Monday, July 8, 2013

Bachelor Living for a Weekend - Venison Shoulder, Collard Greens, Corky's and Venomous Spiders

My wife went to Los Angeles to visit an old friend of ours recently meaning I was free to prepare whatever bachelor chow I wanted for myself while she was gone. My first step was to buy up a good supply of collard and mustard greens along with a pack of Nathan's hot dogs.

I also went digging in the freezer and pulled out a box of precooked, heat-and-serve Corky's ribs I'd bought at an area Kroger a few months ago intending to try them. Then things went completely meat crazy when a friend of mine who writes for the Go Carnivore blog and whose wife was out of town with mine decided to have a cookout in his backyard. I thawed out a venison shoulder I had in the freezer and smoked it as my contribution to that feast. (Step-by-step on the smoked venison shoulder is at the bottom of the post if you came here Googling that).

I bought the Corky's frozen ribs on a whim a few months ago curious to see if they were worth eating. I knew they couldn't be worse than a McRib or a pork rib MRE.

Before I could heat up the ribs I had to cook my greens. I normally start out by boiling salt pork in water for about 20 minutes. Easy Way was out of salt pork so I got salt cured pork fat back instead. Salt pork is made from the belly fat of the pig while fat back is from the back. Either one is fine for flavoring greens. I also add a big scoop of bacon grease. With the fat back I had to add more salt latter than I normally do with salt pork. A friend recently mentioned that he boils his greens in beer so I gave that a try as well. He mentioned that any light domestic swill will work. I ended up using about three cans of Bud Light to cover the fat back. It did add a nice extra dimension of flavor to the finished product. 

The most time consuming part of cooking collard greens is cutting out the thick middle stalks. I used two bunches of collards and one bunch of mustard greens. And I always add a diced jalapeno or two along with some crushed red pepper flakes. The collards cooked for a couple hours while I added the mustard greens in with just a couple hours to go.

If you've ever cooked Southern greens, or spinach, or kale, you understand how you can start with an overflowing pot like this... 

...And end up with this after they cook down.

This is how the vacuum-sealed Corky's ribs look when you pull them out of the box.

The instructions on the Corky's ribs said to lay them on foil on a baking tray and then add all the additional sauce from the pouch. The nutrition facts showed that this approach gives you 22 grams of sugar for every three rib bones. No thanks. I used as little of the sauce as possible, even wiping a lot of it off with a paper towel.

The instructions said to sprinkle the ribs with Corky's dry rub after cooking for dry ribs. During a recent stop at Latham's Meat Company I'd picked up some of that restaurant's dry rub so I used it on half the slab. I like the dry rub Corky's uses in its restaurants, but the Latham's rub is what I had on hand.

Interestingly, as much as I love the dry ribs at Latham's, the section of my Corky's ribs with it added tasted way too salty. But the ribs at Latham's don't come with the heavy dusting of rub you see on most restaurants' dry ribs.

The ribs had a nice smoke flavor but were a little dry and tough. That might have come from following the instructions to cook them uncovered but not using much of the sauce. I wrapped the leftovers in foil when I reheated them and they ended up better than my first meal. Overall the frozen ribs were pretty okay, but I don't understand the point of buying them here in Memphis where good fresh ribs are so readily available.

Back in December my friends at Go Carnivore gave me a venison shoulder and said they wanted to see what I could do with it on a smoker. I had been hesitant to try it out of fear of ruining it since venison is so much leaner than the pork meat I was used to cooking on my smoker. But we had a ridiculous amount of food lined up for our cookout so I was able to experiment with little pressure since there would still be plenty to eat even if the shoulder turned out inedible.

We had guys steadily showing up with smokers, each cooking enough to feed everyone there. This is Memphis. We know how to overdo it at a backyard barbecue.

The day before the cookout I'd rubbed the venison shoulder with a heavy coat of pork lard before rubbing it with a mix of mustard, apple cider vinegar and homemade dry rub from my friend Travis.

I smoked it in the same $40 Brinkmann smoker I use for pork. Good barbecue doesn't require expensive equipment. Just attention to detail. I used a mix of lump charcoal and hickory wood.

Be on the lookout for black widow spiders this time of year in the South. I caught this beast living in my smoker when I went to set it up.

Every hour I melted a generous amount of pork lard in a pan on my stove and used it to baste the shoulder before spraying it with pineapple juice and apple cider vinegar.

The total cook time was nine hours; three hours on each side then three hours wrapped in foil. I gave it another good coat of pork lard followed by a coat of barbecue sauce before putting it in the foil. I don't know an exact temperature, but I tried to keep things on the low side of the "ideal" section on the Brinkmann's cheapo temp gauge.

I had no idea what the end result was going to be like when I unwrapped it, but it turned out great.

It ended up being similar to good brisket, with a nice bark and good smoke penetration. The meat stayed tender and moist, which I attribute to the powers of pork lard. Everyone devoured it with no added sauce.

I was feeling generous so I also caught a house fly to feed the black widow I'd caught in my smoker so it could feast as well.

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