I’m starting an equipment & technique section on this blog. This post is the first entry for the new section … the subject is Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™; specifically some techniques for setting up and using a Weber Smoky Mountain cooker.
In the past Ditalini and I have smoked and devoured salmon, turkey, chicken, duck, and goose, but today I’m smoking a beef brisket and two racks of pork back ribs. My method of setting up the smoker has, so far, always been the same. Here’s the step-by-step:
Lighting the charcoal
To start, it’s necessary to take the smoker apart to get at the charcoal rack in the bottom section. I use a chimney-style charcoal lighter: you wad up 4 sheets of old newspaper and stuff them in the bottom, then fill the top with charcoal, then light the paper. I place the lit chimney on the charcoal rack in the bottom of the smoker and allow half an hour or so for the charcoal to light up and get hot enough to use. It’s quite smokey until the newspaper burns out, so don’t do this by any open windows or doors.
When the charcoal’s hot and just covered with light gray ash, I dump it from the chimney onto the rack in the bottom of the smoker, making sure the three vent doors in the bottom of the smoker are all the way open. Then I start putting the smoker together, wearing oven gloves as I work, since the charcoal is really hot.
I rest the empty water pan inside the barrel of the smoker, then place the barrel onto the bottom, over the hot charcoal. I fill the water pan with hot water.
Bottom rack with brisket
Using oven gloves, I lower the bottom smoking rack into place and put whatever I’m smoking on the rack. This is our beef brisket, which I coated with dry rub two days ago and have been storing in the refrigerator.
Upper rack with ribs
Still wearing the gloves, I lower the top rack onto the top of the smoker body. I’m using a rib rack today to hold the ribs upright.
Wood chips on the charcoal
Now I put the lid on top of the smoker, making sure the vent on the lid is all the way open. I then open the side door on the body of the smoker and toss some damp wood chips onto the charcoal. The wood chips have been soaking in a bucket of water for about an hour at this point.
Fortress of Smoke™ in operation
We’re smoking. As you can see, I try to keep everything I’ll need close at hand: a bin of charcoal with a scoop, more wood chips, a comfy chair, oven gloves, long-handled tongs, and a meat thermometer.
I’m not a scientific smoker. I don’t check the internal temperature of the smoker or strive to keep a set temperature by regulating the opening of the vent doors. I’ve found that most everything smokes up just fine without all that, and I always leave my vent doors, top and bottom, wide open.
My beef brisket and ribs will probably need between three and four hours on the smoker (four to five hours if it’s windy, which is not a factor today). I check and replenish the charcoal & wood chips every hour, and add hot water to the water pan every two hours. I don’t lift the lid unless I’m replenishing the water or poking a thermometer into the meat to check for doneness. Here’s the schedule I’m working with today:
- 0950: assemble & prepare equipment
- 1020: light the charcoal
- 1050: meat on the smoker
- 1150: open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips
- 1250: open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, wood chips; open lid, pour more hot water into water pan
- 1350: open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips
- 1450: open lid, check ribs & brisket w/meat thermometer; if more cooking/smoking is necessary, open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips
Voila! Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™!
Ditalini put me in charge of the kitchen last night, and I decided to indulge myself in some good old comfort food. We’ve both been away, things have been hectic and disorganized, and a simple one-dish hot meal seemed like just the right thing. Remember the chili mac they served you in the school cafeteria? Here’s my version, something even the most backward, kitchen-averse husband can handle:
Crouton’s Cafeteria Chili Mac
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 onion, chopped
- 5-6 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 cans diced tomatoes
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- salt & pepper to taste
- green scallions, chopped, for garnish
- 1/2 lb pasta, your choice
Brown & crumble ground beef in large frying pan, drain, add onion & garlic. Add diced tomatoes with liquid. Add chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt & pepper. Mix well, cover and cook on low for 15 minutes. Stir in the uncooked pasta (the beef/tomato mixture should still have plenty of liquid; if not add some water), cover and continue to cook on low another 10 minutes. Check that the pasta is cooked, sprinkle with scallions, and serve. We like it with grated Parmesan cheese on top.
I’m going to make an exception here and put in a recipe from a package of dried navy beans, modified only by the addition of a smoked ham hock. I love this particular navy bean soup, and if you haven’t tried it, you should.
Dried navy beans typically come with one of two recipes on the package. One calls for cooking the beans with water only, the other calls for cooking them with water and milk. I’ve found that the second recipe makes a tastier soup. If you have a package of navy beans with the water-only recipe, don’t worry, you can still make them with water and milk. Here’s how:
- 20 oz package dried navy beans (Hurst HamBeens brand, w/flavor packet)
- 1 smoked ham hock
- 3/4 cup celery, chopped
- 3/4 cup onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup carrots, chopped
- 1 cup milk
- 1-2 lbs lean cubed ham
Place washed beans in pot w/8 cups water and the ham hock, boil covered 50-60 minutes. Chop vegetables & cube ham. Add vegetables, ham, milk, flavor packet to beans. Simmer 45 minutes.
It’s really good with biscuits.
I was on deck for Christmas Eve dinner. Since we didn’t have company this year, I didn’t make the usual pot of clam chowder. Instead, we treated ourselves to shellfish, our Christmas Eve fallback when it’s just family: a shrimp boil with steamed clams and lobster tails.
Christmas Eve seafood dinner
The surprisingly-fresh ingredients came from the local Costco. Click here for my shrimp boil recipe. I basically used Ditalini’s Steamed Mussels recipe for the clams, with a small difference: I sautéed a little garlic, four cloves cut in half, along with the onion, and in addition to half a cup of white wine I added half a cup of water, because we wanted lots of broth to dip the bread in. I brought the broth to a boil before adding the clams, then covered the pot and let them steam for about six minutes.
I steamed the lobster tails over the beer & Old Bay Seasoning mix the shrimp had cooked in. Eight minutes in the steamer and they were perfect. We cut the bottom and top of the shells lengthwise with heavy kitchen shears to make the meat easy to remove, and served melted butter on the side.
The bag of clams from Costco contained enough for six. We have a lot left over. Later today we’ll remove the clams from the shells and store them, along with the broth, in the fridge. Ditalini plans to use the leftovers for linguini with white clam sauce.
Ditalini’s eggs Benedict, our traditional Christmas Day breakfast
Those are Ditalini’s eggs Benedict, with her lemony Hollandaise sauce, our traditional Christmas Day breakfast. This is one of the recipes I plan to add to Crouton’s Kitchen soon.
Happy Holidays from the deMenthes to all of you!
Sorry, no recipes this time, just a few notes and photos.
L to R: Escargot, Pesce, Baguette, Truffle, Ditalini
The deMenthes enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving. Number one daughter Escargot was here, along with number one son Baguette, number one daughter in law Truffle, and number one grandson Pesce. Number one granddaughter Biscotto had to stay in Las Vegas and work, so we were one short of total Number Oneness, but at least Biscotto was able to visit us earlier in October.
The menu included turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce (two kinds), gravy, mashed potatoes, a sweet potato casserole, a green bean casserole topped with deep fried onion rings, hot rolls, and a smoked pork shoulder with home-made barbecue sauce … all things we’ve cooked before, with most of the recipes and cooking techniques described on this cooking blog (see the recipe index above). Our pumpkin pie came from Costco, because honestly they make a better one than we can, and this year, so did the mashed potatoes, which Costco sells in five-pound containers, more than enough for six hungry adults.
I smoked this year’s pork shoulder a little differently than the one I did in 2013. I dry-rubbed it the day before (using the rub from this recipe) and didn’t use a mop during the smoking, which took about six hours. It was every bit as moist inside as the one I smoked before, so I think in the future I’ll dispense with the mop altogether. Of course my Fortress of Smoke™ is a bullet-style Weber incorporating a basin of water above the coals, which helps whatever you’re smoking retain moisture. If you’re using a dry smoker, the mop may be necessary.
|The Fortress of Smoke™ |
|Pork shoulder going on the smoker
|After six hours |
|Sliced and ready to serve
We had a couple of slabs of beef back ribs in the freezer and were looking for something to do with them. I saw this recipe online and thought it was worth a try, with a few modifications of my own. The idea is simple: cut the ribs between the bones, dry rub and let them sit a while, bake them, then finish them off under the broiler.
- Dry Rub
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsps brown sugar
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 2.5 lbs beef back ribs, cut between the bones
- 2 tbsp BBQ sauce
Dry-rubbed ribs ready for the oven
Combine dry rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
If the ribs aren’t pre-cut, cut them between the bones, first pulling the thin membrane off the back of the slabs (hint: grasp a corner of the membrane with a paper towel and pull steadily). Using a brush, coat the ribs with rub on all sides. I put my dry-rubbed ribs in a sealed Tupperware container and let them sit on the kitchen counter for about three hours.
Ribs after baking, brushed w/BBQ sauce, ready for the broiler
Pre-heat the oven to 265°F. Cover the bottom of a large baking pan with aluminum foil and arrange the ribs in a single layer. Cover the ribs with more aluminum foil and crimp the edges. Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 3 1/2 hours.
When the ribs are done, remove and discard the top layer of aluminum foil and gently transfer the ribs to a plate or platter—the meat will be very tender at this stage and if you manhandle the ribs the meat will come right off the bones. Pour the oil and fat out of the baking pan and replace the bottom layer of aluminum foil with a fresh sheet. Put the ribs back on the baking pan, brush them with a little barbecue sauce, and put them on the middle rack under the broiler, uncovered, for three to five minutes.
Serving suggestion (extra BBQ sauce optional)
Two-and-a-half pounds of ribs is plenty for four.
Be sure to use a baking pan with raised edges—a lot of oil and fat will cook out of the ribs while they bake.
The purpose behind broiling the ribs after baking them is to make them crispy on the outside. I was going to finish mine off on the backyard gas grill, but the meat was so tender coming out of the oven it would have fallen off the bones and down inside the grill grating, so using the broiler to crisp them was the best option.
I served the ribs with corn on the cob and ranch beans. Chard or collard greens would be good sides as well. Some people like extra BBQ sauce, but since these ribs are both dry-rubbed and brushed with a little sauce, you probably won’t need any more.
This is the first dry rub I’ve made with oil in it. That’s what allows you to brush it on, which is a technique I like now that I’ve tried it. As for the rub’s flavor, I thought it a little mild, and next time I’ll add more chili powder and a little cayenne (maybe even a few drops of liquid smoke).
Don’t forget to pass everything that’s on the table! That is Rule #8, and it’s a good one.
Last Saturday the On-On Gourmets met at the home of Magret de Canard for an evening of preparing and enjoying Middle Eastern cuisine. The menu consisted of the following dishes: an appetizer of Rubyan Meshwi (Emirati Grilled Prawns), Baba Ganoush, Middle Eastern vegetable salad, a main dish of Lubya Khadra Billahma (lamb w/green string beans), and baclava for dessert.
Apart from the lamb, which Ditalini cooked at home beforehand, we all participated in making the other dishes. Magret was in charge of the vegetable salad (for which I cut up feta cheese and harvested basil from a neighbor’s herb garden); Manzo & Anitra did most of the work on the shrimp and the Baba Ganoush, and our newest member Hermana Gazpacho helped with the dicing and slicing, and brought the baclava.
L to R: Manzo, Ditalini, Hermana, Anitra, Magret
A most excellent mean ensued, except no one got any Baba Ganoush until the plates were cleared, when Magret remembered we were supposed to have had some and the untouched bowl was discovered sitting in front of Ditalini, hence Rule #8, a very important Rule indeed.
Lubya Khadra Billahma with rice
So we had two desserts, the Baba Ganoush and the baclava, and everything was right with the world. After dinner we played a board game while we discussed our next evening together. Because of this, that, and the other we can’t get together until mid-October, when we’ll all prepare recipes from the Pioneer Woman.
Vegetable salad & Arabian flatbread
This is not my photo, but one I found on the net. Next time I make beef back ribs (and there will be a next time) I’ll take my own photos and update this recipe with visuals.
- 2-3 lb slab of beef back ribs
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup ketchup
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 1 6-oz can tomato paste
- 2 tbsp Gray Poupon mustard
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp Texas Pete hot sauce (optional)
- 1 tbsp liquid smoke (optional)
Beef back ribs are usually sold in a two- to three-pound slab. Unlike pork ribs, where you have to remove the membrane from the back first, there’s no special preparation required with beef back ribs … just rinse and dry them first. If the ribs appear to be super-meaty, cut the slab into individual ribs first. If they’re less meaty, cut the slab into sections of two ribs each.
Mix the other ingredients in a slow cooker or crock pot. Layer the ribs and make sure they’re coated with sauce before cooking. Set the slow cooker or crock pot to warm and cook for eight hours.
Beef back ribs are a nice change of pace from pork ribs. They’re tougher than pork ribs, but you fix that by slow-cooking them. These ribs turned out well: meaty and fall-off-the-bone tender. I skipped the hot sauce and liquid smoke this time and the flavor was what I’d call “conventional barbecue.” Next time I’ll add the hot sauce and liquid smoke for a spicier, smokier flavor. Any of the traditional barbecue sides would be good with these: cole slaw, baked beans, corn on the cob, etc.
Outdoor grilling and smoking requires every bit as much planning & preparation as cooking in the kitchen.
Yesterday’s bimonthly meeting of the On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers was a grilling cook-off. Ditalini and I were the designated hosts, so we set up a new Fortress of Smoke™ on the concrete pad where our hot tub once resided: a charcoal kettle grill, a charcoal smoker, and a gas grill.
The Fortress of Smoke™
A lot of the planning & prep was making sure the right grilling tools and pans were in place. Late in the morning I fired up the smoker to prepare our contribution, a large brisket of beef and a rack of pork spareribs, pre-rubbed the day before and stored overnight in the refrigerator. The meat, ready at 4 PM, went into a warm oven, wrapped in foil so it wouldn’t dry out.
Other On On Gourmets arrived at 5 PM and we got to work on the rest of the grilling. This wasn’t our biggest turnout, since some of our members were away for Easter, but our core group was there: in front, left to right, Anitra Spezzatino & Ditalini deMenthe; in back, Manzo Spezzatino, Magret de Canard, & yours truly, Crouton deMenthe.
On On Gourmets
Magret made a grilled vegetable platter with asparagus, carrots, red pepper, and summer squash: marinating the vegetables at home and cooking them, with Manzo’s help, at our house on the gas grill. Anitra also prepped her dish at home and cooked it on the gas grill: ginger-soy-lime marinated shrimp.
When everything was ready, I cut up the ribs, carved the brisket, put a bottle of home-made barbecue sauce on the table, and we sat down to our feast:
Brisket & ribs, marinated shrimp, grilled vegetables
I said it was a cook-off, and I’d like to say we were all winners, but actually we were all supposed to use grilling recipes from celebrity chef Bobby Flay, and since Manzo & Anitra were the only members who followed the rules, I guess I have to say their shrimp won! But really, everything was fabulous.
Thanks to good planning & preparation, that is!
Our next cooking hash will be in May, and this time we’re going to do something different: rather than cook at a member’s house, we’re going to go out to a famous local Spanish restaurant, Casa Vicente, for tapas.
When doubling Cajun recipes, don’t double the cayenne.
The On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers met again Saturday night, this time at the home of Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano, where we were joined by Giacomo’s brother, Washington DC refugee Giuseppe “Pastoso” Mandriano, hiding from the wrath of the Blizzard of 2016. I usually know what people’s names mean, but Pastoso was new to me so I looked it up. It means “mellow” in Italian. What an odd name. Anyway, here we are, posing for an Ellen DeGeneres-style group selfie:
L to R: Magret de Canard, Ditalini deMenthe, Anitra Spezzatino, Manzo Spezzatino, Crouton deMenthe, Giuseppe “Pastoso” Mandriano, Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano
Our theme was Cajun, specifically the cooking of the late chef Paul Prudhomme. Magret de Canard made shrimp, the Spezzatinos a cucumber salad and a jambalaya, the deMenthes pecan praline candies for dessert. The brothers Mandriano helped with the prep, while I chopped peppers, celery, and onions; as we have done before, everyone participated in the cooking.
A few photos (sorry, I forgot to take one of the shrimp, which we gobbled up as an appetizer).
|Ditalini’s pecan praline candies |
|Chaos in the kitchen, pt I
|Anitra’s jambalaya |
|Chaos in the kitchen, pt II |
|Dinner a la Paul Prudhomme
It was a fabulous dinner, and spicy too (see Rule #6). We marveled over Giacomo’s kitchen and utensil collection, the biggest and best we’ve encountered to date, and we collectively thank him for his hospitality.
The next meeting of the On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers will be in March. Our theme will be outdoor barbecue and grilling, using recipes from Bobby Flay. Ditalini and I are hosting, which is only right, since it is I, Crouton deMenthe, who invented the Fortress of Smoke™.