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First few smoking sessions... 8200ft! A few questions

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  • PauloP
    Club Member
    • Sep 2020
    • 1

    First few smoking sessions... 8200ft! A few questions

    Hi everyone! First post on The Pitmaster Club after having a few sessions with my 18" WSM.
    So far so good, but giving I live at 8200+ ft above sea level, first couple of questions/concerns arise!

    Strangely enough, I have zero issues with keeping temps 225-250F, tried the regular K and Weber briquettes with no noticeable differences. Start with the minion method, 1/2 a chimney with some briquettes poured on top of the unlit coals and most of the at the center of the "donut". Takes some time to set the whole thing up (probs like 45 min from starting the chimney to get 225F), but other that that, I'm very pleased (and still surprised, getting above 260-270... that's another story!).
    I have a Mav XR50 and use a water pan (filled with water 3/4).

    I cooked baby backs 3 times and the past weekend I went for a butt.

    For the ribs, always ended up with good overall consistent temps (220-240 at grill level, according to my log and the XR50), tried different cooking times (with fairly similar weight of ribs around 4 lbs total 2-3 racks). One time 5h, second time 4:15h and last time 3:45h. I was trying to get more "juiciness" from the cook... and even though I tasted a difference between 5h and 3:45h... I still feel they are not tender enough. The "holding" method to try for doneness wasn't that good (ie. holds pretty tight) at any of the 3 sessions.

    And for the weird part... last weekend pork butt. It was an oddly small butt at 2.8 lbs trimmed... (probably just the part from "neck" of the animal without the shoulder/picnic part, the "money muscle" was there!). Cooking session lasted TEN hours (no foil), to reach for 180F meat temp (I couldn't wait for 190+F sorry about that, we were hungry haha). Throughout the cooking my log recorded 230 avg. temps at grill level (taken at 30min intervals) with a few peaks at 240-250 after 7 hours (I had the first peek inside the cooker and wanted higher temps because I was getting desperate...). I encountered a stall, lasting 3 hours, at 155F internal ... and a SECOND one for about 2 hours at 172F.
    All and all... pork butt was "fine". A little tough not that easy to pull, not a lot of juices either. Bark was awesome though! (God bless Memphis Dust!)
    Probably 10 hours was WAY TOO MUCH for 2.8 lbs of meat, but internal temps of 165F (lets assume safe USDA pork temp) was reached at 7 hours! So I figured I should keep going...

    What was wrong? Should I guide myself with internal temps or cooking times at high altitudes? I know that at my altitude cooking will take lots more (20-25% more?), but 10 hours? And still, it was kinda on the dry side, and internal temp was 180F when I took it out at the 10 hours mark (rising about 2F each 15-20 minutes...).
    Should I adjust for internal temps as well because of my altitude? I read a lot in the forum about it, but as I understand a butt has to be 190 to be "done" (being 203 what Meathead recommends) at any altitude and in general altitude does not affect the actual temps meat is considered "done".
    I also read about water boiling temps (in case you are curious, at 8235ft with a barometric pressure of 29.50 inHG, water boils at 197F!), given I'm higher water will evaporate at lower temps... should I re-think the target temp of 225 for cooking? in order to keep moisture inside for longer times... (I read from Meathead that I should cook at 216F to compensate for the water evaporating at a faster rate).
    At the end of the day, no probs with reaching/keeping desired temps for long times... I feel ribs are turning out a tad dry, that small butt never reached "done" temps... also a little dry (and... 2 stalls!)... help?

    Thank you for reading and hope you could give my some tips or advice on my newbie problems!

    Paulo.
  • Red Man
    Club Member
    • May 2018
    • 1252
    • Western Washington

    #2
    Your finish temp will be lower than 203. If water boils at 197, you will never get the meat above that until it has completely dried out which you do not want to do. I have no experience cooking at altitude but I’d expect you will need to hold the meat at around 190 internal temp until it probes tender.

    Comment

    • ecowper
      Founding Member
      • Jul 2014
      • 3642
      • Maple Valley, WA
      • Grill = Hasty-Bake Gourmet Dual Finish
        Smoke = Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5"

        Thermometer = FireBoard FBX11 with 2 ambient and 6 meat probes
        Thermometer = Maverick ET732
        Thermometer = ThermoWorks Chef Alarm
        Thermapen Mk IV = Light blue
        Thermapen Classic = Grey
        PID Controller = Fireboard Drive + Auber 20 CFM Fan

        Favorite cook = Tri-Tip for the grill, whole packer brisket for the smoker
        Favorite wine = a good Bordeaux with steak, a good Syrah with pork, or a nice bottle of Champagne or California sparkling wine
        Favorite beer = Sam Adams Boston Lager or Shiner Bock
        Favorite whisky = Lagavulin 16 year old single malt

        Best Cookbooks - Meathead's "The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", Chris Lilly's "Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book", Aaron Franklin's "Franklin BBQ"


        Eric Cowperthwaite aka ecowper

      #3
      Hopefully one of our other folks living at altitude will chime in soon. MBMorgan maybe

      Comment

      • tstalafuse
        Club Member
        • Mar 2018
        • 92
        • Florissant, Colorado

        #4
        Okay, I am at 9100 ft... Yes, your "done" temp will be 6-7 degrees below whatever water boils at 8200 ft. For me, it is about 190 as water boils here at roughly 196 degrees. If you try to force it above that you will end up with dry tough meat because you boil all the moisture out. You should also reduce your cook temp to somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 degrees above the water boiling point, so my target temps range from 205ish to 212ish. Yes, your cooks will take longer especially for tough cuts of meat; ribs, briskets, pork butts... because it isn't just getting to the done temperature, but how long the meats sit breaking down all the connective tissue that you have to factor in when cooking at altitude. If you cook at too high a temp you get there too quickly because the boiling point of water is so low, which doesn't allow enough time for the connective tissues to properly breakdown. Low and slow has a very different set of requirements at altitude. Good luck and keep on smokin..

        Now, if someone can just tell me how to make a decent pizza dough at altitude...

        Comment

        • RonB
          Club Member
          • Apr 2016
          • 13516
          • Near Richmond VA
          • Weber Performer Deluxe
            SNS
            Pizza insert
            Rotisserie
            Smokenator 1000
            Cookshack Smokette Elite
            2 Thermapens
            Chefalarm
            Dot
            lots of probes.
            CyberQ

          #5
          Welcome to The Pit. I'm at less than 300' above sea level, so I'm no help...

          Comment

          • Clark
            Club Member
            • Mar 2020
            • 259
            • Broken Arrow, OK.

            #6
            We used to live at 7600' in Colorado. You just have to learn thru trial and error how to alter recipes to allow for your altitude. Keep a detailed log/record of each cook so you can refer back when you cook the same protein the next time. When you try recipes from books (sorry Meathead) or online, don't follow them as to time or temp. You'll figure it out easily after a few cooks.

            Comment

            • Oakgrovebacon
              Club Member
              • Apr 2016
              • 1997
              • South central Illinois

              #7
              Welcome to the pit from Southern Illinois! I am not at altitude, but I would suggest wrapping or a foil pan with a foil cover when you hit the stall

              Comment

              • hoovarmin
                Founding Member
                • Jul 2014
                • 1092
                • Neptune Beach, FL
                • Weber Performer 22
                  SNS
                  Joule
                  Thermoworks Smoke
                  Thermoworks Thermapen
                  Kingsford Blue Bag

                #8
                Welcome from NE Florida, where we are right at sea-level.

                Comment

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                We've unfortunately had to cancel the 2021 Meat-Up in Memphis. We are rescheduling for tentatively March 18-21, 2022. Click here for more info: https://pitmaster.amazingribs.com/forum/announcements/misc/1014106-meat-up-in-memphis-2021-canceled
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