Posts Tagged ‘smoker’

Pulled Pork

Some of my favorite Good Eats episodes have been those where Alton creates his own cooking contraptions, such as the cardboard smokers in the smoked salmon and bacon episodes. Since Alton can never do anything in plain fashion, he had to create another version of a smoker to make his pulled pork in episode 86. This time, the smoker is Alton’s version of a Big Green Egg; more on the smoker later.

Meat-wise, Alton says an untrimmed pork shoulder or Boston butt is ideal because it has enough fat to “baste” the meat as it cooks. It also has enough connective tissue to convert to gelatin, making for tender and flavorful pulled pork. The first step of this recipe is making a brine for the pork by weighing 12 ounces of pickling salt, 8 ounces of molasses, and 4 pounds (or 2 quarts) of water. Whisk the brine in a large container (Alton used a small plastic cooler) until the salt has dissolved.

Place your pork into the brine, fat side up, ensuring that it is fully submerged in the brine – I had to weigh mine down. Refrigerate the brining pork for 8-12 hours.

Meanwhile, you can build your smoker by following these steps:

  1. Place a large terra cotta planter (mine was 16 inches in diameter at the top) on some bricks, elevating it slightly.
  2. Place an electric hot plate in the bottom of your planter, allowing the cord to come out of the hole in the base of the planter. Connect the cord of the hot plate to an extension cord.


    Hot plate placed in the bottom of a large terra cotta pot that has been elevated on some bricks.

  3. Fill a heavy cake pan with wood chunks, placing it on the hot plate.


    Wood chunks in cake pan, placed on hot plate.

  4. Place a round grill grate in the pot, letting it nestle where it sits. My grill grate was 13-14″ in diameter.


    Grill grate placed in the top of the planter.

  5. Place an inverted terra cotta dome on top of your planter. I could not find a dome that was large enough, so ended up using a 16″ terra cotta saucer.
  6. Finally, place a replacement grill thermometer in the hole of the dome. Or, if you have a nice husband like mine, he can drill a hole in the saucer for the thermometer and add a handle to the lid.


    Completed smoker.

When your pork has completed its bath in the brine, it’s time to make the dry rub.


Ingredients for dry rub: fennel seed, coriander seed, cumin seed, chili powder, onion powder, and paprika.

In a spice grinder combine 1 t fennel seed, 1 t coriander seed, 1 t cumin seed, 1 T chili powder, 1 T onion powder, and 1 T paprika.

Apply the rub to the meat after removing it from the brine, patting the spices into the meat’s surface with your hands.

You’re now ready to start the smoking process.


Pork, ready to go into smoker.

Turn on your hot plate and place your pork on the grill grate in your smoker.


Meat placed on grill grate.

I put some foil around the seam of my smoker, to keep as much smoke/heat inside as possible. Ideally, you will want to keep the temperature of your smoker between 210-220 degrees, smoking it for 8-12 hours.


Smoker at work.

Alton says you want to change your wood chunks whenever the smoking ceases, and your meat should be done when you have used three batches of wood chunks.


Pork after smoking for a few hours.

My meat ended up taking longer than 12 hours, but I also probably should have changed my wood earlier/more often. You will know your meat is done when it shreds easily with a fork. When your meat is done, remove it from the smoker, cover it with foil, and let it rest for an hour.


Pork, after smoking for 13 hours.

Shred the meat with two forks, and serve it on rolls with coleslaw. For extra flavor, you can make Alton’s sauce by combining sweet pickle juice, mustard, and hot sauce to your taste.


Shredded pork mixed with some of Alton’s sauce.


Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw, sauce, and a slice of cheddar.

We thought this pork was really tasty, and it was absolutely loaded with smokey flavor. The pork was tender, juicy, and had a nice sweetness to it. I did like it best with some of Alton’s sauce, as I liked that additional tang/heat. Overall, Alton’s terra cotta smoker worked great, and I plan to use it to smoke many more things. If you don’t have a smoker (we don’t), Alton’s version is an inexpensive option, and his pulled pork is an excellent recipe.

Scrap Iron Chef’s Bacon

I was super excited for the 59th episode of Good Eats. Who wouldn’t be excited at the prospects of making homemade bacon? This episode was a play on the TLC show Junkyard Wars, which I recall seeing several times. I don’t know that this episode would make much sense if you had not seen the original show, but I’m not here to judge production value… I just judge the food!

For Alton’s bacon, you will need a slab of pork belly, preferably from the back end of the pig (it has more fat). How much pork belly will you need? Alton appeared to prep about 10 pounds of pork belly in the episode, while the online recipe calls for five pounds. I, on the other hand, wound up with a 13.5 pound slab of belly. Basically, you can prep as little or as much bacon as you would like; you will just need to adjust the amount of brine you make accordingly. My pork belly was frozen, so I had to allow a couple extra days for it to thaw in the refrigerator. Even if your pork is not frozen, you will need to brine your pork belly for three days before smoking it.


Ingredients for bacon brine: Kosher salt, sugar, molasses, black pepper, & apple cider. Not pictured: water.

To make enough brine for 10 pounds of pork belly, combine 2 C Kosher salt, 2 C sugar, 8 oz blackstrap molasses, 2 T ground black pepper, 2 quarts apple cider, and 2 quarts water in a large pot.

Bring the brine to a simmer and allow it to cool to room temperature. Once the brine is cool enough to use, portion your pork belly into chunks that can be stored in ziplock bags; I cut my pork belly into six sections.

Divide the brine evenly among the bags and refrigerate the pork for three days, turning the bags once per day to ensure even brining.


Pork belly and brine in bags for three days.

When smoking day has arrived, remove your pork belly chunks from their brine and dry them on a rack over a sheet pan. A fan can help to expedite this process. Dry the pork for ~30 minutes per side. The purpose of drying the pork is to form a pellicle, or a protein layer, to which the smoke particles can adhere.


Pork belly drying on racks to form pellicle before smoking.

If you are like me and do not own a smoker, you can build an Alton Brown smoker, much like the one I made for the smoked salmon episode. The difference between the bacon smoker and the salmon smoker is that you want to cold smoke the bacon, while the salmon was smoked with hot smoke. To make a cold smoker a la Alton, you will need a large cardboard box to hold your meat/racks, and a smaller cardboard box to hold your electric burner and wood chips.

You will also need a piece of flexible ductwork to connect the two boxes. Duct tape works great for sealing everything up, and you will want to seal the boxes very tightly.


My smoker. Two cardboard boxes connected with ductwork.

The smoke will be produced in the smaller box before traveling through the ductwork to the meat box; this keeps the smoke cool. If you have a small fan to push the smoke through the ductwork, that helps too. I used a small personal fan that I taped to the inside of the meat box. Alton recommended inserting a probe thermometer in the meat box to be sure the temperature remains below 80 degrees; my temperature never rose above 63 degrees. You will want to smoke your bacon for about six hours, changing the wood chips about every hour.


My bacon after drying. Ready to smoke!

Be prepared for some awesome aromas to waft around your home. When your bacon has finished smoking, chill it in the freezer for an hour before slicing. In the episode, Alton did not mention whether his pork belly had the skin on, as my pork belly did. I opted to cut the skin off before slicing the bacon. We have a meat slicer, which made slicing pretty easy, and I honestly cannot imagine slicing it all by hand. Regardless of how you slice your bacon, slice it fat side up.


My sliced bacon. Freezing the bacon for an hour makes slicing easier.

Alton’s bacon can be stored in the freezer for up to a year. How does Alton recommend that you cook bacon? He recommends that you bake bacon on a rack placed over a sheet pan. Start your bacon in a cold oven that is set to 400 degrees, and check the bacon every three minutes until cooked to your liking. Oh, and save the drippings!

We first tried Alton’s bacon on BLT sandwiches with a slice of cheddar and Alton’s party mayo, and they were delicious sandwiches! The bacon is really quite delicious, though it does not have quite as much smoke flavor as I would have expected. We have a freezer full of delicious bacon that we can eat for months to come. Making bacon is certainly a fun weekend project that is worth a try.

Bacon Vinaigrette with Grilled Radicchio

If you are looking for something to use those delicious bacon drippings for, look no further than Alton’s grilled radicchio. For this recipe you’ll need radicchio lettuce, Kosher salt, black pepper, bacon drippings, brown sugar, coarse mustard, cider vinegar, and olive oil.


Ingredients for Alton’s grilled radicchio: radicchio lettuce, bacon drippings, Kosher salt, pepper, brown sugar, coarse mustard, cider vinegar, and olive oil.

Cut your radicchio into wedges, leaving some of the core in each wedge. Toss the radicchio wedges in bacon drippings to evenly coat, and sprinkle them with Kosher salt and pepper.

Grill the wedges until they are just starting to brown at the edges. Place the warm wedges on a plate and cover with foil.

Set the radicchio aside and allow the steam to cook the wedges while you make the dressing. For the vinaigrette, combine 1 T brown sugar, 1 T coarse mustard, and 1/4 C cider vinegar in a bowl. Whisk in 1/4 C olive oil and 2 T bacon drippings.

Drizzle the grilled radicchio with the bacon vinaigrette.


Radicchio wedges served with vinaigrette.

We ate this as a side dish and both thought it was delicious. In fact, we liked it so much that we already plan to have it again. This is an excellent, and different, vegetable side dish that is perfect alongside grilled entrees.

My Good Eats project has taken a bit of a back seat lately, but I plan to keep plugging away at it when I can. Ted was diagnosed with cancer at the end of May, which has turned our world a bit upside down. Still, we have found that keeping a bit of normalcy in life helps with everything. So, as we were awaiting test results last weekend, I decided to distract myself by cooking through the next episode of Good Eats, which happens to be the first episode in the fourth season.

Smoked Salmon

We live in Washington, which means smoked salmon is abundant. While I pretty much like all smoked salmon, my dad’s version reigns supreme. His has a somewhat dry, flaky texture, is slightly salty, and has loads of flavor. To make it even better, he serves it with an amazing aioli that our family calls “Dog Shit Sauce.” You see, this sauce is so good that a family friend once told my dad he’d eat dog shit if it was covered in the aioli.

My brother made Alton’s version of smoked salmon around Christmas last year. He made it straight from the online recipe, but did not watch the episode. I, of course, watched the episode and made the salmon exactly as Alton did in the show. If you do it Alton’s way, you also make your own smoker. More on that later.

To make Alton’s salmon, you will want to use two large salmon fillets. I purchased my fillets at Costco, and they were just the right size. Depending on where you get your fish, you may need to pull pin bones out of the fillets with pliers; my fish already had no pin bones. Alton uses a cure for his fish, which serves a few purposes. The cure seasons the fish, draws liquid out, and denatures proteins, which helps to keep the fish moist during smoking. The cure also creates a protein layer on the outside of the fish, called a pellicle, which aids in keeping the fish moist.

Ingredients for salmon cure:  sugar, Kosher salt, dark brown sugar, and black peppercorns.

Ingredients for salmon cure: sugar, Kosher salt, dark brown sugar, and black peppercorns.

To make the cure, in a lidded container combine 1 C Kosher salt, 1/2 C dark brown sugar, 1/2 C sugar, and 1-2 T crushed black peppercorns.

Kosher salt, sugar, dark brown sugar, and crushed black peppercorns combined.

Kosher salt, sugar, dark brown sugar, and crushed black peppercorns combined.

Shake this mixture until everything is evenly dispersed.

Cure after shaking ingredients together to combine.

Cure after shaking ingredients together to combine.

Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on top of a large piece of heavy foil. Sprinkle some cure on the foil, roughly in the shape/size of one of your fillets, and place the fillet on top, skin side down.

Small amount of cure sprinkled in fillet shape on plastic wrap.

Small amount of cure sprinkled in fillet shape on plastic wrap.

First salmon fillet placed on top of sprinkled cure.

First salmon fillet placed on top of sprinkled cure.

Generously sprinkle the cure over the flesh side of the fish, patting it gently with your hand. You will want to have a bit less cure at the tail end of the fillet since it is thinner.

Fillet #1 topped with cure.

Fillet #1 topped with cure.

Top the flesh side of the second fillet with cure and roll it on top of the first fillet, as if creating a whole fish.

Second fillet placed next to first fillet.

Second fillet placed next to first fillet.

Cure sprinkled on second fillet.

Cure sprinkled on second fillet.

Second fillet rolled onto first fillet, and skin side sprinkled with cure.

Second fillet rolled onto first fillet, and skin side sprinkled with cure.

Sprinkle the last of the cure on the skin side of this fillet. I used all of my cure, with the majority of it on the meat sides of the fish. Tightly roll the fillets in the plastic wrap, and then again in the foil, leaving the tail end of the fish open for liquid to drain.

Fillets wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Fillets wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Fillets wrapped in foil.

Fillets wrapped in foil.

Place the fish on a large sheet pan with a lip, and top with another sheet pan. Place cans or bricks on the top sheet pan to weigh it down, and place in a refrigerator for 12 hours.

Fish sandwiched between two sheet pans. Cans were later placed on top.

Fish sandwiched between two sheet pans. Cans were later placed on top.

After 12 hours, flip the fish, and let it continue to sit for 12 more hours. After curing, some liquid will have accumulated in the bottom sheet pan. Rinse the fish thoroughly with water, pat dry with paper towels, and place the fish in a cool place to air dry; a fan can speed up this process. I let my fish dry for about two hours.

Fish after being rinsed, which was after 24 hours of refrigeration.

Fish after being rinsed, which was after 24 hours of refrigeration.

Salmon drying by a fan for ~2 hours.

Salmon drying by a fan for ~2 hours.

If you plan to make an Alton Brown smoker, a good time to do it is while your fish dries. To make a smoker, you will need a large cardboard box, two 1/4″ dowel rods, an electric hot plate, a mini personal fan, and an extension cord. You will also need hardwood sawdust or soaked wood chips for smoking, along with something to put them in. Alton used a small cast iron skillet, topped with a perforated disposable pie plate. I used a small smoking box.

Soaked mesquite chips placed in smoking box.

Soaked mesquite chips placed in smoking box.

Filled smoking box.

Filled smoking box.

To make your smoker, first stick your two dowel rods through the sides of the box, so they are parallel to each other. Place a rack on top of the dowels to hold your fish. Next, cut a trap door in the bottom of one side of the box; it needs to be large enough to reach in and check your wood chip status. Place your electric hot plate in the center of the bottom of the box, and place your skillet or smoking box on top.

Smoke box placed on electric hot plate.

Smoke box placed on electric hot plate.

Plug your hot plate into your extension cord. Once your fish is dry, place it on the rack in the smoker, and insert a probe thermometer at an angle into the thickest portion of fish. Set the thermometer alarm to beep at 150 degrees. If you have a second probe thermometer, stick it through the side of the box to monitor the air temperature in the box, which you want to keep between 140 and 150 degrees. I did not have a second probe thermometer, so I did not worry about the air temperature much, only checking it occasionally with a Thermapen. Close the top of the box, turn the hot plate on to high, and set the mini fan in the box to circulate the air.

Salmon placed in DIY cardboard smoker, ready to be smoked.

Salmon placed in DIY cardboard smoker, ready to be smoked.

Mini fan added to box.

Mini fan added to box.

Close the trap door and let your fish smoke.

Smoker activated. Probe thermometer set for 150 degrees in thickest piece of fish.

Smoker activated. Probe thermometer set for 150 degrees in thickest piece of fish.

If you are using sawdust like Alton did, you will need to change your sawdust several times. Oh, and make sure your sawdust is not from pressure-treated wood, as pressure-treated wood contains toxins. I opted for mesquite wood chips, and I never needed to change them. My fish reached 150 degrees in under three hours, and it looked perfect. I let it cool to room temperature and we ate some for dinner.

Salmon after reaching 150 degrees.

Salmon after reaching 150 degrees.

Close-up of finished salmon.

Close-up of finished salmon.

I vacuum sealed the remaining salmon to eat at later dates.  The salmon was fantastic! It had a dry, flaky texture, which we really liked, and it had just the right amount of smokey flavor. I should have put a little less cure on the tail ends of my fillets, as the thinnest pieces are a tad too salty, but the salmon is perfect otherwise! I was very happy with how the cardboard smoker worked, and I cannot see ever buying a smoker when this method works so well. This is a fun, easy project that produces great smoked salmon. This is one I’m saving for future use.