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Sous Vide: Hot Smoked Pork Butt, Customized Rub; From Beginning to End

The term "pork butt" is confusing until we realize that "butts" are cask like barrels traditionally used to transport pork--and whisky.

Ingredients

Pork Shoulder Butt, boneless or bone-in, anywhere from 2 lb/1.8 Kg to whole, 8 lb/3.8 Kg.
Kosher salt, 2 teaspoons/lb, or 4 teaspoons/Kg.
Coatings:
Egg whites 1 each/lb or 2 each/ Kg, or
Powdered egg whites–
Note: 1 Tablespoon powdered egg white plus 1 Tablespoon water equals one egg white. Powdered egg whites are reasonably priced, all natural, and prevent the accumulation of egg yolks in the refrigerator. I highly recommend them.

Flour, 0.25 cups/lb or 60 g/Kg.

Rub, per Kg of pork:
Sugar, 1 teaspoon.
Ground pepper, 1 Tablespoon.
Paprika, 1 Tablespoon.
Garlic powder, 1 Tablespoon.
Fennel seed, 1 Tablespoon.
Oregano, 1 Tablespoon.
Allspice, 1 teaspoon.
Coriander seeds, crushed, 1 Tablespoon.

Equipment requirements:
Immersion circulator, portable or stationary.
Heat rated container, approximately 5 gallons/19 liters.
Heat rated sous vide bags.
Channel or chamber vacuum device
Infrared thermometer.
“Back yard” hot smoker/bbq or conventional indoor oven.
Kitchen tongs.
Sheet pan.
Lipavi racks for use in the smoker/open–optional but highly recommended. Lipavi racks are are water proof, chlorine proof, dishwasher proof, and oven/smoker proof.
Infrared or probe thermometer.

 

 

 

Serves 4-20+
Level of difficulty 2.75

We are embarking on a journey!

And the picture above is the destination!

Procedure:

Preheat the sous vide bath to
183 F/84 CNote: This introductory temperature gives us a head start on bringing the pork up to the optimum internal temperature. Once a sealed roast is staged into the bath, the temperature is lowered to
135 F/57 C. Reducing the temperature when you stage the roast in to the bath is necessary to limit shrinkage, moisture loss and to prevent overcooking.

Stage the pork into heat rated vacuum bags or Ziploc gallon freezer bags. The size of the roast has little effect on sous vide processing time intevals. However, a full sized roast may not fit in a standard sized bag without being cut in smaller pieces. This is a wise alternative. A full sized roast will not take significantly longer than a 2 Kg roast. The temperature parameters remain exactly the same. Sous Vide time intervals are almost indifferent to bulk and are mostly dependent on the shortest distance from the surface to the geometric center of the protein.

Go big?
If you are determined to process the whole roast, extra large sleeves are available on line. Sealing the extra large bags can also present a challenge. They are usually sealed twice, at opposing angles. First, the empty sleeve is turned at 45 degrees to seal half of the opening on the Foodsaver heat bar. The bag is turned and the remaining “half” opening is sealed.

After loading the whole roast into the large sleeve, the other end of the bag can also be sealed at angles. Vacuum is only applied for the last step. Sans vide is another good option for this–one end of the bag is sealed at angles, but the other end/opening is draped over the edge of the tank and secured by the lid.

Once you have loaded the roast into the appropriate pouch, stage the sealed roast into the sous vide bath. Remember to
LOWER THE TEMPERATURE! TO
135 F/57 C.
Set the timer for anywhere between 22 and 26 hours. Sous vide is very forgiving, and there is no “moment” before which the roast is under cooked or after which it is ruined. Temperatures should be used with attention to precision.

When the processing time has elapsed, shock the roast(s) in iced water until they achieve 70 F/21 C. This is a very important safety procedure for roasts of this size–whether you are processing sous vide or not. A roast (or a turkey) of this size should NEVER be cooled at room temperature–it just takes too long to meet established safety guidelines.

How can you tell when the internal temperature of a large roast–or even a small one–has achieved 70 F/21 C? That is an excellent question.

Be cool, Man
The packaged roast is first submerged in a container of iced water that is at least twice the volume of the roast. Without explaining the details of how this is calculated, consider that meat is almost the same density as water. In this case, we use a vessel or sink that can hold at least 3 gallons/12 liters of cold water. One way to do this is by siphoning the water out of the sous vide bath and replacing it with iced water from the tap. The ability to do this depends on the logistics of your station/kitchen.

Then what?
Regardless of its size, submerge the roast in the filled vessel/sink. Wait until the ice has all melted. The temperature of the water will be approximately 70 F/21 C. Return in 15 minutes and use a probe or infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of the water. If it is above 70 F/21 C, then the roast is not completely chilled. Drain the vessel/sink, refill with cold tap water and come back in 15 minutes. Repeat this process until the water steadies at 70 F/21 C. Then you will know that it is safe to refrigerate the roast at 40 F/4 C.

Now your pork butt is ready to smoke/roast.

Notes on rubs:

Store bought rubs are convenient, which is important in our fast paced life styles. I have been known to use store bought seasoning mixes myself. I always feel a little guilty though, because I cannot forgive myself for paying $6/lb for salt. Salt barely costs $0.40/lb.

If you dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in a cup of hot water, and dissolve 1 teaspoon of your favorite proprietary rub in another cup of hot water, you will notice that the degree of saltiness is almost exactly the same. Things like this bother me.

Just another face palm.
Proprietary rubs also provide “umami” because they contain mono-sodium glutamate in one form or another. Most of us are hesitant to actually PURCHASE granulated glutamate for reasons that I probably don’t need to explain–they say it’s really bad for us. Proprietary rubs provide us with an excuse to consume MSG for the same reason that we shamelessly enjoy popcorn and potato chips. We know salt is bad for us too, but since somebody else put it on there we have no choice but to suffer through it.

The rest of the ingredients in proprietary rubs are pretty predictable. Garlic powder. An assortment of your basic spices like oregano and so forth. Paprika for color. Manufacturers reconstitute these components into multi-colored pebbles to catch our eyes, the old shiny object trick. That’s really all there is to it.

Take it apart and put it back together again.
Rub recipes can be easily deconstructed and then reassembled. First, you calculate how much salt should be applied–usually about 2 teaspoons/lb of meat. It can then be applied directly. Assemble all the other typical ingredients that we all know go in there–there’s not much mystery to it. It’s fun to have fun with it. Add things, subtract things, nobody at the bbq will say “YOU LEFT OUT THE BLUE PEBBLES!”

Procedure:

Submerge the entire cold package for 5-10 minutes in a preheated sous vide bath or hot tap water (110+ F/44+ C). This will fully melt the gel. Cut one of the corners of the bag and drain the juices. Set aside. At your convenience, click HERE  to learn how to clarify the juices for use in any recipe that calls for stock or water. Finish opening the bag and remove the roast from bag. Pat the roast dry with paper towels.

Place roast(s) on a sheet pan as shown.

Albumin is a clear, sticky protein easily detectable on the surface of raw meats. It is very similar to egg whites in appearance and texture. It coagulates into the juices during sous vide processing. When the juices from the bag are brought to a boil, the albumin congeals and forms those dots that look like discolored, broken up scrambled eggs–which is just about what they are.

We are going to recreate the sticky surface so that our rub clings to the roast. Use a fork to create a thick paste in a bowl by mixing the egg whites and the flour. Spread the paste over the entire surface of the roast(s). The easiest way is to use clean hands, but some people find the tactile sensation unpleasant. Rubber gloves are a good alternative. I do this with everything from sous vide pork spare ribs to prime rib and even steaks. Many chefs do this even if they are not using sous vide processing. It’s great on baked potatoes too–sprinkling with kosher salt before baking makes the skin especially tasty and crisp.

Wash and dry your hands or dry the gloves. Sprinkle the roast(s) with the kosher salt in the amount of 2 teaspoons/lb, 4 teaspoons/Kg as explained in the ingredients section. This enables you to apply as much or as little rub as you like without affecting the salt content of the ultimate result.

Apply your rub generously to the entire roast.

No matter how much you apply, or even if you apply again later, you will not have to worry about over salting like you would with the store bought stuff. Because the salt is separate from the rub. Life is grand.

Smoke

I use a PID driven pellet smoker but any smoker will work. The lowest temperature practical in these devices is usually
180 F/82 C
Hot smoke the roast(s) at this temperature for a minimum of four hours–internal temperature of the roast should achieve at least 135 F/57 C–the same as the original target temperature. Remember: every time you open the lid, the smoker/oven loses about 100 F/38 C. It takes a smoker at least half an hour to recoup. This is why amateur barbecue practitioners end up serving so late at night. Do not open the lid for at least the first two hours of processing.

Most back yard smokers have thermometers. Most people either never glance at them or do not even know what temperatures they want. There are inexpensive, wireless thermometers so you can monitor the IT remotely from the comfort of your BarcaLounger in front of the television. Take advantage of the technology! And, again, remember: even at 350 F/176 C the roast will not burn in two hours.

The Roast:

SERVICE!

Despite the pink color, the pork is safe to eat–after all, it has already been pasteurized in the sous vide bath. The pink color is not an indication of doneness or “rareness.” The pink color is the result of a reaction between carbon monoxide, CO, nitric oxide, NO and the meat itself. This is responsible for what pitmasters call the “smoke ring.”

Above, for me. Below, for “her.”

When it’s all over, avoid letting the roast sit out at room temperature for longer than two hours total. As soon as it achieves 70 F/21 C it should be refrigerated. This is the difference between properly prepared food and potentially hazardous “leftovers.” If you plan to make hot smoked pulled pork, the roast is refrigerated to 40 F/4 C BEFORE the execution of the pulled pork recipe, which is linked HERE.

Stay tuned for many more applications of sous vide smoked pork butts!

Norm King

 

About

Pitmasters tear up with wistfully expressive faces when pork butts are the topic of conversation. Compared to their spare rib counterparts, smoked pork shoulder is very knife and fork friendly. The fact that most pork butts end up as "pulled pork" only enhances the appeal. An endless array of sauces and coatings make pulled pork shoulder extremely versatile.

Sous vide processed boneless pork shoulders also give the enthusiast the option of creating a chop-like pork "steak." This treatment is arguably superior to the overly lean and often dry pork loin chop.

If pork shoulders are processed as explained below, the choice can then be made as to the final treatment: roasts, steaks, pulled, or?