It has been an interesting couple weeks since my last post, to say the least. For my next educational step in learning BBQ Mikey assigned to me a cook which I have absolutely no experience in. To add even another level of difficulty on top of that, I purchased a 'new' kettle. On one hand having a new kettle is amazing, on the other I quickly realized that while I have learned to control the heat on the PK, controlling heat on a kettle was something I knew nothing about.
This week Mikey wanted me to cook a Pork Rib Roast. Pork, in general, is something I have never cooked at all, aside from dumping some pork in a crock pot with BBQ sauce and 6 hours later having 'pulled pork'. I have eaten great pork, enjoyed it but never cooked it. On top of that, I am left trying to figure out my new kettle.
So let's start off with the Kettle. No Mikey didn't force me to return his PK. And no, I didn't go buy something new. I did find an awesome Weber Performer with tons of life left in her on Craigslist. I will talk more about this whole process in a later post, though. But after getting her cleaned up and set up I knew I needed to learn to control the heat. So I fire up the internet and come up with seems to be my best shot of holding 250 degrees. I follow the instructions to the letter. Even actually counting every single briquette. I set it up to have a fire on both sides of the kettle with the cook in the center. I fire it up, put the thermometer on and let the temp guide my way to adjust the airflow.
For a while, this felt simple. I was holding between 250 and 260 solid for an hour. Then I opened her up and looked inside. Ugh! There wasn't heat on both sides. The one side had gone out and I was only getting heat from one side. I went through this same test process twice with the same result. But I also realized that even though I could not get a fire and keep it on both sides, the fire on only one side held the temp I was looking for perfectly.
At this point I am anything but confident in my ability to actually pull off a cook right, but Mikey has challenged me and I accepted, ready or not, here we go.
At some point in the past two weeks, I was also able to join Mikey at his house for one of his cooks. Apparently, as I learned my going rogue last week and using cherry chips, not chunks was a mistake I would not repeat. Also at Mikey's was the mystical Paul Warren. Now, if Mikey is my Mr. Miyagi, Paul is like that half real, half legend BBQ master that lives on a mountain and speaks in BBQ riddles. In response to my last blog, Mikey had arranged for Paul to bring me a starter pack of items I clearly needed. I got a bag of Cherry CHUNKS and an assortment of rubs. Feeling a bit like BBQ's own Kung Fu Panda, I graciously accept the gifts from my mentors while I try to figure out when and where I will apply them.
So now I have a Kettle I have zero confidence in, some chunks, some rub but no meat. Clearly, a pork rib roast is not something I pick up from the Wal-Mart meat section, this will require me going to that overwhelming butcher counter. Like the novice I am, I forced Mikey to tell me exactly what to ask for at the counter. Then it just so happened my wife went grocery shopping. So I say great, while you are there, go to the butcher counter and get a 5-pound pork rib roast. My wife being awesome does so without hesitation. And comes home with what I think is a beautiful 5-pound pork rib roast without bones. Now I don't even know what I really am cooking but, I know one thing...it has big bones sticking out and this mass of meat clearly doesn't.
So I toss that in the freezer until I can figure out what the hell I am gonna do with it and head out to the butcher counter myself adding "with bones" to my request. I walk up, grab my little paper number and anxiously wait to get called up. This is overwhelming. I feel like I am at court or something. I get called up and read from my post-it note. "5-pound Pork Rib Roast with bones". He walks in back and moments later returns with my worst nightmare, a question. Still now, I have no clue what he asked. He asked something about having the bones cut on the back. So I, not knowing what the hell he is talking about say yes. Minutes later I am holding the meat in my hand. Clueless, but confident that at the very least I have the right cut of meat.
Now we get to the cook. I rubbed the roast with Lane's Q-Nami Rub, a selection based on advice, not my own choice as I still don't know what flavor is what with rubs. Soon this roast was looking ready to go. I fired up the kettle, this time revising my technique to only have the fire on one side. She started dead on 250, but then kept rising in temp until it leveled off at 290. I closed off my vent a little more and waited. Sure enough, she dropped to about 260. I through on my Cherry chunks and waited for the smoke.
Now since these were not smoked and certainly not more of the water soaked slurry of chips I used before I was not prepared for them to flare up. So after I got smoke and went to put on my roast when I opened the kettle the surge of oxygen hit the wood and there was fire, a lot of it. I honestly have no clue if this is good or bad. But I figured it looked cool even if I was about to destroy my roast. So I put the roast on and shut the kettle praying that the lack of airflow would cut off the flames from the wood.
Then I looked at the thermometer. That flare up caused the heat to skyrocket up to 320! This isn't good. I was convinced that I had killed any hope of having a meal with this. I cut the air to a minimum and prayed. The heat dropped, but way slower than I wanted and never as far as I wanted. I did in time get it to about 270. Until it started really dropping. At this point, I opened the vents a bit and threw in a handful of unlit briquettes.
To my surprise, the roast looked absolutely amazing at this point. I was half convinced I was going to open the kettle to find a charred mess of what was once meat. But it looks great. I spend the next half hour watching the iGrill get to the right internal temperature. Then I realized my mistake. It was 3 in the afternoon. My family ate like an hour ago. No one is ready for this as food. Well, when you have no clue how long a cook is gonna take you I suppose this is what happens. Quickly I thought back to this concept I read about with people keeping cooks warm in a cooler. I heat up a massive bowl of water to boil and put it in my cooler with some towels to pre-warm it.
I go and get my now complete roast which looks awesome. Unable to bask in the glory of my cook yet, I cover it foil, and put it in the hot cooler in place of the water and wrap it in towels. So now I can cook up some sides to go with the roast and let the family start to kinda get hungry.
Here I sit, I have some meat that looks great but I still have no clue if it is cooked well at all and now it is sitting in a cooler on the hope that this technique works. While I wait I check my backup plan and make sure there are a couple frozen pizzas at the ready in the freezer. And then I finally take the roast out. To my surprise, it is still hot, and it still looks good. Now I just gotta figure out how to cut it. I struggle to cut it between the bones and create some chop looking things. The meat looks great despite my hack job of cutting it.
We are left with what I would describe as a pork chop type slice with kinda a rib combined into it. It turned out to be delicious. The meat was cooked but not dried out. The flavor of the rub added just enough spice to it for the meat to completely stand on its own with nothing else. All in all, the meal was great!
Now it is time for Pipes' lessons of the week. First, pork is a pretty amazing meat and not completely hard to cook. Second, while it is good to be prepared for failure, I can do this! Finally, and most importantly, BBQ is not about cooking. If your goal is to cook a meal, find another way to do it. BBQ is something you need to enjoy and need to have a passion for. You simply cannot BBQ without learning how to and learning how to control heat. I spent probably 6 hours of my life not cooking but firing charcoal on an empty grill to learn how to control my new kettle. If you want to just cook this would all be a waste. But if you truly love the art of BBQ, even with no meat, that process is fun.
I also realize that I have a long road ahead of me on learning this art. Some of it is technique and controlling the cook. There is also the art of flavor. The why I cook the way I do and the how I achieve the flavor I do. This is the road I am anxious to continue down.
Until my next post, remember... CHUNKS, not chips!