I know there are some experienced Barbeque guys (and gals) out there. Heretofore I've always been a big fan of consuming it (in unhealthy quantities at times) but I've never before delved into the production side of the hobby.
The past few weeks I've been messing around with an old cheapo charcoal grille and managed to make a few fairly credible attempts at imparting the smoke spice into some meats. I've read a little (enough to be dangerous) and know that this is one of those hobbies (like most others) that you can go "whole hog" on and spend a literal fortune on equipment and supplies. That, I have not done as yet.
As you can see, I am using some pretty low budget (Ok, it's ghetto!) equipment, but I did drill a hole in the lid for a thermometer for monitoring the smoker interior temps and do have a digital cooking thermometer to poke down through the main upper vent into the meat.
First attempt was just some relatively thin pork chops that I smoked for about 2 hours at 225F and just used some dried oak wood chunks that I had out on the firewood pile for the smoke on a whim. The flavor was good but they were a tad dry as I had not done enough to redirect the heat from the meat that time.
Sunday I made a second attempt, this one was a bit more ambitious as I bought a small (4 1/2 lb) brisket. Made up a dry rub and rested it over the prior night in the fridge. And this time I built the charcoal fire towards the back of the grille bottom, and laid some foil across the main cooking rack (that I wasn't otherwise using) to make the heat travel to the front side before wafting around and upwards to the meat, which was perched up high on the "warming rack." I also used some hickory wood chips in lieu of the oak chunks for a finer smoke flavor.
I ended up being able to cook it low and slow, attempted to hold to ~225F, for a bit over 6 hours total while listening to the kickoff of football season, with the first 2-3 hours being the smokiest ones by design. The brisket came out pretty nicely done, the rub turned into a nice bark, and the meat had a great 1/4" smoke ring with real good flavor. (Sorry about the crappy cell phone pics)
But the meat is still a bit tougher than what I'd like. I think I need to do one of a couple of things the next time:
I've read about brining the meat overnight first. Not sure exactly what that adds, but I assume that the brine breaks down some of the collagen and tenderizes the meat before cooking? Anyone practice this witchcraft?
I've also read about hypodermic-ally injecting the meat with stuff (baste), but I would assume that has more to do with flavorizing than tenderizing.
Maybe I need to introduce some steam in the smoke environment? I see where some folks have a dish full of water in their smokers to add moisture throughout the long smoking.
I also realize I need to learn how to cut the meat cross grain, as I tried, but screwed the pooch on that this time. Looks like I need to cut at the 90 degree opposite angle to get that
So, what say ye BBQ gurus?
PS - Before anyone else suggests it, yes I am already shopping for options to replace the frugal Kmart grille, though I really don't think that is a cause of many problems, it will make smoking much more enjoyable as I will have more even temps with less hassle.