Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a White Butt: 7lb Pork Butt v2

I was in a meeting one Thursday afternoon when I first heard about the incoming snow and ice that may shut down the city of Atlanta the following Monday.  It was in that same meeting that I decided I would not be going into work on Monday regardless of the weather and decided that I would instead cook something low and slow all day.

In spite of impending inclement winter weather and the fact that the streets may be impassible, I came up with the bright idea of having people over for the BCS national championship game (excitement about the impending cook probably hindered my judgement).  Luckily I had the second pork butt from my 2-pack and I was ready to give butt a second try. As soon as I got the butt ready to go, the snow started to fall around 8pm Sunday night...

We don't often get snow in Atlanta and when we do it seldom collects so I assumed the same this time around.  I could not have been more wrong.  I was determined to not let these pesky snow flakes slow me down so I fired up the grill and got to it. At first the snow was light and I thought nothing of it.  Then the skies opened up and it all came down.  I was concerned with the snow that was getting into the egg making the charcoal wet and inefficient.  However, the hot coals melted the snow and burned off the water almost on contact.

As soon as I took the cover off of the egg, the table was covered in a blanket of white.  I let the grill preheat for a while but left some of my tools on the table while retreating to the warmth inside.  I came back out to get the butt on and it took me 10 minutes to realize the grate pictured above was under the 3 inches of snow that had accumulated in a short amount of time.  After searching for a while I was finally able to locate it and get things on track.

After defrosting the butt for several days, I proceeded to trim the fat cap.  In my previous attempt I left a good amount of fat that stuck around when the butt was complete.  This time I trimmed more of the fat so that there was very little remaining.  I rubbed the butt with the remnants of the rub I used for the ribs.  I had about half a container of pork rub and half a container of applewood rub.  I used the combination on the butt and then wrapped in saran wrap and placed it back in the fridge for the remainder of the day.

Even in the driving snow, I got the egg up to 225º during the preheat and added two heaping handfuls of hickory chips to the center of the coals.  In an attempt to get more smoke in the butt than my previous attempt, I added some more chips to the outer part of the coals where the heat would reach later on.  (This proved to be very smart on my part.) I placed the plate setter inverted with the grate, drip pan and V-rack on top and checked the temperature intravenously.  This was an overnight cook so the next morning I got up early to check the status of the office and it was closed. PERFECT, I didn't even have to use a sick day!  I then stumbled out to the winter wonderland that had accumulated on my 18th century deck to notice that the temperature of the egg had fallen to around 175º.  I immediately adjusted the openings to allow for more heat and let it go a little longer.  I came back at the temperature was still the same.  Throughout the day, I had trouble getting the dome temp of the egg up to 225º. I think this was due to the weather outside the egg and the thermometer's location relative to the snow covered lid but I am not sure.  Regardless, I kept playing with the temperature throughout the day and let the butt cook an extra hour (13hours) to make up for the lower temp. After the 13 hours, I pulled the butt off and wrapped it in foil.  I placed the butt back on and got it up closer to 300º.  I left it on for 4 hours to make sure all of the fat had cooked out.  After the 4 hours, I placed the butt in the cooler to rest until it was time to eat.

This is just after the butt went on and the best picture I have of the snow accumulation.
The butt is done when it looks shriveled and the bone feels like it would pull free to the touch.  I immediately noticed how much more shriveled this one looked than my first.  After pulling it, the 3 hungry people that had braved the elements and MBH and I tasted it. This butt was noticeably smokier tasting than the first.  This was an appreciated change as people that tasted both of my butts mentioned.  This butt was also a little drier tasting.  There was absolutely no fat left over which I kind of missed from the first butt attempt.  It was nice to get a little bit of fat flavor with the first butt I did but this one was no where near a failure.  The only problem with the butt was the amount that was left over after people had a hard time making it over for the game. This butt netted me leftovers that lasted me nearly two weeks.

This was the butt just before wrapping in foil.  Notice the snow accumulation and how much melted away around the egg. Also notice how shriveled the butt looks.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chicken v. Itis: Italian Chicken Breasts

Shortly after our Saturday night rib feast, just when the itis (that tired feeling you get when you bombard your stomach with filling foods) was starting to set in and I had just gotten a cold beer and made myself a warm spot on the couch, MBH reminded me that we had some chicken breasts that needed to be cooked or frozen.  Since the egg was still at temp and I had yet to cook anything inedible, MBH let me throw them on the egg.

The chickens had been marinating in Italian dressing for several hours and placed in the fridge.

The egg was already at 250º from the rib cook and there were still some coals lit, I opened up both vents on the egg and went back to finish my beer.  Upon my return, the egg was right around 325º and I threw the chickens on on the grate (Lambda rack removed) with the egg still set for indirect heat.  Usually when we do chicken breasts in the oven we do 20 minutes at 350º.  Therefore, I checked the chicken after 20 minutes and every 10 minutes thereafter.  After about 40 minutes, the breasts looked done and I cut into the two largest to check for doneness.  Perfectly cooked white meat.

Next time I would definitely get the grill temp up a little higher before throwing the breasts on and/or set the grill for direct heat.  40 minutes to cook 6 breasts was a little ridiculous.  Upon tasting them, I decided I would definitely do this again.  The chicken was awesome with a slight smokey flavor from the leftover wood chips still in the egg.  The Italian dressing was an excellent marinade and made the chicken pop.  We ate these for lunches for the next week and I made a pimp chicken club (Chicken breast on a bun with bacon, cheese, and ranch).  I failed to take any pictures (the itis rules my life sometimes) but the chicken looked just like any grilled chicken breast.  Good Stuff.

Rubbin' n Ribbin': Pork Spare Ribs

My first three cooks all occurred during the first weekend of getting the egg operational.  A week later and I was still drunk with excitement (and maybe still a little drunk from NYE) about my new toy.  At this point, MBH informs me we are going to have guests over for a Saturday night dinner, a perfect chance for me to fire up the grill and show off my newly discovered talents.  MBH quickly brought me back down to earth.  One of our guest is the head chef at a hunting resort in (on?) Sea Island. Time to step up my game!

Since the first successful pork butt I was dying to do a little more pig action.  So on the way home from work on Friday I grabbed two slabs of spare ribs "St. Louis" style from the Buford Highway Farmers Market (love that place).  (FUN FACT: St. Louis style ribs are prepared by cutting through the cartilage near the ends of the ribs.  This meat that is trimmed away is called rib tips. The ribs are more rectangular in shape making them easier to cook).  In general, the fattier nature of spare ribs are more forgiving when cooking making them easier than baby backs.  For my first rib cook I decided that easier and forgiving were the way to go.  For seasoning the ribs I also picked up two types of rub.  One was the same Grillmates pork rub I used on the butt and the other was a Grillmates Applewood rub.

I pulled off the membrane from each slab and rubbed each in one of the rubs mentioned above. (If you do not remove the membrane, it is hard to get the ribs as tender as they should be)  I cut each slab into two and wrapped all four pieces in saran wrap and placed them back in the fridge.

The cooking method i decided to employ was the 3-1-1 method I had often read about.  For this, I brought the egg up to 250º and let it sit for a few minutes to make sure the temp was locked in.  I dropped in 2 handfuls of soaked hickory chips and placed the plate setter in legs up for indirect heat.  I placed the grate on top of the plate setter legs with a drip pan on top.  I then used the same V-rack I used for the butt only this time inverted so it was more of a Lambda rack.  I placed the ribs in the slots standing up so that I would not have to bother with flipping them. (The setup is somewhat visible in the image below.  I will try to get better about taking setup pics.)  I cooked the ribs like this with apples juice in the drip pan for 3hours.  I then pulled the ribs and wrapped them in foil with apple juice and placed back on for an hour.  At this point the ribs are super juicy and falling off the bone.  I pulled them off unwrapped and threw them back on for one more hour to firm them back up. I re-wrapped them in foil and let them rest in a cooler with towels until it was time to eat.

Ribs are done when the meat begins to pull away from the bone.  In my case, the rib meat was already pulling back from the bone after the original three hours.  For this reason, I think I would try to keep my temperature around 225º for future cooks.  Regardless, the ribs were extraordinary.  Some of the best I have ever had.  The applewood rubbed ribs were slightly better than the pork rub ribs.  Our friends seemed to enjoy them and the chef even went back for seconds. VICTORY!

Ribs finished up.  I had already removed one of the slabs.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Walking the Plank: Cedar Plank Salmon and Asparagus

For some reason, every time I ever thought about the BGE before I owned one I always thought about cedar plank salmon.  I don't know if this was because that was the first thing I ever had on a BGE (can't remember) or if it was the image on their website (it's not, just checked) or what.  For this reason it was only fitting that this be one of the first things I cooked on my BGE.

The recipe I found for the salmon was straight out of the official BGE cookbook that my buddy Mark got me for my birthday.  THANKS! The salmon was glazed with a mix of mustard, honey, balsamic vinegar, orange zest, and thyme.  It was very tasty even though I am not a huge fan of mustard.

The asparagus idea actually came from the BGE owner's dvd.  In the dvd Kevin Rathbun of Kevin Rathbun's Steaks and Rathbun's cooks a variety of different dishes on the BGE.  One of the shots briefly showed Kevin cooking some asparagus on the egg with some feta and bacon.  I later read about cedar plank asparagus and decided to combine the two.

I soaked the planks (I had three of varying size) for 1 hour.  In hindsight I would definitely soak these longer as they were extremely charred and I was unable to re-use them.  MBH prepped the marinade/sauce for the salmon while I lit the grill and brought it to temp. 

I preheated the grill to 400 with direct heat cooking.  I then placed the empty planks on the grill to preheat for three minutes.  I flipped and brushed them with olive oil.  It was now time for the star of the show. The salmon went on for 12-15 minutes until they looked done.  I piled the asparagus on a plank with Gorgonzola, bacon, olive oil, and salt and pepper and let them cook for the last 10 minutes the salmon was cooking. 

The fish was perfect.  There is nothing I would change about the way these were done.  However, as can be seen from the image below, I used a single cedar plank for all of the asparagus forcing them to be piled high.  When eating I noticed that this lead to varying levels of doneness.  The next time I would divvy the asparagus up to at least two separate planks.  All in all everything was delicious.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You're gonna like my butt, I guarantee it - 7lb Pork Butt

Even before the inaugural cook and even during the table build I was developing the "itch".  The "itch" is a desire from deep within to cook a massive piece of animal flesh for long time. The "itch" is something that only men can experience and have been experiencing since the beginning of time. The "itch" had consumed me...

So there I was with the day off for New Years Eve (NYE) one day after the egg was assembled and ready to test this smoker.  I decided that I would go to meat heaven (Sam's Club) and get a pork butt.  (FUN FACT: A pork butt is actually a pork shoulder.) Upon scouring the massive amounts of meat, I found the pork butt and to my surprise they were sold in two-packs. SCOOP! So I grabbed a package containing two 7lb butts and headed home to prep it.

Before I describe the process I must preface with the story of the evening.  I started to prep and cook the butt around 6pm NYE with a plan to eat it around 2pm New Years Day (NYD).  Our plans for NYE evening included a trip to the luxurious Buckhead Saloon for an all you can eat/all you can drink fiesta.  In typical fashion we partied and partied hard all night while giggling about tasting/eating my butt the next day.  MBH was over-served and barking orders making the night all the more eventful.  I finally got the group home via a cabbie named Leroy (MBH insisted he be called La'ron) and hit the sack around 3am. After what seemed like 5 minutes, I proceeded to get up at 7 am and remove the butt from the grill, wrap it in foil, and return it to the grill all in sub-freezing conditions.  The rest of the group was unseen until around 1pm and most wanted little to do with eating.  Needless to say there was plenty of butt left over...

Open double butt package.  Wrap one in saran wrap and place in freezer.  Trim second butt of about half of the fat cap.  Rub thoroughly with Grillmates Pork Rub and wrap in saran wrap.  Place in fridge until ready to cook.

I filled the egg with charcoal to just above the fire ring making sure there was decent airflow through the coals. I lit the grill and preheated to 225.  Used 2 large handfuls of soaked hickory chips piled toward the center of the fire. Placed the place setter legs up in the grill with the stainless steel grate resting on the legs.  I placed a drip pan on the center of the grate and placed the v-rack directly over it.  I then set the butt on the rack with the fat facing up (this is so that the fat juice cook down into the butt).  With the grill locked in at 225, I let it cook over night for 12hours. After the 12 hours, I took the butt off and covered it in foil and cooked for an additional 3 hours letting the temperature creep up to around 300.  At this point the butt was taken off and placed in a cooler with towels to stay warm until it was time to eat.

The butt is done when it is beginning to look shriveled and the bone moves freely as if it can be pulled clean out of the butt.  I pulled the butt with 2 forks and served with Publix bakery hamburger buns and Williamson brothers BBQ sauce. The bone came out very clean and there was a little bit of fat mixed in with the pulled meat.  FFIL says that there should be not fat when the butt is done but I enjoyed the extra flavor the little bit of fat added. All in all it was very good and everyone who was capable of eating loved it...

7 lbs is a ton of pork.  Made 3 plates and I was eating it as leftovers for 2 weeks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Inaugural Cook: 80/20 Ranch Burgers

The very first cook remains somewhat of a blur to me*.  It was the Thursday night before New Year's Eve shortly after FFIL and I had finished the egg assembly and install.  We decided to break in this egg with something we were sure was going to be easy and delicious, the last thing you want is the inaugural cook to be something bland and forgettable.  For this reason we decided to do some 80/20 ranch burgers with some onion cooked into them. 

Prep was simple- mix ground beef, onions, and ranch mix. Make something that resembles a patty.

Cracked a beer and saluted the egg for its inaugural cook. We lit the egg and got it up to around 400º.  Threw the burgers on and from what I remember we did about 8-10 minutes on each side. 

The burgers were delicious and went well with the asparagus we seasoned in olive oil, salt and pepper and threw on the grill after the burgers were done.  We drank more than our fair share of wine (3 bottles from what I remember) and called it a night.  The first cook had gone down in the history books as a success.  

*As I mentioned above, the whole cook was a blur due to the quick prep time and giddiness I was experiencing from finally having the egg together.  For this reason I failed miserably at taking any pictures of the cook.  :(

Let's table this discussion

Upon purchased of my BGE, MBH's dad aka my future father-in-law(FFIL) and I were discussing the best way to mount the egg for optimum cooking.  BGE has a variety of options including these neat little rolling wheels that the egg sits on cleverly called a nest and fancy wood tables that the egg rests in and has a prep surface off to the side.  While both seem like viable options, each had their own flaws. When studying the nest, I noticed that the small casters on the bottom would be of little use on my 18th century deck.  So there it was I was settled on the table until I saw the price tag.  $300-400 for 4 legs and two shelves?! What a conundrum (yes I just used the word conundrum)!

FFIL, being a man of many skills, suggests that we embark on an adventure of great magnitude and build our own table.  HOOZA! The perfect solution...except I know nothing of wood working.  "Nay" said FFIL "it will be done." And so it began...

Phase 1: All of the wood was cut to size and framing/planking the bottom shelf. 

Phase 2: The top shelf was framed and both shelves were attached to the legs.
Phase 3:  The planks were added to the top shelf and the hole for the egg was cut.
Phase 4: After furiously sanding the wood, two coats of red wood stain were applied as well as one coat of sealant.

Phase 5: The wheels were added and the BGE was assembled.  Note: The egg sits on a landscaping stone to prevent burning the wood on the bottom shelf. Also Note: 18th century deck and dirty Buzz mat.

Future upgrades include but are not limited to, light for grilling at night, bottle opener for grill time beer, and hooks for grilling tools aka man toys.  This table was loosely based upon plans provided by BGE. Exterior dimensions were used so that the cover made for the large BGE table would fit the table we built.  In the end, perfection was achieved.

In the beginning...

Way back in the 'naughts when Britney ruled the airwaves and Michael Jackson was still alive, I learned of a grand invention (which apparently had been around since the beginning of time) called the Big Green Egg(BGE).  The BGE is a ceramic style cooker known most prominently for its ability to dual function as both a high heat grill/baker and a "low-n-slow" smoker.  As I have come to learn, the possibilities with the BGE are endless.

Fast forward to the end of the decade. MJ and Britney are both gone (Britney is dead to me) and I am now gainfully employed and money is burning a hole in my pocket.  I decide, against the wishes of my better half(MBH), that I need one of these bad boys and I need it now.  So, I put away some of my money (MBH corrects me "our money") and began the shopping process.  In the spirit of instant gratification, the search was brief.  Shortly after Thanksgiving, I pulled the trigger and bought myself a large BGE.

After purchase of the BGE and one successful cook after another, I became hooked.  I decided that I needed a space to document my adventures ("our adventures"-MBH) with the BGE.  I will use this blog as an archive of my stories, techniques, and lessons learned as I go.  Feel free to comment, share tips, and ask questions. I will attempt to illustrate all of my stories and cooks with pictures but be warned I usually take the pictures with my iPhone. 

Let's begin...