Wherein I Describe How I Learned Some Things About Cooking

The ResultThe first long smoke is in the books. If I were grading I’d call it a B-. It’s good. I think I did more things right than wrong, and the things I did wrong are correctable now that I know what’s happening. I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble finishing the outcome from this round, but there are things I’m definitely going to do differently next time. And the next time is coming pretty soon. This week, probably. I have to keep the momentum up. And it’ll be better than what I did this time. That’s the point.

I think vinegar did me in. Specifically, the vinegar in the mustard I used to coat the butt. My first mistake was coating the butt with the mustard before coating it with rub. Chalk that one up to a rookie mistake. The salt in the rub helped the vinegar soak into the meat more than it might have had the rub been a bit more of a barrier. There were two negative outcomes of this as best I can tell: there’s a distinct vinegar taste I don’t care for immediately under the bark, and I think the vinegar is the culprit for the long cooking time. There’s no way an under-8-lb butt should take more than 13 hours and still never reach the 190-195 range I wanted to hit. I was reading up on brines here and I was struck with his discussion of what happened when he used a vinegar brine:

As you can see from this plot, the “plain” and salt-brined samples (blue and purple curves) behaved pretty similarly. But the vinegar curve (red) took much longer to cook, and more gradually approached “done”. As we explained in the article on barbecue stall, slower rising temperature curves are the result of evaporative cooling. That is, water migrates to the meat’s surface during cooking and cools the meat- just like sweat on a hot summer day.

brine curve
From http://www.genuineideas.com/ArticlesIndex/brine.html.

I’m not going to definitively say that the vinegar in the mustard is the cause of the weird temperature behavior, but I think there’s evidence to support the idea. And the flavor issue bothers me more than the cooking time. I know there’s a whole school of barbecue that elevate the vinegar sauce and mop to a defining characteristic. That’s fine; It’s just not what I prefer. I was worried that what I was perceiving as an off-taste was the Rivertown Wit I used in the injection brine. I don’t think that’s the case because I’m not finding the flavor down deep where I injected. I’m finding it right under the bark. And I keep calling it an “off-flavor,” but that’s not really fair. It just took me a long time to finally identify what I was tasting. It didn’t click until I though of some sauerbraten I had recently. Imagine that flavor without the sweetness. Add a little sweet sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey and Brown Sugar) and it’s pretty damned good.

Firebox remainsLet’s talk about the things that went right.

Fuel usage? Fantastic. As I said in the last post I’d added a bit of fuel, but I’d hardly describe it as jamming the firebox full. The picture on the left shows the remaining fuel before I knocked the ash down. Essentially what you’re looking at is a single layer of fuel on the bottom of the firebox. The firebox is just the bottom “bowl” part of that picture. The fire ring is the cylindrical part right above it. When I started the fire I’d say that the top of the charcoal was pretty even with the top of the firebox and hardly poking ip over the dividing line between the box and the ring. What you see is what there was left after 13.5 hours and whatever time it took for the fire to be smothered once the meat came off and I closed the top with the ceramic cap and shut the bottom damper altogether. I’m guessing I could have gotten another five hours out of the fire.

I was very pleased with how I got the fire stared and the basic temperature dialed in relatively painlessly. I think I overreacted a couple of times as the day went on, but that’s why you start out doing forgiving cuts of meat like pork butts and country ribs. They’re pretty hard to screw up. I think there’s some value in making sure the lump and wood chunks are mounded so the self-stoking effect of the Egg’s shape can work as it’s supposed to. As it was, the fuel was in the firebox bowl very level and it was burning from the center. That meant it was relying on pieces falling in from the edges when a new piece of fuel was needed. It didn’t work badly at all, but I think it can do better if the fire works its way down a mound of lump. Gravity is our friend.

I don’t intend to document every single time I use the Egg as obsessively as I did this time, but I wanted to capture my impressions this time because I figured I’d be learning a lot and I wanted to take notes. I think next time I’m ditching the mustard and going more for a salty-sweet rub and leaving it at that. It appears there are three ways to brine (immersion, injection and rub) and you’re supposed to do one of the three. I did two.

Later today I’m firing up the egg to do a roasted chicken with potatoes and veggies. I promise that if I post anything it’ll be a picture and no more than 500 words.