Big Bald Ribs, 3/21/2015

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Lessons Learned

  • When cooking without water in the pan, the temps of the smoker come up quick.
  • Controlling temps with only the exhaust vent showed how leaky the WSM really is
  • There is an art to drafting the cooker to get clean smoke

It was a busy week during my run-up to my  first Spring Cook. I finally got rid of an older Weber 22.5 grill. Prior to my WSM this was my primary rotisserie and smoking rig. Once I got the WSM proper, I stopped using this unit at all. It breaks my heart to see a Weber go unused. Hopefully it went to a good home and not picked up by some anonymous scrapper to turn into slag.

First day of Spring in Philly

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Thankfully there’s not much snow and ice on my smoker. Was able to clean it up the night before to get it ready for my first real smoke of the season.

You know the routine so here goes:

Mise en Place: The Rub

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The Meat:

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Putting on the mustard:

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Hary Soo

I’ve been reading alot about Harry Soo and his Competition winning team, Slap Yo Daddy BBQ. Harry is renowned for using only WSMs in his competition cooks and will beat teams with $15,000 computer controlled PIP systems. Which in turn gives me hope because all I use is a WSM in my backyard.

One thing Soo recommends is not controlling the WSM with the bottom dampers at all but to leave one open and control the cooker with the top only.  (Harry’s Article)

This goes in the face of everything you read about leaving the top wide open and using the bottom to control airflow. It sounds counter intuitive. You would think that you would be inviting bad tasting smoke to ruin your food. But the WSM un-modded is very leaky. The area around the door leaks, as does the lid and the top ring. So air is always entering and exiting the unit around these areas.

Another thing he recommends for new users is to use the WSM without filling the water pan, but foiling it twice instead.

This allows for easier clean up as there isn’t that nasty “bong water” left over after a smoke. I’ve read of some folks doing this, or filling their water pan with sand, or terra cotta plates to act as a heat sink. For me, having the water helped temper any rapid fluctuations with the temps because you have this huge amount of water absorbing any extra heat. Plus it added moisture to the smoking chamber. However now, the heat inside the smoker is dry and you need to compensate with spraying the meat once an hour to prevent it from over drying. But the bark formation is definitely more pronounced doing it without water in the pan.

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Pulling Meat at 3 hour mark for wrapping:

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After 2 hours in the foil:

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Sauced  and going back on for the last hour:

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Pulled for plating:

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Pulled Pork Shoulder

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Lessons I Learned:

  • Use a larger cut of meat (you lose10-15% weight after trimming)
  • The plateau is real! Trust your thermometer
  • Watch those temps! Continue to cook through to 190
  • Use all vents on the smoker not just the ones easily accessible

Skill Level: Intermediate

Cook Session:

I started with 2 smaller shoulders I picked up from the grocery store about 5 to 6lbs each. I saw a 10 lb shoulder and thought it was way too big. Forgot that once you trim the fat cap off you loose some weight. Otherwise the meat looked pretty decent. A nice red vs the pale pink you see of most commodity port

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Next step was the trim the hide and fat cap off each shoulder and slather each with yellow mustard to give the rub something to hold on to.

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I used the same rub as I did my spareribs during my last cook. I’ve been researching for some other rub recipes and found a really good on on amazingribs.com.

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Rub recipe

  • 1/4 cp raw sugar
  • 1/4 cp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cp Paprika
  • 1 tbsp coarse black pepper
  • 1 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1.5 tsp crushed chipotle pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed Fennel seed (used mortal & pestle)

Here’s what they looked like after mustard and rub was applied. I then wrapped them and put them in the refrigerator over night.

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What will be different about this cook is that I will be trying out the Maverick 732 Remote BBQ Thermometer. This thermometer has probes for the smoker rack and the meat. You can set alarms for meat and smoker. Plus, I can check the temp from the comfort of my house or deck and not have to run to the backyard every 30 minutes. degrees. My target temp for this cook was 225 – 250 range.

You can see from the pics below how off my dome temperature was from the grill grate. The delta was anywhere from 25 to 50

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Once the grill hit 225, I added both shoulders to the top rack and went back to minding the temps. The Thermometer really helped me gauge and get a feel for the temp profile a little better. I had no problems staying within my range. The WSM with a water pan, is excellent at staying in the 250 – 275 range.

At about the 6 hour mark, the shoulders hit 165 and plateaued. I’d read about this before, on various sites. It is caused by the moisture coming off the meat and evaporating thus cooling off the meat. The meat stayed their for over 2 hours. I had to force myself not to look or mess with it. This is necessary to break down the collagen and connective tissue to make the shoulder tender. I had to literally tell myself that I was cooking to tenderness not doneness.

Once the pork hit 190, about 9 hours total cooking time, I wrapped them and let them rest for 30 minutes.

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Once they were rested I pulled out my Bear Paws pulling tools and went to work. The big bones pulled straight out with no effort at all. Look at that smoke ring! I must have stood in the kitchen for 5 minutes just pulling and snacking before telling any body else it was ready.

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My family loved it!

Memphis Rubbed Lollipop Drumsticks

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Lessons Learned:

  • I need to sharpen my kitchen shears
  • Monitor temps on the smoker better
  • Next time I will dip the bone as well for a better sheen/presentation
  • Maybe invest in a drumstick holder for more uniform appearance

Skill Level: Beginner/Intermediate

I got this recipe from my man Malcolm at HowToBBQRight. If you want to take your BBQ to the next level, he’s got all kinds of videos, tips, tricks, etc. Pretty down to Earth guy too.

As always, I started by mixing my rub together. This is a standard recipe that I go to often. Mix it up real good. You can apply it with your hands or a good shaker bottle if you have one. I prefer sprinkling and rubbing it with my hands. And as I always say, “Rubbin’ Son, is Racing!”

Memphis Rub Recipe:

3/4 cup raw sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup garlic powder
2 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp ground ginger powder
2 tbsp onion powder

Skinning the legs:

With a sharp knife, cut down to the bone just under the knuckle end of the drumstick. Be sure to cut through the tendons and connective tissue to the bone. Once you are done you are going to pull the skin and cartilage up and over the knuckle. I found it easier to use a paper towel to grasp the skin and pull it off. Once done, push the meat down as far as you can toward the other end of the bone. When the chicken cooks, the meat is going to shrink down the bone and gather at the meaty end. Here is where having dull kitchen shears made the job of snipping the tendon so frustrating. I ended up going with my large Chef’s knife to get the job done.

 

Skinned and ready for wrapping:

Here is a shot of all the legs with the skin and cartilage pulled off ready for wrapping.

 

Bone ends wrapped…

One of Malcolm’s tips is to wrap the bone ends in aluminum foil. This keeps the bones from turning black from the smoke and heat. This is for cosmetic purposes only. I’m sure they would taste fine without it. I just took a small piece of aluminum foil and wrapped the ends prior to applying the rub.

 

Wrapped, rubbed, and going on…

Here’s a shot of them going only the smoker. I didn’t have a drumstick holder and my pan was a bit too large to get them to stand vertical without some help. So I used some skewers and threaded it through the drumsticks. I melted a stick of butter in the bottom of the pan to give the drumsticks additional flavor during the smoke.

 

Smoke/Roasting at 300 degrees for 2 hours…

One of the reasons I love my Weber is that it will hold steady without any help. IF YOU KEEP AN EYE ON IT! I used one Weber Chimney of lit Kingsford coals, and another half of unlit on top. Since I was shooting for a cook in the 2.5 hour range I wanted to make sure I had enough heat. I lined the water pan but did not fill it. Although you can’t see it in the above picture, I have a rack of bratwurst on for my boys as well. I added 1 block of Cherry wood per hour to the cooker to keep a steady smoke but not too overpowering. Once the smoker approached 275, I closed two bottom vents and left one open 100%. As always I left the top vent open 100%. I checked the temp every 30 minutes. First hour I was fine, Second hour temps begin to drop too fast and I had to open all the bottom vents to 100% to recover. Ten minutes later the temp was back where it needed to be. I’ve since ordered the Maverick 732 Remote BBQ thermometers to help me keep a better eye on temps when I’m inside the house.

 

Putting on sauce at 2 hour mark…

At 2 hours the legs were ready for the sauce. I brushed them with a 50/50 mixture of Sweet Baby Ray’s and Honey. After giving them a good coat, I put them back on for 30 minutes to tighten up the glaze a bit and let it caramelize. This is a shot after 30 minutes of glazing. Overall a good cook, and the family enjoyed them. So if my boys will eat it, it has to be good!