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Sweet and Smokey: Maple Glazed Pork Chops

It is with great adoration, yet reserved applause, that this Minnesotan declares the arrival of Spring. I came out of my hole the other day, and I saw my shadow, so that IMG_86791must mean something I figure.  I have seen motorcycles too, whizzing up and down the local roadways. Golfers milling through the local foliage in search of wayward shots. The turdus americanus is also in town, hopping about the semi-green grass in search, I suppose, of a good worm or two. I have noted likewise, that the ice has dissolved off the local lakes and waterways, and people of generally good ilk are walking to their mail boxes with out the aid of down parkas or thermal underwear. Things are looking up in other words! And just below it all, quivering in the trees and bushes, in the brown fields and winding stream banks, is that once upon a time and long ago lost color that is green. Chlorophyll! Glorious galleys of green chlorophyll. And it tingles and aches, leashed by a solar clock, waiting patiently to explode.

On the pit tonight, a house favorite. Hickory smoke pork chops with a maple glaze. They’re real easy to do too, so let’s get after it.

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These bone-in chops came smoked right out of the package, and I swear smelled good enough to eat right there, but like any pit keeper worth his tongs, we’re going to double smoke the chops on the old kettle grill. Oh yes!  Placing them opposite a good bed of mature coals, with a few small chunks of hickory wood added to the fire, we were ready for action. We lightly sprinkled the chops in garlic and onion salt, and placed the old, black enameled lid on, tweaked the damper, and caught the draft. Soon aromatic plumes of hickory smoke mingled about the patio, signifying to thee yet another pit session in progress. I was about to assume the proper BBQ posture in the pit-side man chair, but a maple glaze needs to be made, and such things don’t make themselves you know. Here is how to do the glaze.

Maple Glaze

  • 3/4 Maple Syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Ketchup
  • 2 Tablespoons Mustard
  • 1 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

Stir it all together and bring to a boil. Then remove from heat.

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With about ten minutes left in the cook, we varnished on the maple glaze, with greater Picasso-like brush strokes. You’ll want to stay mindful here, making sure your chops are indirect still, for the sugars in the glaze can get burned easier than a kindly old grandma in a used car lot. Be good to your chops, people, and unto your grandmas too! Keep the hickory smoke wafting, and repeatedly brush on the glaze, frequently flipping the chops. Open up the bottom damper, and get the heat up if you can, for to caramelize your spoils aside a hemorrhaging bed of coals.

I pulled the man chair up close to the pit, tongs still hand, and tarried there a spell, like pit keepers do. The aromas of smokey pork mingle with the freshened, April breeze. I leaned back, left leg crossed over right, and mused over the cottony clouds parading over head. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do this. To loiter pit-side and watch the clouds go by, that is with out fusing my hind-end to a subzero, ice-encrusted patio chair. Outdoor leisure only operates for so long when the temperatures court that of a Popsicle factory. But today was different. No jacket needed. And the sun tarried aloft more than adequately to see to cook by. Mallards chortled out on the pond. Blue Jays darted to and fro. And the sweet aromas of perfectly executed pork wafted in the air. I smiled to myself. I could sit here all day, just watching the world spin, and I might have iffin I weren’t so hungry right now.  Our supper is done. Lets plate up these chops, and commence to doing what men do best – stuffing face!

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Maple Glazed Hickory Smoked Pork Chops hot off the grill. A delightful blend of sweet and smokey meat sure to take your belly straight to church! Man!

 

April in Minnesota: Hickory Smoked BBQ Chicken Thighs

The winds howl like Joshua’s trumpets, and the snows they fall almost, but not quite, horizontal, riding a northern gale. Four inches have accumulated out at the pitIMG_21581 today, and a couple more are on the way they say. The roads have gone from motorbike friendly, yesterday, to an all-out 4-wheel drive, blizzard-incarnate today. Once fully functioning automobiles have mired and gone asunder, the way they always do on bad roads, their fenders gashed, and their owners shaken. Grumpy old men mutter to themselves as they go unpack their snow blowers – again. The wintry tempest wages on despite, ever the heartless taxman. Welcome to April in Minnesota. And we do love it this way. Well, least wise some of us do.

I had to admire one individual in particular today, the stately lady cardinal out at the pit-side feeder. Here was a soul not about to give up her supper just because of a raging snow storm. I admired her spunk. Her tenacity to carry on. For that feeder was swinging in the wind, the snowflakes hurtling through the air, but she tucked herself into the lee of it, scant as it was, and dined on the savory seeds there as if it were just another day at office. Well done, Mama Cardinal. A true patron of pit. Speaking of which, we procured a tasty supper off the grill last night, just under the wire as it were, before the blizzard hit. So grab a hot brew, and a good blanket, and settle in some where soft, and we’ll tell you more about it.

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It was different sort of day yesterday. Much different. Blue skies, gentle breezes, and a band of tweety birds that wouldn’t let up. They belted out their pre-programmed chorus’ with great exuberance, and utter charm. Spring was in the air, and so was the flirtatious melodies of the Cardinals, and Red Wing Black Birds. Of the Robins and even the ducks which waddled by the pit as the first plumes of smoke wafted into the air. They are residents around the pond-side pit, and often give me a visit whilst I’m manning the coals there. They need to check in on me, you see, to make certain that it is not their kin they smell cooking under the lid. And it wasn’t. What it was, however, was chicken thighs. I get in a hankering for good BBQ chicken thighs from time to time. And it has been quite some time, it seems, since I’ve ingested any. Today was the day. The day we would make things right again.

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Here’s how we did them up. Firstly, we hit the thighs liberally with some Sucklebusters Competition Rub. An excellent rub from a great company run by good people. The kind of rub where you can actually pronounce everything on the ingredient list on the back of the bottle. I like stuff like that. So we dusted over the thighs in this rub, and placed them skin side down over direct heat to start. This is your classic searing option, available at a pit keeper’s discretion. The idea is to crisp up that ever-flubbery skin-flap inherent to chicken thighs. To transform it from a rubbery monstrosity, to a well-crisped, flame-pampered delight. A minute or two over direct heat usually does the trick. If your chicken begins to resemble unlit charcoal, however, you’ve probably brought the technique too far down the rabbit hole.

After a suitable crisping session, and a slurp off your favorite beverage, it is time to escort the thighs to the cooler side of the pit, opposite the hot coals. Flip them over there, crispy-side up, and admire your work for a moment. Every painter fancies to step back from the easel at appropriate moments. So be it at the pit. Feel the heat bellow out of the old kettle grill, and how it merges hence with cool air aloft. Listen to how the meat sizzles in complete compliance on a hot cast iron grate. And note that for a moment at least, how your world is at once a simple place to be. Meat + Fire = Contented Man. Which explains, by and far, why we like to BBQ so much.

Anyways, next we tossed onto the bed of orange glowing coals, two small chunks of smoke wood. One of hickory, and the other being apple – just because. Then gently placed the old, enameled lid into position, with the top damper directly over the spoils. By the time another slurp of beverage was had, the draft had already engaged, and lovely, aromatic tendrils of wood smoke spiraled sloppily into a gorgeous blue sky. I had but to sit back in my BBQ man chair, and take in the day. In point of fact, I did. Legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, beverage in hand, it was sufficient pleasure to simply watch the smoke curl and the world twirl. Contented man indeed. For a while anyways, this was all I needed. I occasionally lit from my chair to varnish on some Honey BBQ Sauce, again from the good folks at Sucklebusters.  But that was the extent of  my pit-side ambition today. And it was wonderful.

After a half hour or so, or when the meat reached 165 internal, I plated up and took my plunder inside. As I slid shut the patio door, I paused momentarily, and glanced back out into the yard. There past the rising wood smoke, the Mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. I smiled as she darted up to the feeder, happy as a bird can be I reckon,  that I had finally left. I guess it was supper time for both of us, and she was ready to eat. Tomorrow would be no different. Just colder.  Amen.

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Hickory Apple Smoked Honey BBQ Chicken thighs. Man! Talk about good grillin! Onslaught of slobbers and drool acceptable. It’s your keyboard.

Smoked Philly Spaghetti and Garlic Bread

How to bring your spaghetti to the next level with a little smoke and cream cheese

So it was, under beautiful blue skies and amber shafts of light, that the last snow flake melted out by the pit today. And all the ice on the IMG_21081pond dissolved over the last few days, the last of it, today, into a cold, watery soup. The ducks dutifully reveled, of course,  swimming to and fro in the pond’s lush water ways, whilst the resident tweety birds darted fiercely about the naked alders, all of which eagerly await the bounty of spring. Have we Minnesotans finally made it around the dark side of moon? Is this light yonder we see spanning into the evening hours really meant for us? Is it possible the barnacle-like grip of ice upon this fair land has at last and finally relinquished? Oh I believe so. For I have seen my shadow on steely blades of semi-green grass, and heard the call of the American Robin for to greet the morning hours. Spring has arrived. And all the northern pit keepers rejoice.

To usher in the milder season, and on the pit today, something a little different. Leastwise amid the grilling circuits it is. Smoked spaghetti meat sauce with a Philly twist. If you’re not a’feared of carbohydrates, you’re going to fancy this one. So grab yourself a manly beverage and I’ll meet you out by the pit.

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Over a lovely bed of mature coals, in the old black iron pan, we browned up the ground beef as per the usual tactics to making spaghetti sauce. I know what some of you new to this site may be thinking. Why the heck is he doing this on the grill? To which I must reply, why wouldn’t I! This is a BBQ blog, and by golly, this is what we do! And let it be said, because it’s true, anything you can do on the kitchen range can not only be equaled out on a good pit, but in many cases improved upon, courtesy of the smokey goodness inherent there. Not to mention, it’s just plain beautiful outside tonight. You gotta cook supper regardless, so why not do it some place pretty.

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Nothing quite so fine as the fresh spring breeze mingling with the aromas of sizzling beef. After a fashion, after it was cooked brown and drained, we added the sauce. Now you can use what ever sauce makes you happy. Make it home-made if you please, or do like we did, and use a jar of something we picked up at the grocer. It’s all good on the pit. So we pulled the pan to the cool side of the grill, opposite the hot coals, and then added a chunk or two of apple wood to the fire for to secure smokey custody of this classic supper time dish. Yes, smoke is the first of two secret ingredients here, that will set this spaghetti dinner apart from any you’ve ever had. If you’ve never done your meat sauce up on the grill this way, well, you’re missing something out of your grilling career. Like the sunbeams that which slant upon the green grass, it is worth our attention, our time, for to articulate a tasty path towards a higher culinary ideal, patron to the pit.

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Whilst the meat sauce simmers in turn, we prepped some French bread with a simple:

 garlic butter

(1 Clove finely chopped and 1/3 cup of softened butter)

Wrapped the loaf in foil, and placed it likewise, opposite the hot coals. Oh yes!!!

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Put the lid on, establish a draft, and thus engage in some lengthy and protracted smoke watching. This is the portion of the cook where we grill jockeys are in our element. Or more truthfully, in our man chairs, pit-side, with a lovely beverage in hand. Legs perhaps crossed like a gentleman of leisure, hat tipped just so, to thwart the low hanging sun, and scads of sweet time in which to just sit there and do nothing at all. To watch the clouds idle in a pastel sky, and the song birds yonder warming up their little throats for to sing of their glories anew. To observe the gentle wake and science of duck propulsion on the pond. Or, if need be, even to close our eyes, and doze peacefully amid the aromatic tendrils of rising wood smoke. Glory!

Speaking of, every 5 minute or so, lift the lid and stir the meat sauce, for to infuse more of that patented smokey goodness into it. Also flip the bread over when you think of it, for even baking, and be mindful of your pit master instincts.

Lastly, and before we declared this meal complete, we added the final, secret ingredient to the meat sauce. At my bride’s suggestion, we added 1/4 cup of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Indeed, I was hesitant, but adventurous this night. She saw some one do it on the TV, and thought it would be tasty. So, and with the common sense of a gestating lemming, I  gave it go. Stirring the glob of cheesy, white goo, into the beautiful meat sauce until it melted kindly away. The result hence escorting the smokey sauce unto yet another level seldom found in conventional spaghetti sauce. The result – a much creamier, full-bodied meat sauce that which sported a quaint smokey tint. Oh man!

Once the cream cheese is diffused to your specifications, plate up and commence with what you do best!

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Smoked Philly Spaghetti and Garlic Bread. If you’re looking for a little something different for your next BBQ,  definitely give this one a try. Man!

 

 

How To Back Your Brothers Play: Hickory Smoked Spam Sandwiches

Author’s Preface: There is one article I have been putting off for a while, and for good reason I suppose. But I finally broke. I had to. I know we will lose some readership over this one, but alas, it is a brother thing, and it had to be done. Here then is the story as I know it to be. For better or for worse.

Part One

The Woolly Bugger

With the crunch of cold tires over hardened snow, I pulled up into elder brother’s driveway, where, as I come to idle, stray cats scatter into the woodwork. I turn off the engine, and admire how the sunbeams sparkle off a mountainous bank of snow courting the western edge of the drive, where elder brother’s prized motor home is embedded into the side of said bank, like the fossilized remnants of a bygone era. I like to stop by and visit the bloke from time to time, just to see what he’s up to. Such is the case today.

The car door shuts with a muffled clunk, and I begin to stroll up his driveway. Classic man toys abound: Trucks, Jeep, motorcycle, boats, but I take note of his little Weber Smokey Joe instead, like I usually do, or would have I guess, had not it been completely buried and forgotten in six months worth and several hundred pounds of snow. But I knew the approximate coordinates where I saw it last autumn, least wise I think I do, and I paid my respects to the pile of snow there instead. Sad. Very sad.

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I walk in through the kitchen door, and elder brother is standing at the sink, with his long, grayish hair floundering in a rather unruly fashion, sure to excite only a local Sasquatch at best, but he is my brother, so I don’t judge him. It appears he had just woke up anyways, rebooting as it were, the human hard drive.

I gots something to show you!” Brother belched.

He dashed down the stairs into his basement where few have ever been, or dare to go, and returns momentarily holding a little glass test tube with something dark and fuzzy in it.

What sort of specimen is that?” I queried

My latest creation“, brother croaked.”

Ohhh” ,I yammered.

“”Yes”, he went on” It is a woolly bugger I just tied, guaranteed to seduce even the most selective bass!

He was quite excited, and I nodded my head in affirmation. I didn’t have the heart to tell him however, it looked like a conglomeration of something he has been plucking out of his belly button every morning in the shower before work.

“Very nice, brother”, I lamented. “And say,” I said shifting the subject, “I noticed something outside you should be aware of. Your BBQ grill is very, very unhappy. You need to dig that thing out!”

Elder brother hung his head, his bottom lip protruding in stark remorse.

“I don’t have it in me, little brother”, he said.”The art of winter grilling has not fallen to this side of the family tree.”

The room fell silent, the way rooms always do when one admits their BBQ ineptness. I should like to also say, tho unoriginal, that the silence was only broken by the sound of mating crickets, but in point of fact, any crickets around here were still frozen stiff.

Maybe you could grill something for me???” Brother yammered in soft, mono-toned voice, thus breaking the silence.

I could I suppose” I said, staring calmly at the woolly bugger.

Then I could live vicariously through you”, brother croaked, “and keep my BBQ honor intact, while you gleam the glory!

My eyebrow rose, as I scanned the intent of his face which was lightly flaked with day old mustard.

Sounds good my hairy brother“, I belched, “What would you like me to BBQ for you? You name it, and consider it done!

Little did I know he would take the matter most seriously of course, and like a misguided dictator of a powerful army, he would steer the troops into a position of high compromise. And so brother thoughtfully stroked his scruffy beard as an enormous smile formed across his face.

“Would you grill me a spam sandwich and write about it?” he croaked, “I just love those things!”

“I certainly will not!” I grumbled.

“But you said you would BBQ me anything!” brother declared

Yes but, I’m only thinking of your health, not to mention the readership of POTP. They are used to a finer fare than jellied ghetto meat!

“But you said!”

“Fine…”

If there is anything I have learned about the heady bond of brotherhood, it is that the bond goes deeper than logic or good sense. And that you have to back your bothers play. You got to look the woolly bugger square in the face and say, I don’t get you sometimes, but what ever. Lets party.

 

Part Two

The Deed

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So it was tonight, many weeks hence, under stormy skies, the kind of April showers that soon waxed to sleet and then to snow. By the time I had the coals lit, the first sloppy, white flakes of an April blizzard were hitting the ground. That is how it has been this winter; ever-challenging for the northern pit keepers to get out and BBQ. But we find a way. It took a couple of tries to get the coals lit as the packing pellet-like snow fell from the heavens, but we got it done. Anyways, whilst the coals matured, I rummaged through the bowels of my pantry and found a lowly and forgotten can of spam.

Spam for the uninitiated, is a sort of processed meat that which many folk turn their noses up, tho it does have a faithful following from eccentric individuals, like elder brother. It is also yet another thrust in food technology, conceived and manufactured here in Minnesota. It is already cooked, and it keeps for years on end. Which comes in handy as an apocalyptic meat I suppose. You can eat it cold or hot. Slice it or dice it. You can do what ever you want with it I guess. Today, in honor of elder brother, we shall slow smoke the questionable meat amid a lavish bath of hickory and cherry wood smoke. We will take this greasy, pressed-meat cube and attempt to usher it unto a better place. Wish us luck!

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So we sliced the contents of the can into 4 crude squares, putting them indirect, and tossed some onions on the cast iron griddle insert to saute. The polish sausage was merely an insurance policy on the off-chance this BBQ went decidedly south. Also, a special thanks to Rolf, at Craycort Grills for setting us up with this griddle accsessory. This is the first chance we’ve had to use it, and we absolutely love it. More to come on this toy in a future post.

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Ah the smell of onions frying up in some butter over a beautiful bed of coals. Aromas reminiscent of a major league ball park. The soft tap of snow flakes on the brim of my hat, and their inevitable sizzle upon the hot cast iron grate below. This was ambiance. This is why we grill outside in winter. When the onions were sweet and complete, we took them off the pit, and replaced the old enameled lid. The wood smoke soon took draft, and a blend of hickory and cherry gently curled from the damper. I slipped my hands into my smoking jacket, like pit keepers do, and considered the day.

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For canned meat it didn’t smell too bad, I thought. But then wood smoke can make even a grungy woodsman three days into the same underwear smell good. This I know. Don’t ask me how. And whilst the plumes of aroma emanated from the pit, the snow flakes fell gently to the earth, slowly cloaking the dear patch of grass that just last week I wallowed like a puppy in. Winter is a fickle lady indeed. But one in which I gladly accept, on her terms, if but to grill but one humble sandwich beneath her lovely yet demanding skies.

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The last order of business was to apply the cheese and toast the hoagie roll that I picked special for the occasion. Now if you’re going to grill a Spam sandwich, you might as well use Velveeta cheese. I know what you’re saying. That stuff ain’t cheese. And you’re right. But spam ain’t meat either, so who cares. It just makes sense. Plus, Velveeta is elder brothers most favorite cheese, and this sandwich, after all, is in his honor. Anyways, whence the cheese went gooey, and the roll toasted up nicely, we brought the goods inside and thus assembled the masterpiece. And on that note, it’s not a sandwich to elder brother if it doesn’t first have some mayonnaise involved. So we were sure to put some of that in there too.

Man! Grilled onions smothered in cheese, a light tang of mayonnaise, and hickory scented spam on a toasted hoagie roll. The first bite was reminiscent of a hot bologna sandwich or something. The next bite disturbingly better. It was all uphill from there. And I must admit, I ate the whole thing happily. Well, all except that which my lovely bride curiously inhaled despite her premeditated prejudices towards the canned meat. All things considered, it was pretty good for a highly processed, pressed meat sandwich. I slurped it down, go figure, like a bass to a woolly bugger. And more importantly, I had backed my brothers play. Amen.

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Slow Hickory Smoked Spam Sandwich, with sauteed onions and Velveeta Cheese on a toasted Hoagie Roll. Hey, you could do worse and not have nearly so much fun.

 

 

The Simple Things: Cheeseburgers and Sunbeams

I saw the grass today, and it was glorious. The amber beams of an evening sun striking a patch of it, and every soul within sight of that grass paused to rejoiced.  I IMG_02571immediately fell prostrate, poking my nose through the wilted, brown and resilient green blades, sniffing through it like an old coon dog, reveling in the earthy aromas there. I know you southern tier folk are just shaking your head, wondering what the big deal is. You see grass every day. In point of fact, you’re probably tired of your grass. But let it be said, to a winter-locked Minnesotan, after a span of a half-year embedded in snow and ice, just the very sight of their grass sends their soul straight to church! It stirs a person by the heart-strings, and gives them hope. Hope that there is another season, one of milder inclement, and warmer evenings in front of a pastel sun. Glory!

The waft of hickory smoke came my way, whilst I was frolicking in my patch of grass. A gentle reminder that the pit was probably ready now for supper. That other tasks were on hand, besides admiring a plot of sod. Cheeseburgers!  Were taking it easy tonight, nothing grandiose or elaborate, but like a sunny patch of grass after a winter eternal, delightful, none-the-less.

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Three portly third-pounders hit the hot cast iron grate with a trademark sizzle. I had some hickory wood on the coals too, just for good measure. For seasonings tonight we used a liberal dose of Famous Dave’s Steak & Burger Seasoning, a tasty pantheon of flavor concocted by local BBQ genius, Famous Dave Anderson. It’s pretty good on any cut of beef, burgers in particular. We cooked the burgers in-direct the entire time.

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Putting the burgers opposite the hot coals does a couple of things really well. One, it cooks them a little slower. Pit keepers as a rule are never in a hurry, less entombed in heady throes of competitive BBQ. But indirect cooking, like we’re doing tonight, first thwarts the odds of morphing your plunder into blackened rubble, and thus gives the wood smoke more time to do its high magic. Slowing down via in-direct cooking also gives a person covetous slots of time in which to take up the proper BBQ posture, pit-side,  feet propped up, hat tilted just so, left leg crossed over right, with a manly beverage close at hand. These are the moments we grill jockeys live for. Moments where we can study the coals, and watch the smoke curl. Admire the interesting cloud shapes as they parade over-head. Listen to the tweety birds and feel the gentle breeze on our face. A time at last we can be still, and just watch the world spin. And how yonder, the golden sun falls upon a lone patch of grass. The simple things to be sure. And every one of them, patron to the pit. Amen.

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It’s About Time: Hickory Smoked Sloppy Joe Sandwiches

“We have often said that anything you can cook on the indoor range can be duplicated on the grill. In many cases, even improved, courtesy of the coals. And one of the best examples of this is the Sloppy Joe.

Not too long ago, the guy on TV said to set our clocks one hour ahead, of which I dutifully obliged. Seems to me however, like just last fall, which is like time clockinstantaneous ago to some one over 30, he told us to set it an hour backwards, and here we are putting it forwards to where it was again. Go figure. And ironically, time flies I guess, and like many folk, I gotta wonder why bother. I’m not altogether sold if it’s a good idea or not. I have tho long admired places like Arizona, who have also heard what the guy on TV said, thought about it for a while, like Arizonans do, shrugged their shoulders, and declared the heck with it. I thought of doing that too, in my own world, but I have actually gleamed a good use for springing forwards this time of year, namely BBQ!

Have you noticed, as I have, the blessed sun and how it dawdles in the sky now, well past supper time. We pit keepers in the northern latitudes notice these things. Indeed, we revel in these things. I cannot express to you the simple joy of actually grilling in the day light – slanting beams of heat cast by a warm and forgiving sun. And after a disturbingly long winter, mired in the icy depths of cold and darkness, this small thing is enough to make an old pit keeper weep. Like a lone astronaut emerging from a trip around the back side of the moon, the earth and the sun swinging back into view, and hope is thus renewed.  The light is back! And all the winter-bound pit keepers rejoice.

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On the pit today, an old favorite around here, hickory smoked Sloppy Joes. If you haven’t made your Sloppy Joes out on the grill yet, your missing out on one of the finer things to happen to a loose meat sandwich. Oh the stove-top Joes your mother used to make are good too, and we’re not cutting that short. But to bring them to the pit, and infuse some smokey goodness there, is to usher this classic sandwich into the next echelon of what is good. We have often said that anything you can cook on the indoor range can be duplicated on the grill. In many cases, even improved, courtesy of the coals. And one of the best examples of this is the Sloppy Joe. So the first order of business, of course, is to brown a pound or so of ground beef. And in an old, cast iron skillet, this is what we did.

Once the ground beef is browned up nice and pretty, mix in your sloppy sauce of choice. You all have your own thing I know, but here is what we had on hand:

Sloppy Joe Sauce

3/4 Cup Ketchup

2 Teaspoon Yellow Mustard

1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder

3 Teaspoons Brown Sugar

1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce (optional but awesome)

Salt and Pepper to taste.

Now in many loose meat sandwich recipes folk like to put some onions and green peppers in the pan along with the ground beef, and cook them up there. And we would have too had we not had an abiding case of lazymanship this day. Dreadful stuff, but shoot, sometimes you just don’t feel like running to the grocer for any odd thing. Nay, not when the tweety birds and the sunbeams adorn your patio sanctum with Picasso-like perfection. And the breeze sifts sweetly through the fragrant spruce whilst the hickory smoke gently curls. We’ve been waiting far too long for a day like this to waste it traipsing about the cityscape. Anyways.

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Hickory smoke and Sloppy Joes marry with great effect. The union of flavors rise together, hand-in-hand, in a wonderful compliment to each other, and your world, by golly, is a better place because of it. The whole idea of doing it on the grill, after all,  is to mix in some of that smokey goodness patron to the pit. And so we set the black iron pan opposite the hot coals, and banked the meat as far towards to cooler side as we could, piling it up there like a meat snow bank in an iron cul-de-sac. We then plopped a small chunk of hickory directly onto the coals, and deployed the old, black enameled lid of the Weber into service. Be mindful to put the damper on the lid directly over your savory spoils so to enforce a proper draft of smoke there. Wood smoke is what sets this loose meat sandwich apart from any you’ve ever had. And so for the next 15 minutes, every 3 minutes or so, with manly beverage in hand, stir thy plunder with an artist’s hand. Circulate the smokey meat to the bottom and bring the less smoked meat to the top. And keep repeating this heady procedure in true pit keeper fashion until your drool humbly sizzles one too many times upon the fiery flanks below. When you deem your plunder smokey enough to suit, there is only one reasonable step left to do. Toast the buns.

Toasting the buns is an often skipped over step in the BBQ arts. Kind of like resting the meat. We get so excited to eat, I suppose, that we don’t think of anything but, let alone toasting a lowly bun. But it only takes a minute, really, and in return adds a fabulous texture to your end game. It also, off-hand and by-the-way, nurtures the virtue of patience, which is as important as a good bed of coals to a pit keeper. Patience is the soil in which greatness sprouts forth. Patience also takes an exorbitant amount of time, at the time, it seems. But it is good for us. Patience slows a hurried soul and hence elevates it’s capacity to absorb. To focus. To glory and bask in the simple and abiding pleasures patron to the pit.  Like the thin, wispy tendrils of wood smoke back-lit by a shaft of golden sun at supper time.  Something easy to appreciate, let me tell you,  after six stark months of grilling on the dark side of the moon. And tho the snowbanks tarry, and the breeze is still keen, the light is at last upon us. Finally. Like my elder brother is fond of croaking, “Patience comes to those who wait”. And it’s about time.

IMG_09411Hickory Smoked Loose Meat Sandwiches, and a side of beans. Yum!! Proving once again, that which is good on the stove top is even better patron to the pit.

A Time Out For Man: Rib Eyes and Potatoes

It was a busy week as weeks go. A cornucopia of social duties shaped by the ever-winding, never biased, current of life. Bumper to bumper, inching along congested IMG_99051tarmacs. Shoulder to shoulder in the halls of commerce, forming lines for the shallow and the monetary. Appointments to uphold, and deadlines to beat. Social postures and long-winded phone calls. In the ever-whirling cog of society, you might call it a state of being overly busy, and it’s true. It’s not all non sense tho. Because there within develops a tipping point, a rather glorious fraction of time, nay an opportunity, to raise the metaphoric middle finger and do what comes naturally to a patron of the pit. Indeed, if only but to light a fire and put meat to flame, that seems enough, and oh how it soothes a tattered man’s soul. That is what we did anyways. We had to. For sometimes a man ought to take a time out of his hectic existence, to feverishly, and without guilt, ingest some red meat!

Over a radiant bed of coals, we placed a packet of tin foil potatoes to get things started. Plenty of spuds diced in uniform fashion, drizzled in olive oil, and seasoned in a packet of Lipton onion soup mix. If you haven’t tried Lipton onion soup mix on your hobo potatoes, it ain’t half bad. Wrap it all up in tin foil, and put it over direct heat for about a half hour, or until soft. When the spuds are nearly done, we slid them over to homestead a bit indirect to make room for searing up a couple of mouth water rib eyes.

We love rib eyes here at the pit. Pert near our very favorite cut of steak. Nay, it is our favorite.  Lightly dashed in garlic and onion salt, and ushered to its gastronomic destiny over a beautiful bed of coals. And oh what sweet music it is, under a crescent moon, and two twinkling stars aloft, to hear this meat sizzle on a hot iron grate. And do let it sizzle. This is one occasion where it is quite satisfactory to cook over direct heat. A minute or two ought to do. Put don’t flip it quite yet. Instead rotate it about 90 degrees, and give it another minute or so, depending on your heat there. The imperfect math for the quintessential and oft coveted, diamond hatch grill marks. Something we are finding exceedingly easy to come by with this fancy cast iron grate from Craycort Grills. Once you have achieved some pleasurable char marks, flip the rib eye, and suitably repeat.

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Standing abreast the pit, tongs in hand, flipping meat over dancing flames is precisely what this old boy needed. You could feel the hecticness of the week dissolve like melted butter into a hot bowl of popcorn. Like a gob of cream cheese on an exhaust manifold. Let the world scatter along henceforth and with out me. I will be quite alright. For there is poetry at the pit tonight. Where soft blue moonbeams drop from on high. Where starlight flirts behind the snowy spruce tops. The fellowship of the coals, and that sweet, immeasurable heat, drawn from the ashen bosom of the old kettle grill. And the quaint aromas of steak that which tarry in the air. Glory! Let the world spin on indeed, and I shall not chase after it. For this is precisely where I pine to be. Pit-side, with my steak and potatoes. This is my respite. A time out for man. And the man declared that it was good! Amen.

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Grilled Rib Eye Steaks and Tin Foil Potatoes. For what ails you! Everything you need, and nothing you don’t, to set a man straight again.

No Small Thing: Hickory Smoked Italian Chicken Wings

A thin, blue, hickory smoke curled from the pit, tapering into a cold, blue Minnesota sky. A sky that which rose to infinity, and shortly touched the sun there. That IMG_13211beautiful flaming orb patron to the heavens, which at this time of the year, after many months of winter, we will gladly wallow in but one of its golden rays.  The breeze is cool too, this late winter day, as I turn up the collar on my old smoking jacket, and admire how the soft, white clouds scatter through the air. And how the friendly Black Capped Chickadees, residents of the pond-side pit,  bandy together in the old spruce tree, flirting or keeping house, or doing what ever it is that Chickadees do in trees. A beautiful winter day indeed, one in which to tarry pit side for a while, lovely beverage within reach, and smoke up something good to eat. On the pit today, the quintessential appetizer – hickory smoked BBQ chicken wings. It’s real easy to do to.

A few hours before the wings hit the pit, and whilst favoring a bit of sunlight ebbing in through the kitchen window, we tossed the wings into a gallon-size plastic zip lock bag and promptly dumped in an entire bottle of Italian salad dressing.  Turns out this stuff doubles as a fantastic marinade, and is the only reason we can get away with coining these wings – Italian. Anyways, the concoction marinated all morning in the refrigerator, while yours truly may or may not have nodded off in his favorite man chair, whilst PBS cooking shows softly bantered up on the big screen. Good BBQ is never rushed, people. And if marination has spawned on a nap or two, well it only serves your palate the better for it. Be not ashamed! We let these wings soak for about four hours, and quite frankly,  they smelled good enough to eat right out of the plastic sack, only we didn’t, because that would be rank folly!

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Amid the slanting shafts of an afternoon sun, we populated the grate on the weber smokey mountain heap full of this succulence in poultry, put the lid on, and let the smoker have its way. That is the joy of low and slow, indirect cooking, and especially on pits like the WSM, for you can set the temperature, in this case, 250 degrees, and just let it go with no fear of burning, nor thermal fluctuation. No babysitting. No worries. And let the sweet passage of time and wood smoke gently work the meat unto your highest, most savory ideal.

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We pampered the wings in the smoke spa no less than two hours. Two glorious cycles of the hour hand in which to make the acquaintanceship of your favorite chair, fireplace toasty at your feet, and a good narrative in hand. And tho winter’s chill is still with us, the sun burns stalwart, and I can feel its gentle kiss through my window pane. I stretched in my chair like a spoiled house cat, and drew a glance out to the pit. I liked how the wood smoke curled out of the damper in wispy tendrils, and did so without a care in the world. Or wait, maybe that’s me. That is the other joy of low and slow BBQ, in that whilst the cook is on, and the wood smoke poetically rises, the world and its problems seem to dissolve right along with the aromatic smoke itself, into a wild and beautiful sky. The ever-whirling cog of society rotates onward and with out you for a while, and when you consider it some, even if but for a moment, you are quite OK with that. Indeed, it is a high privilege. For you are doing right now precisely that which is well with your soul… Say what ever you will, but that is no small thing. Amen.

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Slow Hickory Smoked Italian Chicken Wings. Yet another delicious way to let up on the accelerator pedal of life, under lovely skies, and where the wood smoke also rises. Sauce is optional.

Reaching For The Record Books: Chicken Quesadillas On The Grill

Greeted by a wall of freshly drifted snow against the patio door, I carefully slid it open and got to work. You know you have a lot of snow whenIMG_04341 the first couple of shovel loads can be done whilst still standing inside the house, but that is how it has been this winter. It has been common place indeed. In point of fact, Minnesota is currently courting a hallowed slot in the top ten, coldest, most snowiest winters on record.  Least wise in our state this is so. Over 40 days now, below the zero mark. 60 plus days if you live up north.  It has been a deep, penetrating sort of cold that which has never ceased. Squirrels have fallen from trees and young boys have fused their tongues to subzero steel. And if you have invested in snow blowers this year, you are a wise soul. Seems  like every day you hear their guttural rumble somewhere, echoing through the neighborhood.  Reaching for records indeed. And I guess I believe it, as I finally shoveled enough snow out-of-the-way to shut the door behind me. Brilliant sunbeams sparkled over mounds of white, drawing mine eyes unto thin, uncanny slits. The air is fresh and cold, the way it always is the day after a good blizzard. And the snow it stands ever deep, and even deeper still where it has drifted between the old spruce trees just off the patio. I like how their stately boughs humbly bend in submission, selflessly playing the hand it was dealt, yet somehow attain even more beauty because of it. Nice trick. I do fancy those trees. They are the faithful ambiance patron to the pond-side pit, and have seen many winters. Many blizzards. Many BBQ’s. Such is the case today, under clear, and what seems eternally cold skies. And after I finish digging out here, and take a nap perhaps,  I’ll cook up some supper and tell you about it.

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On the pit tonight, something a little different. A little southwestern fare to warm a winter-locked, Minnesotan’s soul. Chicken quesadillas on the grill. If you can make a grilled cheese sandwich, you can make one of these. And doing them on the grill will at once transport this classic appetizer to a whole new realm seldom found in your local restaurant, courtesy of rising wood smoke. The first order of business is grill up some chicken. Any cut will do. We seasoned ours in some spicy Cajun seasoning to introduce a degree of heat to the flavor profile, and placed them on the pit over medium indirect heat. The cold poultry immediately sizzled upon contact with the hot iron grate. A lovely sound on a hushed winter’s eve. I rummaged around in the resident wood pile and plucked out a tennis ball sized chunk of hickory wood, and added it to the coals. Flipped the meat over and plopped on the old, black, enameled lid. Hickory smoke soon was in draft, and wafting serenely out of the pit damper. A smile on my face, I slipped my hands into the warm pockets of my smoking jacket and considered the evening before me. That brilliant sun of earlier has long since slipped down into the west, and the tweety birds have all went to roost, snug together in feathery balls. And the heavenly stage hands have pulled clear the cosmic curtain for what soft star light falls on fields of snow.  And a toe nail moon dallies over bending spruce. What a privilege it is, even this side of the zero mark,  to smell the wood smoke rising on a wintry eve such as this.

IMG_61711When the chicken is done to your satisfaction, bring it inside to chop it up. Get yourself two flour tortillas and butter one side of each, and assemble your quesadilla like you would a grilled cheese sandwich. Sprinkle a manly amount of shredded cheese on it, along with the smoked, chopped chicken. And then maybe add some more cheese!  Lots of folks at this point, will toss all matter of things into their quesadillas. Things like: onions, peppers, mushrooms, chives, tomatoes, bacon, and so forth. And it’s all good. Make it however you like. But if all you have is cheese and chicken, like we did, that is perfectly acceptable too, to a hungry belly. Once assembled, bring your creation back out to the pit. You have a nice bed of coals going there after all, so why not do it right!

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Place your quesadilla opposite the hot coals. Yes, our old kettle grill is half-entombed in a snow bank. You can’t even see its legs anymore. Its top poking out of the snow like an black flower in a sea of white. Didn’t I mention we’ve had a real winter up here! Anyways, put the lid on and let it bake spell. After a few minutes, you will want to turn the quesadilla 180 degrees for even cooking. Whence it has toasted up some, and the tortilla on the bottom has become crispy, affectionately flip thy spoils over, like a first pancake, and cook the other side in equal fashion. Here is a cook where we cannot assume our standard posture of BBQ,  belly up in the easy chair, for we must keep an eye on our intended plunder, lest the burning fates fall upon these tender tortillas with scant remorse. Indeed, we must stand abreast the pit like men were born to do, on guard and with lovely beverage in hand. For this is our moment, our gastronomic beach-head for to establish culinary harmony between pit and home. Be ever mindful then, and parlay your spoils with great effectiveness to the dinner table. A dollop of sour cream or salsa, and your tummy you will find, just took a trip a south, past old and leaky borders, to where the sun stills holds stalwart, hemorrhaging over fields of green. Amen. 

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Hickory Smoked Chicken Quesadillas hot off the grill. Crispy, gooey,cheesy,  smokey goodness patron to the pit. Man! You don’t have to endure an epic winter to appreciate this sort of thing, but it helps!

How To Hang On: Slow Smoked Beef Ribs

A thin-blue smoke, patron to the scent of hickory, curled serenely from the pit damper and dissolved into a pastel-gray, Minnesota sky. It is beautiful here IMG_02261today, as I stroll in the back yard, somewhat labored through the deep snows. Like walking on the white sand beaches of Waikiki, but without the hassle of sunburn, and crowds of oil-slathered humans, or sand taking up roost in your nether places. Indeed, here at the pond-side pit, the snow drifts have conspired tall, wrought from a winter ever-lasting, yet business anyhow, and steadfastly, carries on. Like the stately Cardinal, beautiful in his red and black plumage, making the acquaintanceship of the bird feeder, pecking through the safflower seeds there, as it dangles and swings above the pit. Or the tracks of the local rabbit, hopping through the deep snow. I do not know what he finds to eat in a land so harsh and bare, but he does alright I guess, doing what ever it is that rabbits do in the winter months. And then there are the leaves of the sturdy old oak near by, which I have always held an admiration for. Here is leaf that which turns but does not easily fall, clinging on through the winter months, like the last illuminated photons at the tail of a rainbow. A reminder that another season does exist. And that the sun will rise again over fields of green.

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I trudged back through the snow to the pit, hands warm in the pockets of my old woolen smoking jacket. I startled up some Black capped chickadees as I rounded the corner onto the patio, where upon I assessed the pit. 250 degrees and holding. A thin smoke gently wafting. It’s ready, I thought. Time to put the ribs on. And speaking of ribs, let me tell you a little more about them, and how they came to be, this lovely winter’s day at the pond-side pit.

IMG_13131Today, a real treat, and one of our very favorites – hickory smoked beef ribs. If you haven’t yet had occasion to enjoy a good beef rib, rest assured it is a veritable no-brainer very much worth your time. They’re real easy to do too. To start, we ripped the membrane off the back side. Beef rib membranes can be tighter than a tick to a hound dog, but persevere and you’ll get it. Then we rinsed the ribs under the tap for to wash clear any bone fragments or the like. Then hit them both sides with some Famous Dave’s Steak and Burger Seasoning. Or you can just use a salt and pepper if you’d like. Or what ever elaborate rub you may have in mind. But if it’s a good cut of beef, simple is often all you need on the matter of seasoning. As usual tho, the pit master has the final say, along with the token first bite to see if he actually knew what he was doing or not. Anyways, that is about it for prep on these ribs. We thus put them on the pit, bone side down, and got along with the all important business of drawing a manly beverage from the ice box and taking up residence someplace cozy.

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Two hours passed, and maybe a little more than that, before I made my way out to the pit again, can of Coke in hand, to check in on things. The pit temp held stalwart, like Webers do, the smoke had mostly faded off, and the meat had pulled back a half-inch or so on the bones, which was right on schedule. Thus, and with little fan fare, the ribs were wrapped in aluminum foil, along with a splash of Coke for a steaming agent. Just a tablespoon or two is all that was needed. The rest was for the pit keeper! Foiled ribs and back on the pit, big lid replaced, and I was off again, striking an azimuth for my favorite man chair, remaining beverage in hand. I assumed the proper BBQ posture, and let the next hour or so take its course on me, as I dosed on and off, the Olympics bantering on the big screen, whilst the savory aromas of BBQ beef waft amid the patio environs. Dang people. I love smoking ribs!

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About an hour and a half in the foil is all it took. They were done. Once out of the foil, you can sauce it if you please, but we are so smitten with the flavor of beef, we left it just like it was. And it was spectacular. A deep red smoke ring, married with a robust beefy flavor. A touch of garlic from the seasonings. Very nice. And just what we needed up here on the 45th parallel. A little something savory to take the edge off a long, and very keen winter. A statement if you will, to old man winter’s steely grip on the land, that we keepers of the flame will carry on despite. Like the leaves of the old oak tree, we hang but on slight tendrils, quivering, waiting for the rising sun. Amen.

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Savory Slow Smoked Beef Ribs over a Hickory/charcoal fire, sided with home-made garlic mashed potatoes, and a lovely vegetable medley for to please the lady folk. Yum is in effect! If this don’t help pass a winter day it’s probably too late!

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