MBQ&A is a weekly advice column on food, music, beer, and whatever else vexes you. Once again, we’ve got a crop of questions and a rotating group of ManBQue experts. Your cast this week:
JB Mays – Editor. Beard-haver. Lock-popper.
Tomax – BBQ competitor, MEATing champion.
Death Toll Scholl – ManBQue founding father, beer drinker, beer brewer.
Pitfall Harry – Beer professional. For real, not like your lazy unemployed uncle.
To your questions:
How should I prep a ham to smoke it?
– Pat Kizzah
JB Mays: Decide first what you want to do with it. If you smoke an uncured ham, you’ll get something a lot like pulled pork. But I imagine you’re talking about the sugary cured ham we all know and love. Brown sugar, maple, pineapple, and mustard are all classic accompaniments. Baste the holy shit out of it to get that perfect sugary crust. Low heat (225) until it hits 145 in the center. Make sure to rest that beast longer than the five minutes you’d give a steak. About five times longer.
Now if you’re talking about taking a raw ham and curing it … well, that will require more research and result in the most delicious ManBQue column of all time.
Tomax: Ham isn’t smoked as much as other cuts in my neck of the woods, but I would treat it like a pork butt or shoulder. I wouldn’t trim it much at all, rinse it off and then pour some vinegar over the top of it to rinse it again (can use apple cider vinegar) to crisp it up. Score the thick skin / fat with a nice cross hatch pattern. Then use your favorite rub and get that smoker to 225. That how I would prep it.
Pitfall Harry: I’m the beer guy. Generally I find pork is delicious however it’s prepared. I’d only suggest killing it first.
What are the 5 beers I should be drinking now?
– Jesse Valenciana
Pitfall Harry: Ah, a question I can answer! Let’s start wtih Liberty Ale by Anchor Brewing – A beautifully balanced IPA, with a nice amount of cascade hops on the nose. Most people would probably consider it a pale, because their so used to IPAs being overly hopped.
Weihenstephaner Original – This supposedly comes from the oldest brewery on earth. I don’t really care about the tall tales of self-promoting brewers, but I do love a brewery that can make a lager like this. Delicate and delicious. I find some lagers can have a metallic flavor, but this one is bright and almost honey-like.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (cans) – This is the beer that basically started the craft beer rage back in the 1980s (I see you looking at me, Anchor Brewing. I know you were around first). Newly introduced in cans last summer with a pretty manageable abv of 5.6%, I can take down an entire 12-packover the course of a Saturday. It’s a classic for a reason – if you’re thinking “that’s so 1995!” then you’re being ignorant. And a prick, if we’re being honest. Sierra Nevada came up with the yeast strain that most American breweries use nowadays. Respect.
Anything from Ale Syndicate – New local Chicago guys. I got to try their “Richie” the other day. A porter-like beer using wheat in the grain bill. Delicious, easy drinking, and curious on the palette. They’ve been working for a couple years to open, and they finally have. Check them out.
Tripel Karmeliet – This beer is becoming a classic. 2 years ago, people had no clue – now it’s in almost any place with a decent beer list. Boozy, a little sweet, with elements of apple and pear. This is a beer that experts and novices can agree on. And, coming in at 8.4%, which drinks like a five-percenter, one might call it a great “date beer.” Belgium’s gift to the awkward and unfortunate-looking.
Death Toll Scholl: New Belgium – Lips Of Faith La Folie (Flemish Sour Barrel Aged Brown Ale); Founders – Kentucky Breakfast Stout (Imperial Stout); 3 Floyds – In the Name of Suffering (Black IPA); Shiner – FM 966 (Saison / Farmhouse Ale); Schneider Weisse – Tap 6 Unser Aventinus (Weizenbock)
Why is it advised to not cook food containing acids such as vinegar, wine, etc. in a cast iron pot?
– Elaine Adele Fike
Tomax: It could explode blowing up your whole kitchen. Kidding, I really don’t know.
Pitfall Harry: Because a cast iron pan should be reserved for only cooking bacon? That must be a trick question.
JB Mays: Once again, I’ll handle the nerd question. You mention Star Wars once at a MEATing and people don’t forget.
Writers and cooks will tell you all sorts of odd reasons about why you should/shouldn’t cook vinegar or tomatoes in certain pots, but it all comes down to chemistry and pH. This junior high textbook I inexplicably still have tells me that pH is the measure of hydrogen ion activity. Things like tomato sauce and vinegar come in at roughly 3.5 and 2.5 on the scale, which makes them acidic (lower numbers indicate acidity, higher numbers indicate alkalinity). Your polar extreme examples are your gastric acid (1) and bleach (13).
Nonreactive cooking surfaces like enamel or stainless steel do not react to the acidity in wine, vinegar, or tomato sauce. Reactive ones – cast iron, aluminum, copper – do. In cast iron, what happens is that the acidity of these items corrodes the material. It changes the color and flavor of your dish. You’re essentially stripping out dietary iron into your sauce, changing the taste of whatever sauce you’ve got. Do it enough over the long term, and you’ll screw up the pan.
Enameled cast iron, and this is probably apocryphal, came into play for exactly this problem. Cast iron’s heat distribution properties make it great for long-simmering beef Bourguignon or coq au vin, and the enamel makes the pot much less reactive, provided it’s not scratched through or chipped. This enamel makes La Creuset enameled Dutch ovens both desirable and half the cost of my mortgage payment.
People have told me in the past that a well-seasoned cast iron will be protected from the reaction. But even if that’s true, do you want to take all that hard-earned bacon glaze and jack it up for the sake of not stirring your tomato sauce as often? Don’t be a jerk to your cast iron.
Theoretically, you could give yourself iron toxicity by repeating this mistake enough times. So, you know, fucking don’t.