It’s About Time: Hickory Smoked Sloppy Joe Sandwiches
“We have often said that anything you can cook on the indoor range can be duplicated on the grill. In many cases, even improved, courtesy of the coals. And one of the best examples of this is the Sloppy Joe.“
Not too long ago, the guy on TV said to set our clocks one hour ahead, of which I dutifully obliged. Seems to me however, like just last fall, which is like instantaneous ago to some one over 30, he told us to set it an hour backwards, and here we are putting it forwards to where it was again. Go figure. And ironically, time flies I guess, and like many folk, I gotta wonder why bother. I’m not altogether sold if it’s a good idea or not. I have tho long admired places like Arizona, who have also heard what the guy on TV said, thought about it for a while, like Arizonans do, shrugged their shoulders, and declared the heck with it. I thought of doing that too, in my own world, but I have actually gleamed a good use for springing forwards this time of year, namely BBQ!
Have you noticed, as I have, the blessed sun and how it dawdles in the sky now, well past supper time. We pit keepers in the northern latitudes notice these things. Indeed, we revel in these things. I cannot express to you the simple joy of actually grilling in the day light – slanting beams of heat cast by a warm and forgiving sun. And after a disturbingly long winter, mired in the icy depths of cold and darkness, this small thing is enough to make an old pit keeper weep. Like a lone astronaut emerging from a trip around the back side of the moon, the earth and the sun swinging back into view, and hope is thus renewed. The light is back! And all the winter-bound pit keepers rejoice.
On the pit today, an old favorite around here, hickory smoked Sloppy Joes. If you haven’t made your Sloppy Joes out on the grill yet, your missing out on one of the finer things to happen to a loose meat sandwich. Oh the stove-top Joes your mother used to make are good too, and we’re not cutting that short. But to bring them to the pit, and infuse some smokey goodness there, is to usher this classic sandwich into the next echelon of what is good. We have often said that anything you can cook on the indoor range can be duplicated on the grill. In many cases, even improved, courtesy of the coals. And one of the best examples of this is the Sloppy Joe. So the first order of business, of course, is to brown a pound or so of ground beef. And in an old, cast iron skillet, this is what we did.
Once the ground beef is browned up nice and pretty, mix in your sloppy sauce of choice. You all have your own thing I know, but here is what we had on hand:
Sloppy Joe Sauce
3/4 Cup Ketchup
2 Teaspoon Yellow Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
3 Teaspoons Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce (optional but awesome)
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Now in many loose meat sandwich recipes folk like to put some onions and green peppers in the pan along with the ground beef, and cook them up there. And we would have too had we not had an abiding case of lazymanship this day. Dreadful stuff, but shoot, sometimes you just don’t feel like running to the grocer for any odd thing. Nay, not when the tweety birds and the sunbeams adorn your patio sanctum with Picasso-like perfection. And the breeze sifts sweetly through the fragrant spruce whilst the hickory smoke gently curls. We’ve been waiting far too long for a day like this to waste it traipsing about the cityscape. Anyways.
Hickory smoke and Sloppy Joes marry with great effect. The union of flavors rise together, hand-in-hand, in a wonderful compliment to each other, and your world, by golly, is a better place because of it. The whole idea of doing it on the grill, after all, is to mix in some of that smokey goodness patron to the pit. And so we set the black iron pan opposite the hot coals, and banked the meat as far towards to cooler side as we could, piling it up there like a meat snow bank in an iron cul-de-sac. We then plopped a small chunk of hickory directly onto the coals, and deployed the old, black enameled lid of the Weber into service. Be mindful to put the damper on the lid directly over your savory spoils so to enforce a proper draft of smoke there. Wood smoke is what sets this loose meat sandwich apart from any you’ve ever had. And so for the next 15 minutes, every 3 minutes or so, with manly beverage in hand, stir thy plunder with an artist’s hand. Circulate the smokey meat to the bottom and bring the less smoked meat to the top. And keep repeating this heady procedure in true pit keeper fashion until your drool humbly sizzles one too many times upon the fiery flanks below. When you deem your plunder smokey enough to suit, there is only one reasonable step left to do. Toast the buns.
Toasting the buns is an often skipped over step in the BBQ arts. Kind of like resting the meat. We get so excited to eat, I suppose, that we don’t think of anything but, let alone toasting a lowly bun. But it only takes a minute, really, and in return adds a fabulous texture to your end game. It also, off-hand and by-the-way, nurtures the virtue of patience, which is as important as a good bed of coals to a pit keeper. Patience is the soil in which greatness sprouts forth. Patience also takes an exorbitant amount of time, at the time, it seems. But it is good for us. Patience slows a hurried soul and hence elevates it’s capacity to absorb. To focus. To glory and bask in the simple and abiding pleasures patron to the pit. Like the thin, wispy tendrils of wood smoke back-lit by a shaft of golden sun at supper time. Something easy to appreciate, let me tell you, after six stark months of grilling on the dark side of the moon. And tho the snowbanks tarry, and the breeze is still keen, the light is at last upon us. Finally. Like my elder brother is fond of croaking, “Patience comes to those who wait”. And it’s about time.