Thursday, January 1, 2009

Local Grass-Fed Applewood Smoked Beef



Many people are intimidated by slow cooking techniques like smoking.  In reality, it is one of the oldest, simplest, easiest, tastiest ways to prepare food.  Low temperature slow cooking is very forgiving.  While you'll want a smoker to really do it right, you can improvise quite well with a grill (see my North Carolina Pulled Pork Barbecue!).  This was the first thing we made with my dad's new smoker.  

The meat we smoked was very special, although it shouldn't be.  We used extremely fresh, locally raised grass-fed beef, which was absolutely beautiful.  As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I am a huge supporter of feeding animals the foods they evolved to eat.  No cow can properly digest corn.  A happy cow is out in a field eating a variety of different grasses.  A grass-fed cow's meat is leaner and far superior in taste to any feedlot meat.  Because the meat is more lean, low and slow techniques are helpful because it can be easy to overcook lean meat on a grill if you're used to fatty grain-fed beef (less fat means less juices).  Low and slow also helps make the meat even more tender.  If the environmental, health, and moral shortcomings of feedlot meat won't convince you to go for more expensive grass-fed meat, maybe the taste and texture benefits will.  And that isn't limited to cows - in my opinion, the taste benefit of a free-range life and natural diet is even greater for chicken and pork than it is for beef (check out forestfed.com, makes other pork taste like uncooked tofu).  Anyway, here is what we did:

Ingredients:
  • Sirloin Roast
  • Short Ribs
  • Kielbasa
  • Dale's
  • Rub
    • Sea Salt
    • Brown Sugar
    • Paprika
    • Black Pepper
    • Garlic Salt
    • Dry Mustard
    • Celery Salt
    • Red Pepper
    • White Pepper
    • Cumin
    • Thyme
    • Onion Powder
    • Cloves
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow Squash
  • Potatoes
  • Barbecue Sauce
    • Ketchup
    • Dry Mustard
    • Tabasco 
    • White pepper
    • Red pepper
    • Black pepper
    • Oregano
    • Garlic Salt
    • Paprika
    • Red wine

Procedure:
My dad and I started this meal by marinating the beef.  I used some Dale's, one of the very few pre-packaged marinades I use.  While the meat marinated for about an hour, we got the fire in the smoker going with some charcoal and scraps of oak, and cut some green branches off our apple tree (you can also buy wood to smoke).  While the fire burned down, I mixed up the rub - about half and half sugar and salt, plus whatever seasonings you have around, to your taste.  After marinating for an hour, I took the beef out, patted it semi-dry, and rubbed in the rub.  Remember to really rub the rub into the meat - it's not called a 'sprinkle'.  Once the fire was ready, we put the beef on the lower rack in the smoker, right above the water pan.  About 5 hours later, it was ready.  Over the course of of the 5 hours, we periodically threw in some more green applewood to keep the smoke going.
This was the first time I've tried to smoke vegetables.  I ended up losing track of time and didn't put them on as early as I wanted.  So, I cut them up, coated them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, wrapped it loosely in tin foil, then added them to the upper rack of the smoker.  After about an hour, they were soft and ready.
    Just before serving, my dad mixed up his barbecue sauce.

Resulting Deliciousness:
    This was the best smoked beef we've ever made.  The rub worked very well and the smoke flavor was fantastic.  The meat, however was the real star.  It was moist and so tender you could cut it with a spoon.  You could really tell the difference from going with good cuts of grass-fed meat.  The vegetables were good, but because they were pre-sliced, the smoke flavor was too strong.  Next time I wouldn't cut them up and would use more seasoning after smoking and slicing.

Although very good, my rub and my dad's sauce didn't closely follow any major style of barbecue, so any fans of a particular region would probably point out some shortcomings (although the apple wood was definitely a feature of our region of Western North Carolina).  I think the next few times I do barbecue, I'll try to follow a few different regions closely.  If you have any favorites that you want to see me try, tell me about it in the comments!
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