As I said in my roll call intro I've never smoked before, so yesterday was kind of a big day for me. I bought a WSM 18.5" (maybe a year or two old) from my neighbor who was upgrading to the 22.5" model, and planned yesterday (thank you long weekend) for my inaugural smoke. I've spent the last 10 years happily grilling via a Weber propane, so charcoal and certainly wood are pretty foreign to me.
I picked up Kingsford Competition BBQ charcoal @ Costco and hickory chunks at Lowe's- all they had in chunk form was that or Mesquite and even I knew that's asking a lot as a starter attempt. I'm not feeling ready to tackle the big boys just yet - kosher meat is even more expensive than non-kosher so a real brisket is a significant investment. I settled on some beef Flanken ribs (short ribs cut across the bone, also known as English cut and apparently common in Korean BBQ) since I had them lying around and they're relatively cheap. I also pulled out a mess of wings since most of the family loves them and I thought they'd smoke up nicely. Since those came out well (giving away the ending!) I decided I'd post the wrap-up here in the chicken forums.
Almost all of my grilling has leveraged Weber cookbooks and information, so I went with their Texas dry rub (copy of the recipe) for both the wings and the beef. Based again on their suggestions I didn't bother with an overnight rub but put it on at about 8 in the morning on top of some French's Worcestershire sauce. (side kosher note - mixing meat and fish products is a kosher problem, but apparently the amount of anchovy in the French's does not meet the threshold for causing an issue, at least according to the kosher certifying agency.)
The plan was for a 4-hour smoke on the ribs, so they sat in the rub until about 2PM:
I had filled the chimney about 1/2 way with briquettes and some newspaper, and poured them in to the ring on the smoker which I only filled about halfway, including 4 decent sized hickory chunks. I filled the water bowl (covered in foil at my friend's suggestion to aid the cleanup) about 3/4 or 5/6 the way up. I gave it about 40 minutes to come up to temperature and it settled in around 230 or so according to the WSM gauge. There did seem to be a lot of smoke coming out rather than the thin streams people here have mentioned, and there was smoke coming out of pretty much every joint on the smoker. At 2 I put the ribs on the top rack since I knew the wings would end up dripping, and I left it be for 2 hours.
At that point I added the wings, coated in EVOO and the same Texas Dry Rub - I've marinated them for the grill in wet sauces for 4-6 hours, but it seemed like that wouldn't really be needed for the smoker. Here's the ribs at 2 hours in, sprayed with apple juice and about to go in foil:
By this point the temps had dropped considerably so I tossed in some more coal and another hunk of hickory. It seemed to help a bit, but I was really struggling to keep the temp up to the 225 I was shooting for, and in fact I seemed to sitting uncomfortably close to the 200 range all day. It was fairly windy out and I imagine that contributed, but clearly temp control is an issue for me.
At 6PM (+4 hrs) the ribs were running an internal temp of 155, which is much lower than I wanted or people on SMF seemed to think was right, but I had people waiting and the fire was really not producing the right heat any more. So I pulled them off the grate, wrapped them in a towel and dropped them in a cooler. But the wings, oh the wings - they looked great, and our test one while not crisp was out of this world:
You might notice a few other items on there - I was hoping to test the corn with some smoke, and the sausage is just a packaged kielbasa I tossed on. By this point I think the hickory was played out, so the hour they were on there was pretty much just charcoal grilling. I tossed the wings on the gas grill for about 2 mins per side, and oh dear lord did we hit the jackpot.
I didn't bother tossing them in sauce - I dipped a couple in some commercial sauces we had in the house, and they were totally fine without those. Deep smoke flavor, nice crispy skin from the grill, and I ate myself sick.
Sausage and corn were perfectly fine, but not terribly interesting. Cooked, but without the hickory they didn't taste any different. The kielbasa was also pretty strongly spiced, so I'm not sure it would have made any difference.
The... well, the So-So:
I think I got a decent smoke ring, and the flavor was good, but the meat was much tougher than I wanted. We didn't end up eating much, and I'm going to try and salvage the leftovers by adding it to a chili or something I can braise. The hickory will go nicely with a stew, and perhaps it will soften up.
So lessons learned and steps for the future:
- Temp control. I don't have it and I need to learn it.
- MUST get an instant read thermometer - my long wired one will not give me enough information quickly
- I do NOT understand mopping and adding liquids along the way to items like this; people talk about it here all the time but I'm not quite getting the concept, so any advice here would be very helpful
- I think, though I'm not sure, that I underestimated how much charcoal I needed. I only filled the ring about halfway, and given the breezes and the leaks in the smoker I suspect it burned through what I put in more quickly than I expected. Thoughts?
- Size may not matter - none of these flanken ribs was more than 1"-1 1/4" wide, but I think my estimate of 3-4 hours smoking time was too low. I assumed that if it wasn't a full rack of ribs it wouldn't need 6-8 hours, and I think I was wrong.
Anyway, this went on too long. I'd be grateful for opinions, suggestions and other thoughts about how I can make progress.