Friday, November 25, 2011

How to Smoke Turkey for Thanksgiving

There's nothing better than spending time with friends, family, and... a 12-lb smoked turkey. As I mentioned in my previous post, I had been looking forward to making smoked turkey for the first time. With leftovers neatly packed in tupperware, I can still smell the slight whiff of apple wood smoke. So was my first attempt at smoked turkey a success? How did it taste? What would I do differently?

Turkey brined for 12 hours
My 12-lb brined turkey getting ready to go under

I've read all the various ways of preparing a smoked turkey -- whether to wet-brine, dry-brine, no-brine, inject, etc. Since this was my first time, I decided to try a little bit of everything. I submerged the turkey into a brining solution with some:

- Apple juice
- Brown sugar
- Kosher salt
- Honey
- Oranges
- Peppercorns
- Garlic
- Bay leaves

Since I read that brining can cause the turkey to taste a bit "mushy," not to mention take away some of that meaty flavor, I decided to just brine the turkey for about 12-15 hours. I patted the turkey nice and dry, then gave it a good massage of olive oil and seasoning rubdown which included the following:

- Seasoned salt
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Paprika
- Cayenne

For good measure, I also injected the turkey with the star ingredient -- Corona beer!

- 1 bottle of Corona
- Melted butter
- Paprika
- Cayenne

After 3 hours of smoking in the WSM
I had about 3 plates!

After 3 hours of smoking the turkey in the WSM (with 2 fist-sized apple wood chunks), the turkey came out with a nice, mahogany colored skin crust. When I measured the temperature of the breast, it was around 170-175 degrees F. Since I was targeting the magic number of around 160-165, I was afraid the breast meat would be too dry. Next time, I will need to check the temperature a bit earlier (I got caught up finishing the side dishes!).

After letting the turkey rest for about a half hour, I sliced the turkey wide open. The breast was still reasonably moist. The slight hint of smoke was perfect -- not overpowering at all. The dark meat was full of flavor too. I used the pan drippings to make the gravy and it was the perfect compliment to the turkey. For my first time smoking turkey, I thought everything tasted great.

The one thing I noticed (and knew from the start) was that the skin wasn't as extra crispy (compared to an oven cooked turkey) --which was a result of the lower smoking temperature. From the start, I tried to maintain a temperature in the WSM of at least around 325-350 for all 3 hours, but it was a challenge. I would say the average temperature was more like around 300. Other than that, I thought my first time smoking a turkey was a success. I'll be smoking turkey more often in future years, and hope to get better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy (Smoked) Turkey Day!

Of course, you knew it was going to happen. This year, I'm going to smoke a turkey for the very first time. I've always eaten turkey the traditional way--cooked in a conventional oven. More often than not, the turkey came out dry and flavorless. I would always have to drench the turkey in gravy to make it taste better. Nowadays, it seems that fried turkey is all the rage. And no, I'm not going anywhere near a turducken. Of course, you can always get one of those monstrous, mutant-sized turkey legs from Disneyland all-year round. Did you know one of those turkey legs has about 1,000 calories?!

$9 for a turkey leg at Disneyland... please look away, don't judge!
"Pardoned" turkey at Disneyland... which means he's lucky.

Smoked turkey just seems healthier and easier--well, for me anyway. I've already got my beloved smoker, which has been used about 20 times since I bought it in May. The smoker is already properly seasoned, which means all the months of grease build-up within the smoker will help regulate the temperature and give it that added smoky flavor versus a brand new smoker out of the box. I've done some research online about smoking turkeys. Just Google "smoked turkey recipe" and you'll find plenty of results.

Some of my favorite recipes and articles about smoked turkey come from Serious Eats (one of my favorite food websites out there). Here are 3 variations:

Cajun Smoked Turkey

Apple-Brined and Smoked Turkey

Honey Brined and Smoked Turkey

Of course, the always reliable and informative Virtual Weber Bullet (aka, the bible of WSM smoking) has some very detailed step-by-step instructions for smoking a turkey:

Apple-Brined Turkey
Honey-Brined Turkey
Salt-Brined Turkey

My 12 lb turkey waiting to be injected, brined, and smoked.

After reading quite a few recipes, I'm going to use a little bit of everything for a "hybrid" smoked turkey--both using both methods of marinade injecting and brining. I know it may be overkill to do both, but why not? I don't want the typical turkey flavor--I want bold flavors with a little kick with every bite. I want a ultra-juicy turkey breast with extra crispy, golden brown skin. I know--for a first-time turkey smoker, I've got super high expectations. I'll let you know how it all turns out next week. In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving holiday!

Monday, November 7, 2011

How to Cook and Prepare Rib Tips

By Dru Chai

In my younger days of eating BBQ, I've always wondered what rib tips were. Did people just take a rib and chop the tips off? Why would they do that--wouldn't the entire rib taste much better? Or are they simply mini-versions of a rib? Well, it's none of the above, of course. They are the leftover "scraps" after trimming a rack of spare ribs, thereby transforming them into a uniform-shaped St. Louis Style ribs.

So what do you do with these rib tips? Some people just toss them away into the garbage. Feed them to the dogs. Dry them up to make pork jerky. Or maybe even collect enough of them to make a porky meat dress out of it (click here for inspiration). Hey, the possibilities are endless and only limited to your imagination.

Rib tips still have some cartilage and good amount of meat. Since I hate to see food go to waste--even if it is the bastard-child of the almighty bone-in pork rib--might as well do something with it. Once you've trimmed away all of the fat, you can throw the rib tips in a slow cooker. You could season it first, brown it on all sides on the skillet or pan, then add some vegetables later on.

Here's what I did--I took both rib tip flaps and a few trimmings, seasoned it liberally, then wrapped it up in heavy duty aluminum foil. You can even pour in some apple juice or marinate inside the foil before wrapping it up. That way, it will give some added moisture and the juices will steam the meat--making it nice and tender. Throw in in the oven for about 3-4 hours at 225-250 degrees (low and slow, you don't want to be making leather shoe strips here).

The result should be some fork-tender pork meat--the texture is a bit similar to pulled pork (shoulder), but it still has some of that meaty rib flavor. When the rib tips cooled down, I simply used my hands to pull apart all the chunks of meat, getting rid of any huge clusters of fat and cartilage. Take the meat and make a rib-tip sandwich, throw it on top of a salad, or simply dip with your favorite BBQ sauce.

As an added bonus, I also drained some of the natural meat juices ("meat juice," now there's a phrase of the day) into a separate bowl. Don't waste it--use it for just about anything to infuse some pork flavor. I used it as base for my homemade BBQ sauce. I'll have to save that for another post.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to Make BBQ Pulled Pork

By Dru Chai

Pulled pork probably doesn't get as much love from its bony companion--the ribs. After all, ribs are eaten with your hands, it's messy, and you can get it all over your face. Plain and simple, it's just a good time to eat ribs, and it just epitomizes what BBQ is all about. But don't overlook pulled pork. It's incredibly versatile, cheaper in price, and can serve a lot of people.

Pulled pork is easy to make--commonly eaten as a sandwich, either on a soft bun or roll. You see variations of pulled pork in all different cultures--for example, Mexican carnitas, and Hawaiian kahlua pork. Most people simply make their pulled pork in a good slow cooker. Basically, set it and forget it. But there's nothing that substitutes good 'ol fashioned low-and-slow, smokey flavor over 8-12 hours. You just can't replicate that smokiness and the pieces of char on the outside.

One day, I hope to visit North Carolina for some authentic pulled pork, but for now, I'll just have to make my own backyard rendition at home. For the past several months (as documented on this BBQ blog), I've honed my BBQ smoking skills mainly on brisket and ribs. With a few parties and potlucks waiting in the wings, I decided it was time to try my luck at pulled pork. Here's the breakdown for my smoked pulled pork sliders with sweet and crisp coleslaw.

I went to my local Costco and found the smallest pork butt I could find--a little under 13 lbs overall, at $1.89/lb. With the name pork "butt," one might think it is from the buttocks of a pig. But it's only a name -- pork butt is actually pork shoulder.

The next step is injecting the pork butt with a good marinade injector. Not only does it help produce juicy and tender meat, but injecting just gives that added depth of flavor with every bite. Everyone has their own concoction of what should go in the marinade, and I'm sure BBQ competition teams closely guard their recipes. It all depends on the flavor profile--if you want sweet, salty, spicy, etc. One thing's for sure, you want a balanced marinade. I used something like this, which serves as a nice base.

- Apple juice
- Vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- Salt
- Sugar
- Hot sauce

Next up, the rub. Just like with the marinade, you have to balance out the salt and sugar, then incorporate spices depending on what you like. If you want flavorful pulled pork, it's best to let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours so that all the spices and marinade get to know each other. Or, you can always be lazy and buy a pre-made rub mix.

- Kosher salt, or seasoned salt
- White sugar, or brown sugar
- Granulated garlic or garlic powder
Optional: Chili powder, cayenne, onion powder, cumin

When ready, fire up the Weber Smoky Mountain using the Minion Method so that it's around 225-250 degrees. I like to use either hickory, oak, or apple wood. Depending on your taste buds, you can go heavy on any particular wood. You can't go wrong with hickory--about 4-5 fist-sized chunks will do. Close the lid, then go read a book, watch the Simpsons marathon, knit a sweater, or whatever it is that you like to do for the next 5-7 hours.

At this point, you deserve a peek. Open the lid and see how everything looks. You should get a nice bark forming on the outside--crusty, charred, and black. If you've been reading this BBQ blog, you know that I'm a huge proponent of a good bark on my BBQ. Depending on your preference, you can spray some water or apple juice. Close the lid, and return in another hour or two.

With a good thermometer, check if the internal temperature is 195 degrees. If so, it's ready to be pulled out from the smoker. Let it rest for at least 20-30 minutes, so that all the juices re-distribute inside, then the fun part begins. Take some regular forks, those "bear paw" looking forks, or a clean set of hands and go right at it. The pulled pork should be juicy, tender, and full of porky and smoky goodness. Accompany with a good, vinegar-based (a bit of sweet and tangy) BBQ sauce, and you're all set to go to hog heaven.