I’ve Started Smoking

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.

8 Replies to “I’ve Started Smoking”

  1. To paraphrase Col. Buck Turgid: “You cannot afford a smoker gap!”. Your loyal readers would like to see some photos. I’ve never had smoked beef ribs that weren’t dry, tasteless, and/or chewy (a recent disappointing visit to Hill Country comes to mind). I will have to stalk you or Tommy and invite myself over.

  2. I have had the beef ribs at Hill Country, and I am still angry that I didn’t listen to our fellow dinners at the next table, who warned us that the “beef ribs were overcooked.” But their pork ribs were good, the brisket was okay, the beef shoulder was excellent, and all of the sides were first rate. Plus, it is loads of fun.

  3. Hill Country is fun, I agree. A lot of energy. You actually feel as if there must be live music playing somewhere in the joint even though there isn’t. And I think the sides can be great. I may just order sides from now on…I am still marvelling over the mac’n’cheese side I had at Morton’s two nights ago. By the way, the waiter there insisted that the best burger in NYC is at Blue Smoke…what could I do but agree?

  4. Mac’&cheese is a simple dish to make, as long you accept the reality that its quality is in direct proportion to the amount of fat is used. Mine, of course, is great.

    Your waiter was correct; Blue Smoke does have the best burger in New York. Smart guy…why is he working at Morton’s?

  5. Yes…I agree. Bill I assume you are referring to the Tiananmen Square photo. I half expected to see a review of a Chinese restaurant in New Jersey….but since no commentary accompanied the photo, it is not clear what IANAC is trying to convey here.

  6. IANAC is trying to convey the thought that perhaps we all should remember what happened at Tienanmen, and not uncritically embrace the Chinese government as our financial saviors.

    As for my supposed social awareness? Nah, that’s someone else. I have no interest in being socially conscious; my opinions are based on an analysis of the situation at hand, and suggesting that my remembrance of Tienanmen is in some way “socially conscious” is an insult to the tens of thousands of people who were murdered by the Chinese government. They fought for freedom, and were killed for it. It is as simple as that.

  7. Beef back ribs should never be considered for BBQ or smoking. Waste of time and energy. Baby back ribs (or “3-downs”) are the only way. Slowly done at 275F for about 4-5 hours, with the sauce only applied in the last 30 minutes or so.

    If you are looking for a greta smoker, Traeger makes a wonderful one, that is electric, with a worm drive to feed pellets into the termostat controlled box. You can add other smoke boxes on top of, or substitute other chips in place of the pellets. It will get down to 175F for brisket.

    Another tip I learned for pork shoulder (pulled pork) was to slice of the skin and fat form the butt, and set aside, then break down the should to remove as much silver skin as possible between the muscle. Then coat all pieces of the pork with the rub, throw it all in a turkey bag, heavily season the skin/fatwith the rub, and lay it on top of the meat. Then close, poke a whole or three in the top of the bag to release pressure, and then cook at 225F for 12 hours. Turn off oven, and let roast sit for 2-3 hours in the oven to cool (and not burn fingers when shredding!) You will not be disappointed.

    (I use “Squeal Hog Rub”outstanding (although it has MSG in it-wrote a letter already))

    Happy BBQing!

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