Smoking pork shoulder

Today I’m experimenting with smoking a pork shoulder on my gas grill. I’ve been meaning to get a smoker “one of these days” but today I couldn’t wait. So this week I had the idea to try and smoke wood chips on my gas grill. Sure enough, there were plenty of videos on YouTube on how to do this.

So I went and got a 6.5 lb. pork shoulder at BJ’s and I bought some cherry wood chips, a small smoker box, and a bluetooth temperature sensor. The latter piece of technology turned out to be essential since maintaining the temperature I wanted was a challenge. More on that later.

Some members of my family don’t like spicy rubs so I found a recipe for a non-spicy rub. Well honestly I just found a rub recipe and omitted the Cheyenne pepper. It smelled nice and in the end, spoiler, tasted great. It seems to me that these rubs are probably hard to mess up.

I added two small bread pans of water because one of the videos said you want a moist environment. I had to continually top these off with more water every hour as the water boiled away. In hindsight, I’m not sure this moist environment did anything but I’ll have to read and experiment some more.

The ideal temperature changes from recipe to recipe but my main constraint was time. I needed to finish in about 7 hours so the temperature range that I tried to keep was 275 to 290 F. If I cooked it longer, say for 2 hours per pound, I’d use a lower temperature of like 220 F.

As I said earlier, maintaining the proper temperature was a challenge and without the constant monitoring and alerts from the bluetooth sensor, I would never have been able to come close to a stable temperature throughout the cook. As you can see here, my temperature was all over the place anyway.

The wood chips didn’t burn at first so I spit some lighter fluid onto them, let the flam get them burning, and then blew out the flame. After that they were on a nice steady burn and I added new chips every half hour to an hour. Still, over the duration of the long cook, I had to repeat this process. As it turns out this must be one of the main benefits of a real smoker, that is there is a dedicated flame to keep these chips burning. In my grill, the flame was mostly indirect and low (to keep ambient temperature low) so the flame was not exposed enough to the chips to keep them burning. Sigh.

In the end, the shoulder tasted great. Well, half of it tasted great. The half of the shoulder that faced the back of my grill was perfectly cooked and pulled apart with a fork. The half of the shoulder which faced the front got colder faster every time I opened the lid and the meat needed to be cut with a knife. Still tasty!

I’ll have to try this again, possibly in my oven next time. I spoke to a friend and they said there is a product called “liquid smoke” which essentially gives your meat a smoked taste even if you don’t have a smoker. I’ll have to try that.

Star Wars

Giovanni and I have been re-watching the Star Wars saga over the past week or two. We are watching the episodes in the “Preferred Order” which is: IV, V, III, VI. We’re skipping I and II since, while gorgeous films, are simply a chore to watch and don’t add much substance. Episodes I and II are something I may watch a while from now out of curiosity but not while G and I are focused on the actual story. The story being essentially Anakin Skywalker’s fall and eventual salvation.

When Giovanni was young, probably 6 or 7, I remember watching Empire with him and studying his face during the big reveal. I’ll never forget his incredulous look. This time around he was the wiser, but still hung on ever word. I was also able to explain a bit about the mythology of Star Wars that I’ve learned over the years. That link was courtesy John or Martin Szinger from like 10 years ago if I recall.

As an aside, I was also privy to studying Giovanni’s face the moment he figure out how to drive a swing by himself. That was another expression of wonder and excitement that I’ll never forget.

Anyway, the “old” episodes really do hold up. While the special effects can’t compare to what we have today, they have a definitive high-quality to them. Meaning, while the methods employed were primitive by today’s standards, a lot of care and expertise was put to the task and the results were revolutionary for the time. The characters and dialogue in the old episodes were so very familiar to me and hearing them again brought a smile to my face. Ewan McGregor definitely saved Episode III. I loved every moment he was in the film and mostly dreaded every moment he was out. That said, there was some fun to be had with the scenes involving Yoda. Me and Giovanni had a laugh as the Jedi were getting slaughtered and they came to the scene where Yoda was to be assassinated. LOL. Nice try.

Another note about the “new” episodes. It’s very interesting to note how our appetite for more sophisticated action sequences has raised over the years. For instance, the swordplay in the old episodes simply can’t compare to the newer episodes. This is a shame. Good choreography of swordplay was possible at the time, as demonstrated by hundreds of chinese kung-fu movies of the era, but the audience was mostly ignorant to this so it didn’t matter.

We still have to watch Return of the Jedi but we haven’t had the time yet to sit down together and get it done. G and I are pretty excited about what Disney is going to do with Episode VII.

Long Island Broncos Yearbook

I just finished the final draft of what was one of the largest projects I’ve ever worked on outside of business. The project was the annual yearbook for the pee-week tackle football league Antonio and Marco have been in for four years, The Long Island Broncos, aka The Seaford Broncos.

Why was the project large?

  • photo collection of 1300+ photos
  • 132 pages of layout
  • 70+ child appreciation pages
  • 40+ financial backers/sponsors
  • 20+ team pages with detailed rosters and coach letters

And I did the whole thing myself. At least the layout, photo organization, etc. I had some great help from the Broncos Board of directors, they did a lot of proofreading, related requirements from previous years, and helped me with soliciting photos, coach letters, etc.

This is the first time I did something like this. Not just a big layout project, but a project for the community. It was very rewarding and I got a lot of exposure to the players, parents, and coaches for all of the age groups.


My methodology mainly involved two main activities:

  • Soliciting photos, sponsor logos and contact  info, child appreciation dedications from the parents, etc.
  • Physically laying out the book, based on the format of previous yearbooks

The first activity all happened by Dec 30 and the latter until a few days ago.

To solicit photos, I created a web page that had instructions on how to submit photos and CAPS and had a collection of thumbnails for all photos submitted so far. I got the majority of photos via e-mail and  few from pictures that  I scanned.

The system I used to lay out the book was provided by, a company dedicated to the creation of yearbooks. Coming from a Pro/Adobe-based background, the flash-based web interface initially frightened me. I thought it would be buggy and have a dearth of features that I needed. I was pleasantly surprised that none of this was true. While the system lacked some basic things I would expect from a page layout tool, such as grouping and alignment functions, it excelled in other areas.

First, the site was very responsive and stable. I never had a strange bug or error. The site worked as advertised and that was honestly the best feature! Stability, who would think?

Second, they had very solid photo manipulation features. In terms of sizing an cropping photos, the interface was dead-simple and productive. I got around the alignment tools by making sure align-to-grid was turned on. So, without much effort, everything got aligned and spacing objects wasn’t a big deal. They also had a solid model for how your content reacted to the edges of the page. There were good snap functions to make sure you didn’t place a photo where it wouldn’t look like you may think it would look. They seem to allow full-bleed layout of photos, too, but I won’t know how good that works until I get the book.

Third, they had really good photo management and search functions. They made it easy to see which photos were used and which had yet to be used. That’s great when you’re trying to get every kid in a photo.

Fourth, they had a nice PDF export facility. I needed this since I wold typically generate a PDF of a page and send it to the parent to make sure they liked the way their Child Appreciation Page (CAP) looked. This whole thing made me nervous because on the forms the parents submitted to me, they wrote notes like, “Please don’t spell my kids wrong again this year.” Jeepers!

In the end, the project took me 4 weeks of light work as I gathered content and 5 or so weeks of pretty intense layout work where I was doing 2-3 hours a night, 5 nights a week.

Here is a sample full-bleed photo layout:

Yearbook Full-bleed

And here is an example of a CAP page:


What’s Next?

Well, the book hasn’t been submitted yet as I have minor corrections to make based on feedback from the board, but I should be able to submit the final draft this weekend.

Next year, I have two ideas to make creation of the yearbook better. In years past, the yearbook has been done by an individual who did the whole thing himself like I did this year. After experiencing the amount of work involved, I can admit that it’s not sustainable to work like that indefinitely. The two ideas to make this a sustainable project even after I am gone are to a) recruit some of the broncos and cheerleaders to help with the book  and have them sign on not only next year but also for the following year so they can mentor new volunteers. Or b) create an adult yearbook committee. And don’t forget c) which is both a and b!

I was thinking of contacting our public library to see if I could get access to their computers for 1 hour a week from October until January so I could host a meeting with broncos and cheerleaders who wanted to learn how to tackle a project like this.

Also, there are a lot of activities that would be best done earlier in the season. Electronic submission for everything would also be ideal. It’s error-prone and slow for me to manually type-in handwritten dedicates made my parents.

So, my goal next year is to create a process and collective mind-share around the  yearbook that can be persisted easily even without my direct involvement.

Until next time.