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Fourth of July Feast

Hope everyone had a safe and happy Fourth of July -- I know I did. This year I threw a little shindig at my house to celebrate. So I invited the crew from work, friends, and family down to Casa de Linn with the intention of giving them something a little bit special: Honest to goodness chopped pork barbecue.

To me, nothing says summer like a plate full of real BBQ. Not grilling, mind you. I mean cooking with smoke, indirect heat, and lots of time. Now, unless you have the luxury of a barrel smoker at home (something I could neither fit on my smallish porch, nor convince the girlfriend of) pulling off actual BBQ is sort of tricky to do. Especially if, like me, all you have is a propane-fired gas grill. But with a little ingenuity and some help from the good ol' Internets, making your own fab cue from home is easy as pecan pie.

Hit the jump for pictures, instructions, and lots of meaty goodness.

I've been making my own cue at home on my Weber propane grill for about a year now. This is the same sort of grill that most anyone has covered with a plastic tarp in their backyard -- it has a two burner setup pushing out a very pedestrian BTU rating, two heating racks that butterfly apart when you open the lid, and a thermometer attached to the roof so you can keep tabs on the temperature inside. If you're planning on doing this, it's kind of important your grill have these features too, but considering mine is like 5 years old and not even one of those fancy new stainless steel models, getting a grill like this should be cheap and easy. And they work well if you know how to use them.

Anyway, I use a slightly modified version of the setup detailed at Amazing Ribs, a simply badass site for all things barbecued. Basically, the method involves using a chaffing tray filled with about 1" of water directly over the grill grates, and positioning the meat on the heating racks above it.

The water does three things: 1) Propane grills are reviled for their inability to hold a constant temperature, so having a large mass of water inside will help stabilize the heat. 2) The water keeps heat indirect, which is the most important component to BBQ. 3) It aids in distributing the smoke you will be adding to the party via wood chips, and keeps the meat moist.

Next, you're going to need some wood chips. I picked up a bag of Grillpro hickory chips at my local grill supply shop, which work great. You're going to want to soak your chips in a little water for at least 30 minutes prior to BBQ time so that they don't just burn up over the flame. Place a handful of chips in a piece of tin foil, and wrap them up, leaving a hole in the top for the smoke to come out. (You can also form a little tin foil tray like I did.) Position the chips to one side of the water bath over the burner.

The goal is to cook long and slow, so we're going to want to get the grill to a constant temperature of 225 degrees. To do that, I turn on ONE burner (the left one) about as low as it will go. You may have to play with the temp slightly to get it around 225, but it's really not as hard as it sounds. Amazing Ribs gives a great guideline for this: If the water is boiling, it's too hot. You want a slow stream of vapor without any boil.

Once your temp is all set you can add your meat. Position it directly above the bath on the upper racks - if it's not above the bath it will burn. I used a 9 lb. picnic cut -- essentially a pork shoulder with a little of the hock attached. I doused that guy down the night before with a spice rub and used a knife to make crosshatches in the skin so that the fat and skin would crisp into cracklins while cooking. I'm not going to cover any rub recipes, since there are many thousands out there.

Now, it's a waiting game. About every 30-45 minutes you'll need to add more hickory chips and check the temperature and water. You don't need to add chips the whole cooking time, but I only did it a little past half way (about 6 hours) and I would've liked the meat to have been a little bit smokier. The water level will fall over time, so keep a pitcher next to the grill to refill it if needed.

After 5 hours I threw on a couple birds patted with kosher salt and pepper. The whole gang hung out in there for another 4 hours.

This is the finished shoulder after 9 hours of cooking. It was too hot to cut open right off the grill, which naturally made my guests slightly restless.

The bones literally peeled right off the meat, as you can see here. Warning, that shit was still crazy hot after a 45 minute rest. Some people like their pork pulled. Not me. I don't want to spend hours cooking something only to turn it into tuna fish-like shreds. I chopped it up skin and all into 1/4" chunks.

Once chopped, it was onto some fresh baked hamburger buns. To go with the pork (picture up top): Green apple cole slaw, garlic potato salad, vegetarian collard greens, baked beans, and a homemade vinegar sauce. If anyone is interested I'll put up the recipes to those in another post.

The cue was amazing, folks, and fairly easy. The method works for just about anything, from chicken to ribs. Go out there and try it, and let Short Order know how things turn out!

-- John Linn

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John Linn

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