ED: This is a long one. Bear with us. And, while most of these will see a collaboration of Cuppers working together to achieve a common culinary goal, this one's all Ghost. Behold:
We've gone Brooklyn on you asses, and then we got all Israel on you. Now, we're bringing it back home to the dirty-dirty with a bit of a mid-Atlantic/East Coast flare.
Pulled Pork: Before I jump into this, I must remind everyone that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I know everybody knows some super badass way to smoke some pork and, I'll go ahead and pre-empt this, mine's a bit unorthodox. So don't get needlessly critical of mine or anyone else's in the comments. If you would like to offer suggestions, that's cool. If you would like to share how you cook your food, then fine, go for it. Just don't be an ass. The food was delicious and enjoyed by all of my dinner guests which, really, is all that matters.
So let's begin. First, your pork. Get the fattiest boston butt you can find from your favorite butcher. They're typically sold at around ten pounds with the shoulder blade still inside the cut. Brine it the night before.
"Wait, what's that?"
You should already be brining any meats you cook, especially when you're cooking them for long periods of time over low heat. To brine your meat, simply place it in a large container filled with water. Then stir in about 3/4 cup of pickling salt per 10lbs of meat (essentially, replicate seawater as best you can). You don't have pickling salt? Well, neither do I, but all one really needs to do is pour kosher or sea salt into a blender or coffee grinder and grind it until it looks like powdered sugar. And there you have it: pickling salt.
Let the meat sit in the briny water overnight. The salt will really amplify the flavor of the meat, what with salt being a natural flavor enhancer and all, and keep you from loading down your spice rubs with salt.
Which leads me to my next instruction: don't buy spice rubs or mixes from the supermarket. Most of them are something like 50% salt anyway. You can take the spices you have in your spice rack and make a damn fine rub on your own. All you've got to do is be precise in your measurements and know which spices are of the "little goes a long way" variety. Everyone has their own preferences and inclinations when it comes to what goes into a spice rub and in what quantities, and most of this is well kept as secret. My rub is no such exception, but I will give some advice for anyone who has never made their own rubs.
First, follow a simple 3-2-1-1-1-1-1 ratio. That is, 3X of [SPICE 1], 2X of [SPICE 2] and so forth. This always seems to work for me. Secondly, be sure to include something with a little heat, something a little sweet, and whatever types of herb(s) you like. I won't go into a lot of detail, but the rub I used included black pepper, mustard seed, cayenne pepper, thyme, cinnamon, and several other ingredients. I followed the ratio mentioned above, tossed everything into a clean coffee grinder, and ground it into a fine brown, robust powder.
Just play around. Be brave. Mix stuff up in quarter teaspoon intervals until you find a mixture you really like. Then all you've gotta do is alittle math to make the necessary amount of rub (for this application, about 3/4 a cup).
Take the meat out of the brine, pat it dry with a kitchen towel or some paper towels, and then apply the rub. Now, folks, it's called a "rub" for a reason. Don't crush the meat; don't waste a lot of time massaging it, but definitely don't just sorta pat it on there. Rub it in and let it sit while you let the smoker heat up. Kinda like this:
See the electric meat thermometer on the right. Buy one if you aren't in possession of one already, especially if you do any cooking of large meats--pork, turkey, chicken, beef, even fish. They truly are the best way to monitor the progress of your cooking and avoid over-cooking. So, now, onto the smoker. I have one of these:
You see, the apartments I lived in last year didn't allow for open flames on balconies. So I decided to build an electric smoker just like my boy Alton Brown. I did and, yes, it works. Of course it does not work as well as a true, wood-burning smoker, but the electric hotplate heats the hickory chips just hot enough for them to smolder and the meat does take on a nice smoky flavor.
BARBECUE PURISTS LOOK AWAY NOW. JUST SCROLL DOWN.
The only problem with the electric smoker is that it burns a bit too warm and cooks a bit too quickly. Perhaps this is because the meat is only 10 inches or so away from the heat source. Resultingly, it leeches more moisture from the meat than desirable. So, to combat this, I've figured out that you really only need to smoke it until it's about halfway done. In this case, I got it to about 125 degrees in the center of the cut before removing it from the smoker. To finish it, I braised it in an oven.
To properly braise a meat, you need some sort of liquid braising agent and an enclosure. The enclosure in this case is three sheets of heavy duty tinfoil (shiny side out--it does matter). The braising liquid is a mixture of white vinegar (1/2 cup), apple cider vinegar (1/2 cup), hot sauce (whichever type you enjoy the most, 2tbsp), brown sugar (1/2 cup to 1 whole cup, depending on how sweet you like your 'que), and several whole cloves of garlic, crushed.
First, you wrap the meat in the foil, leaving an opening at the top of your wrap. In said opening, you pour your braising liquid. It's really that simple. You close the foil very, very tightly (you do not want anything to leak out, trust me), and place the whole thing in a 350-degree oven. Leave the meat thermometer in, as you can see I've done by the wire poking out. Trust me, if you get a good thermometer, it will easily withstand the heat of an oven.
Once the internal temperature of the meat has reached 155 degrees. Turn the heat to the oven off, but do not remove the meat or even open the door. Allow the residual heat to slowly get the meat into the 161-165 rage. Then you may remove it from the oven and unwrap it.
DO NOT PULL IT AT THIS POINT. DO NOT. Let it cool to at the most 120 degrees or so. Room temperature is ideal but, whatever, you do, do not pull it while it is still hot. Juices will leech out and you'll have drier-than-desirable meat.
While you're waiting to cool, take the liquid out of the bottom of your foil wrap (it should be a few cups worth). The vinegar, spices from the rub, smokiness, brown sugar, and pork grease all sort of combine into a brown, syrupy goop that, once reduced a little bit, becomes a nice flavorful barbecue sauce.
That's the sauce being made on my dirtier-than-hell stovetop. It was yummy.
BARBECUE PURISTS, WELCOME BACK.
Once you've let the meat cool to a reasonable temperature, it's just a matter of pulling it apart. I like using a couple of forks and just sorta shredding it up right on a cutting board. If you've cooked it tender enough, it won't be all that difficult, just time consuming. Serve it on its own or atop a bun. Voila.
French Fries: With a little effort and know-how, very delicious fries can be made by anybody brave enough to mess around with lots of hot oil. First of all, your oil: use vegetable or peanut. Peanut is preferable because it imparts a nice flavor onto the outside of the fry and it has a very high smokepoint (that's code for "it doesn't smoke or catch fire very easily"). Use a lot of it, but be very careful. I used a gallon of oil in a large 20qt pot. If you've got a large, cast-iron dutch oven, that would work the best due to cast-iron's incredible ability to cook evenly.
Use white russet potatoes. Do not use red new potatoes or yellow Yukon potatoes or anything aside from Russets. The Russet was literally bred to be eaten as french fries. It's white, dense, starchier, not-waxy, and large--all qualities which lend to it being cut into long, rectangular strips and placed in hot oil. So do that. Cut them up into what you think french fries should look like. I like mine thick; some people like them thin; others like them to look like little medallions; and still others go for the Kiefer's cottage fry look. Just cut them, alright. I'm not going to tell you how.
Once you've done that, place them in a large bowl or pot filled with water. This will rinse off some starchy crap and keep them from turning purple while you're waiting on the oil to heat up. Remove them from the water and dry them with paper towels before placing them in the fryer, lest you make a dangerously hot mess during the cooking.
You will need some sort of safe device with which to insert and remove the potatoes. I used a fry-basket. One can also use long tongs or those wire-basket-spoon things they sell at some supermarkets (apparently, it's called a spider) but, whatever you use, just make sure you know what you're doing. This is dangerous stuff.
Once your oil gets to 350-degrees (buy a thermometer, don't "eyeball" it), use whatever utensil you've got to lower the potatoes in. Don't drop them in, you moron. Lower them in gently. Let them cook for 6-8 minutes. Remove them from the oil then, after reheating the oil to a whopping 400-degrees (I told you this was dangerous), put them back in for another two minutes. This way, they're a bit crispy on the outside as opposed to soggy and floppy, a characteristic common in the homemmade french fry. Let them cool and dry off on a bed of paper towels, brown paper, or newspaper. Season with salt, pepper, and whatever else you'd like. Being in DC, we put some Old Bay seasoning over them but really any spices and herbs you like will work well.
Coleslaw: Alright, I must admit, I bought the slaw pre-made from a nearby deli. I'm a cheater. Given the time and space constraints placed on me by my kitchen, other dishes, and dinner guests, though, I don't so much feel bad for going with the quick-fix on the slaw. But, if you wanna know how to make it, either ask your grandmother or just shred up some cabbage with other vegetables and mix it with mayo, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and a little black pepper. Boom, Coleslaw. It's not complicated.
And if you really want to eat a barbecue sammich the way you're supposed to, plop a heaping scoop of slaw right atop the meat. The two foods were made to be eaten in conjunction, I say.
Corn on the Cob: I shouldn't even have to explain this. Everyone knows that you take fresh corn, remove the hairs, leave them in their husks, soak them for maybe a half-hour (as to keep the husks from catching ablaze, duh), and then toss the whole thing, husk and all, straight onto a blazing hot grill. Any good griller knows this is the best way to cook corn as they literally steam inside of their own husks. Said good griller also knows that, if you like a little sweet crunch from grill marks, you can just shuck 'em once they're cooked and toss them back on the grill for a final minute or so.
Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA: "Off-centered stuff for off-centered people" is the motto of this craft brewer based out of Delaware--a brewery which, were you to only drink beer that can be purchased in and around Mississippi, you've likely never heard of. This is primarily due to the difficulty of gaining spots in distributors' warehouses if you're a small-ish brewery from far-ish away, but also a result of this brewery's love of higher-gravity beers (which, as any beer lover can begrudgingly remind you, are illegal in Mississippi). Of their India Pale Ales, the 90-minute is perhaps the second most popular and contains the second highest alcohol content at a surprising 9%. I say "surprising" because, as beers begin to get near 10% ABV, they begin to exhibit flavor palates more similar to wines and less to more traditional beers (for the uninitiated, wine has typically 13-14% ABV). This is not the case with Dogfish Head's 90-Minute IPA.
I'm not going to write much on the brewing process due to this entry being absurdly long as it is, so I'll just give the beer's etymology a brief explanation as I understand it: the 90 minutes referenced in the beers name refers to the 90 minutes during which the wort (a sugary liquid which has been prepared for fermentation) is boiled while hops are added. The longer the boil time, the more sugars (malts, in the case of beer) are released from the grains. More sugars means more stuff for the soon-to-be-added yeast to "eat". The yeast then shits out carbon dioxide and alcohol. The hops impart flavor into the brew, notably the crisp, bitterness characteristic of stronger beers. So, more sugars means more sweet swerve-juice and more hops means more of that full-mouthed flavor anyone older than 20 appreciates in beer.
Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA pours a nice color reminiscient of grapefruit with about a two-finger head which is thick and somewhat long lasting as it clings to the side of the glass fairly well. The aromas are immediately sweet and slightly sour--citrusy even. The flavor is more of the same, although far more fobust and full. Thick and heavy on the tongue, the fruity sweetness of the IPA is strong but balanced by a warmth brought about by the higher alcohol content. And then, boom, the bitterness of the hops kicks the door wide-ass open and announces its presence. It's that hoppy bitterness that kinda lingers on your tooth enamel and in the back of your throat long after drinking it. It's a very complex and very rich flavor which is such that should scare-away or even disgust one more accustomed to, let's say, Keystone. All of these flavors--the sweetness brought on by the malt, the warmth by the higher alcohol content, and the savory bitterness by the hops--combine into a beer described by Esquire Magazine as "perhaps the best I.P.A. in America."
Well, Esquire, it's definitely the best I've ever had.
NEXT UP IN RED CUP COOKS: Something lame. Stay tuned!