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

Expect the Unexpected - 2011 Version

My last cook of 2010 was a wonderful LECHON ASADO (Barbecued Pork). The pork shoulder was bigger than I originally wanted and I was expecting a very long cook. Fortunately I decided to cover my bets and instead of resting and starting the sides and the bread later in the morning, I got them started as soon as I got the pork shoulder on the grill. When the roast finished up 3 hours early, I was able to scramble a bit and get everything done. This blog will describe this cook which had multiple surprises and how it pays to expect the unexpected.

To make this recipe, I’d ordered a 6 - 7 pound (2.75 - 3 Kg) Picnic Shoulder. This is the lower half of the pork shoulder and contains the fore shank and it’s bone. I’d never made the Picnic Shoulder before, only the upper part of the shoulder called a Boston Butt. This recipe called for a Picnic Shoulder because the Picnic Shoulder often comes with some of the skin on. The skin becomes part of the recipe as it is cut up at the end to make crispy pork rind pieces. When I went to pick up the shoulder, they held it up for my inspection before wrapping it and it looked like what I expected. They wrapped it and bagged it and it wasn’t until I went to put it in the fridge I found it was bigger than I expected. When I looked at the weight, I saw I’d gotten a 10.5 pound (4.75 Kg) shoulder, not the 6 or 7 pound (2.75 - 3 Kg) roast I’d asked for. I was NOT happy at all, but it was too late to do anything about it. This bigger roast would make things take far longer and I wasn’t sure I’d want to cook this on the rotisserie anymore.

As far as the cooking time goes, I knew a 6 - 7 pound (2.75 - 3 Kg) roast was supposed to take 5 hours, but not having cooked this cut before I had no clue what to expect from 10.5 pounds (4.75 Kg). The recipe for this roast says it can be cooked either on the rotisserie or indirectly. When Steven Raichlen made this on Primal Grill, he had a huge heavy duty rotisserie unit. The fact his 6 - 7 pound (2.75 - 3 Kg) shoulder was a little off center on the spit didn’t matter as much due of the heavy duty rig he was using. In my case I would be putting a bigger roast on the spit and turning it with a smaller motor. Another consideration was the temperature was going to be in the teens (-9 C) and the cold puts a further strain on the rotisserie motor. To solve the problem of time I posted a question to the Barbecue Bible message board. I was guestimating 8 hours and most folks responding to my post felt I was in the ballpark. Based on 8 hours and wanting to eat at 2:00 PM, I did some calculations. The roast rested for 30 minutes so that is 1:30. To finish at 1:30 I needed to start at 5:30AM. Stephen Raichlen’s recipe said to leave at least an hour for prep, so I left 90 minutes. This meant a 4:00AM start time and an early night for me the night before.

I got up at 4:00 AM but it took me a while to get organized and get started. The rotisserie spit rod had decided to hide on me. Also when I got outside to remove the grill cover, it was stuck on. I found I had a pinhole leak in my grill cover at one of the side tables. Rain had gotten in under the cover and then froze and sealed part of the cover to the grill. As for the prep itself, it turned out the 90 minutes was not enough for me. You must remove the skin, stud the roast with garlic and oregano and then rub it all over with olive oil and a spice rub. Then the skin gets tied back on before the roast went on the rotisserie spit. I made the decision I’d try to spit the roast and see if my motor could turn it without too much strain. It turned out getting the skin off wasn’t super hard, but at first it was slow going until I got the proper knife technique down. Then when I tried to put the roast on the spit, the bones that extended into the upper shoulder were preventing me from getting the spit through the foreshank and into the upper meat. I made the decision to do it indirectly. Fortunately I already had the cast iron drip pan and roast rack handy, so I was quickly ready to go. Bottom line: Between the grill follies and the longer prep, the roast made it onto the grill an hour late.

One advantage to cooking the roast indirectly was it got mopped every hour versus every 30 minutes for the rotisserie version. As a result I would lose less heat because I would be opening the grill half as much. I was hoping that would help me make up some time. Another plus to cooking it indirectly was I could use two remote read temperature probes to better cover my bets. When I found I had to get up so early, I’d told myself I could get the roast on the grill and then rest for a few hours before doing anything else. I did a little bit of cleanup and decided I should make the basting sauce for the roast before taking it easy. I would need it in under an hour. Once the basting sauce was cooling, I decided to have some breakfast. By the time this was done the roast’s temperature had begun rising from it’s low of 43 degrees (6 C). What concerned me a bit was the temperature was rising at rate that translated to 40 degrees (22 C) an hour, a rate that would work out to an 11:30 AM, not 1:30 PM finish. Now this roast should have a plateau, but it certainly wouldn’t be as long as normal since I was cooking at 375 (191 C), not 225 (105105 C). I was planning on making a loaf of European Peasant Boulle and you are supposed to let it rest for 2 hours before slicing. IF and this was a big IF at this point: IF the roast finished early, I’d need to bake the bread now to let it cool for the desired 2 hours.

I figured why not? If things slowed down it didn’t matter for the bread and I could always rest later rather than sooner. I got the bread under way and all the while the roast maintained it’s steady rise of 40 (22 C) degrees per hour. Having two probes in different parts of the meat were an assurance that this wasn’t a fluke. Both probes were showing the same rise, so it was unlikely two probes would have been badly placed or dislodged. Once the bread was in the oven, I decided it would be prudent to prep as much as I could ahead of time, just in case. Next up was to wash and trim the two pounds of fresh green beans for my spanish green beans recipe. I could always refrigerate them if things slowed down. While they were cooking, I set the table and did some clean up. Once the green beans were done, I decided should flip the roast. One disadvantage to cooking it indirectly is I could only baste one side at once. My original plan was to cook it skin side down for 4 hours and skin side up for 4 hours. In light of the fast rising temps I figured I would flip it at 9:00 which was only 3 hours. I wanted to make sure the skin side got some of the basting sauce to give it color and to help it crisp up. I could always flip it again to even things out. After flipping it I noticed the internal temps were close to plateau territory, fingers crossed it would slow down for a while.

I started doing the prep for the items that were to go into the Spanish Green Beans. All the while the roast seemed to be blowing right through the normal plateau range around 160 degrees (71 C) without slowing down at all. It was time to make two phone calls. I’d told my guests that based on the unknown of the heavier roast, dinner could be plus or minus 2:00 PM. If anything, I expected it would run long with a slim chance it might run early. I asked them if they could be on call for any time after 12 noon up to 4 PM. They all were good sports about it and when I called around 10:30 to update them, everyone expected me to be telling them later not sooner. I told them they should arrive no later than noon. It was a bit of a whirlwind finish. I started making the 7-Up barbecue sauce, whose ingredients I’d gathered up earlier. I started the final phase of the Spanish green beans as the finished roast came off the grill after only 5 hours. I had just enough time to finish the green beans while the roast rested. The rice had also been started and had just enough time to finish. We decided to have our salads with the meal instead of before it. There was just no time. Just before carving the roast the bread had cooled and was ready to slice. It truly was a whirlwind finish, but because I had decided to do as much as I could as soon as I could, everything was ready. With the roast cooking time such an unknown it just made sense. If I had extra time on my hands, I could always rest later.

My guest all agreed this was one of the best meals. I’d made. My mind must have been on some sort of adrenaline rush because it was going a mile a minute. I was still trying to figure out what else needed to be done long after I’d actually finished. I couldn’t believe everything that had managed to come together in such a short time. I also had scary thoughts about what might have happened: A finished roast with no BBQ sauce, no sides and no bread ready to eat with it. So what lessons that I already knew were reinforced here:
  • Whenever possible clue your guests in if the length of time for a cook is likely to be variable. Often they can be flexible if they know about it in advance.
  • Allow more time for prep and start early - you can always take it easy if there is extra time later. Who expected a frozen grill cover? A missing rotisserie spit rod?
  • Whenever possible use multiple temperature probes. You have more confidence in the readings you are getting. Particularly true when the readings aren’t what you might have expected.
  • Expect the unexpected. Roasts can run long and SHORT. The next roast of that type might run totally different.
  • Even if you think you have extra time, it pays to do as much as you can as soon as you can. You can always rest later if you have extra time. If you suddenly find you have less time then you still have a better chance of getting everything done.
Here are links for my Lechon Asado Picture Entry and a link to the recipe on the Primal Grill Website
  LECHON ASADO Pork Picture Entry

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