Meet My New Smoker!!

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As you all remember, my long time smoker was stolen while prepping for a whole hog event. If you’re a Carolina whole hog stylist, your smoker is very specific. I’ve cooked on a whole variety of smokers but none of them will do a proper Carolina whole hog. To do Carolina BBQ you need a specialized Carolina PIT.

My new smoker is designed to take hardwood embers and slowly smoke the meats til tender. While it’s direct heat, the coals are very far away from the meat leaving the cooking temperature still very low.

We gave her a test run by getting my buddies to bring over a massive amount of meat as I burn down logs to fire the pit. We had 4 pork shoulders, 2 slabs of ribs, 6 slabs of beef short ribs and 2 chickens! Oh and a handful of rib tips to snack on.

She burned beautifully. Came to temperature with very little effort and held steady between refirings. I had mine specially customized with bar AND diamond grates to make the ultimate Carolina crackling on the pork. If your pit can’t make crackling, it might be a good smoker but it ain’t North Carolina BBQ.

I’m so happy to have my new member of the BBQ family. My wife and friends named her Fat Sally. Say hi Fat Sally!

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BBQ ROADTRIP!!! : Big W’s Roadside BBQ – Wingdale, NY

People in South Carolina have a simple yardstick for measuring whether or not to visit a BBQ joint. A BBQ joint is either “100-mile BBQ” or it’s not. 100-mile BBQ is food so good you would be willing to drive a hundred miles for it. On a crisp autumn Saturday I told the wife and kid we were going pumpkin picking. The wife was enthusiasitc about hitting the countryside to one of New York State’s many pumpkin patches. Hayrides, freshly baked pies, kodak family moments. Her enthusiasm stock price took a slight dive when I told her I picked the one pumpkin patch 70 miles away just so we can try Big W’s Roadside BBQ.

Ever hear of a BBQ Widow? It’s kinda like being a golf widow except more annoying because you have to clean up.

Big W’s has all the makings of a great romantic movie. Warren Norstein was not just a trained chef. He was THE trained chef, having cut his teeth at big money places like Chanterelle and Bouley. When we met I told him we’re fellow alumni as I too had trained at those places. Mine was a short dabble, his was full commitment no holds barred. He eventually became the executive chef at the Chez Louis reopening. That was about the time I ended my culinary career. For those in the business, these are serious street cred. So what makes a man who possessed a Harvard level resume leave the life of extreme fine dining to smoke ribs in the middle of no where?

Relatively speaking, being a high caliber chef doesn’t pay very much. You essentially work investment banking hours while at the same time likely making less than a Jr Analyst. And while bankers can somehow placate their families with the spoils of the almighty dollar, bit harder to explain to your kids that you’re killing yourself to serve the perfect duck breast. It’s an add insult to injury life in New York City where many top kitchen managers would not ever be able to afford to live in Manhattan proper. Anthony Bourdain, the now television star, was an executive chef at Les Halles and lived in absolute poverty. After leaving that life Warren found that finally his kids ” didn’t hate me for working all the time.” 

So while living up in the middle of nowhere and living off his wife’s salary, he decided he was going to smoke some ribs. Like any person bored out his skull, he found a trailer on Ebay and without any BBQ experience decided to set up by the roadside sell ribs. Who knew it would actually take off? After 2 years of that he opened a permenant brick and mortar place. I guess makes it a little nicer to not have to smoke meat in the rain.

Anyway on to the food. You can find the food porn HERE. 

His ribs are justifiably well smoked. He does it pretty interesting in that he smokes the entire slab and then separates the St Louis cuts and the rib tips for you when you order. The brisket was very tender but not my favorite. The burnt ends were a bit overdone. The chicken was definitely a star. Now I normally don’t order chicken at a BBQ joint but my kid basically lives off chicken and goldfish crackers. It was deeply flavored and moist, of course one shouldn’t be too surprised as Chez Louis’ goose fat roasted chicken was their signature dish. The side dishes were just outstanding. We got the mash protatoes, Mac & cheese and roasted cabbage. The execution on these were extraordinary.

I’m definitely putting Big W’s as 100 mile BBQ. Get the classic Chicken & ribs combo. Finish off with some pie and hit the pumpkin patch!

As an added bonus Warren was kind enough to show me his smokers where are situated in a little barn next to the restaurant. He has two Lang 108 smokers – the largest that Lang smokers makes. I love reverse flow offsets and to see the Langs in person was a real treat.  The biggest I’ve seen of the langs were the 84s which are huge. It’s so great to see that there’s people still cooking with all wood for BBQ without the aid of gas and electric. The 108 can cook up to 80 eight pound pork butts at a shot. That’s 640 lbs of meat! So at any given time there’s over 1,200lbs of meat smoking over at his little barn.

BBQ ROADTRIP!!! : Mighty Quinn’s – Brooklyn, NY

Over at the BBQ-Brethren forum, there have been massive experimentations and research on getting the holy grail of BBQ – “Jiggly Brisket”. That is, brisket cooked so tender and moist that it jiggles like a Jello dessert when you push it around. This was captured in full food pornographic zoom on the recent No Reservations episode where Anthony Bourdain visits Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, TX.

Brisket is the douchebag of the BBQ meat world. Butts, ribs, even alligator are more user friendly. Brisket will be dry both when it’s over and undercooked (go figure). There are even inconsistencies on how far a brisket should be cooked. A top notch brisket at the Kreuz Market, Franklin’s, Mueller’s etc., would be deemed overcooked in a Kansas City setting. A Kansas City brisket would seem dry and dull in Texas. So even when it’s “Done” is a matter of debate. So when someone is able to cook a perfect brisket to the Holy Grail point of jiggling, you have something special.

Mighty Quinn isn’t a restaurant yet. The Pitmaster and owner, Hugh Mangum, set up his massive Klose smoker at the Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. The Smorgasburg is a brilliant foodie fair that takes place every weekend. Mangum normally has the longest lines. Word has it that a brick and mortar place is coming soon to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Can’t wait! Wish I could have captured the jiggle!

Check out more shots of Mighty Quinn on my Food Porn page.

New Pit – Weber Smokey Mountain

If you are a reasonable and intelligent person you would start off a new hobby by going small and taking the beginner route. I am far from intelligent and reasonable is not my strong suit. My first pit, and one I still use, is a monster. With the capacity to cook a 200lb hog and still have the space left over to handle another 100lbs or so of meat, it’s larger than what anyone needs. The fact that it sits in New York City makes it even more ridiculous.

My smoker is an offset smoker. This means that I burn wood on a box end and the heat and smoke feeds through the rest of the barrel and cooks the meat. Learning to operate an offset will break most people. You heard about people cooking at 225 degrees for X amount of hours? Well that isn’t happening in an offset. Burning live wood means that you deal with temperature spikes and drops. You have to figure out how much wood to burn and how often. My first few runs with this darn near killed me.

I know how my pit works now and it’s hard to imagine NOT cooking with only wood for me now. But as the Fall hits and occassionally I DON’T want to smoke a few hundred pounds of meat at a shot, I needed something more reasonable.

When a hardware store had a clearance on their floor model for a Weber Smokey Mountain 18.5 I jumped on it. The 18.5 WSM is the PERFECT beginner’s smoker. The instructions are really simple to follow and there’s really no spikes in temperature. The downside is that you can basically leave this alone without tending it. For me, most of the fun was tending the fire. Controlling your fire is a skill you only learn from cooking with live wood.

The best thing about the WSM is the sheer amount of resources available for it. Weber the brand has been around since 1893 and their products can take a BEATING. I still have my original Weber charcoal grill from 5 years ago. I just polished her up yesterday and she looks brand new. While it’s a beginner’s grill it’s used at the highest levels of competition. Harry Soo is much lauded BBQ champion and is known for beating out $20,000 rigs with his simple WSM set up. To be fair though, most of the expensive rigs are more about the ability to sleep in comfort than they are about cooking prowess.

WSM Resources. 

Their own FORUM!! 

Parts Store to PIMP your Grill! 

Harry Soo ‘s website 

Best BBQ Resource – WSM and otherwise 

My Buddy’s BLOG – Josh blogs and competes with the WSM so his site’s a great resource.