Sunday, March 27, 2011

What we're smoking...

It's not what you think.

Last night while I was creating this blog, Tom (the hubby) was busy preparing a whole chicken for smoking. We've done this before with a turkey and had good results. First step is to brine the bird, which involves a long soak in a salt/sugar solution for 10 hours. What is brining? Put simply, it's a process by which salt and sugar react with the meat to tenderize it and keep moisture in. The end result is a far more tender turkey/chicken/pork chop/whatever. We do it for our Thanksgiving turkey, and so should you. It really does make a difference. The brine we made last night consisted of

1 gallon water
1 cup salt
1.5 cups sugar
1 bottle of dark beer (we used 2005 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale)

To prepare the brine, put a big pot on the stove and pour in the water, followed by the salt, sugar and beer. Heat the solution to boiling or until the salt and sugar is dissolved. Then cool it down to room temperature. (If you have a huge bird you should double or triple the brine recipe.) You can also experiment with the brine mix--add some wine, throw in herbs, put in some spices if you like, or citrus peels. These add-ins will add very subtle flavor to your chicken. Just don't add anything that contains additional salt or sugar or else you'll throw off the proportions. Tom didn't want anything fancy for this brine, so the above recipe is what we used.

I should note that although we are going to smoke this chicken, brining is a wise prep choice for other cooking methods as well. If we were roasting this bird we would have done the same thing.

Put your bird in a pot and add your cooled brine. The brine should cover the bird completely. If it doesn't, try a smaller pot. If it starts floating, you can weigh it down with a brick in a plastic bag or a huge unopened can of tomato sauce or similar. Once your bird is submerged, put the pot in the refrigerator. Or, if it's about refrigerator temperature outside, you can put it out on your back deck overnight, like we did. The rock is essential to keep out hungry critters such as cats and rabid foxes.

Chicken themed doormat is a total coincidence, I swear.

Leave your bird soaking in the brine for 10 hours, but not longer than that. After ten hours drain and discard the brine, rinse the bird really well in clean water, and let it dry for a few minutes. Use paper towels if necessary.

While rinsing and wrestling this dead naked bird in my kitchen sink, I had fond memories of bathing my kids in there. Is that wrong?

Next step is to make the rub. Here you can see the ingredients I used for ours. You can really use any spices and herbs that taste good together. And you don't really need to measure, either. Just use more of the flavors you like and want to come through more than others.

Incidentally these are all the same ingredients I use to flavor my homemade chili. Only thing missing is a Hershey bar. Seriously!
 The approximate proportions for the rub ingredients is as follows

2 cups brown sugar (light or dark, whatever you've got)
1 tablespoon Kosher salt (no more than that, your brine had lots of salt in it)
2 teaspoons black pepper 
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 teaspon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons celery salt
1 teaspoon ground thyme (not pictured) 

 Mix all the ingredients really well.

Here I turned it over to Tom, who says it's most important to get lots of the rub under the skin and really try to distribute it as well as you can. The meat will hold more of the flavor this way.

And then rub rub all over the outside of the bird. Heh, rub rub, that looks funny.

There there, Chicken. Daddy's here.

Remember to support the head when you pick him up. Oh, wait...never mind.

All baby-in-the-sink references will now cease.

Now, on to the smoker. Being laid off from work has afforded Tom with ample time to pursue his hobbies, one of which is eating. So, he joined the local Barbecue Club. I suspect that only here in our lovingly cult-ish lake community does such a club exist, but if your town has a barbecue club I want to hear from you. Tom was immediately inspired by one guy's DIY smoker, which was made from a filing cabinet just like this one

Tax records or ribs?
The whole thing was painted with black insulating paint and the cabinet is rigged for ventilation at the top and a wood-burning firebox at the bottom. Each drawer was assigned a different type of meat, and each one was labeled--Ribs, Chicken, Brisket, etc. I thought that was hilarious. Until I saw the smoker Tom built...

Wait for it...

Tom said he didn't want to be in any of these photos. Maybe it's the sweatpants?
Tom locked himself in the garage for a week building his smoker. It started with a galvanized aluminum garbage can and the legs from a dismantled buffet table. It looked wonderfully bizarre. After a few modifications and a few coats of insulated paint, I thought it looked totally steampunk. Not to mention, it was very cold in November and Tom always wears eye protection so on more than one occasion when I entered the garage to check Tom's progress, I found him looking not unlike this guy. I commended Tom on his creativity and artistry. And then he revealed that he'd never heard the word steampunk in his life so now I don't know what to think. In any case we smoked our free supermarket turkey in the thing and it turned out great.

Tom insists I mention the original buffet table legs have been replaced with a kettle style charcoal grill.

Guidelines for smoking poultry are to cook at 265 degrees for one hour per pound. For our tricky DIY smoker, this means we may not eat dinner until 10pm.

Well, it's 9pm and we just finished dinner. Good news is, it came out fantastic. Check it out:

This is the George Hamilton of chickens.

 This smoked chicken came out so juicy and flavorful, we decided it didn't even need a gravy. I served it with simple sides of oven roasted sweet potato fries and steamed broccoli with brown butter lemon sauce. Recipes for those coming tomorrow!

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