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Sunday, July 29, 2012

BBQ Tests - how long at temperature to produce pullable BBQ?

I wanted to determine how long it would take, at a given internal meat temperature, to produce pullable BBQ.  So armed with a thermocouple and a Sous Vide machine, I took some tests.  I was hoping to insert the spreadsheet that has the data, but so far, I haven't been able to find a way to do that...still evolving.

Here's a summary of the data:

The purpose of the test was to allow me to obtain some data that would allow me to select a desired time (just like my need for 6 hours today!), and then determine what the temperature should be held at for the meat's internal temperature.  The data was obtained from a thermocouple inserted into the middle of a controlled cross-section of pork shoulder (boneless).  It was then cooked in a Souse Vide machine (in a bag to keep out the water), at a controlled temperature (+/- 2 degrees) until the meat (in my subjective judgement) was pullable.

The test was to determine the length of time necessary to produce pullable meat if  the internal temperature of the meat was held at a controlled constant temperature.  The time to cook at temperature is started when the meat reaches the stated test temperature.  It does not include the time to bring the meat up to that controlled temperature. That's very important to understand.  Since bigger pieces of meat require longer to come up to temperature, that time would vary depending on the size and shape of your meat.  However, once it's up to the controlled temperature, the question was - how long does it need to remain at this temperature before it becomes pullable (and that's subjective based on what I consider pullable).

So here is the summary of the data.  

Controlled Temperature                Time at Temperature to become pullable
145 dF                                        41 hours
155 dF                                        31 hours
165 dF                                        14.5 hours
175 dF                                        bad data - temperature probe pulled out
185 dF                                        5.25 hours
195 dF                                        2 hours

I did a scatter-plot of the times, and they are predictable.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Banjo's Perfect Smoked BBQ Ribs

Searching for the Holy Grail of best combination of time and temperature!

Fall off the bone, tender, with just enough tooth and juice to make you come back to these for the rest of your life!

I've been doing a series of tests for BBQ Ribs recently.  I've done twelve (12) tests in the past six (6) weeks, or two (2) tests per week!  And there's just two (2) of us!

Before you think we are overloading on pork, I buy three (3) racks of St. Louis-style Spare Ribs.  I take out all three (3) racks, and cut them in half, so I have six (6) half-racks.  I place two (2) of these half racks into two (2) seal-able freezer bag and place into the freezer; that takes care of two (2) of the racks, leaving one rack unfrozen.

Each test was conducted with a half-rack of ribs.

I take half of the remaining whole rack and place it into the refrigerator for cooking later during the week.  The other half rack I cook tonight!

During these tests, I'm looking for one thing: the best combination of temperature and time that produces mouth-watering, lip smacking, finger sucking ribs!

And, I've found them.

And I'm going to share it with you.

The Conclusion:
215 dF, for three (3) hours, produces the best ribs!

My Smoker
I have worked on my smoker so I can precisely control the temperature.  I can add as much charcoal as I want with out the temperature getting out of control.  This is important! Your smoker should be able to have as much charcoal added as you need for three (3) hours of smoking these ribs, without changing the temperature.  If your temperature varies by the amount of charcoal you have in your smoker, then you have air leaks, and should take the time to fix them.  However you accomplish it, whether by controlling the amount of air, or controlling the amount of charcoal, you must maintain 215 dF!

My temperature Gauge
It's important to accurately know what your temperature gauge is reporting.  This means you've got to start with an accurate temperature gauge!  This means you've got to pull it out and calibrate it!  I live at about 1,100 feet above sea-level, which means water is going to boil at about 110 dF (1 dF lower for each 500 feet above sea-level).  So I bring a big pot of water to a rolling boil, then immerse my temperature gauge (the probe end) into the water, making sure the probe isn't coming into contact with the sides or bottom of the pot!  Then I use a small wrench to adjust the temperature until it reads correctly.  You do this by placing the wrench on the nut, and twisting the outside of the dial, rotating the face of the dial until the needle reads correctly.  BTW - I haven't found many digital gauges to be accurate, and no way to calibrate.  If you have a digital one that you can calibrate, then go for it!

It's also important that your gauge probe be at the same level in your smoker as your ribs. If it's not, then I would put an oven gauge onto the rack near, but not touching, the ribs, and use that for my initial setup.  Once you know the difference between what's shown on this oven gauge vs. the gauge on your smoker, then you know what mental adjustment you need to make when reading your temperature gauge in order to get 215 dF.

Prepare your ribs
I just add sea-salt and fresh ground pepper to mine, coated liberally.  I sometimes put a rub on mine, but when I'm testing, I never put a rub on because I just want to be able to judge the ribs themselves without searching for the answer.  Feel free to adjust your ribs as you prefer - but do not put any sugar based sauce on them at this time, as it will burn!  Save any thick sauces until the last ten (10) minutes.

Prepare your Smoker
I set my smoker for 215 dF.  I let it come to temperature, and let it stay there for 30 minutes, so that I know I've got the temperature rock-solid and under control.  I use charcoal.  In the past I've used lump, and have even made my own charcoal, but right now, I'm using Kingford's Competition charcoal-briquettes.  I really like these.  (I'm not associated with Kingford's in any way, nor receiving any type of awards from them for this statement - it's my honest opinion).  Place enough charcoal into your smoker so it will last for three (3) hours without peeking in!  After the end of the thirty (30) minutes of settle-in time, put your wood chips on top of the briquettes.  This is done just prior to putting your ribs on!  I use a chunk of wood about the size of my fist.  I like Hickory, and I like Mesquite, but use whatever you like!

Place your ribs into your smoker
This may not seem obvious, but it's important to have your ribs at the same point (or as near as you can get) to your temperature gauge!  A difference of 4" can cause a temperature difference of 25 dF!

I like to put my ribs on my smoker meat-side-down.  This means the silver-skin is facing up.  Some like to pull this off, others don't care.  I don't really care, but I do want that side up!

Close up your smoker and wait three (3) hours!
Have a brew!  If you want to add any thick sauce, do this in the last ten (10) minutes.

Taking off of the smoker
I take them off, put them onto a platter, take them inside and place meat-side-down onto a cutting board.  I cut each each rib separating them from the other ribs.  Then I wrap them up in foil until everything else is ready....seems like someone, or something is not quite ready!

There are twelve (12) bones to a rack
There are twelve (12) bones to a whole rack, and six (6) bones to a half rack, to be divided among your guests.

If you cook on multiple racks (e.g., so many ribs they won't all fit on one rack)
Then you really should do a test run, with some ribs on one rack, and some other ribs on another rack.  I didn't do that the last time I had guests over, assuming that the 4" difference in rack height wouldn't make much difference - boy was I wrong!  The ribs on the lower rack, which was the basis for all of my tests, was perfect - but the rack 4" higher, those ribs were done but tough!

Let me know your results!