While brining a turkey, preparing Turkey Jook using the turkey leftovers, perfect Prime Rib, Portuguese Bean Soup, and Crab & Shiitake Mushroom Sushi “Casserole” remain top hits on The Tasty Island food blog, the recipe that’s most popular of all, particularly during the holiday season is Big Island Smoked Pork. My guess being folks are looking for something different than the usual, and are excited to cook and "wow" their guests at the next big holiday feast.
With that, the following is a proven, highly raved about step-by-step method on preparing “Big Island style” Smoked Pork, a.k.a. “Smoke Meat”. Enjoy!
Big Island Smoked Pork
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a pot on the stove heated to medium. Add the sugar gradually and adjust to how sweet you want it. Make the shoyu/sugar ratio between 1:1 and 2:1; the latter being less sweet. Up to you. You can also adjust the Chili Pepper heat to your own liking, too. Again, use your taste buds for best judgment!
After the marinade ingredients are well incorporated and you’re happy with the flavor, put it in the refrigerator to cool down.
A note on the marinade ingredients, again, this is where you can “own” it by perhaps substituting sugar with agave syrup and/or mirin and/or honey. Or try adding a fruit puree such from mango or guava. And of course, you can experiment with different brands and types of shoyu. Next time I personally want to try smoking pork using the Silver Swan brand Shoyu from the Philippines. I swear that is one the best Shoyu I’ve ever tasted!
Prepare the pork
Really just about any part of the pig will work for smoked meat, however the most popular cut if you’re buying from the supermarket is pork butt (shoulder), being it’s a large cut and full of fat marbling, and also very economical. Since the marinade and smoking process have somewhat of a “cloaking” effect on the meat, prime cuts of pork such as the loin or a good cut of chops would really be a waste to smoke. Which is why hunters typically smoke their wild game, in order to mask its gaminess.
As you see here, I’ve taken a massive 5 lb. boneless pork butt and cut 1” thick steaks out of it, with no real rhyme nor reason, just making sure to cut across the grain of the fibers.
Before you place the meat in the prepared shoyu marinade, while they’re spread out on the cutting board, sprinkle each piece lightly with Hawaiian Salt and lomi (massage) the salt into the all sides of the meat. This will add a burst of flavor to the finished product and also help the brining process. Be careful not to overdo it though. Just a light sprinkle.
Next, place the cut up and salted pork butt steaks into a pan deep enough to marinade them in (or you can put them in Ziploc bags if you prefer) and add the cooled-down marinade.
Cover the pan or seal the Ziploc® bag and place the marinating pork in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 48 hours, no longer than that, otherwise the marinade will be too overpowering. In my experience through trial and error, overnight is best, however that might also depend how and what exactly you made your marinade with. This is as much art as it is science.
Time to smoke
Some folks have a “smoke house” that’s built specifically for the job, made from household items such as an old broken refrigerator, file cabinet, or a simple structure made out of metal corrugated roofing. Others have consumer brand smokers such as the popular Weber Smokey Mountain “WSM” model. Well, if you’re just a casual smokin’ hobbyist, you can “MacGyver” a standard barbecue grill such as the Weber 22-1/2″ model Kettle Barbecue grill I have. As long the grill includes a cover, you should be able to pull it off with great results.
The goal here is to maximize the smoking area in the kettle grill as demonstrated here, by fabricating a heat shield out of a disposable aluminum pan. You do this by cutting the corners, so that it can strategically be placed at an angle over the charcoal and wood chips pyre, effectively blocking direct heat from burning the meat that’s closest to the pyre.
Pile about 12 charcoal briquettes on one side at the very edge of the bottom grate, then place the heat shield made from the pan over the pyre at an angle, holding it down by the flap side with another aluminum pan filled with water to weight it down. The water will also help keep some moisture in the smoking chamber.
Start the charcoal briquettes burning using your favorite method, then once it’s ashed over, place the cooking grate on the grill, making sure the opening of the grate is where the charcoal pyre is located, so that you can easily add more smoking wood and/or coals as needed along the process. Because this is going to be about 4 hours, you’ll need to keep adding wood or coals in order to maintain the smoking pyre.
Next, arrange your raw marinated pork on the cooking grate, making sure to put the thicker cuts nearest the fire, as there's less chance of those cuts overcooking. Be sure to save the marinade for basting later while it’s smoking.
Once the pork is loaded up on the cooking grate, start adding your smoking wood. In this example, I used store-bought mesquite chips, which is essentially the same as Hawaii-grown Kiawe. The very dry wood chips are soaked in plain water in a bucket for about an hour, which creates the smoke. If you’re using wood branches that hasn’t been totally dried out, soaking in water won’t be necessary. However for beginners, I’d stick with store-bought wood chips, ashey’re cheap and easiest to handle in how you want to control your smoke levels.
Later after a few meat smoking sessions under your belt, you can try experimenting with different types of woods such as Cherry or Apple fruit woods, which veteran BBQ challenger Crash DeJournett recommends best for pork. You can also try guava or lychee branches. Back to Kiawe (Mesquite), while it’s one of the most popular smoking woods in Hawaii due to its widespread availability in the wild (it’s actually an invasive species), it can be a harsh, bitter smoke, so go easy if you’re using Kiawe.
It will immediately begin to smoke, at which time, what to do next? COVER IT!
Yes, cover the grill/converted smoker and set the vents underneath the grill and on the lid to full open position. You want as much air circulation as possible, so that the smoke convects then escapes from within the chamber.
A crucial tool you should have for smoking meats is an oven meat thermometer, as you want to properly manage the temperature inside the smoking chamber so that it hovers around the 200-220 degree Fahrenheit range, going no less than 200 and no more than 250 degrees Fahrenheit when it peaks. It will vary as the smoking wood burns off, as well as the charcoal, which you’ll need to keep adding to maintain the smoking pyre during the approximately 4 hour smoking/cooking process.
During the smoking process as you add more smoking wood and/or coals, while you’ve got it uncovered, baste the meat with some of the saved marinade.
At about 4 hours, they should be all pau.
You can check it by cutting through a piece both farthest and closest to the fire and make sure it looks cooked through where the meat is pinkish, looking about 75-90% fully cooked. Don’t worry, you’re really not done cooking it yet, as you still need to pan-fry or grill it for serving.
When all pau, take the smoked meat to the cutting board and slice them into bite size pieces.
That’s exactly the color the pork should look, right off the smoker.
For serving, some like to grill it, as usually is the case for me. However with Big Island style Smoke Meat, I prefer PAN-FRYING IT, being when it fries in its own fat, it just packs on da’ flavah! Yeah, that's added fat, but hey, if you’re watching that, you shouldn’t be eating this anyway. Obviously this is high in fat and sodium, and only should be eaten on occasion, yet that's what makes it even more special. Smoked Pork is a once-a-while supah onolicious TREAT!
When pan frying or grilling it, the goal at this final stage of preparing Smoke Meat is to get those seared “papa’a” or “koge” edges.
By now, everyone in the house, as well as your next-door neighbors are reaching over your shoulders in the kitchen trying to grab a piece, as while being fried-up, this Big Island style Smoke Meat SMELLS that AMAZING!
You can serve Big Island Smoked Meat as-is for pupu, on skewers simultaneously grilled with veggies such as bell pepper, zucchini and onions, as a meal on rice, or MY favorite way, Smoke Meat and Poi!
Big Island Smoked Meat + Poi = Broke da’ mout onolicious winnah!
Summing it up, while it may seem daunting to the uninitiated, if you’ve ever thought about it, give smoking meat a try! The steps are right here to follow, and it’s not that difficult, but just takes some patience and careful monitoring of how much smoke you’re applying.
Trust me, as well as the many readers who have commented on my blog after trying it themselves, if you’re successful at making this Big Island Smoked Pork, a.k.a. “Smoke Meat”, both yourself and your carnivorous friends and family will be begging for more. So make plenty, because it WILL get wiped out fast!
P.S. Being we’re heading into the holiday season once again, if you’re roasting a turkey, make sure to BRINE IT!
Turkey Brine solution:
In an adequately sized pot or sealed poultry bag, soak turkey in brine solution overnight, up to 24 hours (general rule 1 hour per pound), making sure to keep it refrigerated the whole time.
When ready to to cook, remove the turkey from brine, pat dry, then roast turkey as you normally do, rest, slice and serve. Note, do NOT add any additional salt prior to roasting, as the brine will have already added enough throughout the entire turkey,
I swear after brining, you’ll never prepare a turkey any other way. So tender, juicy and full of flavor!