago) said it was among the best lamb she’d ever eaten. She loved the hickory flavor as it was different than the usual way she’d eaten it before. I shared the marinade recipe with my grill/BBQ buddy at work. He said it was great and his entire family loved it.

Bacon Cheeseburger

I’ve been perfecting my diner style hamburgers (aka quarterpounders) thanks to the tips from Amazingribs.com. But there’s a guy at work I talk to about grilling, BBQ, and smoking. He was telling me about his bacon cheeseburgers. I thought about how I tend not to like bacon cheeseburgers in restaurants. Usually either the bacon or the cheese is substandard and I end up just preferring a hamburger. But then I thought about one key thing – when I make the burgers I decide all the ingredients.

Ground Beef, bacon, and cheese
Ground Beef, bacon, and cheese

My wife likes Kraft singles for her cheese, but I prefer melting some grated cheddar cheese. If I was going to be making dinner, I didn’t want to make more work for myself or the wife by cooking the bacon indoors. So I put those on the cast iron skillet first:

bacon on the cast iron in the Weber Spirit

I use good quality bacon and I can cook it to my desired crunchiness level. It’s bummer I can only fit 2 burger patties at a time if I’m making diner burgers.

Burger patties
Burger patties

Then toast the bread and add the condiments:

Bread, meat, and condiments

One thing Meathead suggested that has made eating hamburgers easier for me to eat is to have the condiments on bottom with the thumbs and all the rest up with your eight fingers. It makes it a lot less slippery to keep everything in. It also allows the meat juice to mix with the condiments.

DELICIOUS BACON CHEESEBURGER!
DELICIOUS BACON CHEESEBURGER!

Grilled Fajitas

Just using the Weber Kettle mom got me last winter to make some AWESOME fajitas!

Using the Weber Grilling Pan for the veggies and flank steak on direct heat.
Done Cooking
Perfectly even temperature
Perfectly even temperature
Some Slices for Tonight
Some Slices for Tonight
Assembled Fajita!

Leveling up on Grilling

For a long time we’d been avoiding New York Strip Steak. I’d tried to grill some a long time ago and it just couldn’t hold a candle to a Ribeye. But recently my father-in-law bought a bunch and gave us some so I gave it another shot. I took all I’d learned in the past year or so from Meathead and used my thermometer to get a prefer medium steak. Here’s where I ended up:

New York Strip Steak

With only direct grilling, I got a perfect end-to-end pink and a great bit of taste from the Maillard Reaction. I also decided to experiment with some apples on the grill after reading about others doing so on reddit.

Grilled apples

While I am not a huge apple person, I did think it had a nice taste – similar to an apple pie. I simply grilled and then sprinkled sugar. The recipe I was following was something like 3 minutes per side and I think I ended up doing about 2 minutes per side to prevent it from burning or overcooking.

Making BBQ for my Employees

As a manger, I’m often thinking of ways to show my employees how much I appreciate their hard work. Recently, while watching a Meathead video, I saw his quote at the end that cooking for someone is an act of love. And love is not far off from appreciation so I figured I’d ask my employees if they’d like it if I made them some smoked baby back ribs for the cost of raw materials. We settled on a half rack per person, salad, and bread for $6. So then I just had to pick a date to make the food. Thanks to my mom getting me the Weber Kettle for my birthday this year, I had enough room to smoke to the ribs across both my BBQs as long as I used rib racks. So I used the Weber 6605 rib racks (which you saw in the featured image and will see again below)

6 Racks of Ribs before applying the rub
With Meathead’s Memphis Dust rub

I was already a pro with Meathead’s recipe for baby back ribs, having done it about 3 or 4 times now. But it was my first time using both the gas and charcoal grill to make 6 racks at once. I offered people the option of less smokey taste and more smokey taste. On the charcoal grill I used what I’d learned with the pulled pork to do a snake method with the charcoal.

Baby Back Ribs on the Weber kettle
Baby Back Ribs on the Weber kettle
The wood ignites on the Weber Spirit

I wanted to offer an option for anyone who couldn’t eat pork. So I offered Simon and Garfunkel Chicken and one guy took me up. He got 4 thighs. And he loved it because he loves the herbs used in the rub.

Simon and Garfunkel rub on chicken thighs
Salad – tomatoes, lettuce (romaine and iceberg), cucumbers, onions, and bell peppers.

After about 3 hours the ribs were ready (a process that began at 0600 with lighting the coals) and I sauced them so I could carmelize the sauce on the BBQ. It’s easiest to ramp up the temp on the gas grill, so they were all carmelized on the Spirit.

Charcoal ribs being sauced

Then it was time to roll it in pink butcher paper and put it in the cooler to keep it warm until I got to work.

Ribs and chicken in the cooler

It was a big success. Someone said it was the best baby back ribs they’d ever had. Others didn’t go that far, but enjoyed it it well enough. The question is – what do I make next time?

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: