Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Great American Smoked BBQ Experiment - Phase 2

And in this week's episode, the challenge is to make a juicy, succulent, tasty smoked brisket. A daunting task, considering that many BBQ purists consider it the holy grail of BBQ. Something that is awesome when done correctly, but also something that can turn out to be a disaster if the conditions aren't ideal.

Our first step was a visit to our local butcher to procure the cut of beef we desired. You can buy brisket at your local supermarket, but that will get you a 3-4 lb brisket flat or first cut. No, no, no. What we want is the entire cut of brisket. The flat and the point. That will give you a much, much larger hunk o' beef to smoke. Marbled with plenty of fat to keep the brisket nice and moist during the long smoking process. The point, especially, is a fatty piece of beef. I chose a 16.5 lb whole brisket for your smoking adventure.

If you look at the pic below, you will see the whole brisket sitting fat-side down. There is a fat cap on the bottom that is extremely important to the smoking process. We'll get to that in a bit. The flat of the brisket runs along the bottom of the cut and is covered by the fat cap. The point sits on top and can be seen in the below picture on the left side of the brisket. There is also some cartilage or hard fat that needs to be trimmed off the cut before you smoke the brisket. So I trimmed those out, trimmed the fat cap on the bottom to around 1/4 of an inch, and then cleaned and dried the brisket 

Vacuum-packed brisket from the butcher
After cleaning and drying the brisket, I rubbed some yellow mustard all over the cut. This, I've read, helps the dry rub to adhere to the surface of the meat. Probably adds a bit of flavor as well. For a dry rub, I went simple. Sea salt, ground black pepper and smoked paprika. That's it. Many purists just use salt and pepper, but I had this great smoked paprika that I thought would give it an interesting flavor. And I believe it did. After applying the rub, I wrapped the entire brisket in several large sheets of plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

My alarm went off at 4:30AM (that's right) to take the brisket out of the fridge. You have to let the meat sit for a bit before putting it on the grill. By 6:30AM, my grill was up and smoking and my brisket was ready to be cooked. I used indirect heating (the meat never sits above the coals) between 250-275 degrees farenheit, and soaked applewood chips for the smoke. About once every hour, I added some more coals and some more chips. That's more of an art than a science. Sometimes I did it every half-hour as needed. But the idea is to keep the grill closed to keep the heat constant. Oh, and you also cook the brisket with the fat cap up. Something about the fat rendering and melting into the meat. Oh yeah...

I would also mop the brisket every hour or so with a light sauce that I made from apple juice, apple cider vinegar, water and some spicy-hot BBQ sauce. Some folks mop their brisket, some folks don't. It's all a personal choice. I wanted to ensure that my brisket didn't dry out, so I used the mop. In the picture below you can see how the brisket transformed from the first hour of smoking until it was finished and ready for carving.

The many stages of smoked brisket
For the last two hours of smoking, I wrapped the entire brisket in two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Up until that point, about 8-9 hours of smoking, the meat got up to a temperature of around 160 degrees. It hit that point and just stalled. Which is something that happens with brisket. Except that you want it to get to around 190 degrees. That's when everything fatty or hard inside the cut melts, and leaves you with a tender cut of brisket. So into the foil, or crutch, it went. Ladies and gentlemen, the sound of the brisket simmering in the foil as it sat on the grill was absolutely mouth-watering. And two hours later, my trusty meat thermometer read 190 and we were ready to rock.

I let it sit in the foil for about 40 minutes before slicing. The first thing I found was that the point really wanted to separate from the flat as I was slicing. So I did just that. Came off with barely any effort at all. I put that aside and continued to cut the flat. The fat cap on the bottom had caramelized into this crispy, delicious crust. It's indescribable, really. Such an incredible flavor that is added to the tender meat. Then I tackled the point, which was even juicier and more tender. In fact, it came apart more like pulled pork. So delicious. The pics below show the cuts from the flat in the top pan and the point in the bottom pan.

Brisket flat on the top, point on the bottom
All in all, it was about 11 hours of smoking for a 16.5 lb brisket. I used slightly higher smoking temperatures than some suggest because I wanted to eat by around 6:30PM that evening. We wound up with a cooked brisket of around 9-10 lbs. Enough to feed the small army that we invited over for the day. Side dishes included a mint tabbouleh salad and a bacon-infused macaroni salad.

Some pro-tips from a one-time brisket god.
  • Buy some insulated BBQ gloves. These are indispensable for handling the cooked brisket. You don't want to use a BBQ fork and lose all the juice in the meat. You'll also want to rotate the brisket every so often so that the side closer to the heat source doesn't overcook.
  • Buy a good meat thermometer. Getting the brisket to 190 degrees is essential. You don't have to check it every hour or anything. Just make sure that it's at 190 by the time it's done. I'd imagine you could skip this as you become more proficient at smoking.
  • Have plenty of charcoal around. You need to replenish the coals every hour or so. I actually re-started 2 or 3 new fires during the day to keep the temperature in the smoker at an optimal and constant temperature. 
  • Have plenty of hungry friends. That's a lot of meat.
  • Have fun.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Great American Smoked BBQ Experiment - Phase 1

This lovely Memorial Day weekend saw our very first attempt at smoking ribs the way they do down there. Or over there. Or up here. Wherever it is that adventurous souls are using tender smoke to make tender ribs. That was the challenge. And the challenge was accepted, met, hurdled and smashed to pieces, if I do say so myself.

There was a threat of rain showers all day long, but it wasn't going to deter us from our quest. I stopped at a local butcher to pick up two racks each of babyback ribs and St. Louis ribs. The babybacks have been our go-to rib when we go out for yummies, but I think we are turning the corner on the St. Louis ribs. More on that later.

A generous rub made from brown sugar, sea salt, cumin, red cayenne, garlic, chili powder and whatever else I had in the spice rack was applied to the bare ribs to make them oh-so pretty and ready for the smoker.

Aren't they pretty?
Now it was time to get the smoker into high gear. I'd never used an offset smoker before, nor any smoker for that matter. So I was hoping I could pull this off without fucking up, if you know what I mean. The charcoal goes in the small, lower box on the smoker and when they are nice and ready, you can add your wood or wood chips, however you roll. From the advice of a friend, I picked up a cast-iron smoke box that I put the water-soaked applewood and hickory chips in for smoking. That worked divine.

Here's a quick video of our offset smoker in action. Check it.

UPDATE: Well, uploading the video didn't work. Here's a screenshot instead.

Not a video...sadly

Using open vents on the side of the smaller box on the right and vents from that box into the bigger box, the smoke and heat moves through the larger area where you smoke your ribs. A water pan (I used apple juice, water and cider vinegar) is placed at the bottom of the larger area to maintain moisture along with the smoke. I was supposed to get the temp in the big box up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, but I could only coax it up to 165-170 or so. So I was supposed to smoke the ribs for 3 hours in that environment, but I added an extra hour due to the lower temp.

After the four hours, I wrapped them in heavy-duty foil with a bit of Srirachi sauce and a quick baste of apple juice and cider vinegar. Then I added some coals to the big box on the smoker and cooked them in the foil using indirect heat at around 275-300 for about an hour. The ribs were sooo juicy and tender at that point, I almost wanted to skip the final step. That final step was a quick 10 minutes on direct heat whilst I slabbed on some BBQ sauce. I used a store-bought sweet sauce as a base and added Srirachi and some Red Hot BBQ for a kick. Came out wonderful. Equally sweet and spicy.

St. Louis on the left, Babybacks on the right. Zoom in for BBQ porn.

Second helping. Babybacks, homemade slaw and mac & cheese.

The entire day was a huge success. The ribs were smoky, tender and juicy. Some of the best ribs I've ever had in my life, if I can brag for a moment. Maybe the day spent with my buddy drinking beers and bourbon and tending the smoker had something to do with it. Great company always is the best accompaniment to great food, I always say. I also made some homemade cole slaw and mac & cheese with cauliflower as side dishes. PBR and Bulleit bourbon were also on hand to get us through the meal.

This was our first foray into the art of smoking, but it certainly won't be our last. There smoked brisket, pork shoulder or butt, more ribs and just about anything else we can think of smoking coming our way in the near future.

After all, it is our Summer of BBQ.


The view from our patio - post BBQ.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hash & Eggs

Did some more barbecuing last night. It's only May 21st and I've already barbecued more this year than I did last year. And it's not even really summer yet. This coming weekend I'm going to smoke some ribs for some friends of ours. I'll make macaroni and cheese and homemade coleslaw too, but we'll have more on that once the weekend comes.

Last night I grilled up some marinated steak tidbits over some coal. I've always been a gas grill kinda fella, but I'm going with coal this summer. Just for shits and giggles. And because we have a large smoker that I'm going to be using a lot this year. I also grilled a few ears of corn on the cob. Not exactly sure where this corn came from this early in the year, but it was super fresh and super tasty. I'm not complaining. No food porn from last night. It was all good, but not particularly photogenic, if ya know what I mean.

But today...ah, today was leftovers for lunch in the most amazing possible way. As I mentioned in my last post, I love me some leftover hash. So I chopped up the remaining grilled steak and some leftover fries that we had hanging around to make a hash. Added a few dashes of Tabasco and Pickapeppa to the mix and then topped it all off with a sunnyside up egg.

Yeah man...this should be what lunch is about every single freakin' day. Check it.

Everything is better with a fried egg on top. Everything.

Monday, May 19, 2014

BBQ Restaurant Review: Dixie's Smokehouse (King's Park, NY)

Hey there kids. It's been a looooong time. Too long. So long that I had even forgotten that this blog existed. Until last night when a Twitter buddy reminded me about it. I still love the idea of a collaborative blog about all things food and booze. What you ate and drank, where you ate and drank them. Stuff like that. And since I recently decided that 2014 will be my "Year of BBQ", I figured I would get back into the game with a review of the first new BBQ joint that we hit up this past weekend. Dixie's Smokehouse in King's Park, NY.

Situated, oddly, in a busy strip mall right off of the Long Island Rail Road, Dixie's is a actually a comfortable little spot amidst that kind of crazy. They offer attractive (for the setting) outside seating, but since it was just in the mid-60's we decided to head inside. We got there for a super-early Saturday dinner at 4:15PM, so we were pretty much the only people in the joint at that time. We were there so early, that old people just started showing up as we were leaving. They looked confused. Like they couldn't understand why anyone without an AARP card could possibly want to eat that early.'s not normally our bag. But we had been researching local BBQ all day and we were starving because of it. So that's that.

The interior was clean and attractive, and had a great smoke aroma lingering in the air. So you know they actually smoked their meats right on premise. Something they reminded you of all over the walls and menus. Good. Be proud, on-premise smokers! We started with ordering some beverages, and herein lies my only real complaint with the joint. If you run something you call and "authentic BBQ" joint, try just a little bit to have a reasonable cocktail/beer list. They had zero in the way of craft beers and even less in the way of geographic appropriate offerings. This is a Texas-style BBQ, but no Lone Star or Shiner to be found, not even PBR in a can. Nada. Went with a plain old Budweiser because I had to have a beer with my BBQ. I'm not a fucking barbarian. For what it's worth, Gia went with a margarita and she said it was delicious. But I still feel that they could greatly improve the joint with just the smallest of efforts in the booze area. By the way, this is the same problem I have with many BBQ joints on Long Island. They put all their efforts into the food and nothing into the bar. It's like they don't even know who I am anymore...

For appetizers, we went with the Burnt Ends, burnt ends of smoked brisket over Texas Toast, and Over the Top Nachos with chili. When the food arrived, we immediately saw that we ordered too much. Our waitress realized it as well. She let us know halfway through our apps that she hadn't even put in our entree yet because it looked like we were going to take our time. We did...slow and steady. Still didn't finish either app because we wanted to save room for ribs. But both were delicious! The Burnt Ends were incredible flavorful and a great way to try a joint's brisket. The nachos truly were over the top. Biggest complaint with nachos is that the toppings sometime make the nachos a soggy mess. Not so with these. Crispy, delicious nachos and toppings all around. Well done.

Baby backs top left, St. Louis top right, Beef below

For our entree, we shared a Three Rib Combo platter. Half-racks of St. Louis and Baby Back ribs and one huge beef rib. We ordered it with steak fries and macaroni and cheese. Had the choice of ordering the ribs dry or glazed with their Texas sauce. We went with glazed. They were all delicious. Smoky, juicy, spicy and a little sweet. The surprise for both of us was the gigantic beef rib. It was really, really good. Again, we couldn't finish it all, so we took about half the platter home with us. Later that night, as a midnight snack, I chopped up the fries and the remaining beef rib to make a quick beef hash. That was really delicious as well. Except that I didn't listen to my gut and augment with a sunnyside egg on top. Sigh. You learn.

Missing: sunnyside egg

Overall, a very positive experience and a restaurant that we would be willing to return to. Especially if they do a little something about their bar offerings.

Official Rating: 3.5 gnawed rib bones out of 5