Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adventures in smoking.

Ok, now before all of my fans in Santa Cruz and Arcada get too excited, I'm talking about smoking meat on the barbecue. Ok, now get excited.

As you may or may not know, my uncle Pat brought some apple wood with him on our hunting trip, and I took one of the unused chunks home with me. I then chopped it up into small pieces and soaked those pieces in Stone Brewing Company's Sublimely Self-Righteous ale, which you should try. It's delicious. Then I went to Safeway to figure out what kind of meat I wanted to smoke with it. It was between beef and pork, and what it really came down to was which one I could buy more of for less money. Yay economy! I found a 4.5 lb pork roast for about $10, and my decision was basically made for me. What's more, it was organic pork... so that's cool too.

After getting the pork home, I marinated it in a little bit of Hornsby's apple cider for around 4 hours, and then poured the cider in with the applewood chips that were still soaking in the Self-Righteous ale. That was a little over a week ago.

During the following week, I mentioned this experiment to a few people. One such person is the man whose man-cave we've been building so that he can barbecue any day of the year, regardless of the weather... with his built in gas grill, his detached webber grill, or his big green egg-shaped smoker. This man loves meat so much that he is not willing to settle for store bought bacon. He said, on Monday, "I'm sorry, I'm having a little trouble focusing right now. My bacon is arriving on Friday." I'm sorry... did you say your bacon is... arriving? "Oh, yeah. I have my bacon flown in from Wisconsin."
When I went back on Thursday and saw him, I said, "You must be excited, what with your bacon coming in tomorrow." and his face lit up. "Actually... it got in today!" So I asked him what exactly was so special about this Wisconsin bacon. Almost instantly, he was back in the garage, opening the refrigerator door and asking "Do you like your bacon with or without pepper?" Without. I'm facing away from him, applying stain to his front gate, and he is explaining to me that this is the only bacon that Rogue Brewery uses on their bacon cheeseburgers, which I have to try. As he comes up behind me, extolling the virtues of this applewood smoked wonder, I turn to tell him that I intend to go to Rogue some day, and am greeted by a packet of bacon in my face and the instruction, "I demand a full report on this." So, Victor, here is my report:

I decided to do a side-by-side comparison with Dailey's bacon, which is what I typically get from Safeway, and have thoroughly enjoyed. I put three strips of Dailey's in one frying pan, and put three strip's of Nueske's in another, and set both on level three heat, which is just below medium, so they don't cook too quickly and crinkle up or get too crispy. Nueske's fills the kitchen with the smell of smoke as soon as I open the package. It sizzles more, and is much darker than Dailey's. Somehow, even though it was thicker than Dailey's, Nueske's even finished cooking a full five minutes sooner. I put them on separate plates. I tried Dailey's first, to remind myself what my typical bacon tastes like before moving on to the real test. To really help you understand (though maybe this will still not be speaking your language... maybe you don't love the same things I love), I'll take another short rabbit trail here. One of my favorite beers is Newcastle brown ale. It's nothing fancy. It's no craft beer. It's reliable. You don't over-think Newcastle, but it's not tinted water, like Budweiser, or Corona, or any of the other mass produced beers you can find it sitting next to in grocery stores. One day, while I was totally not sitting alone in my room drinking beer and watching Spider-man cartoons, if that's what you were thinking, I made the mistake of having Stone Brewery's Ruination (which turned out to be aptly named), and following it with a bottle of Newcastle. By the end of the bottle of Ruination, my taste-buds were accustomed to that level of flavor... and when I moved on to the the Newcastle, it tasted like someone had switched it with Corona... and mixed that Corona with more water. Essentially, this is what happened with this bacon. Dailey's bacon is still delicious. Just like Newcastle, I haven't abandoned it... but this new bacon is just so much more.... bacony. I can understand how the company can have been around since 1933 without changing its methods or recipes. It's still family owned and operated, for the fourth generation in a row. It was like, in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, when the Pevensies all arrive in Aslan's country and notice that it is just like Narnia, only... like they're finally seeing the real Narnia that the one they knew was only a shadow of. This... this is real bacon, and all the bacon I've had up to this point was only a shadow.

I even had my mom try a piece of each, without telling her which was which. She voted in favor of Nueske's. Then, tonight, while I was smoking the pork roast, I put three pieces of Dailey's on the grill to see if I could smoke them and get the same result as frying. I could not. After an hour of smoking them at 200 degree's, they were as crispy as should be desired (though I know there are weirdo's out there who prefer burnt bacon), with none of the usual shrinkage you see in the frying pan, and considerably darker than usual. I blotted the grease off of them, and took a bite. After an hour of smoking, Dailey's tasted almost as good as Nueske's, but was thinner, and somehow still felt greasy. Now more than ever, I want to make my own bacon.

The pork had been smoking, at a pretty steady 175-200 degrees since 12:30, over plain applewood chunks, Sublimely Self-Righteous applewood chunks, and a small tin into which I had poured the excess Self-Righteous and Apple Cider mixture, and at almost 6 o' clock, the center temperature had finally reached 160 degrees. The Brown sugar/cinnamon rub (with a few dashes of salt) had long since crystallized on the exterior, making a sticky crunchy bark. The baked beans, scalloped potatoes, artichokes, apple sauce, salad, and sweet potatoes were just being set on the table. This mountain of meat was so beautiful I wish I had planned theme music for it to enter to. After letting it relax for a bit (just enough time to hurry through my salad and clear some room on my plate), I cut into this experiment in mixed flavors. The smoke ring was a full 1/4 inch into the meat. I gave a slice to my dad, to Jaason, to my mom and Silas, and finally one for me. I didn't even want to drink my beer (which was Sublimely Self-Righteous ale) for fear it would hide some of the flavor of the meat. I believe I best expressed how it all turned out at dinner, when I said, "Sometimes.... I'm a really big fan of myself.".

You could taste the pork, you could taste the applewood smoke, you could taste the ale, you could taste the apple cider, you could taste the brown sugar, and the cinnamon, and none of these flavors overwhelmed the others, each one working in perfect harmony with all the rest, and complimenting each other. It had everything covered. Sweetness, Saltiness, Savoriness, and Spiciness. It was flavorful in a way that you couldn't really over-look, but wasn't demanding. It made you take your time to really enjoy it, instead of just taking it at face value like can sometimes happen when things get smothered in barbecue sauce. This, without sounding too much like I'm praising my own genius (I am) was an intricate marvel of pork perfection. I might need to try more theoretical smoking. Up next, maybe cherry smoked chicken with a rosemary and balsamic vinegar rub, or pecan wood smoked lamb marinated in rosemary garlic lavender mint and lemon thyme olive oil. Thoughts?

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