Besides my love for whisky I have another culinary passion: barbecue. And by that I don’t mean grilling sausages or steaks – although I like that too. No, I am talking about the real thing: low and slow smoking of big chunks of meat with charcoal and/or wood.
Barbecue is probably the most important American contribution to global food culture. Forget fast food like burgers and hot dogs that the USA is commonly associated with! Barbecue is slow food par excellence, anything taking less than three hours is considered a rush job. Land of contradictions. The Holy Trinity of Barbecue consists of pulled pork, pork ribs and beef brisket. Some purists consider anything non-pork a blasphemy, but I am not that religious about it.
Now why not combine those two passions in a spontaneous Saturday Session? For this effort I picked a different cut of meat that is not quite as commonly seen in barbecue joints: pork belly. And of course I decided to stick with bourbon, even though in principle you could use any kind of whisky without harm. As I happened to have a bottle at hand, I used Jim Beam Devil’s Cut
I picked a nice four-pound slab of pork belly with skin at the butcher’s. Unfortunately the skin is not really suitable for low and slow smoking, so I removed it with a sharp knife for later use. The meat was then treated with my regular dry rub consisting of salt, pepper, cumin, sugar, carlic powder, paprika and cayenne. The bourbon came into play in the mopping sauce: 2 parts cane sugar syrup, 1 part cider vinegar and 1 part bourbon. I used charcoal to heat the smoker in combination with soaked whisky barrel chips. As I happened to have a few branches of wild plum I had cut during a de-junglifying session in my garden, I used those as well to generate smoke.
As side dish I decided to go for smoked kidney beans. An 800 gram can of beans with the juice only partly discarded, mixed with 200 grams pureed tomatoes, and seasoned with two chopped cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, cumin and powdered chipotle chili as well as dashes of syrup and vinegar. This was placed in the smoker next to the meat in a heat proof dish.
To shorten the wait….
According to taste, place one or two sugar cubes in a tumbler and soak them with a few dashes of bitters of your choice and a teeny tiny splash of water. Muddle the sugar cubes thoroughly, add 2 generous drams of bourbon, stir, add a decent amount of ice cubes (the old-fashioned is the only whisky-based drink where I actually don’t mind this, by the way), stir again, take a twist of orange peel, squeeze it to spray the etheric oil onto the drink, dunk the twist and serve.
And a Little Snack – Bourbon Glazed Pork Rinds
The skin was soaked in shalllow water upside down for an hour to make it softer and then cut into squares. You need a very sharp knife for this. And don’t let your kids do this step! The squares were placed on an oven tray, salted and baked for half an hour at 120°C. Then I glazed the squares with the mopping sauce and cranked up the oven to full throttle. Bubbling glaze and popping skin blisters… You better watch the oven in order to be able to pull out the tray before the caramelized sugar turns too dark.
The result was not perfect – I was a bit too generous wth the glazing which inhibited skin popping a bit, so some pieces turned out a little chewy. But the taste was just brilliant and went extremely well with the old-fashioned. Not too bad for the spontaneaous idea it was, and certainly worth further refinement in subsequent barbecues.
Occasionally the meat was mopped with the sauce and the beans were stirred. Target core temperature for the meat was 87°C which was reached after about five hours.
Just before serving, the beans were given their finishing touch by stirring in a healthy measure of bourbon. I made my All-Purpose Babecue Sauce to go with it, only this time with bourbon replacing Scotch, of course. But the meat was so delicious I could have done without the sauce as well.
As a deviation from the otherwise strictly American barbecue I had a nice Bavarian beer with the meal, Hofbräu Münchner Sommer, to be exact. US craft beer is hard to get in this place of the world, and the Bavarian style of beer is just a perfect match for barbecue.
Finishing In Style
If there had been enough time to make it I would have had my Whiskey Sour Sorbet as a dessert. But a scoop of lime sorbet swimming in a generous dram of bourbon is not a bad alternative either.
From lighting the charcoal to finishing the dessert, this barbecue session took about seven hours. And this was time well spent.