Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Observations and plans for the future-

So far my experience with barbecue in an offset smoker have been positive. I found the digital thermometer to be a great tool for monitoring the internal temperature of the meat. The dial thermometer in the smoke chamber has been adequate, but is not particularly accurate. My simple rub has also proved adequate thus far.

I would like to try fish in the smoker. I need to study this one, since I haven't done much cooking of fish other than pan-fried or baked. This will require some research.

It will be interesting to play with the rubs a bit. What I have been doing has been a very simple seasoning. I want to become a bit bolder in this area, and see what the results might be.

I need to find a source of wood. I would like to try cooking with wood rather than charcoal.

Eventually I would like to try dutch oven cooking, but I see that as a "sometime next year" kind of thing. I still have a lot to learn just with the offset smoker.

The other day I had to spend some time at the mall, waiting on a car repair that just kept going longer. Having the time, I was able to explore the outdoor living area in Sears. They had an outdoor kitchen that was quite nice. Gas grill with lots of burners. Rotisserie. A side mounted griddle. A refridgerator. Preparation space.

There was a matching outdoor fireplace for fire-side dining! Also some very nice outdoor furniture. Dinettes with umbrellas. Coolers for drinks.

There was a rather inexpensive upright barbecue as well.

My vision expanded a long way beyond my wallet. It would be very nice to be able to live so much outdoors!

Perhaps one day these dreams will become plans. For now, I think I will plan on barbecuing some fish in the near future.


Linda, my wife, bought the chickens fresh. However, due to many factors I was unable to get them on the barbecue. So, I split them into halves and froze them.

Yesterday I was able to find the time to cook them. I had worked a night shift, and pulled them out of the freezer when I got home. I recalled that thawing was enhanced by placing the frozen meat on metal, so I set them on cookie sheets and went to bed.

I awoke after four hours and immediately got the coals going in the lighting chimney. I rubbed the meat with oil and rubbed in my blend of seasoned salt, garlic sea salt, table salt and black pepper. I then placed the chicken halves on the grill in the smoke chamber. They were still a bit firm, possibly still frozen in the middle. I wondered if that would have an impact on the cooking. I would find out.

The hot coals were poured from the chimney into the fire box. I added a good quantity of charcoal to the hot bed. When things were going good, I went into the house to do some things. I set a timer for thirty minutes. After that time had passed I checked the fire and the temperature in the smoke chamber. The fire was going good, and required just a bit of fuel to keep it going. The temperature in the chamber was in the red, which indicated a temperature around 250 degrees.

After another thirty minutes I was confident that the meat was thoroughly defrosted and I could easily insert the thermometer. I did so and found I was already at 150 degrees internal temperature. This was much faster than the other meats I have done. I added soaked hickory chips to the fire and set my timer for another half-hour.

When I returned the temperature was 195 degrees internal. The chamber was still around 250 degrees, so my fire had been steady. Things were cooking faster than I had expected. I turned the chicken over and adjusted the pieces to even out the exposure to heat. We were over target temperature, but I still wanted to smoke the meat for at least an hour. I closed the dampers down and added a good lot of soaked hickory chips to the fire.

Another thirty minutes. The chicken was now around 180 degrees internal temperature, and the chamber was holding steady. I added some fuel to the fire and put on more chips. I figured another half-hour would be good.

Thirty minutes later I opened the smoke chamber. Four half chickens were a lovely smoked red-brown. I took them out and brought them upstairs to the kitchen. Everyone helped themselves to their favorite bits. Barbecue chicken, green salad, Bush's baked beans, and corn on the cob!

The chicken was fabulous! Perfectly done. Juicy, and with an excellent smoke flavor. Along with the side dishes it made a fantastic meal.

Thus far my barbecue experiences have been very positive. It is fun and delicious. There is still much to learn, but I am growing in confidence. Perhaps it is time for a bit more adventure!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pork Shoulder Roast

Linda bought a four pound pork shoulder roast. It looked nice. I had heard and read that this was a forgiving piece to cook, so I was little concerned.

I estimated the usual hour per pound. I figured that it would take a bag of the Kingsford lump charcoal I had previously used. This charcoal is a bit more dense than the Cowboy brand I had first used. It seemed to burn a bit hotter. I prepped my chimney and got everything set up.

The meat I washed and rubbed with the Dollar Tree vegetable and olive oil blend. I then rubbed in my usual simple rub. That is some seasoned salt, table salt, garlic sea salt and black pepper. I then place the meat on the rack and inserted the remote thermometer.

I lit the lighting chimney and waited until the coals had a good heat. I then poured them into the fire box and spread them out. This layer was covered with unlit coals. I had the vents open all of the way. I returned every twenty minutes to add coals. Periodically I added soaked Kingsford Hickory wood chips.

I found the Kingsford chips to be a good value. It is a good sized bag for under four dollars. About the best price I have found. They seemed to work quite well, and burned long enough to provide a good smoke.

The timer had been set for two hours, at which time I turned the meat over and end for end. This exposed the end farthest from the fire to the fire for the second half of the cooking time. The internal temperature of the meat was about 120 degrees at this time.

I continued to monitor at twenty minute intervals. With about ten minutes left on the planned four hours the meat was 158 degrees internal. I applied the hair dryer to the coals for about two minutes, since I had added the last of the bag a few minutes before and wanted to be sure we reached target. It probably was not necessary.

The target temperature was reached at three hours and fifty eight minutes. 160 degrees. I removed the roast and wrapped it, to let it rest for twenty minutes.

I uncovered the roast and began cutting for serving. It was tender throughout. The color was good, and the smoke flavor delicate. I cut slices for some family members, as they preferred it served that way. I chopped quite a bit, anticipating several days of eating.

I did my barbecue spaghetti one day. Another I added the meat to a Rice-A-Roni Mexican dinner. It enhanced that meal a great deal.

On the whole I found the Pork Shoulder Roast to be a quite satisfying barbecue experience.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Beef Pot Roast

I really don't know cuts of meat. I do know when it looks good. This one looked very good, with a nice ratio of fat to lean. It had some bone, but not too much. Best of all, it was discounted because it expired the next day.

Today was the next day. I mixed garlic sea salt, seasoned salt (from the Dollar Tree), a bit of table salt and some black pepper in a bowl. After washing the meat I rubbed it with a blend of olive oil and vegetable oil I also found at the Dollar Tree. Hey, cheap is good. It's a discounted cut of meat! I seasoned the meat with my mixture, and slapped it on the barbecue.

My coals today were lump charcoal from K mart, because that is where I happened to be when I recalled that I needed charcoal. I hadn't looked around there before. They have some good stuff. Bags of hickory and mesquite wood chips. Things and stuff. I will be back.

I set my thermometer for 160 degrees, and fired up my coal starter chimney. I waited a bit longer before pouring the coals in the fire box this time. We did some grilled burgers a few days ago and I discovered that the fire was harder to manage when I didn't wait long enough for the coals to get going. It was a nice bed, with good ash and a workable distribution of heat. I added some more lumps and settled back with a Blue Moon Belgian White beer.

Once I had a solid fire going, even heat in the chamber, and the meat temperature was starting to rise, I went about my business for a little while. I estimated three hours to cook this roast, but scheduled four.

I periodically tossed in dry chunks of mesquite, since that is what I had left. I will probably be going with chips in the future, since they give me better smoke. Even so, these chunks worked out just fine. I turned the meat at an hour and a half. It was looking good.

The temperature inside the meat was hovering around 155 degrees after about two and a half hours. I had just thrown in the last of my charcoal, and I knew I had to finish with that. So, the hair dryer came to the rescue. I applied it off and on over fifteen minutes and easily achieved my target temperature at just about three hours of cooking. I ran the dryer on low for a minute or two at a time, then would let things just cook for about four or five minutes.

I pulled the roast out and covered it with foil to rest. I had seen this done on some YouTube videos, and gave it a try. Supposedly it allows the temperature to even out and the juices to settle. I don't know if that is the case, but when I uncovered this beauty it looked marvelous. I ate the first cut, and it was a winner.

Moist, tender, and beautifully done. The smoke flavor was distinct, but not overwhelming. I just cut it into serving chunks and we had at it. Served with a green salad. It was fabulous, I must say. I ate mine without any sauce at all. It was as close to perfection as I might hope.

There are some chunks left. We have plans to do a pork shoulder tomorrow, and we have a cooked chicken quarter left over from another meal that I might throw in to smoke a bit, as well. I have visions of chopped pork, chicken and beef blended and served on a bit of bread.

This is proving to be a lot of fun, and tasty, too!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Expanding horizons-

Barbecue may be just the beginning. I was exploring the Internet and discovered a wealth of cooking information on Dutch Oven cooking. Chuck wagons, Scout gatherings, hunting lodges. There are tools (many of which have been used for centuries) and books. There is even a Dummies book set which includes some cast iron. (Those Dummies people are no dummies.)

This might have been an "oh, that's interesting" thing until I found people giving advice as to how to have these open fires anywhere. Yep, the old barbecue can be your fire box. Or, as one person recommended, an oil drip pan from the auto parts store. The bottom quarter of an oil drum could work. Or that back-yard fire pit that was just there to take the chill off of evening conversations in the back yard.

I am not yet ready to do this next step in outdoor cooking. I am still just getting started with the Silver Smoker. However, I see it as a logical next step, and it looks like fun.

On the whole, I think I am addicted to the smoke. And eating.

I think this will be fun.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tri Tip Steaks-

Linda had purchased some nice tri-tip steaks. Everything I had read recommended a marinade, but I wanted to see just how the smoking process might affect a nice cut of meat without any preparation.

I got the fire up and running. The smoke chamber was at around 200 degrees when I introduced the meat. I really do want a better chamber thermometer, since this one is a small dial with color divisions and really does not provide much information. Anyway, as best I could tell I was starting at 200 degrees or so.

The new digital thermometer is a single probe. I have read of dual probes, but was not aware of them at the time Linda ordered this one. So, I selected a piece of meat in the midst of the others, and inserted the probe. I set the temperature for 165 degrees, as recommended by the thermometer manufacturer.

I maintained the fire by adding charcoal. Again, a mix of lump and biscuit charcoal. My smoke was produced by chunks of mesquite. My estimate based on the volume of meat and the thickness of the cuts was about an hour and thirty minutes to two hours.

After the hour and thirty minutes I found the temperature inside the meat was about 135 degrees. I turned the meat and stoked the fire. After another ten minutes I noticed the temperature was not going up. I added some more charcoal and applied a hair dryer to the air intake. Over the next fifteen minutes I achieved the target temperature and took the meat out.

On the whole, it was good. Not especially good, but good. I found the meat to be adequately juicy, but not especially so. I had done nothing to the meat, and the results were consistent with what I did not do.

In the future, I will definitely do a marinade. If I don't have time for that, I will definitely coat the meat with olive oil, and add salt, pepper, and some spices in a rub. Either of these will add flavor and improve the juiciness. I may also look for a bit more fat in the meat, as this was quite lean. It did prove quite tender, however.

I also plan to find a way to introduce more air at a steady rate. I saw a device made using a computer cooling fan that might just do the trick.

Another practice I will adopt is to light the next batch of coals in my chimney before introducing them to the fire box. I think I was losing some consistency in temperature by introducing cold charcoal to the fire box.

Until I can get some good wood to try charcoal/wood fires I plan to use the chips rather than the chunks. I get better smoke and have more control with the chips.

So, a learning experience, and another good meal. I hope to make the next tri-tip better than good. I want to shoot for fabulous.

Oh, and I really need to make sure I have some beer. For the cook. It is an important ingredient, and would have helped a lot.

I may buy a second thermometer like the one I have to use to monitor the chamber temperature. Together they would cost no more than a dual probe thermometer, especially since I already have the one.

The paint continues to burn off of the outer surface of the smoke box. I may have to get some high temperature paint to protect the outer surface from oxidizing. I may just use the fire bricks I saw in one YouTube video about barbecue in a Silver Smoker. I need to explore modifications that will aid in getting good barbecue consistently.

So far, I am very pleased with what I have learned, and look forward to the next adventure.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Barbecue Spaghetti-

So, the steaks were good. I had some left. I was already making spaghetti. Hmmmm.

I grabbed a chunk of meat of about six ounces, and also grabbed my cleaver. I chopped the meat up nice and fine.

Already in the pan was a dollop of butter, a dollop of olive oil, and most of a cup of Hunt's canned spaghetti sauce. I added the chopped meat and two table spoons of chipotle medium salsa. I let it all simmer as the noodles boiled.

Next I drained the noodles and put them on a plate, and poured my sauce over them. Over this a liberal sprinkling of parmesean and romano cheese. I only had the Safeway brand of cheese dust. I like their meat, but this cheese is just barely servicable. I usually add as much cheese as I can without making the meal too dry. I like cheese.

I took a bite. It was REALLY GOOD! For something I just threw together, it was very good, indeed.

Barbecue Spaghetti. Who woulda thunk!