Fire, Smoke and Beer

Cooking with Beer by | May 2008 | Issue #16

Sometimes, simplicity is the best approach to cooking, allowing the clean, unadulterated flavors of the food to come through. Without the clutter of different tastes coming from several ingredients, simplicity can still be complex; technique becomes the true test of the chef. With nothing to hide behind and nothing to cover up the mistakes, time, patience and love become the additional seasonings. Barbeque is just that: a technique. With enough smoke—not too much—your meat is perfectly cooked and moist throughout. And with summer just around the corner, it’s time to get out those smokers and grills …

Porter-brined Pork Shoulder
When you think barbeque, it’s hard not to think about smoke. Why not try a smoked, Porter-infused pork shoulder? Yum!

Makes: 1 gallon brine for a 6-pound pork shoulder, feeding 8–10 people

For Brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup dry malt extract (DME)
1/4 cup black strap molasses
2 tbsp black peppercorns, whole
8 each garlic cloves, peeled and minced
5 each bay leaves, torn
3 each carrots, peeled and chopped
2 each celery stalks, washed and chopped
1 each yellow onion, peeled and chopped
5 cups Porter-style beer
3 cups water
2 quarts ice

To Finish:
6 lb. pork shoulder or butt, bone-in or boneless
charcoal, preferably lump mesquite
firewood, like apple, oak or almond
wood chips, preferably apple, cherry and pecan
liquid smoke (optional)

In a large pot over medium heat, add the salt, DME, molasses, peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves, carrots, celery, onion, Porter and water. Stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to infuse the flavors. Add ice to chill the brine to approximately 40°F. Transfer the cooled brine to a large container that will hold both the brine and the displacement of liquid from the pork (about 2 gallons of volume will be needed). Add the pork, placing a plate or some other heavy waterproof item atop the shoulder, weighing it down so that it is completely submerged in the brine and refrigerate for 48–72 hours. The general rule of thumb is to brine 12 hours per 1 pound of pork.

Remove the pork from the brine at least 12–24 hours before cooking, still keeping it cool in the refrigerator. This will help the meat form a pellicle, which helps the smoke stick to its surface. Remove the pork shoulder from the refrigerator once you start prepping the coals.

If you have a wood fire smoker, start with 2 pounds of charcoal in the coal box. In separate medium-size bowls, add 3/4 pound of each type of wood chip, adding enough water to cover the chips. Let them soak for 30–45 minutes. Once the coals start to show a light layer of white ash on the outside, place a medium-size log of firewood onto the coals and seal the hot box. Place a water pan under the grill rack and the pork on top. This will help keep a moist environment for the pork. Adjust your air intake and the amount of coals to keep the temperature between 250°F and 275°F. Check the coals, adding more firewood periodically, usually every 45 minutes. The pork will cook for 8 to 10 hours at this low temperature.

After 6 hours, it is time to start layering the smoke flavors. Start by adding the apple wood soaked chips, a small handful at a time, every 20 minutes for an hour. Next, add the cherry wood chips in the same fashion as the apple wood. Finally, add the pecan wood chips following the same procedure. The cooking time should be about 9 hours at this point. Thereafter, any remaining wood chips can be mixed together and added every 20 minutes as before. This technique adds extra layers of smoke, creating a “smoke ring,” just under the skin, a true sign of good barbeque. The pork should be dark, almost black in color, and should nearly fall apart at the touch of a fork or knife. Remove the pork from the smoker and transfer it to a platter, letting it sit wrapped in foil for 20–30 minutes to redistribute the juices.

Note: Each time the door of the smoker and coal box is opened, heat is lost, taking extra time to fully cook the meat. Follow these instructions and barbeque techniques to achieve mouthwatering, lip-smackin’ barbeque.

Conventional Cooking:
In case you don’t have a smoker, preheat the oven to 250°F. Rub 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke into the pork shoulder. Place the pork in the center of a roasting pan on a rack. Place the pan in the center of the oven and cook for 8 hours. The pork should be so tender it almost melts to the touch. Remove the meat from the oven and let it rest for 20–30 minutes.

Once the meat has cooked, rested, and curiosity and hunger have outweighed the idea of waiting any longer, pull the pork apart into thin strips. Serve in a large bowl. The pork may be served as is, or mixed with the Red Ale barbeque recipe. Some prefer to chop the meat into small chunks, others slice the meat like a roast or you could just let the guests “dig in.” Whatever approach is taken, do not trim the smoky crust that holds most of the smoke flavor. Mixing it into the pulled meat brings the flavor of barbeque to the dish. If the meat seems dry, try adding half a bottle of Porter to it.

Red Ale Barbeque Sauce
There is a reason there are so many types, brands and approaches to barbeque sauce. Each area of our nation has its favorite style of sauce. The difference from the Carolinas to Kansas to Texas is huge; some have more vinegar, others more tomato, still others have more heat. This recipe shoots to be somewhere in the middle with a touch of everything, yet it lets the beer “shine” as the dominant flavor in the sauce.

Makes: 16 ounces of sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
1 each yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
12 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 tbsp Rauchbier onion mustard (October ’07 issue)
12 oz Red Horse Ale (Red Ale), Sacramento Brewing Company
2 tbsp malt vinegar
2 tbsp dry malt extract (DME) or sugar
kosher salt to taste

In a medium-size sauce pan, over medium low heat, add oil. Once warm, add the onions and let them caramelize for 15–20 minutes, stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently toward the end so they do not burn. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes to reduce the liquid. Add the mustard, Red Ale, malt vinegar and DME and cook over medium-low heat until reduced to about 16 ounces (about 30 minutes). Add the contents of the pot to a blender and purée until smooth.

If you’re using the sauce right away, transfer it to a clean jar and let cool before sealing; the sauce will keep refrigerated for two weeks. Or, if you want to make this as a gift or stock the pantry, transfer the sauce to a clean jar, cover with a lid and place in a water bath of boiling water, submerging 3/4 of the jar. Cook for 20 minutes, remove the jar from the water bath and then tightly twist it closed. As the sauce cools, the jar should seal itself and make a popping sound. If the jar does not seal, store in the refrigerator.

This sauce can be used with pork, beef or chicken, or as an ingredient where barbeque sauce is suggested.

Smoked Baby Back Ribs Soaked in Lambic
Served with a Peach Lambic Barbeque Sauce

If Belgians were to do barbeque, this is what they would end up with.

Makes: 2 full slabs of ribs, feeding 4 hungry guests

2 each baby back ribs, raw
1 bottle Cuvée René Gueuze or other Lambic (750ml)
sea salt and white pepper

Flip the rib upside down (bones facing you), and find the top corner of the widest end. Look for the white membrane that covers the bottom of the rack (you might need to run a fork tong along the bone to find a place to grab it) and pull it away from the bones to discard it. Removing this membrane will make for a more tender rib. Find a container, such as a disposable roasting or hotel pan large enough to hold the slabs of ribs while they lay flat (or cut each slab in half). Pour the Lambic over the ribs, leaving any sediment behind. The acid of the beer will help break down the fat, tenderizing the ribs and adding a nice tartness to balance out the fatty richness. Let marinate for 12–24 hours.

Remove the ribs from the Lambic (reserving the liquid for a mop), dry them with a paper towel and season with salt and white pepper. Let them sit for 30 minutes at room temperature while the coals are being prepared.

Follow the smoking instructions for the smoked pork shoulder to cook the ribs, using the same smoke layering technique. Cook at 250°F–275°F for about 4 hours. Baste the ribs once an hour with the Lambic mop during cooking. The ribs are done when you lightly pull on a rib and the meat gives just enough to free the bone while still remaining intact.

Conventional Cooking:
If a smoker isn’t available, preheat the oven to 250°F. Season the ribs with salt and pepper, wrapping each full slab separately in plastic wrap and adding a few tablespoons of Lambic to each package. Yes, I said plastic wrap. Make sure they are sealed tightly. Rewrap again with a second layer of plastic wrap. Now wrap the ribs in a third layer, this time with aluminum foil. Place each triple-wrapped rib onto a baking sheet and cook for 5 hours. Do not peek or puncture the ribs. The ribs will steam in their own juices for 5 hours, creating tender rib meat that falls off the bone. It’s so easy, you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried this before …

Serve with the Peach Lambic barbeque sauce and enjoy.

Peach Lambic Barbeque Sauce
Far from traditional, this recipe encompasses what barbeque sauce is: sweet, tart and finger-lickin’ good!

Makes: 16 ounces

1 bottle Cuvée René Gueuze or other Lambic (750ml)
2 cups Looza Peach Nectar
2 tbsp wildflower honey
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp turmeric powder

In a medium-size pot, add the Lambic, leaving any sediment behind. Throw in the peach nectar, honey, oil, salt and turmeric and mix well. Place the pot over low heat for two to two and a half hours or until sauce has reduced to 16 ounces.

Follow the storage directions from the Red Ale barbeque sauce recipe above.

This sauce is great over pork, chicken or grilled fish, such as salmon or halibut.

Slow Cooked White Beans in Scotch Ale
The light touch of smoke malt (0.4 percent) in the Sac-Squatch Scotch Ale, brewed by Peter Hoey at the Sacramento Brewing Co., creates a great backdrop to beer-simmered beans. Rich and meaty, this is a wonderful side dish to any barbeque.

Makes: 2 quarts

16 oz white beans, dry (such as navy or great Northern)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 lb. bacon, thick cut (optional)
1 cup yellow onions, peeled and diced
3 each garlic cloves, peeled and minced
12 oz Sac-Squatch Scotch Ale, Sacramento Brewing Co.
1 each bay leaf
sea salt

Remove the dried beans from the packaging and rinse them well under running water to remove any small rocks, dirt or broken beans. Add the rinsed beans to a large container and cover with cold water. Let the beans sit in the refrigerator for 12–24 hours (depending on the size of the bean) to rehydrate. This soaking step is important to help the bean absorb liquid before cooking, which allows the bean to cook evenly, helps break down oligosaccharides (which cause gas) and decrease the cooking time of the dish.

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add oil. Add the bacon, cooking it to render out the fat and lightly crisp the meat (about 10 minutes). Remove the cooked bacon, setting it aside. Add the onions and continue to cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes, until they’re soft, translucent and light golden in color. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Deglaze the pan with the Scotch Ale, adding the bay leaf and bacon back in, along with the drained soaked beans. Add enough water to cover the beans, leaving one inch on top. Do not season the beans with any salt at this point. Adding salt to the uncooked beans will block the small holes in the skin of the bean, where the water enters, which will cause them to remain hard and uncooked. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce heat to a medium low.

Let the beans simmer lightly for 45–60 minutes, until they’re soft, yet still keep their shape. Check the water level—if the beans start to dry out, add enough water to just cover the beans. Season with salt to taste. Toward the end of cooking, cease with the water additions, as the bean liquor will become the sauce of the dish. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Once the beans are tender, turn off the heat, check the seasoning and lightly drizzle with olive oil, just before serving.

When looking for a beer to pair with barbeque, the new Union Jack IPA from Firestone Walker Brewing Co. would do justice to its smoky, grilled flavors. “Light American lager is the white bread of the beer world, pairing well with hot dogs, while American-brewed craft IPA is the pain de montagne or vollkornbrot of beer … and pairs well with like flavorful dishes,” says Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. I couldn’t agree more!