Thursday, November 12, 2009

Smokin' Shoulder

I took advantage of an unusual warm day in Midwestern November to sit next to Weber and quick smoke a pork shoulder. It is a fun and somewhat simple process but it takes attention and practice to master smoking on a charcoal grill.

First off, you must select the right charcoal. For the long, slow cooking, charcoal briquettes are a good choice. They maintain a low fire and a steadier temperature then lump charcoal.

A quick way to start the coals is to use a Chimney Starter. Place crumbled newspaper under the chimney and fill the chimney with the briquettes. Once lit, the coals could take anywhere between 10-20 minutes to ready for the grill.

A three-zone split fire is the method to properly cook the shoulder. Coals are separated to both sides of the grill leaving the middle zone for indirect cooking. By spliting the coals to each side, it creates even cooking.

A foil pan half filled with water also improves the cooking process. Not only does the pan save your grill from messy, fatty drippings, the water absorbs and releases heat.

What type of wood chips to use? Chips burn faster than wood chunks so they are ideal for quick smoking, 30 minutes or less. By soaking the chips in water for a minimum of 30 minutes, it prolongs the burn and smolders instead of burning up.

Pecan, cherry, or applewood chips are typically used for smoking pork. In this case, however, I used hickory wood chips.

Spread the chips on top of the coals and when they start to smoke, its ready.

Place the pork shoulder over the pan and close the lid, prevent yourself from removing the lid to keep all the heat and smoke inside.

The recipe called for a smoking process of 30 minutes. During that time, hickory-scented fumes with hints of chile powder, garlic spice seaped out of the grill vent and sides.

The smoke created a nice, tasty outer crust. This is called “bark.”

After many attempts and trials, you’ll get a feeling for how many chips to use to achieve a desired smoky flavor. The recipe required three more hours of cooking the shoulder, replentishing coals ever 45 minutes to maintain a live fire, covering the pork in a foil pan, but the smoke portion of the grill time really came out in the finished product. While flavored by a spice rub and sauce, the smoke flavor made its presence known. It elevated the dish to more satisfying results.

Coming this spring/summer, the lo and slow smoke approach, 8-10 hours of charcoal grilling, wood chunk smoking, bark-eatin’ Carolina-style pulled pork.

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