It's not every day you get to smoke a whole hog. But Matt Pelton has it down to a science, and he's showing how you can too.
Pelton is a two-time International Dutch Oven Society World Champion with a passion for anything cooked with fire. On March 29 at the Ceder Fort Warehouse in Springville, Pelton prepared a whole smoked hog — a process that took about 20 hours — ribs, Southern-Style Potato Casserole and more and answered questions from the audience about smoking techniques. A portion of the proceeds from the event went to the Utah Food Bank.
Even among barbecue affictionados, the meanings of "barbecueing" and "smoking" can be confused. Pelton said the key difference between smoking, barbecueing and grilling is the cooking temperature. Smoking is acheived at temperatures below 150 degrees, while barbecueing and grilling occur at higher temperatures.
Many different woods are used for smoking meat, each to produce a specific flavor. Oak, which is largely used in Eastern Texas, is Pelton's favorite and was the wood used to smoke the whole hog at the event.
Smoking meat can seem daunting, but Pelton explained that it doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. In fact, Pelton's first pit was made out of a 50-gallon drum.
"I actually started to compete professionally with these drum pits," he said. "They only cost me like $100 or less in parts, and they took me an afternoon to put them together, but they cook wonderfully. "
Pelton talks more about drum pits in his new book, "Up in Smoke: A Complete Guide to Cooking with Smoke." Some of the recipes he prepared for the event, such as the Southern-Style Potato Casserole, are also in the book, along with tips to help readers get started smoking meat.
Pelton is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to cooking with fire, and he shared everything from barbecueing and smoking history to proper cooking techniques with audience members, and he even debunked some widely accepted ideas about smoking meat.
For example, many people say you should soak wood before you smoke with it, but Pelton has found the opposite to be true.
Pelton has gained his knowledge from several places and in many different ways, but perhaps one of the most groundbreaking learning experiences for Pelton came in a way that sounds as if it could warrant a book of its own — from an Eskimo in Alaska.
Pelton was hunting moose on the Yukon River and had entered another moose camp. There, he tried some dall sheep ribs that he remembers to this day as some of the best meat he has ever eaten. Naturally, Pelton inquired about how the Eskimo cooked the meat.
"What he said is, 'The body heats itself. It has a natural way that heat goes through the body, so it goes from the core out. When I cook these ribs, I just cook it over alder wood fire ... and I put it so the concave side is in toward the fire, because that's how the body would heat those ribs.'
"If you do it like that, the meat will cook more naturally, it will cook quicker, and it will stay a lot more moist," Pelton said. "A lot of people think you have to put the meat down toward the fire, but the opposite is true; you want the bone down."
Pelton's cooking partner, Doug Martin, was also at the event. He prepared a pear tarte tatin — basically an upside-down pear tart — for those present, opening up a whole new world to camp cooking.
"When Matt and I go camping ... we eat real well," Martin said.
While Dutch oven cooking is often associated with camping, Martin says it doesn't have to be exclusive to the outdoors. Martin said cooking with cast iron can be beneficial because it heats more uniformly than other materials, like stainless steel or aluminum.
"Cast iron is not just for camping," he said. "That's all I cook in."
Northern Sweet Corn Bread
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
1 ½ cups milk
1 ½ cups white flower
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup boiling water
Preheat over to 375 degrees. Grease a disposable, aluminum, half-size hotel pan. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together except the water. Slowly add the water and mix well. Pour mixture into the hotel pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until you can insert a knife in the center and have it come out clean.
— Matt Pelton, "Up in Smoke: A Complete Guide to Cooking with Smoke"
Kaylene Morrill Wheeler is a freelance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org