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Monday, August 27, 2012

Art You Can Eat: a BBQ Update

A number of VOB readers have expressed interest in barbecue, having previously read “Northern BBQ”. I suppose it would be more acccurate to say a number “has” expressed interest, but hey, one is a number! At any rate, the VOB has never been about numbers; I see it more as a service to society, keeping my 11 or 12 readers up to date on such important topics as the Blond Bandit, Fashion , and of course Barbecue.

You may wish to review the ”Northern Barbecue”entry, as what I have to say here builds on the previous dispatch. While you’re doing that, let’s talk about the fine specimen of humanity known to her family, friends, and the Prince William County legal system as Ms. Stephanie Schwab, but who the rest of the northern VA region knows as “the Blond Bandit.”

Schwab pleaded guilty on Thursday, 9 August, to several charges including bank robbery, car theft and carjacking, and drug trafficking, stemming from her conduct over a several-day period in late November of last year. She now has 11 years in federal prison and 4 years’ probation in which to contemplate her transgressions. Google “Blond Bandit” for the operational details; the local media bequeathed that moniker on her based on her blondish hair and because why not, criminals are a pretty dull lot by and large, so let’s tart it up a bit shall we? It worked, BTW; her crime spree during the aforementioned period spawned numerous local news articles and captured the imagination of the local populace who undoubtedly suffered conflicting feelings upon her eventual 30 November capture.

Your faithful editor himself was briefly smitten, penning the following ode upon her arraignment:

Ode to the Blonde Bandit

They say she was from a good family
A black sheep that wandered astray
Only God knows
Why this path she chose
That led to her arraignment today.

Armed robbery, kidnapping, car theft, assault
But the DA has left out the part
That won’t make the papers
Or add to her time
The blonde bandit has stolen my heart

Gang life in northern Virginia
A troubled and crime-ridden past
Blonde hair and green eyes
Did not realize
Which bank heist would be her last

Attempting swift-footed evasion
After wrecking her getaway car
But at only 5’3”
And 160 pounds
She couldn’t have hoped to get far

Her victims may get back their money
And their vehicles whole or in part
The lawyers their hours
The policemen their wage
But I’ll never get back my heart

Well, then!

I’ve adjusted a few aspects of my BBQ technique since February, 2010, when I first wrote about the topic along with naked intruders and other unauthorized nudity. Unfortunately I have nothing to add on latter topics, but I have updated my BBQ technique in a few areas:

I no longer soak the hardwood before putting in on the fire, having been convinced by a VOB reader (tnx, M.I.) and internet forum contributors that it was only adding water vapor to the smoke and not actually making more smoke.

I don’t bother to put the excess marinade in the drip pans, for a similar reason – it wasn’t really adding anything, and was just increasing messiness. I use tap water instead.

I’m no longer quite as strident about not using lighter fluid. I concluded  that it’s quicker to just get the coals lit quickly, then wait 20 minutes or so until the lighter fluid fumes dissipate, rather than dink around with newspaper and stubborn charcoal for 45 minutes.

I still use a mixture of hardwood and charcoal for the fire, and have added a few more trees to the mix:
                Sea Alder (relative of Birch)
                Oak (intoxicatingly rich smoke)
I tested a couple of other woods and found them to produce a vile stench therefore my samples are now either in the Prince William County landfill or in the woodshed of Bruck (WOB):

I’ve tried expanding the meat portfolio, with mixed results. Polish sausage smokes up real nice, as do natural-casing hot dogs. Other types of sausage, such as Italian, are better grilled. I attempted hog jowl (for northerners, jowl rhymes with vowel, but here in the Confederacy, where you don’t have to explain what a hog jowl is, it more closely rhymes with ball); it was OK, but is better just sliced and fried like bacon. Pork chops didn’t fare well; they got too dry. Beef shoulder worked pretty well but was a tiny bit dry; it tastes like really rich English roast. Vegetables, corn on the cob, hardboiled eggs, let’s just say they resulted in a valid scientific outcome but we won’t be smoking them again.

Now dig, the above items are just a few small tweaks to the basic process; below are a few bigger changes:

Fire control: I was reading about the Kamado (big porcelain egg) -style smokers and learned that users thereof are able to start the fire and then not touch it for 20 hours. After what seemed like several seconds of head-scratching, I surmised that they must be doing something different from my method, which required pretty much perpetual monitoring of the fire and smokebox temperature. My epiphany, which has probably been obvious to all closed-box (i.e., non-open pit) smokers from the beginning of time, is that the only way to do this is to carefully control the air coming in to the firebox. So this is what I do now – put in more fuel than needed, then use the rotary vent control to meter in the air, thereby governing the fire. Of course you can’t have total control of the fire this way, given that there’s a rather large air hole where the firebox connects to the smokebox, but a few other things help:
                Use foil to seal up all other air inlet paths.
                Additionally use foil to seal around the smokebox lid.
                Use the chimney vent control to further impede air flow as needed.

Smoke circulation: with cheap smokers such as mine, exposure to smoke and heat is not evenly distributed within the smokebox, with more heat present at the mouth of the firebox than at the other end. Numerous remedies to this have been discussed on BBQ forums; mine is to simply put a piece of sheet metal just inside the smokebox to drive the heat around more evenly within the box. This seems to help, particularly when the box is crowded.

Smoking in inclement weather: I drape a couple of thick blankets over the smoke box (taking care to prevent their contact with the firebox) during cold weather, wind, rain, snow, frogs, locusts, etc.; this helps prevent smokebox temperature fluctuations.

Finishing: partly to abate the tedium of watching temperatures and tending the fire, but mainly to retain moisture in the final product, I’ve taken to “finishing” the hunks o’ meat in the oven, i.e., just cooking them for the last few hours. After eight to ten hours on the smoker, your meat isn’t really picking up any more smoke, but its tasty fluids are still oozing out into the drip pan. What I do at this point is remove the meat from the smoker, put it in a legal-size pan, wrap it tightly in foil, and cook it in the oven at 225F until the core temperature reaches 195F. I then pull the pan out of the oven and let the meat sit at room temperature (foil still on) for 45 minutes, after which time it’s ready for pulling or slicing.

Fashion: as I have mentioned previously, my engineering education and extra-class amateur radio license abundantly qualify me to wax authoritative on the subject of fashion. I’ll restrict my advice to today’s topics, namely what to wear while BBQing and defending a client in court. In both cases, the answer is the same: maroon velvet tuxedo with wide lapels, trimmed with orange, and a white shirt with a black bow tie. You’ll recall that Joe Pesci wore this outfit when successfully defending his young cousin against murder charges in the movie, “My Cousin Vinny.” It’s a proven winner in court, and is immune to BBQ sauce stains – both Midwest and Carolina styles!

So, Bruck, does all this stuff work? We’ll let the facts speak for themselves. Nearly every time I serve BBQ, either pork shoulder or brisket, the exquisite but beleaguered wife of Bruck (EBBWOB), says, “I know I say this every time, but this is your best BBQ so far.” And I’ve never had a guest not take seconds, except for an old college friend/wife of a buddy of mine (OCF/WOABOM) who’s a vegetarian – she politely tucked away one serving. Meanwhile, I don’t know this for sure, but I presume that the Blond Bandit’s lawyer did not wear a maroon and orange tux to court on 9 August, and now she has yet another thing to spend the next 11 years regretting!


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