Such is light’s brief serenade for the sun which has dipped below the roof tops now, at an hour profoundly prior from which the supper bell tolls. The cool wind rustles up the neighborhood streets and across the backyards freshly mulched and pampered and smelling of a sleepy earth. The old pond dapples in the moonlight as the mallards and stately drakes cavort in it’s still, liquid waters. All the leaves have all fallen now, once resplendent and grand, and the geese are in constant formation it seems, bugging out for the promised land, of…well, I don’t know where the geese go actually. Probably to you guys down in Florida, I suppose. Texas too.
It’s November in Minnesota. Outdoor life is shutting down. Most folk have wheeled their BBQ’s inside for the winter now. We Patrons of the Pit, however, and Comrades of the Coals, well, we stoically march onward still, trimming our collars to the tempest of night, and manning our pits in stalwart fashion, for to bandy some rather keen moments still, in the waning, pale moon light.
On the pit tonight, probably the first head chiseled on to my personal Mount Rushmore of Things You Can Grill…Steak! A nice big one for me, and a slightly smaller one for the little lady. It always amazes me, as the resident grill jockey that I am, from all the umpteen dozens if not hundreds of recipes I’ve tried over the years, my favorite things to grill still are usually of the most simpleton in kind. For example, I enjoy a good steak, like this, lightly seasoned in just garlic and onion salt, as much as I enjoy, say, an elaborate, 12-hour, pecan smoked brisket flat, or even a rack of spare ribs perfectly executed to the nearest square inch. These things are quite lovely, and they are satisfying to do. But there’s also just something pleasantly perfect about a simple fare of meat and potatoes. About steak on the grill. And more over, there is a magic in grilling it there, amid a November night.
I flipped the steaks, tongs in hand, and listened to them sizzle on the hot cast iron grate. Orange flames licked up from below, searing the beef, as I pulled my patio chair up aside the old kettle grill. I sat there with the lid off watching the steaks cook, and enjoying the flicker of the flame and the radiant heat bellowing out of the Weber’s steely bosom. It felt warm on my face, as I looked up and noted how the moonbeams dropped like angel kisses through the pit-side spruce trees. This was nice, I thought. Much better than most people think when they think of November grilling. I was not cold. Nor did the darkness matter. In point of fact, the darkness just seem to make the fire all the better. Something poignant and lovely to bandy by. And so by fire and by moonlight I sailed the culinary seas there, however briefly to the shores of edible succulence from whence I’ve longed. It didn’t take much effort either. Steaks are like that. And I already had the potatoes done in the kitchen, so… I plated up the spoils, turned heel as any man would, and sidled inside for the night.
After sliding the patio door shut, and locking it, I took another glance out at the grill, like pit keepers do. There it sat in the dark, quietly puffing away as if it didn’t have a care in the world. No, it didn’t mind doing its duty in November. In fact, it was just doing what it was born to do. And for a while at least, come to think of it, so was I. Amen.
Meat and potatoes. Some days I tell you, people, it’s all you need. Well, and a piece of coconut cream pie for dessert wouldn’t hurt none either.
Autumn is a lovely time of year. Cooler days and chilly nights. Walking out to the car in the morning, there is a crisp bite in the air, and it just smells better, somehow, because its cold. Geese are on the wing, daily it seems, flying like bomber squadrons overhead, honking as they strafe past, their strong wings whooshing through the chill air. And then there are the leaves. Umpteen billions of them. Golden, and orange, and fiery red; around every corner, down every road – and they quiver and tingle on thin stems in the slightest breeze, quaking there. Waiting to drop. Waiting the turn.
I was cooking supper at the Pond Side Pit the other night, just admiring the autumn scene. Namely the big, old cotton wood there, and how resplendent its leaves looked against a blue, October sky. I don’t know how it is in Texas, or the desert, or even for our friends down there in Ecuador, but autumn in Minnesota is maybe why we all live in here in the first place. It is surreal. Something beautiful to behold every square foot, leastwise in the natural realm. All the trees gussied up so fine, free of that chlorophyll stuff, and my but they look akin to bride’s maids for the Fall.
Supper was some pork chops. Thick-cut of course, for not only are we Patrons of the Pit, but hark, we’re also hungry! So thick-cut it would be. For seasoning we tried some rub our old buddy, TJ Stallings, sent to us. His good friend, O’Neill Williams, of O’Neill Outside came up with some new flavors, and we were lucky enough a hold of some,thanks to TJ. Tonight’s medley of yum is the Wild Game Seasoning, tinted with a light mesquite smoke, and some darn succulent chops. Granted, my pork chops aren’t too wild, but no how, good is good, right, and now wildly good, perhaps, with some of this seasoning. We’ll give it a shot.
As I bandied a pile of orange glowing coals to the side of the little kettle grill for indirect cooking, it dawned on me that my leisurely summer evenings of cooking in the sunlight were coming to a close. The turn was at hand. Where autumn fades to longer nights. If there is a draw back to this fabulous season, at least for a pit jockey, it is the longer nights. Up here in Minnesota, the nights will come on all-too-swiftly in the coming weeks, and before somewhere in December, the nights will last about 14 hours altogether. That just ain’t right. So that means one of two things for a pit keeper. You either make your supper elsewhere, or you grill in the dark. For some reason I cannot completely divine, we’ve always been partial to the latter. Probably the sum result of inhaling one too many smoke plumes off a smoldering hickory log. Aw well.
So as I brought these gorgeous chops to the sultry land of succulence, I couldn’t help but to lavish also in the scant light that which lingered at the pit this night. How the long slants of an autumn sunbeam washed through the fluttering cottonwood leaves, and lit up that blue sky above for just a few minutes more. Indeed, we’ve been blessed. I savored the moments here, pit side, with tongs in hand, listening to the pork sizzle over the bed of coals, and enjoying the radiant heat off the old kettle grill. This was nice, I thought. Very pleasant. Maybe because I knew in the back of my mind that the winter grilling season was right across the way. I mean, I could see it yonder. Just over there, behind that seasonal curtain waiting to drop. Behind those beautiful leaves fixed to fall. But for the moment anyways, and maybe even longer than that, I know that I am grilling in the light, and long may we tarry here in the sweet sun that which fills the day. Amen.
Mesquite Tinted Pork Chops seasoned with O’Neill Outside Wild Game Seasoning on an October Eve swiftly fading. And all the pit jockeys rejoiced!
Ps…If you’re so inclined, we made a little companion video of this pit session to share with you. Another way to see our meat! Yes, we have a you tube channel. And no, we never use it! But it’s there for times like these, even so. Enjoy!
A cool wind stirs, as the last of a golden light ebbs over the neighborhood roof tops, their silhouetted chimney stacks puffing contentedly against a pale, autumn sky. Where geese occasionally cruise on the wing, first stars appear, and the moon holds still, suspended in time, above the old Cottonwood tree down by the pond. A tree almost, but not quite yet ready to give up its beloved leaves. Umpteen thousands of them, born of green, the shapely spawn of the Populus deltoides, such as the Latins have coined, and my but how they have fluttered brightly the summer long. A life of sunny days and rainy nights. Of storms and droughts. Of bluebird skies that would never end. Now one by one, laying to rest in fields of gold.
Oh what a show the Minnesota trees are putting on right now. By the time this is published, most of the leaves, save for the stubborn, old oaks, will have parted ways with their respective tree, and made their rendezvous with decay on the forest floor. One can’t help but to marvel at the beauty of it all right now, and I guess if you’re anything like us, kindle a good fire in the pit, and cook something there. To flip meat over flame whilst the leaves rain down upon thee. It’s good times, people. And while the coals come up to speed here, let us head inside, shall we, and see how we prepared tonight’s protein.
Now, just as I do not know how many leaves have fallen in my yard, likewise, I cannot tell you how many cheeseburgers I have grilled in my life. Both tallies are rather uncountable, I should wager, and neither will ever be enough. Oh how I fancy a good burger. When guests are to come over, burgers are at once an easy dinner solution that most people, save for the odd, toothless relative, seem to devour with a haste usually reserved for flannel clad individuals on a diet with a disturbing affection for maple glazed doughnuts. You know who you are. Burgers are just good, people. And they always will be. Here then is this patron’s go-to burger recipe when rumbling tummies come calling.
What we do is disperse one envelope of onion soup mix evenly through a pound or so of 80-20 ground beef . The soup mix, if you like that sort of thing, adds a delicious ensemble of flavor, that which favors beef, and can nary attempt to be any simpler. Work it into the meat good and thorough and get your hands dirty. It’s OK. Good meat responds to the hands that which pamper it. Anyways, that’s it for the seasoning. In point of fact, it’s more than enough. In the steel bowl towards the back, in case you were wondering, resides a few spuds from the fertile fields of Idaho, lovingly shaped by my beautiful bride into a plethora of french fries for to swim in the electric deep fryer. Nothing accents your burger craft with more authority than a batch of home-made french fries. Do go out of your way some time, and try it.
Burgers deployed over the iron grate, opposite the hot coals. You can cook burgers anyway you want. If you want to go directly over the coals, and cook them hot and fast, then let it be so. Today, however, I was in the mood to mosey. To take the scenic path as far as grill craft is concerned. So we placed them indirect, and tossed on a hunk of mesquite wood too.
After a fashion, the old, porcelain enameled lid was set in place, and the damper adjusted just so. Naturally there after I assumed the proper pit master position, in the outdoor man chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, lovely beverage within reach, and the brim of my hat tipped up in a rather nonchalant manner. The blue-tinted smoke spiraled out of the vent in long, magical tendrils, dissipating into the ether, and smelled point-blank out of this world. I hear the tell-tale honk from one of Minnesota’s patented voices, the Canadian goose, who it seems is always aloft this time of year – the benediction of Autumn. It brings a smile to my face, as I lean back and look over the kettle lid, at the old Cottonwood tree, standing handsome at the edge of the pond. It’s upper most canopy still lit in the evening sun. It’s leaves softly clacking in the breeze. And for a while at least, all the world spins as it should. These are but the moments pit-side we cling to, and try to remember come the frigid, short days of winter. And so I sat there in the quietude, with wood smoke rising, trying to remember. Amen.
God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December – James M Barrie
Mesquite Smoked Cheddar Cheese Burgers, Darting Canadian Geese, Autumn Awesomeness & Deep Moments – it’s all there, people, and patron to the pit.
Banking the hot coals to the back of the old kettle grill, I cast a glance upon the pond, and the skies of gray, rolling over-head. A mist dapples over the land, the house, and the bushes down by the water look wet, and tired today. The leaves of the cottonwoods have all turned yellow now, and many of them have fallen to their inevitable rendezvous with the earthen substrates below. One of them, however, landed on my patio, soaked, but still lovely, in this, the last turn of autumn. One last confident gesture of something beautiful, before ice and snow and darkness seize the land. It hasn’t much more to do in its life now. No more duties to uphold on the heady matters of photosynthesis. It need not provide shade nor solace for critters or kin. And it will decompose in time, like things do, and morph into dirt or the like. Something rather unbecoming of a once beautiful leaf, but in the same breath, kind of noble and good. An intricate interlace in the ongoing circle of life. One of which I considered some whilst plucking some bell peppers from the fertile soils of the pit garden. We’re having chili tonight, you see, and I like peppers in my chili.
What better spoil for the pit, on a misty, autumn day, than some smoked pit chili, procured over a beautiful bed of coals. Its real easy to do. As easy as on your kitchen range, but dare I say, twice as fun. I started with the old, black iron frying pan, and a pound or so ground beef, browned in accord. Then I tossed in some diced onions and bell peppers plucked fresh from the garden folds. Sautéed and softened a tad, before adding the rest of the ingredients.
The other ingredients can be as vast or as precise as you wish. Chili is a most forgiving dish. There is no hard and fast rule to chili making, especially on the pit. So make it however you like. I started with a base of tomato sauce, one can as it were, followed by half that can of water. Then a can of kidney beans, drained of course. A big squirt of ketchup, and a modest handful of brown sugar. Some salt and pepper. About a table-spoon of chili pepper. And a dwindling bag of frozen corn I discovered in the furthest recesses of the freezer. I like corn in my chili, I don’t know why. All this is stirred up and left to simmer in a sloppy-brown communal affair, opposite the hot coals. Let the flavors marry, and get to know one another. Next comes the good part.
The part that separates the outdoor chef from the kitchen dweller. Smoke. I’m sure the cowboys of old, who slept under the stars, were used to a smokey flavored chili, but that is something wrung tight now out of the human experience. Doing your chili out on the pit, with a bit of hickory wood thrown in for good measure, is not only a supreme means of procuring some tasty supper, but you are also paying homage, in a way, to how chili was always meant to be done – over the camp fire. I tossed on a chunk of smoke wood and placed the old, black-enameled lid back on. Tweaked the top vent, and in no time, aromatic plumes puffed contentedly away. Thus, and unto the journey’s end, let the pot simmer away for as long as you wish. And very occasionally stir the contents. This, in part, to stir in more of that smokey goodness, which is half the reason for cooking outside in the first place. Glory!
Whilst the wood smoke curled up into a gray, mist-ladened sky, I stood abreast of the pit, gleaming what heat I could from it. Hands in the pockets of my smoking jacket, eyes surveying the pond. A gentle drizzle tapping over the brim of my hat. There is a chill in the air, and a dampness to match it. And one lone mallard afloat out on the pond – quacking away. Seemingly laughing, almost, in an upward-raised indifference to the weather. Ducks are like that. Hamming it up, he was, like Phyllis Diller in her prime. And I admired him for it. I admire any schmuck, come to think of it, winged or not, who seems to enjoy the soggy, cold, days of life such as these. For that matter, any day in which he is given. Those wholly absorbent souls who grasp a moment for the gift that it is, and belch forth of its glories anew. That is a confident gesture of something beautiful, if you ask me. Something noble and good.
I muckle onto the hot iron of steaming chili and bring it inside, closing the patio door behind me. The autumn mist dawdles on, whilst the old mallard chortles from the dappled pond. What a good day it has been, I thought. A gift indeed. And another golden leaf dropped from above. Amen.
Hickory Smoked Chili fresh off the pit. Dang people. If that don’t warm your belly and soul on a wet day, you probably have dirt in your face.