Cook the Books April! Finally…Smoked Meat!

29 Apr

OK, Cook the Bookers, I have one last thing to tell you about my experiments with The Mile End Cookbook this month. Although thoughts have turned to next month’s tome, it’s still April goddammit, so I have to tell you that I made the centerpiece of the whole damn cookbook. Smoked meat!

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Why am I telling you about this so damn late! Well, cuz it took me over two weeks start to finish! And? It was worth it!

I picked The Mile End Cookbook for this cookbook challenge for selfish reasons. I wanted to learn how to smoke meat. My dad has been smoking meat for years. Christmas Eve wouldn’t be Christmas Eve in the ohbriggsy household without smoked turkey. So as soon as the year began, I chose this book and put “Buy a Smoker” on my to-do list. That’s easier said than done for me, friends. Cuz, see, I gotta do like a shit ton of research on whatever bullshit thing I decide to buy. My dad said, Get An Electric Smoker, It’s Easier! Geez dad, did we just meet? When it comes to cooking and kitchen projects, I’m loathe to choose the easiest options usually. Unless it’s a weeknight and my stories are coming on, that is!

So I narrowed it down. I decided to get a charcoal/wood-burning smoker. Next, I had to decide on a brand. I hit up some online smoked meat forums (Yes, those do exist), and wow, there’s a helluva lot of information about smokers. In the end, I went with my gut and the recommendations of the fine ladies and gents from the smokingmeatforums.com and got the Weber Smoky Mountain 18.5 inch smoker. Sorry, dad! I have to do this the old-fashioned way.  Thanks to the fine folks at UPS and my Amazon Prime membership, a few days later, this bad boy was at my door.

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Meanwhile, I had read the comprehensive chapter on smoked meats in The Mile End Cookbook and was warned that smoked meat took at least 12 days start to finish, so I needed to get this thing moving. So all the way back on Wednesday April 10th, I went to my fave Seattle butcher shop, Bob’s Quality Meats, and got a brisket, per the specs of Noah and Rae in The Mile End Cookbook. I got an 11 lb whole beef brisket. I trimmed the fat cap myself. After trimming, the brisket weighed about 9.5 pounds.

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Don’t trim your fat cap this much! The fat cap side was the other side of this brisket. Trim the fat cap to about 1/4 inch.

I followed Noah and Rae’s cure mixture to the T. It was a sight to behold. It calls for a whole pound of garlic. Actually, when I saw that it called for that much garlic, I knew this recipe was for me. Thank god for Costco pre-peeled organic garlic! Life saver!

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The cure also calls for pink curing salt. Due to my previous dalliances with Charcuterie and Charcutepalooza, I had it on hand.

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So into the dry brine my brisket went! And there it sat for 12 days!

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Finally, last week, it was ready to be transformed. I had my smoker and it was set up and ready to go. I was going to try my hand at smoking by starting with a turkey breast, you know, to ease my way in.  I had bought a turkey breast and put it in it’s wet brine, but then I got the flu and had to turn the thing into turkey soup instead. Cuz, friends, you can’t smoke meat when this is your life’s theme song:

Parenthood! The movie, not the (awesome) teevee show! I just remembered that the movie took place in St. Louis!

So yeah, I decided to go big or go home. Yep, I’d never smoked meat before and yep, I was starting with a 10 lb brisket. Yep, I don’t even ever participate in making fire when we go camping or have them in our backyard firepit. But yep, I was gonna tend a fire on weeknight for 6-8 hours with an estimated done time of midnight! That’s how I roll!

So last Monday I removed my brisket from the cure. It looked good. After you remove it, you rinse it and soak it for 4 hours. This tempers the saltiness of the meat.

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As it soaked, I scrambled around town for last-minute supplies. I had realized that morning that I didn’t have a digital probe meat thermometer and I really needed a digital probe meat thermometer! I’ll admit it, I’ve had about 20 meat thermometers over the last few years. I’m always losing them, or more often melting them. A digital probe thermometer costs a bit more, but it’s kinda idiot proof. You stick the heat proof end in the meat and go about your business. Then after the right number of hours, just connect the adapter on that end to the digital thermometer and, voila. Perfect for smoked meat and a good investment at 30 bucks.

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I also worried that I didn’t have the right kind of wood chips. I had purchased some hickory and apple wood chips when I bought the smoker, but Noah and Rae called for a more neutral wood like oak. Tip: Don’t go searching around your local run of the mill grocery store for oak wood chips. All your ass is gonna find is hickory. I had no luck and didn’t wanna be outside smoking at 2am when I had work the next morning, so I used half hickory (a strong, assertive wood to smoke with) and apple (a much lighter wood typically used for fish or poultry). Spoiler alert: Worked like a charm!

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Finally, it was time to smoke. I was nervous. I followed the directions that came with the Smokey Mountain and this book, and it was actually quite easy. I used a firestarter to get the charcoal going–I had never done that before, and it worked perfectly. Once the top coals got slightly grey, I emptied them into the charcoal area of the Weber, tossed on about 4 chunks of wood (2 apple, 2 hickory), shut the lid and started monitoring the temperature, and hoped for the best.

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The temperature got quite hot at first. The Weber is cool because you can easily control temps with the air flow controls on the unit. There are three of them. For hotter temps, open the air holes. To cool down the temps, close off the air holes. Kinda easy peezy! One I got to a perfect 225°, in went the meat. Cuz I had the digital probe thermometer, and the Weber is equipped with a door for adding charcoal and wood on the bottom of the unit, my goal was to never open the lid.

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Reviews of this Weber unit indicated that the quality construction of the smoker made it maintain temperatures pretty well, meaning that you don’t need to spend every second monitoring the temperature. It was my first time and everything, but I did feel like I had to monitor the temperature pretty often. Prolly cuz I was nervous. The temperature indicator shows you what is in the reasonable “smoke” range, which helps. According to Noah and Rae, this brisket is to smoke at 215° for 6-8 hours. Mine smoked for 6 hours and ranged between 200°-250°. It was hard to keep it at an even 215°, but I cannot stress enough that I am a complete noob when it comes to charcoal cooking. Hell,  I only have ever had a gas bbq! So at first when the temperature dropped, I was all like, what the hell do I do! Duh doy! I add charcoal! I was probably adding too much charcoal and extra chunks of wood out of nervousness, because often after my additions, the temperature would get way top hot. In fact, that’s the only reason I had to open the lid, to cool it down a few times.

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Otherwise, I would call my first foray into smoking a success! I put the meat on about 3:40 pm and when I finally checked the temperature at 11pm that night, it was 160 steady. Donezo!

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But continuing in the The Mile End Cookbook world of delayed gratification, I had to take the meat off the smoker and then put it in the fridge for a day, uncovered. But holy shit, I wish I had smell-o-vision for y’all to smell how good this sucker smelled coming into the house at 11pm. I was drooling.

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I wasn’t able to move on to the next step for a few days due to other obligations, so the next day I wrapped the brisket, all fancy like.

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Ok, not fancy. This actually looks like a child wrapped it.

Finally, on Friday, I moved on to the final step. Steaming the smoked meat! At first I had wondered why this was necessary. I realized why when I touched the brisket the next day.  It was very hard after a day in the fridge. Then I had to figure out how the heck to steam this thing. Noah and Rae give vague instructions about using a stove top steamer, but I didn’t have anything big enough to accommodate the brisket. I ended up using the same bamboo steamer I used for my dumplings and baos in February. I figured, if it reeked of smoked meat by the end of the project, at worst I was out the 12 bucks for the cost of a new bamboo steamer.

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Ok, then there’s the cutting. I found the instruction for cutting the brisket in half for steaming purposes to be pretty vague. Noah and Rae tell you to cut it where the fat cap changes from being thick to thin. However, you can’t see the thickness of the fat cap in a cooked piece of brisket that was covered in peppercorns and coriander and then smoked to a dark brown color for hours on end. I ended up just cutting it in half. Once I cut it in half, I could see where the fat cap changed and kind of makeshift the proper cut.

After about 90 minutes of steaming, it seemed that the meat was tender and thus steamed enough. Finally, the moment of truth. I tasted a piece plain. And? Holy Fucking Shit. It was so good. You could really taste the benefits of all the time curing and resting and of the final spice rub. The meat was perfectly salted and had wonderful garlic undertones. After smoking, it had a beautiful crust where I had applied the peppercorn/coriander rub. The first slice was tender and amazing.

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We decided to keep it simple and follow Noah and Raw’s exact recipe for a smoked meat sandwich. Rye bread, smoked meat, and mustard. I used store-bought rye bread. I know. I was disappointed in myself, too. But it worked perfectly. I asked Double S to pick up some mustard and she came home with Grey Poupon, and it fit the bill perfectly. Plus that purchase allowed us to reminisce about these, which we still find hilarious.

In the end, I thought the meat need to be steamed longer, as it was tender enough at first, but quickly got a bit too tough. Prolly because I didn’t cut it as instructed, maybe becasuse I smoked it too long. Noah notes that the back end of the brisket needed to be steamed a total of about 3 hours. Maybe I was eating the back end that night? I’m really not sure. I’d just say err on the side of steaming as long as you can.

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Oh yeah, the sandwich was amazing. We ate the sammie with beer and potato chips, and I was in heaven. Totally worth the time, and it made me really excited to try making the beef salami.

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A few closing notes: I think the brisket got slightly overdone due to my bad techniques in adding too much charcoal at one time and thereby raising the temp too high several times to over 350°. Bad ohbriggsy! A nice long smoke at 215° would have been perfect. Granted, this is a perfect project for a Sunday afternoon while you’re sitting with your friends and loved ones drinking beer and maybe listening to Journey, and then you can monitor the temperature all day with ease. I did this on a Tuesday after work and was going in and out of the house watching it all day while doing other things.  Downgrade!  Let’s listen to Journey now, shall we?

Ahh, that’s better.  Anyway, I think the amount of smokiness I achieved was perfect for my tastes, and the apple/hickory mix worked well. These are the most readily available wood chips in the stores, so that works out. Once I better master charcoal and temperature control, I’m gonna be rolling. It was confusing the way Noah and Rae instruct you to use wood and how my smoker’s instructions told me to use wood. I gotta read up on that before my next attempt.  I would pretty much just add a few chips of wood every time I added charcoal.

All in all, the smoked meat is the cornerstone of The Mile End Cookbook and was worth the price of admission. I’m excited to keep smoking, especially now that we’re getting closer to summer.

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Anyone else smoke anything??  And with that, I declare myself finished with April Cook the Books!  Huzzah!

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