I don't normally suffer from the typical machismo associated with it, but I have always enjoyed grilled meat. For those of you that believe humans were not meant to eat meat, I am glad you were overruled.
Growing up, we always used a charcoal grill mainly because we could not afford a gas one. I think there are advantages and disadvantages of each, but both are able to produce wonderful things. Since leaving the nest, I have always used gas, mainly due to convenience. Earlier this year, I received my first charcoal contraption. A beautiful Weber smoker. Now those of you who know me are aware that I love finding great deals and am not brand loyal in most cases. This is not one of them.
Cooking is all about heat. The more oxygen the heat provides, the faster the fire will burn. If there is not enough oxygen, it will go out. Weber lines their grills with porcelain enamel coating. This absorbs and evenly distributes heat like a pizza stone or brick in and oven or ceramic briquettes in gas grills. These spartan devices are designed for maximum control over airflow. It's a trial and error process, but eventually you get it right.
Basic charcoal is what I use since I like to smoke at 250 degrees or lower. Many people like the hardwood charcoal, but that burns at a higher heat, so I leave that for cooking steaks and searing. Throw a couple lumps of hard wood on the coals, and you will have all the smoke you need. It is important to remember that for a pork butt, most of the 'smoke rings' in the meat are obtained before the meat reaches 140 degress. After that, the meat starts breaking down the connective tissue and fat which is where the flavor and tenderness comes from (sort of like bone marrow, mmmm).
Ok, enough theory for today - on to the food!
I always start my pork butt and ribs with a dry rub. This consists of whatever you like. I normally use chili powder, paprika, mustard powder, cayenne, lots of brown sugar, and whatever else I feel like at the time. This is in the vein of a standard Kansas City rub, but you could even use curry if you like. Try experimenting.
I usually apply the rub, some molases, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1-2 days. Once the grill is ready, they go on. (Yes, I know the ribs look like they form 666. Not to worry, I used Bee Blessed molasses)
I started the pork butt at 1am the night before, so it in the end it spent 16 hours, and the ribs a distant second at 5 hours. With all this time, I tend to make way too much food.
I marinated a turkey breast and a chicken for a day or two as well. I realize the pH balancing benefits of it, but am not a big fan of water when marinating. I normally use chicken broth, beer, wine, juice, or whatever else I have. I also grabbed a couple beer can stands. I normally just take an empty soda can and fill half way with any of the above or vinegar to keep the bird moist.
Timing is everything, and I am a gadget freak, so I picked up a few wireless meat probes on clearance for $10 each, and keep one each for the pork, chicken, and turkey.
Many hours and drinks later, the meat was ready.
I always whip up some coleslaw and potato salad, which to me are the classic southern accompaniments for pulled pork, and our new neighbor made the best banana pudding I have ever eaten.
Now for a word on pork......In SC they have the mustard based sauce and Kansas city has their dry rub, but in NC we have two distinct styles. The eastern side of the state celebrates the vinegar based sauce, and the western uses a barbecue mop sauce. While I like the eastern style, I prefer western. I use lots of garlic, onion, brown sugar, and southern bourbon.
My new experiment this time was sweet potato gratin. This was a very easy invention. Very thinly sliced sweet potatoes layered and topped with a mixture of melted butter, white balsamic, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, salt, and pepper. I recently started using the white balsamic, so you may see that quite a bit. It is a bit lighter in taste, especially if you are a white wine fan. The vanilla extract can easily be made at home by adding scored vanilla beans to either vodka or brandy. Vodka will be ready in a week, and brandy in about a month, but I don't mind the wait.
Cookouts are all about good people, good food, and good drink. There are always standbys and surprises, but always much to choose from. Like my mom always says, "If you leave hungry, it's your own fault."