So, after a casual (or was it?) remark in an e-mail from my cousin-in-law, Traci, yesterday, I was off to the store to buy pork shoulders. I came home with 3 of them with an average wight of about 7.75 lbs. Knowing that "low and slow" cooking takes a long time, I immediately got busy. Well, "busy" as it relates to BBQ is sort of a loose term. What I mean to say is I fired up a half a chimney of charcoal to light my wood fire and preheat the smoker.
Once the coals were going good I put them in the firebox of the smoker and topped them with a couple sticks of well-cured alder cut right here on the property several years ago. The shoulders went directly into the smoking chamber on top of a sheet of heavy duty foil. No rubs or mops. I tried using a rub once but in my experience the flavor only penetrates the first 1/4" or so (if that) and much of that ends up in the wastebin since it's mostly fat. I've never used a rub since the first time and have never missed it. The smoky pork, salted to taste, is plenty flavorful on it's own. I also used to use a "mop" to keep things moist. But that requires the lid of the smoker to be opened, losing heat. Instead, after the first 4 or 5 hours of smoking, when the meat has probably absorbed about as much smoke flavor as it's going to, I loosely cover the meat with foil. It's loose so some smoke can still get in, but it seems to help keep things moist and to protect the pork from occasional blasts of higher heat, especially the shoulder closest to the firebox. Also, at this time I swap the end shoulders so that the one that has been furthest from the firebox is now closest and vice-versa.
The cooking proceeds with me just adding another stick or two to the fire every hour or so and watching the thermometer and adjusting the damper so the temperature in the smoker stays at around 250°F. At that temperature, the pork cooks for about an hour and a half per pound. Mine took a little over 11 hours last night. This means it was done at midnight. At that time, we were not in the mood to spend another hour pulling (shredding) the pork and then having to deal with all the clean up. So, I wrapped them in foil and stuck them in an ice chest. It's now almost 9 hours later and the inside of the ice chest is still very warm (and smoky-smelling). The added benefit of doing this is that it allows the pork to maintain an intenal temperature of around 185°F for a long time. This is the temperature that the connective tissue breaks down at, making the meat just that much more tender. At least, that's what I was told. Whatever the truth, it sure does come out good.
In case you haven't figured it out by now, I really like BBQing. This kind of BBQing, not just throwing a burger on the grill, although that has it's charms as well. The smells, the fire-tending, all of it just screams "SUMMER" to me. Some people love their Traeger pellet smokers. They love to load up the pellets, plug the unit in, set the thermostat and timer and walk away. I prefer the more hands-on approach that my Brinkman barrel allows me. And at less than 1/6 the cost of the smallest Traeger and the ability to burn wood that I've cut myself, to me it's more what BBQing is all about.
And it looks like I'll get my fill this month. Cody & Scott were planning on serving chicken at their reception. But last night as we discussed the logistics: getting that much chicken, having enough grill space to cook all that chicken at the same time (because it's best right off the grill and it takes so long to cook), toting all those BBQs down to the park, being absolutely sure the chicken is done, etc., the logic of doing pulled pork instead sounded promising. I can cook and shred the meat ahead of time and then just heat it in the oven at home and transport the hot meat to the park in foil in an ice chest. No grills have to be moved to and from the park and no grill clean-up has to be done on the big day. And it's cheaper (I got my shoulders yesterday for $1.28/lb.). And it's way cooler. So, if you happen to be one of the people coming to the reception, listen to some Delta blues on the drive to Silverton and then get your tastebuds tingling for some good smoky pig meat.