The Long Smoke: A Pulled Pork Story
It was finally time.
Long overdue, mind you.
The burning inside this pit master had been smoldering far longer than the pork butt was to be on the smoker. But today that was all going to change. It was time to scratch that itch, so to speak. It was time for the long smoke.
Our Midwest summer days are now full of the traditional heat and humidity, and long on daylight. Not long enough however, for a long smoke. Which is exactly why I found myself trying to tip toe past our noble family protectors at precisely 3:30 in the morning. But one squinty eye opening in the dim light was all these and the other dogs needed to notice that I was dressed in my going outside clothes, which immediately had them up and at heel, ready to be my nighttime accompaniment. This night was calm, and very peaceful as I methodically started my fire. The chimney huffed and puffed, then started to glow at the bottom like a small, angry volcano. I dumped those few, fiery coals into the bottom of the smoker, It takes only moments to ignite the others, and then the coals may take turns burning and then fading, much like the stars I paused to look at while I had the opportunity. Once the fire had a healthy start, I closed up the smoker to allow it to come to temperature, somewhere in the 210 to 230 degree range. The pork butt, although no pictures exist to validate my account, had been injected and left to marinate the night before, prepping first for a good dry rub, and then for a day on the smoker, accompanied by several healthy handfuls of applewood. All of this prep and fire wrangling took less than an hour, which meant there was still time to get back to bed to resume my interrupted shut-eye, though smelling like I just performed a barefoot, coals-of-fire walk in a local, traveling circus.
Once daylight broke, the morning sky was painted in a bit of pastel, and brought a rush of anticipation, you know, like when you were a child, jumping out of bed to see if Santa had visited while you were asleep. I walked directly out to the smoker, and was elated that 3 hours into the cook, the temp was still holding steady. “Good start” I thought, “But hey, we’re just getting going here”.
Satisfied with the initial progress, it was time to fill my day with other important activities. I heard the sounds of lawnmowers, grass trimmers, and car horns. The trains were running steady, that familiar clickity clack of the wheels on the tracks leading the way like the rhythm section in this band of city sounds. I looked around the homestead, and then realized that I, myself had some serious meandering to get done around the yard, which is in itself part of the long smoking process. Checking the herbs and veggies. Squirting the hose a bit. Walking back and forth around the grill, glancing at and hovering around the thermometer like that mother bluejay that’s been known to dive bomb our heads to protect her nest. I took a moment to reflect on my wall of hops, grown to cover the great white blandness of an outside garage wall. And then, well, after looking at those hops, my brain naturally came up with the idea to grab hold of a cold, pit master type drink to quench a thirst that can only be worked up by some professional lolly-gagging. And quench it did! After a good 4 hours or so, The coals needed a good replenishing, and that was a chance for me to get a sneak preview of what was going on inside that smoker. Sometimes the hardest part of being a backyard pit master, manning a single pit, is fighting the urge to open that lid to check on progress.This however, was a scheduled look-see. Coal replenishment with a good mopping. What I saw was a piece of pork doing exactly what I asked of it. Cook slow, stay juicy, and look good. After the replenish and the mop, the smoker is closed up once again, and it was time to set a bit, elevate the shoes, kick back and ponder. Think about the pork bathing in all the flavors of the injection, marinade, and mopping sauce. There was the apple juice, the cider vinegar, the abundance of garlic, a multitude of fresh spices and seasonings, sugars and peppers. All of these melded together with the applewood smoke being a transparent ribbon, weaving its way though each layer of flavor, pulling them along to the next level. And then, after a bit of a daydream, or perhaps a real dream, the smoker lid is lifted, and the thermometer reads a precise 190 degrees. Finally, the magic temperature has been achieved, complete with the crusty, flavorful bark that has built up on the outside of the pork. The meat gives when I take it off the grill, signifying that it is ready to be pulled apart and shredded for our pleasure. And it was… Now I will tell you that in the time it took to read this, that pork had all but disappeared. Sandwiches were made, plates were filled, and mouths were fed.
But no, there would be no leftovers. Not today. No pulled pork tacos, no cold, pulled pork sandwiches, and no pork nachos or flatbread were in my future.
But that’s OK, because when you spend your time with family, friends, and good food,
Life Is Better Wood Fired.