It’s a Pulled Pork kind of day.

When it comes to cooking meat, pork is known for being fairly forgiving but for some reason I have had some recent issues with getting pork butt done just right. Ribs, not a problem. Brisket, nailed it. Pulled pork, meh.

I thought long and hard about potential reasons for the less than stellar results and only one thing stood out as to why…the pork I’ve been using was boneless. You see, I was in Costco a couple months ago and they had a sale on cryovac pork butt so I grabbed one package that weighed in near 22 lbs. I expected there to be a bone but alas when I opened up the package everything spilled out in 4-5 hunks of pork. They were not uniform in shape and flopped all over the place because the shoulder bone was completely removed! The results from these specific butts was nothing to write home about.

Now after that lengthy prelude, we now turn our attention to this past weekend where I was determined to solve my pulled pork struggles. First off, a proper cryovac pork butt was found:

Cryovac Pork Butt

I got this 10 pounder at a small, independent supermarket. It had a nice mixture of fat and meat. As you can see, it is fairly uniform in shape.

 

Bone in Pork

 

After removing the packaging, the entire butt stayed in one piece…thanks to the intact shoulder blade bone (which I am pointing to). The bone is also the secret component to knowing when the butt is done.

 

Rib Rub

 

Now it was time to apply my homemade dry rub. It’s a super simple recipe of salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder. It gives both a nice flavour profile and forms a good bark.

 

Rubbed Butt 1

Here it is all rubbed up and ready to hit the smoker. When applying rub, don’t forget to hit all around the edges as well so the bark is nice and uniform.

 

 

Stumpy in the Snow

While prepping the butt, Stumpy was getting all warmed up despite the early blast of winter weather that we got. Have no fear…thanks to the cooker design it will hold a desired temperature pretty much bang on even when the mercury dips below freezing.

With the butt rubbed, its time to throw it on the pit and lock it down. A 10 lb butt takes roughly 1 hr of cooking per pound…so I won’t see this baby for a long while and remember: “If you’re lookin’ you ain’t cookin’.” 🙂

So..what does one do to pass the time away during a long cook? There’s always side items to make or tv to watch or naps to take….but I decided to knock an item off my to-do list: Finding a home for some firewood for Stumpy.

Oak firewood

It’s been a solid 8 hours and how do I know that the pork is done cooking? Well you could slice it open to look at the inside for doneness or stick a thermometer in it to get a temperature reading or you could say a few prayers to the BBone TestBQ Gods and “hope” it’s done…or you can just check the pork butt’s own self contained doneness indicator. The Bone. Yup, just grab the bone and if it starts to lift away from the meat, it is done. Simple. No fuss, no muss. 🙂 This was why my previous attempts didn’t turn out so well..I had no true way of knowing when it was done since the Costco butts had no bone. I felt vindicated!

Now it was just a matter of a little more patience while the butt rested. Then pulled it to shreds, loaded it up on a kaiser along with some homemade coleslaw and VOILA….now its time to have a nap. 🙂

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Sammie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meat 101

Ham, Pork Shoulder, Bacon, Back Ribs, Side Ribs, Spare Ribs, Brisket, Sirloin, Ribeye…we’ve all heard of these cuts of meat (and many others) but sometimes they sound like they come from a certain area and in fact they are on the opposite end!

Since I’ve learned a lot recently from local farmers, meat purveyors and good ol’ trial and error, I figure that this post would be a bit of a Show and Tell to help you get oriented with your favourite pieces of protein. So lets start with pork:

This may be the most confusing critter or the world of meat processing has a warped sense of humor. You see, when you want to smoke up some pulled pork the cut of meat has about 157 different names (ok, slight exaggeration but you’ll see what I’m talking about) and it depends on the regPig Meat Cutsion you live in as how to go about finding this specific cut.

Pulled Pork is best made from the Pork Butt…but it’s not the back end of the pig where the name suggests but actually the shoulder area. It can also be referred to as a Boston Butt or Shoulder Butt and can come bone-in or boneless. (FYI: All you Ham fans out there…you gotta go to the rear for that 🙂 )

With ribs, these are naturally found smack dab in the middle of the pig and are known as Spare Ribs, yet if you wanted Baby Back Ribs you’d have to go looking in the Loin for those…the same spot where you would find chops and roasts. Got a hankering for some Side Ribs? Well, they are found in the same spot as Bacon.

Now our friend the cow seems to have proper names for the location of the cuts. Rump comes from..well the rump and ribs are all located where you’d expect them to be but what you may find interesting is that the biggest yBeef Cutsield of meat comes from the front and back of the cow (nearly 60% is found in those two sections) yet they are the most difficult cuts to work with.

For example: Brisket is the pectoral muscle of the cow and since cattle walk around on four legs, that pectoral is used day in and day out. It becomes this big thick slab of muscle and tendons intertwined with fat. That is why the only way to cook it is over a long, long period of time so that everything renders and relaxes. If you tried to carve a brisket into a steak and throw it on the grill for 10 minutes, you might as well be tucking into a saddle. 🙂

Chuck is also the location for the plethora of roasts you that would buy. Pot roast, blade roast, eye roast along with stewing beef and ground beef all come from the difficult front end.

For the meat connoisseur, you would focus on the Sirloin or Short Loin sections as that is where Filet Mignon is found along with T-Bone’s and Porterhouses. Nice trim cuts that when grilled just melt in  your mouth…of course with only 17% of usable meat found here, you do pay a premium at butcher shops and restaurants.

So there you go, a quick lesson which will hopefully help you when you are chatting with your butcher or shopping around for your next get-together. Do you have a favourite cut of meat? If so, what is it and how do you like to prepare it?

 

 

First cook.

Prior to finding Stumpy, I had been doing a ton of research on how BBQ should be cooked and found that there are many subtle nuances depending on the type of meat and the type of cut.

The holy grail of BBQ turns out to be beef brisket because it’s an awkward piece of meat that takes many many hours of cooking in order to get it tender…so being the gung-ho type (or maybe a sucker for punishment) I decided to tackle a brisket right from the start. Little did I know, at the time, that finding a proper sized brisket in my neck of the woods would be difficult and also cost-prohibitive. When I say “proper sized” I’m meaning a full 12-15 lb uncut brisket and it seemed that my only option was a local butcher who was charging $7.99/lb. I know I’m crazy at times but paying over 100 bucks for a cut of meat for my first cook seemed just insane!

Ironically, we have a local farmer who rents some of our land and grows crops for the Angus cattle that he raises. One day I was chatting with him and mentioned how outrageous brisket prices were and he looked at me and said “What size are you looking for?” I told him and two days later his wife shows up at our door with a 13 lb full brisket…no charge! Sweet fancy moses..I felt like I won the lottery! So now it was time to clear the calendar, fire up Stumpy, prep that hunk of meat and see if my copious amount of research (and a bit of luck) can yield something tasty for dinner:

Here iBrisket Cryovacs the packaged brisket. It is known as a “Full Packer” which is the entire pectoral muscle of the cow and consists of both the point and flat. To help give you some size perspective, the cutting board its sitting on measures 15″ x 21″ and this sucker will expand a bit once out of the cryovac package!

Brisket Pre-rub

Now I’ve removed the raw brisket from its packaging and you can get a sense of how it lays out. It is a huge cut of meat and there are some uneven parts sticking out so they need to be trimmed off along with some of the fat. There are varying opinions in the BBQ world whether to trim fat off the cap or not bTrimming Brisket 1ut I’m going to thin it down a wee bit so my rub can help form a nice bark. At this point in time, its 5am and Stumpy has been pre-heating for a little bit..he’s getting hungry so just one more step to go before throwing this baby on.

Brisket cut & rubbedAfter trimming, all that’s left to do is apply some top secret brisket rub which will help form the bark and give the meat some extra zest. Wanna know the recipe to the secret rub?? Lean close and I’ll whisper it to you…..salt and pepper. Yup, that’s it. 🙂

Now the fun begins and after approximately 12 hours of patiently waiting (read: nervously worrying that it wasn’t going to cook right), I opened up the cooker to findFirst Brisket - resting this glorious dark piece of meat. So far so good! As you can see a very nice bark (crust) has formed around the brisket and before we can get to eating, this hunk has to relax and rest. Resting is very important because the meat has been under a lot of stress and now needs to unwind and allow the juices to soak back in a bit. So I’ll just lightly wrap it up and have it sit on the counter for another couple of hours…I thought it would cool down too much over that time but surprisingly it stayed very warm and now ready for slicing!

Slicing a brisket can be tricky because the grain runs in different directions depending on if its the point oBrisket Flatr the flat that you are cutting. Here are the final results and you know what, not bad for a first go around. Everything had a nice smoke ring to it (that’s the pink you see along the cut edges so you know smoke penetrated the meat) but the flat (which is the leaner section) turned out to be a bit dry…so some tweaking had to be done for next time. The larger point section came out quite tender and you can see the nice rendering of fat wiBrisket Point 1thin the meat. By this time we were starving and dove right in. A brisket of this size could feed a small army so there were plenty of leftovers to be had but nothing beats a successful cook for a first timer!

Man, creating this post sure has gotten me hungry…time to forage for some lunch. Bye for now! 🙂

My buddy Stumpy.

When it comes to smokers there are many options ranging from the traditional “stick burners” or offset smokers to vertical water smokers to pellet smokers to rotisserie units…there are even homemade jobbies called Ugly Drum Smokers (or UDS for the pros out there).

Each has their own technique and learning curve along with a variety of fuel options (wood, lump charcoal, briquettes, propane, wood pellets) plus the prices can vary quite dramatically…from free (if you can build your own from scrap parts) all the way up to thousands of dollars for industrial sized rigs.

So as a true noobie, where the heck does one start? Well, I looked at a few things namely my experience or lack thereof, my geographic location (because it gets darned cold in the winter), the fact that I would prefer to not have to babysit a fire all day and night while cooking and I was on a wee bit of a budget due to not having a job.

After going through the pros and cons of each style available, I narrowed it down to a gravity-fed insulated vertical smoker. Whew…quite the mouthful right?!? So what the heck is it?

StumpsWell, let me introduce you to my new buddy named Stumpy. He stands 49″ H x 36″ W x 24″ D and has enough room inside to hold ribs, brisket, pork butt and even some stuffed jalapeños. The learning curve is relatively short due to the fact that you fill up a side hopper with charcoal and the firebox with wood chunks of your choice. Once lit, the charcoal drops down onto the wood creating the smoke profile that cooks the food (this is the gravity portion of the smoker). Since Stumpy is fully insulated, it holds heat in really well (which is needed in my neck of the woods) and this little guy will burn on its own for over 6 hrs without being tended to which allows me to focus on the meat…or getting items off my honey-do list 🙂 Pretty cool eh?

So where did I find Stumpy? Well, needless to say these kind of smokers are not indigenous to the Great White North and are built down in Centerville, GA which is a bit of a hike from home. The BBQ Gods must have been smiling on me because as I was checking some online classified forums (Kijiji.ca) , wouldn’t you know it someone only 2 hrs from me was selling one! He was an executive chef that used Stumpy in competitions but was going through a divorce and had to unload a bunch of items including the smoker..the price was right in my budget so Charlene and I drove to Toronto and loaded the svelte 400 lb smoker into the truck.

Needless to say, I felt like a little kid at Christmas and couldn’t wait to get him home and fired up for a first cook…..