Hi again, everyone!
I had this strange idea last night while I looked at a pack of thawing CSR's I had in the fridge from a couple days ago. My wife purchased these a few weeks back, and as I examined them, I realized they were not the typical thick cut CSR. These are about the same thickness as a standard chop cut...about an inch, with some being a bit thicker. Hmm, with a tougher cut of meat being a thin cut is not very conducive to achieving the benefits of low and slow cooking, but I had a couple of ideas to pull this off. I wondered how much a brine would effect their flavor and moisture over a longer smoke at lower temps, even though this meat was likely from enhanced pork, as it had a Hormel label on the package. So I tossed together a quick, down and dirty brine and let them soak for 16 hours until firing up the gourmet charcoaler for a pecan/apple smoke. Hmm, this will only be my second smoke with pecan also...loved it as a combo with apple on skinless chicken thighs the first time around on my last smoke.
I did at least measure everything I put into the brine, but...jeez, I didn't write it down last night...I usually have a note pad on hand to jot it all down for these spur of the moment recipes...good thing I slept well, or else my CRS (can't remember ****) would be kicking in right about now...LOL!!!
Well, if my memory serves me, here's what I threw into the pot of brine:
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
3 Tbls salt
2 bay leaf
1.5 Tbls (very small handful) dried rosemary leaves
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp ground black peppercorn
2 Tbls 3/8" diced dried red bell pepper
2 tsp dried minced garlic
2 tsp dried sweet basil
After starting at med/low, I had a slight simmer going here for about 5 minutes...this is approx 180-185* at my elevation of just under 5,000 feet...you can see some of the garlic and other more dense spices rolling (down the outside, up in the center) in the rising water column here...anyway, about 30 minutes total time on the heat:
Cool-down time...all of the denser solids have dropped out of the water:
I used 1.5 quarts water to bring this together, strained it, added another 1.25 quarts cold water and about 2lb of ice cubes to bring the temp down. As it turned out, it was just enough liquids to submerge the CSR's in a round 6qt covered food grade poly container, with most laying horizontally and a few others vertically to fill the gaps loosely.
These CSR's are thin cut, making a true low & slow cooking abit more difficult, unfortunately. However, for the purposes of low and slow, getting them tender can be accomplished with a lower temp smoke chamber. I'll be shooting for an average temp of ~190-195* with a moderate-high humidity smoke chamber so I can stretch the internal 155-165* temp range over a longer period (approx melting point of connective tissues). The higher humidity and the brine should help to keep them moist during their longer than usual ride in the smoker. For thick cut CSR's, I generally run about 210-215*, but with a thinner cross-section as I have here, the lower temps will be beneficial for tenderizing the meat, allowing it to cook through slower.
Anyway, shrinkage and texture (bend test and tenderness probing) will be my main indicators for doneness, as probing for temps in a cut of meat this thin would be futile. On top of that, being bone-in complicates probing small cuts. Getting accurate temp readings is nearly impossible in this case.
I'm just about to drip dry and get some dry rub action going on the CSR's when I thought I'd leave one or two of them naked, just to get a taste of what the brine brings along for flavor. I think that 16 hours with small/thin cut pieces such as these should be sufficient time for allowing the brine's flavors to penetrate into the meat. One question remains in my mind, though...did I use enough salt to allow for osmosis, or was the salt content in the meat already near or above what I used in the brine? I didn't want a high-salt brine. Being I don't know what concentration they may have used, and short of trying to research for that data online, it's a shot in the dark.
The aroma of the CSR's after being removed from the brine should tell the story, though. 16 hours is up, and I'm about ready for today's smoke:
The aromas of spices from the brine was strong once the CSR's were roved and drip-dried, so I'm definitely going to leave one naked for a sampler of what the brine did for me today.
The color of the pork turned to a grey tint from the brine, which is party due to the salt, and this in itself tells me that the brine did penetrate the meat, and also, the coloring of the brine's spices were aborbed into the meat:
There was slight pink coloring to the juices in the pan a few minutes after laying the CSR's into it and moving them to a dry pan for dry rubbing, so much of the natural meat juices are still there...cool.
A heavy dusting on both sides with my simple and tasty go-to Red Bell Pepper rub...except for that one on the lower left, for my naked sampler of the brine. Iopted for this rub because it's one we've basically fallen in love with the most, and out all of my dry rubs, it's simplicity allows for more prominence to come through with the flavors of brines and smoke, as well as the meat. So, it should work out well for today's pecan/apple smoke and the brine:
The heaviest of the CSR's went onto my modded Gourmet charcoal smoker's lower grate @ 4" below the upper grate position, and the smaller ones will go on top. This should alleviate the need for grate rotations from top to bottom (lower grate runs a bit hotter):
I started the smoke with a somewhat cold chamber by placing the barrel over 1 full chimney of freshly placed hot charcoal, then, loading the grates while the water pan was still dry and putting the lid on. I added about 1/2qt of water within a minute or two, and as temps reached about 225-230 on my probe, closed my intake draft control to about 5% from about 40% and continued adding water every few minutes until temps stablized just under 200*. I did need to remove the lid a couple times to vent out excess heat. I hadn't taken into account the fact that I was firing up the smoker with ambient temps of over 40*F instead of near zero as the last few smokes have been...lesson learned, check ambient temps before firing the chimney up. I could have started on 1/2 a chimney in good shape for these lower chamber temps and just added a pound or so of preheated/partially burning coals at a time later on.
Anyway, smoke is on, and all I need is to keep temps where I want, a nice thin pecan/apple smoke and a bit of water in the pan. The initially higher than planned smoke chamber temp will be fine as this will bring the internal temps over 140 a bit sooner. The main focus I have is to let them ride longer in the melting point of the connective tissue at slightly lower chamber temps than for larger cuts of meat in order to reach their finish temps in a tender state.
3 hours in, and I decided to have my first peek...small puddles of meat juices are forming on the top surfaces, so they coming along nice and slow, just the way I wanted, and I have tons of humidity in the smoke chamber:
A bit better look at the lower grate's occupant in the bottom of the pic...juices forming nicely here, as well...you can see the temp probe between the grates on the right:
5.5 hours total smoke time, and they're showing a drier surface now. Texture is firmer to the touch with tongs and no bending when lifted, so.................:
....................I'm calling this DINNER...:
...along with one of my wife's simple and very tasty pasta dishes with mushroom, fresh tomatoe, fresh garlic, sweet basil, mozarella:
Very, very tender and moist pork here (without foiling to finish)...that's what it's all about, my friends...yes, that's a butter knife I used to cut apart the naked CSR:
Even with a brine and chamber humidity running moderately high for the first three hours, then getting to the point of dripping water from the bottom of the smoker onto my wood patio from the forth hour right up until I yanked 'em out...it has a nice, light but deep smoke ring for you smoke buffs...HA-HA-HA!!!
I ate the naked CSR first so my taste buds wouldn't be tainted by the dry rub just so I could find out what the brined only tasted like. The pecan/apple smoke alone, was really nice. The brine flavors were there too, but rather faint. Some of the sweeter flavors didn't seem to come through at all, but I did taste the rosemary, cumin, garlic, and just a touch of black pepper. Oh, and saltiness was relatively low. I could taste it, but very faintly, so the use of low-salt rubs would be fine, and no-salt rubs would still be tasty. So, I guess, knowing what I know now about the other brine ingredients, I would probably leave them out next time, or possibly use about 1/3 to 1/2 more salt in the brine to help drive more solution into the meat, which may bring out more of the other flavors which seemed to be lacking.
Anyway, being able to at least taste some of the brine told me that the brine did penetrate the enhanced pork even with the lower salt concentration I used, so some flavors and additional bulking up of the meat with liquids took place to help keep the internal moisture up for this lower temp, longer time smoke. That said, I may be brining alot more enhanced pork in the future. I used to brine fresh pork, but never any that was already enhanced. Now I know there is still some benefit to be reaped here. Heck, I may even start brining pork ribs, chops and shoulders (pulled pork), time permitting.
All in all, not 100% success this first time around, but I have a very good baseline for where to go from here on previously enhanced thin cut CSR's. Well, considering that my main goal of the brine was to assist a humid smoke chamber in keeping them moist during a longer smoke, with adding flavor being a secondary objective, it worked out great.
It's been fun, and now I'm done!
Thanks for checking out my latest experiment!
Great smokes and good eats, all!