Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Barbecue Is A Basic Food Group - Maybe Two

The four basic food groups are barbecue, bacon, barbecue and fruit.  Much of what people think of vegetables are really fruits from a biological standpoint: corn is a fruit, tomatoes are a fruit and most non-leafy vegetables are really fruit.  That makes coffee a kind of fruit juice.  

Memorial Day is often thought of as the start of summer and a barbecue day.  We're doing lots of work around here (I swear I'll tell you all about it soon) so no barbecue here, at least not in the "fire up the grill!" sense.  That requires attention, a smoker requires much less; almost zero.  So I popped about 10 pounds of spare ribs in the smoker at noon to smoke for 4 1/2 hours while we worked.   (Add some miscellaneous extra time spent with the door open and you get to 5 PM). Voila: some of the best ribs I've ever had.
These days I'm using a Masterbuilt electric smoker, specifically the 30" analog model.  In the 30 to 40 years I've had a smoker, I've used a couple of electric smokers and a Chargriller wood fired smoker.  The wood fired smoker (with a side fire box) required tons of maintenance and I found it very difficult to maintain a good temperature inside if it was below 60 outside.  Days when it's under 70 are my favorite kind of day for staying outside all day, but I'd be throwing oak logs and most of a 40 pound bag of charcoal into the smoker to keep it at a good temperature inside.  One of the reasons I got the Masterbuilt was seeing a video of someone smoking a pork shoulder while the outside temperature was 35. The electric smoker, on the other hand, is pretty much a "fill it and forget it" thing.  This one has a simple thermostat and doesn't need to be checked very often; there are digitally controlled systems that work even better.  For ribs, I just cook by time: for smoking pork or beef brisket, I use a meat thermometer with a probe in the meat all the time and external display, and cook by internal temperature and time.

With the electric smokers I've had, you have a pan or tray to fill with wood chips or chunks and a bowl of liquid.  The liquid helps buffer the temperature and also boils whatever liquid you fill it with, infusing those flavors with the smoke.  It's usually called a water bowl, but I always use something that adds flavors, usually either diluted or pure fruit juices.  Yesterday, I used apple cider vinegar.  While you may have to refill the wood chip tray, the vast majority of the smoke infusion and flavoring happens in the first hour or so.  After that, it makes less difference. 

The ribs were dry rubbed with salt, pepper, onion and garlic, then smoked dry for most of 4 hours.  At that point I mopped one side with a barbecue sauce (again, my spur of the moment recipe).  Half an hour later, I flipped them and mopped the other side with barbecue sauce.  I threw in a few ears of corn at the midway point.  Most people who write about smoking corn say to peel back the husk, remove as much silk as you can, butter/season the ear, then fold the green husk leaves back over the corn, tie up the loose leaves, and smoke for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  That's pretty much what we did, except for the tying up the leaves part.  It came out great, too.  We both prefer corn to have a firm, crunchy texture, not the mushy texture you get in so many places where the corn is just left in the hot water until it's sold.    


  1. Love the variety of topics you discuss in your posts Si. Keep em coming.

  2. Being pedantic, barbecue is the art of cooking food low and slow, using indirect heat and smoke. Hot and fast over direct heat is more properly "grilling".

    That being said, I recently picked up a pellet smoker and have fallen in love with it. The pellets are composed of compressed hardwood sawdust. Very similar to the electric smokers in the control interface, I assume the electric smokers have optional remote controls. However, no need for any additional wood chips or water trays. Just fill the hopper with pellets, toss on the meat and walk away. Check the remote control periodically to see how everything is going, including the internal temp of the meat if you used the meat probe, and it is the most effortless way to make delicious barbecue that I have found.

  3. Gregg - I've never tried one of those pressed-wood pellet smokers. Nice to know it works well.

    Smoking meats is one of those things where there's a massive group of people who are advocates, and often split into sub groups. You get into all sorts of discussions on it, barbecue competitions, all that. Sauces, finishing sauces, rubs, types of wood, propane vs. wood vs. electric. You can spend as much time as you want.

    Where I grew up, the terms are used interchangeably, but pedantically you are correct about grilling vs. barbecue. Ever been in a deep south restaurant and hear folks refer to any carbonated beverage as a coke, regardless of flavor? "I'll have a large coke"..."what kind? Orange? Root beer?"

    And Pete - thank you very much.

  4. For later in the year:


  5. Bill - thanks. Never even considered smoking a goose. I definitely have to look into that.