Daddy’s little helpers

daddyWith two Little Smokies running around it’s hard to find time for the selfish contemplation that is brewing and barbecuing. Brewing takes a good 5 hours from the time I get the supplies out untill everything is cleaned up. Cooking up some pulled pork takes about 15 hours, not to mention the prep time the night before. True, I don’t have to sit next to the smoker for 15 hours, but it’s always on my mind. In my search to be more zen with my barbecuing I’ve found a couple “helpers” to keep my alter ego of Super-Stressed-Out-Action-Man at bay.

First off, for the past couple years I have been using terracotta flower pot bases and tin-foil in my water pan instead of water. This is definitely nothing new or groundbreaking, but I finally got around to trying it and now I wouldn’t have it any other way. The whole point of using a water pan is to help keep a steady temperature in your smoker by increasing the thermal mass. Unfortunately water evaporates and needs to be topped up. Then there is the mess of dirty water with all the fat drippings from your meat. Now I just peel away the top sheet of aluminium foil and throw it away.

That alone is not enough to keep the fire under control. Luckily I now have the PartyQ from BBQ Guru. The PartyQ is one of the cheaper Automatic Temperature Controllers on the market. It isn’t the most feature rich ATC but I was looking for a simple set it and forget it solution. I don’t need to see a temperature log on my smartphone. It also runs off of 4 AA batteries, which is good since the nearest electrical socket is far from my smoker. I did read some negative reviews of the PartyQ but those seemed to be coming from people who were trying to use the PartyQ to bring their fire up to temperature. This can take a while, lead to a massive overshoot in temp, and kill your batteries. I have had no problems so far and the temperature in my smoker stays rocksteady. The only time I see a change is when I open the lid to mop the meat, but this is quickly taken care of without any action on my part. The PartyQ has been a dream and if you follow a couple of basic rules then it is a very powerful tool.

The PartyQ has one probe with an alligator clip on it. The clip can be pulled off so that the probe fits through the BBQ guru probe eyelets I installed years ago for my wireless Maverick ET-73. Since I have the Maverick I didn’t need to get an ATC which has a food probe too, and I can still monitor my smoker and meat temps from inside the house.

How I use the PartyQ:

  • Install Maverick ET-73 and PartyQ
  • Start the fire with the Minion Method and assemble the WSM
  • Bottom vents 80% open (Except for where the PartyQ is attached of course. Follow instruction manual for that)
  • When smoker is close to target temp, close bottom vents & switch on PartyQ (if the temp overshoots it can take a while before it comes back down)
  • When the cook is done pull off the PartyQ and insert the kill plug.

now here is a very boring video of the PartyQ in Action

 

Rodenpork Grand Cru

On Sunday I whipped up some more pulled pork. Maybe “whipped up” isn’t the right way to say it since it isn’t exactly the quickest meal to make. Let me re-phrase that… Last Sunday I waited and waited while the glorious combination of wood-smoke, spices, pork and Rodenbach Grand Cru washed over me bringing intense hunger and anticipation. Yeah, thats better.

Last timeI posted about Pulled Pork I used a small portion of a “picnic” (a picnic is basically the shoulder of a pig). This time I used a 6.2kg (almost 14 lb) whole picnic. Well, almost whole, I had the butcher remove part of it so that it would fit in the smoker better. I think it may have been the first time that he had sold such a big hunk of pig like that, but it won’t be the last! I kept everything pretty simple with this cook but in return I was rewarded with an outstanding end product that brought a smile not only to my face but also to Mrs Smokey and Lil’ Smokey. Served with some coleslaw, fries and a Rodenbach BBQ sauce (see below) it was a satisfying meal!I trimmed most of the extraneous fat off of the pork and rubbed it the night before with a new simple pork rub recipe I am trying (see below). The next morning while the family was still in bed I started up the fire and rubbed the pork again. For the fire I loaded up the charcoal ring on my WSM with briquettes. I normally use a good hardwood lump charcoal, but for a long cook like this I went with longer burning briquettes. A few large chunks of both Apple wood and Pecan wood were added throughout the charcoal load. On top of all that a half chimney of lit briquettes got things going.

The pork went in the smoker just before breakfast. Instead of cooking at the normal 95-110°C (roughly 200-225°F) I set the smoker up around 125°C (257°F) because I didn’t want to still be cooking the next morning. The WSM did a beautiful job holding right between 122-128°C without any further assistance from me. After 5 hours in the smoke I started to mop the pork every 2-3 hours with a mixture of Rodenbach Grand Cru and some of the rub.

After 8-9 hours the meat hit the plateau at 75°C (internal meat temp) and stayed there for almost 4 hours. I ended up ramping up the smoker temp to 150°c (300°F) for the last 3 hours of the cook until I reached an internal temp of 88-90°C (190-194°F). In total the cook time was almost 14.5 hours, which for a piece this large isn’t so long. It was also nice that I didn’t have to add any more fuel during the cook. The resulting Rodenbach infused pork was fantastically tasty, succulent and pulled apart with ease! The freezer is now happily stuffed with this treat. The stash should last me a while and allow for some experimentation. One thing I need to try out are Noskos’s Pulled Pork egg-rolls!

Pork Rub:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup paprika
  • 1/3 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper (I may up this a touch next time)
  • 4 tsp. dry mustard powder
  • 3 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper

mix together and rub half on the picnic. Refrigerate pork over night and rub again in the morning. Save some rub for the mop and the sauce.

RodenMop:

  • 1 33cl. bottle Rodenbach Grand Cru
  • 1 tbsp rub

heat on the stove and use warm

RodenQue Sauce:

  • 1 33cl. bottle Rodenbach Grand Cru
  • 2-3 tbs brown sugar (I like 2 but Mrs. Smokey likes 3)
  • 1/2 cup Ketchup
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree (not concentrate)
  • 1-2 tbs of whatever rub you are using
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder (optional)

Simply combine all the ingredients in a pot and reduce on a medium fire (about 35-45 minutes). Pour the finished sauce back into a cleaned Rodenbach bottle and pop in a cork or stopper.

Barbecook Smoker vs. WSM

Last summer there was a decent amount of traffic coming from people looking for information about the Barbecook smoker, or more importantly comparing the Barbecook Smoker and the Weber Smokey Mountain cooker (WSM). I thought I would finally write a post about this as spring comes around and fire hungry people start contemplating a purchase. Since I have thoroughly used both smokers I’ll try to offer some good comparative information.

price: There is no competition here. The Barbecook smoker retails for 69euros and can sometimes be found for 49euros. The weber retails for 299euros for the 47cm (18″) diameter or 399euros for the 57cm (22.5″) diameter. Clear win for the Barbecook.

assembly: The Barbecook is split up into 4 sections, base, two middle sections and the lid. Assembling the legs, cooking grid hooks, charcoal bowl hooks, handles, vent, and the four hinges on the two doors is a bit of a pain in the ass due to the small size, and high number of nuts and bolts. The original Barbecook smoker had a sort of twist to lock feature that secured the sections together but Barbecook has since replaced this system with some simple clips. A much needed improvement. Moving the smoker with the handles on the side is easy once the sections are locked together.

The WSM is split up into 3 sections, base, middle, and lid. To assemble the WSM you need to attach the three legs to the base and then attach 4 metal straps on the inside of the middle section. This is easliy done in a few minutes. All the bolts are easy to get to and are large enough to handle. The sections just sit on top of each other and do not lock together, and there are no side handles on the unit  so you can not just pick up the smoker and easily move it.

never move either smoker when it is in use!

build quality: The matte-black painted Barbecook Smoker is made from a very thin steel, and is prone to denting. Infact you will most likely dent or bend the sections out-of-round during assembly. The cooking grates are  made from a very small gauge wire and have a cheap looking finish that can scratch off during a good cleaning. After total assembly the unit wobbles quite a bit due to the flimsy leg construction. Most of the nuts and bolts on the unit will quickly rust.

The WSM uses a nice thicker gauge steel with a durable black enamel finish. All of the hardware is rust-resistant, strong and secure. Once the unit is assembled it feels very stable. The Weber is way ahead of the Barbecook in this category.

ease of use: Use of a chimney starter is recommended for getting the Barbecook smoker going. The lit charcoal sits on a grate in the bottom of the charcoal bowl. The only air that can get to the charcoal has to come over the top of the bowl and get sucked underneath the charcoal. Once some ash builds up under the charcoal it starts to choke the fire.  If your cook is under 5 hours or so then you can resonably control the temperature in your Barbecook smoker with the top vent and some good fire tending. If you plan on doing anything longer then you will find yourself in trouble. Unfortunately the Barbecook smoker has no control of the air coming in, only the outgoing smoke on top of the unit. Not the best way to control a fire. Measuring the temperature with the built in thermometer can be a bit misleading. I have seen many reports of the thermometer being way off, 50-100°C!

The WSM also works best when used with a chimney starter. Once the charcoal is started it is pretty easy to maintain the desired temperature by only adjusting the three vents which feed air directly to the charcoal. Under the charcoal there is plenty of room for ash so during a long cook you don’t have to worry about choking your fire. Depending on the type of charcoal you use you should be able to easily get 10-12 hours burn time before needing to add more fuel. On my WSM there is no built in thermometer but on the new models there is one. According to others the thermometer is pretty accurate but could be as far off as 5°C in some cases.

overall: The Weber is hands-down a much beter smoker. It offers great quality and is easy to use. However, it is expensive enough to make you really question purchasing it. The Barbecook Smoker won’t last for years and years but it does work and it won’t hurt your wallet. With some practice and lots of patience you should be able to smoke up some good eats… but you’ll probably have to give up hopes of smoking a whole picnic or butt.

recommendation: If you know that you like smoked food and you are an outdoor cooking nut then the Weber will not disappoint. Ease of use, quality, durability, cooking capacity and flexibility will ensure years of great meals for you and your friends.

If you are not so sure that a smoker will really be something that you’ll enjoy or if you’ll only use it once a year then the Barbecook smoker could be the right choice. It won’t last forever, but if you are careful and patient you can get some good cooks out of it. For those that like to tinker with things, you could easily improve the unit with some careful thought and a trip to the hardware store. You can get inspiration for modding your Barbecook Smoker by checking out the many ECB mods, or Brinkmann mods on the net. The WSM is also prone to be modified by some die-hards, but out of the box it already works wonders.

If you are looking for a bargain and you like to work with your hands you could look into building your own smoker. Its not that difficult. Take a look at Alton Browns smoker. Or for a little more sweat and some grinding you could put together a UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker).

Just remember, smoking is good for you!

duck, duck, beer

luxemburg_roadThis past weekend my extended family in-law took their yearly trip down to a big rental house in the Ardennes. Despite there being 35 in-laws, it is always a good time. A really beautiful area with typical grey stone buildings set amongst green rolling hills. Being november it usually rains most of the time we are there, but in that setting I don’t mind. Mrs. Smoking Bottle thinks its all a big grey depressing mess but I tend to see the pint glass as half full… at least there I do.

Each year I try to plan one thing for the family during our weekend stay. Either a brewery visit or a good charcoal cooked meal. This year I decided on another brewery visit rather than trying to keep an 11 month old girl, who is practicing walking, away from daddy’s fire… and cooking for 30+ people is a lot of work. Also, since the in-laws are wine people, I take it upon myself to try to educate these lost belgian souls about their beer heritage. There are a lot of breweries in Wallonia, unfortunately the area that we visit has fewer options. So far I have taken the in-laws to Achouffe, Fantome and this year Brasserie Les 3 Fourquets.

 

Les 3 Fouquets resides in an inviting old stone farm house in Courtil, about 5km from the Luxemburg border. It was started up by one of the founders of Brasserie D’Achouffe after the sale of that brewery to Duvel Moortgaat (I think thats how it went). The modern shiny brewhouse is quite small and squeezed into one small section of the rather large farm house. The main part of the building usually houses the restaurant and bar. I say usually because they currently have no cook. They plan on re-opening the restaurant again next summer but they need to find a head chef. Currently they produce only one beer, Lupulus, but in the past have dabbled with a few others. You can definitely taste and smell the Achouffe heritage in Lupulus. The brewery began with the Achouffe strain of yeast, but over time the yeast has somewhat mutated (according to Julien, our guide). Cloudy light orange brew with a yeast and citrus nose. Grassy, lightly citrus hop aroma but not aggressive. Pretty well balanced in the mouth with sweet pale malt and enough grassy bitterness to stay interesting and dry enough to be refreshing. I personally think that this would be a brilliant beer if it was around 5-6% ABV instead of the 8.5% it is.

Last year I opted for the cooking route instead of a brewery tour. With the help of one of the uncles, we cooked up duck breasts for 32 people. We didn’t yet have a daughter so we had room to pack up the WSM and take it down to the Ardennes with us. The duck was lightly rubbed with brown-sugar, coarse salt, fresh ground pepper, sage and a dash each of onion powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Sounds like a lot but it was lightly rubbed on. The fillets were placed in the smoker fat side up for just over an hour (till about 115F internal). They were cooked over lump charcoal with a chunk of pearwood and a touch of hickory chips. After being smokedthe meat was thrown fat side down on the gasser and brushed with a glaze made from beer jelly (homemade with some of my homebrew) and butter. Served with cranberry sauce, pears poached Boon kriek and croquettes. We also made a very nice sauce with onion sauteed in some of the trimmed duck fat, some cranberries, a good slosh of Boon kriek and an unhealthy amount of cream. Run through a sieve and lightly drizzled onto the glazed duck breasts.

That was the most meat I have cooked in one time on the WSM. We only served half a breast per person but in order to fit 16 breasts on I had to take a grate from one of my kettles in order to add a third cooking surface in the smoker (on feet made from stainless steel threaded rod and some nuts and washers). That worked well and I had room to spare! I did try to take some photos of the process. Unfortunately while plating up the food for all those people we forgot to snap a photo of the sliced up duck with all the trimmings. Maybe next time. You can see photos of that cook here.