How the ancient tradition of smoking meat over charcoal grew into a distinct form here in the U.S.A.
I almost don’t want to share this, as Valentina’s is my favorite “secret” barbecue spot in town.
Every five years, Texas Monthly “dispatches a team of trained eaters to travel around Texas incognito, ingesting huge amounts of barbecue. Their goal is to visit as many of the state’s approximately two thousand barbecue joints as possible in order to come up with a list of the fifty best.”
Only 18 from 2008 are made the list five years later.
Smokee bourbon… Sounds like a fun experiment.
Contrary to expectations, a McGill University researcher has discovered that seeing meat makes people significantly less aggressive. Frank Kachanoff, who studies evolution at the university’s department of psychology, had initially thought the presence of meat would provoke bloodlust, believing the response would have helped our primate ancestors hunt. But in fact, his research showed the reverse is true.
"Slow-roasted pork tinged with the flavor of a cinnamon and brown sugar rub is shredded and placed on dough spread with cinnamon-butter." The icing is barbecue sauce.
I smoked these beautiful lemons at 220° for an hour using a mix of charcoal and pecan and then we squeezed them to make an amazing lemonade that held a richer flavor, without losing any of the bright citrus tang. I’ve included a straightforward lemonade recipe below, but there are many great recipes out there that you can use as a base.
Five lemons will give you about one cup of juice, resulting in six servings of lemonade when all is said and done. The steps below are built on this estimate.
- Cut lemons in half and place them in a pan(s) that will fit in your smoker. . Disposable pie pans work well, as it may be easier to position them around the meat in the smoker. I placed some cut-side down and others cut side up to even out the amount of smoke they would absorb.
- Smoke them for about an hour at 220°, reduce the time if you’re already cooking at a higher temp.
- Pull them from the smoker and let them cool.
- While they cool, make a simple syrup by heating 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves completely.
- Squeeze the now-cool lemons into a pitcher
- Pour the syrup into the pitcher along with 3 cups of cold water (you can add more later if it’s too strong, but you’ll likely add ice too).
For an added adult-only twist, you can add bourbon, either in the pitcher or per-glass, to your taste.
Hat tip to Leesa for the inspiration!
A great recipe for Smoked Lemonade as well as a reminder that we can use spare smoker space to flavor other fruits like cherries as well as salt. Smoked salt… can you say steak and margarita's? I can.
Here’s my method for producing flavorful and juicy barbecue chicken in my smoker.
If you don’t have a lot of chicken, you can reduce this to a half or quarter of these amounts, as long as the chicken is fully surrounded by the brine. Typically you want ¼ cup of salt and ¼ cup sugar per quart of water.
- 1 whole chicken (more if you want and your smoker has room)
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
- Fresh rosemary
The Night Before
I like to cut the chicken in half as it ensures more even cooking, and makes it much easier to move around the smoker when/if you need to rotate or move the meat.
- Prepare the Brine: In a large container, mix the water, salt and brown sugar. This is much easier with warm water as it wil absorb the salt much more quickly. Just be sure to let it cool before you put the chicken in it.
- Cut the chicken in half, along the breastbone. The result should have one wing and one leg on each side.
- Place the chicken in a large ziplock bag (my preferred method) or a suitably sized container, add the rosemary (I’ll usually add a few stems) and pour in the brine liquid. If you split the chicken into more than one container, you may need extra brine. Make sure the chicken is fully immersed
- After sealing the container, put it in the fridge if you have room. Alternately, I like to put it in a cooler full of ice so the refrigerator isn’t jam-packed and in case the bags give way, the mess would be contained. Luckily I haven’t had any brine leaks.
The actual smoking process will be about 4 hours.
- Remove the chicken from the brine an hour or before it will go into the smoker.
- Rinse the chicken thoroughly. Missing this step will result in a slightly too-salty chicken
- When the smoker is at 235°, place the chicken halves on the grill. I place the thicker, breast side towards the firebox; you may need to find the best layout for your smoker.
- Maintain the 235° temperature.
- Rotate the chicken after two hours (half-way through the cooking process) so the meat is evenly cooked.
- After the fourth hour, check the internal temperature of the meat in the breast of one of the halves to ensure it is fully cooked. You’re aiming for 165°, though you may want to pull it out a couple of degrees sooner, as the meat will keep cooking after being removed from the smoker.
- Wrap the chicken in foil and let it rest for 10 minutes. Don’t skip this step! It’s tempting to dig right in, but this resting period will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.
Carve and Enjoy
Hopefully this will prove tasty and give you a foundation for playing with different flavors. I didn’t cover the woods I use to smoke the meat, but I highly recommend using a bit of apple wood if you have access to it.