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Barbecue? Try semi-cue

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The recent spell of warm weather persuaded me it was finally time to turn my attention back to that Big Green Egg that has been sitting unused under an eave on my back deck. I shoveled out last season’s ash and scrubbed off last season’s grime, and it was somehow looking better than new.

The Tucker-based Big Green Egg Co. makes the country’s best known kamado-style grill/smoker, based on a traditional Japanese design. This ovoid contraption looks quite like a seasick Humpty Dumpty sitting upside down. As the hardwood charcoal fire burns (or, rather, glows) inside, it sucks air in through an opening on the bottom, heats the food sitting on a grill over the flame, and sends the smoke billowing out through a chimney on top. The beauty of the kamado’s design – and the reason it has so caught on in the South – is that you can regulate the airflow easily and thus regulate the temperature. You can grill a steak at a blazing-hot 700 degrees or smoke ribs at 225 degrees for many hours before you need to replenish the charcoal.

I may get run out of Georgia and back to the land of nasalized vowels for saying this, but I like to do something in between. The Big Green Egg – or any adjustable kettle-style grill, really – does a brilliant job of making something I’ve started to call “semi-cue.”

Semi-cue is, essentially, a slow-roasted pork butt. It is ready in about five hours, still a touch pink at the bone, imbued with smoke and utterly delicious.

Now, I know some Big Green Egg geeks who have perfected pork barbecue. They take the same pork butt, rub it with spices, mop it periodically and spend up to 19 hours tending to it. During this time, the meat’s copious intra-muscular fat slowly melts from the inside as the smoke slowly penetrates from the outside. By the time they are done, they have a quivering little hunk of flesh that pulls into juicy threads of true, exquisite barbecue.

Did I mention that bit about 19 hours?

I am and always will be motivated by a certain degree of laziness in my cooking. Semi-cue goes onto the Egg in the early afternoon with one batch of charcoal sprinkled with water-soaked hickory chips, and once or twice during its cooking time I check the thermometer to make sure it stays below 300 degrees, and preferably below 275.

Now, here’s the second piece to my barbecue heresy. I stay completely away from spice rubs. Instead, I season the pork butt with gobs of crushed garlic, lemon juice, lemon peel, black pepper, salt and a small glug of olive oil. If I’m thinking ahead, I take it out of its wrapper the night before, give it a good rinse and let it marinate in these ingredients overnight in the fridge. I always make sure it comes to room temperature the next day. Then, I cut a few stems from our rosemary bush and put them on top of the pork as it smokes.

I know how totally bastardized this sounds, and I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone of North Carolinian, Greek or Italian heritage. But I must thank you all for contributing to the invention of semi-cue.

The meat should reach about 165 to 170 degrees on a thermometer plunged into the thickest part. But, honestly, I usually just let it go for 5 hours and am always happy with the results.

I usually take the semi-cue off the grill, give it a good sprinkle of salt all over and tent a piece of foil over it to rest for 20 minutes or so before cutting into it.

Now, a pork butt is a complex conjuncture of meat, fat and bone. Different muscles come together – some darker in color or more tender than others. Pockets of fat will still separate these muscles, so I usually separate out the muscles a bit as I carve it. I find particularly toothsome, smoky chunks to feed to the children who are invariably waiting nearby.

The beauty of semi-cue is that does have that satisfying pink ring of smoke you get from actual barbecue. It extends a good half inch into the surface of the meat.

The other pinkness, that at the bone, may freak out those people who think pork should be cooked through. I find medium/medium-well pork delicious, and I don’t fear trichinosis from commercial pork. One can certainly cook it further, and I think it would be tasty, but at that point I’d say just keep going. Another eight hours and you’ve got the real deal – i.e., barbecue.

31 comments Add your comment

ted

March 13th, 2011
8:31 am

Impressed that you’re posting so early on spring forward day (time delayed?). To each his own on cooking methods, so no argument there. But I wonder, given the amount of time and the internal temperature you’re shooting for, whether that’s still really “underdone” near the bone.

I know when I do whole pork loins, I shoot for 145F as a finish temperature. I suspect it’s probably some smoke penetration or chemical reaction. Or it could be like you see with chickens- there’s blood in the breastbone, IIRC, that gets fixed and stays red even on properly cooked birds. It just won’t run out.

Baltisral

March 13th, 2011
10:27 am

John….your method makes so much sense and I don’t have to get up at 3am to start cooking. There are many mistakes made at 3am and cooking ANYTHING at that hour has disaster written all over it. At least for me!

Are their any less expensive options than to buy a $700.00 Big Green Egg? I have used a Webber Grill for the last 35 years but would now like to add to my grill inventory. If I buy a BGE I would not have any $ to buy the food to put in it.

atlfoodsnob

March 13th, 2011
10:57 am

The journey of a using traditional smoker is part of the overall experience. I’m smoking a goat shoulder today!!! @atlfoodsnob

barney

March 13th, 2011
11:43 am

The only heresy that I heard was that you referred to “last season” with respect to your egg! I love my BGE all year around and it delivers many things in addition to the usual steaks, ribs, and pulled pork. Ever tried a meatloaf (half lamb, half beef) on the BGE? Fantastic to have a smoke ring on a meatloaf! Feeling adventurous? Serve it with some smoked mashed potatoes! Not a surprise to many of use with BGE’s that you’ve “gone off the reservation”… only that you restrict yourself to a specific BGE season.

Bwana

March 13th, 2011
2:33 pm

Baltisral

March 13th, 2011
10:27 am
John….your method makes so much sense and I don’t have to get up at 3am to start cooking. There are many mistakes made at 3am and cooking ANYTHING at that hour has disaster written all over it. At least for me!

Are their any less expensive options than to buy a $700.00 Big Green Egg? I have used a Webber Grill for the last 35 years but would now like to add to my grill inventory. If I buy a BGE I would not have any $ to buy the food to put in it.

Baltistral, i too cooked on Webers for 20 years or so before taking the plunge for the BGE. I have three webers and my favorite one is the gas start for charcoal. However, after buying and using the BGE for the past five years, hands down it blows the weber away, and i really don’t use my webers much any more unless i am going camping or tailgating, because they are lightweight and easy to move. The BGE that i have is the largest one and it doesn’t leave my deck! The webers tend to cook through the meat and the pork can get dry because the webers don’t hold the heat like the eggs do. When i bought the BGE, i went to Tucker and checked them all out. I ended up with the biggest one and a bunch of accessories, (once you’re up that high, what’s another coupleof hundred?) but i’ve been very pleased. If i had it to do over, i’d probably just get the medium or the large one because then it would be easier to take places with me if i wanted too.

Once the fire is good and hot, i like to cook a bunch of food at once for the week. It’s amazing how you can control the temperature on it. Also, the foods don’t really get burned on it. I like doing beef tenderloins, brisket, pork ribs, pork shoulders, hamburgers, steaks, veggies, etc. I have yet to cook a pizza on it, but i hear that is good too. I’ve got to get my rig cleaned up and start using it again!

Scott Sapp

March 13th, 2011
2:58 pm

jimmy

March 13th, 2011
3:18 pm

Why does the pork need to come to room temp before a slow cook?

Big Green Egg barbecue

March 13th, 2011
3:28 pm

[...] The Tucker-based Big Green Egg Co. makes the country’s best known kamado-style grill/smoker, based on a traditional Japanese design. This ovoid contraption looks quite like a seasick Humpty Dumpty sitting upside down. As the hardwood charcoal fire burns (or, rather, glows) inside, it sucks air in through an opening on the bottom, heats the food sitting on a grill over the flame, and sends the smoke billowing out through a chimney on top. The beauty of the kamado’s design – and the reason it has so caught on in the South – is that you can regulate the airflow easily and thus regulate the temperature. You can grill a steak at a blazing-hot 700 degrees or smoke ribs at 225 degrees for many hours before you need to replenish the charcoal. Read More [...]

JethroBoDummp

March 13th, 2011
3:39 pm

Dang, I need on of thems………..

precious rambo

March 13th, 2011
4:13 pm

Sounds like fun, but I was real poor(not enough to eat) coming up and the fact that
I can buy 5 hogs for what that cooker costs, well I just can’t bring my self to buy one.

supsalemgr

March 13th, 2011
4:34 pm

I use my BGE for my Thanksgiving turkey. Inject like one would to fry and it comes our so moist because it does not have to cook as long. I try to maintain about 325 degrees. I rub with canola oil and it browns just great.

Boris

March 13th, 2011
6:34 pm

About three years ago, my wife…God love her…polled her friends whose husbands had BGE to ask if the food was “really” better and worth the cost. The unaminous response was “ABSOLUTELY”.
I llike the semi que idea. I have a pork rost waiting for us tonight after using the egg to cook a steak last night. Can’t wait.
My favorite is pizza on the egg.

Honest and Frank Discussion

March 13th, 2011
6:41 pm

Weber makes a smoker that’s every bit as good as the bge.

Each has advantages and disadvantages. The Weber has a very convenient fire pit that lets you easily add smoke and/or more charcoal once you’ve gotten it going. Comes in handy. With the green egg, you don’t have that luxury.

I don’t usually need to refill the bge though. That’s because when I’m smoking things that will require the most time (a lot of meat for a lot of people), I can’t really use the egg. It’s nice for a shoulder or a brisket, but if you want to smoke 5 racks of ribs at the same time as some other cuts, the weber is what you want.

It doesn’t hold heat as good as an egg though, so if you don’t entertain or tailgate often it’s worth it.

vagabondking

March 13th, 2011
6:44 pm

I think you need to learn how to cook BBQ, You can’t pull pork cooked at that temperature, part of the point of having a BGE is cooking pork until well done & maintaining the moisture in the pork. Practice more & you will learn the extra time is well spent. Call me a BBQ snob if you want, but I know better. I’ve had an egg for over 20 years, & I have figured it out.

Billy Jack's Barbecue & Shrimp Co.

March 13th, 2011
7:10 pm

Interesting.

bowman

March 13th, 2011
7:49 pm

John:

We live in the South, by God. I hope that you’re embarrassed to admit that a “recent spell of warm weather” convinced you to turn your attention back to the Big Green Egg sitting unused since last season. Why should a little inclement weather restrict you from the BGE? Grilling is year-round sport. Enjoy it any and every day.

bowman
– -
“Art will always be Art.” – Goethe

jonnymack

March 13th, 2011
8:59 pm

HERETIC!!! You shall burn in the fiery pits of the Big Green Egg!!!! Sounds like a great idear there.

Rodney

March 13th, 2011
9:13 pm

Not to put too fine a point on it but … I don’t give a d*mn how it’s cooked. If it’s tasty, I’m in. :)

Behold, the Creation of Semi-cue |

March 13th, 2011
9:24 pm

[...] John Kessler writes about Big Green Eggs and smoking the perfect porn…I mean pork: “During this time, the meat’s copious intra-muscular fat slowly melts from the inside as the smoke slowly penetrates from the outside. By the time they are done, they have a quivering little hunk of flesh that pulls into juicy threads of true, exquisite barbecue.” Sounds barely legal, but entirely delicious. Read more here. [...]

katlt

March 13th, 2011
9:25 pm

I smoked a chicken on my BGE today … some real charcoal, soaked hickory chips and a beautiful afternoon … what could be better?

The egg held the temp. beautifully, the meat is moist and the skin is delightful.

Spring in Georgia is wonderful

donnie paul

March 13th, 2011
9:49 pm

He used the word “carved”. You don’t “carve” pork butt unless it is cooked wrong. Take your time, let the BGE do its work.

Lal

March 14th, 2011
12:03 am

I’ve been cooking pork butts for years in my BGE, and doing it pretty much the same way as John. 6-8 hours makes fine pull-able pork, moist and tender. I love my Egg… ribs, steak, chicken, turkey all come out beautifully. Also, it makes killer smoked wings.

Stosh

March 14th, 2011
6:00 am

The spices/rub sound a little Caribbean as well… Also sounds like you were pleased with the outcome… There are plenty of us, here in the South who que this way as well…

You are not alone,

Stosh

Doc Hollidawg

March 14th, 2011
9:05 am

Baltisral – Not anywhere near what a BGE can do, but if you want a cheap alternative to a ceramic smoker, I made one of these (below) and it will smoke a fine pork butt. (Credit Alton Brown for the invention).

Two Clay Pots from the home improvement warehouse. One big one for the bottom and then on of the flatter one to use as a “top”. (About $30 for both)
A replacement thermometer for a regular grill. (about $5)
A replacement bottom grill grate for a Webber (about $10)
Electric Hot plate (I found one at Eckerds, that’s how long ago it was, for $10)
Pie pan (mine was free, came with a pie from Whole Foods we had bought)
3 bricks (free)

Place the big pot on the 3 bricks to form a base. Place the hot plate in the bottom of the pot running the cord out the drainage hole. Put the pie plate on the hot plate with wood chips of your choosing (my best mix was dry ones on the bottom with some well soaked chips on top of those). Turn on hot plate to low. I then put a loaf type tin tray across the pie plate as a drip pan (filled with some apple juice). Put in the grate, your brined and rubbed pork butt (5 lbs was ideal) and put the top on it. Put the thermometer in the draining hole on the top and voila…a ceramic smoker for about $60. Mine lasted for years. The hot plate had to be replaced once but that was it. Still have the pots but now they have herbs in them. (again, credit Alton Brown of Good Eats…he did this on one of his shows).

Diego

March 14th, 2011
9:15 am

I too cleaned my BGE yesterday smoked some chicken. This egg is my second one as I worn out the first one after 25 years….No better way to cook anything!

BFellows

March 14th, 2011
11:03 am

John and others: Definitely check out Adam Perry Lang’s ‘Serious Barbecue’. It’s the best gourmet smoking book out there. Will change your life.

glenn

March 14th, 2011
3:31 pm

Yeah I can cook meat or que on my Weber kettle better than my neighbor can on his egg . I grill alot & love my Weber Performer more than any grill . The ceramics are cool . I would get a primo before I got an egg . Thats made in Atlanta as well . As far as your pork , you are not reinventing the wheel . You basically opt for a wet rub instead of a dry . I do as well at times especially if I brine my meat .

MCH

March 14th, 2011
7:11 pm

This is the way I always do pork on the egg – now I have a name for my technique! I can’t do the long hours stuff – too much advance planning required and we figured out how good it still tastes with the shorter cooking time. I don’t have to dust mine off, however, because we use it year round at least once a week. I have the umbrella beside it when we use it in the rain.

N-GA

March 15th, 2011
8:03 am

John – When I’m roasting or grilling meat, I always let the meat come to room temperature first. However, when I’m braising or slow-cooking meat, I don’t think it really makes any difference. Instead I use that time to get the meat in the braising liquid or in the smoke sooner!

PTC DAWG

March 16th, 2011
6:17 am

Any who doesn’t grill year round in this area, well, they are missing a LOT.

I have two Webers…a Kettle and the Weber Smoky Mountain. Between the two, there’s not much I can’t do.

Whatever you use, make sure it doesn’t burn gas and have fun.

John Kessler

March 16th, 2011
11:36 am

Hey, sorry for the late response to the lively discussion here. For those of you who have asked about the bringing the meat to room temperature: Maybe I could skip this step. But I am actually slow roasting, and the temperature may be as high as 300 degrees when I put the pork on. I suspect that having the pork at 70 degrees instead of 40 degrees when I put it on better allows that first great rush of woodsmoke to penetrate the surface. I could be totally wrong. But my pork always has a really evident smoke ring and smoky flavor.