Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Me and my stovetop smoker

I can be stubborn. And when a notion gets a hold of my imagination, it doesn’t matter if the experts and authorities wag their fingers and say, “It ain’t ever gonna happen,” I just keep on trying until I’ve decided for myself that it isn’t meant to be.

Take my stovetop smoker. I live in what can be called the barbecue district of Manhattan. RUB is right around the corner, Hill Country is a few blocks up, and Blue Smoke and Wildwood are both a quick stroll over to the east side. There is no shortage of smoked-meat options for whenever I get that itch, so why have I become obsessed with smoking my own meat in my own kitchen? There is no need for this, not to mention the results I get with a stovetop smoker will never be as good if I just leave my apartment and walk a few steps. But inexplicably, I’ve spent a good chunk of my time the past few months trying to make barbecue at home.

Now my stovetop smoker has done a commendable job on certain tasks: vegetables, poultry and fish all taste incredible when subjected to this type of cooking, all turning out moist with a subtle hint of alder, mesquite or oak. But that’s not Texas barbecue, now is it? I want to make brisket, sausage and ribs! And yet, while I keep trying, I still haven’t gotten anywhere closer to the real thing.

Last week, Mark Bittman’s column in the Wednesday New York Times explained how to use your broiler as a stand in for a grill if you don’t have access to the great outdoors. And on Friday, Grub Street ran a tutorial on how to make barbecue Hill Country style. Neither advised on how to use a stovetop smoker, but I decided to combine the essence of each article and see if I could make a moist, smoky brisket.

I’ve been keeping records of my various smoking experiments, and each time I get a little bit closer to what I seek. Grub Street, however, advised against even attempting to smoke a brisket at home as the cuts you get at the store (or at least in New York City) will never taste right. OK, duly noted, but you can’t fault me for trying. This weekend, to protect myself from complete heartbreak (and from my guests going hungry), I decided to also pick up a couple of slabs of spare ribs, you know, just in case.

For both types of meat, I did a simple rub of salt, pepper, mustard and cayenne. I chose to use oak chips in my stovetop smoker, as it burns sweet and clean. After cooking my brisket in the smoker for about seven hours and then crisping it under the broiler, it was falling-apart tender with a nice spicy crust. No smoke ring (and sadly, not even much of a smoky flavor), but it was good eating.

The ribs, however, were a greater success. I left them in the smoker for two hours, wrapped them in foil with some apple juice and cooked them in the oven one more hour. After running them under the broiler for a few minutes, they also were super moist with a good char. Plus, the smoke flavor was more pronounced in the ribs, perhaps because the meat is less thick.

Will my kitchen ever be a stand in for a proper pit or a backyard? Sadly, no. The light is bright and there are a few plants, but the wood floor isn’t grass and the white ceiling isn’t the sky. I have fond memories of my father getting up before dawn to smoke briskets for my family’s summer parties, and there’s nothing like that distinctive waft of sweet smoke to wake me up and say, "Pass the pickles and jalapenos, please!" (Because that's what I like with my barbecue.)


But even if my stovetop smoker doesn’t make the best barbecue, it excels at making my apartment fragrant with burning oak. Yes, it's basically a homesick Texan aromatherapy machine. But that's just fine because when I crank up the Willie Nelson, close my eyes and take a deep breath, I’m this much closer to home.

Stovetop smoker pork spare ribs
Ingredients:
2 slabs of pork spare ribs trimmed St. Louis style
A few tablespoons of cayenne, salt, black pepper and spicy yellow mustard (or the rub of your choice)
A stovetop smoker

Method:
1. Clean the meat under lukewarm water, pat dry, and then generously rub yellow mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne all over the meat. Let meat come to room temperature, which will take about an hour. (If you want the rub to sit on the meat longer, put it in the refrigerator and then bring to room temperature before you cook it).
2. Place a quarter cup of wood chips in the bottom of your stovetop smoker (I like to use oak), place slabs of ribs on the rack, and then place on the stove over high heat with the lid ajar. When wafts of smoke leave the smoker, close the lid and turn heat down to medium low. Cook meat in the smoker for two hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. After two hours, take the meat out of the smoker. Place it in a pan and pour over it a half cup of apple juice. Tightly cover it with foil and cook in the oven an hour.
4. After an hour, take the meat out the liquid and run it under the broiler for a few minutes on each side.
5. Ribs should be tender with a bit of a pull and a nice crust. Serves four to six.
Notes: If you don’t have a stovetop smoker, I reckon you could brown the ribs in a skillet, and then braise them in the oven for three hours before running them under the broiler. If you want to make babyback ribs, they take less time to cook, about an hour less. Beef ribs should take about an hour more.

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26 comments:

Anonymous said...

"(and sadly, not even much of a smoky flavor)"

Any possibility the flavor seems wan because you've been in a smoky house all day and you've gotten accustomed to it? I'm not trying to be smart... having tasted real smoked brisket, I want very much for this to work for you (and, ultimately, for me!)

The Big Guy said...

The ribs sound like they were great...

Glad it (mostly) worked out for you. I was wondering when you were going to try it out.

I'm going to give the pork belly we discussed a try this weekend if I don't go to Boston.

TTFN-

TBG

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

I am taking this as a sign! Someone else recommended a stovetop smoker to me as an antidote to my BBQ blues here in rainy England. Thanks for the detailed info. I'm going to order one up right now... if only for a little Texas aromatherapy ;-)

Homesick Texan said...

Anon--That's not a bad theory, but there was some brisket leftover, and it still only had a very faint whiff of smoke.

The Big Guy--Awesome! I can't wait to hear how it turns out for you!

Just a Plane Ride Away--I think you'll enjoy it, just don't expect what you smoke to rival what you'd get at Kreuz Market (though your kitchen may indeed smell as good as Kreuz Market!).

Yvo said...

*drool* OMG... I am so hating you right now... I do love BBQ... in fact heading to Hill Country on Friday to check it out. And though I somehow managed to go so many months without going, I was taking a dance class right across from RUB from October 07 to March 08... I was right near you! In fact we may have even passed by each other not knowing :)

Homesick Texan said...

Yvo--Perhaps we did pass each other--I was the woman in cowboy boots!

Pouncy said...

I look forward to trying this out when I'm done traveling and can get at my smoker! I use my stovetop smoker on my gas grill, since the fire alarms in my Japanese apartment are *very* sensitive.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Aw, I was holding out hope for that brisket -- it is my absolutely favorite BBQ meat, and though I cook it many different ways, I've never tried smoking it in my kitchen! Will look forward to reading about your ongoing experiments.

glassgirl said...

care to explain to a non-Texan, though a Texan-at-heart; what is a stovetop smoker? I'm interested as I too have had Texas BBQ in Texas, and it's good stuff... I love all your stuff...

radish said...

This looks awesome - i admire your for trying - where would one get a stovetop smoker? I think i just might want one... :)

Homesick Texan said...

Pouncy--I've had my share of sensitive smoke alarms as well--they don't let you cook anything!

Lydia--It's my favorite, too, though I also enjoy it when it's cooked other ways. As long as it's moist, I'm happy.

Glassgirl--A stovetop smoker is a pan with a drip tray and a rack that is sealed with a lid (to contain the smoke). You place whatever you're smoking on the rack, the wood chips in the bottom of the pan, put it over the stove (or in the oven) until smoke starts to waft out, and then seal it with the lid. I bought this one though many people also use this one.

SassyRadish--Thanks! I got it at the Williams-Sonoma on 7th Ave. I bought the cast-iron Emeril one that weighs a ton, and foolishly carried it by myself the few blocks home. I don't recommend that unless you're very, very strong!

Brave Sir Robin said...

This may sound like heresy, but liquid smoke added to the braise helps a little.

Janna said...

Great post! You are so brave to keep trying with so many outdoor cooking methods, even though your apartment might be permiated with the oaky smokey smell. I hope you find success! And I'm with you on the pickles and jalapenos as well as loads of sauce for BBQ.

I finally read the Texas Monthly BBQ low down. My hubby and I may have to locate the #1 spot. They also mentioned Harald's in Abilene. It is tremendous! The part they didn't mention was the family that owns and operates it. They are known to sing old school gospel songs while they chop your brisket. I don't know if it helps the meats tast better, but I like it.

Homesick Texan said...

Brave Sir Robin--Or maybe use smoked paprika in the rub.

Janna--You're the second one to tell me about the singing barbecue family at Walter's. Now that I have to see (or hear)!

Julie said...

How cool!

I toyed with the idea of a smoker a while ago (I was looking at the Cameron - this one I believe)but decided against it in the interest of storage space. But now you have me interested again.

I hope you'll write about some of your other experiments with your smoker in the future.

Annie K. Nodes said...

I think you had some very lucky guests!

And I completely understand the need to smoke your own meat, despite having perfectly good access to BBQ. I lived right above Fraico's for while and I still tried to make my own Italian sausage.

Lisa said...

Good stuff. We have fits trying to make good ribs. Last time, we did them in the oven, wrapped in foil, and they were not bad, but of course, not smoky at all. Thanks for the ideas.

Allison said...

So excited to find your blog while googling for Ninfa's green sauce! I too am a homesick Texan in New York and am always searching for new Tex-Mex restaurants up here. In particular I am a huge queso fan which I hardly ever find on menus here. So thrilled to learn about El Rio Grande - will try very soon! Looking forward to becoming a regular reader. Thanks, Allison

BaconGrease said...

I miss the Hill Country BBQ (read Rudy's in San Antonio). Love the post and recipe's will have to try them out, I don't have a proper smoker, but I will try the smoker box in the grill.

Cynthia said...

I love reading about your experiments in the kitchen.

Kathryn said...

I love my stovetop smoker... I also have not had much luck with texas style BBQ, but what it does do... wonderfully is make smoked chicken that is perfected for smoked chicken enchiladas with sour cream sauce... I call it my ode to Trudy's

Alanna @ A Veggie Venture said...

Scallops! They're my favorite in the smoker with the added benefit of zero calories since zero fat.

Veggies? Haven't tried a one yet!

Keith said...

You have a wonderful blog. If I stop lioviing under the tyrrany of my vegetarian roommate, I may explore my carnivore tendencies with some of these things that require longer cooking.

When I cook flesh, he does not complain too m,uch

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

I've read ad infinitum how we have to smoke meats low and slow in the smoker to have real barbecue. However, I don't have a smoker, but have always wanted to try real barbecue.

Short of going to Texas, maybe this will be the solution. ;) \

Thanks!

Trey Moran said...

I know this is an old post but just a tip from a Texan with a smoker out back... sounds like you need to generate more smoke...so soak those wood chip before you put them in the stovetop box. Oak chips may not give you the ring you want so use a combo of hickory or mesquite and oak. That should bump up the flavor and color. Or maybe you figured it all out by now. lol

Anonymous said...

The Cameron was judged best stove top smoker on America's Test Kitchen and is the one I use. I soak some of the wood chip/powder and leave some dry in the hopes that they will release their smoke over a longer period of time. I will do a pork butt for a couple of hours in the smoker and then move the whole thing into a low oven over night.

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