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Dodging Tempests: The Voyage of the Cheesy Brat

The first rain drops splattered over the land, and over the shallow waters from whence the White Egrets hunt. In the West, brat5brooding storm clouds have gathered now, sweeping eastward, and strafing the southern tip of the lake from which my bride and I tarry, cradled in our plastic kayaks. We were afloat this local fishery, that, by and far, was a peaceful enough locale, and beautiful too – it’s calm waters reflecting the gray cloud massif advancing slowly over head. As I held my ultra lite fishing rod in hand, gently jigging into the watery abyss, mine eyes could not help but to mind the heavens above, darting to and fro, keen for bright flashes of illumination. For as much as this angler respects a bulging creel, and that is a fine thing indeed, I respect even more so, the zipper-melting mojo of a single bolt of lightning. And I might have thought it my only foe this eve, if it were not for this cheesy discord bloating forth in my belly. Indeed, seems supper, however tasty it might have been, wasn’t to loiter long down in the old plumbing. You’ve all been there. You know from what I mean. Aw well, and even so, good is good, and no less than that was this cheesy brat I tell you. Yum.

Hearken back with me won’t you, and I’ll tell you a little more about it, and how it went and came to be.

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Well they look innocent enough. Quick to cook. Easy to perfect. We even toasted the buns in our never-ending quest to be semi-outstanding. But then you all know how to cook a bratwurst. What you might notice different here however, is a wee bit of spiral goofiness going on, of which we can explain.  The working notion, if your up for it, is to take your knife and slice almost, but not quite halfway into the brat, and then kind of twist the meat and guide your knife along, creating a meat slinky of sorts. Anyways, you’ll want to leave about 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch of core so the beast has something to marry itself together with. But the idea here, and the reason for this surgery in the first place is that opening it up as such, will foster more smokey goodness into its fatty bosom. Simple as that. More flavor. More of anything really that you may wish to add. Such as seasonings, or in our case, obscene amounts of melted, cheddar cheese. Oh blimey that cheese!!

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Now I love cheese, but every once in a moldy wheel, it is the heady bane of my intestinal existence. And with a tummy in recoil, whilst afloat over populated urban waters, well I don’t mind telling you that I had a favorable gaze fixed on one of them portable plastic outhouses at the boat launch. Specifically the blue and white one, half-draped in the wispy arms of an old willow tree. If I had to, I would lower myself to such means. Oh yes indeed. But just as the storm cloud I had been monitoring so carefully finally slipped out of danger, in that same wonderful moment, likewise did the cheesy turmoil go with it. I don’t know why. And I didn’t analyze it either. Instead an elegant rainbow took stage, sudden like, classic in arc, and pouring brilliantly out of the clouds, as if out of a fountain from heaven itself. Man. When are rainbows not fabulous to behold! Then of course it got even better, as my fishing rod in turn formed a rather nice hoop in it, courtesy of a wiling, large mouth bass. Line tightened, slicing sweetly through the opaque water, the serenade of loon song in the still air, lo, for a while at least, and maybe even longer than that, all my small world was right again. The tempests had passed.

That’s how it works sometimes with storms and belly aches. One minute you think you’ve surely had it, and the next minute you’re pulling fish from the end of a rainbow. Say what ever you will, but there is grace for us all. Amen.

IMG_6368Behold the cheesy bratwurst on toasted bun. Quick and Easy. And may the roll of the lactose dice be ever in your favor.

From The Patron Vault: BBQ’s Highest Compliment (uncensored)

Author’s Preface

The art of blogging has learned us many things. It has taught us a lot about what works. And it has taught us even more duckabout what doesn’t work. It has also taught us something about ourselves, and that most people are pretty much amazing if you give them half a chance. But mostly, I suppose, it has taught us not to take it all so seriously. Now some of you elder readers may remember this post from back in the day. And you were probably hoping to never see it again. Our apologies. We pulled it off the site long ago because it was just too “unprofessional”, and tucked it deep into the Patrons of the Pit Vault to tarry there in the digital dust. Well, a great deal of time has passed since then, and being that we haven’t matured any further along it seems, we have decided we may as well re-post this essay, not so much for the older readers, but for the newer crops since to come on board. As we blow off the cyber dust and reset it into place, rest assured it is not because we think this post is important. No, it’s more because we think this post is rather unimportant, and at the end of the day, no matter who you are, everybody farts…

-PotP

The other day, amid the ambiance of a Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar solo, my elder brother and I nourished ourselves in a local BBQ  joint. A hole in the wall, that smelled of wafting hickory and perfectly executed brisket. We give the place four hearty stars, should our friends and family ask. And even if they don’t, we let them know anyways. I especially fancy their brisket. Being the BBQ junkie that I am, I guess I appreciate what goes into a good brisket, and the culinary campaign that it is. And so we had lunch there, savoring it like good BBQ demands. Lost in the soft, pliable meat, the flavor profile, and the wondrous, savory aromas patron to it. All in a days work for good BBQ. We walked out of that place with tightened bellies, and smiles upon our faces, lit in a golden sun.

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Later that evening, whilst lounging about with a group of friends, chewing the fat and such, I felt a small disturbance develop down in near my nether lands. I loosened my belt a trifle, and carried on with the business of looking nonchalant.  It wasn’t working tho, as I squirmed about in my soft padded chair, like a child in a church pew. Well, being a man, I knew what had to be done here, and considering that the people I was among I think were also men, I wagered they wouldn’t mind. So as discretely as one can be flatulating in a room full of people, I listed a bit to the side, like a ship on a sand bar, make believing of course that I was investigating something on the floor, and then after a fashion,  suitably let one go.  It felt fantastic. Oh they always do. My world had conspired at once back to the comfortable wallows of a post-flatulent existence . And then, quite unexpectedly, amid the moans and curses, something astounding happened. Let me tell you about.

As my cronies were pulling their shirts up over their noses, I noted in the air a peculiar scent. Something reminiscent not of foul bodily expulsions, but of…No, it couldn’t be. I turned to my friend Ralph, who reluctantly sat beside me, and queried” Does that smell familiar to you? ”

“All too much!” Ralph bellowed.

“No” I yammered, “Pay attention. Take your time. Smell it. Get to know it.”

For the next few seconds we played the part of a couple of air biscuit connoisseurs, in a delicate dance between curious amusement and out right gagging. And we kind of came to the conclusion, in so much as one can ever conclude such things, that what we were smelling, smelled an awful lot like brisket. It did.  The others were not so convinced, even tho I bequeathed them a couple more “opportunities” to analyze it.   Even so, I know what I smelled, and it was almost, but not quite, pleasant. Frankly, I didn’t know what to think. That is until a few days later, when I went to church.

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After the Sunday service,  my blog co-host and I were chatting as men do after church, and he mentioned to me something quite interesting. He confessed that he had also experienced some rather odd but savory south end breezes. He said they actually smelled kind of good in a way. And that he too deduced it must be from the BBQ he’s been making and henceforth ingesting.

It was then, with the facts spread out before us, that we had to come to grips one way or another with our discovery. We didn’t know what to think.  Now on one hand, I guess we should be rather disgruntled. For if our farts smell like our BBQ, well what then does that say about our cooking?  But then, and on the other hand of the odoriferous beast, the BBQ has just got to be exceptional if it can make even your worst stink bombs smell akin to a perfectly smoked brisket. Go figure that. And well, in some countries we’ve long heard, a healthy burp is but a pat on the back. Thus, being the eternal optimists that we are, my fellow patron and I decided we had better just go with the latter on this one, wagering it the highest of compliments to the pit master, should your booms booms wax that of a pleasant stroll past the smoke house. It could be worse, I think… In point of fact it has.

-POTP

One For The Birds: Italian BBQ Chicken Breasts

I like birds. From the pretty tweety birds that sing from the tree tops come evening sunbeams, to the bald eagles who soar with FullSizeRender (5)magnificent ease high on the thermals. From the mama Cardinal roosting in the alders, to the Black Capped Chickadee flirting in the spruce. And unto the eerie wail of the common loons on camping trips into the far northern places. I like birds. I fancy the ducks – those marvelous mallards and dashing drakes who court the shores of Pond Side Pit, who seem always in a good mood, even when it rains. There is just something about bird life that has fascinated me for many years. Something in the way they go about business, that has contented me. Then I ran into this feathered bloke on one of my strolls through a local river hamlet. I called him Ed.

Ed wasn’t the best looking of birds. But then when you’re a Blue Heron, you don’t exactly get invited to beauty contests. No, you make your living in kinder, gentler circles, usually at the water’s edge, and usually with a keen eye for supper on the fin. Ed and I must have sat together for a half hour at least there, river-side, just watching the world go by. It’s odd to see a creature with so much patience, or maybe it was laziness, I’m not sure. That must have been what he thought of me also.  But I didn’t care. I just admired his innate ability to loiter. If only birds could BBQ, this chap would be one of the best. Speaking of BBQ birds, do let me tell you about our last cook out. Grab yourself a lovely beverage and we’ll meet back at the pit, and tell you more about it, and how it went and came to be.

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No, these are not the breasts of a Blue Heron. These are the boneless versions of a nameless yard bird, or two, that I have never met. Sometimes I wonder if the previous owners of these once knew each other back in the day. Perhaps they were buddies who’d bandy together for a good morning’s cackle. Or maybe even enemies who would eat each others poop, cause that’s what chickens do, according to a Grandma I know. Regardless, they sure looked fine sizzling over the hot cast iron grate of my Weber kettle grill. Glory be, they smelled good enough to eat raw. I suspect that was because of the marinade.

The World’s Easiest Best Marinade

One part Italian dressing. 

One part your favorite BBQ sauce.

Like I said, simple. And nary have I ever seen it fail. Quite possibly the simplest one you’ll ever use. And the most fool-proof. It’s a rather popular one on the interweb right now, so we thought we’d give it a go. Anyways the notion is it let the meat marinate over night. Twenty and four hours is even better. Now I’ve heard places not to exceed four hours iffin your marinade has a high vinegar content, lest it morphs your chicken slightly rubbery as a result. But I guess the vinegar content of Italian dressing and Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce is not enough to awaken this anomaly. All I know is it works. And it works exceedingly well. No rubber chickens here.

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We chunked on the old, enameled lid, its handle soiled in the grease and smoke of a thousand cookouts. The draft soon engaged, and sweet tendrils of wood smoke curled freely into a pure, Minnesota sky. I sat back in my patio chair, left leg over right, and admired how nice the smoke looked, puffing against the green back drop of a summer’s day. The pleasantries of the pit were at full speed, people. The ambiance meter pegged out. Manly beverage within reach, soft tunes on the pit sound system, song birds aloft, hark, I could want for nothing more save for the sun to pause in its arc, if but to extend the moment here for the moment’s sake. This is where the pit keeper cultivates his patience, you see. That hallowed span of clock from whence the meat hits the grate with an anointing sizzle, to when the meat at long last enters your slobber-strewn mouth. The magic hour. Or hours if need be. Indeed, it is good for us to wait for something once in a while. In an instant download, drive-thru, microwave kind of society, who has got to have their wares delivered at once by the hands of haste, such an act of patience will encourage some, and down right astonish the rest. But a pit master proper can pull this feat off with aplomb. It’s in our blood to tarry where  meat is concerned. Just like that old, blue heron on the river bank. He could have been running all over the place that day, flying from one locale to another, but nay, he knew the value in waiting. The precious gold in a single strand of patience. And I admired him for it. There is much you can learn from those with wings. Yeah, I like birds. I like them quite a bit. And with that said, as the evening shadows creep over yonder fields, I think it’s time to finally eat this one!

Cheerio and Amen.

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Twenty four hours, people, marinated in one-half Italian Dressing and one-half BBQ sauce, grilled over hickory, and kissed with sweet time. Man! Good eating, and good times, patron to the pit.

 

Made in Montana: Smokin-O’s BBQ Smoke Rings

Deep in the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains, amid the pristine, pine-scented forests and tumbling glacial rivers which flank the Trapper2-e1424135597267 (1)gorgeous contours of Darby, Montana, reside the good folks at R&R Conner Inc and Real Wood. Here beneath gently rising plumes of wood smoke which taper into a high Montana sky, you will find the skilled practitioners of the Smokin-O Smoke Rings, or the “ring masters”, as they’re affectionately coined in these parts. Fifth generation forest stewards who, like us, have a deep seeded love for putting meat to flame and declaring it good. And through a rather nifty process where hardwoods and spices are ground up, mixed together, and then extruded under high temperature and pressure, where upon the natural lignins found in the cellular make-up of the trees at once “glue” themselves together, well, the Smokin-O Smoke Ring thus is born. No binders. No chemicals. Just pure smoking satisfaction wrought from the mountain hollows of Darby, Montana.

SO-pkg-1-980x1040Now a word about these smoke rings.  They were designed for gas grills. When they contacted us to see if we might want to try their product,  we had to decline. For let it be said, we already know what great smokey flavor is because all we cook with is charcoal and wood. It’s what we do. Smokey flavor is part of the package. We have many pits, but nary a single gas grill between the lot of us. Not wanting one either. But then I remembered there is still a small portion of our readership who remain stubborn to their gassy ways. Stalwart souls who shall not budge from their token propane grill for all the cheese in Ireland. You know who you are. You also know you’re missing out on the whole reason to be grilling in the first place – that assurance of smokey goodness patron to the pit. But there is no converting you, and we understand this. Here then is where these smoke rings gather some favor for flavor. Where they make a stand in a world gone to gas.

How to Light Smokin-O’s

They couldn’t be simpler to use. To light them, just place them over the flames of your grill. Run it up to 400 degrees and shut the lid. In 5 tosmokino1 10 minutes, the ring should be lit and smoking rather profusely. They say when it’s properly lit, about 15% of it should be cloaked in white ash and sport a nice, glowing-red edge. So that’s how you’re supposed to light it, but of course, we had to do it like a man, and put the blow torch to it. This technique is proven amid charcoal champions and pyromaniacs alike, and lo, works just fine with Smokin’O’s too. That ring lit right up like an Irishman on Saint Patty’s day, and then smoldered for a good long time. Now you may be asking, what did we smoke, and how did it go? That’s a good question.

Cold Smoking with Smokin’-O’s?

Now being that we don’t have a gas grill, and after studying the unique properties of these smoke rings, a brain thrust naturally sprang to mind. We patrons of the pit get brain thrusts you see.  We get them routinely, for better or for worse. IMG_6235Anyways, I thought, well what about a cold smoke? Perhaps these little compressed rings of wood and spice might prostitute themselves as a right fine cold smoking apparatus. Turns out they do! For the most part anyways. Cold smoking is basically smoke without much heat. Useful for such meltables such as cheese or even chocolate. Or for things you just want to add smokey flavor too, but not necessarily cook yet, like bacon or nuts, or spices such as paprika or salt. These smoke rings emit a little heat, but not much, and when placed opposite what ever you want to cold smoke, such as some cheddar cheese as shown in the photo below, the cheese did not melt. However, when the smoldering ring was placed directly below the cheese, well then the cheese melted like a depleting cheese glacier, and it was very sad. But that was a pit keeper error, and easily rectified. Just place the smoke ring well away from your spoils, and let the smoke do it’s job. Yum! The effect is only improved in the winter months. FullSizeRender (4) The strength of the Smokin-O tho, is in meat. So we felt we ought to at least use it in some traditional grilling efforts, to see it in its full glory. Tho designed for gas grills, we used it anyways on the Weber kettle grill as if it were a piece of smoke wood, and were not disappointed. We tossed it directly onto the coals, like we would with any piece of wood. Soon enough it was puffing away with a contented pillar of amazing smelling smoke. Indeed, it smelled wonderful. Not sure what hardwoods and spices it’s comprised of, but hark, we found the aromas there of most agreeable with our nasal pathways. We put the old black enameled lid back on the pit, and the draft thus engaged – convincingly. These rings have no trouble producing smoke. And will do so, they say, for about a half hour, depending on their location in the pit. The cooler the area you place them, the longer they last. When we tried them with cold smoking earlier, they lasted so long that we gave up altogether waiting to see them burn out, and just went fishing instead. In the end tho, the smoke duration seems more than adequate for most of our needs. And if you need the smoke to last longer, they suggest stacking one on top of the other, kind of like a mini minion method.

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The boneless chicken breasts we smoked up were spot on in the smokey goodness we’re used to around here. Very tasty, and more over, not over powering in smokey flavor. Many a newbie to the smokey arts tend to get a wee bit carried away when adding smoke to their grilled cuisine. These rings seem to give you just the right amount of smoke to balance well with your protein of the day, and the various flavor profiles you might be after. An all-around, good, smokey flavor. No complaints.

Final Thoughts

So if you’re set on gas grills, and vow never to waver, but wish you could still enjoy some of the flavor benefits of a good wood fired grill, then I cannot divine why you would not want to stock up on these Smokin-O’s. Easy to use, affordable, and point-blank effective in what they do – generate smoke. We also found them quite the versatile product, capable of some fairly decent cold smoking, something of which they are not advertised to do, but do, according to our tests. We also liked that they were all natural, of course, not held together by goofy chemicals you cannot pronounce, or harmful binders. And of course, they were made in Montana, one of our very favorite locales, where the ramparts rise high, and rivers run cold through the resplendent valleys below.

Check out their site if you’re at all curious for more, http://www.smokin-os.com/

Or just head straight to amazon and get yourself some! Here’s the link. http://www.amazon.com/Smokin-Os-BBQ-Smoke-Rings-wood-fired/dp/B00SVEFRAU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433861591&sr=8-1&keywords=smokin+o

Pit Keepers Choice: Spare Ribs and Shrimp Kebabs

 

Under gray skies of pending rain, and the reserved hush of tweety birds unseen, the first plumes of smoke pillared out of the old charcoal 20131101_173818_edit0chimney. There was a stillness in the morning air, and a humidity which draped like a soft blanket over the land. The Mallards milled about quietly on the pond, and the streets of the neighborhood at large we’re tranquil and fairly depleted of activity. Every one was up north I guess, or out-of-town somewhere, for the extended Memorial Day Weekend. And I don’t blame them. An extended weekend to get away is not a commodity in which to handle lightly. It is one to savor and relish. One to seize with great exuberance.  So I stayed home.

What a pleasant respite it is to stay home when the rest of the resident populous have piled their vehicles heap full of their dearest belongings and kickshaws, and then flee the township of which they are so intimately acquainted. And at once the bustling hamlet in which you live is transformed into a sparsely populated outpost on the crusty edge of society. I like that for some reason. I like it a lot. Probably due to my proclivity for the quieter places I’m sure. But I digress unto the matter ribs. Here then is how they went and came to be.

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On the pit today, shrouded in a cloud of pecan and hickory smoke, like long peninsulas of pork in a foggy fjord, reside a couple of racks of spare ribs, trimmed St Louis style, placed bone side down, with their membranes freshly peeled. We patted them down in Worcestershire sauce first, then in brown sugar, and finally seasoned them liberally with some Bone Suckin Sauce Seasoning Rub.  And that’s all there is to it. Let them then reside in manly fashion within the smokey confines of your cooker for the next two and a half hours or so. This is where you also go draw a lovely beverage from your refrigerated units, and find someplace soft to sit. Glory! I love smoking ribs!

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Long about hour three into the smokey campaign, we foiled the ribs with a shot of bbq sauce and honey. Let them tarry in the foil for an hour or two, or at the discretion of your pit master instinct. You’ll notice some shrimp have also made their way onto the pit at this time. Indeed. A little appetizer for the people! This is a great little gig of pork and surf, and is all too easy to do. You gotta try it. In this case we found a bag of precooked jumbo shrimp residing in the freezer, thawed them out, and into their natural cradle-like curvature, we inserted a slice of tasty kielbasa, and held the two species together with a well-placed tooth pick. A little kebab of sorts, and nary short on flavor. We hit them with a bit more smoke, and seasoned them with the same rub we used for the ribs. They cook fast, people. You don’t need much time, which makes them great for taming the hungry bellies which wait on your ribs. After 15 minutes or so, we varnished the kebabs in an Asian Orange Ginger Sauce, which sent them over the top.

We’ll put some links down below for the seasonings and stuff we used today.

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Oh man, pure rib smoking satisfaction. After a stint in the foil, of which is like a trip to the spa for your meat, it will be pampered and loose, and mighty delightful to the tongue. But resist, and let it loiter on the pit a little longer whilst you paint its mahogany flanks with your favorite sauce. Or not. Good ribs do not need sauce. But it’s all up to the pit keeper. Good is good, after all. And every day a high blessing, patron to the pit. Amen.

Stuff we used:

Archer Farms Ginger Orange

Bone Suckin’ Sauce Seasoning

Famous Dave’s Sweet and Zesty

 

 

 

 

 

Something From Nothing: The Art and Privilege of Camp Cooking

It may be noted, at least from time to time, that we do like to get away from it all here at this blog. To pack up a modicum of supplies, and strikeIMG_6082 off for the distant bush lands of Minnesota’s northern most tier. A locale rich in quietude, and resplendent in its sky-tinted waters and vast elbow room for the soul. Canoe country. A million acre outdoor theater where the lonesome wail of the Loon echoes with impunity through the forest primeval. Where the whispering breezes murmur sweetly amid the lofty, Norway Pines; those magnificent wooden spires that which thrust high into a wild, blue sky. Canoe country. Where the slap of a beaver tail on still waters is heard over a quarter-mile span. Where a nap in the hammock whilst the pine-scented breeze whistles through your toe pits is at last your loftiest ambition for the day. Well you can see why we like it up here. And why it is we very occasionally aspire to get away from it all.

Feeding one’s belly is one of our favorite activities whence in the hither lands. And how you go about it, and what you get out of it is solely up to you. Somethings spoil fast with out the advantages of refrigeration, and those things you probably ought to ingest the first day out, or not bother to bring along at all. Chocolate, for example, melts like a cheap nuclear reactor, and bread flattens finer than an Iowan interstate. After a few trips afield, you learn rather well what works and what doesn’t.

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In between naps in the hammock, we partook in a little culinary tinkering courtesy of the Joy for Cooking – the namesake of a little back woods chuck box spawned from many a camping trip spent on my haunches, cooking on the ground. There comes a time in Bushman’s career where the notion of a kitchen counter top is a highly appealing affair, and one worth pursuing if not for any other reason than because he can. So I did. You do not realize how good you have it at home until first you go with out.  So I came up with this little creation years ago, for to better and more effectively cultivate my joy for cooking whilst encamped in wilder places. It has been a treat indeed.

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Camp cooking is always an interesting summit to scale. It’s like a back pack, in that you only get out of it what you put into it. So if you didn’t bring a certain ingredient, then you don’t have it. And there is no running to the grocer either, this side of paradise. Well you could, I suppose, but by the time you get back it would be the next day, and your dinner aspirations would fall way of the dodo bird. So you work with what you’ve got. And usually that ain’t much. But in the same breath, that’s what makes camp cooking kind of fun; getting the most you can from a scant simple grub bag. Here we did up a plate of buttermilk biscuits/bannock, fried potatoes and onion, and a nice ration of sautéed summer sausage to round out the proteins. A hodge-podge conglomerate, if you will, of the better things I could rummage up from the recesses of the food bag. And let me tell you, after paddling the day long, with an appetite stoked from the freshened air, living a simple but deliberate life, this was a plate fit for a king. Under the circumstances even, I couldn’t think of any place better to eat. Nope, I had arrived. As any realtor knows, it’s all about location.

FullSizeRender (2)What a pleasure it is to round off a weekend in the wilderness, with a belly well fed. To lean against an old Cedar tree, hot cup of tea in hand, left leg crossed over right, and gander westward over still waters to a setting sun. To hear the loons softly sing through a land so silent, and to smell the air sweetly tinted in pine. It’s been said that time spent camping is not deducted from your lifespan. Well, I don’t know know if it’s true or not, but even so,  it would explain why we so often go afield, and why even now, at this cluttered desk back in the city, why mine heart hastens to be back there once again. Amen.

 

The Gift of Warmth: Ginger Orange Pork Chops & Bone Suckin’ Thighs

Bequeathed a winter’s reprieve, we have certainly been making good use of it these latter days. Now I know it is no secret that you folks in Texas and Ecuador have been IMG_5890slathering on your SPF 50 suntan lotion for several months running, but let it be said, tho I admit thermally pathetic, things are just now greening up here in on the 45th parallel. Glory be to the tweety birds who have come on the wing from afar, only to crap on my freshly waxed car, and sing forth at the top of their little lungs, like they had nothing else in the world to do. But I don’t mind none, because it is warm again. That great glowing orb in the sky, hark, I can feel it’s blessed heat against my face again, or on the back of my neck whence out on evening paddles. Kayaks slipping quietly over golden waters, the rhythm of dipping blades, and the re-acquaintanceship with the noble feeling of genuine warmth. Very nice. It’s been a long time since I’ve been warm at the terminus of a sunbeam. And what a privilege it is.

Likewise a privilege to grill out-of-doors in the acute absence of cold. My but this could spoil a fellow. Why I didn’t even need my mittens or mukluks this go around at the pit. All the ice and snow are gone now. And the grass is green. The clouds puffy and white, idling past just for me. I know this sounds kind of silly and all, but until you’ve spent half a year embedded in a glacier, you just won’t understand. We Minnesotan’s are keen to the simple pleasures of Spring, you see. We crave it. Anyways, here is what we have going on the pit today. I think you’re going to like it.

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Your basic chops and chicken thighs, that which reside over a beautiful bed of coals, augmented by a little hickory wood for good measure.

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We dusted over the thighs with a fair smattering of Bone Suckin’ Sauce Seasoning. I admit, I was smitten for its name. Who wouldn’t be. It wooed me from the spice shelf of the local shop keeper, and I knew it would soon enough be mine. I would have my way with it courtesy of a willing chicken thigh, roasted keenly over a bed of orange-glowing coals.

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Plunking on the black enameled lid of the old kettle grill, positioning the vent over the protein, all was set as the draft soon engaged, sending pillars of blue-tinted hickory smoke up into a sweet, Minnesota sky. I leaned back in my BBQ man chair, lovely beverage in hand, left leg crossed over right, and mused for moment over the simple joys of grilling outside on a beautiful spring eve. The warmth of the day still curled around me, like an old flannel shirt. And amid the Cottonwoods aglow in the evening sun, song birds lit and serenaded there, the timely melodies for to grace the ears of their betrothed. The breeze so gentle and so kind, tinted in Lilac and apple blossom, for a moment I cannot divine a finer scenario in which to cook one’s supper, than upon the shoulders of this new season at the pit. This is living!

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Alright then. So to finish up the plunder here, we varnished the meat over with some of this stuff. Ginger Orange Grilling Sauce. It has a subtle Asian flare about it that we really like. A little something to change-up the flavor profile when you’re a little tired of traditional BBQ sauce. Says right on the bottle it’s good on pork and chicken. So we slopped it on both. And we’re here to tell you, they were right. Man what utter succulence from the pit tonight! And what an honor to do so in the warm shafts of a golden sun, where the wood smoke gently rises. Amen.

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Hickory Tinted, Bone Sucking, Orange Ginger Chops and Thighs. Mercy! You get all that? Good eating, and good times, patron to the pit.

Two Swans, Two Blokes, and a Pie Iron: Smoked Sausage Campfire Sandwiches

The slow-ebbing curtains of night draped down from the heavens, as the salmon-colored sun waned in the western sky. Coyotes chortledIMG_5764 from distant fields, whilst Venus peaked out in the fading light, and portly bull frogs warmed up their singing voices in the shoreline reeds. An owl yonder takes his chair also in the wilderness orchestra, hooting it up like owls do, it’s otherworldly hoots piercing the forest hollows, and the tender skin upon your soul.

I wiggled into my down sleeping bag, like a snake putting back on his skin, and listened to the night. What a delight it was. Doing a little camping the weekend last, my cronie and I, out way of the hither lands, and far removed from the ever-bustling hubbadee hub of the city mire. It’s not that we don’t like the city most days, it does have a lot going for it. But it’s rather that we like the bush veld a whole lot more. Oh to pitch a tent where the earth meets the sky, and for a good while there, tarry in quiet eddies of wilderness sublimity. This is what we do from time to time. This is who we are.

Long about sunrise, I stirred violently in my sleeping bag, awoken by our resident alarm clocks – the Trumpeter Swans. These large-winged goof balls have no moral fiber, let me tell you, when it comes to being courteous around sleeping campers. But then again, this pond was their home, and we were visitors there. And lo, if they wanted to strut their trumpet-like name sake at the crack of day, well who were we to tell them otherwise. So they honked out some tremendous notes that would have sent a high school music teacher straight for his ear plugs. I’m sure they sounded beautiful in their mother tongue of Swanese or what ever, but early in the morning, through the foggy window pane of your dreams, hark, they sound akin rather to a Wookie who just got his favorite parts snipped off.

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One of our favorite things to do whilst camping is to eat. And eat often. Turns out our feathered room mates were on the same wave length. And you just got to admire how they go about their business: nonchalantly sticking their head into the water, and flipping their big white butts up in the air – humbly exposed to predators and shutter bugs alike. Their black bills rummaging through the aquatic muck with the refined deftness of a salty French chef’s ladle. Plucking out what wondrous morsels of goo that one might find sunk in the mud. I dunno. But they were making us hungry. Powerful hungry. And here then is what we did about it, and how it came to be.

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I’m sure you all have seen these things before. The venerable cast iron pie iron. Their usual publicity caters to images of molten apple pie filling between two carbonized, and very black pieces of white bread. But that’s only if you screw it up. In the hands of pie iron Jedi, it is quite a different story. Pie irons are not just for apple pies, they are for sandwiches also. And maybe some of the best sandwiches you’ll ever sink your teeth into. They’re real easy to do too! Simply butter both halves of your pie iron in a rather liberal fashion, and assemble thus your culinary brain thrust of the hour. Today, we favored the smoked summer sausage with an obscene about of Munster cheese. Oh man! Pop your cholesterol pills people, this one is out of the park!

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Over a quaint bed of embers we placed the assembled pie iron, sandwich and all, for to roast a spell there, beneath a gorgeous, blue Minnesota sky . We kicked back in our chairs, doing what comes naturally to a patron of the pit, even way out in the boonie lands. With a manly beverage in hand, and left leg crossed over right, we loitered with great effect. We thought about the bumper-to-bumper traffic back in the city, the sirens, and the honking horns of rush hour. We thought about it only for a little bit tho, and then we let it go. The heady magic of sandwich cooking seemed more important now, and so did the tweety birds which darted headlong across the sky.

The secret to pie iron cooking is to routinely monitor your plunder. To pull it from the fire and check in on it every two minutes or so, is not nearly as annoying as finding that your beautiful sandwich has morphed into a square-shaped blackened meteorite fit for the trash pile. So check in on the booty often, and flip at your pit master instincts. You can do this!

Oh man. Pulling that sandwich clear of the heat, and taking a gander at the Munster cheese oozing forth from its molten lair of sausage and crust, mercy, this was a sandwich fit to satisfy. A few of which, between the two of us, were thus consumed in a semi-savage sort of way, gobbling them down like two, unshaven, cave men, whilst the puffy white clouds idled over head. I wiped my chin and belched accordingly. All was right with the world. And the two swans sang of its glories. Amen.

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Camp Fire Cooking: Smoked summer sausage and Munster cheese sandwiches hot off the coals, courtesy of pie iron immortality.

 

 

Of Food and Fellowship: Southern Living Ultimate Book Of BBQ

“To say barbecue in the South is a big deal is an understatement. It’s about sharing an age-old tradition with family and friends -enjoying the fundamentals in life: food and fellowship.”

-Taken from Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ

Chris Prieto, BBQ Cookbook

Photo courtesy of Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ

Now I don’t know about you, but I like that quote. I like it more than I can tell you. A person can digress over a great many things concerning BBQ, from technique to recipe, but at the end of the day, it’s all about sharing something good with the people around you. And BBQ is good! It is a sad affair indeed, the lonely pit master who has not one person in his lot to share with his smokey wares. Good BBQ cannot be hoarded. Nay, it ought to be shared.

Which brings me to this cook book from the good folks at Southern Living. They have shared quite a bit in this one. I’ve had the good fortune to peruse its pages over the last few days, whilst taking up residence in my man chair, with a lovely beverage at hand of course. Thumbing through the book, and being a man, I was at once taken by the pretty pictures. It was bitter-sweet however. Because here at this blog we try our very best to snap the finest pictures we can, taking great pains with light and subject, but after seeing the food photography in this book, our pittance might as well have come from the fumbling shutter of a preschooler. My but it was good. I did rather fancy the photos.

It is well written too. And diverse. It says in the book, “if you ask 10 different southerners their thoughts on the best barbecue, you’re bound to get 10 different answers“. And it’s true. That’s BBQ alright, and the book seems to captures that essence pretty good. It looks to have it all, from BBQ basics, to expert cooking tips from pit blokes like Troy Black, Myron Mixon and Robb Walsh. But the main force behind the book, is pit master Christopher Prieto. This is his first cook book. You might have seen him on the television show, BBQ Pit Masters, which is a great show, BTW. Or if you’re really lucky, you live in North Carolina, and eat his BBQ in person. And to this end, you have our sincere envy. As the owner of Prime Barbecue, in Raleigh, NC, Christopher and his team will be happy to cater to you there, or in surrounding areas. Come to Minnesota young Christopher! We need you here!

Anyways, the Ultimate Book of BBQ is a lovely compilation of more than 200 recipes of utter BBQ succulence, that I think are Christopher’s. From ribs to chicken to brisket to salmon to soup to collard greens. No point in scratching your head, it has it all. It’s the ultimate book of BBQ after all. In point of fact, here is an excerpt recipe for some Cackalacky Sauce, as seen in the above photo, that you might want to try. No, we have no idea what a cackalacky is either. Must be a North Carolina thing. But check out this tasty sauce!


North Cackalacky Barbecue Sauce
Vinegar-based sauces, like this slightly spicy sauce, are traditional in eastern North Carolina and don’t require refrigeration.
Yield: about 1 2⁄3 cups Total: 30 Minutes
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1⁄4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. hot sauce
1 1⁄2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
1⁄2 tsp. coarse black pepper
1⁄8 tsp. ground red pepper
2 tsp. table salt
1 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1⁄2 cup apple juice
Stir together all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1 2⁄3 cups, about 25 minutes.

Chris Prieto, BBQ Cookbook

Photo courtesy of Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ

We appreciated the wide spectrum of flavors the recipes went after. You’ll find something to suit the snobbiest BBQ tongue. Like wise, we liked how it was all laid out, nice and tidy like, through-out the book – like a good cook book should. One chapter is devoted to the pleasures of Low & Slow, our personal favorite. But there is another chapter devoted towards the glories of Hot & Fast. One chapter for sauces, rubs and marinades. Another chapter just for sides, with such recipes as Grilled Watermelon with Blue Cheese, and Appalachian Cider Baked Beans. Man! They even had a chapter entitled, Rainy Day BBQ, of which I got perhaps, overly excited for. Nothing like hearing the rain drops splatter off a sizzling pit whilst sweet plumes of hickory smoke curl into the gray drizzle. But this wasn’t so. The chapter ended up being a collection of slow cooker recipes, and stove top wonders, which I suppose have their place in a BBQ book. I don’t know. I guess we do have a disturbing proclivity around here for foul weather BBQ. But even so, mercy, did them photos ever look good, crock pot or not!
Let’s see one more recipe from the book before we wrap this review up. Let’s see a rub. If a pit master has a signature flavor, most of it probably stems from the rub. Man, we love a good rub. Here is one of Christopher’s rubs, as seen in the photo above.

Season All Rub
Use Christopher Prieto’s signature rub on anything you want to throw on the grill or smoker: fish, steaks, pork, or chicken.
Yield: about 2 cups Total: 5 Minutes
3⁄4 cup paprika
1⁄2 cup turbinado sugar
1⁄4 cup seasoned salt
1⁄4 cup coarse black pepper
2 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. granulated onion
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. chipotle powder
Stir together all ingredients until well blended. Store in an airtight container up to 1 month.

Anyways, there you go. A little review of the latest cook book to come by the pit. Pros: It’s well articulated, deliciously diverse, and beautifully photographed. Also impressively inspired from one, Christopher Prieto. This bloke can smoke! Cons: A bit pricey at $25 bucks a copy, but what isn’t these days. Other than that, we liked pert near every thing about it. So if you’re looking for inspiration for your next BBQ, or a great gift for your pit master, you’d do well to check out Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ. Read it. Barbecue something good. Then share it at once with some one that you love, and enjoy some of life’s fundamentals: in food and fellowship. Amen.

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The Posture of a Pit Keeper: Pecan Smoked Honey Maple Ham

Pit Date: Easter Morning

Pit Weather: Cool. Light breeze out of the northwest. 

Two cute Chickadees lit on the feeder outside the patio door, chirping their song for the morning at large. Yapping it up, like tweety birds chickadeesdo, and poised to flirt, if not for the nearest shrubbery, then with each other. Classic signs of spring time in Minnesota. You see it everywhere. Squirrels, ducks, bar tenders, you name it. The males of the species putting on a bit of a show, or a rather over-the-top exhibition, if you will. On my morning commute last week, in point of fact, I came upon two wild turkeys, strutting up the sidewalk. One of them, the male I presume, was proudly puffed up, it’s tail fanned out, bold and beautiful, as it did a little disco dance right there along side the road. Stomping around, flaunting his tail feathers and such. Goofy creatures I thought, as I drove past with an air of smugness and superiority and general awe. I was sure glad that my species at least, had come far enough along in life to not have to resort to such humbling, petty measures. Well, leastwise, not all of us males would do such things. Certainly not this male. That is until I smoked the Easter ham. Indeed, I may have had a small relapse then, to my more primitive side. I digress.

You see, I was milling about the house Easter morn, getting the Weber Smokey Mountain ready for the day’s culinary sortie, and I was coming in from the garage with a brand new bag of charcoal perched on my shoulder, when I caught sight of myself in the mirror.

Shoot” I bellowed, “Now there’s a ruddy looking bloke!”

Ruddy. In my words, it means manly, and rather pleasant on the eyes. A condition usually spawned from a life out-of-doors.

I paused momentarily, to fully grasp the sight. I sported a light-weight red flannel smoking jacket, clashing with a pair of blue and green flannel pajama bottoms, brown leather boots with tongues that which hung forth like the fleshy namesakes of two over-heated bull dogs, and an old black ball cap that has seen the sweat of a thousand days. Not exactly a Sears and Roebuck model, but if flannel had a poster child this day, well, it was me!

The sound of my bride coming down the stairs snapped my attention clear of my evident self lust, but not enough so, turns out, to resist striking a manly pose for her, just the same. As her foot steps grew closer, I adjusted the 20 pound bag of charcoal on my shoulder, so she could better glimpse my bulging biceps, and taut mid section. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but listen, it’s my blog, and if I want a taut mid section, well then so be it. Anyways, my chiseled Norwegian jaw line took rather well in the morning light, and my gray steely eyes were trained on the metaphoric mountain tops whence she made her landing at the foot of the stairs.

Wow, you’re wearing a lot of flannel!” She croaked, looking right at me, “Have you started the ham yet?”

Well,  yes, I’m getting there in due time“, I said, whilst nonchalantly adjusting my pose . “Must not rush the pit processes you know.

Excellent“, she said, as she began to sort through the morning paper.

I waited a few moments for a comment on my ruddiness… Nothing.  I strutted past her with my bag of charcoal aloft, considering something relevant from the disco era to engage in, but I couldn’t think of anything, and soon gave up and headed for the patio. She was right tho, I best get the ham started, I guess. And I reckoned not even a turkey gets it right the first time. Anyway, here is how I lit up the pit.

IMG_0256 Known in the BBQ sciences as the Minion Method. It is the choicest of techniques for operating the Weber Smoke Mountain. It’s simple to do too. Simply dump a chimney of fiery hot coals into a donut of unlit coals. Done. The hot coals will slowly light the unlit coals next to them. And those coals in turn will light up the coals next to them. And so on. We did an article a long while back that goes more in-depth on this technique, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion, and if you ever want to delve deeper into the smokey arts, it would be a good read for you. Anyways, once the pit was up to speed, 225 degrees, with a few chunks of pecan wood smoldering away, and after we scored the ham for better smoke penetration, we slathered the it in our finest cheap mustard first, then hit it over with a homemade ham rub consisting roughly of the following:


Home Made Patron Ham Rub

  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Turbinado Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon Paprika

The mustard slather is only to act as an adhesive agent. For reasons that are beyond my mere grasp, you do not taste the mustard whence the cook is complete. But the rub remains in all it’s glory. IMG_0259

Now here is where the pit does its magic. And where a pit master proper is to simply stay out-of-the-way. And that’s what I did. Doing such in a semi-reclined Roman banquet sort-of-way on the couch, which just barely allowed me to consume thy lovely beverage without the hassle of sitting up straight. But this tactic soon faltered, of course, and with the shrewd hands of gravity, I soon found my self “belly up”, with not a care in the world. Eye lids growing heavy, something educational played on the television, tho I couldn’t tell you what. I didn’t care. I was smoking meat, and for a while at least, that was all the entertainment I needed. I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing precisely that which was well with my soul. And I may or may not have dozed off during the high rigors of BBQ here, whilst those wonderful, pecan-scented tendrils of wood smoke pillared into beautiful, April sky.

Long about 135 degrees internal temp, about 4 hours, I stirred up enough motivation to concoct a simple maple honey glaze for the ham, and varnished it on in turn. Here is the recipe we used for the glaze. It weren’t too bad!


Honey Maple Glaze

  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Butter

At this point, we opened all the vents on the smoker to full throttle. The hotter it gets, the better things caramelize. But it turns out the smoker was low on fuel, and didn’t want to go much higher than it already was. But we muddled through it anyways, glaze and all, for poetic reasons alone. It is not shameful to use the oven tho, not to worry. Do what you gotta do. I just felt like ending the cook where it started- on the pit. Like I said, for the poetry. But keep an eye on it during the glazing process, less your sugars conspire against thee in a siege of burnt tidings upon your dear ham. It’s too late in the game to lose it all now. When your ham reaches 145 degrees internal, it’s ready for your people. Go any higher than that, and you risk drying it out.

And that is how a turkey smokes a ham on Easter day. Amen.

IMG_02674 Hour Pecan Smoked Ham with a Honey Maple Glaze. Man! If you’ve never done your ham on the pit yet, you’re missing out people!

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