As we slide into this surreal summer, one thing remains consistent: you have questions for the butcher! This month, Josh Applestone answers your questions about the best way to cook fatty lamb shoulder, how to throw food-centric summer celebrations when we can’t be together for Father’s Day or a graduation party, and how to add smoking on a grill to your bag of tricks. Have a question for Josh? Just ask the butcher and he will answer.
Q. I recently bought a boneless lamb roast. It had a large amount of fat which I didn’t enjoy. How should I have cooked it or do I just not like this cut?
A: Sounds like you got a lamb shoulder. It is really fatty. When you cook it right, the creaminess of the fat accents the dish. Boneless shoulders need to be treated like a brisket or a pork shoulder. They need a slow braise. When you do this, the meat and the fat all blend together. You can mash it up and make pulled lamb. Pulled meat is so easy and it’s a treat. You can even store it in your fridge and use it as a pre-cooked protein for later. All you do is heat it up. To slow cook a lamb shoulder, put it in the oven at 250 degrees F overnight with some liquid and vegetables. When you take it out, throw it through a food processor.
Q. Usually right around now, I’m planning big family parties for Father’s Day, Juneteenth, and for various end-of-school or even graduation celebrations. Food is always the center of it all. How can we party if we can’t all be together?
A: Celebrations are not about the food; they’re about seeing people. Try a Zoom BBQ. You set up a table for yourself, set up a computer, and for once you don’t have to make sure to please everyone with what you’re making. People like steak for Father’s Day. I don’t ever eat steak because I need to sell it. I do burgers and sausages. They’re good and are a winner every time for the family. Right now I’m doing chicken and tofu on my grill. They’re delicious.
If you decide to distance gather in person, do not do an open buffet. Do not have people standing around a grill. Pre-cook. I love doing lobster or shrimp rolls in summer. You can pre-make big salads. Set stuff out pre-plated at a pre-set outdoor table with designated spots.
Q. I want to learn how to smoke meat this summer, but I don’t want to buy new equipment right now. How can I smoke on a grill? And what cut should I start with?
A: All smoke is is a flavor. There are so many ways and so many thoughts on smoking, how you start depends on how deep and crazy you want to go with it. Yes, you can smoke on a grill. And you can smoke anything: breasts, cutlets, pork chops. A whole chicken is great for sandwich meat the next day.
You need some smoking chips or sawdust — dried out wood. What kind depends on what flavoring you want. If you just want smoke, oak or hickory are really easy to do. Some people like apple. I don’t love fruit trees because they’re pretty sprayed with pesticides so you’re burning pesticides. Cherry makes things very dark. I do a hickory and cherry blend. Smoke is an ingredient. If you use shitty old wood, you’re going to get a shitty old taste. Pay attention to quality of ingredients. Aaron Franklin wrote the best chapter on wood in his book, Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. It should be referenced.
Let’s say you have a 18- to 20-inch charcoal kettle. Pile coals on one side so you have a hot side and a cold side. If you have a gas grill, same thing, make a hot side and a cold side. Then you put chips that have been soaked with water in a tray on the hot side. Depending on how much smoke you like, you can keep throwing chips on the entire time. Or not. When I am smoking a pork shoulder, I don’t want smoke the entire time.
For a pork shoulder, make sure to include a water bath for a wet bulb effect — the steam or the moisture in the air will create even heat everywhere. Start with something with a shorter cooking time. For a whole chicken, it’s about an hour or until the juices run clear. Smoke a brick chicken. It’s easy and quick. Be careful; nothing should be left alone.