Ok, I admit. I have a BBQ Fetish. It started out as a project. I wanted to see if I could cook a brisket. That first brisket was terrible. My dog didn’t even approve of it. So, not to be discouraged, I set out on a quest to find the perfect smoker to cook things like brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, etc. I looked at all the smokers at various outlets. None really suited me. I kinda liked the offset design but read about some issues with heat. They are hotter naturally on one side than the other. Just something you have to learn around. I did like the idea that you can use it for a charcoal grill as well. But I did not buy one, and kept looking. I admired the Big Green Egg but not its price tag ($900). It also has insufficient cooking space for my tastes. I looked at the Weber Kettle (the Performer one) and really like these. They can smoke, grill, etc. However, the issue with smoking a brisket on a kettle is having to continuously feed fuel/wood to it, thus you have to open the lid, letting that precious smoke out. Then I happened across this forum post on the BBQ Brethren website. An Ugly Drum Smoker can be summed up like so:
The Ugly Drum Smoker or UDS as its affectionately called, is made from, yes, a barrel, or drum. Essentially you need a barrel (food friendly), some bolts/nuts, thermometers, a drill, and some time plus ingenuity, and you will come out with a very cool smoker. The benefit to this beast is the incredible temperature control and stability that it has over most any other smokers. It also has a large grate surface (mine sports two 22.5″ grates) so you can cook lots of food.
As a testament to its temparature control, for my very first time using it, I fired it up, got the temp dialed in at 240 and put some chicken on the bottom rack and some spare ribs on the top rack, and put the lid on then left the house for 2 hours. I came back and it was still sitting at 240! I was seriously impressed. At first I thought, man I just ruined some ribs, because had I attempted this in my other smoker, or my gas grill, I’m pretty sure they would have burned or had other issues.
After I got back home from my 2 hour excursion, I checked the ribs and they looked fine. I basted them a bit. I was worried about moisture issues, or the ribs drying out. The chicken looked fine, so I didn’t mess with it. I started 6 pieces of thy/leg quarters skin up, and six skin down to compare methods. The skin side down is by far better in the smoker so the skin gets crispy. It didn’t burn at all. One thing I did notice is that because I put the coals in the basket unevenly, the chicken needed rotating, some were cooking faster than others. So mental note, even out the coals in the basket.
A year or so ago I purchased an upright propane powered ‘smoker’ from Cabella’s. That thing sucked! The flame would always get blown out, the burner would not maintain a consistent temp, and the doors would either pop open when the thing heated up, or would be hard to close. And the worse part about it, the shelves were too narrow, and would literally fall off the shelf holders, causing ALL OF MY FOOD TO FALL TO THE BOTTOM. What a real piece of junk it was. The picture at the right is very similar to the one I bought. It now sits on my soon to be scrap metal pile.
The preparation of the ribs started with rack of spare ribs, some mustard, and some off the shelf pork rub. First I have to remove the membrane on the bone side of the ribs, trim some fat, then I rub the ribs with yellow mustard. I thoroughly sprinkled rib rub on both sides, and then wrapped it in cling-wrap (cheaper than foil). I put it back in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours, then its over to the smoker.
In the picture at the left, you can see my BBQ Toolbox. I am a pretty disorganized person. But BBQ requires some organization otherwise you are running around looking for stuff while you’re cooking, and that’s no good. So, in recognition of my disorganization, I bought a tool box and keep all my BBQ supplies in there. My rubs, spices, basting brushes, spray bottle, thermometers, butcher string, knives, lighter, and anything else non-perishable for my BBQ goes in here. Thus, when I’m ready to Q, I just grab the box!
The ribs, being on the top rack, were going to take longer to cook than the chicken. The temp on the side thermometer was hovering around 230-240, and the top one was at 220. I also had a digital thermometer in the thick end of the ribs. It was reading 145 and climbing. At the three hour mark, I pulled some chicken off because about half were done, and basted the ribs again. Thirty minutes later I took the rest of the chicken off and placed it in a dish with foil to cover and keep moisture in. Basted the ribs again and at the four hour mark. I decided to foil the ribs and put some juice in the bottom of the foil. I wrapped it tight and put it back on the smoker for another hour. I have never used foil before, but then again I have not had much success with ribs on a smoker because of the poor smoker choices I have made. So this would be my first real smoke on a real smoker. I took the ribs off, left them in the foil for another 30 minutes. The temperature in the ribs was 185 when I finally pulled them out. Man oh man these were good ribs!
After cooking for several hours, the ribs came out great. The chicken was awesome in it’s own right! I used lemon pepper seasoning on the chicken. This is my favorite chicken rub. And on the smoker it is even better, because the meat gets that nice smoke flavor, and smoke ring. It is chicken-perfection!
My wife and I have odds as to when ribs are ‘done’. She likes falling off the bone. I do too, but the more I read about competition BBQ, the more I find that is actually not desirable. They say ‘pull away cleanly’ is the way to go. This is when you bite the rib meat, it offers some resistance but comes off the bone cleanly. Not falling off, where you can just pull the bone out. Although those are delicious too
So the end result of all of my effort for a Sunday can be narrowed down to this:
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