BTW, as a reminder, I am offering a FREE copy of HOW TO GRILL as a prize in a contest I am holding. Please read over Monday's blog entry for the details... free, free, free! Click HERE for those details for 1st GIVEAWAY CONTEST - FREE How to Grill Book
OK, on to the Pork Shoulders done 4 ways review...
In yesterdays posting, I discussed How to Grill/Smoke Pulled Pork or Boston Butt or Pork Shoulder - Steven Raichlen recipe which you can reach by clicking HERE. But as you can see from the photo above, I was smoking 4 different hunks of meat, which gave me an excuse to experiment. I have long been an advocate of using a Cajun Injector to add marinade to the inside of your meat in order to guarantee tender and JUICY results. A very rare drawback to Steven's book is his lack of discussion of injection marinades. He uses one only once when he smokes a turkey. He does provide a recipe, but no where else in the book does he advocate using injected marinades.
Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I have been using my handy dandy Cajun Injector to add moisture to the bi-annual Turkey roast. As their catch phrase goes, provides "flavor on the inside" while you can "season the outside". It also frees the cook up from needing to continually baste the bird as a great deal of moisture is interlaced inside. The injector looks like a syringe. just fill the syringe with the marinade, and inject in several spots on the meat. If you go to the Cajun Injector website, they have a terrific "How to" page that details the best method. You can get there by clicking HERE.
As frequent readers of this blog know, I have injected meats other than Turkeys for a very long time. If you want to guarantee a moist brisket, inject it. And the same is true with these large Boston butts. BTW, click HERE for my take on using an injection marinade on a brisket. I had a jar of Cajun Injector Creole Butter handy on my pantry. So, I injected two of the Pork Shoulders as instructed with the butter. I used toothpicks to mark which butts had the injection inside. When you follow the procedure advocated in the Raichlen book, HOW TO GRILL, you are mopping every hour in order to add moisture to the cooking process. Mopping actually helps to retain the natural juiciness of the meat rather than adds moisture. The injector adds moisture directly inside the meat, so I was very interested to see if I could tell the difference in the finished product.
OK, half of my meat would be injected and half would be mopped. I was still able to add another experiment in order to narrow down a favorite. For this, I wanted to test a coffee rub vrs a "regular" rub. I was using a home made rub, following a recipe from the book.
Let's spend a moment to talk about rubs. There are plenty of commercial rubs available at any grocery store. But, once you get into grilling and smoking, you quickly discover that these are very convenient, but also very expensive. If you grill or smoke once a month or less, the commercial brands are probably the way to go. But, if you like to experiment, like to control the flavors (low salt diets or hot spice fans, etc.) or are just cheap (me); making your own rubs are the only way to go. There are dozens and dozens of rub recipes, a quick Google search will get you started. A trip to a big city farmer's market will usually find a fresh spice guy. there are also a few spice guys on the Internet selling fresh spices. If you are going to go to the trouble of making your own rub, go the extra step and use fresh spices, as opposed to the jars of dry spices. Fresh really makes the rub pop! When making your won rub, it will take about 3 tablespoons per pound of meat. So for this experiment, with 4 different 7-8 pound Pork Shoulders, I was going to need a lot of rub.
OK, enough of why make a rub, now let's talk about how...
Most rubs have a base ingredient or two. Something sweet and something spicy. Brown sugar is in many rubs, followed by some kind of pepper. The basic BBQ rub in the Raichen book used brown sugar and sweet paprika for the two bases. Then smaller amounts of salt, black pepper, garlic/onion/celery powder and a small amount of cayenne pepper to really pump it up (too small for my tastes, but just right when cooking for large numbers of people). I made up a large amount of this (about 4 cups). I first started with one of the injected marinated shoulders and rubbed away. I use an old cheese shaker I borrowed from a pizza place to apply the rub. It gets sprinkled on evenly, and then rubbed into the meat. Be sure to find any crevices you can get the rub into without tearing the meat. Repeat this for all sides, including the ends. The marinated meat will take more rub than a non marinated meat. So I like to do these first, and then set it aside while I do the rest. Then, I apply a second coat to the marinated pieces. But for this experiment, i only did one of the marinated pieces with the book rub. I then did the same thing with a non-marinated piece of meat. This was my "control" piece of meat, being non marinated (as the book calls for), and with the basic BBQ rub (the book recipe).
Now to wake up the rub with some caffeine... add some coffee. In the basic rub, it calls for equal parts brown sugar and paprika. I added an additional equal part of ground coffee. the darker roast the better for my tastes. I then rubbed the remaining marinated meat and the remaining non marinated meat. I let these set for an hour to allow the spices to penetrate the meat a little. This little pause helps to get the meat cured a bit and the salt in the rub does help to get that pretty smoke ring.
OK...now onto the smoker. You can see in the photo above that two of the meats were darker than the other tow. These have the coffee. the coffee produces a very dark bark. It also crusts up much better than the rub without the coffee. I did consistently mop each hour with the mop recipe provided in the book (basically a vinegar based jalapeno sauce). I only mopped the two shoulders that did not have marinade injected. Leaving the other two to self-moisten from the inside.
The two coffee rubbed pieces of meat took an extra 3 hours to reach temperature, However, they happened to be larger by at least a pound than the other two shoulders. So, not really able to draw any conclusions about cooking times. After 11 hours, I started measuring internal temperature. The two smaller pieces were at 180 degrees internal, while the two larger pieces were only at 165. It was time to take the smaller ones off the smoker.
I performed my favorite tip, the Texas Crutch. I drizzled on some honey, just about 2 tablespoons. This adds moisture to the outside, and adds a bit of sweet taste to the final product. Then i sealed it in tinfoil, shiney side facing the meat. Then I double wrapped the meat in a second layer of tinfoil. This traps the moisture inside, allowing the juices to naturally settle. I did notice while wrapping the meat that I was able to spot the piece that had been injected. the moisture was oozing out of the meat. As expected. Final step in the crutch is to place the meat into an ice chest (no ice).
This helps to evenly cook the meat. Without the crutch, the outside of the meat would be more done than the inside. By wrapping in foil, no additional heat is added to the meat, but the higher temperature of the outside of the meat evens out to the cooler temperature of the inside of the meat. Sure enough, when I finally got around to cutting open the meat, the internal temp had reached 195.
OK, it took another three hours for the larger pieces to reach temp. I repeated the crutch on them, but they only got to rest for an hour prior to serving time. My priority was to serve my 55 guests, and not to analyse the results. But I did take a knife, cut off a chunk from each shoulder and saved for a later look. I re wrapped these pieces and put back in the cooler.
About two hours later, I did my analysis...
As expected, the two marinated pieces were FAR juicier than the non injected pieces. There was no problem with the non marinated pieces, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give the control piece a 6 on juiciness scale (that was the one following the Raichland recipe - no injection, mopped every hour and no coffee in the basic rub). Juicy enough, and certainly a crowd pleaser.
The coffee rubbed piece without the injection was juicier than the non coffee, non injected piece. This surprised me, but when I thought about it, made sense. The pork shoulder is a very fatty piece of meat. Filled with it's own natural juices. The coffee helps to form a denser bark that holds the juice in. So, it was more moist than the non-coffee rubbed piece, and earned a 7 on my scale.
The two injected pieces were noticeably more moist than the non-injected. The extra flavor of the marinade also added an extra layer of flavor. The extra texture of the coffee rubbed bark added even more taste and an extra level of quality. By far, the coffee and the injection separated this piece from the rest. One final note about the coffee rub... In no way does it make your meat taste like coffee grounds. It blends with the spices and forms a bark same as any other rub would. The coffee taste does come through a bit, but do not worry about the texture. you are not eating coffee grounds.
So, here is my summery...
When you make a pork shoulder, you are making something for several people. You want to avoid an over powering rub. Do not add too much spice to your rub. It is best to have spicier choices for sauces than in the rub. But it is a chance to really make the rub shine in other ways. Adding coffee gets a better bark, and it helps to retain moisture, producing a better product.
So, add the coffee to the rub especially when you are limiting the flavors of hot spices.
As to the injection, it does add an extra cost. I can get the Cajun Injectors at my grocery store for $5 a jar. One jar will fill two of the shoulders, so an additional $2.50 per piece of meat. It certainly does add juiciness. The difference between the just coffee rubbed and the coffee rubbed injected was not as pronounced as the difference between the control piece of meat and the coffee injected. So, it gets into personal tastes. For me, when I am cooking for others, I will continue to spend the extra. It just eliminates one thing to worry about (the hourly mopping), it adds juice. I view it as an insurance policy to a successful feed.
But here is my bottom line... The extra touches do not make such a huge difference that you would not like the final product if you did not do them. BUT, the extra effort does show. Put your best foot forward. Inject and find a rub that you really like.
And finally, here is a link to the Cajun Injector website. If you have any trouble finding any of the product, they have a terrific store with lots of spices, injectors and marinade... also recipes. Worth the look... Double click on the photo or cut and paste the address into your browser.