I've been lurking for months, asked a few questions, did lots of research on what I thought I would like for a smoker and jumped in the deep end with you. So far - all of my friends and family are very happy with the *testing*.
I've always loved BBQ and cooking, but it is not a way of life in the Boston area like it is in other parts of the country. That said, I've made my fair share of ribs on the gas grill with pretty good success.
I decided to step up this past summer after watching BBQ pit masters over and over and thinking - I'm a pretty good cook and that looks like tasty fun.
This forum helped me to decided that I wanted to cook with - stick burner vs some of the other options. It came down to which one. I liked the idea of the reverse flow smokers (Lang, Meadow Creek) to minimize hot spots, create even heat, etc..
Fortunately for me there was a BBQ Competition - the first one I ever attended. I went to see what the teams were using. Most had Backwoods style smokers. One guy had the Lang 36 Patio and the Meadow Creek TS120P - both cookers that I was most interested in - right there! Lucky me.
Based on their input and just looking at the construction - I decided I liked the Meadow Creek a bit more and started shopping. Shipping costs were a part of the decision, the $500 for the Lang was a bit tough. I rather get more smoker than pay shipping. I could get the Meadow Creek at better shipping prices.
The Guys at Grillbillies Barbeque
provided great service and put together a deal that made it all worth while. They are a competition team and have a retail store. Helped with the decision making and will answer the questions I needed to get answered.
Fast forward to delivery day - I went to pick up the smoker at the trucking terminal.
A fine job of packing and shipping - no issues there. We got it off the pallet and lifted into the bed of the truck.
At home - My garage door header came in use again - big eye bolt and chainfall to help lower the beast to the ground.
Or more like it - hold it in place while I drove the truck out from under it.
Down in one piece, no damage (ok - it wasn't all that dramatic)
Out to the back of the house - I fired it up for the first time. Just warming up here...
I know - white smoke = bad... but it was not hot yet..
For the first cook - I decided to do everything. I already knew the smoker was coming and have been dying to make bacon. It was all cured and ready to go. Word spread among my friends and family - so my first ever pork butts were getting smoked. Four racks of ribs somehow multiplied to six.
I had a bone in butt and a boneless - they tasted the same and cooked the same. Our supermarket has the boneless for a good price, I had to order the bone-in from the butcher shop .. Boneless for now on ;)
I trimmed up the ribs to St. Louis style. Then smoked the cutoffs too. (riblets?)
My choice of rub and sauce was simple - use someone else's recipes. No need to add more variables to the mix. I went with Meathead's Memphis dust for the rub and Chris Lillly's Red BBQ Sauce which I have made before and really liked.
You didn't think everything would go perfect, did you?
I got up early last Saturday AM and started the smoker with 2 chimneys of charcoal and a couple of splits. It was 40 degrees and windy.
Once up to 225-230 and stable - on went the butts and the bacon.
And that is where the fun began..
For you other beginners - you can read about fire management - but you have to actually do it to understand how it works and what a small hot fire is, clean blue smoke and all the other descriptions.
There were many issues for me, the charcoal got used up faster than I expected, I didn't get a good bed of coals from the wood fast enough, didn't manage air flow properly.. At one point - I removed the last piece of smoldering wood and started over - fire pit shut down!
Suddenly it clicked after making a good run of mistakes - I got a fresh bed of hot charcoal, cut my splits into smaller pieces, got the airflow right by managing the vents better and like a new day - no more white smoke and second guessing what the hell I was doing.
It took my ~4 hours of messing around to get the small hot fire I read about. By this time - I needed to get the ribs cooking.
Here we are fully loaded!
The butts are doing fine - bacon was getting close to 150 deg and a whole lot of pork is loaded up.
Things calmed down from here - I'd keep an eye on the temps and once they peaked and began falling, it was time for another small split. If the coal bed got a little too small , I'd light up a chimney of Kingsford and toss it in for good measure.
The bacon came out great - its a little black on the outside (I thought) - thankfully - it was not noticeable as far as flavor goes and may not have been a product of the fine management issues at all. The butts did not get blackened as they were also in the middle of the learning curve.
My next small dilemma was the stall - both butts stopped at 160 and stayed there for quite a while. I was shooting for a 5-5:30 dinner and around 3PM I knew I wasn't going to make it. Time to foil and convert to hot & fast. The ribs seemed to be a little behind too, cranking up the heat would help here.
I kept the temp up to 275-290 the remainder of the way. The ribs finished up around 4:30 or so... I sauced them and had the smaller racks off by 5. The meatier ones finished a little later. More importantly, foiling worked and I got to experience powering through the stall first hand.. Finished right at 5:15 to 203 degrees. Removed the foil and let them firm up a bit.
Phew - I did it..
By this time - everyone was digging in and eating.
What a day, lots of little things to do and the game was moving fast for most of it...
Everything tasted great -plenty to enjoy for the next few days.
Things I learned first hand:
- Fire management is tricky, until you get it.. we'll see my next time around.. But the last 5 hours went much better than the first 4!
- Restarting the fire was a much better choice than fighting a loosing battle and pouring white smoke all over everything
- getting the one size bigger smoker was a good move. The 36" would have been tight and I can see this size cook happening again.
- Wrapping the pork, turning up the heat and getting through the stall was rewarding - it may be a small thing to those of you that have done this many times - but watching a good decision work was nice.
I took good notes with times and temps.
It was a lot of fun - now to figure out if I can smoke through the winter...
Thanks for all the great knowledge everyone -
The search feature has been invaluable.
A brisket is in my future - hmmm..... brisket...
Meadow Creek TS120P