“Think outside the box,” they said. “Question Authority,” they said. So, here I am, thinking outside the box, challenging the “authorities.” Sticking my neck out, putting my reputation on the line. All for the sake of making progress. Well…I hope it’s progress.
Last week I submitted a proposal that challenges a world of conventional wisdom in the field of industrial safety and personal protection. It was a bit unnerving to put the proposal in writing and send it to the people who can gather up the money to test the theory. Not just because it’s a new idea, but because it is an in-your-face challenge to a LOT of history and heavy hitters in the world of personal protection.
And since I’m out of the box already, I started a bit of research on something a bit less important, but with conventional wisdom that is at least as well established.
Last week, I was the blessed recipient of a brand-spanking new combination gas/charcoal grill and smoker. And since I’ve never owned a bona-fide, wood-fired smoker (I did have a little electric one that served us well), I had to give it a go last weekend. And I did all the things you are supposed to do when smoking meat – marinated some of the meat in a salt/sugar brine, and cooked it low and slow (which is a good plan) with thoroughly seasoned and soaked hardwood chunks to create some nice smoke. The result was fantastic. Something I plan to repeat as often as I can.
But….next time, I might try something new, too.
Before I got busy smoking meat, I had to do a little yard work which included “trimming” my Satsuma orange tree. There was this one big branch hanging way too low (dragging the ground), so we cut it back to the stump. Doing that yielded quite a few thick limbs that made the perfect size chunks of wood for the smoker. And while searching the interwebs for confirmation that using orange wood in the smoker was okay, I found a few other bits of information that fly in the face of all the conventional wisdom I had learned about smoking meat. (By the way, it is okay to use orange wood in the smoker. As it happens, you can even buy it commercially. Lucky me – all I had to give was half-a-day’s worth of sweat, blisters, and sore muscles.)
The good people at Epicurious say that marinating your meat is wasting your time (and maybe even ruining your meat). Get the details here. In summary, the marinade does not penetrate deeper than the outer layer, it does not tenderize your meat, and it does not make your meat juicier (it might even lead to steaming instead of searing and make your meat soggy). Quality meat, ample fat, and proper cooking will make your meat juicy and wonderful (which is pretty much what happened with my ribs and Boston butt last weekend – even the pork shoulder I brined wasn’t really juicier than the Boston butt). I like a nice dry rub on ribs anyway, so I think I’ll just skip the marinating business from now on.
But now for the real myth busting. Meathead Goldwyn over at AmazingRibs.com says to stop soaking your wood. Like the marinade, he says the water only penetrates the outer layer and dries out nearly as soon as you put it on the fire anyway. His testing showed wood chips only absorbed 4% water. And you need dry wood to get blue smoke (a thing I never heard of, but apparently is what you really want when smoking meat). If this is true, I no longer have to guess at how much wood to soak to be sure I have enough. I can just get a chunk or two from the bucket and toss them in as needed.
Meathead also says that pink smoke ring isn’t actually created by smoke penetrating the meat, but by a chemical reaction. And you can’t make it go deeper into the meat by smoking it longer – but you can get more flavor and more tenderness by cooking longer. So stop worrying about whether your “smoke ring” is think enough – you can’t change that anyway. (That pink ring is the result of the reaction between myoglobin, and nitric oxide and carbon monoxide – he’s got a lot of science there to support this theory. Just go with it.)
It is also conventional (or at least common) wisdom that you should remove the bark from your smoking wood. But the bark on my orange tree is so thin and tightly bound that I think it would not be worth the trouble. But then I read numerous discussions, like this one, that suggest there are some widely varying opinions on this issue. I think I’ll leave the bark on and see what happens.
After submitting my proposal on personal protection, it turns out that numerous people have come out of the shadows saying “yeah, I’ve been thinking that, too.” Maybe they didn’t see a need to challenge the accepted wisdom, or didn’t have the energy to dig into the details, or maybe they just didn’t want to rock the boat. Who knows? But give it a try. Think outside the box, turn the world upside-down, and challenge the conventional wisdom. You could be surprised what might happen.