- Bank hot coals on both sides of the fire grate, on one side of the grill or in a ring around the perimeter. For gas grills, preheat and then turn off any burners directly below where the meat will go.
- Place pork on the grill so it’s not directly over any coals or gas burners and close grill hood.
- Place a drip pan under the grate and below the meat. You may want to add water or flavored liquids in the drip pan to maintain a moist cooking chamber.
- Follow suggested cooking times until pork is done. The heat circulates inside the grill, so turning the pork is not necessary.
Charcuterie is a traditional method of preserving meats via fat, salt and smoke, most often referring to cooked and cured pork products including sausages, meat loaves, salumi and deli meats. Prior to the invention of refrigeration, this preparation was one of the most common practices to extend shelf life of meats. Today, they are prepared for their wide-ranging flavors derived from the preservation processes.
Force Meats use a mixture of backfat with pork or other meats and aromatics that are ground to desired textures. Cooked sausages rely on salt with pork or other meat and aromatics stuffed into casings then cooked, aged or smoked. Terrines (coarse grind force meat) and pâtés (finer grind and include liver) are mixed with fat and seasoning, placed in a mold and slow cooked in water bath. Customarily, charcuterie is sliced, served cold, arranged on platters or plates as an appetizer.
Another form of charcuterie is deli meats, cold cuts or salumi. They can be cooked, dried, aged, fermented, smoked and cured, like ham, mortadella, salami and guanciale. They can be served cold, sliced and layered on bread or directly on serving plates, accompanied with accouterments of varied spreads, dressings, vegetables, pickles, cheeses and greens.
There are two ways to grill pork, based on the size of the cut:
- Direct heat: Where food is placed directly over the heat source. This is ideal for small cuts like kabobs, tenderloin, burgers and chops.
- Indirect heat: Where food is placed on the grill rack away from the coals or gas burners. This is good for large cuts like loin roasts, ribs, shoulder and fresh ham.
- Arrange hot coals evenly on the fire grate of the grill or use all gas burners.
- Place pork directly above the heat source.
- Follow suggested cooking times, turning once during cooking.
- Bank hot coals on both sides of the fire grate, on one side of the grill or in a ring around the perimeter. For gas grills, preheat and then turn off any burners directly below where the food will go.
- Place pork on the grill so it’s not directly over any coals or gas burners and close grill hood.
- Follow suggested cooking times until pork is done. The heat circulates inside the grill, so turning the pork is not necessary.
Roasting is a cooking method that uses dry heat, whether an open flame, oven, or other heat source. Roasting can enhance flavor through caramelization and Maillard browning on the surface of the food. Roasting uses indirect, diffused heat (as in an oven), and is suitable for slower cooking of meat in a larger, whole piece. Meats and most root and bulb vegetables can be roasted. Any piece of meat, especially red meat that has been cooked in this fashion is called a roast. In addition, large uncooked cuts of meat are referred to as roasts. Also, meats and vegetables prepared in this way are described as “roasted,” e.g., roasted chicken or roasted squash.
Most meat roasts are large cuts of meat. Many roasts are tied or trussed with string prior to roasting, often using the reef knot or the butcher’s knot. Tying holds them together during roasting, keeping any stuffing inside, and keeps the roast in a round profile, which promotes even cooking and slicing.
Prior to roasting in an oven, meat is generally “browned” by brief exposure to high temperature. This imparts a depth of flavor and color to the roast. Red meats such as pork, beef, lamb, and venison, and certain game birds are often roasted to be “pink” or “rare,” meaning that the center of the roast is still red.
For roasting, the food may be placed on a rack, in a roasting pan or, to ensure even application of heat, may be rotated on a spit or rotisserie. If a pan is used, the juice can be retained for use as a sauce or gravy. During oven roasting, hot air circulates around the meat, cooking all sides evenly. There are several plans for roasting meat: low-temperature cooking, high-temperature cooking, and a combination of both. Each method can be suitable, depending on the food and taste.
A low-temperature oven, 200°F to 325°F, is best when cooking large cuts of meat. This is not technically roasting temperature, but it is called slow-roasting. The benefit of slow-roasting an item is less moisture loss and a more tender finished product. More of the collagen that makes meat tough is dissolved in slow cooking. At true roasting temperatures, 400°F or more, the water inside the muscle is lost at a high rate.
Cooking at high temperatures is beneficial if the cut is tender enough, as in loins or tenderloins, to be finished cooking before the juices escape. A reason for high temperature roasting is to brown the outside of the food, similar to browning food in a pan before pot roasting or stewing it. Fast cooking gives more variety of flavors, because the outside is brown while the center is much less done.
The combination method uses high heat just at either the beginning or the end of the cooking process, with most of the cooking at a low temperature. This method produces the golden-brown texture and crust, but maintains more of the moisture than simply cooking at a high temperature, although the product will not be as moist as low-temperature cooking the whole time. Searing and then turning down to a lower temperature is also beneficial when a dark crust and caramelized flavor is desired for the finished product. Note that searing in no way “locks in” moisture, moisture loss is simply a function of heat and time. The outside is brown and the rest is done fairly uniformly.
In general, in either case, the meat is removed from heat before it has finished cooking and left to sit or rest for a few minutes, while the inside cooks further from the residual heat content, a phenomenon known as carry-over cooking, also known as “resting” the meat.
The objective in any case is to retain as much moisture as possible, while providing the texture and color. As meat cooks, the structure and collagen breaks down, allowing juice to come out of the meat. So meat is juiciest at about medium rare while the juice is coming out. During roasting, meats and vegetables are frequently basted on the surface with butter, lard, or oil to reduce the loss of moisture by evaporation.
We recommend cooking lean, whole muscle pork roasts such as loins, tenderloins and fresh hams at an oven temperature of 225ºF – 400ºF and to an internal temperature of 145ºF and then let it rest for at least 3 minutes before carving. For tougher roasts like the pork shoulder, cook at 200ºF – 225ºF until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 195ºF. This will take between 6 and 9 hours depending on the size of your roast. Shoulder roasts are often removed from the heat at around 6 hours and then wrapped in aluminum foil for the remaining hours.
Stir-Fry is a Chinese cooking technique in which food is prepared rapidly in a wok. In this method, food cooks from the conduction of a hot, oiled pan with temperatures between 350°F and 400°F. The high heat and oil create a Maillard reaction providing browning and flavor development.
The technique dates far back into Chinese history, but the term “stir-fry” was introduced in 1945 to the English language by Buwei Yang Chao in her book How to Cook and Eat in Chinese to describe the chao technique. Another version of stir-fry is the bào technique. The two differ in heat, speed of execution, and the amount of tossing done to cook the food in the wok.
Woks – traditional round-bottom pans – serve as a one-pot wonder for Asian cooking. Stir-fries, soups, and braises can all be done using a wok. Typically the wok is the pan of choice for stir-frying. Its unique shape ensures that heat is distributed evenly, allowing for faster cooking times. In addition, the wok’s deep, sloping sides make spills less likely when tossing the food rapidly. This also makes the heat source incredibly important.
It is important the pan is made of fairly heavy material, so that it can sustain a high temperature, which allows for consistent cooking. Cast iron or carbon steel are excellent choices – they are very good conductors of heat, and distribute the heat evenly.
The chao technique is similar to sautéing – using direct conduction of heat energy from a wok or pan to meat. Typically, a thin layer of oil or fat is added to the pan just prior to the aromatics and the protein. The oil plays an important role to prevent sticking, supply flavor and provide consistent contact with the heat source by filling in gaps between the food and pan.
Using the Chao technique, preheat the wok to a high temperature. Pour cooking oil down the side, just prior to cooking, because the high heat can damage the oil, making it unpalatable. Follow the oil with dry seasonings like ginger and garlic.
When the seasonings become aromatic, add meat and sear, then add vegetables and liquid ingredients. The wok may be covered for a moment so the water in the liquid can heat the new ingredients as it steams. To keep the meat juicy, take the seared meat out before vegetables are added and put it back before vegetables are done. In some dishes, different components may be stir-fried separately before being combined in the final dish.
Stir the food and toss it out quickly using wooden or metal cooking utensils. Some chefs add a dash of wine or spirit and flambé the alcohol to give the food extra flavor. The chao technique allows many dishes to be cooked extremely quickly.
Dishes that require more time are cooked by adding a few dashes of water after the stirring and covering the wok with a lid. The dish is ready when steam starts coming out from under the lid. In this case, the food is stir-fried on high heat for flavor and steamed to ensure it is fully cooked.
For the bao technique, heat the wok to a dull red glow, then add oil, seasonings, and meats in rapid succession with no pause in between. Due to this nature, it is imperative all mise en place is completed, near the wok and ready to use. Continually toss the food, stopping only to add other ingredients such as seasonings, broths, or vegetables. When the food is fully cooked, pour or ladle it out of the wok, then quickly rinse the wok to prevent food residue from charring and burning to the bottom due to residual heat.
The main ingredients are usually cut into smaller pieces to speed up cooking time. Bao also uses a larger amount of cooking fat with a high smoke point, such as lard and/or peanut oil.
There are two key considerations when choosing pork cuts for stir-fry. First, cook pork to medium-rare – around 145°F – no matter the type of cut. Second, cut tougher meat into smaller pieces and thicknesses that will cook to 145°F quickly. Thin slices or strips perform well in stir-fry whether it’s a tougher cut from the shoulder or belly, or leaner cuts from the loin or leg. Cuts from the shoulder or fresh leg can be broken down into single muscles and prepared for the type of stir-fry dish you’re creating. Using small pieces of pork or thin strips prevents the dry and high-heat cooking method from overcooking the outside of the food before the inside is fully cooked.
For consistent cooking there are a few important tips to keep in mind. First, prior to cooking the pork, make sure it is room temperature so that the cold meat does not drastically reduce the heat in the pan. The food should also be constantly “stirred” around in the pan to provide consistent cooking, hence the technique’s namesake. Lastly, oftentimes chefs will coat the pork in another material that will protect the inside while providing flavor to the dish. This can be anything from flour, breading or batters, which when fried act as an insulator to protect the inside from direct contact with the heat.
Three traditionally recognized reasons for smoking meat are for preservation, appearance, and flavor. Smoked meat is less likely to spoil than unsmoked meat so smoked meats began before the age of refrigeration. Smoke is an antimicrobial and antioxidant, but smoke alone is insufficient for preserving food in practice, unless combined with another preservation method. The main problem is the smoke compounds adhere only to the outer surfaces of the food; smoke does not actually penetrate far into meat or fish. In modern times, almost all smoking is carried out for its flavor. Artificial smoke flavoring can be purchased as a liquid to mimic the flavor of smoking, but it has no preservative qualities.
In the past, smoking was a useful preservation tool, in combination with other techniques, most commonly salt-curing or drying. In some cases, particularly in climates without much hot sunshine, smoking was simply an unavoidable side effect of drying over a fire. For some long-smoked foods, the smoking time also served to dry the food. Drying, curing, or other techniques can render the interior of foods inhospitable to bacterial life, while the smoking gives the vulnerable exterior surfaces an extra layer of protection. Meats can be either cold smoked, smoke roasted or hot smoked.
Cold smoking is for curing dry rubbed pork, traditionally pork belly into bacon, and can be used as a flavor enhancer for items such as bellies, pork jowls, and loins. The item can be cold smoked for just long enough to give some flavor. Some cold smoked foods are baked, grilled, roasted, or sautéed before eating. Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking are below 100°F (38°C). In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavor, but remain relatively moist. Cold smoking does not cook foods. Meats should be fully cured before cold smoking. The perfect example of a cold-smoked meat would be bacon. The raw belly is cured either wet, in a salt and sugar based brine, through immersion or injection. It’s allowed to cure and is then smoked at 80-90°F for several hours. This process preserves the meat and provides a great smoky flavor. The meat must still be refrigerated and cooked before serving. Below are some helpful tips for cold smoking:
- In smoker, turn on smoking element only. Insert soaked wood chips to start producing smoke and let accumulate for a few minutes. If using an off-set smoker, maintain proper temperature by only lighting a few coals at a time.
- Ideal smoking temperature range is between 80°-95°F.
- Place pork belly directly on cooking racks and close door, letting some air vent.
- Smoking time can be anywhere from 5 hours to 5 days depending on the size of the cut and preference of smoke flavor.
- A 7-9 pound (409) belly, skinless may take approximately 6-8 hours.
Smoke roasting or smoke baking refers to any process that has the attributes of smoking combined with either roasting or baking. This smoking method is sometimes referred to as “barbecuing,” “pit baking,” or “pit roasting.” It may be done in a smoke roaster, closed wood-fired masonry oven or barbecue pit, any smoker that can reach above 250°F (121 °C), or in a conventional oven by placing a pan filled with hardwood chips on the floor of the oven so the chips smolder and produce a smoke bath. Proper ventilation of the area is necessary for this method. An example of smoke-roasted meats would be a pork butt for pulled pork, or spare ribs. The raw meat is rubbed with a dry mixture of salt, sugar and spices and allowed to marinate. It can also be injected with brine and dry rubbed for added flavor and moisture. It’s then cooked, “low and slow,” meaning low temperature, usually about 250°F, for a long period of time to fully cook the meat until it’s tender. Hot smoking exposes the foods to smoke and heat in a controlled environment. Although foods that have been hot smoked are often reheated or cooked, they are typically safe to eat without further cooking. Hams and ham hocks are fully cooked once they are properly smoked.
Hot smoking occurs within the range of 165°F (74°C) to 185°F (85°C). Within this temperature range, foods are fully cooked, moist, and flavorful. If the smoker is allowed to get hotter than 185°F (85°C), the foods will shrink excessively, buckle, or even split. Smoking at high temperatures also reduces yield, as both moisture and fat are “cooked” away. Most should be brined or cured prior to smoking. Refer to our section on brining and curing for more information.
Example: hot smoking a “city” ham takes about 24 hours to smoke and cook. Smoking is usually accomplished in three stages. During the first phase, or drying stage, the smokehouse is heated to 125°F. All dampers are opened to allow all excess moisture to escape and there is no smoking during this 8-hour period. During the next 8-hour stage, the dampers are partially closed and the temperature on the house increased to 135°F and smoke is generated. The smoke is continued throughout the third stage with all dampers closed, and the temperature on the house raised to 180°F. This temperature is held until the product temperature reaches 142°F. These hams require further cooking in the home for full tenderization. Hams sold as “fully cooked” have received extra heat processing to an internal temperature of at least 148°F. The wood used to generate any smoke should be a hardwood such as post Oak, Hickory, Apple, Cherry or Mesquite. Pine or any other resinous wood or sawdust are not recommended because the smoke from these woods will be sooty and strong-smelling.
Hardwoods are made up mostly of three materials: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Cellulose and hemicellulose are the basic structural material of the wood cells; lignin acts as a kind of cell-bonding glue. Some soft woods, especially pines and firs, hold significant quantities of resin, which produces a harsh-tasting soot when burned; these woods are not often used for smoking.
Cellulose and hemicellulose are aggregate sugar molecules; when burnt, they effectively caramelize, producing carbonyls, which provide most of the color components and sweet, flowery, and fruity aromas. Lignin, a highly complex arrangement of interlocked phenolic molecules, also produces a number of distinctive aromatic elements when burnt, including smoky, spicy, and pungent compounds such as guaiacol, phenol, and syringol, and sweeter scents such as the vanilla-scented vanillin and clove-like isoeugenol. Guaiacol is the phenolic compound most responsible for the “smoky” taste, while syringol is the primary contributor to smoky aroma. Wood also contains small quantities of proteins, which contribute roasted flavors. Many of the odor compounds in wood smoke, especially the phenolic compounds, are unstable, dissipating after a few weeks or months.
A number of wood smoke compounds act as preservatives. Phenol and other phenolic compounds in wood smoke are both antioxidants, which slow rancidification of animal fats, and antimicrobials, which slow bacterial growth. Other antimicrobials in wood smoke include formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other organic acids, which give wood smoke a low pH—about 2.5. Some of these compounds are toxic to people as well, and may have health effects in the quantities found in cooking applications.
Since different species of trees have different ratios of components, various types of wood do impart a different flavor to food. Another important factor is the temperature at which the wood burns. High-temperature fires see the flavor molecules broken down further into unpleasant or flavorless compounds. The optimal conditions for smoke flavor are low, smoldering temperatures between 570 and 750°F (299 and 399°C). This is the temperature of the burning wood itself, not of the smoking environment, which uses much lower temperatures. Woods that are high in lignin content tend to burn hot; to keep them smoldering requires restricted oxygen supplies or a high moisture content. When smoking using wood chips or chunks, the combustion temperature is often raised by soaking the pieces in water before placing.
French for “under vacuum,” sous vide is the process of cooking food in a water bath at a very tightly controlled temperature. Most sous vide is done in a vacuum-sealed, heat-tolerant plastic bag in an immersion circulator.
Unlike traditional cooking methods that use high heat and require food to be removed at the exact moment it reaches the desired temperature, sous vide cooking is done at temperatures below the boiling point of water, usually at the temperature you want it served – between 120°F and 185°F, depending on the food being prepared.
While the range of sous vide temperatures is much smaller than for traditional cooking, precisely controlling it is very important. An oven set to 400°F actually fluctuates about 50°, from 375°F to 425°F. When cooking sous vide, water temperature determines the doneness of the food, so a 50°F fluctuation would result in overcooked food. Most immersion circulators fluctuate less than 1°F and the best less than 0.1°F.
Cooking tenderizes food by breaking down its internal structure, and this process happens faster at higher temperatures. Because sous vide is done at low temperatures, the cooking time is increased to achieve the same tenderization as traditional techniques.
Because sous vide cooks food to the temperature you want it served, the window of time for perfectly cooked food is much larger than with high-heat cooking methods. You can leave food in the water bath even after it is done – up to several hours for tougher cuts of meat – since keeping it at temperature does not dry it out. However, sous vide can still overcook, often without showing it externally, so don’t overdo it.
The power of sous vide cooking comes from precisely controlling temperature and time. At 120°F, meat slowly begins to tenderize as the protein myosin begins to coagulate and the connective tissue in the meat begins to break down. As the temperature increases, so does the speed of tenderization. However, meat also begins to lose its moisture above 140°F as the heat causes collagen in the cells to shrink and wring out moisture. This happens very quickly over 150°F and meat becomes completely dried out above 160°F.
Many cuts of meat are braised or roasted for long periods of time to fully tenderize, but high temperatures can easily dry them out. Sous vide holds the meat below the 140°F barrier long enough for the slower tenderization process to be effective, resulting in tender, juicy meat.
Basic Sous Vide Technique
Here is an example of basic sous vide cooking technique using an immersion circulator.
Flavor The Food
From simple salt and pepper to sauces, spice rubs, or cold-smoking, you should flavor the food before cooking. Depending on the type of seasoning, rub directly on the food or add to the pouch. You can also sear meats at very high temperatures over direct heat, cool them to stop cooking, and then vacuum seal and submerge them in the water bath to cook to the desired final temperature.
Seal the Food
Once the seasoning and food have been added to the pouch, remove the air and seal it closed. Removing air results in closer contact between the food and the water, which facilitates quicker cooking because water transfers heat more efficiently than air.
A vacuum source is necessary to properly remove air from a sous vide pouch. External vacuum sealers (pumps) tend to be less expensive than chamber vacuum sealers, which create low pressure within a chamber before sealing the bag. However, external options are unable to remove as much air as chamber sealers and are difficult to use when liquids, like a sauce, are involved.
Heat the Water
Heat the water bath to the same temperature you want to cook your food to. Depending on the type of heat regulator, you may be able to have the food in the water while it heats. For others, it is best to preheat the water before placing food in it due to early fluctuations in temperature.
To regulate heat, most industry professionals use a clamp immersion circulator or a circulating bath system. The clamp immersion circulator (heat source and regulator) connects to almost any industry pot or Camwear tank, while the bath system combines the heat source and water bath into one system.
Cook the Food
Put the food pouch in the water and cook for the time specified in the recipe or using a time and temperature chart. For items requiring more time, rotate every 6 to 10 hours, especially if using a less precise immersion circulator. Occasionally, sous vide pouches can float due to air released from the food. If that happens, use a plate or bowl to weigh it down.
Be mindful of basic food safety practices when using the sous vide method. Due to the low cooking temperatures and the anaerobic (low-oxygen) environment, it’s crucial to make sure food is fresh, high quality and thoroughly cleaned. Following time and temperature guidelines and monitoring the sealed vacuum bag during the cooking process reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses. A bag that suddenly floats, inflates or leaks can be a sign of food safety issues.
Finish The Dish
For texture, finish food with a quick sear in a sauté pan or with a blow torch. Some meals also call for other finishing methods, like breading and deep-frying or mashing and seasoning vegetables.
If you don’t need to serve immediately, quickly chill the food in an ice bath and refrigerate or freeze for later re-heating.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q has been a mainstay of Alabama barbecue since 1925. Their award-winning white sauce and delicious food made them famous, and their friendly service kept people coming back. Executive Chef and world champion pit master Chris Lilly, the great-grandson-in-law of Big Bob himself, has kept the fires burning at the family-owned restaurant for the past 20 years, and offers the seven time World Champion pulled pork. Lilly revealed some of his tricks, tips and family secrets in “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book” in 2009. Take a look at his Cowboy Pig recipe for a pocket-cut whole dressed hog cooked on a spit. It can take 12 hours, but it’s well worth it.
Cooking Method: Open Spit
Suggested Wood: Hickory, Oak, or Pecan
Suggested Supplies: 1 Open Spit Cooker (spit and hog are visible during cooking); 100 lb. charcoal; wood chunks or ¼ cord of wood for seasoning
Cook time: 10 to 12 hrs.
- 1 whole dressed pig, pocket cut, about 120 lb.
- 1 c. olive oil
- 1 c. white sugar
- 1 c. paprika
- ⅔ cup garlic salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 4 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. oregano
- 2 tsp. cumin
BASTE (recipe below)
Check your hog to be sure the pelvis and ribcage are not split entirely. With a meat saw or sharp knife, cut the hooves off at the joint in the middle of the leg. Rub the skin of the hog all over with olive oil to prevent charring and promote a rich mahogany color. In a small bowl, combine dry rub ingredients and apply to all exposed meat, including under the ribcage. Use entire amount. Run the spit shaft through the hog’s mouth, ribcage, and between the hams (thighs). Fasten hog securely to the shaft so it rotates when the shaft is turned. Truss the front shanks (the area above hooves) together with wire and repeat with rear shanks. A proper spit shaft should have perpendicular spikes that pierce and hold the hams securely when the shanks are wired. The alternative is a shaft with U bolts securing the spine of the hog above the shoulders and hams.
Prior to placing the spit shaft on the cooker base, build the fire. If working with an all-wood fire, burn five logs to create a bed of hot wood coals. If using charcoal, start with a 20-lb. bag. When a hot bed of coals is obtained, place spit shaft with hog attached on the base directly over fire. The body of the hog should be about 16 to 18 in. above coals. Spread coals under the whole hog to form a barbell-shaped charcoal bed. This will ensure the large cuts of meat (shoulders and hams) are above a hotter fire than the less meaty rib section. The cooking temperature at the base of the shoulders and hams should be around 350°F and the temperature at the base of the chest or back should be around 300°F. Turn the hog continuously – if your spit is not equipped with a motor, rotate the hog ¼ turn every 15 minutes.
When the hog has spit roasted for about 2 hours, start a separate “burn pit” to light charcoal or burn wood to replenish the coals in your primary cooker. Add hot coals throughout the cooking process to maintain a steady temperature under the hog, starting a new batch in the burn pit every hour.
When grease starts dripping from the hog, the hot coals will flare up. Rake coals into a rectangle shape underneath hog. Rake coals away from the center of the rectangle and fill the center with sand. The sand will absorb the grease during the cooking process, eliminating flare-ups.
After 4 hr. of cooking, baste the hog every hour with Cowboy Pig Baste (recipe below).
Continue to add hot coals around the sand, with the biggest piles of burning coal under the shoulders and hams of the hog. When the internal temperature of the shoulders and hams reaches 185°F, remove the hog from the spit. Cooking beyond 185°F will result in the hog breaking apart and falling into the fire. Remove hog from spit, debone, and serve.
COWBOY PIG BASTE
Cooking Method: Stove
Cook Time: 5 min.
- 3 12-oz. cans dark beer
- 3¾ cup cider vinegar
- 3¾ cup distilled white vinegar
- 3 cup butter
- 1½ cup Worcestershire sauce
- ¾ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 9 tbsp. chili powder
- 6 tbsp. salt
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 2 tbsp. black pepper
- 2 tbsp. dry mustard
- 2 tbsp. paprika
- 1 tbsp. ground cumin
Combine all ingredients in large saucepan and mix well. Place over medium-low heat and simmer until butter melts. Keep baste on low heat until ready to use. Baste can be made ahead of time, refrigerated, and reheated before use. Store refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Makes: 1 gallon
Recipe and photographs from Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint, by Chris Lilly
Long before cooks had ovens, they had braising. They would suspend a heavy, covered pot over a hearth fire or open grate in the kitchen and slowly cook, or braise, their food. Sometimes they stacked embers from the fire on the lid, to provide both upper and lower sources of heat. Inside, a little liquid formed a sauce, as meats and vegetables cooked. This method of cooking yields delicious dishes with considerable character, explaining why you can still find many recipes that call for braising.
Success of braising relies on the execution of these principles: browning, moist heat, lengthy cooking in a closed vessel, and simmering temperatures. A traditional braising pot holds heat well and has a tight-fitting lid. Ideally, it should be about the same size as the dish being prepared. Too much space between the ingredients and the lid allows steam to condense and drip from the lid’s underside onto the ingredients, diluting the rich sauce. Most braises are used for tougher cuts of meat and poultry. With pork they would be shoulder cuts such as butt, picnic, feet, hocks and heads. These cuts come from areas of the animal that are continually exercised, which allows the muscle tissues to develop more flavor as well as strength.
Usually, braising recipes begin by browning the meat in a little oil. If using small pieces of meat, as in a stew, brown in batches, so the meat doesn’t steam. The temperature must be high enough to trigger the browning process. Contrary to popular opinion, browning, or searing the surface does not seal in meat’s juices. It does, however, produce new and complex flavor compounds as the sugars and proteins in the meat react under high temperatures and the surface color deepens. This browning reaction is known as the Maillard reaction.
Aromatic vegetables such as carrots, celery and onions can also be browned. After browning the meat, just add a little molasses, honey, syrup or brown sugar to the remaining oil and you’ll trigger a different type of browning reaction called caramelization. In caramelizing, sugar melts, then decomposes at high temperatures (over 338°F/170°C) and is transformed to a complicated mixture of new compounds with “burnt sugar” flavors. These too, add considerably to the richness of the finished dish.
Liquid, such as wine, beer, stock, broth, or juice is also essential for braising because less tender meats have greater amounts of collagen than tender ones. Collagen, a connective tissue, helps hold the muscle fibers in meat together. When cooked in the presence of moisture, collagen dissolves into gelatin, which allows the meat fibers to separate more easily. This is the essence of tenderizing tough cuts of meat. Some of the textural richness of braising sauces comes from the collagen. The dissolved gelatin causes the broth to set as it cools. This also helps with braised dishes that are served cold or chilled, sliced and fried, like head cheese and scrapple.
While collagen softens in moist heat, muscle fibers firm as their proteins unfold and form new linkages during cooking. Various proteins in meat fibers coagulate over a range of temperatures from 105°F/40°C to 195°F/90°C temperatures that are far below boiling point (212°F/100°C). The higher the cooking temperature, the tougher the muscle fibers become, and the more they shrink in both length and width.
To keep meat tender yet safe during braising, maintain an important balance. Cooking temperatures must be high enough to kill microorganisms, yet not so high that the meat toughens. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the surrounding stock and keep it at a simmer of 180°F/82°C-190°F/88°C. Braising at low temperatures can never be done in a hurry.
There are nine basic steps to braising meat:
- Season the main ingredient with salt and pepper.
- Heat a few tablespoons of oil and/or butter in a heavy pan or Dutch oven.
- Sauté meat and vegetables separately in the pan on medium-high heat until they brown.
- Deglaze the pan by pouring broth, stock, wine, beer or juice and scrape any pieces of meat that are stuck to the pan and stir.
- Add cooking liquid (water, stock, wine, juice or some combination) to the half-way point of covering your ingredients.
- Cover and place your pot on the middle rack in an oven that has been pre-heated to 350°F.
- Cook until completely tender. This can range from 1 hour to 6 hours, depending on what is cooking.
- Remove the pan from the oven and strain the meat and vegetables out of the liquid.
- Remove the excess fat floating in the liquid, and then reduce the sauce to desired thickness by cooking it down over low heat until it thickens. Or, make gravy by adding a mix of equal parts fat and flour (a roux).
Stew is a dish and a cooking method. The dish is loosely defined as meat or fish and vegetables cooked slowly in liquid; the cooking method is a moist heat cooking process by which meat and vegetables are slowly simmered in a flavorful liquid.
Stewing vs. Braising
The meat in a stew is cut into chunks and submerged in the liquid, while meat for braising is often left whole and the liquid might only cover half the meat. Tougher cuts of meat are best for stews, as very lean cuts can become too dry when stewed.
To Prepare A Stew:
- Dredge chunks of meat in seasoned flour – this helps thicken the stew.
- Sear meat on all sides in a little oil in a Dutch oven or stew pan until deep brown. Set the meat aside.
- In the same pan, cook chopped mire poix (onions, carrots and celery) or trinity (onions, celery and green pepper) until golden brown. Add dried herbs and spices.
- Deglaze with liquid – stock, water, wine, beer – whatever the recipe or taste calls for.
- Add the meat back to the pan. Pour in enough liquid to just cover the meat and bring it to a simmer.
- Cover tightly and finish stewing in the oven at low temperature – 300°F is a good target. This could take anywhere from just ten minutes for some vegetables and fish to upwards of two hours for tougher cuts of meat. Again, check the recipe.
- Remove pot from the oven and skim off any unwanted fat. If the liquid is thinner than desired, thicken it with cornstarch dissolved in cold liquid or beurre mani (equal parts butter and flour kneaded together to make a dough). Make sure to bring the cooking liquid up to a boil so the starch can thicken it.
Stew in a Dutch oven or in a slow cooker. Slow cookers are made for long, slow, moist cooking. If using a slow cooker, browning the meat and vegetables in the same vessel used to stew isn’t possible. Instead, do all the browning in a sauté pan, deglaze with the liquid specified in the recipe, making sure to scrape up all the fond (browned bits). This is where the flavor is. Now, pour the meat, vegetables and deglazing liquid into the slow cooker.
If using a Dutch oven, make sure it is completely oven-safe. If it has plastic or other composite handles, stew on the stovetop on a very low setting. It is worth the time to find a sturdy, all-metal, oven-safe Dutch oven for stewing.
Browning The Meat:
One of the best ways to develop deep flavors in a stew is to sear the meat and the vegetables before stewing. Since stewing is a moist heat cooking method that never rises above the boiling temperature of water, the meat will never get hot enough to brown. The boiling point of water is 212°F (at sea level) and browning reactions don’t begin until temperatures exceed 330°F, so it’s essential to use a dry heat cooking method to encourage the browning that will result in a deeply flavorful and satisfying dish.
There are “blond” stews – fricassee, for one – that do not call for browning. If you want to remain faithful to the recipe, don’t brown the meat or vegetables for these types of dishes. Just know that the final product will have a more delicate and less complex flavor than stews that start with browning.
Cooking Techniques: Sausage Making 101
The CIA’s renowned sausage maker Lars Kronmark shares his sausage technique
Cooking Techniques: Sausage Making 101
Basic Checklist for Making Fresh Pork Sausage
- Clean, sanitize and chill all equipment to be used. Place it in the freezer or ice water.
- Weigh and prepare ingredients – meat, fat, water spices.
- Pre-mix and blend any dry or wet ingredients prior to working with the meat.
- Prepare casings prior to grinding and blending meat. Choose the proper size for the sausage you are making.
- Keep meat cold at all times. Below 38°F unless making an emulsion and the recipe states otherwise.
- When proteins get above 38°F, they will begin to denature and the sausage will never hold moisture.
- Test sample, adjust seasoning if necessary before stuffing.
- Portion into links if desired.
- Finish the processing: Fresh (refrigerate); Cooked (poach, shock, refrigerate).
- Smoke as recipe requires.
Sausage Production Facts
- Fat ratio: 25-30% fat in most fresh, pork sausage products.
- Fresh boneless shoulder from market hogs: primal cuts and trim can be used.
- Ice water: used to make sausage cohesive, can be substituted with wine or broth in specific recipes.
Basic Steps for Making Fresh Pork Sausage
- Sanitize and chill all equipment.
- Prepare lean and fat by trimming and cubing. Weigh out what is needed. Keep the meat chilled at all times.
- Mix seasonings together. Mix thoroughly with meat in some cases some cases this may be after the meat has been ground.
- Pass meat through proper size grinder plate required for the recipe, keep chilled (meat can be fed into the feed tube with your hand); use speed # 3 on Hobart mixer for grinding chill.
- Place mixture in mixer if large amount (more than 8-10 pounds), if less use hands.
- Using the paddle, mix on speed #1 for 60 seconds. Meat should have a sticky consistency.
- Cook a small amount of mixture to taste and check binding. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Process into desired sausage product.
Grinding meat through a chilled meat grinder, starting with the largest die first, then progressing to smaller and smaller holed dies. It is very important to chill the meat between grindings.
New York-Style Spicy Hot Italian Sausage
Yield: 4 pounds
- 3 lbs. Pork butt
- ¾ lbs. Pork back fat
- 2 Tbsp. Sambuca or anise-flavored liqueur
- 2 Tbsp. Anise or fennel seeds
- 1 Tbsp. garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
- 4 tsp. Kosher salt,
- 2 tsp. fresh, ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup water
- Medium hog casings
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Grind everything through a ⅜-inch plate.
Moisten the mixture with water, then squeeze and knead until everything is thoroughly mixed. Stuff into medium hog casings, and tie into 5-inch links.
Italian Sweet Fennel Sausage
Yield: 4 pounds
- 3 lbs. pork butt
- ¾ lb. pork back fat
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4 each garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbsp. fennel seed
- 1 Tbsp. fresh ground pepper
- 4 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1 tsp. oregano, dried
- ⅛ tsp. allspice, ground
- Medium hog casings (optional)
Grind the pork and back fat together through a ⅜-inch plate. In a large bowl, combine the pork and fat with the wine, garlic, fennel, black pepper, salt, oregano, and allspice. Mix well with your hands. Stuff into casings or shape into patties.