I guess I really don’t need to rationalize why I nerd out so much about barbecue, but I do. People are often surprised I’m not big into homebrewing given that Carla and I do Hoperatives. I have several answers that are all accurate but incomplete. “There are lots of professionals who are willing to make it for me in exchange for small sums of money,” is what I usually say. Sometimes I explain that I’ve tried it and liked it well enough, but just decided I didn’t want to make the investment in the gear I’d need in order to do it seriously. “Obsession” and “gear” go together in my world. In the end, though, I think smoking meat scratches the itch in me that homebrewing does for others. While smoking and brewing take about the same amount of labor (brewing more, if anything), but the nice thing about smoking is that at the end of the day you have barbecue. With homebrew you have a couple of weeks to wait. If you build up enough inventory over time you can deal with that issue, but that gets back to the whole equipment/space/storage issue. I don’t do delayed gratification well. Barbecue works for me. And if I want to homebrew, I know lots of folks who’ll let me come over and use their gear (and who will protect me from doing something dumb that will ruin a batch).
Beats the hell out of me how gardeners manage that hobby. I respect it immensely. But it’s not for me.
So yesterday’s batch of pulled pork may be the best I’ve done so far. I wound up pulling it off the smoker at 185° internal and let it rest a half-hour or so (I expect I got a carryover to 190° or damned close). You can see from the picture that it split as I was taking it off. I had to tug a little, but the bone came out clean. Used a set of Bear Paws and the meat shredded in short order. The bark is flavorful, but not overpowering, so the rub was a real success. That last stall didn’t really make any difference in the end. I’d decided that 190° was my target temperature and was getting frustrated that it wasn’t getting there steadily. I was wondering if I’d wind up having to slice the meat rather than pull it. That wouldn’t have been a disaster. It just wasn’t the plan.
All that time I was in the second stall good things were happening, though. Collagen starts to melt and squeeze out water (that then boils away) around 160°. I think I hit the first stall around 151° when we had a good breeze and circulation was pretty good inside the Egg. The humidity was high inside because of the water pan and I think the wind died and circulation became much, much weaker, setting up the conditions for a second stall at the higher temperature. Except it really wasn’t a “second” stall. It was the same stall, just moved to a higher temperature.
So what does this do to my approach for next time? It turned out so well that I think I’ll continue to use the water pan and just tough out stalls when they happen. If I know going in that I’m on a schedule, I may do something along the lines of what’s discussed in this article about wrapping with foil when the meat gets to 150° or so and the smoking is done. The article draws on the research of Dr. Greg Blonder that I cite whenever possible. It just seems kind of dumb to say “I used a water pan. I made the best batch I’ve made so far. So next time I don’t use a water pan.” But some days I may not have 12 hours. And there’s just enough futzing with dampers to keep me from trying an overnight.
The last loose end from this cook is the lump charcoal. Most of what I put in yesterday burned. There’s some left and I figure I have at least two long smokes left in the bag I bought. I expect less waste than what I get from your basic bag of Royal Oak or whatever. It seemed to burn evenly and the ash is very, very fine indicating complete combustion. I still can’t decide if it’s worth the money, but I think it performed well. A Twitter friend clued me in to where I can find Humphrey up in Dayton. I want to try it.
I think I’m going to go enjoy the fruits of my labor yesterday.