Neko and I first got to know each other in 1999. I had just recently been hired by American Roamer (now Mosaik Solutions). Neko had long been a friend of the president of our company, and was just asked to join the team as VP of sales. It didn't take long for Neko and I to discover that we had a lot in common. We both loved darts (He was good at it, and I was good at making him look even better at it.), a good beer and a cigar (I didn't even know I had a passion for these until Neko introduced them to me. In fact, Neva says I was fairly virtuous...until I met Neko. I sure owe him a lot!), talking about how proud our wife and kids made us, and smoking (food)! It took a little while before we discovered the grilling part. One day I mentioned that my family loves for me to smoke our Thanksgiving turkey. Shortly after that, we were emailing before and after each holiday to find out what the other was going to smoke, and how it turned out. Neko went to be with our Lord during the Labor Day weekend in 2008. I was smoking a huge mess of ribs that weekend, and never got to tell him about them. I still love smoking meats (as well as all the vices he so wisely passed on to me), but there has always been something missing on holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day; holidays that require the use of a grill. This Memorial Day holiday I decided, what the heck! I might not receive a direct reply, but there is no reason for me not to let Neko know what I cooked for the holiday. So, Neko! Let me tell you what I did yesterday...
I hadn't smoked anything for quite some time. I've been itching to though. Plus, I needed to empty some space in the freezer. It didn't take long to decide I needed to smoke a turkey AND a boston butt. The next dilemma was figuring out what device I was going to smoke them on. Was I going to pull out the trusty Chargriller and smoke these the old fashioned way, with charcoal and wood chunks? Or was I going to crank up the Sawtooth pellet grill and slow smoke these items on the back deck? Both methods have their advantages. Nothing gives a good smoke ring and crust on a pork butt like smoking the old fashioned way. And you have to use the old methods if you want a smoked turkey that has that gorgeous mahogany skin. But...you have to really be prepared to dedicate your day to the grill. It is important to keep the smoke and temperature consistent, if you want your meat to come out just right. That's kinda hard to do if you have a lot of other things going on in your life that day.
Making life easier is what the pellet grill is all about. Other than occasionally checking the pellet level, these grill/smokers are about as "set it and forget it" as grills can be. You don't get the mahogany color on your smoked turkeys with a pellet grill, but that mahogany color comes at a price. While the turkey meat is juicy and flavorful, the skin gets so full of smoke it becomes acrid, and leathery. With a pellet grill, the smoke flavor of the turkey meat is still there, though as part of the background harmony, rather than the lead. However, the real treat with a pellet smoked turkey is the crispy, yummy skin. Who can argue with a turkey that looks like this?
The night before the great smoking event, I prepped my turkey. This year I found a commercial brine on clearance, that looked pretty good. It was mainly kosher salt, black and pink peppercorns, rosemary, and thyme. The next day, the real preparations began. I had to mix up a dry rub for the pork. Now, I live with a family of wusses (myself included). When we eat barbecue, we would much rather sink our teeth into something sweet and smokey, rather than spicy. My dry rubs have a tendency to be heavy on the brown sugar, and lighter on the salt and pepper. This time my dry rub had brown sugar, smoked kosher salt, garlic salt, cumin, white pepper, dried red bell peppers that had been ground down completely, and finally, some dried tomato flakes that had been ground down. As you can see below, The tomato and red pepper gave the rub a nice red coloring.
Next, I dried the turkey, oiled the skin, and sprinkled smoked salt and coarse ground black pepper all over the bird. Then, it was out to the pellet grill that was set on low/smoke which kept the temperature around 150 degrees, and produced ample smoke. It was a tight fit, but I got both pieces of meat, as well as a pie plate filled with water, herbs from the brine, and an apple, for moisture.
I kept the Sawtooth on the low/smoke setting for a couple of hours. I then cranked it up to medium, which got the grill to just above 200 degrees. This still produced a good amount of smoke, but kept the butt and turkey both at a good rate of cooking for producing moist and tender meat. For the first six hours, I sprayed the turkey and pork butt with a mixture of pear hard cider, vinegar, and water. After six hours, I turned the Sawtooth up just enough to get the temperature to 250 degrees, and started spritzing every half hour. After nine hours (just in time for supper) I had the golden brown turkey pictured earlier in this post. The pork butt needed another hour and a half to finish.
Neko, I don't want you to think we were total carnivores last night, without a hint of vegetables on our plates. As you can see below, I had a green vegetable...as well as some Loaded Potato Salad.
So, you've never had Loaded Potato Salad!?! Well! All you have to do is boil three pounds of red potatoes that have been sliced into decent bite sized chunks. While those are boiling (Don't forget that Anne Burrell says to always add enough salt to the water that it tastes like the ocean!), mix together a cup of mayonnaise, a cup of sour cream, one pack of ranch dressing mix, half a pound of crispy bacon all crumbled up, a half cup shredded cheddar, and about six green onions finely chopped. Stick the dressing in the fridge to cool. Once the potatoes are boiled til fork tender, drain and allow to cool just a bit. Mix them with the cooled dressing. If you can make the day before, it is better. That gives the ranch flavor some time to mellow a bit. It ain't your mother's potato salad, but it sure is good.
By the way, did you see the pink on the turkey meat in that picture. That's smoke! Once that bird hit the table, it didn't stand a chance. I was afraid things were going to break out into WWIII over the drumsticks. Fortunately, some last minute diplomacy prevailed.
Don't worry. I haven't forgotten about the pork butt. Here is a picture of the finished product.
The bark isn't as dark and thick as it would have been with the Chargriller, but it was far from being a disappointment. In fact, I had some of the pork for lunch today, with my left over potato salad. All I can say is I am glad my office has a door on it. That pork resulted in some sounds that some might deem inappropriate for an office setting. I am definitely going to have to use the hard cider as an injection again. I don't know that I could pick out the pear flavoring, but there was something about the cider, that made this meat scrumpdillyicious.
Well, that's pretty much all there is to say about my weekend, Neko. Something tells me you fixed them one heck of a barbecue on the other side of those pearly gates. One day, you'll have to tell me all about it...