Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Smoker>Caja China

We discovered something big chez Pollard this weekend: a smoker turns out better pork shoulder than the caja china.

You may remember the caja china from exploits such as this one, this one and this one. All quality experiences (especially the chickens Cooper cooked for the party we had last October). And there's no denying the theater involved - a caja china is a pretty entertaining (and quick) way to roast a whole hog. But it just doesn't deliver the same gorgous smokiness that you get from an honest-to-God smoker.

For Father's Day last year, Dixon and I decided to give Cooper a smoker. He actually ended up getting it for Christmas, but who's counting (except him)? We went with the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, which by all accounts (on Amazon) is a pretty good piece of machinery. It's been sitting in our guest room since Christmas morning, with the bow still wrapped around it, and finally this weekend, the weather was agreeable enough to break it out.

And isn't smoky pig the best way to welcome spring?

Cooper got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning to fire up the smoker and rub the two pork shoulders I'd gotten. As an aside, two 8-10 pound shoulders make way more meat than 7-10 people can eat...for two nights. We had pork for a third night in a row last night and, well, let's just say I'm not going to have anymore for lunch today. But I digress.

By the time our friends arrived, around 5, the shoulders had been pulled and were sitting in the oven, for just an hour, to finish them up. At about 5:30, Cooper started actually pulling the meat:
Real men wear gloves.
The end result looked a little something like this:

Helloooooo, smoke!
We forgot about silly things like vegetables and ate the pork with stovetop mac and cheese, courtesy of the April issue of Food and Wine:
Carbs+cheese+cream - what could go wrong?
We dressed the pork with Cooper's special homemade sauce, which is very vinegary and just a little spicy (recipe to follow - soon!) and followed the whole meal with a nice little outdoor fire.

Saturday's dinner was so good that everybody came back for more on Sunday night (plus, on Sunday, Alicia made a couple of Berger cookie pies, which were amazing).

All in all, a good first weekend of spring - and a good lesson for this pig-loving family. Are we glad we've got the caja china? Absolutely - if we need to cook a whole pig, or a bunch of chickens, or if we don't have 12 hours to lovingly coax flavor from a pork shoulder, the caja china's our tool. But when we've got the time, it's the smoker, all the way.

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