I absolutely love barbecue. I saw a shirt once that said “Beer is proof that God loves us”… but I think pork is the proof. There is a place near my office in downtown St. Louis, called Bogart’s Smokehouse, that has some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had in my life…. smokey, sweet, enough grease to hold it all together, but not so much that it feels slippery. I try to get my coworkers to go there as often as possible. But, you have to go early… the line quickly gets out the door and down the block if you don’t beat the lunch rush.
But I figured, if they can do it, why can’t I? I’ve seen all those barbecue shows on Food Network. Some of those guys aren’t… the brightest bulbs in the box… so I figured it has to be easy enough for anyone to do for themselves. And it is. It’s just one of the most time consuming things I’ve ever undertaken… but the results were ABSOLUTELY worth the effort. Here’s how I did it…
Have the time and commit. This is absolutely an entire day project. You have to wake up early. You can’t leave your house while the meat is one the smoker. Save the barbecuing for a weekend, or a day off. Commit 100% to doing it, or you’ll be disappointed. If you can’t commit to waking up early and spending an entire day tending to the smoker, that’s ok… find a good barbecue joint nearby and enjoy. There is also a small investment to buy the equipment if you don’t have it already, so be ready for that.
Get the equipment. I picked up a Brinkmann Smoke’N Grill at Wal Mart for $38… they sell the same thing at Lowe’s and Home Depot, too. You could probably get away with using a Weber (or some other brand) charcoal grill… but that might be a little more difficult. You could also go nuts and buy some custom built barrel smoker… whatever you want. But, for me, the little R2D2-looking Brinkmann is great. It has little door to add charcoal, and is designed to be a smoker. It worked great. I also picked up two big bags of Kingsford charcoal, as well as one bag of hickory wood chunks. You’ll also need a charcoal chimney starter to get the coals ready to go on bbq day. If you’re using a new smoker for the first time, make sure to follow the direction to “season” the smoker, or you’ll ruin it on bbq day. Get a good probe thermometer, too.
Get a good cut of meat. Surprisingly, our supermarket had them in the meat case. It came in at about 4.8lbs, which was enough for my wife and I, plus a few sandwiches for lunches the next week. However, I think I got the wrong cut of meat. I got the actual pork shoulder… and I’ve read that you want to look for a cut called the Boston Butt… which isn’t actually from a pig’s butt… it’s a different part of the shoulder. I think Costco and Sam’s Club sell good cuts of Boston Butt… I think I’ll head over to one of those places next time. Once you get your cut, get it defrosted, or whatever you have to do to get the meat ready to go, get it done so the meat is ready to go two days before you plan to smoke it. Prep the meat by removing the skin (if it has any one there). Don’t worry about trimming the fat… fat is good when it comes time to smoke.
The Rub. I’ve used rubs before, so I had an idea of what to do to make one. And, when it comes to rubs, you can go two routes… make and write down a standard recipe. Or, do what I do, and make it up on the fly. You can be consistent and dial in the exact flavors you want, or have the meat taste a little different each time. I like that it’s a little different. I’m not running a restaurant, so I don’t have to worry about being consistent. Either way, think about what you want the end product to be. Sweet? Spicy? Garlicy? Adjust your rub accordingly. My rub usually ends up being: 1 tbsp brown sugar; 1 tsp paprika; 1 tsp season salt; 1 tsp black pepper; a dash of cayenne pepper; a couple dashes of onion powder; a couple dashes of garlic powder. Mix the rub in a bowl, and get to town rubbing the meat. Make sure every little nook and cranny gets rubbed. The rub will turn into a liquid as you rub it on the moist meat. That is good. Work it all around. Massage the meat. Love the meat. When you get the entire thing rubbed, do it again. Put your rubbed meat on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and park it in the fridge for at least overnight. But, the longer it sits, the longer the flavors have to work into the meat. Oh yeah, and save the left over rub… you’ll need it later.
BBQ Day. Kinda sucks, but you gotta drag your ass out of bed early. I got up at 7AM, had the fire going and the meat on by 8:30AM, and pulled the meat off at 6PM. If you’re new to smoking, like I am, try a smaller cut of meat first… bigger cuts take more time, and if it’s your first time, you’ll have no idea how early you need to start. Smaller cuts will finish by dinner time, and you can kind of use your first time to gauge how your smoker works.
- Pull the meat out of the fridge when you wake up. This will let it come up to room temp by the time it’s ready to get on the smoker. Insert the probe thermometer, too… you need to monitor the meat’s temp as it sits on the grill… just make sure you get the wire of the probe set in a way that it doesn’t burn in the smoker. It should be ok, just keep it away from the direct fire.
- Put the hickory wood chunks in a bowl of water, too. You want them to be soaked through, so they smoke when you put them on the coals.
- Start your fire. Use the charcoal chimney to start the coals. Fill the chimney about two-thirds full of briquettes, and set it on top of balled up newspaper. Lite the newspaper, make sure it’s on fire, then walk away for 15 mins. Come back and check on the coals… if you did it right, they should be glowing and ready to go.
- Dump the glowing coals into the charcoal pan, and set up the smoker. Fill the water bowl of the smoker with water… I used a couple bottles of Noble Pils, too. Add more charcoal to the charcoal pan, and let the smoker warm up to the “Ideal” range… or about 225° F for those using a thermometer. Add three or four of the soaked hickory chunks so the smoker gets all smokey by the time it’s ready to go.
- Add the meat. Fat side up. Close the lid.
- Maintain the fire by adding more charcoal to keep the temperature in the “Ideal” range… or keep the fire at 225°F. I set a timer so I would go check on the fire every half hour. You’ll figure it out. Don’t sweat if the fire gets too cool… you can add a little more charcoal… but not so much that the fire jumps up to be too hot. Don’t worry, you’ll get the touch. Keep adding the soaked wood chunks, too… it’ll keep the fire nice and smokey.
- Once every hour and half or so, check the meat. Open the lid, and see how things are going. Make sure the water bowl is still filled. And, spray down the meat with a mixture of: 2 parts apple juice; 1 part apple cider vinegar; and the rest of your rub. This’ll keep the meat nice and moist, and get a good bark formed. Just don’t overdo it… every time you open the lid, you’ll lose some heat, and lose the smoke.
- That’s pretty much it. Maintain the heat… low and slow. Spray the meat down. Watch the temp of the meat rise, until you hit the “150Hump”…
The 150 Hump. When the internal temp of the meat hits somewhere around 150° F, the fatty tissue of the meat will start to break down. At this point, the heat from the smoker is converting the fats into gelatin instead of actually raising the internal temp of the meat, so the temperature will stop rising. That is ok… it’s supposed to be what’s happening. Don’t over-react and add a tone more charcoal… just keep maintaining the “Ideal” temp. It might take an hour or two, but once the conversion of the fatty tissue is done, the temp will start to rise again. Bingo… you’ve made it through The 150 Hump. You’re almost there.
Pull it off the smoker at 190° F. Once the internal temp of the meat hits 190°F, you’re done. Pull the meat off the smoker, and put it on a pan. Let it sit and rest for 45 mins or so. If you’re having trouble getting the meat to reach 190°, that’s ok. Preheat your oven to 250°, and put the shoulder in the over to finish. There’ll be plenty of smoke… even if you have to finish it in the oven.
Pull that meat! After the 45 min rest, pull the meat. I used two forks. Pull the meat off of the bone, and “shred” it up a little bit. Mix the bark (the black, charred, outer shell of the meat) in with the interior meat… the bark is where the most flavor is. You should see a little pink ring under the bark, too. That is the smoke ring, not raw meat. You’re golden.
Throw some meat on a bun, add a little squirt of your favorite barbecue sauce, add a scoop of creamy coleslaw to the top, and enjoy the best pulled pork sandwich you’ve ever had.
See? Easy, right?
I might post some pics next time I do a shoulder… but, I think you get the idea.
A quick picture of my Brinkmann in action… baby back ribs this time, not pulled pork. Did I mention that pork is amazing?