Thursday, June 26, 2008

Off the Subject: Brisket

I'm going to stray from the usual topic today. This weekend I had a chance to buy brisket at 99 cents a pound at the local Super Target. I thought I would try to smoke a Brisket now that I have a back yard now and a new vertical water smoker from Brinkman ($59 Home Deopt). This is my way of multi-tasking; make a bookcase while roasting a rack of rib.

To get a moist and tender brisket, the tough cut of meat is slowly heated to about 190 degrees internal temperature. This slow and steady process breaks down the tough muscle and its' membrane and turns it into tender juicy meat. The formula is 1.5 hours per pound at about 220 degrees. This adds up to about 15 hours of smoking for a 10 lbs brisket to hit perfection. It’s hard to dedicate this amount of time for the average person, so I’ll use some time management to get good result without spending 15 hours babysitting a brisket.

  1. The meat is probably the most important part of the process. Buy a smaller 8 pounds brisket and cooking time gets cut down to 12 hours. This is much more manageable than the larger sizes as it fits in the smoker with enough room for the smoke to surround it. Find a brisket with good marbling of fat and meat. Since this is hard to see through the plastic vacuum packs, pick a piece that is soft and bendable. Meat with higher fat marbling bends and flexes more than leaner cuts.
  2. Preparation; leave the brisket out all day to reach room temperature. Smoking a refridgerated cold brisket slows the process down tremendously. Some people also advise s you to marinade it in a slight acidic bath to break down the protein. Ignore it since heating it correctly will do the job. Half hour before it goes into the smoker, rub the meat with BBQ spice rub. I make my own rub with salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne peppers, sugar and MSG. Putting the rub on too long will it dry out the meat. Don't be afraid to put a lot on, most will fall off or burn off. I don't use fancy herbs and spices, the prolonged heating session will often neutralize any herbal flavor. Some people tells you to trim the fat cap to 3/8 of an inch thick. I Leave the fat on, I just cut slashes in the fat cap and force some of the rub in there as well.
  3. Heat the meat. This depends on what type of heating system you use, I use to throw it in the oven at 225 degrees for 12 hours and then drain the fat dripping occasionally. I now have a vertical water smoker that works well. Hot charcoal briquettes are put on the bottom pan along with wet hardwood chips to produce the heat and smoke. A water pan is place between the meat and the fire to block the direct heat and the water keeps the temperature below 212 degrees, it's so simple.
  4. Maintaining the heat is the hardest part for the charcoal user. It is hard to control the heat by adjusting the vents, and the change in temperature would need a half hour before it can be registered by the thermometer. So I would have to rely on experience to judge the temperature change. I think the flavor is best with charcoal and hardwood so I am willing to put in the effort. I do have to modify the Brinkman smoker. I am having problem with the ashes smothering the coals as it burns in the coal bin. The goal is to maintain a constant heat throughout the session with minimal effort. I think a coal grate would work so that ashes would fall away from the red glowing coals.
  5. Simpify. Keep adding coal and wood chunks or chips for the first six hours, replenish the water and try not to open the smoker door too often. This cools everything down and slows down the cooking session. If I started the smoking process at 6pm, and trust my ability to make a fire that stays lit by giving it just enough air and fuel, then at midnight, the outside of the brisket would’ve turned black from the smoking. This is not burnt as the blackness is actually a very thin layer, the red smoke ring follows, this is a physical sign that smoke had penetrated the meat and is filled with this unique flavor. I would then take the brisket and place it in a preheated oven at 210 - 225 degrees. The oven will maintain the constant heat needed while I get some sleep. I will wake up to an amazing smell in the kitchen and moist and tender brisket.
  6. Leave the brisket out for a hour to cool, slice some across the grain thinly and have some for breakfast. Then wrap the remainder tightly in plastic wrap to keep the moisture. This can stay out for the afternoon BBQ.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bookshelves by Myself

This bookcase has been sitting quietly in the corner of the Condo for the last five years doing its' duty. Filled with books, it's just another bookshelf. But when we moved, I had a chance to show off it's glory. The back panel is a book matched piece of birch I was lucky enough to find at Home Depot. After visually inspecting about seven 4 x 8 sheets of 1/4 plywood, I managed to find a piece I really liked. I'm not one to waste wood, but to get the heartwood flame shaped pattern centered, it was worth cutting out the unwanted parts.

This is the first project I built with my biscuit joiner, this was five years ago, when I swore the biscuit joiner was the greatest invention ever for cabinet building. I then realized it has it's strength and it's limitations. I didn't use much of it since because the joiner needs a very flat work surface to be precise, something i didn't have in the condo with poorl;. I'll revisit the tool now that I have a garage with a large flat floor.

I didn’t have a circular saw back then, so I had the people at the big box store rip the plywoods down to 11-1/4” pieces so I can fit in the back of my hatchback. I tried to use every piece of wood. This is biggest size bookshelf I can make from a sheet of4×8’ -3/4” birch and a one 1/4” birch. Stock inside corner molding and 1×2 made up the trims. Little legs gives is a nice furniture feel. Unfortunately I think it looks better without books covering up the back panel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Well, This Changes Everything

I'm finally returning to my blog after a long break. We've been busy bonding with San San, a German Shepherd that joined the family in March '08. This requires a house and a yard and a Home owner association that doesn't frown upon 65 lbs dogs, nor tenants who does woodworking in the living room.

Things are finally coming together in our new place. We moved to our new house in February 08 and had been working hard to get to the point where I can start on my workshop. I'm hoping lots of new projects and ideas will come out of this house and workshop.

I swore to myself that would always appreciate this new workshop and never complain about not having enough space as the place starts filling up with things I just can't live without. I'm hoping the luxury of having more space doesn't change my philosophy that as a hobby I can work on my technique instead of relying on dedicated machines.

Here’s the result from several weekends of work. Finally a real workbench for this woodworker. Fresh paint went on the walls after I removed the existing shelving nailed onto the walls twenty years ago. This color is the result of me mixing all the paint the previous owner had left behind into a 5 gallon bucket. Luckily my wife is happy with this color, she likes happy shades of green. We park her car on the other half of this garage, so a happy color is important to come home to after a long day’s work, it also neutralizes the mess I’m going to make.

I will get deeper into the construction of the shop on later post.