Getting into the ‘Que Groove!

Hey, don’t be looking at the amount of time between this and the last post – I’ve had things to see, people to do…

Great happenings on the Competition Barbecue front the last two outings.

In Wenatchee at the Eastern Washington BBQ Championship, we won First Place in CASI Chili, Third Place in Sausage, and our FIRST First Place in Brisket!  Christene didn’t believe me about the Brisket win – she was sure that we had taken a First previously.  She wasn’t convinced until we got home where she was scanning over all the trophies.

This was a nice change after having our worst showing ever at the Sam’s Club Tour event in Renton, Washington.

And now for some obligatory Food Porn:

1st Place Brisket

1st Place Brisket

2nd Place Sausage

2nd Place Sausage

Riding high after a decent showing in Wenatchee, we next headed up to Langley, British Columbia for the 27th Annual Canadian Festival of Chili and Barbecue.  The guys up there – Wayne, Dave, and Fred – always put on a great event, and we were excited to be able to cook it again after several years running the judging side of things.

This is a big, busy event that had nine categories over two days.  Saturday’s “Extra” categories were Hamburger, Chef’s Challenge (Chicken Wings), Homestyle Chili, CASI Chili, and Grill Grates Steak.  (OK, there were also two Kids-Q categories, but I’m a bit too old for those…)  One of the things I love about this event is that Saturday’s category results are announced Saturday, so you don’t spend all evening wondering just how well you did (or did not).

Our results for Saturday were pretty darn good.  Christene’s CASI Chili placed Third.  This broke her 8 Win Streak, but she was happy to lose her First Place spot to long, long time cook Judy Anderson.  Our Chicken Wings placed Ninth, and the Hamburger Sliders took Second.  I thought our steak was awesome (rubbed with Truffle Oil and finished with Truffle Salt), but even though it didn’t make the Top 10, I can honestly say that the Grill Grates on which we were required to cook were fraking awesome!

The sliders, of which I’m particularly proud, got perfect scores from 3 of the 6 judges, and great reviews from the folks in our tent.  This next bit is what was on them – you may want to skip ahead of you’re not interested.

I started with brioche slider buns from Macrina Bakery, and bacon burger meat (bacon ground into the ground beef) from our favorite meat market Double DD Meats.  On the toasted bun we had a Dijon mustard-brown mustard-honey-mayonnaise spread, spicy-sweet pickles, and micro greens, with the smoked burger topped with grilled ham and melted baby Swiss cheese.  Skewers to hold them together, a nice slate tray and a sprinkle of greens to make it pretty, and off to the judges.

If you made it through the description, you really deserve the next round of Food Porn!

2nd Place Burger

2nd Place Burger

9th Place Wings

9th Place Wings

After all that cooking, cleaning everything up, and resetting for Sunday, it was time to inject and season the big meats.  Just wish that there had been time for a nap…

Everything on Sunday’s turn-ins went really smoothly.  I think we’ve got a good handle on our timing for the big meats and two cookers.  Our pork and brisket we were quite happy with, our chicken and ribs…only sorta.  Shows what I know!

When the results came out, we had a Sixth Place in Pork, Fifth Place in Brisket, Fifth Place in Chicken, and Second Place in Ribs.  This is the first event in quite a long time where we were able to place in the Top Six in all four Main Categories.  As always, Christene did a phenomenal job of boxing up our turn-ins.

6th Place Pork

6th Place Pork

5th Place Brisket

5th Place Brisket

5th Place Chicken

5th Place Chicken

2nd Place Ribs

2nd Place Ribs

There was a 10 to 15 minute break between Chicken results and Rib results, as the PNWBA presented plaques to the initial inductees of the Hall of Fame.  While listening to the speeches, I kept thinking “Gotta walk in ribs, gotta walk in ribs.”  We walked in ribs.

With several different teams placing well, I knew it would be close, but I figured we had to be at least in the Top Three.  We were close – we pulled out Reserve Grand Champion (second overall).

All-in-all, the weather was perfect, the event was fun, and we’ll definitely be back next year!

Let’s Talk About Ham, Baby!

Not just any ham, but home-cured and smoked ham.

So, in November, 2011 (yes, that was 1.5 years ago, but bear with me…) I popped into my local grocery store to find they had a few pork legs sitting in the meat department, for a really good price.  This isn’t a normal occurrence; in fact, it hasn’t happened since.  Not one to pass up an opportunity to try something new with the smoker, I picked up a couple of them and threw them into the freezer for future use.

I pulled the first one out for Christmas 2011, and headed off to the internet for some ideas.  I found and used this recipe from The Dizzy Pig Barbecue Company as a guide.  I brined the leg for about 4 days, smoked it up, and finished it in the oven.  It wasn’t bad.  In fact, it was pretty good.  But there were errors made – not injecting and not brining long enough.  After cutting into the ham, what I found was that I had a pork leg that was ham half through, and roast pork the rest of the way to the bone.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo, because it was pretty cool looking (but obviously not what I was after).

Fast Forward to Christmas 2012.  I decided to give it another go, and to get it right.

I poked some more around the nets, and again settled on the folks at The Dizzy Pig for my guide.  And this time I took notes and photos, to pass on to you.

Remember: Wisdom is learning from others’ experience!

A major divergence I took from the Dizzy Pig folks is that I left on the rind and fat.  I love their suggestion of removing and rendering the fat to make your own lard.  And, of course, the rind can be turned into chicharones.  But I and my family love the skin after it has been brine and baked, so there you go.  One of the joys of cooking is to do what makes you and those around you happy.

Note:  I used a 10.7 pound ham for this recipe.

Step 1:  Defrost the Pork Leg
Well, that’s pretty self-explanatory.  I moved it from the freezer to the fridge about a week before brine time.

Step 2:  Make the Brine

In a large, non-reactive (stainless steel or glass, not aluminum) pot combine:

1/8 Cup White Pepper
1/4 Cup Whole Cloves
1/2 Cup Granulated Onion1/2 Cup Granulated Garlic
3 Cups Tender Quick
3 Cups Brown Sugar
16 oz Maple Syrup
240 oz (30 Cups) Cold Water

Heat and stir until the ingredients are dissolved.
Cool the brine to 40 degrees F.  This is critical – you don’t want to put your cold pork into a hot brine!

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Brine Temperature

Step 3:  Brine the Ham

One the brine is cooled, inject 1.5 to 2 cups deep in the meat and around the bone.  (The Dizzy Pig folks recommend a cup per every 4 to 5 pounds.)

Use the remainder of the brine to cure your ham.

Place the ham in a container that fits in an ice chest or your refrigerator.  I’m lucky enough that my barbecue fridge can hold a 5 gallon bucket.

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Ham in the Bucket

I also was fortunate enough that the pork leg wedged perfectly in the bottom of the bucket.  Once the brine was added, the leg didn’t float.  If yours does, make sure to use a large plate with a weight or something similar to weigh it down under the brine.

Non-Required Step:  Make Sure You Have a Good Assistant

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Montana Trying (Hoping?) To Help

Step 4: Brine the Pork

With an 11 pound ham, I left it in the brine for about 4 1/2 days.  Between the injection and the brine time, that was plenty to turn this pork leg into a ham.

It isn’t completely obvious in the next photo, but after the brining, the meat had definitely taken on a pinkish hue.

Brined Ham

Brined Ham

Step 5: Rinse the Ham

At this point if you were to cook and eat the ham, you would need to chase it with a lot of water (or beer…) – it would be extremely salty!

Side Note:  If you order a cured Tennessee ham, they also need to be soaked – usually for several days – before cooking.

I emptied the brine out of the bucket, replaced the ham, filled it with water, and let it have a nice soak (in the refrigerator!) for about two hours.  A quick switch of the water and a second bath, and the ham was ready for the smoker.

Step 6: Smoke the Ham

Since Christmas dinner was at my in-laws’ house, the entire cook wouldn’t happen on the smoker.  In this case, the plan was to smoke the ham and then fully cook it in the oven.

The ham was smoked with hickory (you can’t beat a classic!) at about 200°F for three hours.  It’s important to remember that much more than that will be too much smoke for most any meat.

Here you can see the difference in color from the smoke – starting to look like the real thing!

Smoked Ham

Smoked Ham

With the smoking completed, I bundled up the ham in a small ice chest, and headed off for Christmas Eve dinner.

Step 6: Cook the Ham

About some things, I can be a bit of a traditionalist.  Prior to cooking, I used a sharp knife to score the skin in the classic diamond pattern.  Next time through, I’ll likely do this step before smoking; the smoking process did make the skin a bit tougher than when strictly “raw”.

After scoring, I cooked them ham at 350°F until it reached 160°F inside – about 2.5 hours cooking time.  Here she is cooked…and with a few skin tester pieces missing…sometimes temptation can be impossible to resist.

Cooked Ham

Cooked Ham

Step 7: Carve and Eat and Enjoy!

I’m hoping you can figure this part out for yourself.  And don’t forget to save that lovely bone for next week’s soup!