How to smoke (meat)

Your mojito is ready and your charcoal is heating up. Time to get smokin’.

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Because of the time involved in smoking, you want to do a lot of meat. Our three favorite choices, so far, are (1) a family-size pack of chicken breasts, which will come out juicy and flavorful, (2) a whole pork loin, which will come out juicy and flavorful and can be bought for $1.79 a pound, and (3) pork shoulder, shown above, which makes wicked good pulled pork and can be bought for $1.19 a pound. The economy is bad, but swine flu is the silver lining.

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This particular pork shoulder weighed 15 pounds and had quite a lot of fat on it; Sparks decided he was going to trim it up prior to smoking.

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Yum. Lard.

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Is it wrong of me to think that the muscle striation is kind of pretty? I guess this kind of attitude is what got me my biology degree.

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The hunk of meat after trimming: lean and mean.

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Time for the rub. He used about half a cup of rub on this piece. We are spice-aholics in this house and had been using random bottles of “bone suckin sauce” rub, but in this particular instance we made a batch of faux-taco seasoning using dried onion, cumin, chipotle chili powder, and random other things I didn’t take note of. Have fun–create your own.

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When your charcoal is ready, take the top off of your grill and place two bricks inside, as shown. Dump the charcoal behind one of them if you are smoking something really big like this pork shoulder, or both of them if you are smoking something smaller like a pork loin or a mess of chicken. This is sufficient heat to completely cook the chicken breasts or pork loin; for a big shoulder like this, however, not only are you going to have to add a second dose of coals after 3-4 hours (which is why you want the space behind one brick to be available), you’re going to have to move it to an oven or an electric roaster to finish cooking.

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Heat check: yep, they’re hot.

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If what you’re smoking is big enough, stick a meat thermometer (or two) in it, and put it on the grill. If you want wood chips to be part of the smoking process, sprinkle them around. Us, we stick to the basics. Cover and let sit, checking the internal temperature about once every half-hour. Pork loins take 2-3 hours to cook, for us; chicken about 90 minutes. Pork shoulder, as noted earlier, is going to take a second dose of coals plus some slow-roasting.

We have an electric roaster–the kind that keeps food warm at church dinners. Once the pork shoulder has gotten its second dose of coals (for a total of about six hours of smoking), Sparks moves it to the roaster and cooks it at 200 for another 5-6 hours. At that point, it looks like this:

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Falling apart and, as Sparks says, “tender as a mother’s love.” Let it cool for the rest of the night–because you smoked in the evening and roasted into the wee smas, right?–and in the morning it will be ready to pull.

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There is no art to pulling, you just tear the meat apart. You decide what size chunks you want, and you decide how much fat you want. We like ours lean and thoroughly pulled. We also advise that you do everything you can to make sure you are in robust health before you start doing this; it takes up to an hour to do and becomes quite disgusting partway through.

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For pork shoulder, something in the area of a 40% yield by weight is what you can expect. This 15-pound pork shoulder yielded 7 pounds of lean pulled pork.

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At this point, package ‘er up. You’re going to want to recover for a while before eating any.

Tomorrow: pork tacos!

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