Saturday, April 14, 2007

How I learned to BBQ...

My first experience with barbecue was about 4 years ago. My father-in-law had a tiny bullet style water smoker hidden away among the treasures in his dragon’s lair of a basement. He had always wanted to try it. However, he had no idea of how and even less of a notion as to what to cook in it. That’s when I came into the picture. I am one of those guys that can never admit not knowing something. So, when he asked me about it I offered to teach him how to use it. Truth be told, I had never even seen a water smoker before. Needless to say, I wasn’t about to admit that my knowledge of BBQ was solely based on Food Network’s coverage of Memphis in May.

Anyway the next afternoon, after stopping at Barnes & Noble, I went to the Shaw’s (a local supermarket) to buy a Boston butt to barbecue the following day. To my dismay nothing in the meat chest was labeled Boston butt. All I could find were pork loin roasts. They looked like what I saw on TV, they were a good size and they were pork. How different could a pork loin roast be from a Boston butt? Obviously I was not very observant because I ended up buying a 7 pound pork roast thinking I was going to turn it into pulled pork.

With absolutely no idea that I had purchased the wrong cut of meat I happily headed home to prepare what I thought to be my first Boston Butt. I figured, how hard could it be? According to the directions that came with the smoker all I needed was charcoal, a little BBQ wood, dry rub and water. Charcoal was easy enough to get, the water smoker came with a few chunks of hickory, and I had grill seasoning. After washing it thoroughly, I carefully started to trim some of the fat off. This took all of 30 seconds, considering there was very lean. Soon after I applied the dry rub (grill seasoning), wraped the pork and placed it in the refrigerator for the night. I was ready to go, in 24 hours I would be eating my very first homemade pulled pork sandwich.

My alarm sounded at 5AM. It was a beautiful Saturday in June and I knew that if I was going to serve Boston Butt for dinner that evening I had better get a move on. I pulled myself out of bed, made a pot of coffee and headed outside to preheat the smoker and soak my hickory chunks. I had read the smoking instructions over and over again during the night and was confident that this was going to be a breeze. After prepping the smoker I returned to kitchen to retrieve my prized cut of meat. I figured a quick shower would allow the pork butt time to loose its chill and get the smoker up to temperature.

I grabbed the roast, a huge cup of coffee, my new book and headed for the backyard. The instructions that came with the smoker claimed that no thermometer was necessary on the smoker because the water pan would never allow the heat in the smoker to rise above the boiling point of water. I tossed two or three chunks of soaked hickory onto the burning coals and put the pork on the smoker at approximately 6.30AM. Still confident and still with no idea that Boston Butt and pork loin roast were two completely different cuts of meat I set my timer for two hours and went to find a chair. The instructions warned not open the smoker for any reason during the first two hours of cooking, unless of course the coals went out. Who was I to doubt the wisdom of the instruction book?

I grabbed my coffee and took a seat right next to the smoker. With one eye on it and the other on my new [first ever] BBQ cook book I began to enjoy the quite of my backyard on an early Saturday morning. Just to put things in perspective I was living directly across from the emergency room of Melrose Wakefield hospital. With my first sip of coffee I began to page through the book. The sweet smell of hickory smoke wafted by (surprisingly pleasant for 7AM) and my mind filled with images of St. Lois style ribs, smoked brisket and cornbread. I flip the page, only to reveal a butcher’s map of a pig. Ham, back ribs, spare ribs, tenderloin, whole shoulder, picnic and Boston butt.

The book went on to explain the different parts of the hog and why certain cuts were so great for BBQ. Pulled pork was made from Boston butts or picnics which were both cut from the shoulder. The vast marbling and connective tissue along with the heavy fat cap make shoulder cuts ideal for long and slow cooking. BBQ is all about keeping the temperature low and cooking the meat slow. Thus converting what would generally be considered uneatable cuts of meat in some of the tenderest and flavor food one could ever taste.

I never did admit my error.

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2:01 PM  
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