Why I didn’t start years ago? I have no idea. I dabbled, just like most people, with the occasional puff of smoke, but that was invariably an afterthought at the tail end of a long night. So what made me spend the time and money (smoking is expensive!) to do something that is not particularly healthy (just ask Bruce Ames)? Mostly it was the quality of the barbecue at a few of the more successful restaurants in New York, specifically Blue Smoke and Hill Country, both of which are very good places for many things (the burger at Blue Smoke is the best in the city), but whose barbecue is not sufficiently special that my first thought was, “hmmm, I can’t make this at home.” And tommy:eats has been showing off his new smoker, complete with photos of some damned good looking beef ribs. Actually, I think I ordered the smoker before I saw his latest blog entry, but you get the picture; I am in an arms race with another blog, and I will not be beaten!
My first attempt with the surprisingly large Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker was mostly successful, although there is some skill involved with keeping the temperature at the ideal point for long, slow cooking. I made a pork butt, two racks of beef ribs, and some sausages. The pork butt was very, very good. Incredibly smoky, tender and moist, although the interior was, obviously, not particularly smoky. I wonder if butterflying a pork butt is against the rules? The beef ribs, prepared with a simple dry rub of cracked pepper, brown sugar, salt and paprika turned out better than I expected. They were wonderfully moist and tender, but intensely smoky and with a great crust. The sausages — weisswurst and chicken sausage — were good, but I smoked them for only a few hours, lest they dry out, and the smoke flavor was too subtle for me to bother again, unless I can find some sausages that are fatty enough to stand up to more cooking. No, that’s not true. I will smoke sausages, but I will not expect them to be ethereal. It is so easy to toss a few on the smoker that there is no good reason not to give it a shot now and again, just for kicks.
One thing I will change is the beef ribs. Tommy and I have had a few e-mail chats about the amount of meat on the ribs that are available, and it clearly isn’t enough. The next time I make beef ribs I will ask the butcher to carve them off the rib roast so that there is an inch or so of meat left on them. Sure, he will charge me more, but with a starting point of $1.59/pound, it should be manageable.
The design of the smoker is straightforward, and the construction is impressive enough that I expect it to last for many years. As I mentioned earlier, it seems to require a bit of finessing to get the temperature exactly right for smoking, but I’ll gladly suffer through many trials to improve my skills. The end result is better barbecue than I can get anywhere in the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean that I will no longer be enjoying Blue Smoke or Hill Country — two fun restaurants that will be getting my business for years to come. I’ll just be able to walk in with a smug, superior look on my face, and order the burger at Blue Smoke, or the great sides at Hill Country, knowing that I am their equal at a few things on their menus.