Monday, May 22, 2006

Pulling My Fat Out of the Fire (Literally)

I barbecued a brisket on the smoker on Saturday, and narrowly averted a very expensive culinary disaster.

I was aiming for a distinctively Pacific Northwest flavor, so instead of a complex dry rub, I seasoned it with salt, pepper, ground rosemary (for an evergreeny flavor, very Northwest), garlic powder, and hot chili powder. The source of smoke was alder (a traditional wood for smoking here) chips, apple chips, and rosemary sprigs. Partway through the smoking process I placed it in a shallow foil pan with the contents of a 22 oz. bottle of Oregon craft brewed beer -- this time Siletz Spruce Ale, which replaces most of the hops with sitka spruce tips -- the fresh new growth at the ends of the branches. Later, I glazed it with a glaze made of marionberry syrup, vinegar, and spices, the leftover of which I mixed with a tomato-based barbecue sauce, the results were delicious.

So when did the near disaster occur? Early in the process, before I transferred the brisket into the beer baste. Normally, I keep whatever cut of meat I'm smokinf fat side up until it's time to glaze it, but with the more involved process I had planned, I wanted to turn the brisket fat side down for a short time to let that side get a good smoke. Before I did, I noticed a pool of juices sitting on top of the fat layer. Loath to let it go to waste, I took a ramekin and tried to scoop it up. Unfortunately, I put too much pressure on the brisket, and the grill came off its brackets, falling into the drip pan, which subsequently came off of its brackets, and the whole thing fell into the coals. Before I had time to react, I had a face full of steam and ash and a $25 piece of beef sitting in a fire.

My first reaction was to grab for the brisket, but I couldn't see, so I tore my glasses off of my face, lifted the main section off of the smoker, and rescued the brisket. Fortunately, the water had doused the fire and washed off the coal hpan where the brisket hit, so it was unburned and relatively free of coals and ash -- it was a breeze to clean off. And because the whle thing had tipped to one side, only half the coals were doused -- I had the fire going again in no time, and within 10 minutes the brisket was cleaned off and back to smoking away.Only then did I clean off my face and change my shirt and hat. And it was a half hour before I noticed the first degree burn on my face.

One taste of the brisket, though, and it was worth it.

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