Monday, January 24, 2011

The Patience of Smoking Meat

Smoking meat, or barbecuing, is an endeavor that teaches patience, sometimes by trying your patience. At the very least, it requires setting aside hours for cooking even a small piece of meat and it can (and should) entail more preparation than that. For pork, you should give it a dry rub or a marinade the night before (or earlier); for poultry or salmon, you should brine it for at least a day (and maybe soak it in water afterwards to pull out some of the salt now that it has done its moisturizing job) and then rub, marinade, or inject it with seasonings. And these are the things you hot smoke, which is faster than cold smoking (as you would for bacon or cold smoked salmon).

As you might imagine, the work that I recently put in to make my own smoker and the subsequent time dedicated to the art of smoking has given me some time to think about patience (and some exercise in practicing and trying it). Patience is part of the fruit of the spirit (fruit is singular in Galatians and denotes that all those things listed are part of one thing that should all be present in a persons life). As our pastor noted in a recent sermon, we shouldn't confuse a natural inclination toward a particular aspect of the fruit of the spirit with the work of the spirit itself. The distinction should be that the work of the spirit manifests itself to some degree in all the things listed as part of the fruit of the spirit.

I tend to be a pretty laid back and pretty patient person by nature, which makes me well suited to the art of barbecue. I hope part of that is the work of the Holy Spirit in my life producing fruit, but a significant (and probably larger) part of it is a natural aversion to conflict and confrontation, rooted mainly in a desire for acceptance. That's the part of me that sees my rising temper and says, "Getting angry or frustrated will not help me achieve the selfish desire for which I am striving, so I better cool off." This is not altogether a bad inclination and it is certainly not an illogical one, but it is rooted in selfishness. If the spirit is working in me to increase my patience, it is by teaching me to that I don't need to get angry or frustrated because God works all things to the good of those who love him and by the grace of Christ, I am included in that category. That kind of teaching will also increase in me the tendency to love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control in addition to patience.

In smoking, experience teaches patience by a very practical method: The longer you smoke the meat, cheese, fish, or whatever else you're smoking, the more the smoke flavor permeates the food. There is a natural satisfaction in saying, "I cooked this pork shoulder for 10.5 hours and boy does it taste like it." I just need to keep reminding myself that the time I am spending is not just for making good food (though to be honest, that is much of my motivation), but also that I can spend my time freely knowing that God will give me the time I need to do the things that I need to do. Now I just have to remember that I shouldn't confuse the things I need to do and the things I want to do . . .

Here is a snapshot of things that I have smoked. As always, pork tenderloin is small enough to take only 3 hours or so to smoke:

That pink area is called the smoke ring. It's cooked (the inside is white), so there's no danger in the pink.

A good friend helped me pick up the applewood in his truck, so I promised him some smoked salmon. We smoked two so we could have one too. It was hands down the best salmon I've ever eaten (only slightly photoshopped to remove the glare of the flash).

After this I apparently decided to go into the catering business. Some college students decided to host a barbecue for the entire church at their house (across the street from the high school where we meet) and I let it be known that I had a smoker and could cook enough pulled pork for the entire congregation. So here's 63 lbs of pork shoulder that smoked for 10.5 hours (before and after). We counted around 140 people and we had about 1/4 of the pulled pork left.
That blackened part isn't burned, it's delicious, spicy bark. You cook the pork shoulder until it flakes apart with the turn of a fork.

Of course, we had to smoke the turkey since we were hosting Thanksgiving dinner.
We also smoked some salt in the tin foil pan you see pictured (which we'll keep smoking whenever we smoke so that it eventually is smoked for days and will have a wonderful smoky flavor).

We have also smoked cheese. This obviously requires much lower temperatures, so it helps if there's snow on the ground. Cheese only takes 45-60 minutes to get a good smoky flavor as long as you leave it out in the air for an hour or two prior to smoking to develop a rind that will take the smoke.
The reddish block in the back right was rubbed with paprika for added color (there was some mention of doing this online, but I'm not sure it was worth the trouble).

We subsequently waxed and labeled the cheese (including nutrition facts on the back). We gave some of it as gifts for Christmas and kept some for ourselves. You can clearly see the paprika block that we kept for ourselves.
There will be much more to come. In addition to other meats that I have yet to smoke, my wife has started making hard cheese and as soon as we can dig the smoker out of the snow, we'll be smoking some of that.