It’s Traeger Day 2021

For years, we’ve been spending the third Saturday in May at the venerable Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Preakness Day is practically a holiday in the High Priestess’ family. With all the coronavirus fun, we haven’t gone since 2019. 2020 was no spectators, 2021 was limited to 10,000 spectators. Since we have a group of 16, Pimlico couldn’t guarantee we’d all gets seats and we wouldn’t be sitting together.

So we were home for the day, which also happens to be Traeger Day.

We went all in. We invited some (properly vaccinated) friends over and combined Traeger Day with Meatsgiving.

Pork shoulders barking away

The fun started Thursday morning when I loaded the Timberline with pecan pellets, trimmed two beautiful pork shoulders, rubbed them down and let them rip. Working from home certainly has allowed more flexibility in smoking, as I was able to sneak outside every 30-45 minutes to spray them down with apple juice. The bark looked fabulous and it didn’t even have much of a plateau… maybe about 30 minutes when it was around 160.

The aftermath

Brought them in, let them rest a bit and attacked. When I first started doing pork, I invested in a pair of those plastic claws for shredding meat. News flash… they don’t work all that great. Instead, I started using a method I learned from Danielle “Diva Q” Bennett… cotton work gloves with a pair of nitrile gloves over the cotton. Not quite as much thermal protection, but the control factor is so much better. Leads to less waste as well.

Friday, I took the day off work and made my nearly famous smoked macaroni & cheese. This always is a crowd pleaser… I was running a little short of my preferred hickory pellets, so I used alder. Now alder never seems to have a ton of smokiness, so instead of a regular cheddar on top, I used a smoked cheddar from a Pennsylvania farm, mixed with some Vermont, New York, Wisconsin and California cheddars. This really gave the dish a smoky flavor that a lot of times is missing at 350.

After I was done with the mac & cheese, I emptied the pellet hopper and turned things over to the High Priestess. She has done an amazing job of adapting her late mother’s pineapple upside down cake to being prepared on the Traeger. She mixes it up and bakes it in a cast iron skillet. I mixed a batch of apple and cherry pellets to add a little bit more fruitiness to the profile and by al accounts, it was a winner.

Beautiful marbling

It was at that point I opted to get the main event started. In this case, a 13.5 pound (before trimming) black grade wagyu brisket from Snake River Farms. What a lovely piece of meat… but a lot of work to trim up. I mixed up a spice blend (50/50 Trager beef rub and Traeger Prime Rib rub), got that bad bot rubbed down and let it sit for a bit while I took a nap. About 12:30 Saturday morning, it was time. Properly loaded with oak pellets, I set the Timberline for 225 and Super Smoke. I prayed to the BBQ gods that it would turn out OK and put it on the grate.

Now, brisket has always intimidated me. I’m always afraid I will jack it up, so I don’t do it often. In fact, this is only the second one I’ve cooked. Same drill with the apple juice… it was a long night. About 7:30, the internal temp had reached 170, so I pulled it, wrapped it in butcher paper, and back on the grill, with the temp upped to 275. Was about 9:45 or so when it reached 204, so I pulled it for a brief rest. It was a challenge… it was so tender that the package was kind of floppy. After about 10 minutes, I removed the point, wrapped the flat in fresh butcher paper, then in plastic wrap, and put it in the cooler, along with a blanket. The point got cubed, sauced, and back in the Trager for another hour. Once that was complete, the burnt ends joined the flat in the cooler and I took a brief nap.

Guests were due to arrive around 1:00, so about 12:45 I took the flat out of the cooler and started to slice it.

The bend test

People, it turned out perfectly. Certainly passed the bend test and the marbling rendered beautifully. There was a bit of fat at the bottom, but that was easily trimmed. The burnt ends were also heavenly… so tender, great flavor.

All in all, it was a very good experience. Not perfect, but I was pleased. A few observations popped up. On the brisket, the bark could’ve been a little more developed. Also, not a great smoke ring. I think for next time I’ll pay a little more attention to the bark.

For the pork, I don’t really have any problems. Great bark, decent smoke ring, great flavor. I think the pecan makes a difference and adds a little more nuttiness to the flavor profile than hickory. I always use pecan for pork ribs, so why not pork shoulder?

The mac & cheese is a place where I do experiment, whether it be with wood types, cheese types, or temperature. My basic recipe stays the same… Velveeta and white American seems to take to the smoke more than other cheeses I’ve tried. Fact of the matter is that at 350, you don’t get quite as much smoke as you do at a lower temp. One other thing I did this time around is that I baked it in a LeCrueset Dutch oven. Mainly for heat retention, but also because it looks awesome and they are really easy to clean. I was able to heat it in the over, and keep it on a warming tray.  It held the temperature all day.

One other observation… never discount the importance of good cutlery. We lucked out this year… our local Williams-Sonoma was closing and we found a complete set of Shun knives on closeout at 40% off. After years of using (and appreciating) Wüsthof blades, the hard, razor sharp Asian blades are a revelation. Trimming the fat was like using a scalpel. To top it all off, the Damascus cladding makes for beautiful addition to the kitchen stable.

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