Hi again, All! Ready for another ride? This one won't be long like my last smoke, but I wanted to share the adventure.
I dug out a 6+ lb family pack of chops from the freezer last night to start thawing. Knowing how slow this can be, I decided to leave them on the counter top overnight, covered with a kitchen towel for insulation on top. It was the typical styrofoam tray, so the bottom was already insulated. I decided I'd use a brine to finish the thawing process and impart some flavor and moisture along the way.
I started the brine solution lastnight, and after slowly heating for over 40 minutes to a slow simmer, I chilled it overnight after cooling to room temp, with everything still in the pot. At 9:45 this morning, I strained the brine and added more water and some ice, stirred, and piled in the chops. The chops were out of the freezer for 12 hours, but were just thawed enough to be able to slowly pry them apart with my fingers. BTW, yes, my fingers were ready for a hot soapy wash after that...darn cold stuff. I brined the chops for about 6 hours before they hit the smoke this after noon, leaving the container on the counter resting on a folded towel for insulation for the first 30 minutes, as it was 33-34* when I started, and most of the ice had melted after a half-hour, so, I popped it into the fridge for the remainder of the brining.
My selection of savories was based mainly upon previous experience with their uses in dry rubs and brines, with one exception being ginger, which I've not used yet, but decide a sparing dose would be a good start. I wanted the brine to have the slightly fruity and sweet flavors, but also wanted to add more depth. The red bell pepper, cherry, and (most recently) apple have been great bases for the start of my flavor profiles, and the thought all three combined? Well, I just couldn't resist the urge to find out where this ride would take me!
APPLE/CHERRY/RED BELL PEPPER BRINED PORK CHOPS
***for 5-7 lbs pork chops***
2 Tbls dried tart cherry
3 Tbls crushed/broken dried apple chips
2 Tbls dried diced red bell pepper
3 Tbls kosher salt
1/2 Tbls ground black peppercorn
1 Tbls dried minced garlic
1 Tbls dried rosemary
1/2 Tbls oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
2 bay leaf
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3.5 qts water (1.5 qts for brine concentrate, remainder added after chilling)
The brine, just after I turned the heat off...the aromas were already very intense, but enticing. I decided to let this brine soak longer and cool more slowly, as I had quite a few larger pieces in it, including whole dired cherries which I simply mashed a bit with a plastic spoon when I turned the heat off, after they had begun to reconstitute. The cherries were easy to find, as they're dense, and stayed on the bottom. The apple chips, minced garlic and red bells were swelling with water retention as well, so this should have tons of flavors...the color of the brine concentration as you'll see, will transform and get much darker overnight:
And, after 10 hours...straining it into one of my smaller (6qt) brining containers...the cherries, garlic, red bells and apples have plumped up alot now, so the aromas and flavors should be drawn out of all the ingredients to the point of equalization...this stuff smells good enough to pour over rice or noodles as a sauce, but I won't...not this time anyway, as I have chops to brine...it would make a good sauce base-however, with much less salt:
The brine concentrate:
Chops are in and it's time for a lid and chilling:
Now, for a dry rub and smoke. Hmm, should I use one of my tried-and-true favorite rubs? Or, do I just add something very simple, like CBP with a touch of salt so I can taste the combined depth of the brine flavors and the pork chop in all it's glory? Decisions, decisions...I do like the thought of keeping the exterior very simple, allowing the brine and pork chop's milder flavors to remain light, so, I'm leaning hard towards that route.
The smoke I'm thinking of should be sweeter, lighter, fruity and not sharp...hickory is out...too sharp...mesquite is too heavy and earthy for the flavor profile I'm building...apple is a no brainer, being lighter, sweeter...cherry, is a close call, being slightly stronger than apple, but we really like the flaovr. My recent experiences with pecan have all been good, and I love the stronger aroma and milder flavor it imparts. Anyway, that lists my current smoke woods arsenal, with three probable candidates.
OK, apple and pecan won the coin toss...just kidding, I don't leave things like this to chance.
Ah, but what about the fuel type? I have a propane rig, which is easy, but this is a shorter smoke, which I can handle with my gourmet charcoal smoker instead, so I will. Call it primal instinct, or whatever you want...I call it the best combination of flavors and smoke reaction I can get from a smoker, with a bit of care in wood selection, of course.
Smoke is on @ 3:30 pm for a planned 6:00 pm dinner. It's an absalutely beautiful mid-March Sunday afternoon for my location, with currently 61* ambient, no wind and clear blue skies, so I'm gonna enjoy it while it lasts.
I'll try to run the gourmet in the lower 200's for these chops, with a target temp of 215-220*. The lower grate is loaded and hanging 4" below the upper grate for less steam/more smoke, and I opted for a simple table grind pepper & salt:
Upper grate loaded and we're ready for some apple/pecan smoke:
That was a bit crowded for the gourmet. More so than I wanted, by far, as I have chops touching each other every place where I couldn't bulk them up enough when I positioned them. I did want to stay away from the outer edges of the grates, as that's hot spots with every vertical smoker I've ever used, and the gourmet is no different. It took me a couple minutes to load both grates and get everything to fit as is. Ah, it'll be allright, they just won't have quite the same look, and won't cook quite as evenly, so I'll have to be careful about checking them over pretty close. The appearance of meat juices on the surface and how evenly it forms is a good indication about mid-way through the smoke. I'll likely need to rotate the grate positions as the lower one runs a bit hotter, and I can give 'em all a quick once-over with the eyeball before setting the grates back in for the finish.
The gourmet is chuggin along nicely with a full chimney of hot reclaimed briquettes from previous smoke and grilling jobs which I snuffed out in my weber kettle. That thing is great for more than just great chargrilled meats and indirect cooking. It's so air tight when you close the top and bottom that any coals inside will die out in just a few minutes.
Anyway, I just wanted to get this started and out before it gets too late in the evening so everyone interested would have a heads-up and not miss out.
Finished pics and brine/smoke review to follow ASAP!
Thanks for checking out my latest brine experiment!