Thursday, April 20, 2017

All You Need to Know & More About BBQed Brisket

All You Need to Know & More About BBQed Brisket

The perfect smoked beef brisket over SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood
The perfect smoked beef brisket over SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood


We receive a lot of questions about preparing and smoking a beef brisket on different equipment. There is no question, that people in North America love their beef and anyone who has sampled prime BBQ knows that brisket has a truly unique flavor that puts this food experience on many people’s bucket list.  Let me share some of the key tips we offer as well as some of the interesting questions posed regarding this infamous meat.

What’s With All The Names?  
Whole packer, Flat, Point, Deckle, Burnt Ends.  These are likely names you’ve heard or seen float around.  Let’s start with what brisket is – pectoral muscles (there are two) of the animal.  They get a lot of work, bearing more than half the animal’s weight, which causes them to get tough. Thus, the reason for a low temperature, long cook time to get this cut of meat tender. Oh, and yes, you can use a slow cooker but that just isn’t BBQ!

When purchased, a whole packer often called Texas Style Brisket will weigh 9-16 lbs.  Let’s be clear – the whole packer contains two muscles; the flat and the point.  So, there are really 3 cuts offered in most butcher shops: a whole packer brisket (which includes the next two cuts), a flat (1st cut), and a point (the 2nd cut or deckle).   These 3 cuts are not the same and will require some changes in cooking.  Also, don’t confuse corned beef.  Yes, it is brisket but it is a preserved cut that should not be used for barbecue!

Don’t you need all the fat left on to make it tender?  
When brisket is sold whole, it will contain a fat cap side that can be up to an inch of fat.  This requires trimming!  Fat is oil and meat is essentially loaded with water, so the two do not readily mix.  However, fat can add a flavorful component to dishes especially when cooked over or with hardwood.  Therefore, I recommend you trim all the outer fat layer to ⅛” or at the most ¼”.  Regarding the fat cap, my preference is to remove it, but if you want to add some extra flavonoids to your cooking environment, you can always cook the fat cap separate from the meat, allowing it to drip into the water pan and add flavor to the condensation/steam that develops.

If you elect to cook with the fat cap intact, cook the meat with the fat cap down so it renders into the water pan, or coals depending on what equipment you’re cooking on.
There is silverskin so trim any that you see, much like you do with ribs, as this is stiff connective tissue.  Remember, the fat needs to be trimmed for flavor to penetrate the meat.  Too much fat, and nothing will get through to the meat!


Size: Can I cut it up to reduce the cooking time? 
Sometimes I think the biggest obstacle to a successful brisket is the thinking that you must keep this cut of meat as one large piece (if purchased as the packer cut).  Generally, you end up with a dry thinner portion and undercooked thicker portion given the long cook time.  Why not try cutting this so you have two more equal thicknesses to deal with?  That is, instead of attempting the whole packer, purchase the flat and point separately.  It’s always a good rule of thumb that if you don’t possess great butchering skills, have the butcher do the cutting for you.

Always Foil?   
Known as the “Texas Crutch”, this is a technique of wrapping the meat in heavy duty foil with 1-2 ounces of liquid.  The purpose?  Aiding tenderization of a muscle meat and speeding the cooking process.  You will compromise some of the crisping of the bark (outside of the brisket) with this method but not the flavor.

Brisket = All Nighter? 
Not necessarily.  Although you need to plan 45-60 minutes per pound at an average temperature of 225° F, and that the meat will likely stall around 150° F (when connective tissue and internal fats liquefy), the average full smoker/grill time will be 12-14 hours.  You can do a partial smoke on the grill/smoker and then move to the conventional oven.  Here’s how - Smoke until the internal temperature is close to 130° F or when the meat stalls at about 150° F, ensuring great wood-fired flavor.  Now, you can move that beautiful meat to the oven.  Set is still for a low temperature oven say 200 to 225° F.  I recommend tenting the pan.  Keep in mind, you won’t get a crunchy bark but you will get the peace of mind of a flavorful meat and the ability to enjoy family and friends.  If you need the oven for other food items at a higher temperature, just pull the meat, tent it well and allow it to sit untouched until you’re ready to carve.

Rub/Brine/Injection?  What do I do? 
Food is personal so experiment and find what works for you and the people that you serve.  Plus, no one said salt and pepper can’t be your rub so don’t feel pulled to have to add a ton of ingredients for a rub.  The key is to marinate the meat with whatever seasoning/rub you choose for at least 6 hours or overnight to ensure that some of the water is rendered out and tenderizing begins.  Plus, cold meat will attract smoke vapor. Also, beef does not like sweet so any combination of ingredients you use for a rub, include only a small quantity of sugar.

You can consider injecting the meat with a brine to breakdown the intramuscular fat.  The application of salt allows the muscle of the meat to retain moisture and gives the final product greater flavor.  Always cook it fat cap side down to the heat.  This allows the fat to act as an insulator and keep more moisture in the meat so you don’t have a dry meat result.

Final Tips:  
Purchase only USDA Choice or Prime beef.  Start with 4-6 ounces of wood and add more every 30 minutes for the first 2-3 hours.  If you notice a considerable color difference between the top and bottom of the meat, go ahead and turn it.  If you plan to foil, do this at 150° F.  Shoot for a finished internal temperature of about 200° F.  At that point, let the meat sit in the foil for up to 2 hours on the closed cooker or move to a cooler.  If you prefer a crisper bark, you can unwrap the meat from the foil following the 2 hour rest and broil for a few minutes on each side or put on a hot grill.  It just takes a few minutes on each side.  Always slice the meat with the fat side up, across the grain, preferably with the flat and point separated first.  Add any sauce or mop after the slicing.


Now, go get your beef!


Written by the SmokinLicious® Culinary Team offering tips, techniques, and recipes about wood, ember, and smoking cooking.



Friday, April 14, 2017

THE SAFE BET!

THE SAFE BET!
Alder wood the safe bet for cooking wood- little in flavor!

Alder

I’m often asked if there is any hardwood that is a safe bet to use with any food item and equipment. One that won’t be too strong if over applied or hurt the equipment if too much wood is used. Well, as you’ve heard me mentioned before, we don’t provide descriptors of the woods we manufacture as we believe there are too many variables that affect the overall flavor of the hardwood. Instead, we offer a rating of our woods based on how bold they are. On the low end of that rating scale? Alder.

Family of Trees

First, let me state that Alder is part of the Birch family of hardwood. It is a genus that is a flowering plant. Around the world, there are 35 species of both the tree and shrub form. Yes, that is correct. Alder is not always a tree but can be a tall growing shrub. In New York State, we have roughly 13 varieties with our Alder referred to as Eastern Alder. On the density side, this is a lighter hardwood and thus, it does not hold moisture long. This makes this hardwood ideal for very specific cooking applications.

Alder is very light in its stimulating flavor compounds. I’m sure you’ve read that Alder is ideal for fish but there are missed opportunities if you don’t go beyond the fish category. Given there are so many options to infuse smoke vapor, this can be a great wood choice when using a hand held food smoker or even a stove stop smoker or cold smoke generator. Contemplating chocolate, cheese, or fruits? Alder can be a perfect match.

Caution

Here’s my one caution. If you are planning to incorporate bolder ingredients with your food item, then alder may not be the first choice. Lots of bacon, chili or cayenne pepper — these will mask the flavor of the Alder wood. Instead opt for foods that have lighter ingredients like herbs, citrus, dairy components.

As mentioned, Alder or Birch will start with a moisture level that is higher but due to the composition of its cell structures, the water will evaporate faster in the hardwood. Using it on a LP grill or in a charcoal unit may require quicker replenishment than another denser hardwood so extra supply is always recommended.

Blending

Don’t forget, blending Alder with another hardwood works well too so if you do want a spicier kick to your ingredients, feel free to add Alder with a bolder wood like hickory, beech or oak.
The best part is always in the experimentation so have fun working with this hardwood that I call the safety net — it won’t let you fall flat if you select it for your smoke infusion.

Written by the SmokinLicious® Culinary Team offering tips, techniques, and recipes about wood, ember, and smoking cooking.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

CAN HARDWOOD BE TOO DRY FOR COOKING?

 CAN HARDWOOD BE TOO DRY FOR COOKING?
The importance of proper moisture in cooking wood to generate smoke flavor in any barbeque
The importance of proper moisture in cooking wood to generate smoke flavor in any barbeque

Here are the misnomers: 

  • Wet = Smolder
  • Wet = Smoke
  • Dry = Fast Cook

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear — all wood, whether hardwood of softwood, contains water! As a comparative, when wood is dried to ~20% moisture content (MC), it weighs 40–50% less than undried wood. This is the direct reason why the National Conference on Weights and Measures — Uniform Regulation for the Method of Sale of Commodities does not allow for the sale of wood products by weight. It wouldn’t be a level playing field for those of us selling this commodity.
So, we know that wood has too much water when a tree is first cut down and obviously will need to dry to some degree before being used for cooking. Why you ask? Without reducing the water in the wood, when burned/combusted, the wood will produce an acrid aroma and smoke vapor which in turn, will produce off flavors, colors, and textures when foods cooked over wet woods are consumed.

You might ask, does it matter how the wood is dried?

Absolutely! There are various ways wood products can be dried with the decision on a drying process usually dictated by what the wood will be used for. Just because you purchase a wood chunk bag or other product for cooking, doesn’t mean it started out for that intended purpose. Often the wood is used first for a primary business like furniture manufacture, hardwood flooring, or cabinet making. It’s only the waste wood leftover that is repurposed for cooking use with a focus on BBQ.
Let’s examine the most likely methods of drying woods for this scenario.

Kiln Drying: 

Lumber or other wood items that have been dried in a closed chamber in which the temperature and relative humidity of the circulated air can be controlled. There are 3 types of Kiln Drying methods: low temperature drying which is below 130° F, conventional electric dehumidification drying, and conventional steam-heated drying which have temperatures up to 180° F. Of the 3, the conventional steam-heated drying system is preferred due to its computerized programming but the high cost of this system makes it less attractive to most businesses.

Air Dried: 

The process of drying green lumber or other wood products by exposure to prevailing natural atmospheric conditions outdoors or in an unheated shed. There are 3 dominate Air Drying methods: open yard, shed, and forced-air shed. The first is not held in high regard as the wood is exposed to all the elements making it the longest method of depleting MC. The second, similar to the first, has the addition of a roof covering to maintain a precipitation-free environment. The third option is most used although the use of electric fans increases the cost from the other two options, it produces quicker results meaning products can be sold quicker. Remember, the primary purpose of the wood is not necessarily cooking so quicker is better to get it to the primary business’ production.

Warehouse Pre-drying: 

A very popular method of drying lumber despite higher capital and energy costs, this system can run consistent drying parameters almost 24 hours per day. 

Now, knowing many wood producers sell their products first under the guise of another business before packaging waste wood for cooking, you need to understand where the MC needs to be in order to work for the furniture making, flooring manufacture, or cabinetry business. These are items that require lower MC and that level across the United States and Canada has an average between 4–13% MC!

Can you imagine putting a piece of wood on a grill’s diffuser or on hot coals when it only has a MC of 4%? What do you think will happen to such a dry piece of wood? POOF! It’s gone!

SmokinLicious® developed a method of decreasing MC in our hardwoods using a controlled heat method with a rehydration parameter. Our sole/primary business is wood-fired cooking woods! That’s it! We have no reason to reach for MC in the single digits and for cooking purposes, you would NEVER want this! The ideal MC for cooking is in the 20% range (this is dependent of wood species, however).

We ALWAYS provide you with a MC of the hardwoods you purchase from us, so you can be educated about the conditions of the wood for the type of wood-fired cooking you want to do. That’s just one of the reasons why SmokinLicious® is a superior product for superior outcome in wood-fired cooking!


Written by the SmokinLicious® Culinary Team offering tips, techniques, and recipes about wood, ember, and smoking cooking.