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Archive for December, 2009

Happy New Year!

<Gone for the weekend. See ya next year!>

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How to eat wings

I’m cooking wings tonight, and I’ll post that tale later. But in anticipation, go figure, there’s a right way and a wrong way to eat a chicken wing. What the video doesn’t say is that you need lots of napkins either way:

Update: After many, many attempts at this, the family has concluded that this only works on wings when they’re hot. 

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Pork Butt

Pork Butt

First, a note for any beginners….

Pork butt is not a butt, it’s a shoulder. The actual butt of a pig is a ham. There, now you know, and don’t have to suffer the humiliation of finding out the way I found out, which is too embarrassing to recount.

What’s not embarrassing, it turns out, is walking into a butcher and saying, “I want a butt. Make it a big butt, too, please.”  Double-entendre butt jokes never really get old, so go for it. You’re entitled.

A pork butt has to be one of the easiest yet most satisfying things you can cook. At least it is for me. I love a pulled pork sandwich more than just about anything. They’re just so, so damned good. And butts are indeed big: You can feed an army of guests, which means they’re also efficient and economical. Pigs are truly miracles of nature.

But that’s not the best part if you’re a beginner. The best part is that the process of cooking a butt for a barbecue SOUNDS so much more impressive than it actually is.  Even though the butt takes a long time to cook (14 to 22 hours), the actual work involved is minimal. In the end, you’ll smell like smoke, you’ll have an impressive lump of meat to show the crowd, you’ll have a great meal on the table, and honestly, you probably put in about 15 minutes of prep.  Not kidding.

  • Another note: cooking a pork butt is a great way to cure a new Kamado or Big Green Egg. If you buy one of these cookers, make a pork butt your first effort. 

Second, a note about the meat…

There are only two choices you need to make about a pork butt.

First, you need to decide how big of a butt you want, which has less to do with how many people you’re feeding, and more to do with how much time you plan on cooking.  Butts are easy, but take a long, long time to cook. The bigger it is, the longer it takes. Simple as that. I’ve had cook times as short as 14 hours, but one butt I cooked took almost 24 hours.  And it’s a special form of agony when you’re hungry, you’ve been smelling this thing cook for most of a day, and it just ain’t quite done. Then double that agony if you have guests waiting.  My advice: If you have a lot of guests coming, you’re better off with two smaller butts than one bigger one.  <Snicker all you want!>

Second, you need to decide on whether you want the bone in or not. Personally, I always get the bone in. I’ve convinced myself it tastes better. But it does mean you’re paying for less meat overall, and it is a bit inconvenient when you get to pulling it.  I have found, in general, if you want the bone in, it’s a good idea to order your meat over the phone in advance. Most “off the shelf” pork butts are boneless.

One final note: Have the butcher tie the meat. I tried tying one myself once, and man, what a disaster. Usually they come tied, but if not, definitely ask your butcher to do so.

The Recipe

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. At least one day before you want to eat: Calculate the time it’s going to take. One rule of thumb, which I have found to be pretty darned dubious, is to figure 2 to 2.5 hours per pound. Dubious as it is, it’s a starting place. In general, I buy big cuts of meat, and I usually figure 19 hours.
  2. If anybody has a better rule on this, please, definitely leave a comment below.
  3. Get your grill started an hour before you want to start.  Coals should be off to the side, so you can place your meat away from direct heat.
  4. You’ll want your grill temperature to stabilize close to 200 degrees.  I advise getting the coals hot, then cooling them down rather than heating up to that temperature.
  5. While you’re waiting for the coals to heat up, liberally rub your pork butt with Adam’s BBQ rub.  I like a little extra heat on a pork butt, so I usually mix in some extra chili powder.  (Once, I bagged the pork butt after I put the rub on, and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. I’d say the flavor was a bit more intense, but not so notable that I thought I needed to do it this way every time.)
  6. Place the butt on the grill, away from the coals, I recommend fat side up.
  7. Close the lid and forget about it.  Occasionally check the temperature. Add some coal or air if you need to.  I like to add some wet hickory chips on top of the coals a few times along the way for some smoke. But for the most part, you’re done.
  8. When the Butt is done (more on this below), put it on the platter, cut away the tie, and you should be able to simply pull the meat apart with two forks. 
  9. If your butt is done too early for guests, or you want to transport the thing, you can wrap it in foil, and put the foil in a brown-paper bag for an hour or two.  Some people suggest doing this anyway, as a way to improve the flavor.  But I’m usually too hungry and impatient for that.

Note: One of those endless barbecue debates out there is about whether to cook a butt fat side up or down.   Fat side up people advocate that the fat drippings run over the meat, and keep it moisturized during the cook.  Fat side down people love the way the fat protects the meat from the heat, and in the process, turns into really yummy, chewy “bark” that is totally decadent and bad for you, but, yum.  I think most people agree: Go forth and cook many pork butts, trying it both ways, and decide for yourself.  Update: I now have a real opinion on this.

When is it done?

Don’t judge a butt by its color. The pork butt is going to turn good and black long before it’s through cooking.  The crispy outside of the butt (the bark) will turn into a tough shell, which some people including me LOVE to eat.  And it’s not about temperature either. Think about it … the thing has been over coals for most of a day. It was “cooked” a long time ago, but that’s not the same thing as done.

Three butts

I made three butts for about 50 adults at a summer barbecue.

A butt is only truly done when the meat below the shell is slow-cooked to the point where its composition has changed, and it readily falls apart.  Pulling your pork is something you should be able to do with two forks, and very little effort.

So, I’m going to suggest a mash-up of two clichés for you: “Stick a fork in it,” and “Like cutting through butter.”

When a slow cooked pork butt is completely done, the sensation of sticking a fork into the meat is completely different than when it’s not yet done.  Cliché or not, it really is comparable to sticking a hot fork into a stick of butter.  Soft, smooth, no resistance. It’s actually a fairly strange sensation, as if the meat has transformed into some sort of creepy gelatin blob on the inside.  Which is appropriate, given that after you eat it, you too will be like a creepy gelatin blob.

Have fun, and let me know how yours turns out.

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Barbecue Chicken, Easy and Less Easy

Barbecue Chicken, Easy and Less Easy

(Easy)

When I first started to barbecue, I got some great advice how to cook a chicken. It was a posting from the Kamado bulletin board that said, “Take a chicken, liberally salt and pepper it, and put it in your cooker and cook it. It will be the best chicken you ever tasted.”

I tried it, and ya know, it really was the best chicken I had ever tasted (at the time). When I’m feeling lazy, this is still the fast, easy way to go. But here are a few helpful details:

  • After some home laboratory work and taste testing, I only use an organic chicken. I’m not all that up-to-speed on the politics, I just know the organic chickens taste better and definitely are worth the extra bucks.
  • Liberally salt and pepper means “overdo it.” I really cake it on, and it always tastes great.
  • I like a smoky flavor, so, I like to throw in some wet hickory chips on top of the coals
  • I put the coals on one side of the grill and the chicken on the other, so as to avoid direct heat.
  • I cook a chicken at 300 degrees, until it meat temperature reaches 165 to 170 degrees in the inner thigh. (A 3 ½ lb chicken takes about 2 to 2.5 hours … I usually buy bigger chickens though).

(Less Easy … but soooooooo good)

Big Bob Gibson (Alabama barbecue mogul) has a really useful cookbook that I’ve been using to rip off ideas for the six months or so. This is one of them. Thanks Bob, whoever you are.

What caught my eye was his Loaf-Pan Chicken recipe, where you prep a bird, stuff it into a bread pan, and put the pan right on the grill. This simultaneously protects your chicken from direct heat, but more important, the pan works as a catch for all the drippings and keeps the chicken in a gravy-flavored steam bath for the duration of the cooking process. It’s awesome.

If you have a little extra time, I’d make this every time over the easy recipe above. In fact, I’m making it while writing this!

  • 1 expendable bread loaf pan (9×5 or similar) … you’ll reuse it for chicken, just know after this, its bread days are probably over.
  • 3/4 cup applesauce. If it’s a really big chicken, you can use more.
  • 3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Whole Organic Chicken (I usually look for a 4.5lb chicken or even bigger, because they plug up the bread pan nicely when they’re on the bigger side).
  •  Adam’s Barbecue Rub (You can probably cut the recipe in half)
  •  Add a dash of coriander and garlic powder to the rub
  1. Get your grill to about 300 degrees (and again, I like to toss some wet hickory on there, but I really like a smoky flavor.)
  2. Stir the applesauce and Worcestershire sauce together
  3. Lather up your chicken inside and out with the sauce
  4. Let any excess sauce drip into the loaf pan
  5. Liberally cake on the dry rub, again inside and out.
  6. Wedge the chicken breast-side-up into the loaf pan, and place on the grill away from the coals, close the grill lid and cook. Cook until the inner thigh temperature is about 165 to 170 degrees.

Note: The rub will blacken. That’s normal. However, there is one thing you should keep an eye out for: You want a nice crispy skin, and I’ve noticed some pretty significant variation, depending on the chicken.

I cooked one chicken that got crisp skin too quickly, because it didn’t drain a great deal of fluid. In that case, I simply lowered the temp to 250, and waited for the rest of the chicken to catch up. Meanwhile, the chicken I cooked tonight generated so much fluid, the pan almost started to overflow. The poor chicken was sitting in a 3-inch deep bath of gravy (too much!), which means the skin, while tasty, wasn’t as crispy as I like it. I should have taken the bird out of the pan for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking for some direct heat.

Let me know how it works out for you.

Also see:  More Tips on Cooking Chicken

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Adam’s Barbecue Rub

Adam’s BBQ Rub

First: A note for any beginners …

Long ago, I didn’t really understand barbecue rubs. It was just a logic problem for me. Why in tarnation would I dump a pound of dry spices on top of some meat that I was about to scorch over a grill?  I figured the spices, for which I paid a lot of money, would either burn off, fall into the coals, or both. And that seemed wasteful and stupid, especially when it was so much easier just to find a great barbecue sauce, and baste it on during cooking, right? 

Oy! What a complete idiot I was. And by complete, I mean, every single part of my ridiculous rationalization was idiotic.

A rub can be made relatively inexpensively as long as you avoid buying spices at grocery stores, and no, you don’t just dump it on and watch it fall into the flames. In most recipes, you’ll find that a good rub either 1) sits on the meat for a while, at which point it absorbs moisture from the meat, and becomes like a spicy, sticky glaze of awesome, or 2) in some interesting recipes there’s some other ingredient that brings the moisture to rub, like applesauce or fruit preserves.

And while I still love a good sauce, honestly, it’s not something you use at all during cooking. Sauce, if you use any at all, is something you only add once the food is off the grill. Real die-hards will tell you any sauce at any time is for chumps. So, if you’re trying to act cool around barbecue nerds, ixnay on the aucesay.

Second: A note on my particular recipe …

My personal taste is for a sweet and smoky barbecue with just a hint of heat. I’m not into burn-your-mouth barbecue, and I’m not sure why, but “tangy” or herby barbecue doesn’t work for me either. Tangy just seems so Tony Roma’s to me. For me, a perfect barbecue tastes of smoke and wood, and is reminiscent of a dark molasses.

So, this rub is heavier on the brown sugar, and light on the fire.

But honestly, I make my rub slightly different every time, depending on what I’m cooking. The below is a just a base. It’s not too difficult to figure out how to tweak it.  A little more chili powder for a hotter rub, a little more brown sugar for a sweeter rub, and so on.  Half the fun of a rub is tweaking it, and trying to one-up yourself each time. So, just think of the below as primer, and the rest is up to you.

The Recipe….

I find this is just enough for a single pork butt or 4 racks of ribs.   

I always use these ingredients…

  • ½ cup Paprika
  • 3 Tbs Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tbs Black Pepper
  • ½ cup Brown Sugar
  • ½ tsp X-Hot Chili Powder (You can buy the “x-hot” stuff at an Indian Foods grocery. If you can’t find it, you might want more than 1 tsp. if you like spicy bbq.)
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • ½ tsp White Pepper
  • ¼ tsp Oregano

 Then for some recipes I’ll add any or all of these ingredients

  • Garlic powder
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Ginger
Spices for your rub

Rub is bascially paprika, brown sugar, salt and pepper. The rest is just about personal preference.

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The Grill

 

UPDATE (12/21/11): You might want to read THIS first.)

I use a Kamado.  The Kamado pictured here is both the size and color of the one I own — I’m too lazy to go out on the back deck and take a picture of it, so I just ripped this one from Kamado.com, which also happens to be the place you can buy one of these behemoths.  For those who have never seen a grill like this (e.g. the Big Green Egg is very similar), the Kamado is a big, heavy clay cooker.  You can use a Kamado to either barbecue at very low temperatures for a very long time, or extremely high temperatures, almost like a kiln. And of course, you can just use it to make hot dogs or burgers, just like any other grill.  This piece of equipment changed my entire outlook on barbecue, and if you’re using something you picked up at Home Depot with a propane tank attached to it, I’d highly recommend considering something like this instead.

There are three things you should know about a Kamado.

First, it’s a lot easier to use than it looks: There’s a vent at the bottom that lets air in, and a damper at the top that lets the air out, and you regulate the temperature by allowing for either more or less air flow. This is incredibly efficient, which means you can easily cook for 10 to 20 hours on a single pile of lump charcoal.

Second, using a Kamado or a Green Egg means ‘good bye’ to burnt or dried out food. Because you can regulate the temperature and air flow so precisely, you don’t get flare ups or grease fires that might inappropriately char your food. And because your food is surrounded by hundreds of pounds of clay, the moisture stays inside the cooker, and so it’s a lot easier to keep your food from drying out during the cooking process.  Not saying it’s impossible….I made a terribly dry leg of lamb once ….  just saying it’s easier.

Third, and most important, while I absolutely recommend this Kamado cooker to anyone, please be warned that Kamado has the most  laughably slow and unresponsive customer service of any company I’ve ever dealt with.  This isn’t like dealing with an ordinary company, and it can be incredibly frustrating.  Again, I think you should buy a Kamado.  But just get ready.  You’ll pay for it, they’ll say it should take a few weeks, and (not kidding) a year might go by.  My advice is to buy a Kamado over the phone, and promptly convince yourself that it never happened.  Then, in 10 months when the thing finally arrives, you’ll be pleasantly surprised rather than pissed off and bitter. There ya go …You’ve been warned…. I sure wish someone had warned me.

(When my Kamado continued to not show up after months after I paid for it, I went onto their Web site to complain in their forum, only to have dozens of loyal Kamado users laugh at me for my ignorance, and they didn’t offer me a lick of sympathy.  One person wrote, ‘good things come to those who wait,’ and he was right.)

Here’s my Kamado in action:

Update: Did Kamado fix it’s shipping woes?

For instructions on how to use a Kamado, click here.

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I hope you’re hungry

I’m in the process of setting up the site. So, please ignore the random images, bizarre formatting, and the pitiful lack of content.  For now, just close your eyes, think of yummy barbecue, and nag me to hurry the hell up.

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