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Foil or no foil (during cook)? Both? Neither?

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 24 May 2015 at 22:40
I've never been fond of foiling during the cook, because it really is just braising the meat, which in my opinion is almost counter-productive; having said that, I do foil on occasion for certain circumstances, and the results taste fine. It is simply my opinion that NOT foiling results in a better end product. 

I've read a few older (1990s and before) accounts of people foiling during cooking, poking a few holes in the bottom of the foil to allow excess moisture to escape. It seems that this is the way it was done for a long time; sometime after that, folks decided to simply foil without poking holes, which is the common practice nowadays.

At first, this poking of holes might seem self-defeating (letting all the moisture out!), but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense, as it allows the biggest amount of moisture to escape while retaining enough to keep the meat from any danger of drying out. This way, you're still roasting the meat, rather than braising; well, truth be told, it IS somewhere in between , but closer to roasting than braising. This allows a person to get the benefits of foiling during the cook (and there are a few), without the down-sides that many complain about (and there are a few of these, too). 

I will most likely experiment with this sometime this summer.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 May 2015 at 05:57
You use "braise" like it was a cuzz word, Ron. What's wrong with it?

My last pulled-pork cook I did a pair of butts. They were injected and rubbed as usual, then in the smoke for about five hours, mopping about once an hour. After that I transferred them to a pan, that also contained a bit more of the mop. Pan was covered tightly with foil and put back on the fire.

Turns out, this was the juiciest, most succulent pulled pork I've ever made. The only downside is the lack of bark (that results from the braising effect, of course). Friend Wife doesn't care for bark in the first place, so it wasn't that big a deal.

Now, then, I love bark. But the trade-off for the quality of the meat was worth forgoing it. It's a trade I'd gladly make every time.

Technically, I finished the cook by steaming rather than braising. I would say that the more traditional wrapping method is also steaming. Braising would use a lot more liquid.

FWIW, I never used to wrap at all. The naked meat sat in the smoke start to finish. I never noticed it being particularly dried out. Nor was it overly smoky.

That last, however, is a definite result of method. Most home barbecuers produce far too much smoke, so it's smart to block it the second end of the cook. With a proper thin blue smoke, however, I don't believe you can over-do it in the time it takes to cook pork to 200F.

When foil-wrapping became popular, the purpose was to act as a shield so the meat wasn't sitting in that heavy smoke too long. Then folks (primarily competition cooks) experimented, adding liquid and fat before sealing the foil. The aim is different. Modern foiling isn't done so much to block the smoke (although it does do that), but for it's effect on flavor and texture.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 May 2015 at 09:00
   Hi Ron!  

   I do love to braise...it produces some awesome results for me.  My thinking is that any "cooking" is simply a manipulation of your selected protein.  You choose the protein to be cooked...and just as important to the dish is the selected method to manipulated that protein. 

   Foiling (sealed and some liquid) is just an adaptation of braising without a pot...or without the right sized pot.  Any time I cook I think...what do I have on hand.  Any time I have something I'm trying to fix...or construct...I try and think...what do I have on hand.  Foil seems perfectly reasonable to me.  Brook mentions it may be closer to steaming...I suppose it may be.  But I think the important distinction is wet heat Vs dry heat.

    Collagen breaks down beautifully with the low moist heat...once the collagen is breaking down the meat fiber will separate more easily and start to break down as well...but the meat fibers do better in more gentle liquid temperatures (180f)...the higher you get toward boiling, the tougher the fibers become, the more they shrink and get tough and chewy (reduce your temperature).  But, do keep in mind that braising is a gentle form of low heat cooking, similar to sous vide.  But because braising is not under a vacuum we need pay particular attention to keeping our braising liquid low (180-190f) but not too low, where various microorganisms become a problem.

   Using foil as a protective means, in the dry bbq method, isn't braising...but (as I've seen it done) is a tool of different sorts.  It's used to protect, flavor (with additions) and break down collagen that hasn't yet broken down during the previous partial dry cooking (providing a wet heat once foiled...steam)
    The way I look at it, with bbq, it's a balance between you and your cooker.  You need to find that balance that you can manage breaking down the meat, to a satisfying degree, and breaking down the collagen.  People may look as foiling as using a crutch...but first walk a mile in their shoes.  I started off cooking on a SnPP and still love cooking on the side by sides.  I never cared for cooking on the Weber Mountain, despite having eaten foods where other people were able to make a fine product...I just had difficulties on it.  My backwoods smoker does have a water pan, which I use...breaks down the collagen and meat wonderfully.  But I also have the "hide setter" option on mine...which is a tunnel directly into the fire box...allowing some dry heat to come through.  I use a foil that loosely covers the top of the water pan and have an opening on the "hide setter".  I'll usually start with the "setter" open for the first portion and close it for the second half...it seems to work nicely and frankly, after reading your post I'm not sure how different the concept is from foiling.  Okay, perhaps a little less intrusive...but similar.  

   But, my point is not to be instruction (it's simply what works for me now...I'm always trying new blends of methods though)...but only to illustrate that we, as smokers, need to find a method of breaking down the meat fibers in a desirable manner in an amount of time that also turns the collagen, in our product, into gelatinous goodness.


  Myself, I'm not great at bbq'ing meats...but I continue to try to improve the balance of breaking down the pieces of meat with the tools I have.  At some point I need to introduce sous-vide as a tool I can use with ribs(meats)...then finish with a dry method to finish and caramelize.  I won't consider this any different than the Wet/Dry balance I already consider when Bbq'n

   One last thing to consider...the meat fibers, collagen and fat will break down at different rates from similar animals of differing variety, feed and care.  If you get a farm raised Berkshire (or other) and you attempt to cook it at the same high temperatures, that you would feed lot pork,  you will ring all liquid and fat out of it...ask me how I know Ouch   The feed and manner in which we raise/slaughter our animals produces a different product...and must be cooked as such.

  -just my three cents-
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 May 2015 at 10:04
You put me in mind of a conversation we recently had at the gun shop, Dan. Somebody was comparing how a particular handgun performed compared to the old TC Contender. I happen to be a Contender freak. And raised the point that comparing anything to the Contender is unfair to the anything. No other production handgun performs to its standard.

Same with your point, Dan. If you're using Berkshire t's just not fair comparing anything else to it. Berkshire, or any of the heritage breeds, for that matter. Modern pigs, fast-raised and processed to be lean, just don't compare.

Other than that, +1 on just about everything you said. With one proviso: there are several wet heat cooking methods. What differentiates them, primarily, is the amount of liquid used proportionate to the amount of meat. Thus, steaming uses a relatively small amount of moisture, just at the boiling point. Braising covers the meat to about 2/3 its depth. Etc.

Does it matter? With some things, yes. With pulled pork, other than the bark issue, not hardly. And the lack of bark can be rectified on the far end by returning the meat to the smoker, naked, for the last hour or so of cooking. This would be similar to reverse searing a sous vide steak, as one example.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Tom Kurth Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 May 2015 at 15:24
I'm new here so I may not be aware of previous conversations, so if I'm talking through my hat, let me know.

From what I've heard of the foiling technique you've referred to, is that it was developed by people on the competition circuit. It's often called the 'Texas cheat' because it is used to hold meat when it finishes too early.

As I've learned it, it's a little more involved than has been mentioned here. Once the meat is done to preference, it is wrapped first in plastic wrap and then foil then held at low temp (under boiling point). It is removed from heat about 20-40 minutes before serving to allow any moisture to re-absorb.

I use it for home BBQ since the highest tech I have available to me is a Weber kettle and a meat thermometer. For ribs, once they are done I wrap them and put them in the kitchen oven at 200F. About half hour before serving I remove them and let them sit in the foil. Sometimes there's a little liquid cooked out but not much.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 May 2015 at 17:16
I've never heard that expression before, Tom. Considering that foiling actually arose in the Southeast, "Texas Cheat" is evocative, but hardly meaningful. In short, I like the phrase. Just can't see when I'd use it.

Far as I know you're right, however, that foil wrapping originated on the competition circuit. It wasn't so much to hold finished meat, but to let it continue cooking in the smoker, but not in smoke. Double wrapping (i.e., cling film and foil) is less used. But foil-wrapped-film is a common cooking method, so there should be no problems with it. Not at smoking temperatures.

Typically, the meat (butts or ribs) are set on a large sheet of foil, formed into a cup or tub. A little liquid is added, along with additional fat---usually in the form of butter---and, sometimes, sweetener such as honey or sorghum. The whole thing is wrapped well, so it doesn't leak, and returned to the smoker. The meat is then exposed, again, in the smoker, during the last part of the cook to firm up any sauce used, and to let bark form.

That's the wrapping we've been referring to.

There is a second form of wrapping, which is more as you describe. This is used to hold meat and keep in warm. Typically, nothing else is added at that time. The meat is wrapped, and then put in a cooler or warming box. It will hold that way for up to several hours, and still be warm at service.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 May 2015 at 21:22
   I believe this is the Texas Cheat people are talking about

   I remember watching an episode, of Pit Masters, where Johhny Trigg was teaching some new competitor, who was having difficulties on the circuit.  He took him in and showed him his methods for making ribs.  I found, on the interweb, someone describing how he makes competition ribs (below).  This pretty much lines up with how I remember Johnny Trigg describing it on that episode.  Johnny actually did go on and say that (paraphrasing from memory) he didn't care for these ribs, way too sweet.  But he made it seem as if the judges like them...so that's what he cooks.

 Johnny Trigg  The Texas Cheat Method uses well marbled ribs, trimmed to 3.5 inches with excess meat and membrane removed. He uses Rib Tickler Rub and black pepper. Let's rest 45 minutes before putting on the smoker. I've read he sprays/spritzes with apple juice hourly but I've never seen him do it. He smokes them meat side up with pecan and cherry at a temp of 275* for approx. 2.5 hrs. Uses Squeeze Parkey in a wave pattern on the aluminum foil, handful of brown sugar, 3-4 runs clover honey and a 1/2" wide stripe of Tiger Sauce, then places the ribs meat side down on the wrap mixture and repeats the process on the bone side and adds 1/4 cup apple juice, closes the foil up tightly, wraps with another layer of foil and returns to the smoker for another 1.5 hrs or so. He unwraps and glazes them with a sauce made of tomato sauce, molasses and corn syrup and in the smoker for 1 hr. Re-glazes after he removes from smoker and slices with an electric knife.

 

Here's a list of ingredients:

His Rub: Salt, Paprika, Sugar, Garlic, Black Pepper, Red Pepper, Brown Sugar and Onion Flakes; 

Foil Wrap: Squeeze Margarine, Brown Sugar, Clover Honey, and Tiger Sauce;

Sauce/Glaze: Tomato Sauce, Molasses and Corn Syrup



     Now, these overly sweet Texas Cheat ribs are waaaaaay to sweet for my liking...no balance! 


   Here's some unfoiled ribs smoked today






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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 May 2015 at 05:37
Dan, what is the source of your quote about Johnny Trigg?

Reason I ask is that I've watched every episode of BBQ Pitmasters and all its clones several times. Trigg is a mainstay on those shows. And not once did I see him prepare his ribs that way. For starters, based on his own words, he uses commercial rubs, cuz there's no sense re-inventing the wheel.

Ironically, he's also on record as saying he doesn't eat ribs, doesn't care for them in the least. Go figure!

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 May 2015 at 05:53
The feed and manner in which we raise/slaughter our animals produces a different product...and must be cooked as such.

Which is why barbecuing is a visual and tactile process. If you cook strictly by the clock you will get it wrong more times than not, mostly for the reasons Dan expresses.

One major difference between the pros on the competition circuit and the balance of us working at home is temperature control of the "pit." They can do it precisely. Most of us can't, because, like Tom, we're using equipment designed for grilling, and fuel that isn't consistent. So we have to monitor the meat, itself, by eye, and touch, and thermometer probe. Otherwise we won't produce a consistent product.

There are, of course, numerous ways to achieve the goal of great barbecue. The trick is to find the way that works best for you, and stick with it.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 May 2015 at 08:30
Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:

Dan, what is the source of your quote about Johnny Trigg?

Reason I ask is that I've watched every episode of BBQ Pitmasters and all its clones several times. Trigg is a mainstay on those shows. And not once did I see him prepare his ribs that way. For starters, based on his own words, he uses commercial rubs, cuz there's no sense re-inventing the wheel.

Ironically, he's also on record as saying he doesn't eat ribs, doesn't care for them in the least. Go figure!



   Hi Brook...I updated the post above to include a more accurate account.  I remember watching Johnny Trigg teach this method to one of the new comers in one of the episodes (I couldn't find which one by reading the episode descriptions).  The recipe, posted on the internet, was similar to my accounts of how Johnny Trigg explained it to that younger competitor.  My intent was more to post, what alot of people call, the Texas Cheat or Texas Crutch method which involves foiling, margarine, tiger sauce, etc .  One of the Bbq joints, near my old house, would make their ribs in this similar fashion...UGH!  If I want to eat cotton candy I'll go to a carnival...not a rib joint.  Alot of people like them though.  If I find the episode I'll post the link.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 May 2015 at 08:45
Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:

The feed and manner in which we raise/slaughter our animals produces a different product...and must be cooked as such.

Which is why barbecuing is a visual and tactile process. If you cook strictly by the clock you will get it wrong more times than not, mostly for the reasons Dan expresses.

One major difference between the pros on the competition circuit and the balance of us working at home is temperature control of the "pit." They can do it precisely. Most of us can't, because, like Tom, we're using equipment designed for grilling, and fuel that isn't consistent. So we have to monitor the meat, itself, by eye, and touch, and thermometer probe. Otherwise we won't produce a consistent product.

There are, of course, numerous ways to achieve the goal of great barbecue. The trick is to find the way that works best for you, and stick with it.


   Good points Brook.  I know that since I've gotten my bbq guru I'm more precise with my temperature settings.  I'll start my cook off at 230f and move it up to 250 later, after that is done I'll do a short bit at 260 (if I'm glazing) .  The guru has four food sensors and one pit sensor.  As of late I seem to only use the pit temp and don't even probe my meat.  I just look for visual clues that tell me when I get where I want to be.  To me, this is similar in using a probe because I learned, over time, what visual clues to look for along the varying meat temperatures.  I think my bbq has gotten better as I've taken a much more "lazy", less regimented approach.   

   I'll still have bbq of varying quality.  But since I don't "bounce" the chamber temp 25-30f, I seem to be getting some better bbq...and I'm happy about that Smile 

    But again...with heritage farm pork that has quality fat that renders at lower temperatures...I wouldn't be smoking the meat with the same temps
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drinks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 May 2015 at 11:47
I prefer the more simple method, meat, salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powder with some cayenne as a dry rub, beer and vegetable oil if the meat is very lean and starts to dry out for a sop, open on charcoal with a piece of hickory or mesquite placed on top the grate , over the pile of charcoal for some smoke and then several hours of low and slow cooking.
NO sweets!!!!!!!!!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 June 2015 at 20:14
http://videos.howstuffworks.com/tlc/38488-bbq-pitmasters-american-royal-invitational-barbecue-video.htm

   I couldn't find where he talked specifically about the tiger sauce, or disliking the ribs because they were too sweet...but he can be seen here using the method that's known as the Texas Cheat...fast forward to around 31:19.  

   Since Netflix doesn't appear to have the pitmaster series any more it's proving to be difficult to find this stuff.  Please note that I am not going after Johnny Trigg's character, he seems to be a stand up guy in every account that I've seen or heard about.  But I can say that I don't like the crazy sweet flavored ribs that he cooked in this episode.  In another episode he mentions not liking them himself, I'm sure he's cooking to the judges latest whims.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 June 2015 at 04:47
I'm sure he's cooking to the judges latest whims.

You're probably right, Dan. Although that can backfire, because judges differ in their wants and whims regionall. It's why local pitmasters can often walk away with the top prizes while the pros suck hind teat. The locals know what their judges are looking for.

Also, let's not forget that BBQ Pitmasters is a "reality" show, and is, like all of them, scripted. Take the episode you refer to: It's supposedly an invitational of the top teams in the country. And yet, a tyro who's only competed a few times at the national level, and came in last every time, manages to get invited.

One thing to solidly keep in mind, too, is that competitive cooking usually has little to do with how things are actually done. This is perhaps less true with BBQ then other categories; which is why I watch those shows. I feel I can learn from them. That there are tricks and techniques that serve me well as a home cook.

This is different than, say, competitive chili cooking, Dutch oven cooking, and most others. With those, the rules might be designed to create level playing fields. But they have little to do with how real cooks prepare dishes.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 June 2015 at 10:24
Originally posted by HistoricFoodie HistoricFoodie wrote:


One thing to solidly keep in mind, too, is that competitive cooking usually has little to do with how things are actually done. This is perhaps less true with BBQ then other categories; which is why I watch those shows. I feel I can learn from them. That there are tricks and techniques that serve me well as a home cook.
 

  No doubt!  I can vary flavors to get what I want.  But let me learn tips about pit, or meat, management...that's technique that'll transfer to the rest of my bbq food.

  It's often interesting to talk to someone experienced in their craft.  They can teach you so much about the ins and outs of the topic that it can be overwhelming to take in one initial visit.  But then...you watch them and you realize you haven't even scratched the surface about their knowledge and connection with said "craft".  To watch a skilled person handle a knife, make bread, bbq food, make sausage...there are so many things that they can do that are instinctual, or "feel" based, that they may not even realize that there are countless tips in what they don't often verbalize.  A true craftsman really is an awesome thing in life!


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 June 2015 at 13:10
Absolutely!

This is also why most "best tips" threads fail. We all have special tricks and techniques that we do more or less automatically, and never think of them as special. Then somebody asks us to, out of the blue, call up our favorite tricks. And we all draw blanks.
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