Smoke: the shadow of the fire. It cloaks in mystery and portends of joyous fellowship or fear and fire. Turns out it also makes amazing food. This week (well, last week really) I took up smoking and I am a huge fan. Below are my first impressions from my first weekend of smoking meats.
I’m a big fan of grilling and I love to grill over charcoal. But life is busy and a gas grill has just been easier, so that’s what I’ve done. I know charcoal lovers will groan and say that it’s not real grilling, so I’ve already got an algorithm set up to delete your snarky comments at the bottom. (Not really…way beyond my computer skillset!) Smoking, due to its time consuming nature, has been something I wanted to try but really didn’t have the time for. Enter….the pellet grill!
This is the Pit Boss Pro series 1100 hybrid pellet/gas grill (Just writing those words makes me feel like Tim the Toolman Taylor!). A variate of this is available from several online and brick and mortar retailers, but the colors on this one appear to only be sold by Lowes. On the left you see a box called a hopper, which holds hardwood pellets. There is an auger at the bottom of that hopper than slowly turns (based on the desired temperature) to empty those pellets into the fire box located underneath that first grill cover. The fire box has an igniter in it to light the pellets. There is a plug at the back as this part of the grill requires electricity. First step is to prime that sucker since the hopper is empty, for which there is a button conveniently labeled “prime” and holding it down makes the auger spin continuously so that the pellets can reach the fire box before the igniter times out. This is only required when the hopper is empty. The right side of this grill is gas, so I just disconnected my propane tank from my old grill and hooked it up. I was hedging my bets in case the pellet side took too long to heat up and we wanted to cook something quickly. So once I got all of that done and ran it for about 30-40 minutes to burn off any remaining factory oils, it was time to start cooking.
I wanted to start with something simple so decided on brats. I used the standard Johnsonville Brats from my local supermarket…nothing fancy. We had to go pick up our kids so before leaving I set the temperature to 225 on the thermostat, threw the brats on, and left. When we returned about 2 hours later, the brats were done. That’s how easy it was. Just for fun I turned the temp up to about 450 and opened the firebox cover to allow the flames to give them a nice sear. The firebox cover is basically a metal shield and you can open or close the grates based on what kind of grilling you are doing. For smoking you leave it shut, and for searing you open it. They tasted great and required no more effort than grilling would have required.
So that was Sunday night before Memorial day, and it was time to get serious. On Monday I threw on a 4.5lb pork loin. Ground beef is going for 6 bucks a pound and I got this pork loin (which is different than a tenderloin, by the way) for 8 bucks at Aldi. After scoring it I doused it with some bbq spice seasoning and put it on the grill at 225. I put it on an 7:15 and took it out at 10:45 to rest in a warmer (my warmer is a multipurpose air fryer that as a 150 degree “warm” setting on it) until lunch. This smoker comes with 2 meet probes that plug in at the bottom of the hopper box and the temperature is displayed on a nice screen. At noon, it was moist, smoky, and if you missed your mouth and got some on your forehead you would have smacked your brains out with your tongue trying to get to it.
So the coup de grace on the day was fish, because I have been hankering for some really good salmon. Katie doesn’t tend to like fish, especially if it tastes “fishy”. But I grew up eating salmon and now miss it. So I bought this giant salmon filet from Sam’s club (skin on) and rubbed it with a mixture of kosher salt and brown sugar. After 2 hours in the fridge I patted it down and got as much of that off as possible and then let it rest for another hour. Before putting it in the smoker I coated it with togarashi seasoning, which is a Japanese 7 spice blend (I bought this online from a Canadian company). I used some cedar sheets underneath it keep the skin from sticking to my grill grates as, while I love fish, I don’t want my ribs to taste like fish. To make this next point, I really need you to hear my voice in a southern accent. “Y’all, that fish was so good even my wife ate it.” It’s hard to explain fish, but salmon has a certain fattiness to it even though when cooked right it is flaky and yet moist. Yeah, too many adjectives to make sense of. If anyone asks just tell them it tastes like chicken.
I’m thrilled with my pellet grill/smoker. I tried steaks this weeks and it heated up to 475 in about 20 minutes, so not bad at all. A 20lb bag of pellets costs $10 at Bass Pro and this filled up my hopper, which after a week is about 75% full. I haven’t even used the gas side of the grill yet, but for some reason it’s comforting to know it’s there if I need it. Katie said, “That grill is the Pitt Boss, but you are the Pitt Master!” She’s a keeper.