Every once in a while, a pit jockey develops a hankering to cook something big. Something epic. A festering itch not particularly, nor suitably scratched via anything you’ll find in the simple realm of hamburgers or hot dogs. Nay, it is a bit more involved than that. It usually requires big, obscene chunks of pig, and it usually takes protracted quantities of precious time. And such was the case today, under gorgeous, blue, Minnesota skies, and darting tweety birds, that we would mark off an entire day from the calendar for the simple pleasure of slow smoking some meat, and then of course, ingesting it at day’s end. It would be a long and taxing day, and would test my wares of loitermanship, beverage reservoirs, and patience with the pork. I was motivated, tho, you see. I had the itch to go big. We’re talking slow-smoked pulled pork here, and BBQ pork ribs. Its everything we get into BBQ for in the first place. The real thing. And it’s what we’re called to do! Let’s get after it shall we.
So it was, I arose on my day off at the most ghastly hour of 5:30 in the blessed morning in which to ply my craft afield. Still in my man pajamas, and whilst the morning sun caught the dew off the freshly hewn lawn, I stoically gathered my coals in one accord, taking flame to the political section that which made residence up the rusty arse of the old, charcoal chimney. Smoke signals soon spiraled aloft, declaring the day’s journey in meat thus embarked. And speaking of bark, lets head inside and rub the butt down again.
First on the pit is the eight pound bone-in pork shoulder, often called the “butt“. I know. What can you do. Anyways, the evening previous, the shoulder/butt was slathered in a cheap mustard, and hit with a commendable mass of Grill Mates, Sweet and Smokey Rub. Then we wrapped it in plastic, and left it alone in the fridge to marry over night with its new flavors. And here this morning, it’s time to hit it up with additional rub yet again. The rub is one of the most significant contributions you can make to the flavor profile of the pork, so do it up good. Ye need not hold back here. For the more liberal the rub, the better your bark tends to be later on down the road. And most pit keepers worth their tongs, always aspire for a robust bark.
The fire bowl of the Weber Smokey Mountain was set up accordingly. A chimney full of fiery coals dumped right smack in the middle of a ring of unlit coals. For you newbies, and budding pit masters alike, this is what we call the Minion Method. And it is an extremely effective technique for long, sustained smokes. To learn more about this method, and you really should if you plan on delving far into the BBQ arts, do read our write-up, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion, to get the low down on this classic technique.
Anyways, the butt was gently placed on the lower grate of the WSM, fat side up. Tossed some hickory and apple wood chunks on to the coals, put the lid on, and then did the only sensible thing I could think of at the moment – I went back to sleep!
About five hours later, two of which were spent belly-up counting little pigs jumping over white picket fences, I gradually came to, stretching like a lazy house cat in my soft, easy chair. Ah the rigors of BBQ. I scratched my belly and glanced out to the patio, gazed momentarily, and smiled. Nothing is quite so fine as waking up in your man chair to see your pit stoically puffing away in the afternoon sun. It calms a man, and settles well in his soul. It really does. Morale is always at a high, when wood smoke gently curls for the sky. Anyways, time to get up again. For there are pork ribs to prep. And here is how we did it.
The first order of business, naturally, is to remove that ornery membrane. That thing is on there tighter than a tick on a hound dog, but you can do it. The reasoning to remove it is two-fold. One, because chewing on it is rather like gnawing on the important end of an old, plastic fly swatter, and two, removing the membrane will promote better penetration by your rub and wood smoke. Say what you will, but this thing should be pulled off. The trick most folk do is slip a butter knife in on top of a bone, but underneath the membrane, wiggle it on in there, and pry it upwards. Then, and with a paper towel to assist in grip, thus peel the membrane down the length of the ribs. Mission accomplished. You might not get it at first, but after a few times, and a smattering of patience, you will wax of an old pit maestro, adept in your craft.
Once the membranes were peeled, we dusted over the racks accordingly. One in a fair amount of Famous Daves Rib Rub, and the other rack we made a bit more of a production of. Firstly, sprinkling on a light layer of brown sugar, then a layer of Grill Mates Sweet and Smokey rub, then yet another layer of brown sugar, to seal it all in. Mercy! At around five hours into the pork shoulder, we put these ribs gently on the top rack of the Weber smokey Mountain, and added a couple more chunks of hickory wood. Things were chugging along nicely now, and precisely as they should. Time for a lovely beverage and yet another pit-side repair.
Here is where most smoke wizards are at their very best. Down time. Frankly, it’s half the reason we BBQ in the first place. That hallowed slot of clock in which our feet thus prop like a gentleman of leisure, and all the world seems to spin fairly about thee. It is a time where a man proper can spend exorbitant and considerable amounts of it, doing seemingly nothing at all. It’s a case-in-point example, where as my elder brother would say, “doing nothing sure feels like something“. And it does. Just watching the smoke curl from the pit, with a cold beverage in hand, we are at once and assuredly at ease. Head master of our own protein-rich kingdom. For a while at least, and maybe more than that, we want for nothing else. Say what ever you will, but that is no small thing. And the cloud shadows quietly parade over the house tops and the thick green grasses below.
After fashion, about two and one-half hours I should wager, we wrapped the beautiful, mahogany-colored ribs in foil, along with a hearty splash of apple juice for a steaming agent. This simple trick will take your unruly pork by the hand, and escort it unto the savory realms every time. Reminiscent of taking them to the spa, if you will, and pampering every last muscle there. And an hour and half of this treatment is about all you need. Use your pit master instincts. Remove from foil, and place them back on the pit to tighten up a bit. Only during the final half hour did we lather on the Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory and Brown Sugar sauce. Man! And yes, that’s chicken thighs you see there on the pit. Hey, we like meat!
Oh buddy! You must excuse us here whilst we make the acquaintanceship of this smokey pork rib. It’s for quality control reasons you see, and a pit master’s privilege.
Now this is what you call a most suitable bark on your butt. Mercy! To the uninitiated eye, it will parlay thoughts of great remorse in your behalf. Onlookers may even want to buy you supper, they feel so sorry for your mass of blackened rubble there before them. But this is how it should be. Ten hours of low and slow therapy, people, gently curling wood smoke, two naps, tweety birds, slanting sunbeams, and a good share of manly beverage, equals sublime smokey pork satisfaction. Or something like that. You know what I mean. The shoulder/butt was brought to 197 internal, until the bone came out clean. Mission accomplished. And amen.
*Let the meat rest a while before you pull it, to redistribute its delicious juices.