Two Men, Two Pits and a Blog

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Of Fish and Men: A Little Surf and Turf

There are some days in the human condition when a man proper needs to catch his own protein. A time required when he simply, and to an end,  needs to fish. To stalk environs still wild, andIMG_46911 pluck from them that which lurks and swims in the murky underwaters. To hoist thy plunder proudly into the air, dripping there, sunbeams glinting of scaly flanks of slime, and declare that dinner is henceforth secured from this barren and trying land. And somewhere deep down, just past that soulish area where it ought to, it feels good. Indeed, it feels right. Such was the case recently, whilst afloat a lovely Wisconsin fishery that shall go nameless here, naturally, to throw off any would-be angling gumshoes, that my elder brother and I came into the good fortune of tight lines and nicely hooping rods. Pulling in assorted pan fish and frisky crappies, which when escorted by hook and line, floundered over the water’s surface with an acoustic DNA like that of the final slurps of a draining laundry tub. And we drained a few tubs indeed. We were men you see. Fishing men!

Speaking of, when we first fired up this blog, almost two years ago now, one of the first genuine interactions we made in the vastness of the blogosphere, was with another fisherman, one by the name of TJ Stallings.  A kindred soul. A man who has made his living for decades, in the business of fishing. A feat any bloke who has ever wetted a line and declared it good,  has just got to admire. And I do. If you fish much, you’ve probably heard of his company,  Road Runner by Blakemore. And to this day, I enjoy perusing through his blog,  to learn new things, and see what old TJ has been up to concerning fish craft. It’s a good resource, and if you’re into angling at all, as we are, you may wish to check it out some time at TJ STallings Fishing Blog.

Anyways, TJ must have grown a liking for the weekly drool which accumulated on his keyboard after reading our BBQ posts, and one day sent us a box of tackle, just because. That’s just how TJ is I guess. I thanked him accordingly, but it never felt like enough. So, TJ, this is another, albeit humble attempt of ours, thanking you for your kindness, and your generosity. And for just being plain cool. This is our fish dinner, you see, and it’s in your honor. This one is for you! Here then is how it went, and came to be.

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So back at the lake, I tied on one of these 1/8th oz jig spinners, Reality Shad by Road Runner, and that was all it took. The games were on, you might say, and the fish were agreeable on Wisconsin waters. Rod tips pulsing towards China, blue gills and crappie on the run, 6 pound test line as tight as guitar strings, slicing through a quiet lake, whilst the summer breezes gently murmured through an oaken shoreline. Say what you will, but this is living!

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And before I knew it, I had stringer well enough along for a decent supper. TJ would have caught them bigger, I know, but golly, I think I had just as much fun. So we loaded the boat, saddled up in the truck, and made our way homeward, over the border, and through the spanning countryside, winding roadways, and one well-placed Dairy Queen stop, all the while conjuring the glorious meal yet to come.

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At POTP Head Quarters, first on the pit, and being the proper order of things, were the tin foil potatoes. They take about twenty minutes or so, over direct heat, flipping once for good measure. We like to season them with a dash of salt and pepper of course, and a few pats of butter to keep things sporty. We also tossed some frozen peas in there too, cause I heard once potatoes are not a real vegetable. What ever.

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Meanwhile, and after the fish had been filleted out, they were dunked in a milk/egg mixture, and then shook about in a semi rhythmic fashion amid a plastic bag containing flour, salt, and pepper, until each morsel of fish meat was suitably dusted over.

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Tossing some peach wood onto the coals, we preheated the griddle accessory of our craycort grate, added a little vegetable oil, and man oh man, what sweet pleasures then ensued when that cold fish hit the hot iron. The aroma and the sizzle, wafting into a beautiful, summer’s sky, whilst the tweety birds and men did rejoice. Man! And yes, that is a steak you see there towards the back of the pit, lightly seasoned in onion and garlic, and grilled to perfection. What can I say, I should have kept more fish! So surf and turf, of course,  was the only viable course of action here. One of which I was prepared to endure. Oh yes. A pit keeper proper does what he must!

The fish cooked very fast, like most fish do. Just a few minutes per side, until they flaked easily with a fork. And tho the cook was fairly swift, the day was still delightfully long and tapering. A morning on a tranquil, Wisconsin lake, plying our craft of rod and reel. Then a drive through the rolling countryside, windows down, bass boat in tow – our shadows flickering through picket fences in the pastels of a long, evening light.  And rounded off with a quiet spot of grilling at day’s end, at ease in the patio man chair, and an ice-cold beverage in hand. There are far worse ways to spend a day, people. I leaned back, tipped up the brim of my hat, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, and further mused over the day at hand. How the sunlight dappled through the fluttering cottonwood leaves, and the clouds yonder, drift lazy but with purpose over head, where the wood smoke so gently rises. That too, and memories of fish and of men, for be it also the essence this day, impressed gently on the emulsion of the soul.

I am content, and highly blessed.  And well fed. Amen.

Thanks again, TJ. Blessings!

-PotP

 

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Grilled tin foil potatoes, juicy steak seared and brought to medium, and a pile of freshly procured fish, fried over a peach wood fire, and all, every ounce of it,  patron to the pit. Man! Are you hungry yet!

How to Pacify the Masses: 17 Hour Slow Smoked Pulled Pork

Part One

The Ring Of Fire

The lightning bolts shot jaggedly through the early morning sky, and the thunder boomed with a deafening authority, whilst our fellow patron stirred restlessly in his bed.triple pit It was 5:30 in the blessed morning, the hour of the butts, as it were, and time then to light the fires three. Three pits and 55 pounds of marinated pork shoulder. An estimated 15 hours of cooking lay ahead. A day of smoking bordering pert near biblical – a life event and utopia in meat. But the rain storms which parlayed through the night, and lingered into the morning, did not dampen the resolve of our faithful patron, and caretaker of the Track-Side Pit.

Hark“, he belched, “I am a patron of the pit, I won’t let a little rain and lightening keep me from my appointed rounds! “

Thus tarps were strung, and wind breaks sought, as he trimmed his pits towards the tempest. A pit keeper always finds a way, you see. And soon, the rains dissolved, as if in submission to a warm, blue sky and passionately curling plumes of hickory smoke. The fires hath ignited, people, and the games were on.

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It seems our fellow patron was throwing a party for 200 of his closest friends. So like any man would, he bought a bunch of meat. Pork shoulder to be exact. Fifty five pounds of it. Glory be! This turned out to be a fair share and quantitative mass to exceed the capacity of his off-set smoker. And so about two days ago, naturally, he came knocking at my door. A patron has got to back another patron’s play, don’t you know, so I let him drive off with my beloved 22.5 WSM. I told him to treat it as if he were dating my offspring. He obliged heartily, and made off in a cloud of gravel dust.

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The meat load exceeded the capacity limits of his off-set, and the WSM too, which I didn’t think was even possible, so somewhere along the way, he managed to scrounged up yet another smoker. A wee little electric model from the MECO company. A pit keeper proper will find a way people. Every time. download

Turned out three pits were just right. Three smoking vessels set up for business, wrapping in a picturesque, smokey arc about his man chair, forming the hallowed BBQ dwelling and smoke camp our fellow patron lovingly coined, “The Ring Of Fire“. And the Triple Pit Smoke Out of 2014 was thus official. And by high noon, a total of 7 pork butts with adorning drip trays were already 5 hours into what would be a 17 hour marathon smoke. A hickory scented campaign of which would ply and test the very fabric of patience that which loosely clings to a tender soul. Smoking butts is a time-rich indulgence, and lest your butt be of the wee sort, it will extract some considerable clock out of your day. It will. The scope of common sense would harken it not even worth the trouble. But to an old-time pit jockey, this is what we live for. This is what we do! And what did here, you might say, was a whole lot of nothing. I digress.

Part Two

The Stall

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That’s the nature of good BBQ. That is, at heart of the matter you will find a soul on the scenic path. For there are quicker ways to cook dinner in this world. Those of us who do it over wood and coals, and low and slow, quite frankly are in no hurry. Nay, we cherish the rising tendrils of blue-tinted smoke, and the longer the cook endures, well, the more we revel in its hearty spoils. The more we savor the journey. The process. It is our privilege to take that which we love, in this case, BBQ, and extend the moment for the moment’s sake. To hold the sun by the tail, and try to pause it there, hemorrhaging in a pastel sky. Ho hurries. That’s how we roll. Anyways, long about five in the afternoon, ten hours total thus far into this smokey campaign, the internal temperatures of the butts were hovering in around the 165 degree range, and you know what that means. Or maybe you don’t. If you are not familiar with the art and science of smoking the big meats, what happens around 165 is what meat maestros affectionately refer to as “The Stall“. And it’s always an interesting time.

At around 160 – 165, basically what happens is your meat forms a union and it goes on strike. It refuses, most times, to rise in internal temperature. The thermal doldrums of conventional BBQ. And it tries a man. What happens, they say, is the water in the pork is cooked out at that point, and the collagen begins to render. And tough begins to turn tender. It’s where the “magic happens”, pit keepers like to say. And for a while, sometimes even a greater while, the internal temperature gets stuck. And it appears on the surface of things as tho no progress is being made, even tho it is. Eventually tho, and reluctantly at that, the temp starts climbing again, and finally exits the stall, some times hours later. If you’d like to know more about the science of what is going on here, and it is some very interesting stuff indeed, we’d refer you to this article by one, Meathead, who explains it very nicely. Anyways, I went to pay our fellow patron a visit during the stall. To offer support during this trying time, and to partake in some of his smokey ambiance he had going on at the Track Side Pit.

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He was hard at work when I got there, sitting in his folding man chair, considering the curvature of his belly button or something. I knew he was dilly-barprobably concerned for his plunder tho, not to mention a bit weary from ten hours loitering in the ring of fire, so I did what any good patron would do, I brought him a Dilly Bar. Ah yes, the venerable Dairy Queen stand-by. The ice cream swirl on a stick and dipped in chocolate gastronomic wonder, one of which brought a large smile to us both, as we sat back and watched the smoke curl together. It was clear, he enjoyed some company no less than the Dilly Bar. And understandably so. A man, you see, is particularly receptive to the good things in life when his meat has stalled. Any little victory he will take.

I’ve been out here since 7 AM“, he croaked.

Oh yeah“, I said, quizzically

Yeah“, he continued, “I would have started earlier if it weren’t for the lightning storm this morning

He slurped a big chunk off his ice cream, and added, “But I had to man up and get it done. The heck with the storms, I’m a Patron of the Pit!

I finished off my dilly bar, and looked at all the pits puffing serenely into the muggy, Minnesota sky. The rains long gone now. It was a beautiful sight indeed. A train loaded with heavy coal suddenly rumbled by, rattling the earth like a waking volcano, rhythmic and pounding, yet some how soothing and therapeutic. It rumbled for a couple of minutes until it finally tapered into the distance and silence flooded back to the track side pit.

I tossed my ice cream stick into the trash, and yammered, “You know, you can go inside once in a while if you want to. These pits can baby sit themselves for a while.”

Oh, I can’t do that“, he countered, “The wife thinks I’m working hard out here!

Crikies“, I croaked, “Yes, you mustn’t mess with that illusion! Good move old boy!

This is one of the greater acts of deviance in the BBQ condition. The oft held high esteem for the pit master as being some sort of wizard that which requires long and protracted hours of manning the pit. If you value the quality of your supper, you’ll leave the pit keeper alone to do his duties, you see. This notion that he should be left alone out there is maybe only one half-engendered by circumstance and myth perhaps, but more importantly, it is widely accepted as truth by the significant other. Thus releasing a man for the duration of his smoke-out to do what ever he bloody well feels like. And this might explain, when you think about it, the occasional need for a pit keeper to smoke a 17 hour pork butt. Savvy?

 

Part Three

Pit Hijinks and The Final Pull

We enjoyed some mutual agreement and insight there on the patio, and I lingered a bit more, I must say, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, watching our fellow patron’s acute talent for pit craft. He did something of which I don’t reckon I’d ever seen the likes of before in backyard BBQ. Lifting the lid to the little electric smoker, tongs in hand, he sought to manipulate the pork shoulder residing in there. Plumes of hickory smoke bellow out as he attempts to muckle on to the meat. And most of it he does, except for piece that prematurely pulled, you might say, and shot head long into the sky. And there it went, a good-sized chunk of smokey pork, a sandwich’s worth at least, launching skyward like a hickory scented meat missile. Up up up it went, until it too stalled at the hand of gravity, rotated slightly there against a lovely, Minnesota sky, crickets chirping, and made henceforth its return trip to earth. Now here is where it gets interesting. That glob of dripping pork landed smack dab in the middle of a piece of tin foil, one that our fellow patron had rolled out on a side table there just prior. It plopped to foil with a metallic thud, followed by a wiping of the patron’s brow, and I think a couple of hallelujahs were uttered too, just cause.

Nice show!” I belched, “You could take this act on the road!”

Anyways, we lamented a spell more about the mysteries of stalling meat, and then I bid the man farewell. I had places to go, and things to do. OK, not really, but the bugs were coming out, and it was getting late. He understood, and thanked me kindly for the visit and the ice cream. And I left him to his own devises , there amid the curling smoke, sizzling pork, and another choo choo train building in the distance.

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The Smoke De Force endured into darkness. With great resolve, numerous lovely beverages in hand, and an I-Pad on his lap, our fellow patron stayed the course. The smell of slow-smoked pork mingled with the earthy aromas of a summer’s night, and the sound of a pit keeper slapping his forehead for the carbide-tipped mosquitoes which prospected there. At one o’clock in the morning, 17 glorious hours later, he pulled the last butt off the pit and retired to bed. It had been a long day indeed. But a good day, as day’s go, where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.

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They looked like meteorites swaddled in tin foil, and smelled nothing short of ridiculously wonderful. Each butt marinated over night and seasoned in raspberry chipotle rub, from the Wayzata Bay Spice Company, before the smoke. It was enough to make a hungry bloke mist over, it smelled so good. Later it was pulled to perfection, and set forth unto our people, with no less than three home-made BBQ sauces, of course, representing each end of the heat spectrum, and a little honey mustard sauce some where right in the middle, for those who just can’t make up their mind. Rounded off with a dollop of cool home-made slaw, Carolina style. Man! And the masses of people were thus pacified.

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17 Hour slow smoked pulled pork topped Carolina style with homemade coleslaw and touch of sauce. Man oh man! This is what BBQ is all about, people. It don’t get no better.

 

Congrats Austin!

A Mid-Summer’s Feast: Pulled Pork and BBQ Ribs!

Every once in a while, a pit jockey develops a hankering to cook something big. Something epic. A festering itch not particularly, nor suitably scratched via IMG_45871anything you’ll find in the simple realm of hamburgers or hot dogs. Nay, it is a bit more involved than that. It usually requires big, obscene chunks of pig, and it usually takes protracted quantities of precious time. And such was the case today, under gorgeous, blue, Minnesota skies, and darting tweety birds, that we would mark off an entire day from the calendar for the simple pleasure of slow smoking some meat, and then of course,  ingesting it at day’s end. It would be a long and taxing day, and would test my wares of loitermanship, beverage reservoirs, and patience with the pork. I was motivated, tho, you see. I had the itch to go big. We’re talking slow-smoked pulled pork here, and BBQ pork ribs. Its everything we get into BBQ for in the first place. The real thing. And it’s what we’re called to do! Let’s get after it shall we.

So it was, I arose on my day off at the most ghastly hour of 5:30 in the blessed morning in which to ply my craft afield. Still in my man pajamas, and whilst the morning sun caught the dew off the freshly hewn lawn, I stoically gathered my coals in one accord, taking flame to the political section that which made residence up the rusty arse of the old, charcoal chimney. Smoke signals soon spiraled aloft, declaring the day’s journey in meat thus embarked. And speaking of bark, lets head inside and rub the butt down again.

First on the pit is the eight pound bone-in pork shoulder, often called the “butt“. I know. What can you do. Anyways, the evening previous, the shoulder/butt was slathered in a cheap mustard, and hit with a commendable mass of Grill Mates, Sweet and Smokey Rub. Then we wrapped it in plastic, and left it alone in the fridge to marry over night with its new flavors. And here this morning, it’s time to hit it up with additional rub yet again. The rub is one of the most significant contributions you can make to the flavor profile of the pork, so do it up good. Ye need not hold back here. For the more liberal the rub, the better your bark tends to be later on down the road. And most pit keepers worth their tongs, always aspire for a robust bark.

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The fire bowl of the Weber Smokey Mountain was set up accordingly. A chimney full of fiery coals dumped right smack in the middle of a ring of unlit coals. For you newbies, and budding pit masters alike, this is what we call the Minion Method. And it is an extremely effective technique for long, sustained smokes. To learn more about this method, and you really should if you plan on delving far into the BBQ arts, do read our write-up, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion, to get the low down on this classic technique.

Anyways, the butt was gently placed on the lower grate of the WSM, fat side up. Tossed some hickory and apple wood chunks on to the coals, put the lid on, and then did the only sensible thing I could think of at the moment – I went back to sleep!

About five hours later, two of which were spent belly-up counting little pigs jumping over white picket fences, I gradually came to, stretching like a lazy house cat in my soft, easy chair. Ah the rigors of BBQ. I scratched my belly and glanced out to the patio, gazed momentarily, and smiled. Nothing is quite so fine as waking up in your man chair to see your pit stoically puffing away in the afternoon sun. It calms a man, and settles well in his soul. It really does. Morale is always at a high, when wood smoke gently curls for the sky. Anyways, time to get up again. For there are pork ribs to prep. And here is how we did it.

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The first order of business, naturally, is to remove that ornery membrane. That thing is on there tighter than a tick on a hound dog, but you can do it. The reasoning to remove it is two-fold. One, because chewing on it is rather like gnawing on the important end of an old, plastic fly swatter, and two, removing the membrane will promote better penetration by your rub and wood smoke. Say what you will, but this thing should be pulled off. The trick most folk do is slip a butter knife in on top of a bone, but underneath the membrane, wiggle it on in there, and pry it upwards. Then, and with a paper towel to assist in grip, thus peel the membrane down the length of the ribs. Mission accomplished. You might not get it at first, but after a few times, and a smattering of patience, you will wax of an old pit maestro, adept in your craft.

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Once the membranes were peeled, we dusted over the racks accordingly. One in a fair amount of Famous Daves Rib Rub, and the other rack we made a bit more of a production of. Firstly, sprinkling on a light layer of brown sugar, then a layer of Grill Mates Sweet and Smokey rub, then yet another layer of brown sugar, to seal it all in. Mercy! At around five hours into the pork shoulder, we put these ribs gently on the top rack of the Weber smokey Mountain, and added a couple more chunks of hickory wood. Things were chugging along nicely now, and precisely as they should. Time for a lovely beverage and yet another pit-side repair.

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Here is where most smoke wizards are at their very best. Down time. Frankly, it’s half the reason we BBQ in the first place. That hallowed slot of clock in which our feet thus prop like a gentleman of leisure, and all the world seems to spin fairly about thee. It is a time where a man proper can spend exorbitant and considerable amounts of it, doing seemingly nothing at all. It’s a case-in-point example, where as my elder brother would say, “doing nothing sure feels like something“. And it does. Just watching the smoke curl from the pit, with a cold beverage in hand, we are at once and assuredly at ease. Head master of our own protein-rich kingdom. For a while at least, and maybe more than that, we want for nothing else.  Say what ever you will, but that is no small thing. And the cloud shadows quietly parade over the house tops and the thick green grasses below.

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After fashion, about two and one-half hours I should wager, we wrapped the beautiful, mahogany-colored ribs in foil, along with a hearty splash of apple juice for a steaming agent. This simple trick will take your unruly pork by the hand, and escort it unto the savory realms every time. Reminiscent of taking them to the spa, if you will, and pampering every last muscle there. And an hour and half of this treatment is about all you need. Use your pit master instincts. Remove from foil, and place them back on the pit to tighten up a bit. Only during the final half hour did we lather on the Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory and Brown Sugar sauce. Man! And yes, that’s chicken thighs you see there on the pit. Hey, we like meat!

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Oh buddy! You must excuse us here whilst we make the acquaintanceship of this smokey pork rib. It’s for quality control reasons you see, and a pit master’s privilege.

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Now this is what you call a most suitable bark on your butt. Mercy! To the uninitiated eye, it will parlay thoughts of great remorse in your behalf. Onlookers may even want to buy you supper, they feel so sorry for your mass of blackened rubble there before them. But this is how it should be. Ten hours of low and slow therapy, people, gently curling wood smoke, two naps, tweety birds, slanting sunbeams, and a good share of manly beverage, equals sublime smokey pork satisfaction. Or something like that. You know what I mean. The shoulder/butt was brought to 197 internal, until the bone came out clean. Mission accomplished. And amen.

*Let the meat rest a while before you pull it, to redistribute its delicious juices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy Grilling: Meat and Potatoes!

Chlorophyll. It’s a fancy word, which to a Minnesota-bound, Patron of the Pit,  means “easy grilling! ” You’ll know you are in the presence of good chlorophyll by the cottonwood leaftell-tale beads of sweat adorning the outside tin of your man drink, not to mention your brow. You’ll know it also by the length of clock in which you can span pit-side with out in turn your feet going numb, and your eye brows frosting over. Chlorophyll is a wondrous pigment that not only tarries the summer long in tree and bush and long, steely, blades of grass, but it is also a gesture in green, to milder times and a warm, setting sun.  For there was a time, not too long ago in fact, where it felt like summer would never show. Entrenched we were, in four feet of snow, icicles clinging to our homes, and the smart people of the world all rolled their BBQ grills into the garage for the winter. But not us. Not we die hards of pit and flame. Nay, for better or for worse, we stood vigil at our posts, whilst the Alberta Clippers descended across the land. A swath of wind so cold you got the ice cream head ache thing going on, save for the benefit of the ice cream part. Not fair.

Summer time is easy grilling. I like earning my ice cream head aches the proper way, with a hot fudge malt in front of my face, with my feet up,  and an old fishing hat shading my eyes. A summer time repair, if you will. To think about how far things have come along. Like how I fancy the green leaves of the Cottonwood tree, which look so lovely, down by the pond. I like how they tremble and clack in the gentle, summer breeze. I know those leaves are hard at work, doing photosynthesis and other scientific things, along with all the other chlorophyll clad inhabitants, working together in one-accord to bring life-sustaining mojo to this fair land. I appreciate that a lot. And my does it make for some rather fine grilling. What sheer pleasure it is to repair pit-side on long summer days like these, base ball game on the radio, cool beverage in hand, warm sunbeams melting through the tree tops, and a breeze so gentle and so sweet, ’tis like a kiss blown from angels on high. It is well for a year-around pit maestro to revel in such things, nay it’s our privilege. For we have seen winter’s tempest, felt her keen sting,  and have fired up the barbie on the dark side of the moon. Today shall we say,  is easier than that.

On the pit today, nothing too special or elaborate. Just the steak and potatoes thing every man hankers for. And a couple other odds and ends you’ll probably like too. So grab a lovely beverage for yourself, and meet us out by the grill, and we’ll tell you more about it, and how it went and came to be.

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It started out humble enough, with a few potatoes dice into manageable and equal sized chunks. Some people call them hobo potatoes, other folk call them tinfoil potatoes. What they really are is… Good! Diced, a couple pats of butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, wrapped in foil and placed over direct heat for the duration of the cook. About 20 minutes or so. Good eating! See our previous write up , tin foil potatoes, if you want to learn more. Next on the pit were a nice set of rib eyes, maybe our most favorite steak. Seared over direct heat a couple of minutes per side, and then tucked back indirect, lightly seasoned in garlic and onion salt. This was going to be it, a nice smattering of meat and potatoes. Everything a man needs to set him straight again. But then my bride brought home some asparagus and some corn on the cob, just in the nick of time to hit the pit. And thus it did. The little grill was filling up!

Nothing is quite so fine as some quality outdoor cooking, under lovely skies, and soft breezes. Oh we could cook all of this indoors, over the expensive, thermostatically controlled  kitchen range – but why! It would be a pity to miss out on those warm, golden sunbeams that which took a winter in the making to appreciate. Likewise the blooms of the wild Iris’s, and the playful melodies of bird song in the Spruce. Of cloud shadows sweeping past, and hard-working honey bees pollinating the radishes and the pole beans which daily reach for the sky. Nay, we don’t want to miss out on these things. These wondrous and endearing gifts, and easy grilling,  all-in-one,  and patron to the pit. Amen.

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Grilled rib eyes, tin foil potatoes, asparagus spears and corn on the cob. Oh yes! It won’t get too much better than this folks. Nor be nearly so much fun.

All That We Need: Cherry Smoked Cheeseburgers

The rainy season continues to pummel our fair land that is Minnesota. Flash floods are common place. As are the seemingly daily thunder storms. Likewise the unruly uprooting of fallen IMG_03041trees, courtesy of the soften soils and stiff gales. It has been a decidedly sporty locale, here in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes – most of them now, and in a word, satiated. The pit-side pond has also swollen to say the least, and between the tempests, I slipped into my water proof boots, and took a stroll down there. Slowly ambling alongside the tall grasses and flooded banks. My boots sucking into wet earth reminiscent of my bog romping days of youth, where if I was lucky, my ecology professor told me, I might find the rare and highly esteemed, Trailing Arbutus. A plant so rare, I was told, that it would have put a normal man of means into serious debt should he pick it and bring it home. Should the department of natural resources catch wind that is.

What I found along the pond’s edge was something not so rare, but beautiful to behold, and equally as unidentifiable to me. I’m guessing an Iris. That’s what my botanical gut says. I wish I knew wildflowers better. It is a gaping fissure in my knowledge I’d like to fill some day. I’d rather know wildflowers than know a second language, I think. This one was of a delicate nature, like all flowers are, yet charming, and independent in the same breath. About 15 inches in stalk I should wager, and violet flavored blooms the rough stature of overly soggy potato chips. A resident token of beauty and an act of small rebellion in a land wrought by the storms. It stood ever so proudly, doing what seemed like nothing at all other than looking lovely for the benefit of photographers. Anyways, I liked seeing it there at the water’s edge. It belonged. And if one of you might know it’s true identity, and I suspect you do, do let me know.

Now onto something I do know – cheeseburgers!

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Six robust patties sizzled in one accord over a beautiful bed of coals. Light plumes of cherry wood smoke curled through the cast iron grate. And sunbeams washed over the lawn in a glorious golden light. Yes, the rains had ebbed long enough for that precious glowing orb of light to burn aloft in an endless blue sky. A reprieve well-earned, snatched from soddened battlefields, and for the evening at least, all the world was right again. And dry.

The burgers today were seasoned with one envelope of Lipton Onion Soup Mix, cobbled through-out the ground beef, then lightly dusted over with a bit of Famous Dave’s Steak and Burger Seasoning. We placed them opposite the hot coals, or in-direct for you technical grill-smiths, put the lid on, dampers tweaked, and let the pit do it’s thing. In good time, flip thy meat according to your pit master instincts. You know how it works.

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There is something very authentic that happens when the wood smoke curls. Every grill jockey knows it. Every pit keeper longs for it. An infallible sense of well-being and contentment seems to rise with those aromatic, wispy tendrils of smoke. It’s enough to move a man, or even a gaggle of women, to draw a lovely beverage and just sit. Legs crossed like ambassadors of high leisure, ice clinking in our glass, let us at once let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and just be. Like that showy flower down by the pond’s edge, may we revel in what is still. And just be. In a world detached with haste, rushing from one posture to another, oh what sweet respite we garner in the simple act of watching smoke taper into a blue, pastel sky. And for a while at least, it is all that we need. Amen.

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Cherry Smoked Cheddar Cheese Burgers with all the fixings. Yum! Because when the sky stops falling we all need to eat. Nay we need to live.

BBQ Arts 101: Good Woods To Smoke With

As you delve further into the BBQ arts, eventually you’ll wish to smoke something. It’s just the natural course of things. You need not fight it. smoke woodWhere to start, you ask? Well, as a general rule of thumb, if it grows fruit or nuts, it is probably a legitimate candidate for a smoke wood. Use common sense tho. Make sure it is seasoned, (not green) and not growing some sort of unruly fungus or anything. And please people, no smoking with green treated one by sixes off your back deck. That’s very bad!

Now one of the most common mistakes made by newbie smokers is over-smoking. The assumption that more is better is wrong. Don’t do it. Such antics can impart a bitter taste on your meat. If you see your pit puffing like a choo choo train, tweak the dampers, lift the lid, or wait it out. Wait for the smoke to taper into thinner, almost blue-tinted tendrils. That’s just right. And there is really no need to keep tossing on smoke wood through-out the cook. After about two hours, most meat has gotten all the smoke exposure it needs. Remember the old BBQ adage, smoke is a seasoning, not an ingredient.

Not counting the realm of pellet smokers, the smoke woods you will find come in either chips or chunks. Both work fine, but there is nothing like a good chunk! Two or three apple-sized chunks of smoke wood placed directly on the coals will give you all the smoke you need, many times generating wispy tendrils of it for a couple of hours. Many a pit keeper soak their chips, and even chunks in water or a variety of interesting brews, this to elongate the burn time and to add a bit more flavor. In point of fact, if you boil your wood in water, it will open the fibers and absorb even more water, and thus the wood will smoke longer. But let it be said, because its true,  you need not bother with such heady antics, for at the end of the day a good chunk of smoke wood speaks for itself. Just place it on the coals, close the lid on your pit, ensure a good draft, and observe the magic that which gently transpires.

With these things in mind, here then is a little list of choice smoke woods to get you started, or experiment with. All good choices, and good, smokey fun! And many of them can be found at your local hardware or big box store. You may even have some laying in your back yard.

For your smoking convenience, a copy of this list was also placed up on the page index at the top of the site. Now lets smoke something!

  • ALDER – A light smokey flavor. Excellent with the likes of fish, pork, and poultry.
  • ALMOND – A sweeter tint of smokey flavor. Suitable with all meats.
  • APPLE* – Very subtle, slightly sweet. Excellent with poultry and pork. This is one of our favorite smoke woods.
  • ASH – A rather subtle  but articulate flavor. Another fine choice for fish.
  • BIRCH – Another subtlety sweet smoke. Good with pork and poultry.
  • CHERRY – Lightly tinted of sweet. Does really well with red meat and pork.
  • HICKORY* – Moderate to strong smokey flavor. Good for a variety of meats. If we could only pick one smoke wood, this would be it.
  • MAPLE – Easy going and subtlety sweet. A light smokey taste. Good with pork, poultry. Great wood for planking.
  • MESQUITE – Maybe the most robust of the smoke woods. Strong smokey flavor. Good with beef, chicken, and pork.
  • MULBERRY – Reminiscent of apple wood, just harder to find.
  • OAK* – Moderate to strong smokey flavor. Readily available, and a fine all around choice. Excellent for red meat. Does well with pork and fish. We would put this one in the smoke wood hall of fame.
  • ORANGE- Mild and slightly sweet. Good with fish and pork and chicken and beef.
  • PEACH -Another mild one. Slightly tinted in sweet. Great with beef, pork, fish and poultry.
  • PEAR -Light smokey flavor.Great with chicken and pork and fish.
  • PECAN* – Mild to moderate smokey flavor. Slight hint of nut. Good with all meats, especially poultry. Pecan is right up there with our very favorite smoke woods.
  • WALNUT -Robust smokey flavor. Best with red meats.

*Patrons of the Pit Favorites

My Meat Department Tabloid

Patrons of the Pit:

For the love of cow craft, and general meat knowledge, here is a little shout out to one of our readers, a man privy to many a back story in the meat industry. He is articulate, witty, and I think an all-around great dude. And if you’re into senior humor, (and one day hopefully you’ll have to be), you ought to check out some more of his writings at http://richardmax22.wordpress.com.

Here then is his insightful write-up on things you may or may not know about the meat you eat and the heady antics behind the scene.

Good Grillin’
-Potp

Rest in Peace, Rick

Originally posted on richardmax22:

I was raised in the meat business. My father had a slaughter-house and meat cutting and packing plant that I worked for several years when not in school. After being discharged from the military I worked in the logging industry for 18 years. When that company shut down and we were all laid off, I decided to get back into meat cutting and purchased a meat market which I owned for 14 years. I also worked a couple of years cutting meat in a Piggly Wiggly store. Bottom line, I do know something about cuts of meat, and will share a few facts one might find interesting.

1. What makes some beef tender or tough? There are two factors. One is which part of the animal the meat is coming from. The more muscled the meat, the tougher it will be. So the parts of the animal most heavily used from day-to-day are going to be the tougher cuts. For instance the…

View original 1,075 more words

How to Grill in a Monsoon: Smoked Meat Loaf Sandwiches

It has been a soggy few days in paradise. I know the monsoon season has never even heard of Minnesota, but here lately I tell you, you would have been hard pressed toIMG_80301 enlighten me otherwise. Flash floods, and torrents of falling water. Gales like Joshua’s trumpets. Lightening bolts the shape of Idaho. Thunder so loud you swear mother earth had just split at the seam. Everybody, even the resident ducks, were to take cover from the tempest, huddled in our respective shelters, listening to the rain drum over the roof like pitch forks and hammer handles. Magnificent weather, to say the least. You cannot deny. But a might challenging, shall we say, in which to go outside and light the BBQ. What’s a pit jockey to do! Eventually tho, and mercifully, all the flags suddenly went limp, and a golden shaft of light pierced down from a gray sky. Water gently dribbled off the roof, and the tweety birds burped back to life. We all emerged from our holes, every living thing, scratching our collective heads, and admiring a world so fresh and anew. So wet and green and clean. And countless pools of standing water where water ought not stand.

It wasn’t over yet, however. A glimpse at the Doppler radar revealed the bitter truth. That yet another green blob was advancing fiercely from the West. The short of it was we had but two, possibly three precious hours of semi-damp respite in which to frolic accordingly before the first, fat, rain drops spattered on the ground again. One hundred and twenty minutes or so, give or take. Well, under those circumstance, that was just long enough I figured,  for a Patron of the Pit. Just long enough indeed, for a smoked meatloaf sandwich hot off the grill. Here is how to do it effectively!

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Truth be told this started out as a simple round of hamburgers, but after mashing about the ground beef a bit, you might say inspiration struck. I quickly cracked an egg over the meat, and added about a cup of bread crumbs. Squirted some ketchup in there, then some garlic and onion. An envelope of Lipton Onion Soup Mix. And maybe a few other things. You all have your own kinks for your meat loaf I’m sure. Do henceforth what moves thee. Anyways, I shaped the obscene looking meat muck into the relative dimensions resembling that of a wayward bun I had sitting about. I had an orphaned hoagie roll you see, one that I didn’t know what to do with. It was all alone, and frankly wasn’t reaching its potential. So why not match the meat to fit the bun, its common sense really. I ended up with an oblong loaf of meat about an inch thick, of which I dusted over in some Cajun seasoning just because. This was carefully placed on tin foil and put opposite the hot coals to tighten up there.

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After the meat has tightened up enough to safely pick the loaf up without destroying it, go ahead and get that tin foil out of there. You might be able to forego the tin foil stage altogether if your loaf is sturdy enough, but that is up to your pit master instincts to decide. Anyways, the sooner you get the foil out of there, the sooner then you can commence with the infusion of smokey goodness. The smoke, after all, is what will set this meatloaf sandwich apart from any other. With eyes on the skies, we smoked this hunk of meat for a good hour in a continuous parade of curling oak wood smoke. And it was glorious. An entire hour in which to sit by the pit and do nothing at all. As usual, I was up for the task. Up for the undeniable attributes of not cooking in the rain. Like not wondering where the next lightening bolt may strike, or fighting a stormy gale. The way of course to grill in a monsoon is not to fight it, but to patiently hold your charcoal, biding your time. Like a adventure climbers who bandy together on the flanks of Everest, waiting on a small window of weather in which to assault the summit. And so it is today, and between the tempest,  that we strike!

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Checking in on the plunder is OK. You may wish to turn the meatloaf from time to time, for even cooking. But always keep it tucked back, opposite the hot coals. When in doubt, go indirect people. Ten minutes from the end of the cook, we plunked on a naked corn on the cob, and roasted it over direct heat. Rotating it often with the tongs. A little butter and salt, man, is there anything better! And lastly we toasted up the orphaned hoagie roll, to add that extra touch to a meal well executed. And whilst we dressed the bun in mayonnaise and ketchup, we put a few globs of every one’s favorite ghetto cheese on the meat to melt. Mercy!

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Oak Smoked Meatloaf Sandwiches on a toasted hoagie roll. Oh buddy!  It don’t get more comfort food than this! Just the ticket for what ails you, between the storms, and under fair skies.

 

 

Grill Happy Chicken Thighs

As I repair here at the pond-side pit, lovely beverage at hand, I muse over the delightful breeze skirting the dogwoods yonder, and the cool blades of IMG_2627steely, green grass which grow up to my patio front. I like how the Chickadees flirt to and fro the suet I had set out for them here, and how the late even sunlight slants through the Spruce bows as if on golden arms from above. Like-wise how the stately Spruce sports its new growth this time of year, in dollops of soft, green needles, lighter in appearance, but softer to the touch. I like that for some reason. Also with the resident Mallards which cavort out on the pond, and the handsome Cardinals that banter from the old cottonwood tree, this, and the chorus of a thousand and one song birds trilling at once, whilst the apple wood smoke rises from the grill damper, in soft, aromatic tendrils which dissolve into a pastel sky. What a fabulous evening to be a pit keeper in Minnesota.

On the pit tonight, a simple affair. Juicy, apple-smoked chicken thighs and grilled asparagus. Good eating, and simple to do. Let’s get after it.

photo5First order of business was to hit the thighs liberally in some Grill Happy Seasoning. If you haven’t had occasion, Grill Happy Seasonings is the best thing since Colonel Sanders to a dead a chicken. I first discovered this seasoning many years ago, at the Minnesota State Fair. Being a patron of the pit, and general meat enthusiast,  I always make the rounds of  the various grilled food there. And one thing I make sure to never miss is the pork chop on a stick. For the longest time I loved those pork chops and didn’t know why exactly. And then one day I figured it out – the seasoning. Turns out you can buy the very same seasoning they use right there at the fair for their world-famous pork chops. Also turns out, go figure, it goes great on chicken too. And that’s what were up to tonight. Grill Happy chicken thighs! So buckle up and tie your bibs on, people, cause here we go!

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After seasoning the chicken, and oiling down the cast iron grate, go ahead and place the meat over direct heat, and sear up the thighs to your pit master standards. We like a crispy skin on our thighs, so we let them sear there over the hot coals for a couple of minutes probably. Monitoring them frequently with tongs in one hand, and manly beverage in the other. It’s a lovely dance between man and meat that you will soon get the hang of, iffin you’re not a master of it already. Once seared and crispy, especially upon that notoriously floppy flap of skin which is the bane and burden of most chicken thighs, do slide them over, opposite the hot coals, for the remained of their thermal journey. We added some apple wood to the coal bed, our smoke wood of choice today, plunked the old enameled lid on, and then got about the heady business of doing what we do best – loitering!

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Nothing is quite so fine, nor nourishing to the soul, than taking up a quiet residence in your man chair, aside wafting plumes of apple wood smoke. To kick your feet up there, and consider the day. How the heavens sing of a deep blue, and the air is as soft and pleasant as a new baby’s face. Note how the leaves of the cottonwood tremble in form, clacking gently, like a million-and-one credit cards in the wind. And the hearty banter of bird song fill the smokey tinted air with poetry and grace. I sink a little lower in my BBQ chair, slouching in posture, and completely at ease. My eye lids draw shut  like a New York City shop keep pulling his shades down at day’s end.  The nasal pleasing ideal of apple wood smoke and grill happy seasoning mingle on the scene. My head bobs to and fro, loose at the neck, until my chin comes to rest upon my flannel clad chest. A Black Capped Chickadee chirps at the feeder. I am out. I am, as the Italians like to say, “fuori dalla griglia” , or, off the grid.

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OK, I don’t know if Italians really say that or not, but I’d like to think they do. It’s how it should be at the pit. When those coals are lit, and the smoke is curling, our world and our cares are at once reduced, or simplified in the moment. And it is our job as pit keepers to simply savor that moment, for the moment’s sake. And let the world spin head long with out us for a while. Let the cog of society chew on its own spore and not on you! This is our time to kick back. To relish the supreme ambiance and endearing joys patron to the pit. Amen.

Ten minutes from the end of the cook, we tossed on some marinated asparagus, indirect, to add a bit of green to the end game, and to gain marks with the lady folk. If we men were left to our own devices, we’d probably eat a plate just straight up with meat.  And it would be fine! Anyways, the asparagus was good. Really good. Marinated for a couple of hours first in a solution of: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. It adds a rather robust, yet abiding and  lovely taste to the vegetable.  Give it a try some day.

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Apple Smoked Grill Happy Chicken Thighs and Marinated Grilled Asparagus Spears. You could eat a lot worse and not nearly have so much fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Then There Was Spring: Grilled Beef Tacos

We shall then henceforth, and without any acute delay, boldly sally and declare that spring, with all of its heady promises, has now descended upon our fair landIMG_15721 that which is Minnesota. The snow is at last, and mercifully gone, and replaced now with fields of green. Say what you will, but this is no small thing, people. Lest you forget the winter of 2013/2014 that is. For the icy pangs of  it still sharply laden our frontal lobes, and we still remember vividly how eternal it spread. You southern folks may have whacked your lawns eleven and one times already, and daily fire up your air conditioning units for to thwart the beads of nasty sweat which dribble down your collective foreheads. But it is not like that here. Not yet. The air is still cool, and sweet to the taste.  We have yet to slap the first mosquito or pull the first weed. And the leaves and the grass and the other green things of the world, tho still in stark miniature, are no less hard at work, so much so, that you can almost hear them fiercely growing, in the silence of a sunbeam.

Spring, we do adore this time of year. Naturally one of the better things you can do in spring, is to BBQ. May is National Grilling Month after all. And to a Minnesotan, it would stand to reason that May is the very best month of the year. It’s just plain beautiful here. So on the pit today, we’re doing your basic taco really. Nothing too fancy. And I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, well why the heck doesn’t he just make his tacos on the kitchen stove then, like everybody else? The answer: I don’t want to! Let me explain.

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As I repair here on the pit-side patio, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, enjoying the aromas of sizzling beef in a black iron pan, I try to reminisce how long it has been, by and far, that I could actually do such a thing like this: to tarry on the patio, watching supper cook, and not, when it is said and done, require medical attention for frostbite or mild hypothermia. To loiter aside the curling wood smoke in but a light flannel jacket, and muse over the green blades of grass yonder. It has been a while indeed. Too long, in point of fact. Counting backwards – April, March, February, January, December, November… Go ahead and count it. It’s six months people. Give or take the rare and freakish anomaly of a randomly placed warm day, it has been a half a year since it has been truly comfortable at the grill front. That kind of ain’t right. And this is why we patrons of the pit shall not any time soon, tend to our tacos over a thermostatically spoiled kitchen range. No no no!

After the ground beef is almost but not quite browned, we tossed onto the coals a handful of oak chips for an additional layer in the flavor profile. Oak wood is fantastic for red meat, lending a firm but friendly, mildly nutty, sort of smokey goodness to your end game. It’s very good. Anyways, we mixed in the taco seasoning with the beef, and pulled the black iron pan over indirect heat, put the lid on the pit, and let the meat smoke there for a while. Now is the time to assume your customary BBQ posture, as per the graces this kind of high leisure affords. Lovely beverage in hand, man chair under butt, and a quiet world of gently curling smoke in front of thee. This, a pit keeper comes to know, is all we need. We’re in no hurry folks. And good grilling should never be flanked by wretched tentacles of haste. Anyways, pull the lid and stir the taco meat very occasionally,  this in order to circulate more beef into the path of wafting oak smoke. The smoke, after all, is what will set these tacos apart from any you’ve ever had.

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Whence the meat has browned sufficient to your standards, and the smokey goodness has infused your carefully prepared meat booty,  go forth and assemble thy taco as you will, with what you will. Rice, beans, peppers, cheese, tomatoes, onions, sour cream – what ever moves thee another step closer to your culinary ideal. We’re not done yet tho, nay, so hold on to your inner Mexican just a bit longer. Swaddled in a flour tortilla shell, place your spoils back on the pit, indirect, for the final step towards taco immortality. We’re looking to crisp up the shell a trifle here, and put on a few char marks, patron to the pit. This move will at once signature your taco, branding it if you will, a product of the smokey realm. And you will know it from the sound of your incisors piercing its soft, yet crispy shell, and by the flavorful, smoke-tinted spoils within.

Happy Grilling Month of May. Fire them up proudly, people, and tarry long where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.

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Oak Smoked Grilled Beef Tacos. Man! Edible proof that what is good for the stove top is even better on the grill. Not to mention a whole lot more fun.

And yes, a bite was taken out of this photo op, for quality control reasons. You know how it goes.

 

-Potp

 

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