Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beer Can Chicken on the Smoker

A beer can chicken is probably one of the coolest things you can cook on your smoker. Pull a chicken sitting upright on a throne out of your smoker and it will definitely turn some heads. And believe me, your friends will be talking about it for days, especially once they get a taste. This cooking method produces a gorgeous looking succulent and juicy bird infused with flavor. Think about it - you are steaming the chicken from the inside out while at the same time roasting it and crisping the skin from the outside in. And, all the while you are infusing spices and flavors throughout the bird. I guarantee once you try it, you will want to cook your chicken like this from now on! Let's get started.

The first step is to select a throne for your bird. There 3 options shown to the right. Option 1 is a can of your favorite beer. Option 2 is a Chickencan Rack (lower left) and Option 3 is a Poultry Roasting Rack (back center).

The beer can is the simplest and most cost effective option. All you need to do is drain 1/2 the beer and use a can opener "church key" to make several holes (vents) in the top of the can. The challenge is you need to use the birds legs and the the beer can as a tripod to balance the chicken on the grill. Not so easy to do on a grill grate. It is a little easier to balance if you put the chicken on a baking pan, and then place it pan and all on the cooker.

The second option is the Chickencan Rack. The advantage of using this rack is that you gain stability via the metal legs. You still prepare the beer can as previously described and simply insert it into the built-in can holder. The main drawback of this rack is that it is slightly larger in circumference and you have to cram it into the body cavity (much politer term than poop shoot) and it may require some trimming to make it fit. I still recommend using a baking pan for stability and for ease of removing the chicken after cooking.

The final option is the poultry roasting rack which is my preferred method. The roasting rack has several advantages. First, you are not limited to canned beer. I prefer microbrews which generally are only bottled. This rack has a built in cup where you simply pour the beer and add spices. Secondly, the throne (infuser) is trim and tapered and therefore much easier to mount the bird. And finally, it has a built in pan that adds stability and that can be used to add more flavoring agents (beer, wine, broths, spices, etc).  So now that you have selected your type of rack, let's get started.

Set up your smoker for 2-zone indirect cooking. Our target temperature for the cook will be 250°F. I prefer to smoke chicken with fruit woods. They are milder and impart a sweetness to the meat. I generally use cherry wood or a 50/50 combination of cherry and apple. You will need two small chunks for the cook. We will add the wood to the smoker when we put on the chicken. For now, go ahead and get the coals started and we will move on to the prep.

You want to use a fresh chicken at least 4 lbs and no more than 5 lbs (any bigger and you might not be able to close the lid on the Weber). To prep the bird, remove the package of giblets and pat the chicken dry inside and out with a paper towel. Trim away the excess skin around the neck with kitchen scissors or poultry shears. You may also need to trim around the cavity to enlarge the opening so that the can or infuser will fit.

The next step is to apply the rub. I like to apply a light coat of oil (used chipotle olive oil) on the outside of the chicken. The oil helps the rub to adhere to the skin and it also helps to crisp the skin during the cook. Generously apply the rub inside and outside of the chicken. Now it's time to prepare the beer can or infuser.

If you are using a beer can, empty half of the liquid and vent the can as previously described. If you are using the poultry roasting rack, fill the built in infuser 3/4 full with beer. Next, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of chicken rub to the beer a little bit at a time (prevents foaming). If you are using a beer can, gently swirl the can each time you add some rub. If you are using the poultry rack, gently stir with a spoon each time you add some rub. Once you've finished adding the rub, the final step is to mount the bird on it's throne.

If you are using a beer can only, place the can in the center of a baking pan and ease the chicken (legs down) onto the beer can creating a tripod with the can and the legs. If you are using the Chickencan Rack, place the beer can in the built in holder, place the rack on a baking pan, and then ease the chicken onto the rack. Finally if you are using the poultry roasting rack (pictured at right), mount the chicken on the infuser and insert the infuser cap through the neck hole to lock the chicken to the infuser. Another advantage of the roasting rack is that you can add additional liquid and seasonings to the built in pan. For this cook, I added about 1/4 inch of beer, some more rub and some freshly minced garlic and onion. Yum! Now it's time to start the cook.

Put the chicken on the weber in the cooking zone with the legs and breast facing the heat zone. This positions the legs, which take longer to cook, closest to the heat source. As a final prep, pull the wings backwards and using toothpicks, pin them to the sides of the chicken. This prevents the wing tips from burning and it also exposes the sides of the breasts for optimal cooking. Next add the smoking wood and put the lid back on the cooker. Now it's time to cook!!!

Just kick back and let the smoker do it's thing. As long as you are able to hold the temperature near 250°, you won't need to check the chicken until 2 hours into the cook. At the 2 hour mark, you will want to check the meat temperature. Our goal temperature is between 160° to 165°. Insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast to take the reading. If your not quite there at the 2 hour mark, quickly replace the lid and re-check every 15 minutes.

As soon as the temperature is within the target zone, remove the chicken from the weber and rest it for 15 minutes. The chicken and the beer can and/or rack and the liquids will be very hot even after 15 minutes, so you will need to exercise caution when removing the chicken. I recommend using a good pair of insulated food gloves to prevent from burning yourself. Also, if you used a beer can, the chicken might be stuck to the can and you may need work the can a bit to get it to separate from the meat. Use caution here because the liquids are extremely hot.

Now it's time to serve! You can slice it or pull it and serve it on a bun. If you used the poultry roasting rack, you can spoon some of the liquids from the pan over the sliced or pulled meat. The leftover's are fantastic in soups or salads or even in a BBQ Parfait!

So there you have it! If you decide to give this a try you won't be disappointed and you just may become a backyard legend with your friends and family - enjoy!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Making Your Own BBQ Rub

There are a lot of quality BBQ rubs available in the market from what you can find on the shelves of your local grocery store to competition rubs available from on-line retailers. The upside of using a commercially available rub is that the trial and error necessary to develop the recipe blend has already been done for you. The downsides is that you end up paying a significant premium over actual ingredient cost for that recipe. With a little basic knowledge, you can develop a competition quality BBQ rub at a fraction of the retail cost.

If you take a close look at the label, you will see that most of the commercially available BBQ rubs use common cooking ingredients. Almost every blend you can buy lists paprika, pepper, salt, sugar and other spices as the ingredients. The concept that I am sharing today is to start with a basic rub blend that you can fine tune to create a competition quality rub that not only compliments the type of meat you are cooking, but also caters to your own individual taste preference. Using this approach, you can control and tune the sweetness, the heat and flavors to fit your individual palette. Let's get started!

A lot of cooking styles start out with a flavor base of three ingredients. In French cuisine, it's called a mirepoix (carrots, celery and onion). Similar ingredients are known as soffritto in Italian cooking, sofrito in Mexican and the "holy trinity' Creole cooking. The Holy Trinity for BBQ and how I start out every rub I've ever made is with Paprika, Pepper and Salt. In BBQ, like in everyday cooking, the Paprika is used mostly for color. Salt and Pepper simply enhance and accentuate the flavor of the meat.

Here is the Base BBQ Rub blend that I use:

Base BBQ Rub (yield 1 cup)
1/3 Cup Sweet Hungarian Paprika
1/3 Cup Morton Salt (non-iodized)
1/3 Cup Ground Black Pepper

So now we have the foundation and all we have to do is build upon it to develop a flavor that complements the meat you are cooking and suits your individual tastes.

As you recall, there are five common ingredients on the label for most rubs. These ingredients really fall into four main categories: salts, peppers, sugars and spices (aromatics). In the Base BBQ Rub we have used salts (table salt) and peppers (paprika and ground pepper). The only 2 categories remaining that need to be incorporated into the rub are sugars and spices. You have a lot of options for sugars and spices and the meat you are cooking will dictate your choices. Let's start with beef.

For beef, I generally avoid sugar for a couple of reasons. First, I like to use the same rub to season beef whether I am grilling over direct heat or barbecuing with indirect heat. Sugar will blacken and even burn under direct heat which detracts from both the taste and appearance of the finished product. And secondly, I prefer savory to sweet when it comes enhancing and bringing out the flavors in a fine cut of beef. I also like big bold flavors and a bit of heat. Here is my standard recipe for a beef rub.

Beef Rub (yield 1/2 cup)
4 Tablespoons Base BBQ rub
2 Tablespoons Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 Tablespoon Chili Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Salt and Pepper are probably the best flavor enhancers for beef. Montreal Steak seasoning takes the Basic BBQ Rub to the next level with flavors you can actually see. Chili seasoning (I like Carrol Shelby and Chili Man) introduces a subtle heat and blends in savory spices like cumin and oregano which also go well with beef. Garlic and Onion go great with beef and are in just about every rub, seasoning or marinade made for it. And last but not least, a little cayenne ... just enough to make you take notice!

When grilling beef (steaks or burgers), you just want to sprinkle the rub on and then put it back in the fridge for a couple of hours to give the spices time to penetrate the meat. When your smoking a brisket, beef ribs or a rib roast, first rub the meat with a light coating of oil and then apply the rub very very generously. I generally apply the rub and then throw it right on the smoker. This blend of peppers, salt and spices will result in a tasty crust and help to develop a deep burgandy smoke ring. Wow! I am getting hungry! Now let's look at pork.

Pork is where we begin to incorporate sugars into the Base BBQ Rub. Here is my favorite Pork Rub recipe.

Pork Rub (yield 1 cup)
1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar (firmly packed)
4 Tablespoons Base BBQ Rub
1 Tablespoon Chili Seasoning (Chilli Man's Hot)
1 Tablespoon Dry Mustard (Coleman's)
1 Tablespoon Seasoned Salt (Lawry's)
1 Tablespoon Celery Salt
1 Tablespoon Onion Salt
For pork, you are trying to get a good balance of heat and sweet with neither one overpowering the other. You also want to try to equally balance the amount of sugars and salt in your recipe. This recipe is fantastic for ribs, pulled pork, pork loin and pork steaks. Because of the sugar content, you want to BBQ pork using indirect heat. One note on pork steaks. I like to direct grill them over high heat for a  minute or so on each side before smoking. This is enough time to get a nice sear and grill marks without causing any significant blackening or burning of the sugar. This is a hard recipe to beat!

Finally, let's take a look at how to tweak the Basic BBQ Rub for chicken. Chicken was my nemesis for years in competition BBQ. It took me a while to develop a rub that would appeal to the masses. With chicken, you want lean towards sweet and savory as the dominant flavor profile. Here is the blend that I use for chicken.

Chicken Rub (yield 1+ cup)
1/2 Cup Cane Sugar
4 Tablespoons Base BBQ Rub
2 Tablespoons Poultry Seasoning
1 Tablespoon Lemon Pepper Seasoning
1 Tablespoon Mrs. Dash Original
1 Tablespoon Garlic Salt
1 Tablespoon Onion Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne (optional for those who like some heat)

So there you have it! What I've given you today is a starting point with the Base BBQ Rub. We've really only scratched the surface of what is possible. With a little ingenuity and some trial and error you can create quality rubs at a fraction of the cost of retail and best of all you can tailor the rub to your individual palette. Here are just a few examples of other ingredients you can incorporate into your rubs.

Sugars - Dark Brown Sugar, Maple Sugar, Turbinado Sugar (sugar in the raw)
Salts - Kosher Salt, Sea Salt
Peppers - Chili Powder (Chipotle, Jalapeno, New Mexico), Crushed Red Pepper, White Pepper
Spices - Basil, Celery Seed, Cinnamon, Cumin, Ginger, MSG, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme

Want more heat, more sweet, more savory - tweak the recipes I have given you and make them your own!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The BBQ Parfait

Pulled pork is probably our favorite thing to BBQ. When we smoke a couple butts, we typically will have quite a bit left over.  Even though we make pretty tasty pulled pork, eating sandwiches for leftovers can get monotonous after a few days. So how do you spice it up and keep it interesting? Answer: The BBQ Parfait!

The concept for the BBQ Parfait has been around for quite a while. You first started seeing them a few years back at state fairs and they have since caught on in popularity in the BBQ community.

Just like it's ice cream counterpart and inspiration, the BBQ Parfait is  simply a savory version of this layered dish. The ingredients can really run the gamut.

Layers usually include pulled or chopped pork, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, BBQ sauce and baked beans. I've seen them layered with cheese sauce, bacon, chopped brisket, pulled/chopped chicken or turkey, smoked sausage, stuffing and/or corn bread and topped of with anything from bacon bits, to cherry tomatoes and even pickles. The possibilities are really endless.

With the basic ingredients shown at the right, you can make two different types of parfaits.

Let's start with the parfait pictured above. The ingredients are: Hungry Jack Redskin and Yukon Gold Mashed Potato Mix, Leftover Pulled Pork, Heinz Homestyle Pork Gravy,  French's Brand French Fried Onions, Cherry Tomatoes and your favorite BBQ Sauce.

Prepare the Potatoes according to the directions on the box. Heat the pork gravy to a simmer in a sauce pan. And finally, reheat the pulled pork (I usually reheat in a microwave at 50% power until it starts to steam). Now it's time to layer! Start with a clear solo cup. Add a scoop of potatoes to the bottom of the cup. The next layer is pork gravy, just enough to top the potatoes. Now add a scoop of pulled pork and top with BBQ sauce. Then add another layer of potatoes topped with more pork gravy. This should take you almost top of the cup. Finish to just above the top of the cup with a layer of pulled pork drizzled with BBQ Sauce. Add a dollop of mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with fried onions, drizzle on some more BBQ sauce and top with a cherry tomato -  VoilĂ !!!

For the second version, the ingredients are: Bush's Bold and Spicy Baked Beans, Left Over Pulled Pork, your favorite BBQ Sauce, your favorite Coleslaw recipe and a Cherry Tomato.

Heat the baked beans to a simmer in a sauce pan and reheat the pulled pork using the microwave method previously described. Your first layer is baked beans. Top the baked beans with pulled pork. Then top with BBQ sauce and finish with a layer of coleslaw topped with a cherry tomato. This one is a little messier than the first version. I use a ratio of 1/3 beans, 1/3 pork topped with BBQ sauce and 1/3 coleslaw so that it ends up just below the top of the cup. 

There you have it ... a tasty and interesting way to spice up leftover pulled pork! As I mentioned before, there are endless possibilities and you don't have to limit yourself to just BBQ. Case and point, Thanksgiving leftovers. Rather than heating up a plate of leftovers, why not try a parfait with mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey and stuffing. The parfait is a great way to add a new twist to your leftovers. I encourage you give it a try and let me know about your creations. Enjoy!