A Pause In the Winter of Our Discontent

Smoker topper
That there is what you call clean smoke.

There’s no nice way to say it. This winter has sucked. I mostly mean the weather, but there have been no shortage of things that have sucked. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get an ice and snow storm. I’m so ready for winter to be over it’s not even funny. If there’s a day where I don’t say “What fresh hell is this?” I consider myself lucky.

I’ve not used The Egg all winter. Part of the reason I got it was because its thermal properties are such that outside temperatures are basically irrelevant. I don’t mind cooking in cold — I don’t stay out there that long — but dealing with an eternal snow cover and the ice and the gunk that sort of coats everything just hasn’t been appealing. Early in the week it because pretty clear that today wasn’t going to be too bad weather-wise, so I decided to fire up The Egg.

The last thing I cooked was a brisket and it was OK. Nothing great, but still better than most we can get around here. I still have some work to do on that. I went ahead and got a better dual thermometer. This time it’s the classic Maverick ET-732. I’ve been using it for all of an hour, but I believe I already have some evidence that it’s a better unit than what I used before (also a Maverick, but a cheaper model). For one thing, both probes agreed with each other when I turned them on away from the smoker. That right there is an improvement over the old unit.

This is how the smoking began.

Today I’m doing a pork butt that’s going to wind up being sliced and some country ribs.  I don’t plan to be as obsessive about documenting the details, but there are a few things I want to note mainly so I don’t forget them. I tried yet another way of starting the fire, and I think this is a keeper.  I stacked the lump and (oak) chunks around a central stick of fat wood.  I lit that off and let it go for about 20 minutes to get it nice and lit.  Then I put on the plate setter and grids and lowered the lid (lower vent wide open, top vent unit removed so it’s wide open) and let it go until the grid temp hit around 400.  The smoke was really dirty up until it got to around 350, and then it cleared out.  This probably didn’t take more than 10-15 minutes.  I put on the meat (dual grids: butt low, ribs high) and shut the dampers down to barely open.  The shot of the thermometer is where things settled. In the first hour there was a small fall off that I stopped at around 210 and I’ve got it pretty much dialed in a 235 now. It’s been going an hour and a half.  The ribs will come off for dinner.  The butt will take longer, but I got a late start today.

It’s nice to be doing this again.

UPDATE @ 4:30: I actually left the smoker unattended for a little more than two hours. That’s an all time first. Maybe it’s maturity setting in?

Nah.  It was brunch.

Carla and I met some friends for brunch, though it wound up just being lunch. Wunderbar, mmm. Just before we left the temp spiked to around 250 (+ or -) and … I did nothing.  I just left. Here’s my thinking: given constant ventilation, a temperature spike is most likely the result of new fuel lighting off. Rather than trying to chase the temps (which I’ve always done in the past, only to have to try to bring them back up), I just let it go. I figured it’d peak out somewhere and start dropping back toward the mean of 235 that this vent setting seems to be dialed in for holding. I don’t know that it happened, but I’ll pretend it did, When I got home the grid temp was 220.

The ribs were done. They’d been on for about 5 hours at that point and some of them were really shrunken.  While wrapping them up in foil I checked for toughness and none of them were rocks, so I didn’t let them go too long. Glad we didn’t hang around for another beer, though.  That would have been bad.  The butt is moving right along.  5.5. hours in and it’s at 156 internal. I’ve yet to hit the stall, so I’m figuring I won’t be taking this off the smoker until well after dark. I’m targeting 180 and I’ll probably just wrap it whole and worry about slicing it tomorrow. The big thing is that I want to get the smoker covered tonight before the crap starts moving in. I suspect the cover can take some heat, but I’m going to have to give it some time to cool off. Getting the butt off by 8 would be great.

And that’s a sentence that’s not acceptable in any other context.