Rabbit. Yes rabbit.

I cant quite believe that the last entry here was back in January. I had high hopes for a summer of smoking self-discovery, but the weather has not been grill friendly. There are a couple of episodes that have gone undocumented of course, such as a semi-successful attempt at Makro’s “meaty belly ribs”. But I thought that seeing as we’re heading towards Autumn something a bit gamey would be appropriate. Enter my brother in law, dab hand with a twelve gauge and scourge of cotton-tailed lagomorphs  across the land. It has to be said that rabbit isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and its not a meat that springs immediately to mind when you think of hot smoking. I wasn’t really sure how this would turn out, but was quite prepared to have a go.

The Prep

Thankfully my brother in law had gutted and skinned the rabbits, so all that we had to do was tidy them up and apply a coating. We tried a few different things; a pre-prepared wet marinade, as well as a dry rub I’d prepared. We also wrapped one of the carcasses in unsmoked bacon to see if it made a discernible difference. The dry rub was as follows:

2 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. soft brown sugar
1 tbsp. white sugar
1 tbsp. coarse salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder

The Cook

I’ve read a lot about how rabbit should be cooked, and most of the wisdom suggests at least  a couple of hours at around 220C. We gave them an hour and a half at between 210C and 240C. I’d used briquettes on the previous couple of cooks, but decided to try the restaurant grade charcoal I bought at the beginning of the summer. It burned hot and even and seemed to me to do a better job than the briquettes. I used lumps of apple wood for smoke. So how did it turn out?

Pretty fantastic really. The rub gave it a nice amount of seasoning with just the right amount of kick from the cayenne. The meat was tender and pulled off the bone fairly easily. I think with more time it may have been even better. The pleasant surprise here was the bacon. Just ordinary supermarket bacon, but it had taken on some of the rub and lots of the smoke and was absolutely delicious.

P.S.

Whenever I light the grill I feel an overwhelming need to get as much out of it as possible while it’s lit. So, yes, our old friend hot smoked salmon makes yet another appearance. Four portion sized fillets were brined overnight in a brine comprising of 50g of salt and 50g of soft brown sugar dissolved in a litre of tepid water. I then dried the fillets off and sprinkled them liberally with soft brown sugar. I would ordinarily have used honey, but I didn’t have any. The sugar will dissolve into a syrup on the surface of the salmon, and act as a glue for whatever you want to coat it with. I went for mustard seeds, lots of ground black pepper and a dusting of cayenne for heat. Here’s the before shot:

And after 45 mins in the smoker:

No, my smoker doesn’t turn salmon into sausages. Two of the fillets went home with my brother in law, and I threw some fairly ordinary pork sausages in along with the salmon. They turned out very nice, with a subtle smoky flavour. The salmon, as always, is delicious. Part of the reason I always make some is so that if the main reason for the burn (in this case the rabbit) is a disaster, then I’ll have something to show for it. All in all a very pleasant evening’s work.

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Beer Can Chicken

I’ll warn you right now: there are no money shots of the finished chicken. I earnestly photographed all of the prep, but I was making these chickens for dinner guests and it seems rude to make hungry people wait for the sake of some photographs. Also, I kinda forgot. Never mind, I can share with you what I learned from the first burn in my new ProQ Excel.

Prep

Ok, it’s chicken, so how much prep can there be? More than you might think. I decided to brine my chickens overnight. This seems like overkill but it produces beautifully seasoned, juicy chicken. I made a 6% brine by dissolving 60g of table salt and 30g of brown sugar in 1 litre of water. This was just enough to cover one medium chicken. If you have a bigger fridge, make more brine. Meathead will give you exact amounts, but don’t be too worried about it. You just want your chicken to absorb some moisture, salt and sweetness from the brine. The next day I drained the brine and patted the chickens dry. I wanted a sweet barbecue flavour, so I liberally applied Meathead’s Memphis Dust to the skin, and directly to the flesh by lifting up the skin on the chicken breasts.

Cook

This was my first time using the ProQ and one thing is immediately apparent: it is one fuel hungry grill. Compared to that little kettle grill anyway. When messing about with the kettle I bought myself a chimney starter so I could get coals going quickly, and add more hot coals as and when necessary. I had no idea that not all chimney starters were alike, so when I saw one that was a fiver cheaper than the Weber starter I was about to buy, I went ahead and bought it. Big mistake. Here’s why:

That little starter was fine for my kettle grill, but using it to get the ProQ going was a nightmare. It took two chimneys of charcoal to get the temperature climbing and a further two to finish cooking. Argh. So if you’re buying a starter get the bloody Weber one. Because of this it was difficult to get my temperature up. Chicken doesn’t need to be done low and slow like pork shoulder. It can take much higher temperatures of 300F and above. Anyway, I opened a couple of cans of beer and drained a little out, before daintily inserting them into the cavity of the chickens. I set them upright on the grill and gave them some apple wood smoke. I struggled to get the temperature up to 300F and  had to  give the chickens a quick 20 minute blast in the oven to finish it off.

Conclusion

The chicken was fantastic. Really juicy with a sweet barbecue flavour. The more important conclusion here though is to not sabotage the whole exercise by scrimping on something as important as the starter.

P.S.

Along with the chickens I decided to do some more hot smoked salmon and try my hand at smoked mackerel. I brined the salmon and mackerel in a 6% brine overnight.

Once I removed them from the brine and patted dry I gave the mackerel a tiny little spot of French’s mustard and smeared it across the flesh. This acts as glue for whatever you want to coat them with. I went for a combination of cracked black pepper, mustard seeds and chilli flakes. I did similar with one of the salmon fillets and used honey and brown sugar for the other one.

I might give the brine a bit more salt next time, but otherwise they turned out very good. The salmon especially was delicious.

Behold The ProQ Excel

The little kettle grill that could is no more. He gave me some great pulled pork and did an ok job of some spare ribs, but the cold, hard truth is that if I want to make truly great barbecue I need a proper smoker. After much deliberation I humbly asked Santa for a ProQ Excel. It was either this or a Weber Smoky Mountain, and to be honest I would have been happy with either. The ProQ has a few nifty features such as eyelets to accommodate probe thermometers (no more dangling it in the vent holes), and snap clips to hold the whole thing tightly together. I read lots of reviews before settling, and the guys over at the British BBQ Society forums spoke very highly of it. From now on I’ll have no excuses.

Barbecue Spare Ribs

This was meant to be an entry about baby back ribs. I ordered two racks of baby backs from my butcher, but they either misheard me or the person that butchered the ribs for me doesn’t know what baby backs are. I’d hope it wasn’t the latter. I’d only ordered baby backs because my old kettle grill is small and spare ribs might be a bit big for it, so no great harm done. Here’s the trimmed rack:

And here they are after a night marinating in Meathead’s Memphis Dust:

The two bits of rib were butchered pretty roughly. I neither had the whole spare rib nor a properly trimmed rack. I tidied them up and kinda squared them off to give a rough approximation of a St Louis cut. Once again I set the grill up for indirect cooking, coals on one side, water pans on the other, meat placed on the grill over the water pans. If you read the entry on pulled pork I said that I thought the fantastic pork it yielded may have been a bit of a fluke. I don’t think it was a fluke exactly, but it was definitely a result of that big hunk of pork being a very forgiving cut of meat. It seems that ribs are much less forgiving. There’s obviously less meat so there’s a very real risk of overcooking them if you fail to control the heat in the grill. I also mentioned before that I don’t have a lid thermometer on my kettle, and I cooked the pulled pork by the temperature of the meat alone. This just won’t do with ribs. I clocked the internal temperature of the grill at around 330F at one point, far too high for low and slow cooking. So…how did they turn out? Have a look:

They look good. And the individual ribs:

These pictures are a little misleading. They’re actually a little overcooked and a little oversmoked. Oversmoking leads to a slightly bitter aftertaste. The meat content of the ribs was also a little disappointing. They tasted ok though, especially with the addition of Meathead’s KC Classic Kansas City BBQ sauce. The texture was the disappointing thing. The point here is to achieve meat that is moist and comes clean off the bone when eaten. That didn’t happen with this rack. Having tasted the first attempt I figured I’d smoke and cook the second rack for less time. These turned out much better:

The colour is lighter and the smoke is just right. The meat is still quite moist, but again the texture isn’t as tender as I’d hoped for.

Conclusion

I didn’t have high expectations this time. I did think that the limitations of my old kettle would make this difficult to get right, and so it proved. I won’t be trying ribs again until I get the ProQ Frontier that I have my eye on. The best part of this was definitely the sauce. I made Meathead’s KC Classic Kansas City BBQ sauce; a rich, sweet, tangy sauce with a little bit of heat. The recipe calls for a couple of things that you might not have in your cupboard. American style mustard is available in most supermarkets though, and treacle is a reasonable substitute for molasses. If your supermarket doesn’t have molasses you should try a health food shop like Holland & Barrett. That’s where I found some in Glasgow. I eased up on the amount of vinegar. One important point if you’re following this recipe, or any American recipe that involves chilli powder. American chilli powder is a blend of ground chillis and other spices. Chilli powder in the UK tends to be pure ground chillis, so cut back on the amount you use. Meathead’s recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of chilli powder. I halved the quantities, but used only 1 teaspoon of chilli powder and the sauce still has a nice kick. Experiment to get it right.  If you halve the quantities in the recipe you’ll make enough to fill a regular sized ketchup bottle perfectly.

First Go At Pulled Pork – Cook

Having left the meat to marinate overnight, the easy part was over. Now it was time to try and turn it into something that resembled pulled pork. First of all, I should say that I don’t have a proper smoker, or even a halfway decent barbecue. As this was a first attempt I thought I’d just use an old kettle grill that I had in the shed and see if I could get anything decent out of it. So I fired some coals up in a chimney starter (everyone should have one of these):

I set the grill up for indirect cooking by keeping the coals to one side, and on the other I placed two foil containers of water. The water evaporates and becomes a vehicle for the smoke, and the moist atmosphere makes the meat absorb the smoke. As you can see this grill is way too small for this cut of meat, and the coals weren’t as far away from the meat as I would have liked but what the hell. A handful of apple wood chips and then on with the meat…

I covered it with the lid and made sure the vent holes were open and placed over the meat. This helps draw the smoke over it. I stabbed a digital probe thermometer into the thickest part of the joint and then…we wait. Most barbecue aficionados agree that you want to cook low and slow, at 225F until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 190F. At this temperature the fats and connective tissues liquify, the meat moistens and it becomes easy to pull apart. I don’t have a thermometer on the lid of my crappy old grill so I went by meat temperature alone. I kept the smoke going for 3 hours, and then gave it a further hour before my coals started to die. At that point the meat temperature was 176F and not budging. So I wrapped it in foil and finished it in the oven for a further hour. Don’t all be shouting “CHEAT!”. Wrapping in foil is a method known as the Texas Crutch and all competition cooks do this. I let the meat rest for 45 mins and here’s what we have:

I know what you’re thinking. It’s as black as two in the morning, and burnt to a cinder. But no, that black exterior is the wonderful, wonderful “bark”. The chewy layer of goodness created by the mixture of rub, heat and smoke. Because when you take a knife to it you see this…

See that beautiful pink aura just below the surface? That is a smoke ring. And it’s magnificent. Before I finished cooking I did the fork test. That is, I stuck a fork in and turned it 90 degrees. If it takes little effort to do this, it’s ready. If there’s resistance you need to cook longer. So I was hoping the pork would pull…

Promising…

Dear sweet baby Jebus, it’s PULLED PORK!

And it’s bloody amazing. Amazing as it is on it’s own (and I think I might have mentioned that its BLOODY amazing), pulled pork needs sauce. It’s tailor made for holding onto moisture. So now it’s time to make…

The Sauce

I made a variation on Meathead’s Lexington Dip. This is a Carolina vinegar based sauce, and a far cry from the sweet sticky stuff that you conjure when you think “barbecue sauce”. Here are the ingredients:

We have: ground black pepper, salt, distilled vinegar (not malt, not cider), tomato ketchup, hot sauce, crushed chili flakes, light brown caster sugar, apple juice. Please note the potato scones are not part of the recipe. I combined the ingredients in the quantities suggested by the recipe, but it was just too vinegary for me. So I sweetened it up with a bit more ketchup, sugar and some honey. The end result was a sweeter tasting sauce with a vinegar and chili kick. Perfect. And here it is here:

If you’re still reading after all that, congratulations. But this is about food after all, and the reason we make  great food is to eat it. So here’s what I had for dinner:

I think what we have here is technically fusion cuisine. Carolina pulled pork and barbecue sauce, on top of the king among breads…the Scottish morning roll. The coleslaw may seem an odd touch, but it’s quite a common accompaniment in the States so what the hell. It tasted great.

Conclusion

I had no huge expectations, but it seems you can get really great results out of the crappiest equipment. I’ll definitely be smoking food again, although I’m left with the slightly uneasy feeling that this has all been a tremendous fluke and it’ll end in disaster next time. If it does, you can read about it here.

P.S.

The first hour that the shoulder was on the grill I tossed in a couple of salmon fillets that I had brined the night before. Glazed with honey in a little water and topped with some dark brown sugar. They turned out stupidly good.

First Go At Pulled Pork – Prep

Nothing says “barbecue” like pork shoulder, cooked low and slow and bathed in sweet, sweet smoke. First up…

The Meat

For this barbecue staple we first need to acquire what the Americans call a “pork butt”. This might take some explanation. The pork butt or Boston butt as it’s known isn’t from the rear of the animal. It’s the shoulder i.e. the part where the front leg connects. Pork butt means bugger all to your average British butcher so that might explain how I’ve ended up with this:

I explained what I wanted over the phone, but something obviously got lost in translation. What I wanted was a pork shoulder, hough removed, squared with the blade bone in. I seem to have been sold the pork loin end of the shoulder, because what you’re looking at there is a pork spare rib chop joint. Not a good start but we’ll persist. I removed the bone and trimmed the sinew away to leave exposed meat. Now it’s time for…

The Rub

I’m a barbecuing novice, so I’ve decided to follow the sage advice of the amazing Meathead, whose website http://www.amazingribs.com is packed full of a lifetime of barbecue experience. With that in mind I’ve decided to use his Memphis Dust. Here’s what we have:

Rosemary, onion granules, garlic powder, rock salt, ginger powder, paprika, black pepper, dark brown sugar and ordinary white granulated sugar.

Once it’s mixed together it looks a bit like this:

Rub it onto the meat. I’ve not used too much, just enough to coat the meat really, as per Meathead’s instructions. Once the rub adheres you see why. It reacts with the moisture in the meat and becomes a paste. Into some clingfilm it goes:

And when I get up tomorrow morning I should have some beautifully marinated meat.