Yes, Virginia, you can barbecue

July 8, 2011

Being that it’s Friday morning, I’m up early, and if I weren’t doing this I’d feel guilty about not getting up and putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and given that I haven’t posted all week and I had the photos for this one in the can, I figured I’d do a detailed tutorial on the art of barbecuing.

Barbecuing. Not cooking out. Barbecue does not involve beef, fowl or fish. It is a stretch to say the word “barbecue” by itself encompasses pork ribs. True barbecue, used as a noun and not an adjective or a verb, means pork shoulder. Or the whole pig, which I’ve never tried to do but I can testify is good.

For some stuff, the old trusty barrel grill can't be beat.

You can barbecue on a regular grill, as long as it’s big enough you can arrange your meat where it gets only indirect heat. In my case, I’ve got an old barrel grill that allows me to put a sizeable chunk of pork shoulder, often sold in the grocery as Boston butt, in the center, with a heap of coals on both sides. But first, there are some steps that butt needs to go through.

Mr. Butt, wearing his coating of dry rub.

My recent barbecue started with an 8-pound butt, which is about a third of a shoulder. It had  a nice piece of shoulder blade bone running through it, and some pretty fat marbling, but no visible big chunks of fat. That’s what you want. Start out with a dry rub of your choice, and coat it down thoroughly with that, at least 24 hours before you plan to put it on the grill. I did mine Saturday afternoon for a Monday cook.

There are lots of good prepared rubs out there on the market, including Rendezvous many others. Nothing wrong with using one of them. I usually make my own, using 2 tbsp each ancho chile powder, salt, paprika and sugar, and 1 tbsp each coriander, cumin, black pepper, and garlic powder. That’ll make enough for about two big butts.

Lay the butt out on several big pieces of plastic wrap you’ve prepared, cross-hatched, on the counter, and cursed mightily as you tried to get them straightened out and not sticking to each other except where they’re overlapped. Sprinkle some rub on the plastic before you put the butt down, just to keep from having to turn it over; then liberally coat all the remaining exposed surfaces. Rub the stuff in to any cracks and crevices. Then wrap it securely in the wrap and wrap it again in foil. Stash it in the fridge and go about your business. It’s a good idea to stick it in a baking dish or roasting pan before it goes in the fridge; it WILL leak.

Wrapped and ready for the fridge.

When it comes barbecuing time, you can do complex or you can do simple. I grew up doing complex, which required one fire to produce coals separately from the grill or pit, and adding those coals at regular intervals beneath the cooking meat. If you do the indirect heat method, it gets simpler. I built two mounds of charcoal briquets, one on either end of my barrel grill, and lit them; when they burned down and had a nice ash covering, I added a couple of handfuls of soaked applewood chips. The butt went in between, about 8:30 a.m.;  the lid closed, and I left it alone for about two hours.

Came back and turned it — the only turn it got all day. That’s another plus of the indirect heat. The old style of barbecuing would have you turning the meat hourly. But I had beer to drink and sun to soak up, and I wasn’t interested in diving into the grill hourly. I went back once, around noon, and added some briquettes on either end; sprinkled them with a little lighter fluid, and fired them up, because I was afraid they wouldn’t catch from the heat of the adjoining charcoal. The advantage of the new charcoals that go from lit to ready-to-cook in pretty short order is that you can do that, stand by for maybe 1o minutes, and then just close the lid and go on.

Not burnt! Oh no, no, no, not burnt at all!

By 2:45, the butt had a charred black crust on him, which would have appeared burnt to anyone who didn’t know that’s what a barbecue crust is supposed to look like. It still needed a couple of hours of low heat, but Mother Nature had a different idea, as she was blowing up a much-needed thunderstorm. So I pulled the butt off, into my big metal roasting pan, covered it with foil, and popped it in the oven for two hours.

When it came time to get dinner together, I dug into the roast with a couple of dinner forks and commended to pull the meat apart in shreds — literally, “pulled pork.” It wold have gone faster had I had some clean rubber gloves, and I could have just gotten into it with my hands. But the forks worked. The little veins of fat had dissolved into the surrounding meat, leaving it succulent and juicy. The charred crust, distributed through the pulled meat, spread out a delicious spicy, smoky flavor. The meat was so tender it melted on the tongue. I had a grocery store barbecue sauce, but the flavor was so good I didn’t think it needed it.

I'm telling you. Sweet Baby Jesus good.

Fine, fine stuff. And I’ve got a quart bag of it in the freezer, and another quart bag in the fridge for quesadillas or omelets or sandwiches or hash this weekend. Can’t beat it.

You and y’mama ‘n ’em fire up the grill and do this. You’ll want to call and thank me.

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4 Responses to “Yes, Virginia, you can barbecue”

  1. Len Cleavelin Says:

    Sorry I missed it. I’m thinking BBQ for my birthday. Don’t know if it’s gonna be The Bar-B-Q Shop, Central, or if I’ll expand my horizons and try somewhere else. 🙂

  2. kayatthekeyboard Says:

    Oh, live it up. It’s your birthday. Go to the Commissary. Besides, their deviled eggs are awesome.

  3. Whitney Reynolds Says:

    We JUST got a barrell charcoal grill (was sick of the gas grill), and have been learning about cooking on it. Trying this recipe tomorrow 🙂

  4. kayatthekeyboard Says:

    Let me hear results!


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