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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!

Anything Worth Doing: Pecan Smoked Back Ribs

The north wind whispered among the fields and streams, and along the water’s edge down by the pond. With mallards quietly afloat there, watching as I was, the tiny white flakes of snow begin to twirl down from an ashen-gray sky. It was fairly cool out still, for the first day of spring, FullSizeRender (2)cool enough that is, to heighten the simple pleasures found in close bandy to a beautiful chimney of coals. One of which I had one going just then, as a matter of fact, with my hands hovering over the flames. I tossed a small piece of pecan wood into the chimney, and watched silently as it took flame.

I have always enjoyed the lighting of the coals. The process of it. The initial pungent blast of sulfur from a match, the first plumes of wood smoke curling aloft, and of course, the sweet time it takes to do such things, inherent to wood fired cooking. Oh yes indeed, there is a veritable gamut of quicker ways to procure supper for your self, this we know, from: the venerable stove top, to the drive through window of a fast food place, or hark, even behind the spattered plastic door of your personal microwave oven. Yuck. But it all works I guess. It all gets you there. Let it be said tho, because it is true, nothing so raises the bar of edible succulence, quite like a lovely rack of pork ribs riding the low and slow train all the afternoon long.

Cooking with wood and charcoal is at once an exercise in patience. Many folk have not the muster to do this anymore, or even want to do it, it seems,  courtesy perhaps of our on-demand society. We are contented in large part, with what we can get quickly, and have forgotten at times, the pleasure of the wait. That’s what I love about BBQ proper. The essence of it, right down to its smokey core, is something of jaunt on the scenic path. It makes you wait for it. You have to respect the journey. And it is within the time span of this enforced leisure where the magic keenly unfolds. Lets take a peak under the lid, and I’ll tell you a little more about it, and what we have going on for supper at the pit today.

Baby Backs sizzling in a shroud of pecan smoke

Baby backs sizzling in a shroud of pecan smoke. Oh man!

 

Oh sweet rendering collagen, how I darling thee! You work best at your own speed, and no one can tell you otherwise. Indeed, one should not rush the natural processes of rendering pork. It is a snail’s progression in Pig Picasso,  right before our eyes. Just let it go,  people, low and slow, and do your very best to just stay out-of-the-way. They say every time you lift the lid on your smoker that you add maybe 20 more minutes to the cook. And I suppose it’s true. But I had to show you, you see,  if not for to glimpse the savory baby backs, but I suppose also to add 20 more wonderful minutes to my cook. Oh yes, I like the sound of that. It is well with my soul. For here is an activity of which I sincerely do love, to tarry pit side neath wild skies and darting tweety birds, just watching the wood smoke spiral and world gently spin round and round. I could do this for the better part of the day. And I do mean the better part. So why then would any misguided soul seek to hurry through it. Never!

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I fancy the process of BBQ. And I like that it takes a long time. Because I suppose it gives me an excuse to loiter in my man chair and do nothing at all. It is a common secret among men, you see, and the women seem to let us get away with it, that we are hard at work out here manning our pits! That wood smoke would not curl right without our wise and manly influence. Nor would the protein cook proper like with out our steadfast sorties to the refrigerator for something cold to drink. Indeed, it is simply a man’s duty to tarry by his puffing pit and assure quality control there. And for some reason the women accept this, and the men are just wise enough not to fight it. Blessed be the pit jockey, in fact, who’s pork butt spans half the day, and the evening shadows grow long before his feet. The longer BBQ takes, the more content we are.

I reckon I ought to digress for the moment’s sake, and tell you a bit about the ribs, since your here and all. Easy enough. Firstly, we whipped up a homemade dry rub consisting roughly of what ever we had lying around, which included the following:


Basic Dry Rub of Whatever We Had Lying Around

  • Brown sugar
  • Smoked paprika
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Ground mustard
  • Cayenne pepper

*Amounts are left up to the pit master’s instincts. 


After the membrane was removed, we thus slathered the rack in Worcestershire sauce, and promptly patted the spice rub all over, to and fro, and tip to tip. Whilst we were getting friendly with the ribs, the Weber Smokey Mountain was coming up to speed, to 251 degrees,  with a good charcoal/pecan fire burning in its steel bowl. After a suitable pause to slurp the top off a manly beverage, we placed the rack bone-side down on the pit grate for to come to edible maturity there, amid the softly rising plumes of pecan smoke. Glory!

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And now is when we wait for it. A pit keeper’s pleasure, if you will. And darn near our highest privilege in the smokey realm. Time to settle in somewhere fair, splay our feet upon gentle inclines, and relish for once the noble feeling of not being in a rush. To let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and just be… To commune with the aromas of perfectly executed pork, that which we usher by the hand unto the enchanted land of succulence.

In closing, I am reminded of the late Colin Fletcher, of backpacking immortality, who once coined, and brilliantly so, “Anything that is worth doing, is worth doing slowly”.  

So it is, Mr. Fletcher. And so it is with BBQ also. Amen.

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Pecan Smoked Back Ribs with a smoke ring to touch the center of the earth. Varnished in sauce, tinted with honey, sided with smoked baked beans and home-made tater salad. Man oh sweet buddy. Get your bibs on people! This is BBQ at it’s best. This is what you can do when you’re not in a hurry.

A Simple Fare: Grilled Pork Chops and Tin Foil Potatoes

 

The traffic was thick, but moving. Umpteen thousands upon thousands of automotive transports, motoring to and fro, and remarkably, if you ever think about it,  all making their way, FullSizeRenderliving their lives, and doing so in a unified, harmonious manner for the most part, save for those scattered but beleaguered souls, who’s middle fingers keenly ache from strident and resolved over-use. But that’s city driving for you. You come to expect the restless motorist or two. Anyways, upon a Sunday drive, we came upon the southern flanks of Minneapolis, which I think is a pretty city, as far as cities go. And I’m not much a city person, by and far. But I liked how this one looked, has always looked, in the beautiful evening slants of light, with its mighty steel and glass massifs sparkling down over the villages and alleyways.  If you’re lot in life is to be a big stinky mess, you might as well look sexy then, in the right light at least. And this one always has. But I could never live there. It is the sort of land I must keep driving through, for my own sake, and for more open spaces. For venues of precious elbow room. For environs devoid of the blaring horn, and the well-timed, upward raised middle finger. Indeed, a place where the wood smoke so sweetly curls with the lullaby of bird song and whispering pine, that for moment, you know as surely as you’ve ever known anything, that you are exactly where we wish to be, doing precisely that which is well with your soul.

Let’s head there now, shall we, and I’ll show you what’s for supper, and how it went and came to be.

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On the pit today, a simple fare. As simple as you please, really. A couple of thick cut pork chops, and a small bandy of diced potatoes swaddled in foil. Roasted with love. That was all we needed. Give a man meat and potatoes, and you have just given him the world. We are content with this. We long for this. Regardless, the chops were lightly dashed with a bit of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, each side. I seldom use this stuff, but mercy, when dusted over a good chop and merged with the heady scent of smoldering hickory, well, I can see why they sell it in the bulk, economy size. And why it has been around and going strong since the German tanks rumbled across the Austrian border in 1938. Lawry’s Seasoning has been around a good, long while.

The foiled potatoes were a bit more involved. But you all know how to do that. We added a few dollops of butter in there, along with a portion of a Lipton Onion Soup Mix packet, for a little extra flavor. Foiled them and placed them over direct heat for the entire cook, which takes about 20 – 25 minutes. Half way through, or at your pit master instincts, flip the taters with but a single, twisting wield of the tongs, and hear the meat sizzle on the hot cast iron grate, smile quietly to yourself, and consider your day well spent.

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Somewhere in there, about the time I was to settle into a wee spot of loitering, I tossed forth onto the coals, a chunk of crooked hickory wood, roughly about the size of Laurie from down under’s big toe. If you haven’t had occasion yet to peruse his blog, Laurie27wsmith, you might find it quite the treat if you were ever at all curious about Australia and the pretty things that abound there. A wonderful bloke, always in good humor, and I do rather enjoy rummaging through his photos whilst pit-side, waiting on my plunder to mature. Nothing is quite so lovely as a male kangaroo posing unashamed on your portable device whilst the aromas of fresh meat bellow forth from your pit damper. Mercy!

I flipped the chops one last time, and stood abreast the steely bosom of the old kettle grill, savoring the heat on my hands. The smell of the Lawry-tinted pork about sent me straight to church, people, dripping there over a blazing rubble of orange coals. The sizzle and the hickory smoke, the breeze amid the Spruce, even the feel of the tongs in my hand, it all felt right and meant to be. Far removed from the bustling, ever-flowing ribbon of traffic that which flanks the city yonder; this meat, and this fire, and this endless sky above, it is for the moment all that I need. A simple fare where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.

 

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Hickory Tinted Thick Cut Pork Chops & Lipton Tin Foiled Potatoes. Yum!

 

Only In Minnesota: The Fire On Ice BBQ Competition

As your personal roving field reporter, and benefactor to the smokey community at large, I was off and about the weekend last, IMG_0035doing thy bidding for the betterment of BBQ, and my own good mood in general. It was brought to my attention by one of our finest subscribers, Bill, at Three Dogs BBQ, that a rather unique BBQ competition was being held not far from PotP headquarters. It was so unique, in point of fact, that I just had to go check it out. You see,  The Fire on Ice Competition was in its third year, and claimed to be doing so in true Minnesota fashion – out on a wind-swept, frozen-over, 207 square mile lake just east and trifle south of no where. The last time they did this, it was rumored to be 30 below there, not including the wind chill. And now this year, they’ve cast common logic aside, and seem to be back for more. A hardy lot these cats, I thought, as I sipped my morning brew. Why not. Could be fun!  So I hired a driver, also known as,  Elder Brother, and we were off for the northern muskegs, trucking up the highway at semi-appropriate speeds, with bountiful apple fritters in hand, until we reached the frozen flanks of one, Millacs Lake.

The ice was about three feet thick still, here at Minnesota’s second largest inland lake. Which is a good thing for ice fishermen and pit masters alike. Not to mention the trucks zipping to and fro the scattered ice shanties and the Appledoorn Resort, who once again, has graciously hosted this slightly crazed, but favorable BBQ event. And an event it truly is, in every sense of the word. Over 50 teams were competing this weekend on the ice, in categories ranging from ribs and butts to chicken and beef tri-tip. The number of entries steadily increasing over the last 3 years. Teams from as far as the plains of Texas even, have made the polar pilgrimage for but to smoke their pork over the ice fields of Mille Lacs. It is probably the only BBQ competition in the world where you can pull a 14 inch walleye up through a hole in the ice right next to your smoker. Say what you will, but this is living!

Shuffling like two pregnant penguins over the glazed ice, elder brother and I took a pedestrian tour of BBQ Alley.

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What they do is line up various ice houses and fish shanties to fashion a “main street” if you will. Affectionately referred to as BBQ Alley. And to each fish house you will find a designated smoker or two, or three, along with a band of cheerful folks milling about there, usually with a manly beverage in hand, musing at length over such lofty things as fire and ice. They seemed a happy lot indeed, despite the winter climes. And I could see why. What a glorious stroll it is, I must say, with boots shuffling over thick, crystalline ice, that which shimmers like diamond booty at the terminus kiss of a sunbeam’s golden slant. And the blue-tinted pillars of smoke, patron to good BBQ, curling serenely into a beautiful, blue, Minnesota sky. And the aromas people. Mercy! Every twenty feet your nasal orifices would spread again, as receptors to an aromatic parade of perfectly executed pork.

Here are just a few of the cool pits and pit keepers we came across in our time at the Fire On Ice Competition.

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Some contestants had it all. Even brought their own ambulance, they did. I talked to the owner of this rig, and he just shrugged his shoulders.

“Had to do it!” he said. And he did. He also said he hopes to go full-time into the competitive BBQ circuit.

Can you really do that?” I croaked.

Well, I’m sure gonna try“, he said. “I just love it“. And I think he meant it too. Bless you good sir, and I hope you make Harry’s Bar proud.

You can check out their facebook page if you wish at https://www.facebook.com/HarrysAllSaucedUpAndSmokin

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Shuffling onward, elder brother and I came upon one of my favorite rigs there. A custom-built monument to the BBQ sciences if there ever was one. Complete with its own barber chair! Shoot, I’d get a shave here!

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This one was elder brother’s favorite. I think he just liked the pretty colors, but I try not to over think it any. Anyways…

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Shiggin & Grinnin from Delano, Minnesota sure had a nice pit. I may or may not have lingered a particularly long and protracted time here, enjoying the free aromas and what not. I visited their web site later, and let’s just say, they know how to win! You can check our their site too, at http://www.shigginandgrinnin.com/

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We reluctantly left the premises right around turn in time. People were zipping across the ice on their ATV’s and pick-up trucks, cradling their Styrofoam Cartons O’Plunder close to their downy bosoms, in humble attempts to outfox for a time, the wind and the cold. The contestants all piled into the Appledoorn Chalet for to warm up a bit and see how they had done, patron to the pit. Their labors, their dreams, their meat, in the hands of the judges now. And that’s when we saddled up in elder brother’s old truck, poured a spot of tea from a slender thermos, and made our way south from whence we came, content, and smelling akin of two hickory-tinted pork butts, who if only just for a couple of hours, had a very good and memorable day on the ice, where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.

PS.. Let’s see you do this in Ecuador!

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So if you’re game for a unique, cold weather BBQ competition, one of which is growing bigger every year, then check out Fire On Ice. Maybe we’ll see you out there!

-PotP

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!

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