02 August 2013

Food Lab 24: Smoking

No labs since March, then two in two weeks. Schedules: what can you do?

Like the crepe lab, this wasn't a *pure* lab. As I mentioned, The Executive Committee and Mad Kitchen Scientist have been providing a home to a Big Green Egg since late last fall, which means they've had plenty of time to get quite good at smoking meat, aka "Real Barbeque."

Our task for this lab was to figure out if you could get a reasonable facsimile of smoking inside a gas grill.

The answer, we discovered, was yes, with some caveats.

You start with soaked wood chips and some sort of container for them, thusly:

(Did you know you can pre-soak your chips, store them in bags in the freezer, and use them without thawing? Efficient!)

Step two is to cover (or, as we later learned, PARTIALLY cover) the chips to keep them from burning too fast and to regulate the smoke:

(Nice alternate use of grill fork there, Chef Spouse.)

Then you start a LOW flame under JUST the chips (so your chip container needs to correspond with how your grill burners light, left/right or front/back). The chips go over the flame. The meat DOES NOT go over flame. Remember, smoking is all about INDIRECT heat.

So what's the caveat?

Flare ups.

They are not your friend.

In order to maximize grill space and also because we were smoking both boneless (pork chops) and bone-in (pork ribs) meats, we were using the upper rack, a portion of which was directly over the covered chip basket. Without constant vigilance, and with dripping grease, you get this:

 (That's a little TOO much char, Son.)

With constant vigilance, on the other hand, you get this:

(Now THAT'S what I'm talking about! Also, notice the partially covered chips.)

The other thing with a grill is that it's much harder to regulate the temperature, which means the chips burn unevenly. So you cycle from too hot/too much smoke, through "the chips are burning too fast!" to too cool/not enough smoke pretty regularly. The Big Green Egg is very Low Maintenance. It's Lauren Bacall. The grill is definitely HM. It's Sally Albright.

We used pecan chips.

The Egg (I feel like it needs a name, no?) got the pork shoulder, some chorizo, and some sweet Italian sausage. Also hickory chips.

There didn't appear to be any significant taste differences between hickory and pecan, at least not that our palates could discern.

What goes with Real Barbeque?

Collards and beer, natch.

We labbed two collard recipes, one with ham hocks, one without. We had no seasoned salt, so we altered the spicing in the ham hock recipe to:

1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp black pepper
1/2 Tsp turmeric
1/2 Tsp sugar
1/2 Tsp smoked paprika
1/2 Tsp onion powder
2 crushed cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp sriracha

The only alteration we made to the no ham hocks recipe was that we omitted the bacon, too. Vegetarian collards, y'all.

Now, you would expect the ham hock recipe to be better. But you'd be wrong. Even when we amped up the salt and sriracha, it was surprisingly boring. The veg version, on the other hand, was delish.

On the beer front, Mad Kitchen Scientist is quite the accomplished home brewer, so we had plenty of good stuff to choose from, but we decided to get fancy with Beertails (aka, cocktails made with beer).

We tried a shandy, traditionally 1/2 beer and 1/2 lemonade, with fresh homemade lemonade and four different beers:
  • BBQ ale homebrew
  • ESB homebrew
  • Rye Pale Ale homebrew
  • Hop Crisis IPA
The rye pale ale was best, but all the beers were better without mucking them up with lemonade.

We then tried a Hoedown. I'm not even linking to a recipe. Suffice it to say, it uses fresh watermelon juice, and it was AWFUL. You should NEVER mix fresh watermelon juice with beer, particularly when there are such better options, like this, for instance, which we also tried with basil in place of the tarragon (an improvement), and lavender simple syrup in place of regular (which was not - too floral, like when you overdo the Creme de Violette in an Aviation).

But the real winner, of course, was watermelon margaritas. Take your normal favorite margarita recipe (I personally like 2 tequila, 2 lime, 1 Cointreau, 1 agave nectar) and add watermelon juice. It's extra awesome if you happen to have jalapeno-infused tequila around.

How do you make jalapeno-infused tequila?

Take the seeds and membranes from three jalapenos and steep them in one cup of silver tequila for at least an hour (longer if you like it hotter). Strain and bottle. Go, go, garde manger!

Mama IA also did some experiments in gluten-free cooking, making corn bread and cupcakes with The Empress, but she'll have to detail that for you (if we can persuade her).

So yes, you can smoke meat quite successfully in your gas grill, as long as you remember:

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