Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Gun, the Blackberry, and Seven Pounds of Pulled Pork

Last week, I received an e-mail with this picture:

The text of the e-mail couldn’t have been more straightforward. My friend -- who had just shot these birds -- typed “Smoker?”

You’ve got to love a Blackberry put to good use.

Pheasants aren’t very big. They’d certainly feed us, but they’d look a little lonely in the smoker. Just a few days before I had tended to a small square of pork belly all alone on the rack, and throughout the cooking my joy was underscored by a sense of opportunity lost. All that smoke, all that good peach wood burned, just for a small square of belly. I should have planned better. I should have put a shoulder on, a couple of chickens, some sausage, whatever.

 I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. The pheasants would go on next to a seven-and-a-half pound butt. For reasons of timing and convenience that aren’t particularly germane to this, I decided to reverse my process. Most barbecue folks agree that after about four hours, you aren’t getting any more smoke flavor into meat. You’re still cooking it, but maximum penetration has been achieved. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I have cooked many times as if it were, and I like the end product. So my technique -- or what was my technique -- involved a few days. Rub and Smoke the meat on day one. Then slow roast it in a wet environment on day two. Pull it and heat it on the stove on day three. It’s a fun way to get pulled pork, and it allows for lots of adjustment of seasoning, and lots of snacking.

This time, however, I started the meat in the oven. First, I rubbed it. I change my rub all the time. This one had a little rubbed sage, some coriander, a lot of red & black pepper, and salt.

In the bottom of a roasting pan went apple cider, apricot vinegar, half a beer, and a sliced onion. Tinfoiled the top. Slid it into the oven, which was at a mellow 250 degrees.

I took it out seven hours later, peeled back the tinfoil veil, and plucked off a piece of juicy, melting pork. Then I ate another. This was already a very serious piece of pig. It was sweet and spicy. The vinegar had steamed into the meat. It was so tender that it ran a pretty serious risk of falling through the roasting rack.

Standing at the cutting board, I muttered a nonplussed “Huh . . .”

How could I get it in the smoker?

The tinfoil that had been on top of the pan was right there next to it, looking an awful lot like a bowl. I tried to keep the chunks large. Here’s what I got:

I sprinkled some more rub on the meat and into the smoker it went. Here it is about half way through, looking good:

I have made hundreds of pounds of bbq in my life. And this may have been the best. The open surfaces picked up the smoke flavor very nicely. The jagged edges turned to crispy bits of pork goodness. It cooled, I tore it up, and I’ve been eating it and giving it away for a week.

The pheasants? They were delicious.

1 comment:

  1. I commend you, sir, on a Fine Experiment. That's very interesting, the inversion of the "smoking" as vs. "just cooking" segments. [Aside: I will absolutely vouch for the axiom about no smoke uptake after about the 4-hr mark. I am firmly in the "foil that sucker and finish it in the oven" camp, which already makes me a certain degree of Pariah in the eyes of most 'Q Zealots.] I wonder about the science, and will have to think about it some--i.e., is anything gained by the traditional way, which sees smoke-ring formed before connective-tissue rendering on the inside? I dunno. I think the traditional way might see more crispy outside formed ("bark," in southern bbq parlance).

    Will have to try this Brave New Method and compare.

    Oh, and here's a freaky tip I learned along the way somewhere: before you rub, slather that butt with yellow mustard. It acts as a glue to hold much more rub, and a vinegary moisturizer, and the mustard taste completely burns off. I was skeptical; I am converted.