Rollin' Like Sisyphus

Interesting Times Were Never So Prosaic

Posted in The Fail Pail by Huckleberry on September 2, 2013
May all of our final words be laid so honestly. Plus, it is a nice plaque.

May all of our final words be laid so honestly. Plus, it is a nice plaque.

Hey there.
It’s been awhile.
My apologies.
Let’s shake off the dust and see if we can get this thing down the road.
So what’s new in the world? Our Simple Affirmative Action President is prepared to defend his Nobel Peace Prize to the death by (maybe sorta) bombing Syrians for using Saddam Hussein’s WMDs against other Syrians, or so the Official Story posits.
As I write this, it’s officially football season. Truth be told, it feels like it was already just football season a few weeks back. It’s going by just a little too quickly for my comfort.
Hey, yeah, awesome. You get to live for 100 years.
What’s the fucking point if it’s over in two and a half weeks?
But I digress.
It’s been a lazy yet brief summer, a summer that didn’t bring the heat, a summer with an odd tinge of Fall about it. Except today, of course, which is the first 100+ degree day we’ve had this year.

The Key to BBQ Happiness

You hear a lot about what makes or breaks good BBQ.
You’ll hear endlessly about rubs both wet and dry, marinades, injections, mops, wraps, flavor profiles both overt and subtle, fat trimming and pristine marbling and on and on and on.
While all of this is material, it is not, never has been, and never will be the key to quality Q.
The one thing you absolutely, positively need to get right each and every time has nothing to do with the meat at all.
You need a good, consistent fire.
Consistent fire can make mediocre meat taste great, and a poorly constructed fire can murder the best meat right in the cradle. While there are a number of methods, a few rise to the top. It all depends on the configuration of your rig.
For vertical smokers, the best method is quite simple, but requires you to bend (perhaps even break) my one cardinal rule: no pressed charcoal!
Take the charcoal pan and lay a bed of wood chunks on the bottom. Don’t use too many; three or four fist-sized chunks will be fine. Next, make a ring of charcoal along the outer rim of the pan, from the bottom to the top of the pan. Create another ring just inside that, but leave the middle of the pan empty.
Heat up about 15 charcoal coals in a chimney starter away from the unit. Let them prime for a good 20 to 25 minutes. When they’re white-hot, dump them into the middle portion of the charcoal pan. Replace the grease pan and the food racks, close the lid and let the rig get to temp. Always shoot for 225 at the rack you plan to cook on.
I don’t care what you’re cooking; you want your rig to average out to 225. That is the constant. Time in the smoker is the variable. That changes based on type of meat.
That being said, I don’t much care for vertical smokers. Even if you get a consistent 225, the heat is still directly under the food. No matter how you marinade or even if you put in a water pan, your meat’s going to be either too dry or too moist. Also, unless you get a top-of-the-line rig and/or use insulating wrap, you’re going to have to add fuel to the fire as you go.
This can be annoying, cause huge swings in internal temp, and makes planning your cook a bit of a high-wire act.
Offset smokers tend to do better by the meat, but it can be tougher to get a consistent fire that consistently pumps smoke into the food chamber.
This is why I designed and built my own rig using bricks and mortar, in a offset configuration. It was optimized with an awesome flue venting system that you could gradually open a little every hour to stoke the fire and keep it a consistent 225.
It was a thing of beauty, and naturally it broke.
Since, I’ve had to settle for one of my old verticals, which has been okay, but much more of a hassle than it should be.
Anyway, since most everyone who smokes uses a vertical rig, this tip should prove useful.
Happy hunting.

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2 Responses

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  1. Giraffe said, on September 3, 2013 at 08:44

    Interesting. I have a cheap walmart cabinet type propane smoker. I keep it around 225 by having the pan full of water. Temperature regulation through chemistry, or something. If the pan goes dry the temp goes to 300.

    I knew low and slow was the key, but I didn’t remember that 225 was the target. No time for cue this summer, but I did buy a half a hog, so the freezer’s full of smokables if I ever get a free day.

  2. El Borak said, on September 10, 2013 at 12:42

    “Simple Affirmative Action President”

    Dude, never were those words so true as today. I swear, I need a drink already.


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