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Friday, July 29, 2011

Food Friday: Long Weekend Special - Get a Smoker Already!

This is the beginning of a long weekend in British Columbia.  We call it "BC Day"  (clever eh?) but other provinces will call it something else; "Family Day" or  "Regatta Day" for example.  This is where I will be spending my long weekend. This is my Man Cave. Some Man Caves have massive flat screen televisions and insanely complicated sound systems. Some include bars, beer fridges, pool tables … anything suitable for having “the guys” over for some R&R.

Mine is much simpler (and much more like a kitchen now that I think of it) than all of that. The “room” is a Grill-Zebo, and instead of flat screens and speakers I have 3 smokers (the bullet looking things), 1 kettle grill (the squat grill on 3 legs) and a flexible LED lamp. I also have a 36” gas grill up on my patio … I just don’t let it play with the charcoal grill. (Charcoal v. Gas is a subject for another post!). I have several Adirondack chairs nearby and easy access to a small beer fridge. This place is heaven to me.

I’ve been asked many times why I even have the smokers. Isn’t cooking over charcoal good enough? Obviously these people have never had a properly smoked rack of ribs, or a pulled pork sandwich ... they're missed out on the joy of BARBECUE. Grilling is NOT barbecue. The chemistry (or alchemy if you like) is completely different. With grilling, it’s all about searing the meat over high heat to contain the juices. Once the searing is done, the residual heat in the kettle (or whichever grill you are using) cooks the meat. The charcoal adds flavour for sure, but mostly in the form of caramelization (the yummy burnt bits) on the surface of the meat.

Barbecue is something completely different. Like grilling, smoking is about using charcoal and wood to cook and infuse flavour into meat. The difference is with the cooking temperature. Barbecue uses a much lower heat (225°F / 108°C) and a much longer cooking times. Low and slow … music to my ears! By using the lower heat, the meat spends more time in the smoker and so absorbs more smoky goodness than if it were grilled. In addition, the lower heat allows the connective tissue in tougher cuts of meat to simply melt away. Try eating a piece of pork butt that hasn’t been cooked low and slow and you’ll understand the difference.

I've been told that with a little practice that the kettle grills can be used as a “low and slow” smoker. Honestly I’ve never seen the need since the Weber Smokey Mountain (aka The Bullet) does such an exceptional job of smoking. It’s seriously fool-proof … and with the help of great web-sites like The Virtual Weber Bullet, you’ll be experiencing excellent BBQ in no time.

If however you still feel like you can save a buck by dual-purposing your kettle, I direct your attention to this article on Serious Eats where a side by side comparison of smoking with a kettle and a bullet is made. Spoiler: the kettle doesn’t do so well.

So have at it ... and then when you're serious about barbecue, get yourself a smoker.  In the meantime, I’ll be sitting in my Adirondack, enjoying a beer in my man cave.  Have a great long weekend whatever you're doing.

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