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Butts need very little preparation. Trim off any skin and excess
fat and reduce any layer of fat to no more than 1/4" thick. Record
the weight of each and identify them accordingly. The smaller
butts will cook quicker and if over cooked will be worthless for
competition. You should, of course, use rubber gloves when
handling the meat and make certain that knives, cutting boards and
other utensils are thoroughly washed with soap in hot water.
This area has plenty of room for controversy. To rub or not to
rub. To inject or not. It might come as surprise, but, unless you
really botch it up to the point that you offend some judges
palate, it won't make much difference. Seasonings on the surface
simply will not penetrate far into the butt and injecting is
really a waste of effort. To be effective, seasoning has to be
injected in many, many sites in small amounts rather than
substantial quantities in a few locations. Then at least 90% of
any liquids will, hopefully, run out. I say, hopefully, because if
a judge gets a bite of that concentrated flavor it may be too much
for his taste and you immediately lose. Personally, I like to rub
the surface well with a basting sauce containing some oil, let it
dry and do it again before putting the meat on the grill. The main
concern is to keep the surface from drying before the center
reaches the proper temperature.
Cooking the Meat
Needless to say, you are going to need sufficient hot coals to
maintain the temperature in your grill at between 200 and 225° for 12-
15 hours. So the grill/pit should have been full stoked and allowed
to reach the proper temperature before putting the meat on. Throttle
down the air intake — LEAVE THE EXHAUST FULLY OPEN — to maintain the
desired temperature at the meat level. Temperature readings above the
meat are meaningless. If cooking with wood, start a fire in your pre-
burn pit now. If using charcoal briquettes, you can wait until about
20 minutes before you need them to light the up. If using lump
charcoal, no pre-burn is needed for flavor purposes, but unless you
do, the temperature inside the firebox will drop when you add the
lumps because it has to absorb BTU's in order to ignite.
For wood selection, read "Burning Wood & Blowing Smoke" in "According to Smoky" on the website or turn to page 306 in "The Great American Barbecue & Grilling Manual" for a fuller exposition. Personally, oak
is the favorite with a little hickory, but most hardwoods will work
well. The main concern is not to over smoke.
I am of the basting persuasion. I believe that it keeps the exterior
moist which aids in the transfer of heat to the center. (Read "Heat"
in "According to Smoky" or the chapter on heat in the book.) Moist
matter is much more effective in transferring heat than dry matter,
so the longer that you can keep the exterior moist, the better it
will transfer heat to center.
After about 4 hours, usually after 2-3, the meat will not absorb any
more desirable smoke flavor, but offensive creosote may be deposited
on the surface if too much smoke is present. So, you get no benefit
and some danger in producing smoke after 2-3 hours.
Monitor the ambient temperature at the meat and the internal
temperature of the meat. I find the thermometers with digital read-
out and remote probes essential. You should record these temperatures
at least every 30 minutes. As you build a history, you can predict
more accurately when your meat will be at its optimum for
presentation. It is important to record the ambient temperature,
moisture and wind conditions, because these can have a dramatic
effect on cooking times.
Depending upon all the related temperatures, the butts should be done
in around 12 hours. After 10 hours, begin to pay close attention.
When the meat begins to draw away from the bone it is approaching
ready. When the bone can be easily pulled, it is done.
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