Pork Chops and Chicken – Unmodified ECB Smoker

Going back through old pictures and I'm remembering that I actually bought my digital grill thermometer before I modified the smoker.  Or, maybe it was partially modified?  Anyway, I definitely got some good results.  Once again, it was Smoked Meat Sunday at our house.  I actually went to the local Good Food Store (think Whole Foods) and got some natural and organic pork chops and a whole chicken.  I did a dry rub on both the bird and the chops and I topped the chops with apple slices.

The chicken I put on the bottom grill but I put it inside of one of these jobbies.

Outset Dual Rib / Roasting Rack Outset Dual Rib / Roasting Rack
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I like this thing for a few reasons.  First off, you can flip it over and have your ribs standing up (so you can get more of 'em inside the grill and, therefore, inside your belly).  Second, it provides a little support for the chicken while you smoke it.  But, more importantly, if you want to transfer the chicken to your grill (to crisp up the skin) you can just grab the whole thing and set it on the grill.  That also keeps the chicken a little further away from the fire in your grill, so you are less likely to burn it.

Anyway, I put the pork chops on the top grill because I expected them to cook faster than the chicken and I wanted to easily be able to pull them off.  Another thing to consider is that the top of the ECB is definitely hotter than the grill right above the water pan.  Hotter and dryer.  So, keep that in mind when you are smoking stuff.

I pulled the pork chops at 170F and I now think that is too long for chops.  Maybe closer to 150F would be better.  Don't get me wrong, they were delicious, but I think they could have been juicier.  The chicken I pulled at 170F also.  Actually, it might have been 160F.  I'm fine with that, but I think other folks freak out, so 170 or 180F is safer.  It's a littler different in a smoker because it takes so long for poultry to get out of the "Danger Zone" of 40-140F.  So, it seems like folks lean towards letting poultry go a little bit longer just to be on the safe side.

Here's a picture of my thermometer in action.  200F grill temp is a little low, so something tells me that I was about to head outside and either shake out the ash or start a fresh batch of coals.  It looks like my chicken was close to being done, though, so I bet I opted for shaking out the ash so I didn't waste any charcoal.

Digital Thermometer

Time to shake the ash out of the charcoal pan.

Here's a picture of the finished pork chops.  I feel like the apples helped keep the chops moist and they definitely added a nice flavor.

Smoked Pork Chops

Apples count as vegetables, right?

Here is a picture of the chicken right before I pulled it out of the smoker.  You can get a good look at the rib rack in action here.

Smoked Chicken in the ECB

Jeez.. just posting this picture makes me hungry.

Chicken Semi-Disaster – Unmodified ECB Smoker

Well, a week after the first Smoked Meat Sunday, I decided that I wanted to try and smoke an entire chicken.  Unlike my earlier two smoked meat adventures, I had already let most of the day get away from me.  But, I was pretty sure that it would only take about 4 hours to smoke a chicken, so if I could get it going by noon I thought I would be aces.

We popped into the grocery store only to find that they didn't have any whole chickens.  Eh?!  So, Plan B was a few packages of chicken legs and thighs.  I guessed (correctly) that these would cook pretty fast.  However, I wanted to try and keep the temperature a little hotter because I wanted to try and get crispy skin on the chicken.  Let's take a little detour and talk about smoked chicken and chicken skin.

Detour: In a charcoal water smoker like the ECB it can be pretty hard to maintain high temps.  That's the whole purpose of the water pan is to keep your temperature closer to 250F.  That's a great place to be if you are smoking brisket or pork but chicken is a little different.  Don't get me wrong.  You can slow smoke a chicken at 225F and when you pull it (at around 170 or 180F internal temp) the meat is going to be amazing.  The skin, however, will be less so.  It basically turns into chewy rubber.  Now, if you don't eat chicken skin anyway, then you probably don't care.  Heck, you could just treat the skin like the "magical bag" that holds in all of the delicious smoky flavor.  But, if you want the skin to be crispier like rotisserie chicken then you really need temps closer to 350F inside your smoker.  You have a few options with an ECB Smoker.

  1. Don't put water in the water pan.  Instead, many people fill it with play sand and then cover it with foil.  The sand acts as a heat sink but the lack of steam allows the smoker to get a little hotter inside.  I've never actually done this, but I'm thinking I will try it soon.
  2. Smoke the chicken at 225 or 250F, using the water pan, but pull it closer to 150F internal temp and then finish it in the oven or on a grill just to crisp up the skin.  I've done this several times and with good results.
  3. Smoke the chicken with the water pan, but leave the door to the smoker open.  The increased airflow should let you get closer to 350F.  I did this once with a turkey (and I used those Kingsford coals that have mesquite chips inside the briquette) and I was able to keep temps closer to 350F.  The skin was almost as crispy as I wanted it.

All of that information would have been good to know when I was doing these thighs and legs.  All I knew was that I wanted to keep the temps up and all I had to work with was the wonky built-in thermostat in the ECB.  So, I had the door to the smoker propped open about half way for much of the smoke and I kept adding wood to try and keep it hot in there.  Sure, it was hot, but the downside was that I was making TONS of smoke.  The smoker was like a freaking smokestack.

Eventually the chicken got to about 170F and I decided to pull it.  I opened the lid of the smoker and was a little bummed to see how black the chicken was.  However, when I grabbed one of the legs with my tongs and pulled up, the bone came right out of the chicken.  The meat was so tender and juicy that we just treated the skin as a magical, burnt cooking bag that somehow gave us delicious chicken inside.  Here's a picture.

Chicken Semi-Disaster

It looks burnt, but the meat inside was amazing.

Beef Roast and Rack of Ribs – Unmodified ECB Smoker

So, flush with perceived victory from the brisket flat and bratwurst that I smoked on my birthday, I established a new tradition in our family.  And so began Smoked Meat Sunday!  And there was much rejoicing!

You see, both of my brothers (and their wives and children) all live in town.  In fact, my youngest brother lives about 3 blocks away.  So, it isn't unusual for us all to meet up on Sunday anyway (while we are playing hookey from church).  Why not add smoked meat to the mix, eh?  So, on Saturday I stopped by the grocery story and got a full rack of ribs and some sort of beef roast.  I'm not sure what cut of beef it was, it just said something like "Ideal for slow cooking" on the package.

From what I've learned so far on my journey to smoked meat enlightenment, you have at least two options with beef.  If the cut has a fair amount of fat on it (and, hopefully, marbled throughout) then you might try and smoke it until it starts to fall apart.  However, on leaner cuts you should probably just smoke it until it's medium.  Maybe 145F or so?

Actually, more recently, when I'm doing roasts, I will smoke until the meat hits 110F internal and then I'll pop it in the oven at 450F or 475F for 10 or 15 minutes just to get some nice color and texture on the outside.  That usually gets me somewhere around 145F internal but you get the benefit of the crispy and sexy-looking exterior.

For this first attempt, though, here's what I did.  Somewhere around 8-9am I loaded up the ECB with coals and topped it off with a full chimney-full of red hot coals.  I dropped the full water pan in place and set the roast on the bottom grill and the ribs on the top grill.  I don't believe I had a digital thermometer yet, so I probably just checked the roast every few hours and hoped that it hit somewhere close to 140F.  I'm not sure what I was thinking with the ribs.  I know now that they'll never get to the desired 180F (where the meat is falling off of the bone) in that time frame.  They were still good, it was just "toothsome".  Heh.

Again, in this case, I was working with an unmodified ECB, which isn't a good place to be in.  After about 4-5 hours, the ash builds up in the charcoal pan and the coals start to go out.  You can add more coals, but it's a total nightmare to add them a brick at a time through that tiny door.  Also, as I mentioned before, the built-in thermostat on the ECB isn't super helpful.  Do yourself a favor and get one of these.

Maverick Et-732 Remote Bbq Smoker Thermometer Maverick Et-732 Remote Bbq Smoker Thermometer
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NOTE: If you do buy this particular unit, make sure to take care to keep the braided wire relatively dry.  I know, I know, that's almost impossible inside of a water smoker, but at least don't soak the probe and braided cable in water.  You WILL short it out.  Then, what will happen is your temps will randomly spike up by 100 degrees or more.  It's a nightmare.  You might want to buy yourself another probe right away, just to cover your bases.  I managed to mess mine up, but I was still within the warranty period and they sent me a new one.  But, because of this known defect, they are almost always back-ordered.  If you know of a better unit, please tell me because looking at Amazon reviews, I still think this is the best bang for the buck.

Anyway, the whole family ended up at the house around 5pm or so and I think I pulled the ribs and the roast at the same time but I ended up putting the ribs back in because they weren't really tender.  They never really got there, but they got close enough for us to make a mess of eating them.  The roast vanished pretty much instantly.

Oh yeah, if you do smoke a roast (a leaner roast that you can't take to 180 or 190F) then when you cut it, you want to cut it as thin as possible.  Otherwise it will probably be too tough.

I think that's it.  Here's pictures of the fruits of the first Smoked Meat Sunday.

Smoked Beef Roast - Unmodified ECB

Not falling apart, but cut thin and it was delicious.

Smoked Ribs - Unmodified ECB

Well, at least they looked pretty