Alaska has had a dry and hot summer, and that’s a recipe for wild forest fires, which have made the air smoky for most of the summer. So we decided, we might as well start smoking meat! I smoked salmon in my Big Chief electric smoker this year, which keeps the temperature colder than a Texas-style BBQ, making it more suitable for fish. Although, I suggest barbecuing some pork — it is my current favorite! What could pair better than an ice cold brewski with a pile of delicious BBQ?
A couple of years ago I was over at my friend’s house and he had just pulled a brisket off his Traeger smoker. I was amazed at how delicious this otherwise nearly-impossible-to-cook piece of meat was, and he told me how he slowly smoked it for over 12 hours in the pellet smoker. Since then, I have been obsessed with real BBQ. I can tell you what it is not: steaks, sausages, burgers, salmon, chicken, or anything else that is cooked over high heat. That would be grilling. A hot grill is the antitheses to BBQ. Now there is nothing wrong with grilling, it’s a good way to cook the meat fast and produces delicious outdoor cooked treats, but it ain’t BBQ. Grilling happens at 400 – 600 degrees and sears the meat. BBQ needs to be done slowly and at low heat. It involves cooking less desirable cuts of meat for several hours, which then makes them highly desirable.
The word barbecue comes from the Caribbean native people Taino’s word Barbacoa and refers to the process of burying meat in a pit oven wrapped in agave leaves. Texas-style BBQ is a bit more complicated, and needs a specific tool to achieve the desired effect. Whether it be a computer-controlled Traeger smoker, or a stick smoker, you need a way to produce smoky heat that can be kept at an even 200 – 250 degrees for many hours. Ribs and roasts are normally preferable, but you can BBQ a suckling pig or larger cuts of meat.
I have a stick smoker in McCarthy where I prepare my BBQ. It has a lower compartment for burning the fire, and a larger chamber above where the smoke filters through and exits through a smokestack chimney. I use oak lump charcoal to keep my fire going and I use chunks of wood to produce the smoke. I prefer mesquite for that real authentic Texas flavor. It takes about an hour per pound of meat, so a 3lb boneless pork shoulder takes about 6 hours to BBQ. The smoker is big enough to handle larger cuts of meat, so you can either make two at once, or smoke for a lot longer with bigger cuts of meat like that brisket I mentioned earlier. Since you are cooking the meat at low temperatures for a long time, that breaks down all the proteins and makes what would be a tough grilled meat a tender smoked delicacy. The meat looks blackened and it is the black part, referred to as the bark, that is really good. Make sure you get to try a piece with some BBQ bark — it has the most smoky flavor that is sooo good. I like to wait an hour after pulling the meat from the heat, and I use a meat thermometer to make sure it hits 180 degrees — the perfect time to pull the meat. I like to have some fresh buns ready to make pork sandwiches. You will probably need some BBQ sauce. Don’t buy the BBQ sauce with liquid smoke in it. You only need some sweet tangy sauce to add to your already smoked meat. Oh, and don’t forget to pair your meat with your favorite beer! The only beer I wouldn’t use to pair with perfect BBQ is a smoked beer. There is already enough smoke in the meat! I would go for a tasty fruity sour ale, or a killer hoppy IPA, but there ain’t nothing wrong with a Euro or American pale lager either.
Cheers to BBQ! Meat and beer are really, really tasty!