Welcome to one of the biggest food trends of 2015: making meat super smoky. Get ready for the meat sweats
Smoking meat is one of the biggest food trends of 2015, and Hotbox are the newest collective to join the smoking scene. Inspired by an in-depth research trip to the home of the barbecue in Austin, Texas, these guys have been making smoky waves everywhere from Street Feast in Dalston to Wireless Festival.
Now they've gone and set-up their own restaurant (also called Hotbox) in London’s Spitalfields. They'll also be stepping up to the stage at Brisketfest on 22 August as well as cooking up more meaty treats for National Burger Day on 27 August.
We caught up with their head chef – and chief smoker – Lewis Spencer to find out why low and slow is the only way to go.
Why is everyone talking about smoking meat?
"It’s popular in the US, but in the past few years, it’s really started to get on the map over here. I’ve seen people like Tom Kerridge begin to cook with cuts like brisket, which is a fatty joint that comes from underneath the ribs of the cow. It is quite a difficult joint to get right, as you need to keep the lean side of it moist and the fatty side needs to be cooked for long enough for it to fall apart."
What is smoking meat? How is it different from grilling or barbecuing it?
"Essentially, it’s about whether or not you’re adding heat directly to the food. With a barbecue or grill, you’re applying the heat directly. With a special smoker, we burn up the wood pellets and the smoke travels into a separate chamber with the meat, so it’s a lower, indirect heat that cooks it very slowly."
And what are the benefits of cooking it slowly?
"It’s all about the taste. It’s perfect for the harder, more sinewy cuts of meat that need to be cooked for longer. Any cut of meat with lots of fat and collagen in it – something that you would normally stew or pot roast – that’s the type of thing you’d smoke."
What about the actual smoke – what’s the best wood to use?
"We use a Texas blend, which is a mixture of mesquite, hickory and oak. The stronger the smoke, the stronger the flavour."
If we wanted to smoke meat at home, what the best way of doing it?
"The cheapest way to do it at home would be to use an oil drum barbecue. Move the wood embers to one end and the meat to the other and cover the barbecue with its lid. You’ll need to get a thermometer probe to maintain it at 230˚F. Make sure to close off the vents as it allows less oxygen which would make it burn quicker and reduce the heat. Then place the meat in the smoker and cook it for 15-18 hours, depending on the size of the joint."
Right – let's get smoking!
Hotbox’s guide to cooking brisket
There are four simple steps to the ultimate slow-smoke brisket:
1. The meat
Lewis says: "After our trip to the US, we realised it was all about the grain-fed meat, which gives it that lovely fatty marbling. We import our beef from the US; it’s Black Angus, it’s expensive, but it’s worth it for the cut and the taste. On a good weekend, we get through about 100 kilos of beef."
2. The rub
"Our dry rub is just salt and pepper (two parts salt to one part pepper), a little sugar and our spice rub, which is mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika and a little chilli. In Austin, they just tend to use salt and pepper for the beef.
"The meat then gets bagged up for two days – the dry salt mix gives it a chance to brine and when we pull it out, it’s soaking wet as it has drawn lots of the moisture out.
"We want it to be a more concentrated solution on the outside and the mix of dry powders, spices and salts helps to draw more moisture out. It means things stay tender as you’re cooking it."
3. The smoke
"We’ll cook this in our smoker at about 200˚F for 15-18 hours, spraying it with our very own meat spray, which is a mix of Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar and apple juice."
4. The resting place
"After taking it out, we wrap it in butcher's paper and leave it for a few hours in a warm place. Then it’s ready to eat."
Now, where's that barbecue of ours? We want to get smoking this weekend.