This is part two of an experiment with a lean-trimmed pork butt while smoking in a dry environment to improve interior moisture retention and bark development. Today, I modified the process from the lessons learned earlier. If you weren't following me on the first run with this cooking method (or wish to refresh your memory), the original thread is: http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/122833/no-foil-lean-trimmed-butt-in-brinkmann-gourmet-w-dry-smoke-chamber-q-view-finished
I do fully intend to take this hot smoking method into truly lean cuts of meat for a healthier diet, as time allows (such as brisket flat, pork loin, etc), so be watching for those in the future if this is something that really interests you. Moisture retention is the main focus of this method of cooking, while finding a balance of smoke reaction, and the desired amount of bark, or lack thereof, if you don't want bark.
As I mentioned in the thread above, I didn't feel the smoke had adequate time for reaction with the meat due to the meat's surface having dried and skinned-over too quickly with a low-humidity smoke chamber, so I went with the charcoal Gourmet again for the start-up of this smoke last night, with water in the foil pan over the pea-gravel filled water pan and a heavier application of smoke for the first 4 hours. This elevated the smoke chamber humidity somewhat, hopefully allowing for better smoke reaction with the meat, even though it was only for 4 hours, then removed the pork butt from the smoke altogether and switching to a dry cooking chamber for the remainder of the smoke. The remaining water in the pan (along with examining the meat drippings) indicated approx 1/2 - 2/3 quart of water was evaporated into the smoke chamber during the 4-hr smoke...maybe not quite as much as I intended, but we'll see later if it was enough for a decent amount of smoke reaction.
The pea-gravel dampened some of the heat getting to the water pan creating a slower evaporation, thus slightly reduced humidity in comparison with using just water in the pan. I have 2 water pans for this particular smoker, so I could in fact run straight water in the pan for maximum humidity during the smoke, then remove it and switch to pea-gravel, though I would need to preheat the gravel pan in another smoker or oven @ ~250* to avoid loosing as much chamber temps. Switching pans would also slow the thermal absorption of the meat while it was removed (top loading smoker) for the time it would take to make the swap. I decided for this particular situation to prep my Smoke Vault 24 in advance, and seasoned it with a pea-gravel filled water pan, then preheated to drop the butt in after the 4-hr smoke for the remainder of the cooking. This only took about 20 or 30 seconds to make the swap, so no major addition of cooking time was involved.
To kick things off, I took a 8.8lb butt which was enhanced with "up to 8%" solution, trimmed it heavily, and rubbed with SPG (salt, pepper, garlic). I didn't get pre/post trimmed weight comparisons, as I was in a hurry to get this started as an after work smoke (only 1 day off work this weekend), but I trimmed about 1/2lb of fat and a bit around the edges (much leaner trim than the first run), with removal of the entire fat-cap. Again, simple seasoning as with the first experiment, with nothing special used to develop a bark (other than the salt), just to show what the meat will do on it's own.
Oh, and I did catch a nice break in the weather this time. Winds were calm to light, and no storms to deal with. The only issue I ran up against was my butt was still partially frozen after 2.5 days in a 37-38* fridge thaw (firm, but somewhat flexible when handling...maybe ~26-28* internal temp in the center?) when I trimmed it up, so I maintained a 230-235* chamber temp during the smoke, and 240-250* for the first 90 minutes after switching to the Smoke Vault, then dropped back to 225* for the rest of the night. Smoke started @ 8:30 PM on Saturday 06-17-12.
4-hrs in and getting ready to make the switch from the Gourmet to the Smoke Vault...I used an accessory cooking grate to place the butt on which would fit into both smokers so I could leave it undisturbed when changing smokers. I didn't get any prep pics...nothing special to look at anyway, and you can see in areas of these pics that there really isn't much of a dry rub. It's all about the meat, smoke and cooking chamber humidity levels:
And, to my surprise, I woke to 172* internal temps @ 11.5 hours (much, much faster cooking than I expected)...here we are about 11.75 hours in and 174*. First pic in good faith...quite fuzzy due to the camera operator getting rushed and not allowing the auto-focus to take control, but, yes, it's in the Smoke Vault now, and this shows my modified accessory cooking grate, as well:
OK, so you may be asking yourself: how can this be that the meat gets such a deep color without a rub containing chili powder, paprika and other ingredients that can produce color enhancements? My answer relies only on what I've experienced: oven roasting with open pans allows for much of this same caramelizing of the meat's surface, just not as much on the bottom and sides. Open-grate smoking is a very similar process, except that there is no pan to baffle the heat getting to the bottom and sides of the roast, and we are adding smoke to the equation, which can add a deeper color. And, no, I don't spray/mist liquids on my meats while smoking...at least I haven't to this point in time...maybe for certain applications, it would be beneficial, but it would destroy what I'm working towards for today's smoke.
Will it be moist and tender with no fat-cap and cooked for the majority of time in a low-humidity environment? I know it will. Will the smoke be adequate with only 4 hours of heavier smoke on an 8lb cut of pork butt? That's yet to be determined, but I'll let you know my take on the finished product today. Will it have a good bark? How about a GREAT bark? YES!!!
To preserve what will prove to be another fantastic bark covering the majority of the meat's surface of the butt due to complete fat-cap removal, I decided to rest it on the grate, placed on a cutting board, and to only cover with a clean, dry towel to allow it the breathe and not collect steam while it slowly cools before pulling. This will cool a bit faster than foil/towel-wrapped/cooler resting, yes, but experience has taught me that the longer, more insulated resting can be used when needed for timing your meals, though it isn't a prerequisite for great pulled pork. 60-90 minutes will redistribute the meat juices adequately, as long as you aren't cooling too quickly. Remember, we have the mass of this larger cut of meat working in our favor here...larger = slower cooling. I'm opting for the most natural approach possible, so no treatment with added fats/oils for crisping the bark, and simple seasonings, just to find out what the meat can really do for me, all on it's own.
Today, this smoke is all about moist, tender pulled pork with a crisp, heavy, natural bark (a huge dog's WOOF-WOOF!!!), with a leaner trim for healthier diet, a fair amount of smoke, and flavors which are largely unadulterated by a heavy rub. To accomplish all this with relatively minimal prep and the total lack of complicated cooking methods may not seem easy, but it is. I'm only playing with smoke chamber humidity here. In the past few years, I was all about adding to the overall flavor profile with enhancement through careful use of dry rub, brine and marinade ingredients...nothing wrong with that...but I'm going back to the basics here to find ways to improve the finished texture and moisture of leaner smoked meats while allowing the natural flavors of the meat and smoke to walk on their own.
Switching to the Smoke Vault gasser allowed me to get some sleep without fire-tending, which was a nice change. I though about dropping the butt into the oven, then realized I wouldn't have the depth of cooking chamber dimensions that the Smoke Vault offered, which would have been a bit more difficult to achieve the same open grate cooking performance, and thus would slightly increase the actual chamber humidity. I also don't know how well this particular oven is ventilated (I don't oven cook much, myself), so didn't want to take a chance on skewing the results of this smoke.
Well, last temp checks were 185-187* @ 13.5 to 15.5 hrs and counting (high-temp stall, which I wanted to see, as it will finish too early for dinner anyway)...target temp is 200*, with some probing around for tenderness checks, but I'm confident that 200* will do the job, so long as this butt didn't just blast through the mid-150 to mid-160* range...we'll see in a few hours. I will say this, up to this point, this is by far among the fastest cooking no-foil butt smokes I've ever experienced. I've had fresh brined butts (full, but scored fat-cap) in the 8+ lb range take over 25 hours in a humid smoke chamber at relatively similar chamber temps. Is the drier smoke chamber the reason, and/or lack of fat cap and slightly reduced weight as a result of the trimming? My last butt using a dry smoke chamber took 16.5 hours to hit 200* I/T (cooked entirely in the Gourmet), and it was a bit smaller with only a small amount of fat-cap, and chamber temps were fluctuating a bit due to the weather I was dealing with at the time.
Just wanted to get this up and running so those who are interested have a bit of heads-up before the finish is upon us.
Back with the results, ASAP!
Thanks for peekin', and, HAPPY FATHER'S DAY to all my smokin' brothers!!!
Edited by forluvofsmoke - 7/9/12 at 8:18pm