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I have had my Smokette for about three weeks and just finished a dinner for 125 people yesterday. Learned lots of interesting things doing 70 # of pork butt. This was not a catering job but a private party for a friend but lots of us will be asked to do this type of thing for church groups, etc.

#1 - the resources on this forum are unbelievable. From advice to recipes, it was a life saver.

#2 - don't wait until the last minute on a big job.

I started a week ago, tentatively cooking two 7 # butts at a time on overnight cooks. With the same size of butts cook time varied dramatically. Some were done after 12 hours, some were done after 17 hours - "It's done when it's done". Long cook times can make it difficult when you are trying to time a meal but you just have to allow plenty of time and cook ahead.

After a little experimenting, I found that I got good results by raising the three bar rack to the highest level, then using the bottom and middle racks. That gives a little more space above the heating element for the bottom rack. The middle rack puts the top butt far enough below the vent, that it does not interfere with air flow. I would put two butts on the upper rack and one butt on the lower rack. I know you could load it up more but things got done at about the same time. I will probably load it up more as I gain confidence with the smoker.

I learned that one of my most valuable tools for preparing pork butts is a small frosting knife. Works great for getting the mustard into all the little nooks and crannies. I also learned that a good way to apply the spices is sort of the way you dredge fish through flour. Put the mustard on the small sides, pick up the butt and just press it into the rub, which has been poured onto a platter. Then I put the butt back onto the cutting board and do one large flat side, using a shaker to apply the rub. Pick up the cutting board and roll the butt onto the rack. Then do the other flat side while it is on the rack. You don't have to do a lot of handling and the rub goes on evenly and very thick. You just have to remember that any spices you put on the platter, have to be used up. It is contaminated with raw pork and you don't want to put it back into your "rub tub".

I also learned the value of the dual probe remote thermometer. You don't really have to use the pit temp monitor on the CS since you can just set the thermostat and let it go. However, on the last night, with 22# of butt in the smoker, our power goes off at 2:00 am. Being sound asleep, the only way I know this happened was when the low pit temp alarm goes off. I was able to pull the butts and finish them on a Weber gas grill (indirect heat and one burner on low, it stabilizes at 240). Not as moist as finishing in the CS, but better than throwing them away since the power was off for 7 hours.

We pulled the pork after each cook. I put about four pounds of pulled pork in those throwawy aluminum lasagna pans, pour in some of Smokin Okie's Basting and Serving Sauce, sealed with foil and popped them into the freezer. Seal them really tightly and they will be fine for a short stay in the freezer. The day before the dinner, they go into the refrigerator and into the oven about three hours before serving. You need to open them up after about an hour and stir them a little, adding more basting sauce if they seem dry. Leave the foil open if they seem soupy. Not rocket science but it does require some attention. If you are going to us these with an ice chest for transport, make sure the pans will fit into a standard 12" wide cooler. Roll Eyes After a little trial and error I found that lasagna pans are just right.

Pulling in advance saved a lot of work on the site and the throwaway pans were wonderful. On this event, I did drag long my 008 but I primarily used it as a warming oven. Throw in one chunk of hickory and let her rip. You get the "aroma" of the smoke (and it does draw a lot of attention) but without the agony of trying to time the cook.

If you get asked to do one of these things, it can be done. It just requires a lot of thought and planning (and lots of friends to help).

Oh, I forgot to mention that 1 1/2 hours before dinner time, just as the jambalaya was going into the pots, it rained, then it hailed, then it rained some. We looked like drowned rats until they finally set up an awning for my volunteer crew. We laughed and scratched and had another beer. It was great fun!
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Sounds like you're making Big Sky country Big BBQ country! A couple of questions on the re-heat:
  • Were the pans fully defrosted in the fridge before you put them in the oven?
  • What temp did you set the oven?
  • Did you check the meat temperature before serving?
  • Did you try some freshly pulled pork with the serving sauce and compared to the taste of the re-heated meat?
  • Did you serve other sides beside jambalaya, did you only use cold sides?

I got my Smokette last week and ordered a dual probe Polder last night, as well as a small handheld poker thermometer for backup. I'm also interested in cooking for small-to-medium size groups, and your approach for pre-cooking the meat looks good.
Thanks for the comprehensive report and congrats on your success.

Some other approaches,could be.

Figure on sizing out your butts ,so you can cook the 70 lbs,on top two racks,on three successive nights.

In morning wrap finished butts in plastic wrap,and then foil-cool.

Freeze if you must,but they will hold fine for the three days in refrig.

Find dial setting that reflects 235* on top rack.

Use roasting pan,or better yet
-disposable Al full pans from a box store.

Forget mustard,wear disposable latex gloves,pack as much rub on butts for that night,as they will hold.

Place in unscented kitchen trash bag,and in refrig,until ready to cook.

Place temp probe in smallest butt,and don't open door until about 190*internal.

Check with instaread and check bone and feel for doneness.

Continue cooking,if needed.

On morning of party,place all foiled butts in house oven at 250* ,until about 145* internal.

Place all in warm,dry,insulated cooler.

It will hold for 6-8 hrs.

It takes about five mins to pull a butt,so pull as needed, wearing disposable latex gloves ,over thin cotton gloves.

They will still be too hot to hold.

If power fails,after a few hrs and you have built your bark,double foil,continue heating in a 235* house oven,until done.

Although I like Smokin's sauce,if pulled pork gets dry,you can also add a 50/50 mix of apple juice and bbq sauce when serving.

Most cooks have a bottle of apple juice on hand.

Just a couple of thoughts.
Some good ideas, Tom. I did decide to pull everything in advance partly because of the staffing issue. Since it was all a group of volunteer friends, you never really know how many are actually going to show up to help. Several did not and I was glad to not have to have one or two people pulling.

The night before (and it was late 4:00) when the power failed, I actually put the pork butts in our house oven. About a nanosecond after I opened the door, I realized no power for the smoker, no power for the oven. Fortunately, no one else was awake to see me putting the butts into the oven (holding a flashlight in my teeth)! Roll Eyes The Weber saved me on that one!

The meat was mostly fully defrosted and had an internal temp averaging 37 degrees when we started heating. I was again, overly cautious and reheated to around 160, mostly out of concerns for the food safety. The meat turned out just fine. It stayed moist and perhaps would not have passed muster for serious BBQ experts but it was fine for this event.

As for Spud's questions...

the taste of the meat is fine after reheating. The texture is not quite as good but still acceptable. When I pulled the pork, I did cut off the large sections of bark and diced that seperately. Then I stirred it back into the meat. This really dispersed the spice flavor throughout the meat. The bark does lose its crunch but I think it will no matter how you reheat (pulled or whole). I did try reheating one whole pork butt and then pulling it. I could not tell the difference. Again, I am not a BBQ expert either so maybe I am not good enough to know the difference. Perhaps ignorance is bliss!

Spud, something that worked really well for me was using some regular old roasting ovens on the serving line. I put a little water in the bottom of one and set the foil pans of meat and a small restaurant server with heated dipping sauce(like you see for salad dressings on salad bars...) right in the roasting pan. It kept the meat and the sauce hot. For the jambalaya, I did put the first two batches directly into the other roasting oven. The last two batches, I just served directly from the cast iron ovens in which they were cooked. Oh, BTW, most residential circuits don't like having two roaster ovens plugged into the same circuit. Plan on lots of extension cords and hope you can find plugs on seperate circuits...<G>

I plan on getting two more Lodge 12" 8 qt dutch ovens. I had to do two batches, dump them and then cook the final two. It worked but caused a lot of extra stress at the last minute. With four of those babies, you could serve 100 people right out of the cooking pots. It keeps stuff warm a long time and it looks sort of cool on the serving table.

What really seemed to help us was the way we served. The people never got their plate until the end of the serving line. The sandwiches were built on the plate and the jambalaya served by just passing the plate down the line. I had five put the bun on a plate, one put the meat, on put the sauce, one did the cole slaw and one did the jambalaya. Nobody had to switch utensils and it really sped things up. Then the folks could take their plates and serve their own veggies. Plastic silverware that we pre-rolled with a napkin was placed at the end of the serving table.

The dessert bar was set up in another area and we did not even man that station until about halfway through the line. It really worked well. I don't know how many people you are talking about serving or will have helping but people want to dilly dally through the line if you let them self serve and portion control is impossible. I used to fly Japan and Asia a lot and in the restaurants over there, they have little plastic models of the dishes they offer in the window. We did the same thing...I built a plate with the sandwich and jambalaya. People could see what we had and eliminated all the "what is this?, what is that?". I also posted menus along the wall where the line would form with an explanation of what stuff was. People in Montana are not familiar with pulled pork, putting cole slaw on meat or seeing Jambalaya!

Dang, another long post. Smokin Okie is gonna get the hook out....
You could go with a butane burner like these. Eliminates the need for electricity and is a lot safer in the biblical type weather you seem to have out there. No protection against locusts though. Smiler

As for the volunteers though, is sure is funny how quickly the fun goes out of pulling pork. Most seem to have about a 2 butt limit.

Originally posted by Dale_MT:
Dang, another long post. Smokin Okie is gonna get the hook out....

Nah, not at all, it's good info. I'll probably move this info down to the Pro Forum that's where we have a lot of catering info similar.

Great details.

Maybe I missed it, but how did everyone like it?
They seemed to really love it. Part of it was the different menu. The BBQ's up here are pretty much all the same. This was just different enough.....And Todd, you are right, a lot of the volunteers sort of develop colds or sick relatives.... Cool

I will have to look at those butane heaters. I have a double cooker camp chef that cranks out about 30,000 BTUs for the heavy cooking. The problem with them is they actually put out too much for the dutch oven in the rice cooking stage. Turn them down low enough and they want to go out on you. A couple of those butane units might be just right. Simmer the pots on those after they heat up on the big boys....

My wife has threatened to divorce me if I volunteer for another one of these but there are a lot of good causes out there and I AM retired.... Big Grin

I got a lot of good info from the folks in the pro section. This showed me how tough of a business that can be.
Tom, how long to reheat a whole butt, from the refrigerator into a 250 oven? Is 145 hot enough...I went higher just because I was nervous about the salmonella, etc. We were careful handling the meat but you never know.....I did not think they would hold the heat that long but obviously they do. It sure would have been nice to have them reheated before I drove up to the site..........I will have to try that.
Food Safety (a WHOLE different lengthy topic) basically involves how fat you cool it off and how you heat it, key being how long it stays in the 140 to 40 temp as it's cooling.

Raising the temp above 140 is sufficient (mostly) for food safety and the time to raise the temp will depend a lot of size/mass/temp of the meat going in.
The cooling part was what sort of worried me. As soon as I pulled it, I put it in an old refrigerator to cool it a little bit and that is why I then put it into the freezer. I was not sure if it would really keep for more than a couple of days without being frozen. I had been reading the various techniques in the pro section. I should have used the ice method instead of the refrigerator.
Like Smokin' says,but a couple hrs is usually sufficient.

Frozen butts can be done the same way.

My teammate,Ribdog,gives these to individual clients,with instruction sheets.

He cuts butts in half,then freezes together,also.

Customers can take 1/2 butt from freezer to oven to table.

Yep,packing them all into trash bags,and into ice/ ice water in a cooler is a much faster method.

Also ,for those folks that have excess freezer room,an hour in there will help to quick cool-before refrig.

Hope this helps a little,but it seems like you are getting a pretty good handle on it.

As you see,having the right gear,and disposable utensils,and a few tricks makes it more like fun and less like slave labor. Wink

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