I don’t think we have hickory trees in this part of the country, but you can buy shreds and chunks of the stuff in bags, which is good, since hickory smoke is wonderful to flavor meat with.
I started experimenting long, indirect cooking in the Weber Barbecue with country style ribs and turkeys a couple years ago. Lately, I’ve been trying out some smoking techniques. Basically, you just keep the heat low, and periodically throw pieces of soaked wood pieces on the hot briquettes. I have just finished doing a couple of huge pork butts for CHAS’ CAV 101 weekend in a week and a half. Here’s what I did:
I realized there are lots of types of “barbecue,” depending on the region. So far, I really think I like the North Carolina style. It is one of the earliest styles, back in the Colonial days. They used sauces they called “ketchup,” but they were not the tomato ketchups we are familiar with. They were thin and vinegar based, flavored with mushrooms and other vegetables and spices. Remember, tomatoes at that time were considered by many to be poisonous. The predominant flavors of North Carolina style are apple cider vinegar, salt, a little heat from cayenne pepper, and smoke.
I tried this barbecue twice previously, but this time I took the advice of Tom “Big Heat” Solomon from Gun Mountain Virginia and did not mop, rub, or marinate the meat first. Before, it seemed like the long time over the heat made the rub particles become a little gritty. With this method, the “infusion” technique, the seasoning goes into the meat after it’s all done.
I bought 2 – 8 pound pork butts, and cut off most of the thin layer of fat on the one side. Believe me, there is plenty of fat in the meat- you won’t miss it! I set up the Weber with about 3 or 4 dozen briquettes (Kingsford, Mesquite) divided on each side. I set a pan of water under the rack between them (for moisture) and put the roasts, fat side down, on the top rack. They barely fit. I stuck a Pampered Chef digital thermometer down in the vent hole to monitor the air temperature. My goal was to keep it between 225 and 260 degrees. I carefully placed some pieces of soaked hickory chips on the coals. If you don’t put them on carefully, they’ll throw up ash which gets on the meat.
I started at 9 a.m. Every hour I added about 7 briquettes on each side along with a few pieces of soaked hickory. After 2 hours, I turned the roasts over to fat side up. It was surprisingly easy to keep the temperature constant. It dipped down to 206 briefly, and spent some of the time at 268. I kept this up until 7 p.m. Tom says to smoke the meat from 10 to 12 hours. At 7, when I would have taken it out, I decided to let it stay in until 8, but not add more coals. Well, the existing coals took on new life and when I went to take the meat out, it was still chugging along at 265 degrees.
Oh my goodness! They were perfect! Dark, dark brown, smoky, falling off the bone, but not disintegrated. I could hardly keep a certain person’s paws off the meat.
Now for the “infusion” part. I pulled and cut it up in “thumb-sized” (more or less) pieces, as my directions called for, and then packed it in 3 cast iron skillets. I poured a salt water solution over the top, then poured about a cup of apple cider vinegar over each one. I sprinkled just a bit of cayenne pepper on top. If it was for us, I would have put more, but these were for folks who might not appreciate the heat! Then I just cooked it down until the liquid was gone, adding vinegar to taste until I felt it was done just right.
It doesn’t sound too fancy, just these few ingredients. But it is really a wonderful combination when you take the time to pump in all that smoke. There are no shortcuts, even if you have Wright’s Liquid Smoke in the cupboard!
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