Monday, September 29, 2014

Tex-Mex Style Smoked Pork

Two weekends ago, Alexis and I traveled to Decatur, AL, the home of Big Bob Gibson's Barbecue, to be judges at the KCBS BBQ contest at Riverfest 2014.  Despite sampling 6 portions each of chicken, ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, I wanted to make some of my own BBQ.  When we got home I fired up my Big Green Egg to smoke a pair of pork butts that I had.  Since I had just eaten a lot of competition bbq with sweet/heat flavor profiles, I decided to make my Tex-Mex style pulled pork with one of the butts.  

Barbecue folks often use leftover pulled pork on/in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, nachos, and quesadillas and that works well.  But I like making this Tex-Mex style with a flavor profile that already matches those dishes.

This is probably the easiest smoked pork butt that I make because it uses a pre-made rub and has only limited preparation - no special trimming, injections, brines, or any of that stuff.  I just trim off any excess fat cap and then heavily rub the pork butt with AlbuKirky Seasonings Green Chile Rub.  That's it, prep is done.  UPDATE:  Use the coupon code NIBBLE when ordering AlbuKirky Seasonings through their website and get a 15% discount!!

When I got ready to set up my kamado grill for the smoking, I realized that I was out of hardwood chunks.  No problem, I just took some of the 16" hickory logs from the pile for The Warthog (stick burner) and made 1" x 1" x 16" splits with it.  When I use small wood splits like this in the kamado, I first put three in that are angled up from the charcoal grate to the firebowl top like this.  This way they are traveling up, down, in, and out of the coal so I'm always getting some wood smoke as the fire burns through the coals.

Yes, that's a cracked bowl.  Big Green Egg will replace it under warranty, but I'll keep using it until when/if it actually breaks.  I cleaned the ashes seen under the fire grate out before lighting.

Then I put in some lump coal and a few more splits like below.  Then I top it off with lump coal to a little above the fire bowl (below the fire ring).

Then I just smoke them for about 1 1/2 hours per pound at 250°F so these 8 pounders took about 12 hours. Because the kamado grill is so efficient, I don't have to add fuel at all for the 12 hours.  At low temps like this, it can burn as long as 20 hours on a single load of coal.

Here's a cool idea.  At the Franklin BBQ contest, it rained so much that Gilgamesh himself said it was too wet and my dad fashioned this plastic storage box as a way to keep the connection of two extension cords dry.  He just cut a small chunk out of one end and then covered it with a duct tape flap so the cords can pass through. Turns out this box also works perfectly to keep my electronics clean and dry.

Here it is holding two of my Thermoworks Chef Alarm remote probe thermometers and the controller unit for my Auber Instruments blower.  It is easy for storms to sneak up while you are asleep during overnight cooks and even though the electronics are under a gazebo, wind often blows soaking rain onto the table.  This solves that problem and lets me sleep a little better.

Even closed, I can see the read out displays. 

The reason the Auber is reading about 220°F when I want 250°F is because of the temperature difference between the level of the cooking grate where the food is and where the temperature gauge which is mounted near the top of the kamado grill dome.  If I run the Auber set at about 220-225°F, my dome temp will be around 250°F.

The Auber is basically a little CPU that is connected to a temperature probe in the grill and a small fan connected to the bottom vent.  When the CPU detects the temperature inside the grill is less than I have set for the target temperature, it turns the fan on to heat up the coals.  So basically it minds the fire while I sleep.  
You don't need an controller/blower like this because a good kamado grill is perfectly capable of holding even temps with just the upper and lower vents. In fact, I wouldn't even recommend that you buy one until you have used your kamado grill for at least a year to master fire control first.  I use mine but about half of the time for cooks over 6 hours, they are nice for insurance on these overnight cooks. 

These butts finished right at the expected 12 hours.  The internal temperatures were 197°F and 198°F and the bone was protruding and wiggled easily.  That bone is like a pop up thermometer in a turkey only this is way more accurate.

You can't tell which butt is the green chile rubbed one and which is the regular BBQ rub one after they have cooked, can you?  From past experience I knew that would be an issue so I purposely connected the green Chef Alarm to the green chile rubbed butt so I'd be able to tell which is which. Doesn't really matter since you could tell by the taste and smell.

The metal clip in the center bottom is the temperature probe for the blower.
So I gave them the FTC treatment which means I wrapped each in foil (F), then a towel (T) and put them in an empty cooler or Cambro (C) for 1 to 4 hours.  The longer the rest the better for my tastes.  Here is the green chile butt after 4 hours in the Cambro.  Looks burnt?  No way, that color is flavor. 

Even after four hours in a cooler, pork butts are still hot to handle so I'm a big fan of these silicone gloves that have hit the market.  They make it easy to handle steaming hot food and break the butts down into pulled pork.

Just like regular smoked butts, this has nice bark, a good smoke ring, and is tender.  It just has a slightly different flavor profile that works better in Tex-Mex style recipes.

Decatur Riverfest 2014
Once again, the Decatur Riverfest was held in spectacular weather with mild temperatures and blue skies.   They put together a top notch event here and we were fortunate enough to be selected as BBQ judges for the pro side of this event on the banks of the Tennessee River in Alabama.

Entertainment and Food
This year Riverfest boasted live performances by 8 recording artists.  That alone is worth the price of admission but wait there's more;)

They had a free kids area with inflatable rides, monster balls, face painting, rock climbing, and Lowe's Kids Kits.  I couldn't convince the monster water balls operator that I was under 10 so they wouldn't let me play. 

Vendors and sponsors had booths set up.

Since public health laws prevent the competition teams from selling or giving out samples, there are plenty of BBQ and festival type food vendors on hand to make that stomach happy.

I don't care much for sweets but I have a serious weakness for deep fried festival foods. 

Team Signs & Names
We always get a kick out of the various names and displays of the BBQ competition teams.

Not every cool sign has to be professionally made...

One of my favorite teams, always!  They killed Kenny.

Overall winner of this year's Riverfest.

There was a wide range of smokers (aka cookers) there.  There seemed to be a higher percentage of kamado cookers at this contest compared to other events.  We have pretty much decided to switch to kamado grills for comps next year.  I love the stick burner but it's a lot of work and I don't know it as well as the kamado grills. 

A large Big Green Egg.

A literal army of Eggs (notice the flags).

A couple of Bubba Kegs (actually it might be a Bubba Keg and a Big Steel Keg or Broil King on the right, I can't tell for sure.)

Even the Akorn kamado got in on the action at this contest.

An Egg (left), Ugly Drum Smoker (center), and a WSM (right) are a triple threat.

An extra large Big Green Egg and a Yoder pellet smoker.

Speaking of pellet cookers, a pair of what looks like Traegers.  These burn compressed wood pellets for heat and smoke. 

A bevy of Weber Smoky Mountains.
 Then there were also a lot of stick burners.  Like our Warthog, these steel units are usually trailer mounted and fed split logs every 30 to 60 minutes, depending on weather, firebox insulation, and smoker construction.  Using pure wood, they create a classic smoky BBQ taste but are a lot of work.

Nice Jambo stick burner, their insulated fire box has that classic door on the end that looks like an old fashioned wood furnace.

The blankets piled on like that are usually for insulation.

This is a BBQ compound!

Love the sign!

A lot of stick burner users also use a kettle grill or other cooker for doing their chicken at a higher temp than the ribs, butts, and brisket.

Nice Jambo pit, right?  Wrong!  It's a custom made clone.  I have neither money to buy a Jambo nor the skills to build my own like this guy did.

There were plenty of insulated box cookers too.  These are big insulated metal boxes and use a gravity fed chute to keep coal and wood burning for a long time.  Very efficient and plenty of room, no wonder they are popular on the BBQ circuit.  

Two insulated box cookers on a trailer, would love to have a set up like this one day.

A couple of horizontal barrel style cookers. 

Of course the best part is the cool people you get to meet. 

It might be stereotypical but when a guy who looks like the fella with the beard talks BBQ, I'm going to listen.  He just looks like he knows a thing or two about smoking meats.

Putting the chicken entry on the grill.

Some folks know how to do a BBQ competition in style.  They even have the game on the TV. 

Make sure to read the shirt.

Dogs are people too.  This one knows where to chill out. 

Donny Bray of Warren County Pork Choppers.  He is one of the most successful competitors in this region and I plan on taking his Competition BBQ class one day soon.
Every one loves prepping turn in boxes.  [That's called sarcasm - parsley is a PITA.]

I was especially glad to get to spend a few minutes with CrimsonGator from the Big Green Egg forums.  I've known him for years but finally got to meet him in person. 

Gene on the left and me on the right
We had the chance to talk shop about how he mounted his Jambo back yard stick burner and Big Green Egg on a third party trailer.  I got some good ideas from him about what John and I want to do for our competition team next year.  

Congratulations to Jiggy Piggy for their Grand Championship and Warren County Pork Choppers for their Reserve Grand.  Also big props to George Ewart (Dead End BBQ owner) and Chairman of the Boar for their perfect 180 score in brisket.  Full results are available on the KCBS Website.


  1. Woo hoo! Great pork and I wish I had a hunk of it now! Love the signs, esp South Pork!

  2. Did I see a Gator fan in one of your photos? Yes, I did!

    I know how much you enjoy these cook-offs and I have really enjoyed following along with you. Thanks for sharing.


  3. I like the pick of the heavy XL Green Egg with table.

    I would love to take my XL BEG on the road but I would be concerned about cracking it. Do you take your egg on the road?

    1. I haven't done it a lot, just to 3 events so far. I was reluctant but know of so many competition cooks that do it with very little prep. Just the same we are taking precautions. We are going to build frames to hold them that will include some built in shock absorption like silicon bumps for footers (permatex copper gasket maker). I also plan to wedge the internal ceramics with pieces of styrofoam to keep them from bouncing or jarring during travel.

  4. You guys have too much fun! I really enjoy your photos of the BBQ events, especially the names of their teams. There is serious stuff going on there.

  5. How fun! And I love it when you post photos of the artwork and names of the teams. So clever.

  6. What a fun time!

    The pork looks irresistable.