Especially when they're about ten pounds…of the pork variety…rubbed and injected and then slow-cooked (12 hours of indirect heat) on the grill/smoker, with plenty of hickory and cherry smoke.
Why, what kind of butt did you think I meant?
And besides, the "butt" is really the shoulder, but how many jokes could you make out of "rubbing my shoulder" and "inserting the probe in the shoulder" (temperature probe) and "biting into the shoulder?" It just isn't quite as amusing.
Anyway, the project began Thursday afternoon, not all that long after family arrived. A while back, Bill had actually wanted to slow-cook a suckling pig, but with all the house insanity going on, that dream never took flight. So instead, they bought some racks of babyback ribs and a 10 lb. pork butt and some rolls. The plan was to get the meat ready that night and then get the fire going at 6 the next morning, put the butt on shortly after that, and then add the ribs later in the day so they could get a good 5 hours of warmth and smoky ambiance as well.
I basically had little to do with this part of the food production for Friday. I made goat cheese and some side dishes and did grocery store runs and made the brownies, but I cannot claim any responsibility or credit for the pork.
That was the work of the menfolk.
DC Rainmaker is the veteran of the slow-cooked butt and resulting pulled pork goodness, and you can read his commentary on that here and here (and that second link will also get you to a printable word document of his tried-and-true recipe.
His dad, my brother-in-law, Ray, has made the pulled pork a number of times as well.
And my husband, Bill, is King of the Ribs here and of the three, he is the only one used to using a charcoal grill/smoker exclusively. The others make theirs on gas grills.
Now, yes, gas is nice and easy – you set the temperature and let it go. With charcoal, you have to add more coals to keep the temperature where you want it, so it's definitely more high-maintenance.
But. (or Butt, I guess), I believe you get a lot more depth and breadth of flavor when you're using charcoal and smoking wood.
But (butt) I digress.
First thing you do, after buying your meat and all the other ingredients you'll need for the rub, the injection liquid, and the sauce, and all the other things you want to eat alongside the pork sandwich, is to prep the butt.
If you've bought a pre-made rub, that's fine. If you're going to make your own, make it now.
Then, you remove the wrapper, since that wouldn't hold up too well in the heat, and start sprinkling the rub on the meat and rubbing it into the butt.
Don't trim off any of the fat!!! I know it might be tempting and all, but the fat is built-in moisture and flavor, and you'll need it over the long haul.
Okay, now we add the rub…it's nice if you've got someone to help you with this part, though you can certainly do it solo.
Here we've got my Ray doing the butt rubbing and his baby brother, my husband, helping out with the sprinkling part.
Many hands make light work.
What's gonna work? TEAMwork! (My kids love the Wonder Pets.)
(That's a single broccoli rabe stalk in the blue cup under the windowsil. It's flowering, and it's pretty. Or it was. I used it the next day.)
(And that's my little container for compostable scraps, also right under the window.)
You wrap it in plastic and put in the fridge overnight.
At this point you can prepare the injection liquid or you can do that in the morning. It's only five ingredients, so either way is fine.
And that's all you do the night before. Just be sure to get up early enough to get that butt on the grill.
You'll need a good night's sleep, probably.
(That's Julia. Busy day, what with the arrival of "the people." She kept asking "When will the people be here?" After all the excitement of "the people," Julia crashed around 8 pm.)
So, you've rubbed your butt, mixed your injection liquid stuff, and you go to bed at a reasonable hour because you have to get up early and light the coals.
And then what happens?
Well, in our house, Grill Master Bill wakes up in the middle of the night with HORRENDOUS sinus congestion and pressure and an accompanying sinus headache that morphs over the following hours into a migraine, leaving him weak, in horrible pain, and nauseous.
Not a good combo for working with raw meat and barbecue ingredients.
So I went downstairs and called in Relief Griller Ray, who (this stuff runs in their family) also had some congestion and a headache going on, but not as bad as Bill's. I said I'd get the coals going, and I'd make some coffee, and he nodded his understanding that the lineup had changed and he needed to step right into the game.
I found the injector needle outside in the turkey fryer pot in the garage and brought that back inside for Ray to use. He removed the butt, unwrapped it, and started jabbing juice into it with the injector.
I headed outside to start the coals. We've got one of those chimney things that you fill with coals on top and stuff some newspaper or torn up brown paper bag into the smaller bottom section. Then you set the chimney where you want it (in this case it went in the smoke box to the side of the main grill) and light the paper. The paper burns, ignites the coals, and in about fifteen-twenty minutes, you've got nice white-hot coals. Yay!
Well, a couple things. First of all, there wasn't a whole lot of lump charcoal left in the bag. A lot was used the night before when Bill cooked three beer can chickens. So I dumped in what we had (about half a chimney-full) and lit the fire.
At some point Bill staggered downstairs to make sure we were working hard and doing it right (he doesn't trust us to NOT screw up, pure and simple), and he recommended going to the store NOW to get several more bags of charcoal.
So I headed off to the closest store and brought home three bags of the Cowboy brand lump charcoal we use most of the time.
I added more coals to the chimney and built that up, and a bit later, when the coals were (again) white-hot, Ray brought out the injected butt and I poured the hot coals out of the chimney and into the smoke box.
At this point, I'd like to admit that being the Barefoot Kitchen Witch is not always the wisest path to follow. While I was pouring the white-hot coals into the little fire box (which isn't easy – the box is small, the chimney is tall, and it takes a bit of maneuvering), a couple of very small little coals fell out of the bottom of the chimney and dropped onto the deck.
And I stepped on one of them.
At first, I thought I'd stepped on something sharp, like a jagged little rock or something like that. But then the pain increased and changed from just "pain" to "HOT PAIN" and I moved my foot and looked down and realized what I'd done to myself.
I did not react at all. I continued dumping the coals into the fire box and added some more coal on top. Mission accomplished.
I walked away, one foot curled a bit, so the burnt part wouldn't make contact with the deck.
I wore flip-flops the rest of the day.
I took a peek at my foot – the black little burn area was on the fleshy part of my foot just below my big toe. It didn't seem to be blistering or anything (probably because of the layers of callus on my feet are so thick from going barefoot all the time) but it hurt if I walked on it.
But enough about me – back to the pork.
Here's the butt, when Ray first put it on the grill. It's upside-down. The really fatty part is supposed to be on top. He fixed that at some point after I took the picture.
For the record, the butt went on the grill at 6:51 Friday morning. A bit later than planned, because of the lack of charcoal, but still pretty much on target.
Here it is at 12:19:
You can see the grill marks on top, which were formed when the butt was upside down for a bit.
We've got a temperature probe in there, too, which will help track the progress of the meat. Ultimately the meat will reach around 190 degrees or so, but this will take a loooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnggg time – 12 hours or so in this case.
The important thing during all this is to keep the temperature a constant 225. It can fluctuate a little bit, but you don't want it to get too much hotter or colder for a long period of time, because that will mess up the cooking. If it's too hot, the meat will cook too quickly and won't have that fall-apart quality you're looking for. Too cool, and the meat will take even longer to cook.
In order to monitor the temperature inside the grill, you can do a few things. First of all, if you've got a built-in thermometer on the cover of the grill, you can use that. But you need to be sure that it's accurate. Ours was initially, but when Bill was cooking the chickens on Thursday, he realized that the thermometer was off a bit. Like, off by about 200 degrees.
So the second thing you can do is use a little oven thermometer. Just perch it on the rack in there with the pork butt and peek at it now and then. The problem with this is that in order to peek, you need to open the lid and when you do that, some of the heat escapes, and you don't want that to happen, if possible. This is what we did, but there's certainly a better way….
The third thing you can do, and I understand that this is what DC Rainmaker does, is to have a second probe thermometer just hanging out inside the grill, which will monitor the ambient air temperature inside the grill and report back to you without any lifting of the grill. At some point maybe we'll get a second probe thermometer so we can do it this way.
But the peeking under the lid worked fine. I think Ray (and eventually Bill, who was functioning again around noon-time) added coal to the fire box around every 45 minutes or so and that worked nicely.
After the butt went on the grill, I headed to the Farmers' market and Ray made the barbecue sauce and a mop sauce for the ribs. Here's how the barbecue sauce looked:
The recipe was adapted from the Kansas City-style sauce in Weber's Big Book of Grilling. This is the one Bill uses, and Ray made his own adjustments as he put it together. You can also, of course, use your favorite brand of bottled barbecue sauce if you prefer.
Now for the ribs…we used 3 racks of babyback ribs. They'd been coated with the same rub as the pork butt and left to wait in the fridge overnight. About an hour or so before they were due to go on the grill, Ray took them out of the fridge so they could come up to room temperature.
Ribs went on the grill right around 2:00.
Isn't that butt looking gorgeous? It's been hanging out in there for seven hours or so at this point.
Let's move in for a closer look, shall we?
This is the fat, melting down slowly and helping to keep the meat incredibly moist and tender.
So there we are, at this point – the butt and the ribs are on, and we've got about five more hours to go.
Every hour or so they moved the ribs around so none of them stayed too long near the hot end of the grill. In the picture above, you can just make out some crumpled aluminum foil right at the top part of the image. That was Bill's idea – a kind of barrier so the heat coming from the fire box wouldn't flow directly at the ends of the nearby ribs. It worked well; none of the end pieces of the ribs were so dried out that you couldn't eat them.
Now, while all this slow-cooking was going on, I was inside prepping other food for our dinner - I made a salad of baby spinach and roasted red and golden beets and tiny white turnips and baby red-skinned potatoes,
and I simmered the beet and turnip greens
with some sauteed bacon
and chicken stock and white vinegar until the greens were tender and tangy.
We had leftover chicken from the night before, and I'd shredded the remaining meat and warmed it back up with some of the barbecue sauce, too.
And for hungry folk to nibble on while waiting for the pork to finish up, we had guacamole and chips, some brie, some of my Rhubarb Ginger Jam (which is excellent on the brie and would be excellent on pork, as well. Or chicken. Or fish. Or a spoon), and my second batch of goat cheese, which I'd divided into three portions and doctored up as follows: one batch had black pepper and black salt mixed in, one batch was plain, and one batch was mixed with an assortment of the herbs we've got growing this year and the flowers from that single stalk of broccoli rabe I pointed out way, way back at the beginning of this post. The herbs included chives, thyme, mustard greens (okay, not an herb), sage, basil, parsley, oregano, and tarragon. I think that's it. Who knows. I just picked and minced and blended.
Anyway, here's a shot of the appetizers, before my kids started snitching the crackers:
And speaking of my kids, it was not all fun and games and relaxing for them either. We put them to work mid-afternoon:
That's right. HARD LABOR. Except that they like shucking corn, so it wasn't really. They did 16 ears, and I only had to pick off a little of the silk. The kids did a great job.
But not much of the corn was consumed anyway. People were much more interested in the pulled pork and the ribs and the other stuff. Which was fine. We had some corn last night and I sliced off and will freeze the rest of it.
The ribs and pork came off the grill right around 7:00, as planned. Here are some of the ribs:
Here's Ray shredding, or pulling, the pork with two forks.
The next day – when it was too late, of course – Bill said we should have weighed the finished butt before pulling it, just to see how much was left of the 10 lbs after 12 hours of cooking. And after Ray shredded the meat, all that remained was a small bit of bone and some bits of fat that didn't break down. Very little went to waste.
And whatever the final weight, we had MORE than enough to feed 14 people.
And I'm sorry, but that's the last of the pork butt pictures.
I put my camera away at this point and grabbed a plate.