Friday, August 21, 2009

Smoked Spare Ribs (August 15th, 2009)

Smoke Date: August 15th, 2009
Smoke Time: 4 1/2 Hours
Smoker: Weber Smoky Mountain 22 1/2"
Fuel: Royal Oak Lumb & B & B Oak Lumb
Smoke Wood: Pecan Chunks & Cherry Chips
Target Smoker Temperature: 250 degrees
Brand: IBP
Weight: 3 @ 14 lbs (a little over 4 1/2 lbs each)
Weather: 90 degrees & slightly breezy


Mmmmm.......Ribs! If Brisket is my passion, then ribs is my mistress. I can't help but "get all giddy" on the inside when I am about to smoke ribs. I almost feel guilty. I feel like I am cheating on brisket. To be honest, I don't think that I could choose between the two.......even if I had a gun held to my head.......they would just have to shoot me. I am not sure if I ever had a bad rib. The best ribs that I have done so far was this year at my in-laws house for the 4th of July. Unfortunately I did not have my camera or notebook, so I did not document the cook, but I can tell you that it was a modified version of the B.R.I.T.U. recipe. BRITU stands for Best Ribs in the Universe and is the title given to the 1st place ribs at the American Royal. This winning recipe was created by a world class barbecue competitor by the name of Mike Scrutchfield. I figured that any recipe worthy of that title is worth giving a try.

This particular Practice cook, I tried a similar approach with a few minor tweaks. Over all it turned out great. The texture and moisture of the ribs were on spot, cooked perfectly in my opinion. In fact, these ribs were actually more tender than the ribs that I cooked back on July 4th, they just did not taste and look as good. So enough with the jibber jabber, let's get on with the cook.

How I Smoked the Ribs

Step 1: Meat Selection

Unlike beef, pork does not lend itself very well to aging, so when looking for any kind of pork you want to find the freshest available. If you are buying your ribs from a grocery store, try to avoid any ribs that has an ingredients list. As stated in the signature line of "Bob in Fla" from the National Barbecue News Forum....Raw meat should not have an ingredients list!!!! This can be very difficult since most meats are injected with some sort of solution to keep it fresh longer. Also try to find ribs that are not frozen or have not ever been frozen. Check the packaging, avoid meats that say "previously frozen" if possible. I also try to find a nice light pink color. I am still researching what the best pork looks like, but I have always been told to look for the lightest pink color. I am not sure how true this is, but until I find out differently, I will keep this in mind. Another thing to consider when buying pork ribs is "Backs or Spares?" Most people are more familiar with backs (loin backs, a.k.a. baby backs) Although most people refer to loin backs as baby backs, that term is actually meant for backs under 1 3/4 lbs or something like that, but the term is used loosely. The back ribs are the part of the ribcage nearest the back (hence the name) They also have a more curved shape then the spare rib. The loin is cut from the back ribs and the meat on the back ribs are are said to be naturally more tender than the spare ribs. This is one reason why the loin back ribs are more popular. In fact, I used to think that loin backs were superior ribs, but by accident I found out differently. I was smoking a brisket and a few racks of ribs for an office party and when I went to Sam's Club to pick up my three pack of backs that I usually get, they were out! I reluctantly went with the large clumsy spare ribs. I was trying to think to myself how the little petite administrative assistant would look gnawing on a huge meaty rib that was larger than she was. BUT, as I was pushing the cart to the checkout lane, I remembered the last time that I ate ribs at a local chain smoke house. They served "St. Louis style" spare ribs. I remembered that those ribs were not this large, in fact, they almost resembled baby backs. Hmmm, so I went home and googled "St. Louis Style Ribs" and I discovered a whole new world. I dug through my knife drawer for the sharpest knife that I could find and started hacking away at these spare ribs until they resembled a meatier cousin of the more well known and over rated rib, the Baby Back. Well, to make a long story short, the ribs and brisket was a hit and I have never looked back.....pun intended!!! Of course the transition payed off, because in the world of IBCA, spare ribs are required and loin backs are not allowed. The spare ribs come from the chest area of the rib cage and have the sternum attached. As you will see later, the sternum, along with some cartilage and a flap of meat know as the skirt will be removed when trimming down to St. Louis style ribs.

Step 2: Trimming St. Louis Style Ribs

If you chose to go the spare rib route (good for you!) and you would like to cut the ribs down to give then a cleaner look and make them a bit easier to eat then follow these directions. Keep in mind that you do not have to trim down spare ribs.

The first thing that I do when trimming spare ribs is remove the small flap of meat on the bone side of the rack, the flap is also referred to as the skirt. DO NOT throw the trimmings away. They can be smoked right along with the ribs and chopped or sliced up. You could also smoke and freeze the trimmings and use them to season a pot of beans. After removing the skirt, I leave the ribs bone side up and find the longest bone. The knuckle of that bone will be the reference point for removing the sternum and cartilage a.k.a. rib tip. I cut a straight line at that knuckle along the length of the rack. This will give the rack a nice even width. This will leave a little bit of cartilage on the smaller bones, but this will be ok. Some people will follow the knuckles all the way down, this does not leave any cartilage attached to the ribs but it is not as even. It really depends on your preference on which route to take. After the rib tip as been removed, it is time to remove the membrane. This is optional, but I think that the membrane is a bit too chewy and so I prefer to remove it. To do this, just get under the membrane with a butter knife and start peeling it back with a paper towel to grip with (the membrane will be slippery) it should come off in one piece. If not, then just use the knife to get back under the membrane. If you cannot do this, then just score the remaining membrane with a sharp knife. Sometimes when the butcher is trimming the pig, he may accidentally cut across the membrane, making it difficult to remove it in one piece. Now you are close to being finished or maybe you are, this depends on if you want to clean up some of the fat. I usually take my trimming a step further than others. At the meatier part of the rib there is a section of meat that has a large amount of fat under it. I usually remove the piece of meat along with most of the fat that it was covering up. Then, finally, just clean up any small loose pieces of fat and meat.

Here are some great reference sites for ribs:

The Virtual Weber Bullet
Playing With Fire and Smoke
BBQ-Book Trimming Spare-Ribs to St. Louis Style Ribs

Step 3: Apply the Rub

Some people will marinade or brine their ribs over night in either a wet concoction or in a dry rub. I will do this every once in a while, but more times than not, I will just apply my rub just before I start getting the smoker ready. Another thing that people will do is apply a mustard slather before applying the rub. This creates a good thick coating and the end result is a good thick crust. I started doing this but changed to either no slather or just a sprinkle of Worcestershire Sauce. I also started using a high salt rub. These two techniques have led to a better finished product. Both taste and appearance. Of course, this is just my opinion, so you keep doing what you like.

As stated in the introduction, I used the BRITU rub recipe. This is a good recipe and I recommend that if you have never tried then give it a go. There are a few other recipes that I have been wanting to try. A few in some books that I own and a few that I had read on websites and forums.

Here are a few Rub recipes that I would like to try:

Rendezvous-Style Memphis Dry Rub
K Kruger's Rib Rub
David Tinney's Rub recipes: All of these sound good
Jack' Old South BBQ Rub
Cbbqa Rub Recipes: The Willingham's Beef or Pork Dry Rub sounds good

Just follow the directions for the rub recipe that you have chosen.

Of course, there are no rules that says that you have to make your own rub. I have been trying new seasonings for a few different reasons: 1) Sometimes I just don't have time to make my own rubs, 2) It's nice to see what competitors are using and winning with, 3) Some of these are just too good not to try. My favorite thus far is the Hoochie Mama and Steak Seasoning by SuckleBusters.

Here's a few Store Bought Rubs that either I have tried or that I want to try:

Billy Bones
Bad Byron's But Rub

If you know of any great rubs or you want to comment on any of the above rubs then please leave a comment.

Now that I have shown you several different rubs, let's talk about applying the rub. First you need to consider the salt content of the rub. If salt is one of the main ingredients in the recipe then you want to go lighter than if paprika is the main ingredient. You also need to decide if you want to use a slather before applying your rub. The K Kruger rub above has no salt in the rub. Kevin (K Kruger) likes to apply the salt first (to taste), wait for the meat to get moist, and then apply the rub. This way also helps you to not over or under salt the ribs. You can also go as heavy as you want without over salting. personally, I like to use a high salt rub and I like to apply the rub a little at a time in layers, meaning that I apply it, start the smoker, apply a little more just before putting the ribs on the smoker, apply a little more about halfway through the smoke (just after spraying or mopping with apple or pineapple juice), then again just before applying the final glaze. In my opinion, this creates a better layer of flavor than if you just applied it once in the beginning.

Step 4: Getting the Smoker Ready

After rubbing the ribs, I stuck them back in the fridge and went out and started the smoker. I used my WSM 22 1/2 for this smoke. I used a combo of Royal Oak and B & B Lump Charcoal as my fuel and a combo of pecan wood chunks and cherry wood chips as my smoke flavor source. My goal was to keep a temperature of 250 degrees and so I used a full water pan. I also used the minion method. The WSM ran like a beauty, she did very well. The water pan keeps the temperature steady and the minion method kept me from having to reload any more charcoal. After dumping about half a chimney full of lit lump onto the unlit, I put the lid on and let the smoker get up to a little above 250 degrees. Then I put about 4 chunks of pecan and a couple of handfuls of cherry chips over the coals and put the ribs on.

Step 5: Smoking the Ribs

Like I stated above, I smoked the ribs at around 250 degrees. This took just over 4 hour to accomplish. Of course the time that it takes to smoke the ribs will vary depending on the size of the ribs and what temperature that you are smoking the ribs. I have taken over 6 hours smoking at around 220 degrees and then only took about 3 hours smoking at around 275 - 300 degrees. Once the ribs were on the smoker I tried not to peek too often, this only increases the smoke time. After about an hour on the smoker, quickly lifted the lid and sprayed the ribs with a 50/50 blend of apple juice and vinegar (use what ever kind of vinegar that you like such as apple cider, white, or rice). I also sprinkled a light coat of the rub after spraying. I continued to spray about every hour and sprinkled again with rub just before glazing. I waited to glaze (3 to 5 parts of your favorite BBQ sauce to 1 part honey) the ribs after the they passed the bend test - meaning that they were done to my liking. I let the glaze set (about 10 to 15 minutes before removing the ribs. You could also apply a second coat of glaze if you like a thick coat of sauce.

How to tell when the ribs are done?

I usually go by the bend test. This is where you grab the ribs about 1/3 from the thickest end of the rack (or about the center of the thickest meat - just before it starts to taper off drastically) and if it bends over the tongs easily and the meat cracks a bit, the rack is done. I also use the amount that the meat pulls back from the bone as a guide, this can vary, so I do not use this to dictate the doneness. I will also do the tear test, this is when you take two bones that are next to each other and pull them in opposite directions. The meat should tear easily away from the bone - do this until the meat tears away the way that you like it...if you like the ribs to fall off the bone, then wait until the bone pulls out of the meat by barely tugging on it. As a general rule for competing, you want the meat to be able to tear away clean from the bone with little resistance but not quite fall of the bone.

Here is another reference for determining the doneness of ribs:

Step 6: Cutting the Ribs

To cut the ribs, it is easier to turn the bone side up. This exposes the bones so that you do not cut into the side of the bone - unfortunately the bones are not perfectly strait! A technique used in competitions is using the skip cut or Cadillac cut. This is done by skipping a bone and cutting along side of the two bones on either side of it leaving all of the extra meat on one bone. This is not a cut that you would want to do at home...but just so ya know! I also cut the rib tips into 1" pieces and serve them with the other ribs.

Well, I hope that this post has left your mouth watering and wanting to smoke a rack or two...or ten of the most delicious spare ribs that you will ever sink your teeth into.

See ya later!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Smoked Chicken Halves (July 25th 2009)

Smoke Date: July 25th 2009
Smoke Time: 5:00 - 7:30 (2 1/2 hrs)
Smoker: Weber Smoky Mountain 22 1/2"
Fuel: B & B Oak Lump
Smoke Wood: Pecan Chunks & Cherry chips
Target Smoker Temperature: Sear @ 450 degrees Smoke @ 250 degrees
Chicken Brand: Sanderson Farms 100% Natural (from Tom Thumbs)
Chicken weight: 4.64 lbs
Techniques used: Marinade/ sear for hatch marks/ finish on smoker
Weather: 95-104 degrees


Chicken. At one time I considered chicken to be one of the easiest things to cook. I have grilled the heck out of some chickens over the years and created some awesome flavored birds. Nice crispy skin, perfectly moist, and great flavor all the way through....Mmmmm. WELL, THEN WHAT THE @#%&# HAPPENED THIS WEEK END!!!!! I used to think that if you could smoke a brisket then you could smoke about anything. It looks like I may have to retract that way of thinking. How could something so simple go so wrong. Anything that could have went wrong, DID! First off, it was NOT a good day. My son was irritable and my wife was tired and grouchy. Then, to top it off, I had an awful sinus headache. Just LIFE. But! I was bound and determined to smoke this bird. I started things off wrong by straying away from my original game plan and taking shortcuts. I did not do a brine, instead I did a couple of different marinades. One was just Italian dressing and the other was a Roadside Chicken marinade that I found on one of the BBQ forums that I visit. It had a lot of great reviews and so I figured that I would give it a shot. I did not inject the marinated birds like I had planned either. I just through together a rub out of the spice cabinet (which was decent, but far from the best) and applied it to the bird that was bathed in the Italian dressing. The other I just followed the recipe with a few variations. Then, I lost all common sense. I had the grill way too hot for searing the bird to give it beautiful hatch marks. It was like the surface of the sun. I just about burned the hair off of one of my arms as I was placing the chicken on the grill. My eyes probably became the size of a bowling ball, it was at that time that I knew that I was screwed. I quickly rotated the chicken a quarter turn and pulled it off the grill. The tongs that I was using have a locking mechanism that locks the tongs closed when pointed up and it unlocks when pointed down, well, when held in between, the tongs have a mind of their own. SO, while taking the first bird off, THEY LOCKED UP! I am trying to shake this bird off into a pan while the other is sitting there burning on the grill. My wife is in the middle, watching me frantically dancing and swearing as I swing half a chicken around with the pair of tongs that she bought me for Father's Day. Let it be known that I HATE those tongs. When I finally got the two halves on the smoker I had to fight another battle. The outside temperature was at around 104 degrees when I started getting ready to smoke. I did put the smoker in the shade and by the time I actually put the chickens on, it had cooled off a little, but it was still in the upper 90s. Usually, when smoking chicken, I run the smoker at around 300 degrees and I usually do this by using an empty water pan. Well, I figured that since it was so hot outside that I would use water this time, thinking that if I did not, the smoker temperature would spike above my desired temperature. Well, guess again. The first 1/2 hour the temp stayed around 200 degrees, I cracked the door open and it slowly climbed up to 225 degrees. Finally, I added some more coals and it climbed up to 250 and stayed there for the next hour before dropping back down to 225. Now, I will admit that I am still learning this smoker, but for the last 3 months that I have used it, I have not had this hard of a time. Usually, the temps stay in the zone that I am shooting for. BUT, enough with the whining and excuses. Let's get on with it.

How I smoked the Chicken Halves

Before I get started, I would like to thank the members of these forums for their suggestions and recipes:

National Barbecue News Forum

Texas BBQ Forum

The Virtual Weber Bullet Forum

Step 1: Meat Selection

Ok, I'll have to admit that I am still learning this step. I recently had someone tell me that free range chickens seem to have less fat under the skin. I googled "free range chicken" and read a few different articles and stories and so on. The consensus was that free range birds did not taste any different than a caged bird. It just meant that they got to run free a little more than their caged friends. I am still going to check into this further, but, to be honest, if I really cared about the wellbeing of my chicken, then I would not be eating it! Right? Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't not love animals, I think that they are delicious. It's just that I will not lose any sleep because my chicken did not get the chance to get out and stretch his legs before ending up on my plate. If you're really that concerned about the bird's happiness, then take him out and get him drunk before going to the slaughter house. I mean, hey, that's how I would want to go out. Last meal? Forget the T-bone steak, give me a bottle of Jack! I don't want to feel a thing! OK, seriously. I went to a Tom Thumb grocery store hoping to score one of these free range birds, but was left with only one choice, "all natural". I will still continue my research on free range chicken verses caged chicken in taste, I wonder how these people cooked their free range chicken. Did they fry them? Or did they broil them? I bet you a millio......I'm broke, so let's say a dollar, that they did not smoke the bird. Smoking is the only time that I have had trouble with the skin. So, I will still keep my eye open for one of these field skippin birds, just to examine for myself if the skin has less fat under it.

Here is a good write up on selecting a chicken as well as preparation and cooking:

Step 2: Trimming

Cutting up a chicken is not one of my most favorite things to do. You pretty much have to quarantine the entire kitchen. Anything that the chicken touches must be sterilized. I think that I go through a gallon of bleach every time I trim a chicken. First thing that I do is lay out my tools: a large cutting board, a boning knife and a pair of kitchen shears. Then I put on a pair of latex gloves (and try not to say "now bend over" to my wife). When I am ready, I flip the bird to where the back is pointed up and the tail is facing me. I then cut down each side of the back bone to remove. You will have to "man up" or "woman up" because this can be a little difficult, but this can be made easier with a good sharp knife or good sharp pair of heavy duty shears. I prefer the shears, they are just easier in my opinion. Once the back bone is removed, I open up the cavity and make a slit at the "V" of the neck (or where the neck used to be). Then I grab each side of the bird push down and in, the breast bone should pop out and expose itself to you. Next, I cut along both sides of the breast bone to remove it. I also remove the cartilage that is attached to the breast bone and any that I leave behind. Now that the hard part is done, it is time to clean up any extra fat and skin. I also like to loosen the skin from the breast side and then stick my fingers under the skin at the thigh and leg to loosen as well. This will allow me to rub seasoning under the skin later. I also remove any excess fat under the skin and on the meat, any loose fat that scrapes off easily. Some people will remove the skin completely, scrape or cut all of the fat off and attach the skin back to the chicken. That is just too much %$#@ work. Don't get me wrong, if that is what it will take to win a first place trophy in chicken, believe me, I will do it. But, for now, I am trying to find ways around this long and tedious process.

Here is a good article on cutting a chicken

Here is how I trimmed the Chicken (click on the group of photos to enlarge):

Step 3: Marinade

Usually I brine my chicken when I smoke. I have done this very successfully, as far as flavor and moisture goes, but I tend to marinade when grilling and since the cooking technique that I had planned on using was searing to get grill marks and then finishing with a moderate heat smoke at around 250 degrees, so this is why I went with a marinade instead. Of course my plan crashed and burned. I had the grill too hot and the smoker not hot enough, so my chicken came out dry because they cooked longer than I anticipated. I took them off when the breast read 165 degrees, but they were still dry. If I use a marinade again I will probably inject the birds with some sort of mixture. Maybe a little bit of the marinade mixed with butter and maybe chicken broth. I'll have to experiment. On this practice run I tried two different marinades. One was just Italian Dressing. I have used Italian dressing many times when grilling, it is an easy and quick way to add flavor to grilled food. The other marinade I found on a forum that I frequently visit, it is call "Roadside Chicken". It had a lot of good reviews and the ingredient list sounded like something that I would like. I did vary from the recipe a bit, I used a garlic seasoned rice vinegar instead of white vinegar. I also used black pepper rather than white pepper. I did not have the original two items in my spice cabinet, so I had to make the substitutions. After I mixed up the Roadside marinade, I placed the chickens in two separate gallon size Ziploc bags and poured the marinades over them. I then worked the marinade under the skin and closed up the bags, pushing the air out as I zipped them up. Then I placed them in the fridge for about 6 hours.

Marinade #1: Italian Dressing

Robusto Italian Dressing (I used about half the bottle, just enough to cover the chicken)

Marinade #2: Roadside Chicken

1 Cup garlic seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 Cup veg oil
1/4 Cup Worcestershire sauce
1 TBL Kosher salt
1 TBL white sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 Tsp celery salt

Mix all of the ingredients, except the oil, until well blended. Then pour half of the mixture in the bag with the chicken. Mix the other half with the oil and set aside for basting the chicken during the cooking process.

Here is the original recipe

Next time I may try this brine

Step 4: Air Dry

After the bird marinated for 6 hours, I took the two halves out of the zip lock bags, then I put them on a rack inside a pan and patted them dry with a paper towel. Then I stuck them back in the fridge for about an hour.

Step 5: Rub

I only made enough rub for one half of the chicken. The other half, I just followed the recipe. I just combined a few ingredients out of the cabinet. I did this while the chicken was marinating. After the birds had air dried for an hour, I took them out and applied the rub to the half that was marinated in the Italian Dressing. I started by lifting up the skin on the breast and sprinkling some rub directly on the meat, making sure to push some seasoning under the skin on the thigh and leg as well. The rub that I used was just something that I through together. I started with a seasoning salt that I made (a.k.a. BRITU rub). I have a ton left from doing some ribs on the 4th of July, so I thought that I would try to get rid of some of it. It is a good rub, although, in my opinion, it is too salty to be considered a "rub". That is why I call it "seasoning salt". That is how you should use it, AS A SALT. You definitely do not want to use it like you would most rubs. Just a light sprinkle should do. I also added some smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, sugar, black pepper, and chili powder, you know - the basics. Rather than giving you the whole recipe (because it was not worth sharing) I will give you a better recipe. This one was good, but I have had a lot better. Weber makes some great chicken seasoning as well, or you could use your own favorite rub.

Chicken Seasoning "Rub":

1 TBL kosher salt
1 TBL black pepper (freshly cracked or ground)
1 TBL lemon zest (finely chopped)
1 TBL orange zest (finely chopped)
1 TBL smoked paprika (for a more smoky flavor since chicken is smoked fast)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1tsp ground allspice

Mix ingredients and sprinkle onto chicken just prior to smoking. Save remaining seasoning in a zip lock bag or air tight container for future use.

The person that posted the original recipe suggested adjusting the salt per your audience and also suggested the Tender Quick for a smoke ring. Here is the original Recipe.

Another option is to exclude the salt from the rub and apply it separately. So first, sprinkle the amount of salt that you normally would, then apply the rub. This way you will not over or under salt your food.

Step 6: Getting the Smoker and Grill Ready

This is the step that I really messed up. I intended to get a hot grill ready to sear the bird to give it nice grill marks and also render some of the fat out from under the skin. I was trying to balance life with cooking and there just wasn't enough room for both on this particular day. I was doing too many things at once and lost track of the grill. I let it preheat too long and I did not turn the heat down once it got to the desired temperature that I wanted. As a rule of thumb, you want to be able to hold your hand about an inch over the grate and hold it there for about 1 to 2 seconds, by counting: one thousand one, one thousand two. Not more, not less. If you hold your hand over the grate and the counting goes more like this: one thous......SON OF A........ OUCH! OUCH! OUCH!......then you have the grill too high, such as I did.

Here is a few good resources for grill temps:

Of course, if you have one, it is best to use a grate thermometer.

As far as the smoker, I should have gone without water in the pan or used more charcoal. I struggled with this mainly because I over-thought the process. I usually go without water in the pan and bring the temps up to 300 degrees. I wanted to go 250 degrees since I seared the chickens first. I think that I will take the advice of several forum members that suggested leaving the water pan out completely, making a direct heat source. The chickens should be high enough on the top grill grate so they won't burn as easy. This application is used successfully in competitions, so I will give it a try.

So, my grill was too hot and my smoker was too cold. So, next time I will go without the water pan with an even layer of charcoal and a few chunks of hickory or pecan. I may or may not sear first. It seems that most people like the nice even mahogany color that the chicken gets without the grill marks. I may do both and have forum members vote on which one looks best. Hmm, decisions...decisions.

Here is a great reference for getting a WSM fired up.

Step 7: Cooking the Chicken

The goal that I was trying to reach was creating a bird with a nice mahogany color, nicely marked with a diamond pattern from strategically rotating the bird as it seared on the grill. The skin should have been a bit crispy or at least bite through and the meat should have been moist and flavorful. After the two halves had marinated, air dried, and was seasoned, I attempted to sear them on my grill. We all know by now that my grill was too #$%@ hot, but if it wasn't, I would have had a bird that had a nice diamond pattern and the skin would have been browned just slightly. But, instead I had a slight diamond shape along with a lot of large dark brown to black spots. Also, the skin did not have time to brown a bit, rendering out some of the fat from under the skin. This should have took a few minutes, but only took 30 seconds since the grill was so hot.

Next, my goal was to finish on a 250 degree smoker. I wanted to get a good smoke flavor and I figured that since I seared the bird first that I could get away with lowering the smoker temp and still get edible skin. First off, this probably would have worked if I could have left the chicken on the grill longer to render out some of the fat. I also basted the bird a few times through out the process. The one that I marinated in Italian dressing, I basted with clarified butter. The Roadside chicken, I hit a few times with the Roadside marinade and oil. Finally, just before taking the chicken off the grill, I glazed the birds. The Italian marinated half got a mixture of four parts KC Masterpiece and two parts honey, the roadside got a TBL of honey, 2 tsp of roadside marinade, 1 tsp of soy sauce, and 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce.

The chicken turned out average. It would have turned out better if I would have successfully achieved my goals. Overall, the flavor of each half was good. I liked the roadside best while my wife liked the other (she loves sweet and the KC Masterpiece and honey did the trick for her). The breast was slightly dry. I have had worst, but this was far from my best. The flavor did not penetrate down into the meat. I usually do not have this problem when marinating, but usually I do chicken parts rather than a half. Usually with a half or whole bird, I brine). I am not sure? I'll have to keep experimenting. Also, another thing that I will do next time is use tooth picks to keep the skin from pulling back exposing the breast meat. I think that this should also help with the skin texture, it seems that it thickens as it draws up. Hmm, not for sure, I will pay more attention next time.


Well, I will have to chalk this one up as a failure, although, I did learn a lot from this practice run. But, don't get me wrong, it still turned out better than most restaurant chicken, but it was still far from a 1st place trophy. Next time I will go without a water pan completely, use the brine and rub as mentioned above. I will also use toothpicks to keep the skin from drawing back on the breast. I may also try injecting one of the halves with a butter and broth mixture. Oh, just for kicks, I will try to find a free range bird to see if it has less fat under the skin. Well, practice, practice, practice!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Smoked Brisket (May 24th, 2009)

Smoke Date: May 24th 2009 (Memorial Day Weekend)
Smoke Time: 7:40 p.m. -11:15 a.m. (16.42 hrs) (1.27 hrs/pretrim lb)
Smoker: Weber Smoky Mountain 22 1/2"
Fuel: Kingsford Competition Briquets
Smoke Wood: Hickory Chunks
Target Smoker Temperature: 250 degrees
Brisket Brand: Certified Angus Beef
Brisket weight: 12.92 lbs
Techniques used: Injection/Mustard Slather/Rub/Pan w/Rack @ 5 hr
Weather: 80 degrees & slightly breezy


As stated in the "About Me" section of this blog, I am searching for the perfect barbecue. For competition reasons this mainly includes beef brisket, pork spare ribs, and chicken halves. This is due to the IBCA sanctioned contest rules. In this post I will be writing about my first brisket that I have cooked since seriously considering competing. It is also the first brisket that I have cooked on my new WSM smoker. Now, I must be honest, brisket is my passion. I love to cook brisket and I love to eat it even more. In fact, that is usually how I judge if a barbecue joint is worth a second visit. Well, brisket and ribs. If it has great brisket and/or ribs, I will be back. Since I have become more serious about my barbeque, I have been trying and critiquing different places, well, my wife and I. She also helps with the critiquing, and she can be harsh. Not just with other peoples food but with my own! But, with that said, when she tasted this brisket, she just kept saying "wow" and she said that this was my best brisket yet! So, let us get on with it. The following Recipe is my "current" way of smoking a brisket. The reason that I say current is that there are a ton of different techniques, rubs, marinades, and so on, and I am still trying to find that competition worthy recipe. Is this one worthy? Well, so far this is my best, so until I come up with a better recipe, this is it.

How I Smoked the Brisket

Step 1: Meat Selection

This is a step that I did not pay much attention to when I first started. Sometimes I lucked out and chose a decent piece of meat, other times I got a big ol' tough clump of cow. Something that I have learned through reading and experience is that not all meat is created equal. I can go on and on about selecting meat, but I will try to keep it short and to the point.
I have recently read in several books and forum threads about a particular brand of meat, Certified Angus Beef. They went on and on about how great it was. So, one day I was checking out the meat section in a Kroger's Signature grocery store, like I usually do (I can't help it, it is a sickness) and I noticed that they had their briskets on sale for $.99/lb. So, I started digging through them and I noticed that they carried different brands, mainly Rancher, but a couple of others too. Then, to my surprise, there it was. A nice 13 lb Certified Angus Beef choice brisket. Beautiful. Thick blade, nice white fat cap. Nice marbling and a nice pinkish red color. "I can't believe it!" I thought to myself. Then I thought, "I am such a dork" Then I threw it in the grocery cart and made my way to register. While in line, the guy in front of me kept staring at my brisket and finally said "that is one big piece of meat". I just looked at him with a slight grin and proudly replied "yes it is!" Then I gave the cashier my loyalty card, payed, and giggled the whole way out the door. Don't ask me why. I guess I was like a kid in a candy store, except my candy weighed 13 lbs. I am not sure if Certified Angus Beef is the best brand, but it sure made for a great end result. So, for now on when I am hunting for the perfect brisket, I will shoot for a 12 - 14 pound Certified Angus Beef choice whole packer with a nice rich pink or cherry color and even marbling. I am also looking for a thick blade (flat) with a good white fat cap. If I can't find a CAB, I will just try to find the best looking choice brisket.

Step 2: Aging

Some people may be apprehensive about aging their brisket, afraid of spoiling a good piece of meat. Well, if done correctly, aging is both easy and safe. Since the brisket was still in its original cryovack packaging and the seal was not broken, I was able to age it. The package clinged to the meat and there was not any air or large bubbles of air in the package. Next, I kept the brisket in my refrigerator at around 34 degrees. It helps that the fridge that you keep the brisket in does not have much traffic. Not very many people have a spare fridge to store their brisket, nor do I (yet), so I kept mine in my normal fridge and it seemed to be just fine. I aged mine for about two weeks, but I am not sure how long it was aged before I bought it. I have read where someone ages theirs up to 60 days after the packaging date, but it is more normal to go 30 to 45 days after. This is why it is important to know the pack date if possible. This date is printed on the box that the brisket comes in. As the brisket aged, I noticed a few tiny bubbles start to appear, this is normal, as long as the bubbles are small pin size not large bubbles as if the packaging seal broke. If the seal did break I would have went ahead and cooked the meat. I feel that the aging process made a huge difference in the tenderness of the brisket, so if time permits, I will keep aging my meat.

Step 3: Trimming

When researching "prepping a brisket" you will find people who do not trim at all, people who will go as far as to separate the point from the flat, and then you have the people in between, such as me, who will trim as much fat as possible while still leaving the point intact and a 1/8" to 1/4" fat cap on one side. I feel that the smoke and rub will penetrate better if it does not have so much fat to go through. 1/8" should be plenty thick enough to keep the brisket moist and add flavor. Of course, just like everything else in this post, this is just my opinion. You will have to practice and find what works best for you.

I usually start by trimming as much fat as I can from the side that does not have the fat cap. After that, I cut a "v" out of the fat vein that separates the point from the flat. This way I remove some of the extra fat but not enough so that the point separates from the flat. Next I remove all but about 1/8" from the sides and the fat cap. If you accidental cut into the meat, don't worry, you will be o.k. You will get better as you gain experience. Heck, I still cut into the meat, but it does not seem to effect the outcome. Once all of the unwanted fat has been removed, I score the fat cap to allow for better penetration of smoke and seasoning. I usually make a 1" by 1" square pattern (approximate, but sometimes I get in a hurry and they are not so even), this also comes in handy if you are going to inject your meat with a brine or marinade, you will see what I mean later. Also some people will tenderize their brisket with a Jaccard Tenderizer. They usually hit it before applying the rub and then again after applying the rub to get it down into the meat.

Here are some different resources on preparing and smoking a Brisket:

Virtual Brisket
Prepping using a Jaccard Meat Tenderizer
Virtual Weber Bullet Brisket Selection & Preparation

Step 4: Injecting

There is a lot of people that do not inject their brisket. As for me, I do. I feel that it adds more flavor. In fact, this is why I do it. Not to tenderize or moisten the meat (if the brisket is prepared and smoked properly you shouldn't have this problem), just to add "flava". I also try to stay away from flavors that do not compliment beef. Some people add some crazy things to their injection liquid, but my goal is to keep it simple and compliment the beef flavor, not over power it. First off, you want to make this "flava brew" far enough ahead so that it has time to cool.

Injecting Liquid:

4 Cups beef broth
1 package Au Jus Gravy mix
1/4 cup soy Sauce
1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp hot sauce (I used Frank's, but you can use your favorite)

I brought the beef broth to a boil and stirred in the au jus mix. I then took the broth off of the heat and mixed in the rest of the ingredients. Then I put the liquid in a bowl with a lid and placed it in the fridge to cool. After the magic concoction had cooled, I set aside 1 cup for the mop sauce.

To inject I layed cling wrap over a large broiling pan (disposable pans work perfect) Next I placed the brisket, fat cap up, on top of the cling wrap in a pan (note if the brisket is small enough I use a Jumbo size storage bag, I just open this inside a pan so that I do not make a mess). I injected the brisket on a 1" grid, this is where the scored pattern comes in handy. (I injected where the two scored lines intersected). I Made sure that I pulled the needle out slowly as I injected the meat, keeping an even flow of juices. If there is a spot that is not scored such as where there is no fat, I still injected that area every 1".

After I finished injecting the brisket, I poured the rest of the liquid over the brisket and folded the excess cling wrap over the brisket, sealing it well and pushing out any air that may form under the plastic wrap. If I was using a large storage bag, I would zip it up, pushing the air out as I went. I still left the wrapped brisket in the pan because it can, and did, leak. I usually let my brisket soak over night, but I will go as far as two days (this one actually soaked for two days).

There are tons of marinade and brine recipes out there, so I will keep experimenting. With that said, I am careful with what I inject. I try not to use a recipe with a high acid content because this may make the meat mushy. Also beware that some marinades, especially dark colored, will stain your meat. When you slice it, you will see where the needle penetrated leaving a trail of colored flavor. This is not appealing to the eye. My liquid has a dark color, but it does not stain the meat. I have also noticed that injections with powdered spices in it such as chili powder, will leave a trail, my guess is that it does not soak into the meat well. Not sure? You may find this not to be true in your case, but this has been my experience so I stick to only liquid in my injections.

Step 5: Mustard Slather

I feel that this step helps create a good crust. When the brisket is done, you will not taste the mustard, so if you do not like the taste of mustard then do not worry, the taste will go away. Some people pass this step and some people will use something completely different. Then you have people who create complicated blends of mustard and other seasonings. If you read Paul Kirk's book "Championship Barbecue" he has a whole chapter dedicated to mustard slathers, as well as rubs, marinades, and brines. As for me, I just use plain ol' mustard. What ever I have in the fridge. If you choice to skip the injection part, then you may benefit more from a complex mixture. Or, if you just want to add more flavor, go ahead, experiment.

Mustard Slather:

Plain ol' Yellow Mustard

Next time I may try rubbing with Worcestershire sauce instead, or a combination of the two.

To apply the slather, I removed the brisket from the broth liquid and dried thoroughly. I just squeezed over the brisket and rub in thoroughly. I did this to both sides of the brisket.

Now that I have slathered my brisket, I am ready to season with my rub.

Step 6: Barbeque Rub

A rub can be any thing from salt and pepper to a blend of 20 different spices and herbs. This is where you add your personality. If you are a beef purist, then you might just want to add a little salt and pepper. If you want a little spice in your life, then a good mixture of chiles and maybe some cumin will do the job. Did I mention sweet? Oh yes, add some brown sugar or maybe some pure cane sugar. Now we're talkin! The rub I used was just some left over magic dust from Mike Mills' book "Peace, Love, and Barbecue" and a few other things in the cabinet. But, since this was not my most favorite concoction, I am going to give you a brisket rub that I have used in the past that was better, but feel free to adjust it to your liking, or go out and search for your own rub. Also, don't be afraid to substitute ingredients, if there is an ingredient that you can't stand, then leave it out or replace it. For example, I do not like star anise, it tastes like licorice.........and I hate licorice, no, hate is not the right word, maybe despise. In fact, when I eat assorted candy that has licorice flavor mixed in and I accidentally stick one in my really ticks me off, it's like stumping your toe on a piece of furniture in the middle of the night while getting up to use the bathroom. You just want to scream profanities into the air while jumping up and down. Yep, don't speak to me for at least an hour after I have eaten a piece of licorice........or stumped my toe. So, if you feel this strongly about a spice or herb, then, by all means, leave it out. You may also choose to use a store bought rub, hey, go ahead, knock yourself out. There are no rules that you must make your own rub, I just get the satisfaction from creating a delicious coating for my smoked meat. Another tip is to use the freshest and best quality spice that you can find. If you have a dehydrator, then you can make your own onion or garlic powder. It makes a difference!

Beef Rub:

4 tbsp paprika
2 1/2 tbsp kosher salt (if you are able, grind this down a bit finer in a spice or coffee grinder)
2 tbsp turbinado sugar (raw cane sugar, this also has a higher burn tolerance)
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp granulated garlic powder
2 tbsp onion powder
2 tbsp black pepper (fresh, course ground or cracked)
2 tbsp cumin powder
2 tsp cayenne pepper (this can be adjusted for your heat preference)
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp dried oregano

I Blended all of the ingredients together and sprinkled liberally over the brisket. Yes, I said sprinkle, not rub. I have read where some people believe that if you "rub" it clogs the pores and does not allow for a good penetration of smoke and seasoning. I am not sure if this is true, but World BBQ Champions such as Mike Mills and Paul Kirk speak against actually rubbing in their books. Ever since I read their books I tried to avoid rubbing the seasoning mixture into my meat. Some people disagree with this, so if you feel the urge, then go ahead, I won't stop you.
Now that my brisket is "rubbed", I could either let it marinade over night to two days or just go ahead and throw it on the smoker. Since I injected my brisket, I will put it back in the fridge just until I get my smoker up to temperature. I do not leave it out to come to room temperature because I have read that you will get a better smoke ring because the nitrogen dioxide that causes the smoke ring will only form while the meat temperature is below 140 degrees. So, if this is true, then I try to keep it below 140 as long as possible. Why? Well, because even though a smoke ring has no effect on flavor, it is visually appealing.

Step 7: Barbeque Mop

A mopping sauce is used to help keep the brisket moist as well as add some extra flavor. It gets its name from the actual mop that pit masters use to sop their large amounts of meat. You can actually buy a miniature mop to baste your meat, which works really well. You can also use a basting brush or turkey baster. In fact, a turkey baster would be more efficient for the application that I use. I placed a cooling rack inside a disposable pan (you could also use a broiling pan) and put my brisket in that after about 5 hrs on the smoker, so that the crust had time to set (next time I may put the brisket in the pan in the beginning and maybe wrap it in foil after the meat temp has reached 165 degrees). I poured the mopping sauce inside the pan. So, what I ended up with was an extra barrier between the heat source and my brisket and the cooling rack kept the brisket up out of the liquid so a good crust was formed. The drippings from the brisket was captured by the pan and when I mopped the brisket, I just dipped my brush into the juices and basted the brisket. (I did not do this, but this step is often done in competitions to help moisten the slices, it would also help out at home as well: When it was done, I could have poured the juices into a bowl, threw it in the fridge and waited for the fat to solidify and float to the top. Then, scrape it out and I would have been left with a good juice to pour back over the brisket after slicing.)

Mopping Sauce:

1 cup injecting marinade (the cup that you saved from above)
1 cup apple juice
1 cup beer (a strong beer works best)

I mixed the ingredients and poured into the pan. I kept the liquid below the rack. Also, I waited about 5 hours before I placed the brisket in the pan and started basting (so that a crust could form onto my brisket). I hit my brisket with a sprinkle or two of rub to replenish any that may have been washed off. I done this about every other time that I mop my brisket.

Step 8: Get the Smoker Started

How you prepare your smoker depends on the type of smoker that you have. Basically you just need to create an indirect heat. So, if all you have is a small kettle grill, then just build a fire one end and place a water pan on the other. If you have a single chamber barrel grill, then just do the same thing. If all you have is a gas grill, then light one burner and place the meat on the other side. You will need to place wood chips in a foil pouch or smoking box to get a smoke flavor. If you have an offset or water smoker then you will just build a fire in the charcoal chamber. I know that this general and non-descriptive, but you really need to do the research to find how other people are smoking using your type of cooker. Just google the name or type of your cooker along with smoking and see what you can come up with.

I used my new Weber Smoky Mountain (WSM) 22 1/2" smoker, so I used a charcoal base with hickory chunks for flavor. In fact I tried Kingsford's Competition Briquets for the first time. They are 100% all natural and burn hotter and create less ash than the normal briquets. They did burn hot and created less ash, but they did not burn as long as the normal briquets. Also, they are expensive. I think that I will stick to using lump charcoal. I love hickory, so that is what I used for the smoke source. I just used hickory chunks that I bought at Wal-mart. The next time that I smoke a brisket, I think that I am going to try pecan. I also enjoy apple, cherry, and oak.

I used the Minion Method for creating my fire. I dumped a bag of unlit Kingsford Charcoal in the charcoal ring along with several wood chunks skattered throughout the charcoal. Then I lit 3/4 full of my Weber Charcoal Chimney and scattered this on top of the unlit. I then assemble my smoker and filled my water pan and put the lid on. After the temperature reached 300 degrees, I put the brisket on and closed the inlet dampers down to about half open. I think that I lit too much charcoal to start because I had a hard time bringing down the temperature. I ended up closing the inlet dampers all the way and the temps finally came down. The temperature stayed close to 250 degrees through the entire smoke. There were times that it spiked up to 275/300 degrees, but it did not last long. Also the temps dropped down to 200 degrees a few times. All in all, it averaged around 250 degrees and the finished product was great, so I guess I can say my first long smoke on my WSM was a success. I did learn a lot and with more practice I should be able to keep a more consistent temperature.

Step 9: Smoking the Brisket

Like I said above, once the temperature reached 300 degrees, I placed the brisket in the smoker, fat cap down. I also put a couple of turkey legs on with the brisket, for a bit of a snack. Hey, I can't help it, cooking brisket makes me hungry. I left the brisket alone for about 5 hours. After 5 hours, I placed the brisket, fat cap down in the pan with the mop. I then brushed a little on top and shut the lid. I checked on the temperature of the smoker every 30 minutes to make sure the temperature stayed close to 250 degrees. I checked the brisket temperature every hour or two until it got close to 185 degrees, then I checked it every 30 minutes or so. I was mainly checking for tenderness rather than internal temperature. The temperature is just a guide, the brisket is done whet it's done (when I stick the probe of the thermometer into the side of the thickest part of the flat and it goes in and out easily, "like butta!"). Some people will wrap the brisket in a double layer of foil when the internal temperature of the brisket is 165 degrees. This helps keep the brisket from drying out and speeds up the cooking process, you could also ramp the temperature up to 300 degrees or put the brisket in the oven after wrapping. Once the brisket "gave up the ghost" or was tender, I wrapped it in foil and put it in an insulated cooler and let it sit for about 4 hrs.

Step 10: Slicing the Brisket

When the brisket was ready to serve, I took it out of the cooler, unwrapped it and let it sit on the cutting board for about 10 to 15 minutes. If the brisket was fresh out of the smoker, I would have waited closer to 30 minutes, but since it was in the cooler for about 4 hours, the brisket had cooled a bit. Of course, with that said, it was still good and warm. After the brisket rested, I started by separating the point from the flat. This was simple, since I removed a bit of the fat that separated the two muscles, it was easy to find the starting point. I just followed the fat vein through with a sharp knife until the brisket was separated. Next, I chopped the point into about 1" chunks. I could have hit these with a little more rub and threw them back on the smoker to make burnt ends, but I chose not to do so. Then, I sliced the flat against the grain, this is important to have a more tender slice. I made my slices about 1/4" thick, but I cut a few at 3/8" to 1/2" thick because I like a good thick slice. This is where me and my wife began to argue, she likes her slices thin and when she saw how thick I was slicing she, started barking....and I barked back! .........Thick! Thin! Thick! Thin! Then, I just shoved a piece of brisket in her mouth and she shut up! OK, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but this is my story and I'm stickin to it. Also, sometimes the tenderness of the brisket determines the thickness of the slices. If the brisket turns out a little tough, then you want to slice it thinner to help make it easier to bite into. If the brisket turns out "too" tender (it wants to fall apart when you pick it up) slicing it thicker helps it stay together better (some people like their brisket this way while others consider this over cooked). I like my brisket slices to barely hold together when sliced 1/4" thick.

Well, that is how I slice my brisket, although, the next time I might try something different with the point. I will probably make some burnt ends. Also, it helps if you have a long sharp slicing knife or a decent electric knife. You will see what I mean the first time you try to slice a tender brisket with a dull knife....UUUUGLY!

Conclusion and Observations:

Well, another successful brisket smoke. Some people call brisket the Mt. Everest of meat, I feel that if you can successfully smoke a brisket then you should be able to smoke about anything. So, the fact that I survived the overnight battle with the mother of all beef and still turned out a nice juicy, tender piece of meat, I feel costitutes as a success.

But......even though, it was a successful smoke, there was a few things that I observed, both, good and bad. Such as the charcoal. I tried Kingsford Compitition briquets for the first time and basically, well, they did get the job done. They did not have an "off "smell like the regular kingsford. They pretty much had no smell. They also lit fast in the chimney. As far as burning hotter like Kingsford advertises, they do that too. In fact, I started the minion method with too many briquets and so I had a hard time bringing the temperature down. Also, I don't think that they burned as long as the typical kingsford. They did produce a lot less ash than the typical briquets. But, at the higher price, I think that I will stick to using lump charcoal. So far, the best lump that I have used is B & B, although Royal Oak is more convenient. Of course, I will use Kingsford when in a pinch, but, for now, B & B is my top choice. Also, next time, I think that I will put the brisket in the pan at the beginning so that it will catch more of the juices. I may also try wrapping the brisket in foil when the internal temperature of the brisket reaches 160 -170 degrees. Some people are against foiling while others win the American Royal using foil. Foiling is often refered to as "The Texas Crutch". Well, anyone that thinks that can kiss my Texas @#&*! OK, so now that I got that off my chest. Foil is a tool, it's not cheating, and anyone who says otherwise is just being close-minded. I can't stand it when someone starts preaching about how their way of barbeque is the only way or that it is better than everyone else's. The truth is........wait for it...........believe it or not.............THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO BARBEQUE a brisket, or ribs, or what ever else that is on your menu. If anyone ever tries to say that my way is not authentic barbeque, then I will ask to see his wooden stick with a sharpened rock on the end that he killed his dinner with, oh, by the way, where is your hole in the ground, I don't think that fancy metal smoker existed when barbeque was first invented? Barbecue has advanced since the prehistoric days, so get over it. You don't see me hitting my wife over the head with a club and dragging her back to the cave.......although the hitting the head with a club thing, I often feel like doing. OK, OK, enough already. Time to sum things up........ the brisket was great, had a decent smoke ring and great flavor. The texture was perfect and it was moist, although it could have been more moist - I could have taken the brisket off sooner, but I was sticking my thermometer probe into a hard spot in the brisket. When, I finally stuck it in the opposite side, it slid in and out like butter. But with that said, it still had a decent moisture. So, I'll keep on truckin....trying new techniques and different flavors until I find the perfect barbeque.