Posted this last year and after looking at it again...I couldn't make it any better (why mess with perfection). So, for those of you who have asked for grilling advice, here's my Heat and Smoke Primer once again.
Today, we have many different types of fuel to use. Back in the really old days, folks used brush, sticks and larger pieces of wood to keep warm, frighten off wild animals and perhaps most importantly, cook their food.
You might find it interesting that charcoal is used for such things as making gunpowder, filtering water, curing tobacco, manufacturing glass, used as an additive to poultry and stock feed and as a pigment?
Charcoal is a black, brittle substance use most importantly for great outdoor cooking events. Many times charcoal is use to start a good fire and wood chips are introduced to add specific flavor to the meats.
The Old Days: Years ago, charcoal was prepared by placing pieces of wood piled on end in rows in a shape like a cone. This pile was then covered with dirt or moist ashes with holes left in the top for a chimney and at the bottom for air to enter. The wood was then allowed to burn very slowly. When completely burned, the holes were then covered and the pile of wood was allowed to cool. This method was not as effective as is today and only yielded about 20% pure charcoal.
Charcoal consists of carbon full of porous, or many tiny holes, which assist in complete and thorough burning of the substance.
Charcoal consists of wood which has been heated to high temperatures in ovens while restricting the available amount of air. If oxygen was available, the wood would naturally burn up and that would be the end of this story.
When the wood is heated, the wood chemically decomposes and releases gases and tars which are saved as by-products. The resulting product is charcoal which is almost a pure form of carbon. The charcoal when burned releases an even hot flame, no smoke and burns almost completely. The only residue is a little ash. No smoke. It takes approximately 4 pounds of wood to make a little more than 1 pound of charcoal.
So far, we have been talking about pure charcoal. Some of the more popular "charcoal" manufactures do not use exclusively charcoal. They blend their charcoal with by-products like clay (which we will refer to as "extenders") thus extending the amount of appeared charcoal. You can tell the difference quite easily. Most briquettes consist of extenders. After the fire has been burned, take a look at the ashes. If there is a heaviness when cleaning out the ashes, then you are probably removing clay and other particles called extenders. If on the other hand, the ashes are light and almost want to float away when disturbed, then you have been burning true charcoal.
CHIPS (WOOD FOR SMOKING)
As mentioned above, wood was probably the first and most important fuel used by man (generic). Our ancestors would both keep warm and cook food using the most plentiful fuel around - wood.
Unless you have a forest next to your house, there will be inherent expenses incurred in obtaining your cooking wood. If you had all the wood you needed, the ideal method of cooking with even and consistent temperatures would be to have a second fire located next to your smoke-cooker. This fire would be your source for coals. You would burn the actual wood in this second fire and, when needed, take a shovel, scoop up the required hot coals and add them to the grill or smoker. This method would all but eliminate flare ups and out of control fires while at the same time, insure even cooking temperatures.
Since this is not possible in most cases, many folks have resorted to using smaller pieces of wood to add the flavor without necessarily focusing on creating the heat. For example many use small wood chips, soak them in water and place them on the fire. As the water evaporates and the wood begins to burn slowly, the smoke flavoring from the burning wood flavors the meat.
There are many different sizes of wood chips, but for the sake of convenience, we will be discussing the three basic sizes as shown in the photograph:
Large - really too large to be called "chips"; rough cut and about the size of a softball
Medium - again rough cut and about the size of a rubber stamp
Small - Shavings really, larger than sawdust.
The large size, in addition to creating smoke, is large enough to also create heat. We would not necessarily soak these in water before using. Instead, simply place one on the fire as needed to keep the source of heat active. You must, however, have a sufficient source of heat already established before using these wood "chips".
Of the three, the medium chips are the most common and are usually available at the grocery store in the charcoal section. They are not really large enough to be a source of heat, however are sufficient to create the necessary smoke to flavor the meat. I suggest soaking these pieces of wood for 2 to 4 hours prior to use. After you have created the heat source in the grill or smoker, place a handful of these wood chips on the coals. They will hiss and simmer and as they slowly begin to dry and smolder, will create the needed smoke. Some folks will wrap the chips in heavy duty aluminum foil and puncture holes in the foil. After which they will place this bundle on the fire. Even in this method, the chips will also smolder and create the smoke needed.
Finally, the small chips are best used for making smoke in the gas grills. These chips are placed in a smoker box and the box is then placed over the gas burners. The smoker box is a cast iron box with a removable lid. The wood chips smolder inside the box and you then have your smoke!
MESQUITE PORK RIBS
Molasses Chile Rub
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
4 Tbsp. Kosher salt
4 Tbsp. Pasilla Powder* (homemade chile powder, see recipe below)
2 Tbsp. Granulated garlic
1/4 cup Brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Ground cumin
2 Tbsp. Ground black pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Keep tightly covered until ready to use.
5 med. Pasilla chiles
Prepare the pasilla chiles by removing the stems and seeds. Toast the peppers in a skillet over medium height for 5 minutes, turning them frequently until they are dry and crisp, but not burned. Puree the peppers in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. (Be sure to clean the coffee grinder very well when you are done.)
Note: Yes there is no added molasses in this recipe. The name comes form the molasses found in the brown sugar.
Mesquite Pork Ribs
6 racks Pork ribs (4 to 6 pounds baby back ribs or 6 to 8 pounds spareribs) 1 recipe Molasses Chile Rub
Mopping Sauce (recipe follows)
Mesquite Wood Chips, soaked in water10 minutes
Remove the thin, papery skin from the back of each rack of ribs by pulling it off in a sheet with your fingers, using the corner of a kitchen towel to gain a secure grip, or with pliers. Rub two thirds of Molasses Chile mixture over the ribs on both sides, then transfer the ribs to a roasting pan. Cover and let marinate, in the refrigerator, 1 hour or overnight.
Set up the grill for indirect grilling, placing a large drip pan in the center. If using a charcoal grill, preheat it to medium. If using a gas grill, place the wood chips in the smoker box and preheat the grill to high; when smoke appears, reduce the heat to medium.
When ready to cook, if using charcoal, toss half the wood chips on the coals. Oil the grill grate. Arrange the ribs on the hot grate over the drip pan. Cover the grill and smoke cook the ribs for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the mopping sauce and set aside.
When the ribs have cooked for an hour, uncover the grill and brush the ribs with the mop sauce. If using a charcoal grill, toss the remaining wood chips on the fire. Continue cooking the ribs until tender and done, 1 to 2 hours longer. If using charcoal, after 1 hour add 10 to 12 fresh coals per side to the grill. The ribs are done when the meat is very tender and it has shrunk back from the ends of the bones. Fifteen minutes before the end, season the ribs with the remaining rub, sprinkling it on.
To serve, cut a notch between each bone then cut the racks in half, or leave them whole.
2 cups Cider vinegar
1/2 cup Yellow (ball-park) mustard
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 Tblsp. Kosher Salt
Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and warm gently over moderate heat until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from the heat and reserve at room temperature until ready to use.