And let me tell you, there are few endeavors easier and more satisfying than taking the time to slow cook a large piece of meat. Every phase of the process -- from the preparation to the cooking -- is simple. But because we live in a world of instant gratification, the idea that you'd spend a full day and night cooking one thing is unfathomable to many people. Of course, that's why it's so damn impressive.
I will admit that once you start barbecuing, you're committed to barbecuing. Sure, you can crack a couple beers and zone out in front of the TV for a while, but you're not going anywhere. At least you shouldn't.
Barbecuing is a pretty laid-back endeavor, but you should stick around while it's going on. After all, you do have a fire smoldering in your backyard. This style of cooking is great for special occasions (again, investing that much time in a single meal is impressive) and weekends you know you'll be hanging around the house.
In my case, my brother and niece were in town. So the day before they flew home to Florida, I hosted a barbecue in my backyard. A few friends, a few cold beers (more on that below) and several pounds of succulent pork, pulled from the smoker a few hours before the first folks arrived.
As has been well documented in any number of cookbooks and Food Network specials, there's a whole culture surrounding barbecue. It's regional, technical and at times competitive. Again, barbecuing a piece of meat is easy. The difficulty is in the details.
Barbecuing can be as easy as buying a $12 pork butt (which comes from the shoulder) and a bottle of commercial barbecue sauce at the grocery store. Slow cook the pork for 20 to 24 hours at around 225 degrees and sauce the smoky meat when you're done. It can also be as difficult as making your own rub and sauce, sourcing your Berkshire pork from a particular farm or butcher, using injections, mop sauces and fussing over the wood and whether it's wet or dry, pine or maple.
All that extra work will produce pork that tastes better than the shoulder that was smoked naked and slathered with Stubb's. But that difference might be important to you. It sure is to me.
I tend to fall somewhere between lazy and obsessive. I make my own sauce, use Steven Raichlen's Memphis rub recipe, inject my pork with apple cider and keep a pan of water and apple juice underneath the shoulder to keep the exterior of the meat as moist as possible during the long cook time. That might sound like a lot, but it really isn't. The hardest part of smoking is getting up in the middle of the night to stoke the coals and add a little more wood (which you should do every three to five hours).
In the end, I have an unctuous pile of moist meat that I slather in homemade barbecue sauce and slap on two pieces of bread (no coleslaw, please.). It's a hell of a meal that requires little more than time and wood.
Because I was hosting a summertime barbecue, I had to go with a summertime beer. In this case, I played favorites: Great Divide's Titan IPA. There are few IPAs on the market better crafted than this bold, rich, hoppy IPA from Colorado. At 6.8 percent ABV, it's a bit bigger than some IPAs, but it's well balanced and delicious. Some could argue that Titan is too rich, too bitter for an out-doors event in July, that a wheat beer or pilsner would be a better fit. All that may be true. However, Titan is delicious any time of year, and the smoked pork butt covered in a spicy barbecue sauce has a lot of big flavors that Great Divide's IPA stands right up to. I understand that this is the season of lagers and limes, but I can't support fruiting the beer. No sir, I need a Titan.
Smoked pork butt
1 8 to 12 lb. pork butt (make sure to factor in the weight of the bone)
1 1/2 cups of rub (As I said, I like Steven Raichlen's barbecue rub. But don't be afraid to play with the ingredients if it's not to your tastes. You want more brown sugar? Add more brown sugar. Want more salt? Add more.)
1/2 gallon apple cider
1/2 gallon apple juice
3 cups of barbecue sauce (I make my own, but feel free to use your favorite commercial brand.)
Enough aluminum foil to wrap the pork butt
Wood, lots of wood (Depending on your smoker, you either need a mixture of logs, wood chunks and chips, or charcoal, wood chunks and chips. If you have a barrel style grill and smoker, you'll need several logs, and about 2 bags of large wood chunks and 3 bags of wood chips available at any hardware store. If you have a smaller bullet smoker, go with a bag of charcoal, 3 bags of large wood chunks and 3 bags of wood chips.)
The night before you get started, add the rub to the pork butt, cover and return to the fridge. The next day, pull the pork out of the fridge and inject it with as much apple cider as you can (probably a cup of cider or so). When you're done, leave the pork on the kitchen counter and get started on lighting the smoker.
With my old bullet, I liked to begin with charcoal and then add the wood chunks. This gets the wood burning really well. When the fire dies down and the wood coals are hot, fill the liquid tray 3/4 full with a 50/50 mixture of water and apple cider, put the top grate back in place, stick the pork in the smoker skin side up and close the lid. Every 3 hours or so when you check your fire, add a few charcoal briquettes and another handful of wood chips. This will envelop the pork butt in smoke for a good 10 minutes, which is ideal. Remember, you want the meat to be seasoned with the smoke, not taste like a Marlboro.
If you're using the larger smoker, get your wood started. Once it's burned down a bit and you've started a respectable bed of coals, place a pan underneath where you'll be placing the pork (the far side of the smoker from the fire), fill the pan with the 50/50 mixture of water and apple juice, and place the pork on the grate above. Once the pork is on and the lid is closed, toss a handful of wood chips on the fire and walk away.
Whenever you check the fire (and make sure the temperature remains around 225 to 250), check to see how much liquid is still in the pan. If it's low, add a bit more. Repeat every few hours.
If you're smoker runs a little hot, 20 hours may be sufficient. The pork is probably cooked in a few hours, but it takes much more time to reach fall-apart tender. If you end up hovering around 225 or less, shoot for 23 to 24 hours. In either case, for the final two hours, wrap the pork butt in aluminum foil. This will give the meat a last minute steam that'll make it a little more succulent.
Once the pork is done, remove it from the smoker and let it rest covered in foil for at least 30 minutes. After that, open it, pull it and eat it.