Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How slow can you go?

A few times each year I slow-cook pork outdoors, that is, I smoke Boston butts overnight.  (The Boston butt got its name in North America because of how it was packed in barrels called "butts"; it is actually the upper front shoulder.)  Before you begin, the meat should be close to room temperature.  I rub the pork with brown sugar mixed with sea salt and a little pepper.

   I light a charcoal fire on an old smoker grill.  Before the fire burns down I sear the meat, fatty part up, directly above the coals for about fifteen minutes, being careful to avoid burning the meat.  I then move the meat to the far end of the smoker just below the smoke stack.  I keep the fire low and add charcoal and hickory chips as needed.

At this point it is a waiting game of sleeping and tending the fire.  You don't set your watch for barbecue; you don't even use a watch.  Barbecue at home is a ticket to a world without clocks!  The Swiss are not famous for barbecue, but Southerners are! You tell your guests to come over in the afternoon or early evening.  You serve light appetizers and beverages.  The meal begins not when you are ready but when the meat is ready.

I use a meat thermometer because taking the pork off the grill prematurely is an unwelcome tease to my guests that dries out a culinary work of art.  The thermometer will tell you when you are ready at 170 degrees F, but make sure you take the temperature at three points in the meat (without touching bone).                                    

There is a subjective test of whether the meat is done if a meat thermometer is not available.  The dry sugary rub on the fatty upside of the pork will turn syrupy at first but gradually dry into a crust as the meat cooks slowly and thoroughly.  The meat swells as it becomes done and then shrinks a bit.  The drippings become clear, and the crusty dry rub on top cracks.  If your timing is perfect, moist meat falls off the bone so you don't need a knife.

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