It may have been a little harder to convince people to go outside and get cooking in previous years, but since we’re so far experiencing the winter-that-never-was, the thought of firing up the barbecue or smoker seems a little less daunting.

Normally associated with the lazy days of summer, barbecue doesn’t have to be confined to the months missing an “r” in their names. The popularity of electric and propane cooking devices have made it much easier to regulate the low-and-slow temperatures necessary to create great ’cue.

And to me, it’s more logical to be close to an outdoor heat source when there’s a nip in the air as opposed to when it’s around 90 degrees. So this year consider the noble barbecue because of the weather and the huge bowl games next week that feature Michigan and Michigan State. That leaves you plenty of time to get organized, get the friends and family together, and put together a barbecue.

Plan ahead

Jeremy Grandon, chef/owner of Yardbird Smoked Meats in Keego Harbor, said advance prep is the key for great barbecue.

“There’s not a lot of last-minute cooking going on in barbecue because everything takes hours and hours to smoke,” said Grandon, who’s hoping — and planning — for heavy carryout orders for the football games Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. “The main thing is to plan ahead. You can rub the meat two, three days ahead and the rub really penetrates the meat.”

For a cured meat such as bacon, the time needed can be even longer. It’s mostly idle time — the time it spends in the fridge taking the cure from the salts and nitrites. The homemade bacon recipe by Brian Polycn, executive chef and charcuterie instructor at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, takes a full week.

I attended one of Polcyn’s charcuterie classes last year when Polcyn — who also spearheads the yearly three-day “Pigstock” course in Traverse City where students experience everything from the killing to the butchering to the cooking of hogs — told the class what he thinks of his own bacon recipe.

“Not to brag, but I make the best bacon in the world,” he said, before chuckling and catching himself in his own boast. “But seriously, I make the best bacon.”

The recipe is deceptively easy. The trickiest part is finding the pink salt — also called DQ Curing Salt, pink curing salt #1, and Prague Powder Curing Salt. It’s available at some specialty stores, but is easily found online. A little goes a long way — a pound will cure around 100 pounds of meat. Brown sugar, maple syrup, kosher salt and about three hours on the smoker is all you need to make, Polcyn’s boasting aside, most likely some of the finest bacon you’ve ever had.

Beef or pork?

Two good options to feed a hungry football crowd are brisket or pork butt. Both are widely available at any butcher shop. Styles and methods are as varied as the cooks, but both benefit from traditional low (around 225 degrees) and slow (several hours) cooking methods.

Pork butt, which is the shoulder of the pig, is more forgiving than a brisket, which can become tough and dry if improperly cooked. (The barrels the pork went into for shipping the tougher and less desirable hunks of meat, such as the shoulder, were called butts.) The mild flavor of the pork takes well to apple, cherry or other fruit wood. Some prefer pecan or hickory. There’s no one right answer.

And it’s house rules on variety of sauce, be it on the side, in the mix or none at all.

Pulled Pork

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Yellow mustard such as French’s or Plochman’s

1 5-to-8 pound pork butt

Wood chips

Get smoker to a temperature of 225 degrees.

Combine the brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, paprika and black pepper in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly to incorporate the spices and break up the brown sugar. Spread a light coat of yellow mustard on the pork to help the rub stick. (The mild yellow mustard doesn’t add a noticeable flavor, but the vinegar helps tenderize the meat.)

Fill smoker with wood chips or pellets. I like a mixture of apple and hickory but pecan, cherry or other fruit woods also work well with pulled pork. Mesquite, I feel, adds too strong a flavor. Smoke for about 1 hour per pound.

Add more wood chips every half-hour until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 150-160 degrees. When the temperature reaches 160 degrees, wrap the butt in foil. Continue cooking until the pork reaches a temperature of 195. Be careful not to hit the blade bone with the thermometer or you may get a false reading.

When the pork hits the desired temperature, remove and carefully place in a large platter or foil pan. Let the meat rest for at least 30 minutes. Pour off the juices and reserve. Shred the pork with two forks or gloved hands. (Careful, it will still be hot), adding some of the reserved juices as needed.

Per serving: 548 calories; 26 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 43 percent calories from fat); 6 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 213 mg cholesterol; 1,370 mg sodium; 67 g protein; 0.2 g fiber.

Maple-Cured Smoked Bacon

From “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing” by Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman

2 ounces kosher salt (about 1/4 cup)

2 teaspoons pink salt (see note)

1/4 cup maple sugar or packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 5-pound slab pork belly, skin on

Wood chips

Combine the salt, pink salt, and sugar in a bowl and mix so that the ingredients are evenly distributed. Add the syrup and stir to combine. Place skin-side down in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag or a nonreactive container just slightly bigger than the meat. (The pork will release water into the salt mixture, creating a brine; it’s important that the meat keep in contact with this liquid throughout the curing process.)

Refrigerate, turning the belly and redistributing the cure every other day, for 7 days, until the meat is firm to the touch.

Remove the belly from the cure, rinse it thoroughly and pat it dry. Place it on a rack set over a baking sheet tray and dry in the refrigerator, uncovered for 12 to 24 hours.

Hot-smoke the pork belly to an internal temperature of 150 degrees (about 3 hours). Let cool slightly and when the belly is cool enough to handle but still warm, cut the skin off by sliding a sharp knife between the fat and the skin, leaving as much fat on the bacon as possible. (Discard the skin or cut it into pieces and save to add to soups, stews or beans, as you would a smoked ham hock.)

Let the bacon cool, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze it until ready to use.

Per serving (4 pieces): 107 calories; 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 67 percent calories from fat); 1 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 27 mg cholesterol; 335 mg sodium; 35 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Beef Ribs

From “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto” by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay

1 3-to-5-pound rack of beef short ribs (from the plate, not the chuck)

1 tablespoon hot sauce, such as Cajun Chef or Crystal

About 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup equal parts kosher salt and ground black pepper

Wood chips

Heat the smoker to 285 degrees and check that the water pan is full. Trim the ribs if needed. Using a shaker, and holding it 1 to 2 feet above the ribs, generously apply the rub — a little heavier than you would on a brisket. This is because, as rich as brisket is, beef ribs are even richer. The extra rub ends up forming a bark that balances out that richness just a little bit. Slather the ribs with a very light coating of hot sauce. Cook the ribs, meat side up, at 285 degrees for about 8 to 9 hours.

Spritz during the final 2 to 3 hours. Check for doneness by gently inserting a toothpick between two membranes: the one outside the bones and the one that separates the bones from the meat. Inside, the meat should be extremely tender. Alternatively, take an internal temperature reading: the ribs should be done when they reach 203 degrees. Let them rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Per serving (4 ounces): 335 calories; 21 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 56 percent calories from fat); 0 g carbohydrates; 0 g sugar; 105 mg cholesterol; 335 mg sodium; 35 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Beef Brisket

Adapted from “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto” by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay

1 12-to-14 pound brisket

1/2 cup total of equal parts kosher salt and ground black pepper

Spray bottle of water, vinegar, or other liquid

2 sheets of 18-by-30-inch butcher paper

Wood chips (preferably oak)

Trim the brisket and let it warm up to room temperature. Start the fire and get the smoker to 275 degrees. Place the brisket on the cooker. Maintain temperature, adding more wood as necessary to keep up the smoke for the first few hours. After 3 hours, check and start spritzing occasionally with water or vinegar if the brisket surface starts looking dry.

After 6 hours, consider wrapping the brisket if the fat cap is rendering and the outside “bark” is evident. When the bark is nice and crusty and the color is looking even, remove the brisket from the cooker, spritz and wrap in butcher paper.

Return the wrapped brisket to the cooker and maintain fire. (Cook a total of 8-to-10 hours.) Cook until the brisket is tender and an internal temperature reads between around 190 degrees and 203 degrees. Remove the brisket from the smoker and let it rest, wrapped until the internal temperature is 140 to 150 degrees.

Per serving (4 ounces): 341 calories; 10 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 26 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 24 g sugar; 105 mg cholesterol; 417 mg sodium; 36 g protein; 0 g fiber.

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