June 02, 2023
WHAT IS KANSAS CITY-STYLE BARBECUE?
Being a resident of Kansas, when I think of Kansas City-Style barbecue, I think of two things: Brisket and pulled pork. The meat is rubbed down with various spices, then smoked, and lastly topped off with a savory tomato-based sauce. Here, we will replicate, as closely as possible, those two favorite methods using waterfowl.
WHAT WATERFOWL TO USE
Short answer: Anything but divers, mergansers, and sea ducks, nor any fowl where you might question the flavor of its fat. Fat plays a crucial role in good barbecue, and a bird’s diet determines the flavor from said fat. Bottom line: Due to their diet, the fat on the aforementioned birds is simply not tasty, so for these recipes, best stick to your wood ducks, mallards, canvasbacks, Canada geese, etc.
Cooking times will vary based on the size of the bird you’re incorporating, but general methods will remain the same. I like Canada Goose as an option due to its size and amount of meat it offers (breasts usually weigh at least 18 ounces) in addition to the flavor when it’s cooked properly, which we will of course cover in the recipe steps.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
A smoker, pellet grill, or log burner for which you can control the smoking temp is preferred, but not essential. Prior to owning any of the above, I would smoke birds using my Weber charcoal grill. It’s a matter of heating coals using a chimney starter, then soaking wood chips and piling them overtop hot (only slightly gray) coals and managing the vents and top so limited air reaches the coals. At a restaurant where I worked, we used a deep pan containing wood chunks then added a shallow, perforated sheep pan overtop with whatever we were smoking. We covered with aluminum foil and placed that in the oven or on the grill to smoke. So those are a couple options if you don’t have the budget for a new smoker, pellet grill, or log burner.
However, if you do own a smoker, pellet grill, or log burner, you likely know how to operate it. For what wood to use for smoking, that is up to you. I am a fan of mesquite plus a fruit wood like apple or cherry, or perhaps a combo of mesquite and pecan. If hickory is your thing, go that route.
WHAT CUTS TO USE
Good news: We will use all cuts, but employ different methods. Your tougher cuts—like wings, thighs, and legs—are absolutely perfect for making pulled-meat barbecue; while breasts work best for mimicking brisket-style barbecue. Breasts are best served at 130/135 degrees Fahrenheit, while your tougher cuts require longer slow-cooking times to denature and tenderize, upwards of 12-14 hours. Said differently: You should save ALL your waterfowl cuts because they all have uses.
HOW TO WORK WITH FREEZER-BURNT WATERFOWL
Start by removing your freezer-burnt fowl and letting it sit out at room temp for 1-2 hours. At this point, you should be able to take a sharp fillet knife and trim off silvers of dry, gray meat. Tip: Running the meat under cold water very briefly will help reveal where those freezer-burnt patches exist. When doing this while meat is still mostly frozen, you will be able to precisely trim away freezer-burnt patches with minimal loss of meat overall.
WHETHER TO WET BRINE OR DRY RUB AHEAD OF SMOKING
A quick refresher on a wet brine versus a dry rub—or what some might call, a “dry brine.” A wet brine is water combined with an ample amount of salt and other spices and ingredients, while a dry rub or “dry brine” contains both salt and other ingredients. In both options, salt binds to muscle fibers of meat and retains upwards of 50 percent more moisture when cooking.
It’s been my experience a wet brine helps neutralize flavors, remove residual blood, and denature meat slightly, while a dry rub will maintain innate flavors and still imbue muscle fibers with salt. So, if you have waterfowl that could use a saltwater soak to draw out blood or tenderize a bit (for freezer-burnt meat, for example), a wet brine is likely your best option. For a fairly pristine cut of waterfowl for which you want to maintain all those wild flavors, use a dry rub to take it to the next level.
A dry rub can work within just a few hours, while a wet brine typically takes longer to properly work (at least 8 hours, perhaps longer depending on size of meat). With a wet brine, you always rinse it off afterwards under cold water; while you leave a dry rub intact on the meat.
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MAKING THE PERFECT BARBECUE SAUCE
I am a major proponent of mixing my favorites. I might like Kansas’ Curley’s Hickory Barbecue Sauce as a base but then I’ll mix it with Stubb’s Spicy Bar-B-Q Sauce with a little bit of dark beer I’m drinking, perhaps Walnut River Brewing’s Warbeard. If I want some extra kick, I’ll add a tablespoon or two of Sambal Chili Paste. In the past, I’ve even smoked some fresh jalapeños, blended them, and added them to my barbecue sauce. How you customize your sauce is up to you.
Kansas City-Style Barbecue Recipes
Below are a couple recipes to help recreate classic Kansas City-Style barbecue using waterfowl.
Smoked Kansas City-Style Barbecue Goose Brisket Recipe
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Kansas City-Style BBQ Pulled Goose Legs
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Any questions or comments, please reach out on Instagram: @WildGameJack