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!

Apple Roasted Honey Drumsticks

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After the less than stellar outcome with the Butterflied Turkey I wanted to do something easy with this cook. So I figured I would go back to a basic, drumsticks. I recently bought a new grill cookbook, Myron Mixon’s Everyday Barbeque and was dying to try the brine recipe in it.

Lessons Learned:

  1. These could have been fine smoke roasted in the 325-350 range. They didn’t need to have the slow and low treatment that a roast would need.
  2. A continuous supply of Apple chips was the perfect amount of smoke.

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Brine: I used Myron Mixon’s apple juice brine, and brined the drumsticks overnight.

Brine Recipe: (enough for 2 1 gallon freezer bags)
  • 6 cups apple juice
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1.5 cups kosher salt

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Drumsticks fresh out of the brine and being toweled off…

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My favorite part, applying the rub…

Rub Recipe:
  • 1 cp. light brown sugar (packed)
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tbsp. mustard powder
  • 2 tbsp. onion powder
  • 2 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. black pepper

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Drumsticks all rubbed up and resting. My kids, who don’t like anything with spice or flavor, actually requested some “blank” drumsticks. No rub, just smoke and sauce!

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For this cook I went for a slow and low setup with about 3 hours of fuel. I have a continuous ring of Apple chips on top of the coals. This should get me a nice steady stream of smoke but not too much to overpower the meat with a sooty taste.

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For the sauce I went with a straight 2:1 mixture of Sweet Baby Ray’s and Raw Honey. Heated and mixed together. I mixed this about 2 hours before using.

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This is what the Chicken looked at the 2 hour mark. You can see that the ring of coals and chips have burned through half of the fuel. The grill was in the solid 225-250 range. A bit lower than necessary for chicken. But since this was going to be a long smoke I had plenty of time and fuel.

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I went ahead and added some sauce on the drumsticks. And left them on for about 30 minutes more. I ended up not having to go the entire 3 hours at all. Temps on the drumsticks at saucing were at 160.

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Close up after applying sauce:

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I pulled the chicken off, gave another coating of sauce, and covered with foil and let sit for 30 minutes. These were so good, and fall off the bone soft! A couple didn’t even make it to the photo shoot. Sacrificed to Cook’s Privilege! The apple wood left a mild taste, more subtle than cherry. It was a great compliment to the brine!

Apple brined Cherry Roasted Butterflied Turkey

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The outcome of this recipe was a bit of a let down. I think I dropped the ball in execution of the final roast/smoke. It tasted good and was very flavorful, but I wanted a butterflied bird with deep crisp mahogany skin and juicy flavorful meat. As you can see from the pic above not all of the bird came out perfect. Now the meat was juicy, but I think the air was too humid, and in my rush to get the bird onto the grill, I sacrificed some crispness in the skin. Much to my dismay, my family pulled the skin off and left it in the plate. = FAIL!

Lessons learned:

  1. Brine for full 24 hours, not just 18
  2. Only 1 water pan in the grill area, not 2
  3. Let bird air dry in refrigerator for 24 hours

Let’s get on with the play by play.

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This cook is sponsored by my favorite beer of all time! Sam Adams Octoberfest!

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I took this 13 lb turkey out of my freezer to thaw in my refrigerator on Tuesday. The bird wasn’t ready to work with until Saturday.

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Ingredients for the Apple Brine
2 quarts apple juice
1 pound brown sugar (light or dark)
1 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt*
3 quarts cold water
3 oranges, quartered
4 ounces fresh ginger, unpeeled and thinly sliced
15 whole cloves
6 bay leaves
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

* Substitute 3/4 cup Morton Kosher Salt or 1/2 cup table salt for Diamond Crystal.

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Pouring in the apple juice…

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Squeezing lemons, crushing garlic, slicing fresh ginger root, and stirring in all up….

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The turkey going for a dip… I only brined it for 18 hours,  I should have done a full 24. But with me losing a day not pulling the turkey out of my deep freezer earlier I didn’t want to be pulling this off my grill at 11 Sunday evening, so I cut it short by 6 hours.

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18 hours later, I’ve rinsed the bird and patted it dry with paper towels. Just going after the last few stubborn feathers with the first pair of pliers I found laying around.

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Instead of the usual slow and low, I set my grill for a slow and high configuration. Looking to get a solid 300 –350 degree ranges for 2.5 to 3.0 hours. The 2 bricks allow for more coals on the side, and the added benefit of radiating the heat toward the rest of the grill.

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In addition to the drip pan under the turkey, I grabbed a spare pan to provide additional moisture to the side. Hindsight, this secondary pan probably made it too moist. Also, I don’t think I used enough wood chunks. Although the bird had a smoke ring, it was very light.

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The butterflied turkey splayed out, rubbed with a couple of tablespoons of a generic poultry blend I had purchased. <- Again mistake, I should have mixed my own blend and not taken the lazy way out. Do you see a pattern yet with these mistakes? I rushed my own barbeque and wasn’t satisfied with the results. Shocker!

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Butterflied turkey barely fitting in the remaining space on the grill…

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Here you can see the second water pan. For some reason I was really afraid of the temperatures getting away from me. With the secondary pan it probably turned the inside of the grill into a sauna instead of a moist environment.

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3 hours later…

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Bird pulled off the grill and sitting in a tray on its way to the kitchen.

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Another shot of the bird close up…

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Event though I wasn’t too fond of it, this is what we did to that bird in one night! The rest were leftovers I took to work the entire week.

“Slab o Meat” aka Beef Round Top London Broil

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I’ve been itchin’ to cook something this whole week. I originally was going to make some pulled pork. However, I never got to the butcher shop so I went shopping in my deep freezer.

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I found a “slab o meat” that my wife bought on sale at the supermarket. I guess the technical name is Round Top London Broil. All that I learned after researching this cut of meat is; it is lean, tough, and usually not worth the few dollars it costs. So I figured I’d throw this on the grill slow and low, and see what happens.

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I used my standard rub:

Classic BBQ Spice Rub:
  • 4 tbsp Kosher Salt
    2 tbsp brown sugar
    2 tbsp garlic powder
    2 tbsp paprika
    1 tbsp celery seed
    1 tbsp ground cumin
    1 tbsp black pepper

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Liberally season with the rub…

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While the meat is resting after being rubbed, I set up my grill the in the “Ring of Fire” formation. Two single rows of briquettes in a circle, with a single row on top. This configuration should give me 250 degrees for at least six hours. I placed small Mesquite chips around the ring so there would be light smoke continuously throughout the cook.

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Putting on the slabs…

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1 Hour in, a solid 250 degrees…

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5 hours later, and the temp is just starting to dip a bit from 250…

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This is what the meat looked like when I opened the grill. I took a “Chef’s Privilege” piece from the piece on the right. Man was it good!

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I wrapped the 2 in foil and left them on for one more hour. In hindsight I probably should have moved the whole wrapping back an hour. But whatever, it’s “Slabbo meat!”, as my six year old calls it.

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Finally pulled off the grill… I let them rest in the foil a bit before unwrapping. About 15 minutes.

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Unwrapping the meat… I swear every fly in NE Philadelphia started slamming into my screen door once I unwrapped these bad boys! They filled my kitchen with the smell of beef and mesquite.

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Slicing her up on my favorite cutting board…

Lessons learned: If my wife buys “Slabbo” meat again, I may try an overnight marinade and maybe spray it throughout the cook session. But overall, not too bad.

Hong Kong Chicken

I picked this recipe from Weber’s Charcoal Grilling: The Art of Cooking with Live Fire last week, because I wanted something on the grill, but didn’t feel like going out to the store to pick anything up. So I defrosted some chicken legs the night before and set to preparing this. This is a relatively quick recipe to prepare for. Total time from unwrapping thawed legs to plate was about 5.5 hours. The majority of that time (4 hours) was the brine time for the chicken legs.

Let’s move on to the cook!

Dry Ingredients Wet Ingredients

Seasoning Blend:

2 tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Brine:
2 qts water
1/2 cp. Kosher salt
1/2 cp. sugar

Grill Sauce:
2 tbsp. Hoisin Sauce
2 tbsp. Cider Vinegar
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Soy sauce
2 tsp. grape seed oil
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

This cook, is brought to you by Bacardi White

Step 1: Brine the chicken for 4 hours in the brine mixture and place in the fridge.

Step 2: Remove chicken from brine, rinse off, and pat dry with paper towels. Then liberally season with seasoning blend.

Step 3:

Set up a medium heat grill. I used 3/4 of a Weber chimney full of Kingsford coals. I filled one Weber basket with lit coals, and then poured the rest to cover half the charcoal grate. (see below)

Step 4: Place chicken directly over coals for a 5 minute char to get the drumsticks started. (2.5 minutes on one side, then 2.5 minutes on the other)

Step 6: Move to cool side of grill

Step 7: After 20 minutes

Step 8: After 40 minutes

Step 9: At 40 minutes, apply sauce to chicken and put the lid to cook for an additional 20 minutes

Step 10: Last 20 minutes

Step 11: Pull and let rest for 15 minutes. I made some sautéed vegetables and brown rice with a Moscow Mule. Excellent! Chicken had a bit of heat to it, a little too much for the kids, but me and the wife loved it!