This week’s episode of Foodspin finds me and Drew in the small town of Unadilla, somewhere in what sure felt like the wilds of rural Georgia, where we visited what can only be described as the compound of famed barbecue master Myron Mixon. (Cue “Dueling Banjos.”) There we learned how to build a pit smoker out of cinderblocks, and Myron coached us through smoking some ribs and chicken. Then we came back the next day and cooked for our host: Drew made beer-can chicken, and I made smoked short-rib tacos.
(We—well, I—also overcooked a tri-tip so badly we wound up throwing it into a pecan orchard instead of eating it. We also flouted our host’s admonishments about the importance of using table salt instead of kosher salt. Thankfully he did not make lampshades out of us for it.)
I’m not gonna include instructions for building the smoker here; thankfully, our pals at Gizmodo wrote about how to build basically the same thing (with video!) a while back, over here. But if you want to cook some delicious short-rib tacos and beer-can chicken on your giant cinderblock smoker, instructions for that are below.
BEER CAN CHICKEN
1 small whole chicken, not more than 2.5 pounds
1 24-oz. tallboy of whatever cheap-shit beer
1 tbsp ground coffee
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
maybe 2 tbsp or so of white vinegar
1/4 cup bottled Caesar dressing
kosher salt to taste
black pepper to taste
Pat the chicken dry; remove any bags of horror from inside its body cavity. Salt the inside of the body cavity generously. In a large bowl, combine the garlic powder, paprika, white vinegar, Caesar dressing, salt, and pepper; the result should be a sorta brick-colored mud. Roll the chicken around in this to coat it. Crack open your tallboy (widen the opening a bit, if you can), and scoop the ground coffee into it. Carefully, so as not to spill all the weird coffee-beer you just made, insert the top of the beer can into the chicken’s body cavity. Stand the beer-can chicken upright on your cooking grate and cover. Smoke the chicken at, say, 250 degrees for at least two and a half hours, or until the chicken’s legs will twist off in your hand without too much effort; if you want to mop the chicken with some of that vinegary mud about halfway through to moisten it, that’ll be fine, but do it quickly and get the cover back on. Cut the chicken into quarters and serve them on sliced bread to catch the juice.
SHORT RIB TACOS
1 four-bone rack of beef short ribs
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp ground coffee
1 large eggplant
1 red onion, halved, papery skin removed
4 or 5 scallions, chopped into thin rings
1 cup sour cream
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lime, cut into wedges
a jar of the pickled hot peppers of your choosing
the hot sauce of your choosing
taco-sized soft tortillas, preferably corn but hey, suit yourself buddy
Unwrap the ribs and pat them dry. Brush or spray the ribs with the white vinegar, then season generously with salt, pepper, and ground coffee. If your cooking grate is so wide that half an onion might fall through it, drive a long skewer through the onion halves to prevent that from happening. Set the rack of ribs bone-side down on the grate; park the eggplant and onion halves nearby; smoke this stuff for around two and a half hours at around 250 degrees. While that’s going on, mix the sour cream, scallions, minced garlic, and some of the hot sauce together in a small bowl and set aside. When the ribs are done, slice the meat across the grain; cut the eggplant in half lengthwise; cut the onion as you see fit. Fill a warmed tortilla with some meat, a hunk scooped from the inside of the eggplant, some of the sour cream mixture, some onion, a couple pickled peppers, and a squeeze of lime. Fold it up and fire it down.
Hey, this completes what we hope will be the first, rather than the only, season of Foodspin. We had a blast. Thanks for indulging us.