Smoker Rehab 2018

Two years ago I pulled my old smoker out and gave it a complete overhaul.  It needs a little help again.  Nothing dramatic, but the paint is chipping up with rust blisters in places.  Best to get to that before they become dramatic.

A heavy grit flap sander pad on my angle grinder did a good job of cleaning off the paint and exposing fresh metal.  I think I used a wire brush last time, but this works a lot better.  So much better in fact that it revealed a lot more bad paint than I had originally thought.  I had sites all over the smoker that needed grinding and repainting.

Out came the high temp primer and paint.  I basically ended up repainting 75% of the smoker.  That was a lot more dramatic that I set out to do, but I figure it is a lot cheaper than having a rusted out smoker.

With it safe from the elements for a few more years I had one trick to install.  I wanted to customize the front fold out table.  I figured some kind of Florida BBQ sign was in order.  I was going to make it look like a caution road sign, but then thought that would reflect poorly on my cooking.  Watch out for this guy’s food!

I would historically use my mill to cut a stencil from thin plywood or hardboard.  I haven’t used it in ages and need to spend a day on repairs and re-learning how to use it.  Instead I tried to 3D print a stencil.  It can make finer curves and lines anyways.

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I sprayed the back with some light hold adhesive hoping that would keep spray paint from seeping under while letting me pick the stencil back up.  I masked around it and sprayed away.

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The edges weren’t as clear as I had hoped, so for the BBQ letters I sprayed more adhesive and make sure to rub it onto the grill table really hard.  That probably would have gone ok, but I sprayed too much paint and it seeped under.  Multiple lighter passes would have worked better.  I used too much adhesive and it left residue on the table.  I will wait a few days for the paint to really cure well before hitting it with a solvent.  I also didn’t mask enough and got a little over spray on the grill.

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Up close it has a lot of issues, but from afar it isn’t bad.  All lessons learned for next time.  Maybe in 2 more years when it needs another paint touch up I will have a better plan for branding it.  The smoker will be 11 years old at that point!

Sous Vide Ribs

You can sous vide just about anything, but should you?  I typically smoke ribs a few times a year, and mostly get pretty good results.  Exact texture can be tricky, but honestly as long as you don’t dry it out or have it be way under cooked, they are always good.  A foodie friend of my highly encouraged me to try sous vide ribs, so I took the jump.

This will be a good chance to finally field test my franken-cooler.  I have had it for over 6 months and haven’t actually used it for real until now.  By my friends suggestion I read over this serious eats article on sous vide ribs.  It is comprehensive and potentially more than you want to know about ribs.  I wen’t with some st louis cut spare ribs because that was the sale of the week.

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I went with a rub I had on hand, but did take the article’s note on salt to heart.  I had an idea to help speed up the heatup time of the franken-cooler.  That is a lot of water to bring up, and often the whole cavity isn’t full.  I filled a new paint can with just enough sand so that it wouldn’t float.  Pound for pound, water has 5 times the heat capacity of sand.  It still took forever to come to temperature.  Maybe some styrofoam weighed down with bricks would be even better.  Maybe I will just not bother to worry about it next time, once up to temp the outside barely gets warm, so it has to be pretty efficient.

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In they went at 152 for 24 hours.  They looked and smelled good a day later, but there is one final step.

The instructions had an oven or grill finish.  I opted to grill them for just a bit and throw a little bbq sauce on.  This is kind of a lot of work for ribs, but smoking them isn’t exactly simple either with the wrapping and unwrapping.

The texture was amazing of course.  There was a very consistent moisture level, rendering of fat, and soft pull apart amazingness.  The flavor was good, because it is ribs.  Still, I missed the smoke.  I think in retrospect this might be a better method for baby backs.  They are leaner and more susceptible to drying out.

Conclusion: yeah, these are really good.  It took a lot of time, but if you are around isn’t too big of a deal.  Maybe not my default method, but I am gonna have to try again with baby backs.

Jerky Cannon Baller

After a bit of a letdown trying to make my own jerky recipes I backed up to using commercially available seasoning packs.  My favorite to date had been the Backwoods brand Original flavor.  I picked up some hickory flavor, mixed up a batch, and loaded my cannon!

I have been using a Number 30 Disher for the last few jerky runs.  The recipes haven’t always been the best, but loading and shooting the jerky has gone super smoothly.  The hickory isn’t my favorite flavor, but the batch did turn out well.  For now I am back in the jerky saddle, but not as gung-ho as I was before.  I am going to focus on testing different seasoning packs and fine tuning my drying technique for better consistency.

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Jerky Chemistry

Those food scientists and chemists jerky companies employ might actually be worth their salt.  I learned that salt is important to jerky, but it isn’t the only factor.  Something in the laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients really seals the deal flavor-wise, and makes ground beef jerky’s texture ideal.  I tried another few experiments with greater amounts of seasoning.  They turned out all right, but still nowhere near as good as some of the seasoning packs I have used before.  On the bright side, I am getting pretty good with my extrusion spiral.

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These last batches happened a week or so before Christmas.  I was really hoping to make something good, and replicate it once or twice for everyone as gifts.  It was a flop.  Probably going to start up again in the new year with a basic batch from one of the jerky companies.  Once I get my confidence back with a few rounds of decent jerky I can try adding to their seasonings, or maybe attempt to pick out which of their magic ingredients make such a big difference.  Until then, as Yoda says, failure can be the best teacher.

Beef Bone Broth Plus Bonus Soup

I have been wanting to try making my own bone broth for a bit, and it seems winter was scheduled for this weekend here in Florida.  Happy winter everyone!  Winter calls for soup. Green Chicken Enchilada Soup from I Breathe I’m Hungry to be exact.  Well not exact, I can never follow see a recipe and not do at least some modifications.  Her recipe calls for shredded chicken and suggests you can use a rotisserie chicken.  Enter one of publix’s finest products.

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I cut up and divided the chicken into meat and bones.  Most of the skin got snacked on with some set aside for the soup.  Does mojo chicken skin belong in soup?  It belongs in my soup!  You are supposed to roast the beef bones for a bit in the oven, and I figured why not do the chicken bones as well?!

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For the beef broth you will need to acquire some bones.  As much as I love publix, here is where a local butcher can be really helpful.  Mine got me two pounds of cut up pipe bones (industry term, think long bones like femurs and such), and two pounds of cut up knuckles for cheap.  Sounds a little gross, but the connective tissue in those knuckles is part of the magic.  Everything got roasted for about 40 minutes in the oven with salt and pepper.

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On second thought, including the chicken may not have been my best plan.  They look pretty burnt.  I guess that size difference matters.  I normally like the pan leftovers, but a lot of it was chicken fat, so instead of scraping it all into the crock pot I dumped it.  Once again, trying to get fancy has bit me in the bum.

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The beef bones got dumped into the crock pot with a few splashes of apple cider vinegar and salt and set on high for an hour or two to get it bubbling.  Doesn’t look like much now, but hopefully in a day it will.  Patience.

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The next day it was looking cloudier and smelling a bit more like something good.

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I pulled the bones and strained the rest through a very coarse mesh strainer.  It has a silky kind of feel to it, but not tons of flavor.  I wonder if that is right?  Maybe I needed more knuckles and less pipe bone.  Maybe more salt?

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At any rate it made a really freaking good soup.  I used 4 cups along with the shredded chicken to make a double batch.  The only minor addition I did was to add some small portabella mushrooms while it simmered for a while.  The recipe was good on its own, but the mushrooms really made it.  Next time I will cut up and add more mushrooms.

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Exploring Salt In Jerky

I was pretty despondent after my miserable failure with my own recipe.  I got cocky and flew too close to the sun.  What does that get ya?  Ruined jerky, that’s what!  I mentioned in my previous post that research seemed to indicate that salt content was very important.  While lean ground beef was still on sale I wanted to experiment with a very simple recipe and alter only the salt content.  I measured out carefully four 1 pound batches of meat.  Each got 1/4 tsp of cure, 1 tsp of garlic powder, 1oz water, a different amount of salt.  No flying high here, we are staying well grounded with this recipe.

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Of the previous two recipes, the simpler one had roughly 1/2tsp of salt per pound.  It also had a ton of other ingredients which may have mucked up the results.  I started with a 1tsp of salt version and moved up in increments of a whole teaspoon.  The 4 tsp/lb version might be way too salty, but I would know the upper limit in that case.  I noticed when mixing the 1tsp batch that my gloves came back very clean (left picture), but the 2tsp version (right) started getting rather sticky.  Progress!

I continued mixing up batches going slowly and carefully so as not to miss anything.  I don’t currently time how long I mix up the meat, but a voice activated smart phone timer might have to be in order.  These 4 batches will go in the fridge for an overnight rest just like all my previous versions have.

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The dehydrator load showed the difference again.  The lowest salt batch wouldn’t hold together (left), while the 2tsp (right) and above stayed continuous and made great spirals.

They all got the same trip through the dehydrator.  The results were quite different.  It is hard to see in the image below, but the 1tsp jerky is dry and crumbly like my previous batches.  The 2-4 tsp versions all came out pretty chewy and with a proper texture.  It seems 1-2 tsp per pound of meat is the required threshold.

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I cut up each batch and bagged them with a number, leaving out batch 1.  I gave all my coworkers an opportunity to try them without comment and gathered feedback.  Most considered 4 too salty, though one guy really liked it.  It was kind of a toss up between 2 and 3 as to which one was more favorable.  2 was maybe a touch blander.  The 1tsp of garlic powder was very subtle, most didn’t detect it.

Final Conclusions:

  • You need more than 1tsp of salt per pound of ground beef, 2 is safer
  • 4tsp per pound is excessive for most people
  • more than 1tsp of garlic powder per pound is needed to have it taste like garlic

Home Jerky Recipe Failure

Why buy a spice packet when you can just gin up your own flavors for a lot less?  Failed jerky apparently!  I thought I was going to be cute, and make my own seasoned jerky from now on.  I may still, but I hit a huge setback.  Everything started nice, I looked at a few recipes online and came up with two ideas to try on my own.  A basic traditional style, and a taco seasoning style.

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I mixed them both and ran into my first difference.  Normally, the meat is really sticky.  Even wearing nitrile gloves it sticks like crazy.  These didn’t seem to leave much of anything on my gloves.

I left them overnight for the flavors to mingle, then fired up the jerky cannon.  Another odd feature, they don’t hold together well at all.  Normally I can get long continuous strands, but these fall apart immediately.

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One thing I remembered after firing up the dehydrator was that I forgot the curing salt on the taco version.  That was going to hurt the shelf life, but no reason to stop.  The final results were garbage.

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Instead of being chewy this stuff was dry and crumbly.  I did some reading and found a few possible explanations that could apply to my batches.

Don’t use acids: I didn’t use any in the traditional recipe, but my taco version had a few tablespoons of hot sauce.  Lots of vinegar in that sauce. That one was worse than the traditional.

Low salt: This is possible with both batches, I didn’t want it to be too salty.  Checking around, salting ground beef can do important things.  Serious Eats has an article on the subject.

My next experiment will be with a simple recipe of just ground beef, salt, and maybe a single seasoning like garlic powder.  I will increase the salt content and see how that goes.  An early indication of stickiness while mixing might help bound the lower end of salt.  Too salty won’t be clear until I have cooked and eaten some.