What’s the matter, pig got your tongue? [Smoked Pork Tongue on the Electric Pellet Smoker]

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Dos lenguas de puerco.

I’ve mentioned in other places that the idea of eating an animal’s tongue is usually met with some, um, hesitancy by my Anglo friends, with the general exception of Jewish carnivores (though they tend to eat beef tongue rather than pork). Latinx, of course, have a rich history with this cut, and virtually any taco truck worth its sal will have lengua as a meat option. In a perfect world, I’d love to make this barbacoa style, but I’m too lazy to go to all that effort for just the bride and me (not to mention for a mere two pounds of tongue), so I’m going to smoke it instead.

Into the Instant Pot® for a quick bath.

I think one of the reasons that people are reticent to try tongue is that they don’t want to taste what the pig’s already eaten, and I get that. In fact, though, the surface of the tongue (including the rough part studded with lingual papillae) is removed in this particular preparation, though it isn’t in all recipes. One method for removing this stratum is to boil the tongue for about an hour and then use a knife to slice off the surface, but I’ve found that 40 minutes or so in a pressure cooker accomplishes the task even better (I threw in some Rancho Gordo Mexican oregano as an aromatic as well). Most of the surface could easily be peeled off by hand, and the rest I trimmed up with my Global chef’s knife.

Rubbed and ready.

When it came to a rub for the smoker, I wasn’t shooting for anything fancy; just some salt, black pepper, and pimentón de la Vera (Spanish smoked paprika, both to enhance the smokiness and because it reminds me of my beloved Galicia). I set the dial of my electric pellet smoker for “Hi Smoke” (average temp about 210°F / 100°C, though it varied by some 15°F / 8°C over the course of the cook). [For those of you who obsess over such details, the pellets I used were Traeger Grills Signature Blend pellets, made from hickory, maple, and cherry woods.]

Fresh out of the smoker.

After an hour and a half in the smoker, the internal temp registered 177.5°F / 80.8°C, which was just a shade higher than most of the recipes I’d read suggested (though a couple said 150°F / 65.5°C was where they pulled it out). Since I wasn’t planning on making tongue jerky, I removed it and gave it 25-ish minutes to rest before trying a slice.

INGREDIENTS

2 lbs. / 1 kg pork tongue
1 tbsp. / 17 g salt
1/2 tsp. / 1 g pimentón de la Vera
1/2 tsp. / 1 g black pepper
dash Mexican Oregano flakes (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Rinse off meat in cold water, pat dry. Place in Dutch oven or pasta pot. Cover with water and add a pinch of Mexican oregano flakes, bring to a boil on stovetop, then simmer, covered, for one hour OR cook on steaming rack in pressure cooker for 40-45 minutes on high pressure (add 1.5 cups / 350 ml water and pinch of Mexican oregano flakes for aroma). Remove meat and allow to cool, then peel tongue with chef’s knife or by hand.

While meat is cooling, turn on electric smoker to Hi Smoke setting (or 225°F / 107°C) and allow at least 15 minutes to come to temp.

Make spice rub with salt, pimentón de la Vera, and black pepper. Rub liberally into meat, making sure to get rub into any nooks.

Place on smoker for approximately 90 minutes, or until internal temp registers 175°F / 79.5°C, then remove and allow meat to rest at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Just had a slice, and boy, is it tender. Now all I need is a bolillo or a Kaiser roll, some mayo and either mustard or bbq sauce, maybe some of the living butter lettuce we have in the fridge, and I’ll be one happy camper… even if I’m not at Cantina Río Coves in Galicia.

Some pig!

Smoking Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Roasted Tomatoes in an Electric Smoker

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Sun-dried on the left; roasted and packed in oil on the right.

Over the course of playing with my new electric pellet smoker, I’ve discovered lots of recipes for smoking fresh tomatoes, but none for smoking sun-dried tomatoes. You can certainly buy smoked sun-dried tomatoes, but they’re not cheap. I happened to have both a bag of sun-dried tomato strips and a bottle of roasted tomatoes packed in oil lying around, so I thought I’d give then each a go.

This time, the sun-dried tomatoes are on the right.

I put them in the smoker at 175°F / 80°C for 15 minutes and checked them; no apparent smoky taste. So I turned the smoker to the “Lo Smoke” setting, which (somewhat counterintuitively) produces more smoke. [According to the mfr., Lo Smoke temp runs about 175°F / 80°C, Hi Smoke about 210°F / 100°C, and that on both settings the auger timing is slightly slowed, allowing pellets to smolder more than burn. In case you’re wondering, I used the Traeger Grills Signature Blend pellets, made from hickory, maple, and cherry woods.]

After 15 more minutes, I was sensing a bit of smokiness, but the tomatoes’ concentrated flavour still wasn’t permitting much to come through. By 45 minutes in, the smoke seemed more noticeable, but still not quite where I intended it to be. My concern at this point was not to allow the tomatoes to turn acrid, which over-smoking will do to just about anything if you aren’t careful. So I set the timer for one more 15-minute jaunt.

Roasted on the left, sun-dried on the right, looking pretty much as they did when they started, but tasting noticeably different.

Huzzah! Just the edge I was looking for. I put the roasted tomatoes and their oil back into their original jar, and I popped the sun-dried strips into a Snapware Glasslock storage container with a little Olea Farm rosemary olive oil.

Two takeaways:
1) Next time I will spritz the sun-dried tomatoes with a little olive oil, or even water, because the moisture helps them take the smoke better.
2) If your pellet grill doesn’t have a “Lo Smoke” setting, I’d smoke these at 210°-230°F / 100°-110°C for about 30-45 minutes, tasting at the half-hour mark.

Electric Smoker Meats Its Match With Leg Of Lamb Two Ways

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Sell by? It will have been long gone by.

Headline pun intended.

The Internets have no shortage of opinions when it comes to smoking meats, and one is on a fool’s errand to attempt to secure a definitive answer. PRO TIP: This is NOT a definitive answer.

I’ve been grilling leg of lamb for about half my life now (which is to say over 30 years), and I was excited to try our new pellet smoker to find out how it stacked up against the various other methods (Big Green Egg, gas grill, trad charcoal grill) I’ve employed before.

The short version: Very Well.

You don’t need to follow me down the rabbit hole unless you’re slightly — like me — monomaniacal about research prior to grillage. If you are, I suggest these YouTube vids, one from Malcom Reed’s HowToBBQRight, the other from Darnell McGavock Sr.’s D Grill. Both of them used electric pellet smokers, so they were the most relevant to my immediate project, but I also watched a bunch of others. The reason I frequently turn to YouTube first is to see the actual cooks and their process(es) in motion, as well as to hear comments they might not bother to include in a printed recipe. [I also visited Steven Raichlen’s very informative online home, which I recommend highly.]

Originally, my intention was to make pulled lamb, which in theory comes off the smoke at a higher temp than your standard smoked leg. From what I’ve read (at least in terms of pork), there are two sweet spots for removing meat from the grill/smoker: one is about 145-150°F/63-65.5°C, the other is about 195-203°F/90-95°C. Apparently, the in-between is the “tough zone.” I’ve encountered this phenomenon before when cooking octopus, squid, and shrimp (not always on the grill), so it doesn’t surprise me. Perhaps a quick revisit to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen will yield an answer as to why, but that’s for another post. I opted not to pursue the higher finished temperature, because I read that the leg was not sufficiently possessed of marbling fat to make it tender at that temp; that recipe recommended bone-in lamb shoulder instead.

Lose some, but not all, the fat.

PREP
No matter how thoroughly your butcher trims the fat off your lamb leg, it’s not enough. You don’t want to take all the fat away, but an excess will give it that “gamy” taste that causes people to think they don’t like lamb. You can see in the lower right of the photo above how much fat I excised. I cut the leg about 60/40%, because I was feeling a bit experimentative, both in terms of marinating and cooking.

Pan-Asian Marinade Ingredients.

Marinade #1 (Asian Style) (for the 60% piece)
INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp. / 30 ml sesame oil
2 tbsp. / 5-6 cloves minced garlic
3 tsp. / 16 g ginger paste
6 star anise pods, ground
3 tsp. / 5 g five-spice powder
1 tsp. / 2.5 g white pepper

It’s Turkish-ish, kinda.

Marinade #2 (Turkish-ish) (for the 40% piece)
INGREDIENTS
¼ cup / 60 ml olive oil (I used Olea Farm, which I love)
¼ cup / 60 ml pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp. / 55 g Darrell & Nil’s Turkish Blend Spice*
5 large slices preserved lemon
2 tbsp. salt (preferably kosher or flaked; I used Læsø Salt from Denmark, because I had some and it’s a good story)

*Yeah, you’re gonna have a tough time finding that. It’s made from paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, allspice, cassia, sumac, oregano, Maras chile, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg. Maybe I can get them to cough up the actual recipe, but if not, make sure you include the sumac and Maras chile, which really push the blend toward Istanbul.

Rub rub rub it in; get your fingers into it; don’t be shy.

MARINATION DIRECTIONS

Rub it in to all the cracks and crevasses, and allow the lamb to chill overnight in the fridge. Due to a scheduling conflict, I left it in for two nights. Not a problem.

A WORD ON PELLET SMOKING

Ask 15 pitmasters what the best type of wood for smoking lamb might be, and you’ll get 67¾ answers. After way too much agita, I succumbed to crowdsourcing and went with Amazon’s Choice, Traeger’s Signature Blend (their hickory pellets were the #1 Best Seller). I am sure that at some point in the future, I will have a hankering to try a specific type of wood with a specific recipe, but this wasn’t it. Think Ford, not Ferrari.

A little over an hour in the smoker. Some colour, but no “bark.”

ON THE SMOKER

I checked the pellet level and fired up the smoker, letting the machine come up to temp (250°F/121°C) while I took the lamb out of the chill chest and tied it up with butcher’s twine to help ensure an even roast. 20 minutes later, I placed the pieces fat side up on the grill and left them alone, apart from one quick peek about halfway through to see if they needed to be swaddled in aluminum foil to keep from drying out (they didn’t). After 3.5 hours on the electric pellet smoker at 250°F/121°C, the one on the left came off at an internal temp of 148°F/64.4°C, the one on the right came off at an internal temp of 166°F/74.4°C (which is regarded as the high end of acceptable for lamb). Obviously, the marinades made some difference in the appearance of the two pieces, and I can say that the 166°F/74.4°C piece was not quite as tender as the other one, though both were highly acceptable, texture-wise, and both were absolutely delicious.

After the meat rested, I popped it back in the fridge for a few hours, but it re-emerged at dinnertime for “lambwiches” (lamb sandwich with rocket and mayo on a Kaiser roll). Still moist and tender, full of flavour. And hands down, the most effortless process for leg of lamb I’ve found yet. Just like I would be happy with my Instant Pot even if I used it for nothing other than beans, I’m thrilled with the Camp Chef SmokePro DLX even if it only ever gets used for lamb… which it surely won’t.