Happy 2012 everyone! I’ve neglected this blog for far too long…9 months to be exact. What Are You Smoking? could’ve made a baby in that time. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been smoking. I’ve just been too busy/lazy/forgetful to post anything. But enough of my excuses cuz like my grandpa used to say, excuses are like b-holes; everyone’s got ’em and they all stink. It’s a new year and possibly the end of the world as we know it, so let’s smoke something.
I had yet to smoke some fish for this blog, and fish takes almost no time at all to smoke…especially compared to pork or brisket. For this smoke I picked up some beautiful Sockeye salmon from my local fishmonger, The Fish Guy. Sockeye has a deep red flesh and is an oilier variety of salmon, which is good for smoking.
Like poultry, fish needs a good overnight brining before you slap it on the smoker. Here’s the brine I use for salmon.
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 stalk sliced celery
- 1/2 cup fennel
- 1/2 chopped onion
- 2 minced garlic cloves
Mix all the ingredients and put your salmon in the brine. Make sure the fish is completely submerged. Cover and stick it in the fridge overnight. The brine will essentially cure the salmon, eliminating moisture and infusing the fish with salt and lots of flavor.
The next day take your fish out of the brine, and let it dry in a cool, ventilated spot for at least two hours. This drying process will form a sticky surface on the fish, to which the smoke can happily adhere.
Get your smoker ready. For this smoke I’m using alder wood, a river wood that’s perfectly suited for smoking salmon. Fish is delicate so the temperature in the smoker does not need to be very high. I’d suggest smoking at 150 degrees at most. Once the temp is set, throw on the salmon.
Now the question is how long do you smoke the salmon? It really depends on the amount of fish and how thick the fillets are. I’m smoking three two-inch thick fillets, so two hours is a good amount of time for them to smoke. Thinner fillets will only take an hour, while thick slabs will take up to four hours. When in doubt, check the meat; if it flakes easily, then it’s done.
Often when you’re smoking, you’ll have a good fire going after you take your meat off. Don’t waste that fire…go ahead and smoke something else! This time I decided to slice up some apples, toss them in a bit of brown sugar, and wrap them in tin foil. 30 minutes on the smoker and they were a deliciously sweet, smokey side dish for my salmon.
Also, when you’re smoking, you’ll have leftovers…if you’re lucky. Smoked salmon is amazing by itself, but I like it even better as Smoked Salmon Salad.
Cut up your smoked salmon, add some chopped celery, a tablespoon of mayonnaise, and some salt and pepper. Put it on a bagel and enjoy!
p.s. Smoked Salmon Dip is another option. Here’s a delicious recipe.
“Fisherman’s Blues”—The Waterboys
“(I’m) Stranded”—The Saints
“The Glorious Land”—PJ Harvey
“Take It Easy”—Surfer Blood
“Leader of the Pack”—The Shangri-Las
“Baby Missiles”—The War on Drugs
“Excitable Boy”—Warren Zevon
“Strange Overtones”—David Byrne and Brian Eno
First things first: Let’s asphyxiate the albatross around barbecue’s neck. BBQ is NOT the sauce. In fact, good BBQ…real BBQ doesn’t even need sauce. The meat! The bones! The juices dripping down your chin when you rip off the crispy, smokey skin! That’s BBQ. Just because you slather some sauce on an apple doesn’t make it BBQ (unless it’s a smoked apple). But somehow sauce is synonymous with BBQ. How’d that happen? Hopefully some history and a bit of taxonomy will shed some light on the saucing of BBQ.
If we are to believe the sources, we can say that what we know as “classic American barbecue” originated in the Province of Carolina around the end of the 17th century/beginning of the 18th century. Europeans, namely the Brits and Spaniards, migrated to the American South with boatloads of pigs. And they quickly learned from their indigenous frenemies and African slaves that slow-cooking the hogs over coals was the proverbial shit. Lots of smoked pork equaled lots of leftovers though and in a pre-Frigidaire world, how does an 18th-century colonialist preserve his tasty rack of ribs? Boom! Sauce!East Carolina Sauce a.k.a. Low Country Sauce a.k.a. The OG—Those early American settlers/BBQ aficionados already used vinegar as a common preservative (pickling). So they had the bright idea that vinegar could work on meat as well. They “cured” the meat in a mixture of vinegar, salt and peppers, mopping some on while the meat cooked and a whole lot more after it was done. Not only did this newfangled BBQ sauce preserve the meat, it also imparted a lip-smacking, finger-licking tang.
Western Carolina Sauce a.k.a. Lexington Dip a.k.a. Piedmont Dip—The folks that were hanging out in the Piedmont/hill country of West Carolina weren’t totally down with the strictly vinegar philosophy of the East Carolinians. So they added tomato sauce to the vinegar and called it “dip”…cuz that’s what you do. By the late 18th century, this sauce became known as Lexington Dip, named after the area now referred to as the “Barbecue Capital of the World.”
- 1 cup distilled vinegar
- 1 t hot sauce
- 2 T sugar (if the vinegar is too much for you)
- 1 t salt
- 2 t crushed red pepper
- 2 t black pepper
- 1 cup distilled vinegar
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 t hot sauce
- 3 T sugar
- 1/2 T salt
- 1 t crushed red pepper
- 1 t black pepper
South Carolina Mustard Sauce a.k.a. The Colonel —In many ways BBQ sauces are like Southern accents—they get thicker the farther south you go. In the Midlands of South Carolina (from Columbia to Charleston) the saucy drawl is distinctively mustard based. Early-18th-century German immigrants brought mustard with them and paired it with what they (and the Carolinas) like best…pork. To this day many of the very best South Carolina BBQ joints serve a mustard sauce and have German names like Meyer, Sweatman and Zeigler. In an earlier post I laid out my go-to mustard sauce recipe. Serve it with pulled pork and say Das ist gut!
Here Comes the Ketchup—As you can see from the above sauce chart (courtesy of www.amazingribs.com) the closer you get to the South Carolina/Georgia border, the farther you get into ketchup territory. Ketchup didn’t originate there (I believe the first documented ketchup recipe appeared in a Virginia cookbook from the early 1800s). HJ Heinz introduced his tomato ketchup at the Philadelphia World’s Fair in 1876, and by the late 19th century ketchup was a national phenomenon. BBQ folks took note and started using ketchup instead of tomato paste or tomato sauce. According to Bruce Bjorkman’s The Great Barbecue Companion: Mops, Sops, Sauces, and Rubs, the first commercially produced BBQ sauce was made by the Georgia Barbecue Sauce Company in Atlanta in 1909. It was ketchup based, but not as thick and sweet as sauces being made in other parts of the country.
The Memphis Effect—As a port city, Memphis, Tennessee had at its disposal a large repertoire of ingredients. Molasses was one of these many ingredients shipped up the mighty Mississippi. While the rest of the country was adding ketchup or mustard to sauce, Memphis BBQers dropped in some molasses and served it on the side. Still it’s tough to say that there’s a singular Memphis sauce because even today, most Memphis folks prefer their meat “dry” with only a spice rub, no sauce.
Kansas City Barbecue Sauce a.k.a. The Sauce is the Boss a.k.a. Who is Henry Perry?—Go to the grocery store and buy BBQ sauce. Sweet Baby Ray’s, Open Pit, Kraft, KC Masterpiece, Bull’s Eye, Hunt’s. All of these “original recipes” are based on the Kansas City-style of sauce—thick and sweet with a little bit of bite (or not). So you might be wondering a couple things: 1) Why Kansas City? 2) Why are most modern BBQ sauces based on KC sauce?
Look no further than an entrepreneurial chap named Henry Perry a.k.a. “the father of Kansas City barbecue.” Perry was born in Shelby County, Tennessee near Memphis and he worked as a steamboat cook and kitchen hand on the Mississippi River before moving to Kansas City in 1907. Taking his Memphis BBQ skills with him, Perry started serving smoked meats to garment workers from an alley stand in downtown KC. He soon moved his operation to 19th and Highland, selling barbecue out of an old trolley barn in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.
Customers loved his BBQ, paying 25 cents for slow-cooked ribs wrapped in newsprint, but many described his sauce as harsh and peppery. A gentleman named Charlie Bryant worked for Perry, and Charlie got his brother Arthur a job at Perry’s BBQ barn. Arthur eventually took over the business when Perry died and Charlie retired, and he subsequently added molasses to sweeten Perry’s original BBQ sauce recipe.
Another Perry BBQ apostle was Arthur Pinkard, a cook at Perry’s restaurant. Pinkard helped George Gates found the Gates barbecue empire. Between Bryant’s and Gates, Kansas City had two world-famous BBQ restaurants and their thick and sweet, molasses/tomato-based sauce caught on across the country. This style of sauce soon became ubiquitous in stores everywhere as the American public showed a hankering for sweet sauce a la ketchup.
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 T chili powder
- 1 t salt
- 1 t black pepper
- 1 t hot sauce
- 1 finely chopped onion
- 4 cloves of minced garlic
Saute the onion and garlic in oil and add the chili powder, salt and black pepper. Mix the other ingredients and add them to the saucepan. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes to thicken the sauce.
Snowmageddon. Snowbomination. Blizzaster. Chersnowbyl. Snowprah Wintry. Snowtorious B.I.G. Avalanche Devereaux. Blizzarded. Snowocaust. Wow, that was a hell of a snowstorm. Thunder, lightning, whiteout. Crazy. Now I’m on Snowcation and what better way to enjoy it than by feasting on some pulled pork? Am I right or am I right? Anyone? So I smoked a 5-pound pork shoulder a couple days before the Great Blizzard of 2011, and it’s been the perfect provision thus far. Here’s the recipe, including a nice, tangy mustard BBQ sauce to complement the pork.
The Lingo: Pulled pork is pork shoulder that’s been slow-cooked then pulled off the bone and shredded. However when you go to the grocery store, you’re probably not going to find a “pork shoulder.” That’s because a pig’s shoulder is divided into two cuts—the butt and the picnic. The picnic is the lower half of the shoulder and the upper part of the front leg; it has a little more bone in it. The butt (often called the “Boston butt”) is the upper half of the pork shoulder and it’s nowhere near a pig’s hindquarters. (The actual rear of a pig is more commonly referred to as ham.)
I’ve smoked pulled pork with both the picnic and the butt and there really isn’t a ton of difference. If I had to choose though, I’d go with the butt. That’s right…I’m a butt-man. Mostly because there’s a bit more fat and collagen in the butt and both those things are awesome for smoked meats. During a long smoke, fat melts and moistens the meat, while collagen (a.k.a. connective tissue a.k.a. gelatin) breaks down into sugar and sweetens the meat. So there you have it…grab a butt and let’s get smoking!
The Rub: As always I prepare the meat the night before with a rub. It adds flavor and flair. Work the rub into every square inch of the pork. Then let the meat sit in the fridge overnight.
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 3 T salt
- 2 T black pepper
- 1 T white pepper
- 1 T garlic powder
- 2 t dry mustard
- 2 t cayenne pepper
The Smoke: You can expect that pork will take around 1.5 hours per pound to smoke. I have a 5-pound pork shoulder, so it’ll be about 7 to 8 hours in the smoker. Take the rubbed pork out of the fridge while you’re preparing your smoker and let it come to room temperature. Cold meat and smoke don’t mix very well. For this smoke, I’m using oak wood chunks with some hickory chips on top—the traditional Southern way to smoke pork. It doesn’t matter what wood you use (pecan, walnut, apple, cherry, etc.) as long as it’s wood or hardwood charcoal…never briquettes.
Once the smoker temperature is up to 215 degrees, throw on the meat. Monitor the temp and add more wood when necessary. The pork is technically done when it reaches an internal temp of 165 degrees. But it will be easier to pull (and tastier to boot) if the temp is more like 180 to 190 degrees. Remove the pork from the smoker and let it rest for about an hour. This allows the juices to settle and the meat to relax, which will make it easier to pull.
The Sauce: While the pork is resting, I usually work on a sauce. You can simply put your pork on a bun and slather some store-bought BBQ sauce on it, and I guarantee it will taste delicious. But lately I’ve been experimenting with my own sauces. I figure if I spend 7 to 8 hours smoking a piece of meat I might as well devote some time to a good sauce. I’ll put together a post in the next few weeks about the different kinds of sauces and their regional affiliations.
For this recipe, I made a mustard-based BBQ sauce. I’m a mustard freak…I put it on everything including fries. It’s a German thing, and it’s the traditional topping for pulled pork in South Carolina, especially in the Midlands. I guess it dates back to when Germans settled there in the 18th century. They didn’t bring tomatoes, they brought mustard. And that’s still the base today. Mustard BBQ sauce is great because it’s tangy with a hint of sweet. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 T butter
- 1 T Worcestershire sauce
- 1 T lemon juice
- 1 t hot sauce
- 1 t cayenne pepper
Combine all the ingredients and simmer until the pork is ready.
The Sandwich: Once the pork is rested, it’s time to pull. I always put the meat in a pot over low heat as I’m pulling. There’s no technique to the pull—just grab whatever utensils work best, yank the meat off the bone and separate it. I usually use two forks. Most pulled pork looks almost shredded, but I prefer the pork to be a bit chunky with lots of crispy morsels.
Once pulled, toss the pork on a bun, add your sauce and enjoy!
“Walk Out to Winter”—Aztec Camera
“Down on Mission Street”—Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
“Ease Back Down”—Number One Cup
“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad”—Prince
“Salome”—The House of Love
“Get Ready”—The Temptations
“Just to Get By”—Talib Kweli
“Blue Flower”—Mazzy Star
“Son of a Preacher Man”—Dusty Springfield
“I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me”—Morrissey
Thanksgiving was a week ago and I think I’ve finally snapped out of my food coma. I woke up this morning to the season’s first snowfall and another holiday on the horizon. Last night both “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” were on TV, so you know the countdown is on. Before we start thinking about all that though, I want to share my Turkey Day shenanigans with you.
I smoked a big ol’ bird for the fourth straight year and it turned out really darn good once again. I think I’m getting the hang of it, so I’m posting my go-to Smoked Turkey recipe here. Enjoy!
Before you think about anything else, you’ve got to think about your bird:
1) How big is your turkey? They say you want to estimate about a pound/pound and a half of turkey per person. In the past I’ve gone big (over 20 pounds) and I’ve gone small (10 pounds). This year I split the difference and got a 15 pounder, which fed 12 people no problem and still left leftovers to divvy up. Always consider the leftovers! But also consider that a turkey takes around 30 minutes per pound to smoke, so if you get a 20 pound turkey then you’ve got at least 10 hours of smoke-time.
2) Who’s your turkey’s daddy? Most of us don’t know where our turkeys come from and probably don’t want to know. Don’t worry, I’m not going to preach at you with some anti-factory-farm/only-buy-organic speech. Well, actually I will just a little bit…but mostly because I want your turkey to taste good. As we all know, the Butterballs and Jennie-Os in the supermarkets are crammed together on big, faceless, industrial farms and injected with antibiotics, hormones, weird saline solutions, blah blah blah…They’re cheap and readily available though. I understand. But for only a dollar more per pound and an extra phone call, you can get a big, beautiful, locally raised, free-range turkey. I ordered my Ho-Ka turkey from Howard Kauffman Farms—its daddy is pictured on the front page.
Before I smoke, I brine…and I always do this the night before. I think brining is key for a delicious, moist, and tender turkey. This is also why I avoid the “injected” turkeys because essentially brining is the same process—but with your own ingredients instead of someone else’s, and with a bucket instead of a needle.
- 5 gallon bucket
- 2 gallons water
- 1.5 cups salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 sliced apples
- 1/2 cup tarragon
- some black pepper
The next morning take your turkey out and wash off the brine. Rinse thoroughly because all the good stuff has already soaked into the turkey and the stuff on the outside will taste too, well, briney. Pat the turkey dry and then coat it with olive oil. I also like to stuff the cavity with some fresh sliced apples. This will help keep the turkey juicy and impart some of that apple flavor into the meat.
Get your smoker ready. For this smoke I’m not using charcoal at all—instead my neighbors and fellow BBQ enthusiasts let me “borrow” some applewood chunks. Thanks Al and Barry! If you haven’t noticed already, this is definitely an apple-heavy recipe. I just think all the apple elements give the turkey a subtle sweet flavor. Heat your smoker up to 250 degrees, and then put on the bird and let it smoke around 30 to 40 minutes per pound.
Make sure to keep the smoker temp consistent by adding more charcoal or wood when necessary. After how-ever-many hours, check the turkey’s internal temp by sticking a meat thermometer into the turkey breast (far from the bone). Once the turkey reaches 165 degrees, then take it off the smoker and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.
While it’s resting, I like to take the goodie bag a.k.a. the neck, heart, gizzard, etc. and boil them in a couple cups of water. Then I take the turkey bits and drippings that have filled up my drip pan, toss them in a skillet with my freshly boiled turkey stock, add a couple tablespoons of flour, boil again, reduce, whisk and simmer until I have a nice thick, smoky turkey gravy. Serve, enjoy and take a nap.
Soundtrack for This Smoke
“Something On Your Mind”—Karen Dalton
“I’m an Animal”—Neko Case
“Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”—Jay-Z
“Many Rivers to Cross”—Jimmy Cliff
“Lost in the World”—Kanye West
“Stop Your Sobbing”—The Pretenders
“Isn’t It a Pity”—George Harrison
It’s a cool, overcast November day and Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. As a prelude to the big bird, I’ve decided to smoke some smaller fowl. The great thing about chicken is that in the province of smoked meats it’s one of the easiest to prepare. Once in the smoker chicken only takes about an hour per pound, and you’re really never dealing with a bird that’s bigger than 5 pounds. Plus the end result is juicy, succulent, smoky meat with a crisp skin and plenty of leftovers for sandwiches the next day. I’d say that if you’ve never smoked anything before, start with chicken—you won’t be disappointed.
This is my basic recipe for smoked chicken. I’m using a 4 pounder from the local market. Grab any bird from your neighborhood grocer—my only advice is never buy a chicken that’s “enhanced” or injected with some solution. That’s just nasty.
“Start the night before” is the most common refrain in smoking meats because honestly, preparation is key. You can always just throw whatever straight on the smoker that morning and it will be delicious by sundown. But if you want to take your smoked meats to the next level, then you’ve got to add a rub. And said rub should be applied the night before. This chicken’s no different.
- 1 T garlic powder
- 1 T chili powder
- 1 T paprika
- 1 t cayenne pepper
- 1 t cumin
- 1 t white pepper
- salt & pepper
Wash the chicken, pat dry and apply this rub the night before. Don’t be shy. Rub it in every nook and cranny of the bird, especially under the skin. Then put your freshly massaged chicken in the fridge overnight.
The morning after, take your chicken out of the fridge and prepare your smoker. For this smoke I’m using mesquite lump charcoal mixed with hickory wood chips. While the smoker heats up, make a mop. I don’t always use a mop on my smoked meats, but I like one on chicken. It keeps the skin nice and moist.
- 1/2 c apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 c beer (whatever’s around)
- 1/4 c BBQ sauce
- 1 T hot sauce (I like to use Srirachi cock sauce)
- salt & pepper
Mix the mop ingredients together and generously baste your bird. Then once your smoker reaches a temperature of 250 degrees, put on the chicken. Like I said before, you can estimate about an hour per pound, so this should take around 4 hours. Apply the mop every 30 minutes or so.
Check the chicken with a meat thermometer. You’re looking for a temperature of 160 degrees in the breast. Once you hit that temp, pull the chicken off the smoker and let it rest for 20 minutes. This will allow the juices to spread. Cut and quarter your smoked chicken, serve and enjoy.
Soundtrack for This Smoke
“Driving Along”—Harry Nilsson
“In Answer”—The Chameleons UK
“Be My Baby”—The Ronettes
“River Deep, Mountain High”—Ike & Tina Turner
“Downbound Train”—Chuck Berry
“Pushing Too Hard”—The Seeds
“The Big Sky”—Kate Bush
“Gray Sunset”—Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
“Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?”—Tame Impala