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Sub-Zero Pork Ribs and Ecuador

It was seven below the zero mark, iffin it weren’t colder. And I think it was. Nobody was outside anyways, to tell me otherwise, not even the tweety birds. No one save forIMG_5228 me, that is. And it was cold alright. The keen wind cut through the pond-side spruce with all the compassion and loveliness of a pit bull getting his favorite parts snipped off. The snow on the patio squeaked underfoot. And your breath, if you had any, spiraled like exhaust from an old diesel truck, and carried in the breeze a fathom and half over snow encrusted fields. Indeed, the day was cold against your face.  My fellow patron and I were to discuss it, and we surmised that the odds were high, and probably accurate even,  that I likely was the only humanoid within a hundred mile radius, out of warm doors right then, putting meat to flame on the BBQ. Oh how the neighbors must all roll their eyes every time they see my smoke rise, whilst the wind-driven ice crystals tap over their window pane. No matter, we Patrons of the Pit are a curious group by default. Not one for common thinking and none such. Forsaking oven and stove to cook instead over charcoal and wood, outside, and under random skies, we stand stalwart and proud at our pits, with our collars up and trimmed towards the tempest. BBQing in the cold is just what we do. What we have to do. Unless, I suppose you live, say, in Ecuador.

We have a reader amongst us, a long-time subscriber if you will, and an all-around good guy. Formerly of Minnesota, now roosting in the tropical climes of Ecuador. We have watched his blog, John and Mary Living it up in Ecuador, over the years, and admired their strange adventures, and knack for good living. If the winter draws long for you, do yourself a favor and check out their wonderful blog. It will warm you up, both inside and out. But the old boy there has a sense of humor, I must say, one that I often ponder in vain whilst I’m manning the smoker on sub-zero days like these. You see, he likes to chime in, and reminisce of what Minnesota in the winter was like. To nonchalantly act like he is in your corner. To recall fondly snowstorms in April, of  football on the frozen ground, and of course, the cold. And then all too often, he likes to end his comments with some thing like this, and I quote “ I have to admit that I now usher in winter with a nice dip in the pool or the warm Pacific Ocean and a nap on the beach covered in SPF-30” John from Ecuador likes to rub it in that way. And we’re not just talking about his sunscreen. So it’s 7 Below. Lets smoke some ribs! IMG_5197   We did this rack fairly simple. First rubbing it down with a little brown sugar, then hit it with a spicy rub I had sitting about. A little something to usher in the heat, if you can call it that. We placed the rack “bone-side” down on the pit, over a steely bosom crackling with orange glowing coals and two fist-sized chunks of hickory. Because it was so cold, no water was added to the water pan of the WSM. It didn’t need any help keeping them temps low today. Lid on. Damper tweaked. A nice pillar of blue-tinted smoke was soon in curl. And as nice as it was out there, I don’t mind admitting none, I sidled it back inside to my easy chair, and pulled a Grandma blanket up to my chin. Glory be! Feet propped up towards the fireplace, my socks hanging off my toes like Stan Laurel in his prime, oh what sheer pleasure it is to bandy with one’s favorite blanket and fire whilst smoking pork ribs on a frosty winter’s day. And as per most rib smokes this side of perfection, I may or may not have dozed off in turn. IMG_5201 At hour three, we went ahead and foiled the ribs with another patting of brown sugar, a few dollops of butter and a shot or two of honey, just because. It smelled good enough to tear into right here, but like a good pit boy, I resisted. My elder brother says patience comes to those who wait. I think ribs probably aren’t far behind. A good hour or so in the foil, smoker running at roughly 257 degrees higher than the outside ambient temperature = 1 rack of authentically procured BBQ ribs. The real thing, people. Oh buddy! Varnish with your favorite sauce if you please, and ingest accordingly and at your will or whimsy. SPF-30 optional, at least for some of us. Amen. IMG_5204 Four and a Half Hour Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs . Yum! A touch of heat and bunch of sweet. Another way to pass a northern cold snap with a wee bit of class, and patron to the pit. Grill on!

Superbowl Appetizers: BBQ Wings and Jalapeno Poppers

Well, the Superbowl has come and gone again, and we Americans are a little fatter because of it. Regardless of who won, and who lost, or even if you care nothing at all for football, I have come to realize one unbreakable truth concerning Superbowl Sunday – people will eat a lot! And I mean a lot. The latest math, of which you may have heard circulating about your sphere of influence, was something in the neighborhood of 6000 calories per person. Crikies! Them numbers are like three times what most folk ought to consume in day, and more likely than that to send your doctor’s eyes clear to the back of their head. Still, and even so, who are we to tamper with the annual football feast, let alone tug on tradition’s most unruly cape. Here then are a couple of appetizer recipes to get your calorie count up.

Jalapeno Popper (AKA – Atomic Buffalo Turds – ABT)

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We love these things. And love is an appropriate word, I think. There is a process in making these. A relationship almost. But it is a sad fact for all the pampering that go into making them, that your guests will in turn only suck them down like so many chicken nuggets and nary seem to appreciate the effort nor the ensemble of flavors conspired there upon their palate. You can never make too many poppers, I’ve learned. They will always be consumed. Every last one of them. They are delicious, people, and I’m sure way too high in calories. Which makes them perfect for Super Bowl Sunday. Here is how to make them Patron of the Pit Style.

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Whilst the pit comes up to speed, in a lovely bowl, mix together the following:

  • 1 Cup Onion Chive Cream Cheese ( or what ever flavor inspires you)
  • 1 Cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • pinch or two of salt

This amount is good for around 20 poppers. By slicing your jalapeno in half down their length, you only need 10 of them. So halve them length-wise, and remove the pithy core. Void the pepper with adept strokes of a grapefruit spoon, and if you are a sally-tongued Swede like myself, you would do well to remove all the seeds. That and the cooking process seems to be the trick to taming these peppers down. The signature burn of the jalapeno will be a distant fantasy with these poppers. You need not fear. Assemble as seen in the photo above, lastly swaddling them in a tender bacon wrap held stalwart with toothpicks. The toothpicks are key, lest your poppers “pop” apart during the smoke.

Now before we plop them on the pit, let’s get the chicken wings out of fridge and prep them too. They’re simple to do.

Italian BBQ Chicken Wings

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We had a bag of these dudes marinating for about four hours with a bottle of zesty Italian dressing. If you haven’t tried Italian dressing for your marinating needs yet, well you’re missing out. It smells good enough to eat right out of the bag – but don’t, or you’ll be running to the little pit boys room with stunning frequency. You gotta cook em first, sorry. Anyways, then we dusted them over with some home-made all-purpose BBQ rub, and that was that. Time for the pit!

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Oh the heady aromas of chicken and bacon and jalapeno and cheese, roasting dignified over a beautiful bed of coals. We used hickory for our smoke wood, and that was a fine choice, but apple would do well here also. Oak or pecan would too. Shoot, it’s all good at the pit. Most folks never think to cook their jalapeno poppers on the BBQ, and let me tell you, they are missing something out of their lives. They are good out of the oven, and that’s all well and fine, but off the pit, kissed by smoke under a beautiful blue-tinted sky, a popper is point-blank out of this world amazing. You will not regret it. And there after, you’ll never do them in the oven again.

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Shortly after securing the big lid of the WSM, the smoke tendrils began to curl, signifying that glorious time in a pit jockey’s day where he is at once, and undeniably, in his true splendor. That wonderful slot-of-clock where he has nothing in the world to do, save for drawing a manly beverage from the ice box, and finding someplace appropriate to repair. And with our feet propped up, and our gaze not far from the wafting plumes of aromatic hickory or apple wood, there is little question in our minds, nor upon our tongue, that this is exactly where we wish to be, doing precisely that which is well with our soul. We just love it, and there’s no explaining it past that. We just do. We revel, if you will, in a metaphoric Grandma blanket of contentment, where the wood smoke also rises.

We let everything smoke for an hour or so, nay maybe longer than that, and then dabbed on a generous varnish of Sweet Baby Rays Sweet and Spicy. We just hit the wings with it, but you could do the poppers too, if you pleased. Then we let it smoke some more., just because. After a fashionable exchange of time, and prompted by your pit master instincts, plate up your spoils and serve them unto your guests of honor. They will marvel at the hickory scented feast before them, with a chin dampened by anticipatory drool. It ain’t quite 6000 calories, I don’t reckon, but you will have done your part in the journey, at least. And with the potluck help of other like-mined folks amid your Super Bowl Get-Together, disturbingly, you’ll probably get there. We’ll pray for you. Amen.

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A Superior Respite: Tasty Licks Pecan Smoked Turkey

Way up north where the sun is barely felt, we made our way, my bride and I. A little get-away from the cliché urban rat race, and the ever-whirling societal cog. A time together and alone, along the Lake Superior coast, in which to unwind, listen to the waves gently lap, and muse at length over what ever else struck our fancy that day. It was good to get out. We strolled along the arctic-like shoreline, in one of the shore’s little fishing hamlets, jackets zipped up tight, admiring the many ice formations there, and yet, courtesy of the lake’s massive thermal inertia, how it’s waters remained fluid and resplendent.

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I am no Ansel Adams, not by any means, but I rather fancied how this photo turned out. It was by all accounts and stature, a cloudy, over-cast, cold-to-the-bone sort of day. But in a flip of shutter, lo, the sunbeams did fall from a gray sky, glittered across the bay, and illuminated the ice before my feet. It was beautiful people. Sights patron to a great lakes winter. And for a while at least, you didn’t even notice the cold, and furthermore, you felt sort of privileged just to be there. Seized in the moment. This is nice, I thought. We should eat!

I had brought along on the trip some smoked turkey I had done up the weekend last, and we had been nibbling on it through out our journey in the north. There is something about smoked meat on the shore of a cold lake, with icebergs drifting by, that just feels right. Something partial and abiding with the soul. And as we tarried there snacking on the turkey, eyes drawn to narrow slits in the bright, sparkling light, I was reminiscent of how it went and came to be, this bird back home. It was kind of a fun cook, tho all endeavors at the grill are. Let’s go back in a time just a little, shall we, and I’ll tell you more about it.


 

One Week Prior

Whilst the pit was coming up to speed, I first rubbed a 13 pound turkey with a little soy sauce. I find soy sauce tends to add a most agreeable turkey4flavor to the end game, least wise with poultry. Then I hit the bird over with a good smattering of Tasty Licks Traditional Turkey Rub.  I’ve used it before over the years, and it’s fairly good stuff, designed specifically for turkey. Not sure how they do that, but they do.

So it was with a great, and unbridled enthusiasm I placed the gobbler breast-side up, on a roasting pan for to catch the drippings of course, and further, to elevate the turkey up higher into the path of the smoke. A nice little system should you have the appropriate roasting pan that you don’t mind donating to the smokey sciences. Or, simply do not tell your wife.

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The enormous dome was thus plunked onto the Weber Smokey Mountain, and things were set in motion. I admired how the golden rays of the afternoon soon dropped slantwise from a cold, January sky, and the wood smoke gently spiraled aloft. The wood we used this time around was pecan. A wonderful, slightly nutty wood that which compliments dead birds with aplomb. If you are lucky enough to have a pecan tree in your back yard, and favor the BBQ arts,  you already know this. For us mere mortals however, you might be lucky to find some pecan wood in the grilling section of your local hardware store. Or you could order some online, I suppose. Pecan wood is good mojo tho. Very good!

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We let the turkey smoke approximately 4 hours, at 250 degrees. This is of no hardship, either, to a patron of the pit. 4 hours is just right, in point of fact. 4 hours gives you just enough time to watch one NFL playoff football game. Consume two or three lovely beverages, and partake in one glorious, hour-long nap in your man chair. It was perfect. And so was the turkey! You’re supposed to bring the bird to an average of 165 internal, and that’s what every one will tell you I guess. But we brought ours to 160 degrees in spite of it all, and then foiled it, and then put it in a cooler for another hour to rest. During the rest is where the magic happens, where the turkey continues to cook, and the juices redistribute at the same time. The end game – lets just say, is a pecan-scented, walk-off, culinary home run. Man! Get your bibs out people. Consume it accordingly, and wipe thy bidding’s clear of your chin! Even take some with you on your next excursion to the prettier places. It’s all good, and worth every minute, patron to the pit. Amen.

 

 

Patrons Gone Wild: Cherry Smoked BBQ Pulled Beaver Sandwiches

Once upon a time, way up North in the hither regions of the Canadian shield, I found myself encamped upon the tranquil shores of a beaver0wilderness lake. It was night, and all the stars were scattered like diamonds across the blackened canvas above. A chorus of frog song belched from the ether as I wafted off to sleep in my tent, ensconced in nylon and downy feathers. Intermediate loons gently wailed. Let it be said, that nothing is quite so fine as a good night’s slumber in the wilder places, lulled to rest amid the gentle sounds of the forest veld. Truly pleasant. And this would have been the case too, iffin it weren’t for them darn cantaloupes.

I didn’t know cantaloupe trees grew in Canada. And I never saw any there, but that night I swear they were ripening off the branches and plunking into the lake just outside my tent door. “Kerploosh!!” One would go, followed closely by a span of quietude and then another well-meaning, and well-placed “Kerploosh!” I poked my head out the tent flap, moonbeams sparkling off the surface of the lake. And there he was, a lone, but handsome beaver, trolling stoically through his environs.

Could you keep it down“, I croaked, “A feller needs his winks!”

The beaver responded rather rudely, and dove under, with a final last gesture of slapping his tail on the water. And go figure, it sounded just like a cantaloupe landing in the lake. The beaver equivalent, I thus deduced, of flipping me the finger.

Well I never…” I muttered, as I curled back up in the tent, where eventually I dawdled off to sleep. A sleep in vain tho, ravaged by dreams. I drempt of a 500 pound, monster beaver, waddling up out of the lake, and in turn laying waste to my humble encampment. It’s saber like teeth slashing my tent apart, and felling young trees with aplomb. With frying pan in hand, we dueled like man and beast would, grunting and groaning, with occasional wind sprints for higher ground. It was a stalemate. A backwoods stand-off. And mercifully I awoke at dawn. Relieved. Sunlight filled the tent. Tweety birds sang from the tree tops, and the lake sweetly lapped upon the rocky shore, whilst the summer breeze whispered through the pine. I stretched there like a spoiled house cat, scratching my belly, content again, and just glad to be alive. My relationship with the almighty beaver was forged. Not to mention a Pavlovian thing with cantaloupes.

Fast forward a great many years later, to just last week in point of fact. I, through good fortune acquired myself the hind quarters of a beaver. Don’t ask me how. When you’re known in your community as a grill junkie, strange meats have a way of finding you. And thus I found myself, perusing the vast cyber sphere for beaver recipes. I’m not going to lie to you, I hadn’t the first clue how to BBQ a beaver. Turns out the inter-web was of little value too. Only like four people eat beavers out there. Least wise those who wanted to write about it. Well, make that five now, and here is how it went, and came to be.

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I decided to treat the meat like any other I would prepare for the pit. Firstly marinating the beaver legs for a couple of hours in a mixture of olive oil, soy sauce and garlic. Then, dusting them over with a suitable rub. We used Sweet & Smoky Rub, by the good folks at McCormick. That seemed to appeal correctly to my pit jockey instincts. Then for good measure, I hit them over with a Cajun Blast, for to add some heat to the mix. I shrugged my shoulders, and took the plunder out to the pit.

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I’m sure the keen-eyed readership will note a rack of ribs in the back, and I can explain that. Think of it rather as an insurance policy! You know, a little something to fall back on should this foray into beaver go asunder. Like Clint Eastwood used to bellow, a man has got to know his limitations. And I wasn’t sure yet if I was limited in beaver craft. (The scraps of meat up front, are back straps from the beaver). Anyways, two hours we let it go on the pit, running roughly at 275 degrees. Bathed in glorious hickory and cherry wood smoke. And it smelled point-blank amazing. At the genesis of the third hour, we foiled the beaver.

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Foiled the beaver legs with a long squirt or two of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce, and a good tendril of honey. Foiling the meat like this, is a good old trick known in BBQ circles as the Texas Crutch. Many a pitmaster proper does it with ribs or brisket, for to sort of steam the meat for a spell, loosen it up, and make it tender. I figured a beaver might like a trip to the spa as well, so I foiled him, almost out of habit. Returned him to the pit, and went way of most men who BBQ for long hours – to the man chair, belly up with a lovely beverage in hand.

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From my chair, let’s just say all the world was right. I could see out the patio door to the pit, first off, to admire it puffing contentedly away there. There is just something about wood smoke rising on a cold day that which sings straight to my soul. It soothes thee. Likewise, just past my toes, and over a field of soft carpeting, the NFL playoffs adorn the big screen TV, and the fireplace crackles off to the side. What more could a man want! I sigh as I pull an old grandma blanket up over me, and sink further into the recliner. A slight droopiness washes over me. This is the high rigors of competent BBQ, people! You gotta know how to deal with the pace!

I dosed off amid the banter on the TV, and once again, a beaver had made it full circle into my dreams. This time however, I was the victor, and convincingly so, whilst its unruly meat came to succulence swaddled in tin foil. I awoke hungry, and sidled out to the pit. Here is what I found…

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Around three hours, maybe a little more, it was falling off the bone. Good enough for my likes. Pulling it, I had to admire its smoke ring, and bark. The texture and appearance of beef. It’s savory succulence! It was thus piled high onto a toasted hoagie roll and consumed. Scarfed like it’s namesake to a Poplar tree! Tasted akin to beef, but with a faint tang of wild game. Very good. And once again, patron to the pit!

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Cherry Smoked BBQ Pulled Beaver on a toasted Hoagie Roll. For an aquatic rodent, it weren’t half bad. In fact it was good!

The Magic of Winter Grilling: Hickory Tinted Pork Shoulder Steaks

Whilst the thin tendrils of hickory smoke gently ascend into a darkened sky, I tug up the zipper of my old smoking jacket, and cast a glance out over the frozen pond. The world is so still now, as if time itself had faimages (1)llen from the star-scattered sky; with not a whisper of wind – and the earth pauses in orbit, holding its collective breath. It is cold tonight, but not desperately cold I guess, least wise not by Minnesota standards. It’s just cold. Single digits I would say, but maybe more than that. Regardless, it is easily enough, it appears, to drive the hearty grilling populace that once was back into their thermostatically controlled environs for to while away the winter months there. They will moan the weather man’s name in vain, and abhor the ice that dare forms upon their tightly manicured driveways. They will crank up the furnace and prance about the house in their finest tropical beach wear, little umbrella drinks in hand, whilst listening to Jamaica Farewell on the steel drums for to sooth the chronic frost that which builds on the seedy fabric of their soul.

There are a few of us, however, who haven’t cracked yet. Who haven’t conceded to winter’s impersonal knack of leverage. Hockey players for instance. Down hill skiers I suppose. Snow plow drivers, mail carriers, and of course, Patrons of the Pit.coals2 For the latter I speak now, and in good behalf I believe. We are but a hearty bunch indeed, who refuse to hang up our tongs when ice so rudely compiles upon them. Nay, we raise the goblet of BBQ instead, and bandy only tighter to our craft. Thus here we are tonight, pit-side, wood smoke curling, with the subtle blue hue of moonbeams peaking over the spruce tops. What a privilege to not have disregarded this most rewarding of seasons. The sky is so cold and so clear, with nary a ripple of heat, my but how it reaches for the heavens, tapering into the stars. I love it. Yes, it’s cold, and you will have moments of life considerations, but in truth, the hardships of grilling in the cold is nothing a good smoking jacket and a hot bed of coals can’t get you through. Besides, you need to eat.

On the pit tonight, a little honey garlic pork shoulder steak with a hickory tint. It’s real easy to do too. Let’s dash inside, shall we, and I’ll show you the marinade.

Honey Garlic Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked pepper

Mix up a batch of this goodness and marinate your meat as long as you see fit. And the longer the better. Works great with any pork dish.

When marinated to your satisfaction, go ahead and plop thy spoils over indirect heat, toss a small piece of hickory wood smokewoodsinto the coals, and plunk on the lid. The draft should engage, and you ought to see plumes of hickory smoke soon in curl. Remember the old BBQ adage here, smoke is not an ingredient, it is a seasoning. We’re looking just to tint the meat here, with the woodsy, slightly nutty aroma of hickory. Hickory has a fairly strong flavor, so don’t over do it here. If you want to learn more about smoke woods, a while back we assembled a list of the better woods to use, which you can find at the very top of the page, entitled, go figure, Smoke Woods. Or just click on the photo! We want you to take it easy around here.

Flip the pork at the prompting of your pit master instincts. The USDA recommended minimum for pork is 145 degrees internal. Bring it there at your leisure, whether it’s 9 degrees outside or 90 degrees, it is your privilege to tarry in the good ambiance of wood and coal and sizzling meat. What joy it is to chum up next to a radiant kettle grill on a cold winter’s eve, and relish the BTU’s bellowing forth from it’s steely bosom. To smell the succulence of roasting pork, and wafting wood smoke. To feel the heat against your face, whilst moonbeams swing on ethereal tethers over spruce trees, and puffing chimney stacks. To hear wood fires snap, whilst starlight sprinkles over fields of white. Glory! Our privilege indeed, and the magic of the winter time pit. Amen.

A tip of the tongs to our cold weather pit keepers out there. You are the faithful covenant, you know, and the Brethren of BBQ most hearty. Grill on!

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Garlic & Honey, Hickory-Tinted Pork Shoulder Steaks hot off the pit. Sided with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed green beans.

For You Are Mine: A Love Letter to a Rack of Ribs (unabridged)

 

I held aloft your mahogany-tinted rack for all the world to see. For you are mine, and I have fairly loved you so. I slaved over you, from membrane to rub, and from foil to dinner plate. You were no small task, let me say. And aside this quaint fire, with embers glowing, and a lovely beverage at hand, I am moved to reminisce but for the heady days of yore. To hearken back to our time together, which goes way back today indeed, about five hours I should say. Nay, maybe six. Oh who am I kidding, I loved you at first sight, you know. When it was I saw you laying there, with all the other pork racks just like you, sprawled in one accord, in the cold, artificially lit compartments of the grocery aisle. Your fat cap was pronounced, and unashamed, illuminated in the soft fluorescent light, and your meatiness struck me just right. And you won me over there, like good ribs do, wrought from the hands of a balding butcher named Sam.

So with a courtship anew,I brought you home, and henceforth, like any pit crooner would, I made you my own. It didn’t go well at first. Nay, you were reluctant if you recall. Stripping thee of your gnarly membrane, which peeled in a fashion like that of industrial adhesive off an old tennis shoe. But we muddled through it alright. We made it there together. And then I trimmed you of your ill-flattering flaps, and squared you up a bit, a la the immortal St Louis cut, fashioning you at once presentable to thee. You looked svelte in the morning light, and eager with purpose. Indeed, you were destined for the smokey fires yet to come.

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Now whilst the smoker came up to speed, I bathed thee. Flushing your bone fragments clear under the cool streams of the kitchen sink. I think you kind of liked that, tho I’m not sure. Next I slathered you with a cheap, embarrassing mustard. It was cold, but you didn’t complain. Nary said a word, humbled in that yellow smear. For you and I both knew of the adhesive properties of a mustard base, and we were OK with it, by and far. And then, with delicate hands, I pampered your flanks with a litany of spice and rub, conceived the night prior, just for you. Patting you down, and around, and everywhere else, for to fortify the flavors most becoming of your shapely rack. It was good times, and the outlook was high. Stomachs rumbled on cue.

Ushering you to the smoker, it was my privilege to place you gently upon the oiled grate, bone-side down of course. There but to bathe you now, for three hours in the heady plumes of aromatic hickory and apple wood smoke. Ever stalwart, ever by your side, I tarried long in my reclining man chair, chin upon my chest. You were never far from my sight, beloved. Well sort of. That is until I fell asleep, I suppose, lulled to nap amid the succulent images of your forthcoming, which flirted asunder about the flickering emulsion of my mind. I awoke as if by instinct, eyes snapping open, prompted from above. I scampered pit side, your bones were showing now, and your meat had pulled back just right. And hence I swaddled you tenderly in aluminum foil, in the mild acquaintance of apple juice and a wee shot of honey, for to while away the next hour and a half, at 250 degrees. A sweet steam bath for the unruly likes concerning you. And never since had a set of ribs been so pampered. The swine who grew you would even nod in approval.

Lastly, with foil removed, I saw you there, tender, and falling apart. You wouldn’t win any awards, but for the one which took my stomach straight to church. For a good rack of ribs is much more than just supper in the belly. It is a relationship, you see. A journey. And every rack is a little different trip. Every trip takes time. And oh but to taste that first glorious bite, the venerable pit master privilege. Succulent and savory – the edible opus of spice and smoke and sweet time. And there in the slanting rays of the evening sun, you were declared worthy, and for a moment at least, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. So I held aloft your mahogany-tinted rack for all the world to see. For you are mine, and I have fairly loved you so…

And then of course I ate you. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Mark of the Pit Master: How to Get Perfect Char Marks Everytime

There is nothing quite so fine on a cold November’s eve, than the sound of a thick porterhouse steak sizzling prostrate over a beautiful bed of sear1coals. It’s ample portions of a cow well-pampered, searing to perfection on a hot cast iron grate. We often praise the method of in-direct cooking here, putting your meat opposite the hot coals for to cook there out of harms way. It is a good and reliable technique. But there are also times in the BBQ arts where it is appropriate to throw caution to the cowards, and plunk your plunder straight over the inferno. The char mark is just such an occasion.

It’s pretty much for cosmetic flare alone, tho there is some flavor in char I suppose. Nay, this is more like chrome on your bumper rather than a finely tuned transmission. You don’t need it to get where you’re going, but it sure looks good when you pull into your destination. A lovingly seared steak, branded with a crisp diamond hatch pattern, is one of the higher pleasures to grace our dinner plates, and men and women folk alike and around the world will openly weep in its presence. It’s pretty easy to do too, and just takes a few minutes over direct heat.

Now a char mark is rather simple to achieve if you have a good cast iron grate to work with. The standard steel grates that come with a Weber kettle can do an OK job, but it’s a whole lot easier, better, and a might more fun, with grates from the likes of Craycort Cast Iron Grates. We got our Craycort  grate last year, and it has been a love affair ever since. If you haven’t bothered to get yourself one of these yet for your Weber Kettle grill, well, you’re missing out!

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Anyways, a good way to get a perfect char mark every time is to first oil the grate. Use an oil with a high flash point, such as peanut oil, and paint it on good and liberal. Let the grate get piping hot. Now if you’re so inclined, and really want to swing for the fences, brush some oil over your steak too. This will all but guarantee you some killer grill marks. When everything is good and hot and oily, plunk your meat right down over ground zero, and listen to it sizzle and sing. Flames will shoot up, and seemingly appear to savage your steak, but fear not. You have things well under control. After 90 seconds or so, and with tongs in hand, adeptly clasp your beloved protein and rotate it a minimum of 45 degrees or so, for the oft coveted diamond hatch pattern. Let your pit master instincts be your guide here.

Flip steak. Oil grate again if you like, and repeat the process. The perfect char marks are yours for the taking. After a fashion, tuck the steaks in-direct now, to finish cooking with a little mesquite wood added to the coals for good measure. Season as you see fit, and serve alongside a good potato. Man! Good eating at the pit. And shoot, kinda looks pretty too!

Grill on, people!

-PotP

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Mesquite Tinted Porterhouse Steak and Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Man! A feller could eat this every day, only he probably shouldn’t!

 

 

Simple Living: Brats and Dogs at the Cabin

Way up north in the hinter regions, there resides a modest lake in good form. Two hundred acres plus, I should wager, and if you had a brat2mind to, you could see twelve feet down into it’s gin-clear waters – the aquatic homestead of umpteen bucket mouth bass, and northern pike. The shores there are delightful too, studded in Red and White Pines, with the occasional sturdy Oak thrown in for good measure. A walk amid these tall timbers invariably reveals beavers at work, and whitetails on the forage. Downy woodpeckers engaged in wild headbanging, and of course the customary sighting of Minnesota’s most beloved bird, the common loon. Oh how it’s otherworldly song echoes through the forest primeval, and likewise the tender recesses of your soul.

I had occasion earlier this Autumn, just before deer season in point of fact, to take my passion for loitering up way of this lake. There is a modest cabin there, topped by gray shingles clad with green moss, and an old, rickety outhouse outback, where you are to toss a scoop of lye down the hole after each use. No electricity, no plumbing, no worries. Simple arrangements to be sure. And if less is really more, then this was just what I was looking for. A little respite, if you will, from the ever-whirling urban machine. From sirens screaming and horns blaring. From a world sadly fraught with haste. To these tranquil shores I have come now, to tarry long under tall pines where the breeze gently murmurs. To brew a cup of tea, toss another log on the fire, and just gaze out over the water, in no hurry to do anything, or go anywhere…

Eventually tho, my tummy had other ideas, namely lunch!

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There is an old kettle grill up there, mercifully. A Weber wanna-be, but good enough for my likes, for a patron of the pit is not picky under such remote conditions afield. We will gladly cook out of an old tin can plucked from a garbage pile, if there is nothing else. In point of fact, we have. So this old kettle grill was quite the luxury, you see. Crikies, the world was ours! So the coals where promptly fired and put to work down in it’s steely bosom, and I enjoyed the comforting heat radiating up out of the kettle into the cool, blue Minnesota sky. Life was good in northern Minnesota. But it was about to get better. Time to plop on the meat!

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In a small hamlet no less than a half hours drive away, we procured from the local butcher shop there a mass quantity of hot dogs and some rather rotund bratwursts. Under the flag of simple living, we had simple food. I would wash no dishes this weekend. Nay, I would eat like a beast instead, and wipe my chin only with a sleeve. Likewise, if I wanted to burp, I’d burp. If I wanted to scratch, I’d scratch. You get the idea. And besides, some times a good dog, swirled in ketchup, mustard and onions just plain hits the spot. Such was the case today, on the shores of paradise. The simple life, people. No TV channels to flip. Now twits to tweet. We didn’t even have cell phone reception…And I reveled in every minute of it. It is good for us. It is medicine. From time to time, I concluded, it is well for a soul to unplug from the “Borg Collective”, and live simply. Or barring that, simply live. Star Trek fans will understand.

And in the distance, somewhere down the lake, the silence broke again with echoes of loon song. Amen.

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Brats and Dogs and Whispering pines. Simple Living and good times, patron to the pit!

How to Lay Low: Cherry Smoked Black Friday Ham

Smoke Date: November 28, 2014

Location: Pond-Side Pit

Outside Temp: 23 Degrees F/Pit Temp: 251 Degrees F

About two miles away, there is a store. A big store, as stores go, and today they offer the very best deals for to sooth the mass consumerism that which has spawned upon it’s very flanks. And shoulder-to-shoulder the covenant die-hard will dutifully tread to and fro amid the fields of commerce. Racing head long to get their paws on that which they easily lived without just yesterday. Today is different, however. Today is Black Friday. The herds are on the move again. And we here at this blog know just how to handle such nauseum. We are well schooled, you see,  in the art of crowd avoidance techniques. Indeed, how to and with great effect, lay low from the masses. Thus, it is time to head out to the pit, of course, and smoke our Annual Black Friday Ham!

chickadee

A light, but abiding sleet taps rapidly over the black enameled lid of the smoker. It’s almost up to speed now. Cherry smoke is stabilizing. A cold, November breeze swirls over the snow-encrusted pond, and mingles through the naked branches of the old Cottonwood tree. And the Chickadees flirt about, perch-to-perch, frolicking, or doing what ever it is that Chickadees do. I nary question their motives anymore. They are perhaps the hardiest little birds I know, spending the winter long living out-of-doors, seemingly giddy to be alive. Always fluffy. And always active. Our stalwart mascot of the winter pit! Anyways, let’s head inside shall we and get to that ham.

 

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 Ingredients List

We prepared two things to get this ham started. A liquid base and/or baste. And a simple, sweet rub. Here is the recipes for both

Honey Ham Baste

  • 1/3 Cup Apple Juice
  • 1/3 Cup Orange Juice
  • 1/3 Cup Pineapple Juice
  • 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Honey

Bring these ingredients henceforth to a nice simmer, for to marry the flavors appropriately.

Patron Ham Rub

  • 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Turbinado Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ginger
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Paprika

 

First order is to score the ham a good 1/2 inch deep. This humble act will allow further penetration of both spice and smoke. Say what ever you want, but this is a good thing, people! So we scored the ham in an semi-attractive checker board pattern, and then lavished it with liberal brush strokes of the honey baste. Whilst wet, we then gave it a good coating of the ham rub too. And that’s that, folks. Take it at once out to the pit, and commence with what you do best!

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This truly is where most pit junkies are at their finest. Or at least at their happiest. Whence the wood smoke begins to curl, there is a special, contented sort of mojo that which transpires across a pit keeper’s soul. Something about the curling plumes, and the aroma of meat on the low and slow, that sets a fellow at ease. We can at once draw a manly beverage, and prop our feet by the fire, and for a while at least, require very little else in this life. Indeed, we are privileged this way, to revel in the simple order patron to the pit. So I moseyed inside, and lit the fireplace there. Turned the man chair towards the heat, whilst maintaining a good line of sight out to the pit, which puffed serenely just past the frosty patio door. And as I leaned back, feeling the first waves of a nap slosh the shores of consciousness, I couldn’t help but to think of those mass herds of shopping folk, elbowing their way in and out of lines, chasing the ultimate bargain. Filling mini vans. Thinning wallets. Bringing home bountiful piles of stuff, for to add to their already mountainous piles of other stuff. Mercy. I nudged my feet a little closer to the fireplace, pulled a blanket over me, and did the only sensible thing I could divine at the time…

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Baste and hit the ham with rub every hour or so

 

When I awoke, the ham was pretty far along. I gave it another baste, and dusted it over with another smattering of rub. The goal is to take its internal temperature up to 145 F. Higher than that tends to dry a ham out. Since most hams are already cooked, how hot you wish to make it is left to your discretion, of course. But 145 F seems to be a happy temp for most folks. This ham needed more time, a duty of which was my pleasure to ensure. And so I put the lid back on, and sidled through the door, returning from whence I came to my man chair still warm, for a few minutes more under a soft blanket, beside the crackling fire. Rigorous work indeed, this pit keeping. It is not for wimps, nor the faint of heart. You gotta work up to it, people! Thus, I nuzzled back into my nest, feet propped up just right, whilst the chickadees zipped past the window pane.

I repeated this process hourly, two more times in point of fact, before the ham was hot all the way through. A routine you should know, that you may become quite accustomed to. A most beautiful, intoxicating rhythm indeed, when Black Friday rolls around, or any day really, when you feel the re-occurring need to lay low. Amen.

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Sweet and Smokey: Cherry-Smoked Honey Ham, fresh off the pit, sided with a heaping spoonful of homemade scallop potatoes, and a vegetable medley for to please the lady folks. Yum! You can do more popular things on Black Friday, I suppose, but why!!

ham2

Real Men Don’t Need Stoves: Smoked Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

One Patron’s Foray Into The Fine Art of Hardware Store Dining

It was the last of autumn, and the days they were falling short. All the leaves had fallen, sunbeams in scant supply, and the IMG_13211tweety birds and retired folk had gone south now, to tarry under balmy skies, and big umbrellas. The hardy residents that which remained, however, here in Minnesota, could be found battening down their homes; cleaning gutters, mulching leaves and stacking firewood. Prepping their nests for what wintry tempests may brew. This increased activity on the home front is surely sparked by the seasonal folds, and likewise may I say the same about my dinner tonight. A nice spot of hot, savory soup sounded good all day, chicken and wild rice to be exact, and when I got home, I aimed to do something about it.

Oddly enough, my sojourn into soup today started many hours previous, flannel clad, in a local big box store which rhymes roughly with “my nards“. Anyways, I was strolling through the manlier sections of the real estate there, fondling saber saws and cold chisels, you know how it goes, when I came upon a small grocery section, recessed deep in the bowels of the store. It was lovely to the eyes, I must admit, like a gastronomic island oasis in a sea of hardware. I paused as any man would, in the shadow of a veritable wall of beef jerky – meat spanning a fathom wide off both my anatomical port and starboard, and rising higher than I could reach. Glory be, but I had stumbled upon a worthy den!  I moseyed thus over to a wall of assorted nuts, all neatly canned and priced to sell. Every nut you could think of. In every size and shape. And I might have lingered there too, had I not first been wooed by the soup.

wild rice soup

The soup was in an semi-attractive yellow package I guess, but the price was even more handsome still. I do not know why, but men folk are sometimes drawn to these things.  I think because it looks easy. Or barring that, it must be the pretty pictures. At any rate, Shore Lunch Creamy Wild Rice it was called, and it even looked creamy, so I tossed it in my cart. I knew with a supplement of chicken quarters I had back home, and a hand full of mesquite wood chips, I could do something worthy with this humble offering, patron to the pit. And that’s just what we did.

chickensoup1

So under a gray November sky,  we did up the soup as per it’s instructions, but of course we did it on the faithful Weber Kettle, for poetic reasons you see. Real men don’t need stoves! Placing the pot over direct heat, stirring often, it’s heady aromas soon melded with the cool, Autumn air. Along side, we lightly seasoned some chicken quarters in garlic salt, and grilled them up as well, opposite the hot coals.  And lastly, we tossed some mesquite wood onto the coals for that signature scent and added touch only found in outdoor cooking. There by, and for a good while, we let it simmer and smoke whilst the November breeze rustled through the old oak tree. It was good times, as the season’s first snow flakes fluttered down about thee.

chickensoup

 

When the chicken was bronzed and savory to eat, and the soup had thickened up, we brought it all inside. Shredded the chicken and stirred it lovingly into the soup, bringing a smokey tinted affair to the meal. And it was good. Darn good I must say. My bride mistakenly assumed even, that I had slaved the afternoon away, preparing the dish from scratch. Now I suppose I could have let the myth perpetuate itself, with my chest stuck out in sad deception- but I couldn’t. I eventually had to fess up that tonight’s rations were procured from but a humble yellow bag that I found at the hardware store. And if she didn’t mind beef jerky and nuts for dessert, I had that covered too! Amen.

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Mesquite Smoked Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. Sometimes you’d be surprised where your next meal will come from. Then again, all is possible patron to the pit. Grill on, people!

 

 

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