Call me Smokey

On Saturday I tested out my new smoker.  Worked like a charm.  I got a book from the library and also referenced this recipe on the Food Network for my first smoked brisket.

I trimmed and applied a rub to the brisket on Friday night, then saran wrapped it and refrigerated overnight.  You are supposed to trim off any of the ‘hard’ fat, but leave the ‘soft’ fat.  You’ll know what that means when you start poking and prodding around a whole brisket.  The ‘soft’ fat is referring to the large fat cap on the bottom.

The day started at 6:30 when I went outside to pull things together.  I set the smoker up in the back of my cattle trailer because the forecast had spotty showers in the area for the day.  I didn’t want to work in the rain and also wanted my precious new smoker to stay dry and rust free.

I made a gravel base with 2-3″ pieces of limestone, covered by a piece of metal that I had.  The metal was to catch hot ash and scalding drippings.  I didn’t want to burn  the wood deck on my cattle trailer.

The coals were ready for the meat to be added by about 7:15 or so.  First lesson I learned was that I didn’t start with enough coals.  I was supposed to start with 10 lbs in the cooker, but I used less than half of a sixteen pound bag.  It took quite a while to get up to the correct temperature.  As I added more coals later, it became apparent that there is a necessary amount of mass required for the hot coals to maintain a good temperature inside the smoker.

I used a bag of hickory chips to add smoke.  Lesson two for me was that I added these too early.  Used properly, they are soaked in water for 20 minutes and then drained before adding.  I added them too early, before the coals had enough momentum in them.  The wet wood chips ended up putting out a few of the coals.

Each of these first two mistakes cost me big time in terms of the amount of time the smoker is in the ideal range.  A brisket takes 1 to 1.5 hours per pound to cook fully.  My brisket was 8 lbs 5 oz which meant approximately 10 hours and 20 minutes until done.  Done, by the way, is 190 degrees for a brisket on the smoker.

By 3:00 pm it was only registering 150 degrees.  I decided that I would switch it to the grill at 4:00 unless I saw a dramatic improvement.  At 4:00 it was still 150 degrees (must not have gone deep enough at the 3:00 measurement).  Solution was to wrap the brisket with two layers of aluminum foil and place on the upper rack of my grill over medium heat.  This was pretty hot and made me a little uncomfortable.  Soon I could hear a slight sizzling sound, so I knew that as long as it no more than a light sizzle, nothing would burn.  I went inside to prepare the barbecue sauce.

The barbecue sauce recipe I used was very straight forward.  I chose to prepare a Kansas City style sauce, which ended up being perfect.  Once done, I put it into a ball jar for serving later.  The sauce was intended to be used as a condiment, not  applied to the meat while cooking.

Going back outside, I could smell a distinct burning meat smell.  I freaked, because we had two families coming for dinner and they were told dinner was served at 6:00 pm.  Was I going to have to go to the grocery store and buy that gross overdone fried chicken at the deli counter for our guests?  I ran over to the grill, threw it open and tore into the layers of aluminum foil.  The brisket was just fine.  I regained my composure.

The alarming smell was the juices and melted fats that seeped into the outer layers of the aluminum foil and started burning.  Everything at the core was perfect.  More than perfect.  It was 180 degrees!  I returned 20 minutes later and turned off the grill because the meat was now 190 degrees.  The meat had to rest for 45 minutes so the juices could redistribute.

Needless to say, the meal was a huge success.  Courtney’s potato salad and baked beans sealed the deal.  I was a little dissatisfied that I had to resort to using the grill to finish the meat.  Rather, it would have been preferable to be a purist and do the whole thing on the smoker.  In the end, the meal was great though, and so were the leftovers for lunch today.

Thanks, Robert.

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