Pigging Out!!!

low-n-slow pig

Cooking a full pig is not only a satisfying experience but also something that will create life long memories!

Most of us are fascinated seeing a full pig roasting on a fire or in a cooker. The experience is etched into our minds and stays with us our whole life. I am fortunate enough to give people the opportunity to witness such a spectacle. As a Pit Master, it is your job to prepare the pig, tend the fire, and stand a steadfast watch over the cooking process. If you think that this is a “set it and forget it” process, then everyone would be doing it.

A perfect pig has a crispy crackling skin and moist tender meat that pulls apart easily and melts in your mouth. The flavor of the meat is succulent and delicious that all will enjoy. I love seeing the expectations on guests faces when presenting a great roasted pig. The sound of the crispy skin and the texture of the moist pulled pork is just amazing! Then when you get it on your plate and taste the smokey flavor of the crackling and the meat literally melts in your mouth it is an experience that you never forget.

This may be intimidating to most so that’s why they leave it to the pros. But to tackle a pig on your own is a most rewarding endeavor. The first thing you need to do is have someplace to cook the pig. This can be as easy as an open fire pit with a cross or a spit. This can be made of wood or steel. You can purchase these setups on Amazon.com. An offset smoker is my tool of choice, but an open pit makes a dramatic presentation. You can also find plenty of plans online to fabricate a roasting pit that is dug into the ground. They sell pig roasting boxes for a couple hundred bucks as well. You can call your local rent-a-center and see if they have a roaster or spit available for the day and they will only run about $50.

The next step is pig selection. How big should you get the pig? The rule of thumb for a pig roast is one pound per person. That’s easy enough to figure out and not everyone eats meat, so you can even cut that back by five or eight percent. Try to find a purveyor that has a good reputation of being clean and good quality meats. I strongly feel that if you want a great finished product, you need to start with a great piece of meat. Once you find the perfect pig, you can begin the prepping process.

Prepping the pig can be quite simple. You can select a good vegetable oil and rub the skin liberally before cooking. Rub the cavity with dry rub and inject it with flavoring ingredients. I tend to be a purist and let the pig shine through with just a liberal oiling of the skin and cavity. I am not against using your favorite rub on these beautiful creatures and if you feel the need to inject them, please go right ahead. Make sure you inject under the skin between the fat and the meat so when it cooks and renders that fat through the muscle, it carries the flavor with it.

I want to take this time to talk about the cooking process and why we do it this way. When we cook a pork chop from the lean part of the pig, we cook it over high direct heat. We get a good sear on the outside and attempt to pull it out of the fire when it still is moist and tender on the inside. When we cook a tough cut, such as a pork shoulder, we use low indirect heat to render the fat and collagen throughout the meat and break down the protein strands to make it tender and moist. Ribs on the other hand are somewhere in between. We cook them low and slow at first and then hit them with high direct heat to finish them off that creates a great bite and taste on the outside with a fall of the bone tenderness we all have come to enjoy.

The full pig has to find a happy place that will fulfill all the needs of these different cuts. You have to sacrifice some sear to end up a a most succulent, moist, deliciousness. Don’t worry though because the skin makes a nice crunchy cracklin’ that can bring some crunch to your pulled pork sandwich! With all the fat between the skin and the meat that has to render, that takes time. The moisture moving through the muscle and rendering the collagen in the joints needs a low temperature to slowly work its magic. This is the Low-N-Slow temperature and time control needed for a successful full pig.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time! 12 to 14 hours of cooking time should suffice for a 100# pig. Prepare the smoker prepared with a water pan and bring the temperature up to 220F. Put the greased pig on the grate with the head facing away from the fire box. If your smoker is offset, you may want to make a heat shield around the hind of the pig to protect it from getting flash burn. Time to let it rock out for a couple hours and keep the heat steady as possible.

Use a flavoring ingredient to create the mop. Something that will move through a spray bottle. I use vinegar, rub, and brown sugar. Cook it down until everything dissolves in the liquid. Spray or mop once every two hours or so or maybe more depending on how dry it gets. Basting also helps caramelize the skin and gives that cracklin’s a nice taste and texture . Cook until the internal temp is at least 175ºF in several places. Check the temperature near the joints in the fore and hind quarters.

To present this wonderful main course, cut across the neck and down the spine to reveal the meat under the crispy skin. Cut the skin into pieces and serve as “craclin’s” for all to enjoy. The tender, juicy flesh underneath is great as is or on sandwiches and your favorite sauce. The traditional pulled pork sandwich is bun, pork, cole slaw.

Thank you for your time and I hope this was helpful for you to successfully do your first pig roast.

Pitmaster David Vito

Allow us to cater your next pig roast!!!

 

 

 

 

Smoked Salmon Salad

This is a delicious dish that can be served as a side, appetizer, or main course. It is warm enough to be served on colder days and light enough to be served at a summer dinner. The star of this dish is a beautiful fish that is delicately smoked so the natural sugars bring out a sweetness and fresh herbs lend an aromatic lift that entices your senses with mouth watering anticipation.

Since the fish is the star actor in this play, we will focus on that. I love to go and browse what the local fish monger has to offer in the way of salmon. They always have several options to choose from that range from a light, pale coral color to a deep reddish orange. I usually don’t go for the most expensive salmon, but not the cheapest one either. I want great flavor and firm muscle that won’t turn to mush and will hold it’s own against the smoke. I only go with a skin on fillet or a whole fish because the fat from the skin will aide in keeping the flesh moist during the smoke.

The rub!

This is a simple rub that will enhance the flavor of the fish without overpowering it. with just five simple ingredients it is easy to set up ahead of time so the flavors can marry together. the salt is very light in this rub because we want to bring a little seasoning to it but not pull too much moisture from the fish.

At least 24 hours before rubbing the fish:

  • 2 TBSP dry or fresh dill
  • 2 Tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Fresh herb option:

  • 2 TBSP fresh dill
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • i tsp black or white pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

I added a fresh herb option because it is very nice to crush these together with a mortar and pestle to create a paste and rub that into the fish.

Dry the flesh side with a clean tea towel or paper towel and apply the rub to only the one side. wrap and let rest in the fridge for 24 hours.

Set your smoker up with a drip pan on top of the grate with about 1 inch of water in it. preheat the smoker to 210ºF for at least 1/2 hour to ensure a stable heat. Lay the salmon skin side down on a separate grate and place it on top of the drip pan. This will keep the temperature stable near the meat and keep the chamber moist throughout the smoke. Smoke the fish undisturbed for 45 minutes and check for firmness. the flesh should be firm to the touch with a little flexibility. If it feels mushy, check back in another 15 minutes.

Smoked Salmon

Remove the fish on the grate to cool for at least 1/2 an hour before slicing. The fish will firm up a bit more on the rest and become a beautiful consistency the can be sliced thick or thin. I like to slice it thin at an angle and along the skin to clean it from the fish. Lay it on a bed of bitter mixed greens in a shingle presentation and drizzle balsamic glaze or a good quality balsamic vinegar lightly over the salad. Top with a chiffonade of basil to complete the dish!

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Please don’t hesitate to leave comments and questions below.

 

A word on rubs and mops P.2

Let’s talk about beef. When we think of beef, we see in our minds eye, an inch thick cut porterhouse steak with beautiful marbling and a pronounced bone and fat cap. Beef is probably my favorite protein to prepare on a regular basis. I could go on for pages about the cuts and how to prepare them, but I won’t. I do want to focus on a couple of cuts used for BBQ, not grilling! The porterhouse can wait!

Brisket, ribs, and chuck roasts are the most popular smoked cuts from the cow. They are from different sections of the animal, and require different attentions of preparation. Ribs are probably the most difficult of the three to prepare because they have a membrane that should be removed. They are also a very tough cut so tenderness is essential to an enjoyable eating experience. This cut is very popular throughout the globe, so the cultural flavors work very well here. I will focus on a rub and method that I have been using for years and has proved to be a crowd pleaser.

Beef ribs differ greatly from pork ribs. They are bigger, the flesh is tougher, and the connective tissue takes a lot longer to break down. The membrane is very thick and should be removed. Use a knife to get started and just pull it free.  It should come off in one piece. At this point, you can coat each side of the ribs liberally with kosher salt. Stack them in four rib slabs and let them rest for half an hour. Rinse the ribs thoroughly under cold water. This will help tenderize the meat and it won’t be salty after rinsing. I recommend rubbing the ribs down at least two days in advance. This gives the rub time to help tenderize and penetrate the meat. Since this cut has plenty of connective tissue, we will be using the salt quite liberally without worry of drying the meat out.

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Mix ingredients with wire whisk until well incorporated at least two days in advance.

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Mix ingredients in a pot and boil for 2 minutes. Strain and put in a spray bottle set to mist.

Bring the smoker to 190ºF – 200ºF cook for 6 to 8 hours until internal temperature reaches 175ºF. Mop every hour to keep them glistening. I say this because the chemical reaction that happens to meat in a smoker called the smoke ring is more pronounced if the surface is moist. if you find them drying out on the surface, mop more frequently. Your times may vary due to the cut of the meat and environmental factors. When the internal temp reaches 170ºF wrap in foil and let rest for 1/2 hour before finishing on the grill or serving dry.

Smoking brisket has been at the forefront in smoking circles for a long time for a reason. This is one tough piece of meat that was once thrown into a stew pot or braised for hours and was considered a sub par cut of meat. It was extremely inexpensive and therefore reserved for the poorer communities. Throughout the last twenty to thirty years, it has become a sensation of the pit. The cadillac of the smoker, and in return, as expensive as a N.Y. strip steak if fabricated. You can purchase the brisket as a whole cut or a flat cut. The flat is just the thin end, but make sure you request it with the fat cap. This fat cap is essential in the cooking process to keep the meat moist.

Since this is a tough piece of meat, you will need to be very patient with it. You cannot rush or “push” this cut. You need to use the low heat to slowly penetrate the fibers and melt the collagen in the fat to help separate the protein fibers of the meat. This takes time and patience. Plan on a twelve to fourteen hour smoke. I am stressing this because the meat holds a lot of moisture that will stall the cooking process for hours. they call this “holding it’s cool” because it will heat up to 120ºF – 140ºF and just stay there for what seems forever. This stall actually is the most important part of the cook because it gives the meat extra time to be broken down and create that beautiful tender mouth feel we are all looking for in a brisket. So please be very patient with this cut of meat. Keep the temp even and use a mild wood such as oak, cherry, or apple.

I like to keep things simple when doing brisket because the meat has so much flavor.

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Combine all ingredients in a bowl 1 day in advance.

at least two days in advance, wash the brisket under cold water and dry it. Rub generously on all sides and wrap in plastic. refrigerate for at least two days but no more than four. remove from fridge two hours prior to smoking to allow meat to warm up. preheat smoker to 200ºF for at least 1/2 hour set up with a drip pan. you can put a drip pan directly on the grate with another grate on top of it with the brisket on top. This will allow you to draw liquids from the pan and use as a mop during the cooking process. The mop is very simple, Apple juice! I just cut a hole in the cap with a knife and use that as a spray bottle. this way you can refill it with pan juices and not worry about clogging your good spray bottle. mop every hour until the meat reaches 175ºF internal temp at the thickest part. Don’t be discouraged if the thinnest part dried out a bit. This cut is reserved for the chef called “burnt ends”.

The easiest of the three is the chuck roast. This is reserved for pulled beef. Unlike pulled pork, this will be served with a sauce mixed in. The chuck is very fatty and can be purchased with or without bones. I will always opt for the bone in cuts just because the bones carry flavor. This cut has very tough muscle with plenty of that awesome connective tissue we like to break down. The drippings from this smoke will produce the sauce for the finished product. You are trying to bring flavor to this cut so a more complex rub will be needed to set the foundation layer. Paprika, cayenne, chili powder, onion, and garlic will be the supporting actors in this scene.

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Combine all ingredients two days in advance. Refrigerate until used.

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  • 1 cup apple cider or juice
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • remaining rub or 1 cup

 

Wash the chuck in cold water and pat dry with a towel. Rub liberally and be sure to massage the meat to get in between all the separating tissue. Wrap in plastic film and rest in fridge for two days. Bring the meat to room temp while the smoker heats up to 200ºF. Mop every hour until the internal temp is at 175ºF. Let rest and create a sauce by reducing 1 cup of drippings by half and adding 2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce or you can make chipped beef in cream sauce. This cut is very delicious and way under appreciated.

I hope this has been helpful in getting you more acquainted with the different cuts of beef. Beef really steals the show at a BBQ dinner and there is nothing more stressful than tough brisket or dried out meat. watch for tenderness, wrap it on the rest, and keep the heat low and steady. Rushing these cuts will ensure a tough and dry final product.

A word on rubs and mops Pt. 1

I want to open the discussion of rubs and mops. Just to clarify, rubs are generally applied to food before the cooking process and mops are applied during and after the cooking process. Rubs can be either dry or wet and can be applied right before cooking or days prior to cooking the food. Mops are generally wet and thin and are a vehicle to bring moisture and additional flavor to the food during the cooking process. They can then be combined with the rubs afterward with some added drippings to create an accompanying dipping or finishing sauce.

When we think of rubs, we generally think about a dry spice mix that we apply to meat before cooking. I feel rubs are much more than that. Rubs can be meat tenderizers as well as flavor enhancers. They also contribute to that lovely outer crust we call the “bark.” Rubs can be wet or dry or a combination of both. They can be applied directly to the meat or the meat can be pre-treated prior to rubbing it down so it can absorb more of the rubs flavor. There are some commercial rubs available that are labeled “all purpose” rubs. They boast to be great for fish, vegetables, pork, chicken, beef, venison, crow, etc…. That would be great but everything would taste the same.

I think about the type of food I am preparing and the cultural flavor profile I am trying to achieve when making a rub. If I am making salmon, I wouldn’t use a rib rub for it and vise versa. Salmon pairs well with dill and garlic, but is considerably lean, so moisture is an issue. For a garlic dill salmon rub, I would use very little salt. The fish will expel moisture as it cooks and the texture will remain flaky while the taste of the rub compliments the fish nicely. So a simple salmon rub looks like this:

Rub for 2 salmon fillets with skin on ; 8 – 10 lbs. total weight

  • 3 Tbsp granulated garlic or garlic powder (fine is okay)
  • 4 Tbsp dill (fresh or dry)
  • 2 tsp white pepper (black is fine)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • zest from 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a wire whisk at least 12 hours before use.

Mop for salmon

  • 1 cup apple juice
  • zest and juice from 2 lemons
  • 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 garlic clove
  • pinch S&P

Combine all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, cool, strain, put in a spray bottle set to mist.

So the garlic and dill are the stars while the salt and pepper help bring the flavors to the front. I would rub the salmon about 1/2 hour before smoking but no longer than 1 1/2 hrs. The fish needs to be at room temperature when hitting the grate, skin side down, and smoke it  at 190 degrees F with a mild wood like cherry or apple for about 1 hour. This is where the mop comes into play. every fifteen minutes or so, mist the salmon with the mop. when you pull the salmon, let it rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Salmon and other types of seafood benefit from a subtle approach when it comes to infusing flavors. They cook fast and people like the flavor of the flesh so that must shine through. Take bolder meats like pork and beef, they love to be a vehicle for added flavors and there are plenty of rubs that will testify to it. Commercial BBQ sauces are also a testimony to this fact. They come in an endless combination of flavors and almost every one boasts that it is the best one for beef, pork, and chicken. Some are very well made and time tested winners, but most are just high fructose corn syrup with added flavorings to make a quick buck. Okay, a little rant there, hehe.

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No “one rub fits all.” Pork and Brisket ready to hit the grates. Notice the difference in color that each rub creates on the uncooked meats. This will also reflect on the finished product.

Pork rubs are bold, loud and sweet. These rubs bring flavor, color, and texture to the meat through the use of strong spices and sugars. Typical pork rubs are red in color from the use of peppers. Chili, Paprika, and Cheyenne peppers are  the most common ones used in these rubs. The heat from these are typically counteracted with sugar. Brown, white, and raw sugars are used most often, but there are plenty of natural sugars at your disposal, so you can get creative here. Sugar also contributes to the bark through caramelrubs1ization and this also helps lock in the moisture of the meat throughout the cooking process. There are a wide variety of additional flavors to round out this rub like garlic, cumin, onion, etc…. This is a fatty cut of meat and takes a long time to cook so the use of salt is more forgiving and won’t dry it out. If this was loin or tenderloin, I would reduce the amount to a pinch of salt.

Basic pork rub for pulled pork does 10 lb. pork shoulder boston butt bone in:

  • 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 3/4 cup paprika (Hungarian hot is nice)
  • 3 Tbsp salt (kosher or sea salt)
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp cumin

Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk and break up any lumps at least 2 to 3 days prior to use. If to be used within 24 hours put a double boiler on low and break up the sugar with your fingers while it heats up until it is very hot to the touch. Let cool and break up any lumps before storing in the refrigerator.

Pork Mop

  • 2 cups of apple cider or juice
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • remaining rub

Combine all ingredients in a pot ans simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool and add to sprayer set to mist.

I find it beneficial to pre treat pork shoulder before rubbing. I wash it down with cold water then liberally soak it with cider vinegar for about 5 minutes. Dry it, don’t rinse, with paper towels and apply a liberal amount of rub to all sides. When applying the rub, massage it into the meat firmly. while you rub it in, it will go from a grainy texture to a smooth red paste. This is what you want, keep it up until the whole piece is well rubbed. Reserve the remaining rub for the mop. This will ride the smoker for roughly ten hours at 200 degrees F until the temp is at 175 degrees and the blade bone comes free with little effort. Mop every hour to keep the meat glistening.

Stay posted for part 2 where I will cover chicken and beef.