Hill Country's Executive Chef Elizabeth Karmel taught the room of eager barbecue fans how to make several of Hill Country's dishes at home, giving plenty of tried and true barbecue tips along the way.
The Cameron stovetop smoker allows you to make barbecue even in the confines of your New York-sized kitchen. The wood chips go in the outer base pan, which is covered by an inner drip tray and rack. Always use a rack when smoking meats—air flow around the meat is essential to good barbecue.
The wood chips come in several varieties which impart different flavors to your meat. You can play with different flavors, but should generally avoid smoking with mesquite—the flavor is too strong and bitter.
These small wood chips are optimal for home smoking— they smoke faster and don't need to be pre-soaked like larger chips. Only use about two tablespoons of chips in your stovetop smoker; no one likes over-smoked meat.
Place the wood chips right in the middle of your smoker, so that they'll sit straight over the stove's burner. Once your meat is in the smoker it gets covered with foil to keep the smoke contained. Just make sure to leave plenty of room for air circulation inside.
Her Texas-style dry rub is incredibly simple: salt, pepper, and a little kick of cayenne. The trick to the pepper not being too peppery is using butcher's pepper: it's simply a coarser grind of black pepper, and its heat is less overwhelming than dusty pre-ground stuff. You can find it in some supermarkets, or just crack your own whole peppercorns.
Don't let your butcher trim the fat away. Fat bastes meat as it cooks, adding moisture and flavor. Place the brisket fat-side up in your smoker so that the fat drips onto the lean side of the meat.
Fast forward to finished brisket! After your meat properly rests, you can now cut away the think top layer of fat from the rest of the meat.
There's a right and wrong way to cut your brisket. Always cut against the grain so that you see a honeycomb-like pattern in the meat (top and bottom slices). Cutting with the grain makes your meat tough and stringy (middle slice).
The finished pile of smoked brisket.
For a pulled pork sandwich, pork shoulder is seasoned and smoked in a similar manner as the brisket. Make sure to buy bone-in pork butt; when the pork is done you should be able to pull out the bone have have it come out clean (a pitmaster meat thermometer). Once it's rested for 20 to 30 minutes, the pork gets shredded either by hand or with large forks. Make sure to keep any crispy bits of fat and crust (the bark); that's the stuff barbecue dreams are made of.
If you're adding barbecue sauce, add it incrementally while the meat is still warm. Karmel's sauce is a simple mixture of cider vinegar, white and brown sugar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and ketchup.
Barbecue trivia knowledge: in North Carolina, the difference between eastern- and western-style barbecue sauce is ketchup. Western has it, eastern doesn't.
The pulled pork sandwich wouldn't be complete without North Carolina coleslaw.
The same barbecue sauce is poured over chopped cabbage. If you have the luxury of time, you should let the mixture marinate for at least two hours, or overnight.
Note: in North Carolina the sesame seeds on the bun would be considered a travesty.
Beer can chicken
Beer can chicken is a grilling classic, but the same technique makes a flavorful bird in your home oven as well. The principle is simple: you shove a can of beer up your chicken's err...rear so that it cooks upright on your grill or in your oven. The beer reportedly keeps the bird moist and deepens the flavor. While the effectiveness of the beer itself may be contested, I can vouch for the result being damn tasty. Hill Country uses a game hen, but a regular old chicken works just as well.
Beer can chicken
If you want to be really authentic, pick up a can of Shiner Bock, which lucky for you has JUST become available in NYC (I spotted it in Whole Foods).
Beer can chicken
Liberally cover your bird in olive oil before canning, and then liberally season with salt and pepper after. Alternatively, you can 'kosher' your chicken by buying it in salt overnight in the fridge, and it won't need any further seasoning. The wings should be tucked back a la 'lounging at the beach.'
Beer can chicken
These birds had crispy skins on the outside and moist and tender meat on the inside.
In lieu of an outdoor grill, you can use your home convection oven to grill ribs directly on the oven rack (bone-side-down)—just make sure you use a drip pan underneath. When buying baby back ribs, make sure they are at least 2 1/2-pound ribs so that they are sufficiently meaty.
To really impress your butcher, ask for "no bone shine." Bone shine is when the bone shows through from the butcher cutting too closely; this will cause the meat to shrink away from the bone as it cooks, leading to fall-apart ribs (which contrary to the slogan is not what pitmasters want out of their ribs).
Barbecue recipes tend to be invented with whatever is lying around; so you can imagine the origins of this sweet KC-style Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce that gets brushed on partway though cooking.