Archive for the ‘Smoking w/ Fire’ Category

Smoke-Day and My Current Smoking Setup


I’ve mentioned that on Pig Day I was slipping ham cuts and hocks into a big stock pot of prepped brine. Turns out that was a good idea. Just finished smoking those items, and they turned out really, really well. Heavily smoky, nice and salty with the classic pink-salt flavor and high-quality pork. Pretty much can’t go wrong there.

Turns out 27 hours for the sirloin tip wasn’t long enough – still some un-pink in the center. Also, 3 days for the hocks yielded the same issue. But I think I figured out my solution, and it’s not longer brine time. If I did that the extremities might get too salty – they were already borderline. I think the solution is injecting the meats with the brine. Need to buy me a new food toy. One that will scare many a guest away, perhaps.

I figured some info on my smoking setup would be useful for a variety of reasons. First, I’ve written about my old setup many times [a propane bbq put out of gas service and onto wood-fire], and I’ve been using something different for nearly a year already. Secondly, I’m addicted to accessibility when it comes to good food, and my current setup is built with reclaimed, largely free masonry and bits and pieces of my old propane bbq. This piecemeal freebie model is extremely effective, and addresses a key issue I had before with lack of secondary heat source – I mention it in the video below.

Bacon Deserves Some Respect


I know, I write about bacon a lot. And I know, bacon’s so last year, right? Wrong. Putting bacon in all kinds of stupid stuff – that’s so last year. But top-shelf bacon is, and will be so long as man and pork collide, a force of awesomeness to be reckoned with.

For those of you who have been paying attention, this is indeed the bacon cured by my 3-year-old. A week in the fridge, and a couple hours over some wood fire smoke – daddy did that part [see bottom photo]. So simple. So tasty.

For some reason though, this bacon is among the best I’ve ever produced – and I’ve made a lot of bacon. We are literally swooning over it, and it’s not for lack of cured pork in our diet. I’m going to give the credit to Nature’s Green Acres for raising some high-maintenance but ridiculously beautiful pork belly. You can see me butchering this very slab of pig’s belly here.

This beautiful piece of pork has fired me up to asking we quit wearing bacon, crafting with bacon, putting it in desserts, and any other bacon-nonsense – and give it back some of its well deserved respect and dignity. Really.

Dry Stacked Wood Fired Oven & Grill


I think I’m going to be sore tomorrow morning.

This morning, inspired by my recent temp masonry grill setup which still pleased me greatly, I thought ‘how could I use the masonry I have been collecting to build a temp oven‘. If you ever have that thought, just know in advance that if you act on it, you will be sore and tired, especially if it’s colder than -20C the day you decide to do it.

Dry stacking [sans mortar] has its merits. I had my temp grill apart in about 5 minutes. No old mortar to clean off.  The ease of modding and tweaking a setup is another major perk, as is speed of build – from the time I started to the time I had a fire in an oven was 3 hours. The photo at the bottom shows the grill setup adjacent to the oven, also completed within that 3 hrs. It tripled-to-quadrupled my grill space. Quite the upgrade.

Turns out last winter’s research on how to build ovens paid off, and I improvised a design I’m quite pleased with, including a nice entry space and functional chimney. Chimneys are not tremendously simple to dry stack. Good fortune was on my side all around as I also conveniently had just the amount of building materials I needed, without having given thought to it in the speedy-morning-coffee-planning-stage. I had assumed I had lots. I did. Many, many thousands of pounds. My muscles remind me frequently. It’s okay though, I need the exercise after eating meat pies 3 times a day through the holidays.

So rather than having a big pile of free, re-purposed masonry in my way in the garage, I now have a big pile of free, re-purposed masonry performing practical cookery functions on my back patio. I so should have thought of this before.

The Temp


I was doing dishes. Thinking, ‘it would be nice to have a fire this evening‘. I’d spent the morning knocking down some excess trees and dead wood on our lot. Wood was on the brain. But my usual setup [a re-purposed bbq], albeit sufficiently functional for cookery, is far from romantic to sit around for the evening. ‘If only I had something I could put a fire on‘, thought I.  There was lots of snow. It didn’t even have to be that intelligent a setup from a fire safety standpoint. Then I realized the error in my ways.

See, I’ve been collecting masonry for a very large-scale project that I was hoping to get to this past year, but didn’t, and with yet another addition to the family on the way, I’m resolved to not bother again this coming year. So with a portion of said masonry, within a half-hour, I had a fire burning in a dry-stacked setup about 4′x2′, and in every way it is superior to my previous setup. It is more versatile as bricks can be moved to accommodate need for support for racks, grills, etc. It’s larger. I am able to manage the coals more easily. I am able to add wood while the grill’s on if need be. I built a concrete paver counter aside it. It can be disassembled and re-purposed easily. And it was all free, captured from our urban waste stream.

The exact layout of masonry units I may divulge when I have some day-time pictures, but much like with the re-purposed bbq, I feel the concept’s more important the the details, and the point here is you take free masonry, and stack it like a child’s block set to build a formidable cookery appliance that looks pretty. It shames me a tad that it took me this long to have the ‘aha’ moment’. I’ll get over it. Quickly.

below – inaugural fire required inaugural grilling of meat: some cured and smoked pork jowl

Saucisson Sec d’Orignal


Moose sausage typically doesn’t get me excited. It’s generally made by local meat shops with pre-fabbed 5-gallon-bucketed mixes of ‘cure’ and ‘seasoning’, jacked up with pork to tame the flavor and add fat, resulting in a sausage that tastes like non-game something-or-other akin to a factory produced sausage item from a box store. Not always bad, just rarely that good and never great. Wow that’s a tad harsh. Truth hurts. [I actually feel for the butchers, as I would not want to defrost, de-hair, and trim out the often multiple bullet wounds from game animals shot by others. They probably don't want to either.]

I’ve made fresh game sausages with equally weak results. No boxed seasoning, perhaps, but still not something I’d be excited to tie into regularly. But that tide has changed. A while back I put up a batch of pork saucisson sec, and made a batch with this year’s calf moose to give it a go. Test run. Success. And to continue with my quasi-snotty french names for these products, I’ll be calling these ‘saucisson sec d’orignal‘.

This morning I finished a couple pieces of this and my brési with a hit of smoke. I’ll give them a few days to mellow out the fresh smoking before tying into them again. Smoke, like many things, is better with age. I may make the next batch a tad leaner, but other than that, very pleased. How to make it? Chacuterie‘s recipe for saucisson sec, substitute moose for pork shoulder. These took a month to cure at 4C and 65-70% humidity, and could stand to be a bit drier still.

[the photo is the saucisson atop brési atop guanciale - Christmas is a time to taste charcuterie, apparently. sweet]

Apple Pruning


Normally I tackle this when the first hints of mild weather hit in February, but having had my nose buried in seed catalogs for a while, it was nice to get out in the garden buried in snow [see below] and do a job that needed doing for the coming growing season. My objective with my apple is to clear out the center, remove any waterspouts, truncate the branches that are getting too long, and clean up any wood that is overcrowding, overlapping, or otherwise offending a neighboring branch. The problem is, I find pruning akin to harvesting berries – I get into a zone of obsession. Just a little bit more. Just one more. Until there’s a serious pile of branches on the ground.

My second problem is that I then am unmotivated to clean up the mess. I think today was the first day ever that I actually cut up the wood the day I pruned, and stacked it neatly, ready for future use. Having run very short on apple wood to smoke with, I was very pleased to stack up a good pile of sticks that should last me the next year or more when smoking bacon, jerky, etc.

An advantage to pruning this year: were I to have fallen off my ladder, I would have fallen into 3′ of fluffy snow.

Jerky – Some Recipe Refinement


I got an email this morning from Throwback at Trapper Creek regarding my previously posted jerky recipe, which led me to responding with a couple recipe tweaks – one of which is pretty key in my mind, so I figured I should post those thoughts here as well.

First. On my first elk jerky batch of the winter, I had sliced the cow elk round while still mostly frozen. It sliced a dream on my cheap deli slicer. I added the cure ingredients right away. The jerky was enjoyed, but I found it gamier than expected. On this most recent batch, I let the sliced par-frozen meat defrost pre-curing. I was suprised how much blood was released during the defrosting, so I poured it off, and may have even given the meat a quick rinse. Ah. The potential source of gaminess: the blood. The result? Less gamey jerky. I had unknowingly allowed the blood/juices related to defrosting become part of the cure flavors on that first batch. Not a good plan, in my books. So I will forever defrost the sliced meat fully and drain pre-adding the cure ingredients – yields a far cleaner flavor.

Second. Less importantly, I gave onion a go rather than garlic. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of my fridge stinking like meat and garlic – not sure what about that turns me off, but it does. Result with onion is very nice, more subtle/delicate than garlic. Maybe next time, leeks.

Time to take out the next piece of elk round, as this batch won’t last the week.

Jerky Pleasing All Parties


Jerky has become a repertoire item around our home – something that reappears over, and over, and over – like bacon. At risk of offending all parties, jerky pleases food snobs, picky eaters, and red necks equally – and I actually don’t quite understand why.  Not many foods can transcend those gaping holes in preference, so why does dried raw meat turn people on? How does my daughter spit roast chicken on her plate, yet pound back the uncooked, dried game meat that she’d otherwise never touch? I think it’s largely a texture preference that’s plugged into our DNA, evolution telling us that this is safer to eat. I use this recipe still. Were I to use the exact same ingredients and stir fry the meat, the picky folk, game haters, food snobs, red necks, and children wouldn’t eat it. But dry it, and shabam.

In all honesty, although I enjoy jerky – especially as a portable snack food, I’m not one to get too overly excited about it. I get excited about dry cured sausages, but not this. But so long as others do, and it’s an effective way to get people excited about eating game meats, I’ll keep making it, and they’ll keep eating it as fast as I can make it. One of the great things about game – jerky is obscenely expensive to purchase retail, in the neighborhood of $50-60/kg. When a game animal like this costs you zero, it makes for some pretty fantastic value add. A boon for this cheapass.

Smoked Moose Tongue


I was fortunate enough to be invited to an event that I’ll link up as soon as some of the attendees post about it. It was a fairly large pot luck comprised heavily of bloggers, and the hostess shared similar pot-luck ethics as I,  so it was highly enjoyable. My dish? Cured and smoked tongue of moose. Not your average dish for a pot-luck, for certain. I know a few folks who if served this wouldn’t  touch it with a 10-thousand-foot-pole.  But that’s okay – I figured that type of folk weren’t invited.  It was cut really thinly, and was so approachable that my fussy 3-year-old even popped back a few pieces – akin to a heavily cured and smoked ham. I therefore conclude [right or wrong] that even super-fussy 3-year-olds can be more adventurous than fussy adults!

Cured in dry cure for a week, cooked in a bag under-water for roughly an hour per pound [1.03kg, in this case] at 200C, peeled, rubbed in oil+ sage+oregano, then smoked with applewood for roughly 3-4 hrs. I used a slicer to get it thin. The whole thing worked out exceptionally well. I’d originally planned on finishing with fleur de sel [among other things], which upon tasting was clearly a poor idea, as the week in cure made this more than salty enough. It needed nothing. I settled on serving it plain, paired with a too-young-but-still-appropriate saskatoon wine. Any chance I get to serve wild game meats with wild fruits from the bush where they live, I take.

One thing of note that I will rely on others’ photos for [again, I'll link up shortly]: I cut the tongue in half, roughly, and sliced each half separately. The back and front of the tongue not only are different shapes, the nature of the meat is shockingly different. The front, or ‘tip’ part if you will, was much darker, denser, and uniform in shape. The back ‘throat’ section varied in neat shapes, and almost looked more like a pork product. Interesting.