Learn to cook by color, feel then thermometers

Big Poppa

Using thermometers.

I wrote the body of this for a person struggling with ribs and temps. I have written about thermometers and thermostats that we have in our pellet cookers and how we can get overly obsessed with them. I wanted to talk now about the place and role of thermometers. I love them and use them all the time...I think you should use them too...but not as the sole guide to your cooking. I had a person call me on the bat phone the other day....their Maverick thermometer was broken on a sunday and they had a big cook and were going to cancel the cook...they didn't have the confidence to cook without it. I walked them through it and they reported back that they had a great cook.

It got me to thinking that the proper sequence for developing cooks is to explain the cooking by color, feel, and then temp. You can learn to cook paint by numbers or mechanically or you can learn to paint. You can learn all the scales in music but you have to also develop feel...thats what this is all about I have started promoting bbq contests that excludes pit minders and electricity to challenge the cooks to manage a fire and cook. Many of the very successful comp cooks have taken a class and read on the internet and are very mechanical cooks....I think feel is so important and thats why I'm taking the time to write this,

Thermapens are great but understand that if I pulled my ribs at 195 they wouldnt be done because I cook at a high temp and use convection....currently in comp my ribs are taking two hours and 40 minutes total...Why? Because the method and cooker and meat you use determines when its done... I have a lot of different cookers and they all require a different technique a thermapen or maverick is a wonderful convenience and is a great reference point. When I was starting I met the Legend Mike Mills and toured his kitchen...he cooks at between 195 to 210 on old traditional pits...his finishing temp on brisket was 185.... I cooked a big party last year with Chris Lilly and he and Ken Hess can touch the pork and tell when it is exactly perfect. I pulled my brisket last week in comp (3rd place damn) and it was 210 internal temp...so the lower temp you cook something the lower the rendered cooked meats final internal temp will be....so lets forget about the thermapen or maverick for now....

The very best way to cook is to discover your recipes and develop feel and 'sync' with your meats, cooker and self. I taught a class recently and had four butts on the cooker...I told the class that I could tell them what each butts internal temp was after being in the foil for one hour based on experience....I was spot on with one off by one degree on two and three degrees on the fourth...Matt Dalton of Left Coast Q was breaking in a new Ole Hickory BP (Big Poppa model, yeah!) I showed him on his new cooker....I knew his temp and cooker and told him that I could tell him the internal temp of the butts by putting the thermapen in the foiled butts without looking at the display...I was right on on one and one degree off on the other.... I knew what the different temps feel like. I could never develop this without monitoring with thermapens in my journeys. OK a little lucky but this long winded diatribe applies to music, art...everything

This involves practice and study. How do you start? First off decide how important bark is for your personal tastes. In most meats it is not important to me I prefer tenderness and more even cooks. If you like bark dont foil...you can spritz to keep the meat more tender or a water pan. I foil most times as I dont like waiting through the stall and want more evenly tender meat.

This is the trail and error part...once in foil cook them and check every half hour by lifting one end of the ribs if they are board like keep on cooking...when you start to feel some flex you are getting close.... ON butts and brisket go ahead and check with a bamboo stick or toothpick or a thermapen but only take note of the display if you want fall off the bone ribs when it bends really super easily you are there or at the least ready to open the foil to check for final doneness by lifting one end for sag, lifting in the middle, sticking a toothpick in the meat section. You want to feel very little resistance. For brisket and butts you want it almost to feel like you are putting the probe through soft butter if you have to use force to test probe for doneness it isnt ready.

At each one of these stages then use your thermapen and keep a log.... for example you may find that your foil color averages 170 internal on ribs and 150 for briskets and maybe 145 for pork....your desired finishing temp for pork may be 197, may be 205 brisket...now using the thermometer to help with the cook is in its place and a great tool that is second to the feel of actually cooking.

Getting to know what meat should feel like during its stages, and using feel to know when its done is what makes you a better cook

So if you see me on the comp trail and notice that I have wired thermometers sticking out of my cookers towards the end of the cook it is because they are there to help me...but they are secondary to what Im doing.
I hope this helps...
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