Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Flower Pot Smoker and Attainment of Greatness

Friends, I achieved near culinary greatness last night. As with all moments of inspired genius, I was neither expecting greatness, nor had any reasonable expectation of achieving such lofty status. It was a normal Monday night, a chill was in the air, and the unmistakable sign of fall's imminent arrival was all around. Your typical anynight in September.

Yet as my hickory smoke began perfuming the cool air that afternoon, accented by the unmistakable aroma of smoking pork ribs, I began to get the feeling that something very special was happening in my flower pot smoker.

As you all know I am a bit of an obsessive when it comes to the wonder and glory of smoked meats. Ribs, shoulder, brisket, why I have done them all. I've consumed bar be que in all parts of the country and I have been known to drive hours to sample the output of a skilled pit master anonymously toiling in some unknown burg.

As a result, I'm good. Not great, but very good. I've mastered pork shoulder and my brisket achieves a smoky tenderness that will make a grown man weep with joy. Those that have had my que, hesitate to even add sauce for fear of dowsing one bit of the smoky goodness.

Yet I have kept from friends, relatives and yes you dear readers, a secret shame. A fault in my ability so profound, I dare not mention it to anyone. Pork ribs? Well, they've been a bit of a problem.

Past efforts have always been edible, but what master of the manly art wants to settle for edible? Either the meat ended up too dry, or too tough, or not enough of something else. This is not without reason. Ribs done well are very hard to accomplish. The science behind the transformation of meat through the application of heat and smoke is quite complex.

First we start with a cut of meat, ribs in this case, that is not from the tenderest, juiciest part of the pig. So to get the meat to tenderize it must be cooked for a very long time, with the idea being that over time the heat slowly melts the tendons that make the meat tough resulting in a juicy, tender product. Yet if you smoke at too high a temperature, or for too long, the meat will dry out yielding an inedible result. Ribs, being a fairly thin piece of meat to begin with, are prone to drying out more than other cuts. To combat this, I've done everything known to man to keep the meat moist. I've brined the ribs. I've cooked them super slowly at low temperature. I've cooked them at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. Yet no combination has revealed itself as perfect.

Last night I hit the best result yet. Due to lack of time, I decided to go without brining the meat. In the past, brining has definitely allowed the meat to hold more moisture, but I have long suspected that it also made the meat a little chewier, which was unacceptable in my view. Having applied my rib rub the night before, I fired up my flower pot smoker an hour before I put the meat on to be sure that the chamber was well heated from the start. At 1pm I put two slabs of ribs in the smoker and applied a wet mop consisting of beer, cider vinegar, worsteshire sauce, salt, pepper, chopped onions and a little of the rub. I then smoked the ribs for 1.5 hours at about 155 degrees.

At the 1.5 hour mark I added more hickory, reapplied the mop, and smoked for another 1.5 hours. After the ribs had been on for 3 hours, I reapplied the mop, added more chips and then kicked the smoker temp up to 190 degrees where it stayed for the next four hours. Every hour to hour and a half I added more mop and hickory and finally pulled the ribs at 8pm. Total cooking time; seven hours.

After letting the ribs sit for 15 minutes or so, we began to cut them into edible pieces. This is when it became clear that something wonderful had happened. As I was separating the ribs, the meat literally started falling off of the bone. This folks, is bar be que nirvana. The meat, while still retaining its texture, separated from the bone very cleanly. Once in the mouth the smoky flavor was present but not over powering, and the meat itself toothsome and juicy.

One word about the whole separating from the bone characteristic. There are those that will tell you that the best way to accomplish this is to par boil the ribs prior to smoking. This practice is an outrage and should you find people committing such an act, they should be reported to the authorities immediately. I'm quite sure there is a provision in the Patriot Act to protect us from these people. Par boiling is wrong for two reasons. First, anytime that you boil meat you will lose some of its flavor in the water as the fat melts and is boiled away. Secondly, par boiling, while it will cause the meat to separate from the bone once cooking is done, also turns the meat into a mushy, gray substance that is not fit for man nor beast. Enough said.

At this point I am pleased, yet not completely satisfied with my ascension to yet another level of expertise in the manly art of bar be que. The one area where my product was lacking last night was in the smoky crust of the meat. In short, there was too much of it. I suspect that this was from my choice of mop, a beer based concoction that contained too much sugar. Next time, I will dial back the sugar content of the mop, and hopefully hit a near perfect product.

Wish me luck. Posted by Picasa

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