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Posts Tagged ‘Bradley Smoker’

What Can You Do With 800 Watts?

August 1st, 2012 No comments

If you’re wondering what someone could possibly run with only 800 Watts from my new little Harbor Freight generator, let me just point out the following little facts.

On a Bradley Digital Smoker, the main heating element is 500 Watts. The smoker element is 150 Watts. Hmmmm. Since 650 W < 800 W, well, I’ll let you figure it out. While I’m eating slow smoked spareribs while camping at the Mid Ohio Sports Course this weekend.

Categories: Tools Tags: , , , ,

First Brisket in my Bradley Smoker

March 30th, 2012 6 comments
This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

I’ve been working on perfecting my bar-b-que for almost 20 years. During all my trials, tests, and experiments, I’ve worked almost exclusively on pork. Perhaps a little bit of chicken here and there, but mostly pork shoulder and ribs. This weekend I decided it was time that I tackled a brisket. In the most basic sense, brisket is just like any other bar-b-que. A cut of meat is rubbed with a flavorful rub and is slowly cooked over indirect heat for many hours, in the presence of smoke. The main difference from something like a pork shoulder? The kind of wood used for he smoke (mesquite instead of hickory) and perhaps the seasoning in the rub (usually more of spices like black pepper and cumin).

But for some reason, my casual research shows that brisket is more perplexing than pork bar-b-que. Perhaps it’s because brisket is a Texas specialty and there are fewer people who practice the art. So there may be fewer “experts” spreading the advice and knowledge that would make people more comfortable cooking brisket. Who knows… But I certainly see quite a few message board postings where people are asking for help after a brisket disaster of some sort.

I decided to start simple, with no long marinades or overnight rubs or odd smoking sequences. And I decided to use my Bradley Electric Smoker, both because my big pit is way too large for a single brisket, and because it was 40 degrees and raining this weekend. I searched for recipes for brisket specifically done in a Bradley smoker and every one that I found used some form of “crutch.” The crutch is a technique where whatever meat you’re smoking is wrapped in foil and then left either on the smoker at bar-b-que temperature, or finished in an oven or left in a cooler for some amount of time so that the carryover heat finishes breaking down the connective tissue without overcooking the meat. The term “crutch” is usually used disparagingly, juxtaposed with whatever state or regional style of bar-b-que that you don’t like. As in the “Texas Crutch” or the “Carolina Crutch.” I wasn’t going to use the crutch either.

What I have learned over the years is that the main base upon which good bar-b-que is built is the meat. Specifically, meat with a good amount of fat and connective tissue. If you start with a piece that is too lean it will never survive the long hours that bar-b-que requires, crutch or no crutch. And in this category, brisket is a particular problem. In the United States most brisket becomes corned beef or its smoked cousin, pastrami. Or, in my adopted part of the country, some god-awful usually inedible and under seasoned concoction called New England Boiled Dinner. What these dishes all have in common is that the meat is braised (or boiled) for a long time, which lends itself to tenderizing. But when all the cooking liquid is reserved, fat becomes a problem – it just messes up the gravy. So most brisket is sold ready for the braising pot and is trimmed of its fat cap. This is where I think most bar-b-que brisket cooks go wrong  they start with a cut that is too lean and then dry it out on the smoker for far too long.

I didn’t make that mistake. I had to ask the butcher specially for it, but he managed to find me an untrimmed 6 1/2 lb. brisket flat (as opposed to a point cut or “deckle” cut) with a nice thick, maybe 1/2″, fat cap. This I knew would survive the smoker without use of a crutch.

image

Before

So all I did was set up the Bradley smoker at 11:00 pm and let it heat for 30 minutes at to 220 degrees. I rubbed the brisket with a basic rub of 1 part salt, 1 part turbinado sugar, 1/2 part paprika, 1/2 part black pepper, and a 1/2 part combined cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder. Then I set the smoker for 9 hours and 40 minutes (the maximum time), plopped the brisket on a rack in the middle, and loaded up 2 hours of mesquite bisquette, followed by alternating hickory, alder, and more mesquite for a total of 6 hours of smoke. Then I went to bed.

The next morning I increased the time and kept an eye on my Thermoworks thermometers. No basting, mopping, spritzing, or anything. 11 1/2 hours later the internal temperature hit 180 degree and I took the brisket off and let it rest for 30 minutes. It had a great bark and carved easily across the grain. And man was it good. It was fork tender from end to end and the bark had a great flavor. If anything it could have taken even more smoke, so next time I might go with 5 or 6 hours of all mesquite. But it was definitely a success and something I will make again.

Here’s the final product:

The Final Product

The Final Brisket

 

Categories: Food, Grilling/BBQ Tags: , ,

Belly Buster

August 7th, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series bacon
Final Bacon

The Final Product

I’m preparing for my 8th annual summer BBQ party, the “Carnivore’s Carnival.” I normally spend two full days barbequeing meat for this party  including three full pork shoulders for pulled pork and four racks of spare ribs. This involves sitting and tending a fire for over 18 hours on at least one day, followed by another six hours on the next day. So this year I figured, since I’d be sitting and tending smokers, I’d do some bacon at the same time in my electric smoker.

I went to my favorite market in Boston, Savenors on Charles St. and picked up five pounds of pork belly for bacon. When I saw the $4.99 per pound price though I thought something was wrong. I know I’m paying city prices in Boston and all, and I was getting locally raised (in Vermont) organic pork, but still, I thought that was expensive.

Then I found this article by Curt Thacker in the Wall Street Journal online:

Pork Bellies Rise, Bacon Lovers Pay

… Prices for fresh pork bellies, from which bacon is made, are at an all-time high of $1.35 a pound, 53% higher than they were a year ago.

… The decision by North American swine producers to cut their losses by trimming their herds back in 2008 and 2009 is now feeding into cost pressures …

So that explains it. Also, Savenors sells its belly with the skin already removed, so that means more meat for the dollar too. But still, $5 per pound for what used to be ultra-cheap meat. Oh well, such is the price of quality homemade food.

Anyway, I have two pieces of belly curing in the refrigerator now following my recipe from my Makin’ Bakin 2 post. Only on one of them I added ground black pepper to make pepper bacon. I’ll give them 14 days to cure and then smoke them up. I can’t wait.

Updated BBQ Rub and Seasoning

May 30th, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

I’ve written before about how most bar-b-que cooks are secretive about their rub and sauce recipes. I’m not. Even if I were cooking competitively I’d tell you 99.9% of what I do. But I’m not cooking competitively (yet – I need something to save for retirement 20 years from now) so I’ll tell you 100% of how I do things and you can use my recipes as a base from which to experiment.

My wife recently had her Aunt and Uncle here in the US from Germany. For the first of several dinners I thought I’d introduce them to something uniquely American. And what’s more American then bar-b-que? I’d argue that even the Hamburger has been exported so much that it’s lost its unique American-ness. You can get a hamburger in any country in the world now. But bar-b-que? That hasn’t been exported yet.

So I decided to make real spare ribs – using a rub I’ve been working on for several months. I also did these in my Bradley smoker since I wanted to actually be able to sit and talk to my guests rather than spend my time tending a fire.

Here’s how I did it:

Smoked Pork Ribs in a Bradley Smoker

Ingredients:

  • 2 racks of St. Louis cut Spare Ribs. (I buy whole cryo-vac ribs and trim them myself. See my BBQ guide for a good video link and explanation, including how to remove the membrane from the back of the slab.
  • ¼ cup molasses or Grade B maple syrup
  • ¼ cup BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce)
  • 1 T Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 T Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Rib Rub (see recipe in this post, about half way down the page. Basically 6 parts Brown Sugar, 3 parts salt, 1 part other spices.)

Preparation (12 to 24 hours before smoking)

  1. Pat the ribs dry.
  2. Mix molasses, BBQ sauce, and 2 T vinegar together until blended. Use the brown sugar to sweeten to your taste if using molasses. Probably not needed if using maple syrup. Brush the mixture over the slabs until completely covered.
  3. Sprinkle rib rub liberally over the surface of the ribs.
  4. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 24.

Smoking

I used the 3-2-1 method on these ribs. Especially because I had people eating who have never had ribs before and might not appreciate the chew and pull of regular smoked ribs. I use hickory smoke as always.

  1. Remove ribs from refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to smoking and let them come t room temperature.
  2. Set Bradley Smoker oven temp to 220° F. Timer set for 6 hours and 40 minutes.
  3. Let smoker warm up for 40 minutes.
  4. Place ribs on Bradley racks.
  5. Set smoke generator for 3 hours of smoke and start. (You’ll need 11 bisquettes in the tube for this).
  6. After 3 hours, remove ribs from smoker and wrap in aluminum foil. I add a splash of cider vinegar to each foil pouch at this point.
  7. Put foil covered ribs back in smoker for 2 hours. No smoke during this time.
  8. After 2 hours, remove foil packs from smoker. Unwrap ribs and place back on Bradley racks. Be careful to reserve the liquid from the foil pouches – collect it in a small saucepan.
  9. Start the smoke again for one hour (5 bisquettes).
  10. While smoking, reduce the collected liquid to a glaze by heating until reduced by half. Mix this with any additional sauce or spices that you prefer. It will be the final finishing sauce.
  11. After the final hour, remove the ribs from the smoker (they may fall apart at this point, so handle carefully). Brush on your reduced glaze and serve.

They were a hit! I think I may have started a German BBQ cult. Hope this recipe works for you too.

Smoked Easter Ham

April 6th, 2010 1 comment

Ham

This year for Easter I decided to make a ham and infuse it with some extra flavor by smoking it myself. So I searched my local supermarket for a ham that wasn’t already smoked, which is harder to find then you might imagine. Perhaps if I had thought about this more than one week in advance I could have found a true fresh ham, but I settled for a pre-cooked and spiral-sliced unsmoked ham.

Basically, I followed a simple recipe:

  1. Dry ham for four hours at 120° F in smoker.
  2. Smoke with maple smoke for four hours at 140°.
  3. Let rest overnight so smoke flavor can mellow.
  4. Apply maple syrup and mustard base with seasoned salt rub. Wrap in aluminum foil, add cider vinegar and brown sugar solution to foil pouch, seal,  and  and roast at 350° F in oven for four hours.
  5. When temp reaches 145° F, remove from oven and glaze with a seasoned brown sugar glaze.
  6. Place in hot 450° F oven for 10 minutes until glaze darkens and caramelizes.
  7. Pour off drippings, reduce, and thicken with cornstarch slurry.

The ham had a decent flavor, but I was totally disappointed in the Bradley maple bisquettes and the flavor of the smoke they produced. From the first wisps escaping the cabinet, something smelled wrong. The smoke was acrid and, well, smelled a little like an ashtray. After a few minutes it seemed to get better, but when the ham came out the crust tasted like an ashtray too. I was pissed. Maple was supposed to be a more mellow flavor than hickory, but in this case it was harsh.

I tried to salvage the ham and wrapped it plastic with another splash of brown sugar and vinegar. I think that helped a little. The inside of the ham had a mellow smoky flavor, but the exterior crust was bitter.

After a day resting in the refrigerator things got a little better. And glazing the exterior helped even more.

In the end, I’d call this a mixed success. I think the idea was sound and smoking the ham clearly added flavor, but using maple was the wrong choice. So lesson learned. I’ve always used hickory for just about everything, with a little mesquite for chicken and some beef. And I think I’ll stick to those woods.

My bottom-line advice: avoid the maple bisquettes in the Bradley Smoker.

Makin Bakin 2 – Perfection Acheived

February 28th, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series bacon

If you read my first Makin Bakin post you’ll understand my basic philosophy and method for making bacon at home:

  • Bacon is made from pork belly.
  • Bacon is cured with nitrites.
  • Bacon is smoked.

Pretty simple. But as with anything, the difficulty is in the execution. So after thinking about the delicious results of my first attempt at homemade bacon, I decided to adjust my recipe a bit. For my first try, I basically used this method:

  1. Rinse and dry pork bellies.
  2. Sprinkle with curing salt according to the instructions (I used pre-made cure from the Butcher and Packer company).
  3. Place in a Zip-Lok bag in the refrigerator for 5 days, rotating bag every 24 hours.
  4. Remove from bag, rinse in cold water, and allow to dry for several hours.
  5. Smoke in my Bradley Digital Smoker with hickory wood for 4 to 4 1/2 hours, starting at 120° F and increasing to 140° F for the third hour and and 160° F for the remaining time, until the bellies reach an internal temperature of 135° F.
  6. Trim the skin side off of the completed bacon.

The result of this process was good. But not great. I didn’t think the bacon was seasoned (salty or sweet) enough and I thought that it was extra smoked. So for my second batch I adjusted my recipe. And let me tell you, the results were outstanding! Here’s what I did, with major changes in red:

Rob’s Dry Cured Smoked Bacon

  1. Rinse and dry pork bellies. (This time I started with fresh, organic, Vermont-raised belly from Savenor’s in Boston.)
  2. Coat bellies on both sides with a layer of fresh New Hampshire maple syrup (grade B for extra flavor). <– New step
  3. Sprinkle with curing salt according to directions.

    Waiting for Smoke

    Drying Outside (temp was 31 degrees)

  4. Place in a Zip-Lock bag in refrigerator for 14 days. Turn bag every 24 hours. <– 9 days longer than first time
  5. Remove from bag, rinse in cold water, then let dry for several hours.
  6. Place in Bradley Digital Smoker for approximately 4 to 4 1/2 hours. Start at 120° F with no smoke for one hour. After one hour, raise temperature to 140° F and start hickory smoke for two hours. Then stop smoke and raise temperature to 160° F until bellies reach internal temperature of 135° F. <– New smoke & temperature profile
  7. Trim skin off of completed bacon.

The final result, shown here fresh from the smoke, was some of the best bacon I’ve ever had. It had enough of a cured taste to remind me of the bacon I’m used to, but, because it was dry cured over time and smoked with real wood, it was much firmer and the flavor was richer. Since most supermarket bacon is “cured” by pumping it with a curing solution and then “smoked” by sitting in an over for a couple of hours while being sprayed with liquid smoke flavoring, the taste of real dry-cured bacon is simply “denser” and richer. And when you cook it you don’t get all that milky liquid that cooks out of store-bought bacon, which is the reason for its watered-down flavor.

Final Bacon

The Final Product

The final step, since I can’t shouldn’t eat all five pounds in one sitting, is to let the finished bacon spend a night in the freezer to firm up and then send it for a trip though my electric slicer and then into several vacuum bags for future use.

Categories: Food Tags: , ,

Makin’ Bakin

February 6th, 2010 2 comments
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series bacon

What Good is a Smoker if You Can’t Make Bacon?

Among all the visions of pulled pork and spare ribs that I had when I bought a smoker, the main thing I wanted to do was make bacon. There really isn’t a greater food than bacon … fatty, meaty, salty goodness kissed with a bit of smoke. And bacon isn’t the most complicated preparation either. With just some basic ingredients and a little time, bacon is pretty easy to make.

But First … To Cure or Not

Commercial bacon is a cured product … meaning that it it treated with nitrite salts to help preserve the meat. And these compounds are somewhat controversial due to their potential direct and indirect effects on health. I say potential because I am not convinced of their harm and I think the worry is overblown. What these compounds do is threefold: deterring the growth of botulism toxins, preserving the red (pink after smoking) color of meat, and subtly altering the flavor of the cured meat.

The Nitrite Concern

There are actually two concerns surrounding nitrites in meat … their direct toxicity and the potential formation of compounds called nitrosamines when nitrite cured meat is either cooked at high temperatures, as bacon usually is, or exposed to a low pH environment like it is in your stomach. The amount of nitrite needed to be directly toxic is pretty high, so I’m not really worried about that. Studies in the 1970s first identified nitrosamines as carcinogenic. Subsequent work has confirmed this. However, there are steps which can be taken to reduce this risk, including cooking bacon at lower temperatures and to a less done final state, as well as adding certain anti-oxidants (like ascorbic acid) to the curing salt.

There are several very good resources describing this on the web, from reputable sources including the University of Minnesota, Oregon State University, and in this Wikipedia article.

So, in the end, I decided to cure my bacon. For me it comes down to flavor. I’ve tried uncured bacon and it’s just not the same. It’s more like … well, roasted pork. I like roasted pork, but not when I expect bacon. I used a commercial cure with a nitrite concentration in the acceptable range, and I didn’t use more than recommended. Additionally, I don’t cook my bacon to anything near well done, preferring it just short of crispy. And finally, I will be adding some ascorbic acid to my cure mix, just to be safe.

An interesting note – much of the “uncured” bacon that one finds in the organic section of the market these days in fact contains just as many nitrites as cured bacon. By law, “uncured” means no additional nitrites were added beyond what occurs naturally in the ingredients themselves. Now look closely at the label of your uncured bacon. You’ll probably see “celery juice” as an ingredient. Wonder why celery juice is in bacon? Because celery juice is naturally high in both nitrates and nitrites. So, by adding it, manufacturers can claim “no added nitrites” or “uncured” while still adding nitrites and getting a cured product with the taste people expect. But don’t take my word for it. Consumer Reports was one of the first to catch this trick when they tested hot dogs. They said:

While the three uncured franks might boast of “no added nitrates,” our testing found that Applegate Farms, Coleman Natural, and Whole Ranch contained nitrates and nitrites at levels comparable to many of the cured models.

And

While a hot dog can be labeled uncured if no nitrates or nitrites have been added, that does not necessarily mean the product is free of them. The three uncured models we tested contained nitrites and nitrates because the compounds occur naturally in spices and other natural ingredients added during processing.

So keep that in mind if you’re buying “uncured” bacon. You just might be fooling yourself.

The Process

The Meat

American Pork Cuts (adapted from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Pork_Cuts.svg)

American bacon is made from cured pork belly, the meat outside the ribcage and extending around the stomach or belly of the pig (labeled “side” in the diagram to the right – don’t ask me why). As far as I am concerned, anything else isn’t bacon, it’s some other form of cured pork. I’m all for that … I come from New Jersey, the home of Taylor Ham after all, just don’t call the other things bacon. For instance, there’s some bullshit abomination popular with home smokers that they call “buckboard bacon.” But it’s not bacon; it’s a cured and smoked pork shoulder. Lose the smoke, chop it up and form it back into a loaf, and you have SPAM. And SPAM ain’t bacon.

So when I call something bacon I am referring to cured, smoked, pork belly.

Getting pork belly can be a bit of a challenge depending on where you live. My normal meat market, which even sells goat, doesn’t carry it. They offered to order some belly, but I would need to take a whole case of three bellies, or about 30 pounds. I really want to perfect my recipes before I tackle 30 pounds.

I did find pork bellies at one of the best specialty markets in Boston, Savenors, but that’s a 40 mile drive from my house. For my first time, I wanted to start making Bacon now, not in a few days when I picked up some belly after work (I work a few blocks away from Savenors). So I tried my local, tiny Asian market. And sure enough, they had some small 1 lb. pieces tucked int their freezer case. I can’t say that these were the best looking specimens I’d ever seen, but they were worth a shot. So my first test batch was made with frozen pork belly.

Dry Curing

Rather than making up my own recipes, I decided to go with a commercial cure mix. This would let me learn about the differences caused by curing time rather than worrying if I had my mix correct. Based on some recommendations on various message boards, I went with a regular and a maple cure from the Butcher and Packer company. For about $5, I got enough cure to dry cure 100 lbs. of meat. Not bad.

You need a surprisingly tiny amount of cure for bacon. The Butcher & Packer instructions say to use 2 pounds of cure per 100 pounds of meat for a dry cure. That equals 0.02 pounds of cure per pound of meat, or just above 1/3 of an ounce of cure per pound of belly.

As for the vitamin C to add … the Oregon State reference lists the effective concentration as 550 ppm (parts per million). So assuming that’s ppm of the total cure weight, I need 550 mg of ascorbic acid per Kg of cure. I’m going to keep these tiny numbers in grams … So 550 mg per Kg is 550 mg per 2.205 pounds. That equals 249 mg per pound (550 / 2.205). That means I need to grind and evenly distribute one 250 mg vitamin C tablet into each 1 lb bag of cure. Simple.

That done, I measured out the correct amount of cure by weight using my kitchen scale (ended up being less than a teaspoon for each piece, but do your own math) and evenly sprinkled it over the pieces. I placed them in a Ziplock bag in another plastic container (just in case) in my refrigerator. And for the next 5 days I simply rotated them each day. Some liquid was released, but not much more than a few tablespoons.

Smoking

Many people online complained that bacon cured too long turned out too salty. So I was scared into leaving my first batch curing for only 5 days. Turns out the people online were either full of shit, overly sensitive to the taste of salt, or used way too much cure. Because my 5 day cure tasted barely salty. But it did have that characteristic red color, so I went ahead and smoked it.

Anyway, I took the bacon out and rinsed it well in cold water. Some people advocate soaking and all sorts of treatments, which I’m glad I didn’t do. I let it sit for several hours to reach room temperature and let a bit of a pellicle form.

I am a fan of real smoke flavor, so I used hickory only and ended up smoking my pieces for about 4 hours, starting at 120° F for the first 2 hours and then stepping the temperature up to 150° and 170° in the third and fourth hours respectively. I kept it in the heat until the internal temperature was just past 140° F and let carryover take it almost to 150°.

The Result

Whole Bacon

I know it might not look like much in this view, but it really did look sooooooo much better than that slimy pre-sliced stuff you buy in the supermarket. And once I cut into it, well, my effort was immediately worth it. Even the cheapo $1.99/lb belly I got from the freezer of my local Asian market was a better quality (read less fatty) than the typical bottom-of-the-barrel belly that becomes mass produced bacon.

The smoke flavor wasn’t too apparent on the first day, but like all smoked foods, really benefited from a few days in the refrigerator. It seemed that the smokiness really bloomed after that. Enough that I might cut the smoke back to just 3 hours next time. As for the flavor, I really didn’t think there was a strong cured, salty, or sweet flavor at all. Either immediately out of the smoker or even several days later. It just didn’t seem to be thoroughly cured. I’m sure this was the result of the limited curing time. I will at least double it to 10 days next time, or perhaps as long as 14 days. I also didn’t detect any difference between the maple cure and the brown sugar cure. So to enhance some maple flavor in the next batch I think I will brush the bellies with some actual maple syrup. Hopefully that will improve the character.

It's What's Inside That Counts

The Recipe

As of right now, here is my recipe, and the one I will follow for the next batch of bacon (I have 5 pounds of belly from Savenors ready to start curing tonight).

  1. Wash belly and pat dry. Leave skin on.
  2. Brush belly with thin layer of maple syrup.
  3. Measure proper amount of cure and sprinkle evenly over all surfaces.
  4. Place in Ziplock bag and allow to cure 10 to 14 days in refrigerator, turning bag every 24 hours.
  5. Remove belly from bag and rinse quickly in cold water.
  6. Allow belly to sit in the air for several hours until a pellicle forms.
  7. Place in smoker at 140° F. After 2 hours, increase smoker temp to 150° F. After 1 more hour, increase temp to 170° F. Allow smoke for three or more hours depending on wood and your taste.
  8. When internal temperature reaches 140°, remove, slice, cook, and enjoy.

Some Resources

Along the way to this recipe I found a couple websites that were very helpful. So thanks especially to Dave Selden and his blog and the “Makin Bacon” post. And also to the 3 Men site and their bacon page.

Pulled Pork From My Bradley Smoker

January 3rd, 2010 3 comments
This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

The first week that I got my Bradley smoker, I made two racks of spare ribs, which turned out really good, if a bit salty. The experience was enough to help me start learning some of the Bradley’s quirks. So this week, I thought I’d attempt some pulled pork.

Things turned out reasonably well, but there were definitely some bumps in the road.

The Plan

Since I was going to be up on New Year’s Eve anyway, I figured I’d throw the shoulder into the smoker around midnight, and let it go for 12 or 14 or 16 hours — whatever it took. That way I could have a later New Year’s lunch of fresh smoked shoulder.

The Meat

Of course, since I wasn’t going to smoke a bunch of shoulder, I wasn’t going to buy the giant pack at my local wholesale club, and I didn’t have time to get to Fairway Beef either. So I had to take what my local supermarket had on New Year’s Eve, which was bone-in picnic ham. I’ve used this cut of meat before, and while it’s not my preference, when smoked slowly, it works very well. So I took what I could get.

The Prep

Based on the saltiness of my first ribs, I changed my rub a bit, cutting the salt in the the first part and increasing the brown sugar. Unfortunately, because of the timing, I was unable to let the rub sit for at least the twelve hours I like. It only got about eight hours in the refrigerator — but this was a learning experience about smoke and timing, so I was OK with it.

The Error

Around 11:15 PM on New Year’s Eve I plugged in the smoker and let it heat up to 260° F (it was about 20° F outside so I knew the oven would drop when I opened it again). Just after midnight, I stacked fifteen hickory bisquettes in the snoke generator tube and powered it on. The feeder cycled a couple of times moving bisquettes forward, and then just kept going. After a couple of cycles I was greeted with a loud beeping and an “E” on the smoker generator display. Crap. I unplugged everything, then plugged it all back in again. I restarted the smoke generator and got the same problem. It just kept cycling over and over again. What the hell was I going to do at midnight with a picnic ham ready to go?

I quickly went to the Internet and looked up the error. Thankfully, the Bradley Smoker has a huge and hugely helpful following on several message boards, including the official http://forum.bradleysmoker.com/ Bradley forums. Between the Bradley boards and a site run by one of the active members (with some helpful FAQs) I learned that the “E” error is generated when the bisquette feed motor can’t locate itself at startup. (And is different than the “E1″ error which is caused by a broken temperature sensor or a bad connection on the sensor wire). The FAQ on the E error had a helpful picture, and so I found myself with screwdriver in hand, disassembling the smoke generator and taking my ohm meter to the microswitch which signals the travel limit of the feeder arm. I quickly determined that there were no loose connections and that the switch was working. So, figuring that I must have a fried control board, I blew everything clean with compressed air and put it back together again. I gave it one shot and I guess I got lucky — it worked. So my take away is that cleaning the bisquette dust out of the smoke generator is pretty important, because stray parts can jam the feed mechanism.

Anyway, after a 35 minute detour I had the generator assembled again. But my bigger problem was that the smoker box was already down to 45° F. So I was going to be well behind schedule.

The Cook

But I gave it a shot anyway. I loaded the fifteen bisquettes back into the smoker, put the meat on the lower shelf, added my remote thermometer, and fired it up. I set the smoker for four hours and twenty minutes of smoke and the temperature to 220° F. I waited 30 minutes to make sure that the smoke started, set the top vent 1/2 way open, and then went to sleep.

When I woke up about five hours later, the smoker was holding a 210° F temperature, and  the meat had risen to about 130° F. But anyone who has cooked shoulder before knows that the first few hours are the easy part. Somewhere north of 140° F (often in the 160° F range) the internal temperature “stalls.” After climbing steadily for five or six hours, it just stops for five to six more. It’s really disconcerting the first few times it happens because you’re sure that you’re doing something wrong, and many inexperienced cooks take the meat off too early assuming that it won’t get any warmer. But it will — with pork shoulder, patience is truly rewarded.

I let the temperature climb slowly for the next few hours, and it did indeed stall at 165° F. It hit this plateau around 10:30 AM, and then stayed there until well past noon. Then it slowly started creeping up again. By 3 PM it finally crossed 185° F and I started the oven for my cornbread. At just before 4 PM it finally hit 190° F and I pulled it out and let it rest in foil for 30 minutes.

The Results

I’ll put it this way — the results were good enough that after waiting close to 16 hours I didn’t stop to take pictures. I pulled it with two forks (it was tender enough to fall right off the bone), grabbed my cornbread, and dove right in.

As expected, without a full twelve hours to sit with the rub, the overall seasoning was light. But that wasn’t the fault of the smoker. The smoke flavor though, was also light and this surprised me. Most of the information I read said that people were happy with four hours of smoke — I think it needed much more. The next round I will go for at least six hours.

There was also no smoke ring, which is the result of the electric heat versus heat generated by the combustion of either gas or wood. Essentially, the combustion creates various nitrogen oxides (abbreviated collectively as NOx) which react with the myoglobin proteins in meat to form a red layer.This layer is akin to meat cured with nitrite salts. (See http://www.karubecue.com/smoke_ring.html# for a good explanation.) So this is something that I think I will need to get used to:  in an electric smoker — without the combustion of fuel, the “cured” layer that forms right under the bark just won’t be the same, so the texture and taste won’t be as intense as it gets in a real smoker.

Otherwise, this cook turned out well … the meat was tender, there was a light smoke flavor, and again, I didn’t have to watch the damn thing for 16 hours. So I’m still happy …  and after I finish off a few more pounds of pulled pork I’ll be experimenting with longer smoke and maybe some different rub treatments to try and improve the bark.

New Bradley Digital Smoker – A Summary

December 28th, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

I’ve brought my new smoker home and smoked my first ribs. And I’ve learned a few things about the smoker. Here’s the quick summary for anyone looking for just some basic thoughts.

  1. The smoker needs handles! I didn’t notice this until I was cleaning up, but handles would be welcome since most people will be moving this cabinet around a lot.
  2. Speaking of cleaning, everything cleans up in the dishwasher. This is a first for me … with the drip pan in place, there’s no more scraping congealed pig jelly out of the bottom of the smoker. Excellent!
  3. The shelves in the smoker will each fit one full rack of St. Louis cut ribs.
  4. The temperature controller held the temperature I set +/- 15° F.
  5. I used hickory bisquettes and the smoke generator worked great. It takes between five and ten minutes for the first bisquette to start smoking. The all seem to burn completely with no waste.

Basically, the smoker worked just as advertised. I can’t wait to try something cold smoked — bacon, here I come!

Categories: Grilling/BBQ Tags: ,

First Smoke in the Bradley Digital Smoker

December 28th, 2009 3 comments
This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

Yesterday I brought home my new Bradley Digital Smoker. Today I smoked two racks of pork ribs and a few chicken breasts as a test to start figuring out just how this works and compares to my dedicated New Braunfels Black Diamond pit.

And I’m surprised I’m even able to write this, rather than lying somewhere passed out in a food coma after eating nearly an entire rack of ribs by myself.

So the initial verdict is positive. The smoker did a very good job, providing good smoke flavor, decent temperature control, and most of all: convenience. In fact, I did something unheard of while cooking this batch. After setting up the smoker, I left home. For 4 hours. I took my daughter into Boston while I picked up something from my office. We rode the subway, had lunch, and did a little shopping. After the first three hours on the smoker, my wife wrapped the ribs in foil, and I was home before the end of the “2” period in the 3-2-1 method. I’m positively ecstatic about this … I was able to spend four hours doing something else while making great bar-b-que. And that’s really what I was looking for.

The Technique

I used used my normal rub and the 3-2-1 technique. I really wanted to start simple, and test the smoker rather than new variations of how to cook ribs. So I purposely kept the variables to a minimum. That means I didn’t rotate the racks in the smoker, I didn’t open the door all the time to look at the cooking, and I stuck to a tried and true recipe.

The Meat

I used two full racks of pork spare ribs from BJ’s Wholesale club. I prepped them by removing the membrane and cutting them St. Louis style. These techniques, along with videos, are detailed in my beginner’s guide to bar-b-que post.

The Rub

I used a two-part rub on my ribs. It’s also described in more detail in my beginners guide post, but it’s essentially table salt and spices in the first layer, followed by a brown sugar and kosher salt top layer. I applied the rub and then wrapped the racks in plastic and set them in my refrigerator over night.

The Smoke

Ribs in the Smoker

Smoker Setup

I set the Bradley to 250° F and let it warm up. I wanted the pit hotter than I would smoke at to help compensate for the temperature drop when I put in the meat. After letting the ribs warm up a bit (though I didn’t have enough time to let them get to room temperature). I spread the racks out on three shelves, with the rib tips up top and two racks below. I added some chicken breasts wrapped in bacon on the bottom shelf, started the smoke (setting the time to three hours) and dropped the pit temperature to 220° F. I set the timer for 6 hours and 20 minutes. And then I walked away.

(I did set a thermometer into the chicken I had put in the smoker … I wasn’t sure how long that would take and I wanted to make sure it was the right temperature.)

After three hours, My wife took the ribs out and put them in the foil along with a splash of cider vinegar. I came home when there was 1.5 hours left. Two hours after going into the foil, I removed the foil and basted the racks with a 50/50 mix of bar-b-que sauce and cider vinegar. I also added a couple more bisquettes and cranked up the smoke for another 40 minutes.

The Results

Overall I say the results were good. I got a decently smoked product with a minimum of effort. As I said, there was a decent smoke flavor, and, as usual, the 3-2-1 method all but guaranteed tender ribs. But I did notice a few differences versus smoking with hardwood.

Ribs from the Bradley smoker.

Ribs Fresh From the Bradley

First, there was a noticeable lack of a pronounced smoke ring. There was good smoke flavor, but no ring. I assume this has to do with the electric heat versus a traditional charcoal or wood fire. With a traditional wood heat source, there is a constant low level of smoke at all times. With the electric smoker, when the smoke is off, it’s off. This is something I will have to experiment with.

Second, there was less “bark” formation than I am used to. Again I attribute this to differences in the smoke chamber conditions. I wonder if it has mainly to do with the water pan creating a higher humidity environment in the Bradley chamber, or if there is actually less moisture than over a wood fire since wood does gove off quite a bit of water when it burns. Either way, the crust on the ribs wasn’t as thick or crunchy as I am used to. Because of the difference in crust formation, I ended up with a saltier bark than I normally get when using my standard rub mix.

Finally, there was a discernible difference between the lower and upper shelf locations. The lower shelf ended up creating a rack which was far more tender than the upper shelf. So I will definitely need to rotate the rack positions during cooking.

But overall I am pleased. I got 99% of what I was seeking, which is convenience. And the rest of the issues I am sure I can work through. I’ll just have to eat a lot of bar-b-que to figure it out. Damn … [superemotions file=”icon_rolleyes.gif” title=”Rolling Eyes”]