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The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke


It Takes What It Takes

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With a month between blog entries you might think the title refers to getting around to writing this blog entry, Actually it refers to the fact low and slow cooking sometimes can’t be rushed. More on that in a minute. The title actually could apply to this blog entry as well. After I got the site repaired and back online last month, I found I could no longer update it. Then a family member was in the hospital for 3 weeks and that cut way down on my free time. What little free time I had was devoted to getting in a little grilling and not writing about grilling. However on the eve of the 4th of July weekend things are back to normal. This weekend will see pulled pork and ribs coming off the smoker and burgers and dogs on the grill. But I’m going to talk about the last smoke I had.

My last smoke should be entitled “Good things come to those who wait”. I wanted to get one last smoke in before my free time was set to disappear. I bought a pork shoulder (Boston Butt) and made the
S.C. PULLED PORK. My butcher didn’t have a 6# shoulder like I usually get, so I took the 8.5 pound (38 Kg) piece he did have. I figured I’ll just start a little earlier and will just have more pork to enjoy. Using the rule of thumb of 1.5 to 2 hours a pound that worked out to 13-17 hours. Since I have never had a pulled pork finish up at 1.5 hours a pound (0.5 Kg), I threw the 13 hours right out. Figuring 17 hours I planned to start cooking at 8:00 PM Saturday night and have the meat come off the smoker at 1:00 PM Sunday. I set dinner for around 4:00, giving the pork a 3 hour nap in the cooler.

I’ll say right off: I’m glad this wasn’t my first overnight smoke. It was pouring that day and I’d already gotten soaked to the skin cooking some rib-eyes for supper. The rains let up for a brief period, just long enough to get the smoker stocked with charcoal and light the charcoal chimney. I got the meat on the smoker in good shape and although it was raining hard it was steady. The steady part allowed me to open the vents a little more to compensate for the temperature loss due to the rain. So it was very easy to hold 225 (110 C) throughout the cook. I was mopping the meat hourly and it took only 5 minutes for the smoker to regain the heat lost opening the lid to mop. So other than the rain, this was shaping up to be a text book cook.

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I always keep a log of my smokes (See KEEPING A COOKING LOG) and this was no exception. I expected things to take a little longer due to the extra 2 pounds (1 Kg). Somewhere around 3 AM I came to the conclusion the temps were rising even slower than you would expect due to the extra weight. I decided to up my base temp to 230-235 (110-113 C) to try to speed things up. Reading various people’s postings on BBQ boards, I was aware of the mantra that: “It will take what it takes”. There were many posts from people asking how long the temperature plateau will last or asking why it was taking so long. While I’ve had some things run an hour or two long, I’d never had anything like this.

I actually had a temperature plateau at around 145 (63 C) that lasted for 3.5 hours, another one at 165 (74 C) and after that a very slow rise to the finish. Early in the morning I realized this was way off schedule. I’d been able to hold my temps right where I wanted them and the mild air made for quick recovery when I had to raise the lid to mop. Despite this, my meat had a mind of it’s own. Around 11:00 AM I was prepared to make a call and tell my parents dinner would be late. Instead my phone rang and they had to cancel. This took the heat off me and I was prepared to ride this out. Well to cut to the chase: The meat didn’t come off the smoker till 7:00 PM some 23 hours later. So much for dinner at 4:00. After an hours rest wrapped in foil in a cooler I pulled the pork and had a sandwich. At this point it was 8:30 PM and a dinner for one. The pork was excellent and tasted the same as the other times I made this recipe.


Moral of the story:

It really does take what it takes. What did I learn from a nearly 24 hour cook?

Number 1: If I had a really important dinner to make, one where I didn’t have guests who were flexible about schedule, I’d probably cook the meat the day before. Before this happened to me I would have thought this to be sacrilegious-warmed over Pulled Pork for the first serving? Well how do you predict when you are going to have a piece of meat take 50% longer or not? Pulled Pork actually does reheat quite well.

Number 2: The value of keeping cooking logs was proven once again. I knew early on in the process that I was not on track and was able to try to bump the temps to speed things up. While the logs didn’t help me get it done any earlier I knew I was in trouble and wasn’t waiting for a miracle to happen.

Number 3: Remember to eat regularly to keep your energy level up when doing this. About 2:00 PM in the afternoon I realized I had a headache and was getting rather punchy. I realized in the excitement I’d spaced eating any breakfast. At this point it had been 21 hours between meals-not a good idea on an overnight cook. I grabbed something to eat and took a couple hours nap and felt fine. But there was no reason to do this to myself.

Number 4: Have some interesting and stimulating tasks to do to help keep you awake. Don’t lie down or get in a comfy chair unless you really do want to sleep. Without some sort of stimulating tasks it is too easy to nod off. The time passes slowly when you are doing nothing. I was lucky to have something to keep me busy throughout or I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did.


One thing I’m going to do with the Pulled Pork I make this weekend is to start earlier. I have flexible guests so I’ll shoot for it coming off the smoker around lunchtime. If it is early I can rest it in foil then serve it for lunch. If it runs longer I still have time to spare for supper. I hope do hope everyone has a great 4th of July weekend and enjoys whatever they have coming off their grills.


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