Pecan smoke spiraled from the old pit damper whilst the lone drake floated serenely on the pond. The cool spring breeze caressed the cottonwood buds, and the sun, man, how divine it felt to sprawl at the terminus of one of it’s golden shafts. In a word, decadent! I was what you might say, “settled in” and pit-side, with a lovely beverage in hand and the game playing softly through the little speaker of the pit radio. The day was point blank glorious. Another vintage spring day in Minnesota. One to savor fondly from the vantage of a pit keeper.
I love to cook out-of-doors. It’s largely what I do. There are times when I actually wonder if my stove in the kitchen even works, for I use it so seldom. At certain times of the year, not unlike most grill jockeys hard into their game, a passerby of my open garage door may spy a pallet’s worth of charcoal stacked in there. Hundred of pounds of beautiful black briquettes awaiting my call. My bidding for the smoke. A pit keeper must be prepared don’t you know. Same unto the freezer adequately stocked with all matter of bits and bobs, from turf to surf. It’s all because I love to cook outside, and I for one do not wish to miss the opportunity should the impulse arise. Or, if by chance, guests come over keen with hunger pangs.
They did the other day, and I was ready. They all had cheeseburger shaped hollows in their stomachs, and the Pond Side Pit was the remedy! So I preheated the old Craycort cast iron grate, and freshly oiled it. ( See our review of this modular grate system here) I also deployed the cast iron griddle insert for this cook to assist in frying up a little bacon there. This was going to be fun!
Slow it Down Partner!
I stayed calm however. This is the hallmark of good pit keepers. The ability to exercise patience in the face of slobber-slopping expectation. You want with all your might to dive in and get after it, but then you know if you do, the fun will be only shortly lived at best. The trick then is to stretch it out. To make the moment linger if but only for the moment’s sake. It’s a game we pit jockeys play with ourselves. And those who do not love to cook outside just won’t get it. And that’s OK.
So I paused momentarily, like deep thinkers do, relieved myself of a certain pending gas, and I lit another fire in the chiminea. A blaze just for show, really, and patron I believe to higher levels of pit ambiance. Nothing is quite so fine as dual fires in a spring time cook out. The aromas surround. The crackle and pop do too, port and starboard. It works. It also slowed me down to better savor the day, which was the whole point. Then, whence a heady blaze was kindled there, I finally put meat to flame and grunted semi-appropriately in that golden light.
You don’t need to be told how to grill a cheeseburger. We’ve discoursed on that art enough in a hundred other posts. I will say, however, and if possible, do your best to refrain from pressing the burger patty with your spatula or tong, like you see so many people do. The only thing this does is squirt flavor clear of your supper. I will also say, glory be to the pit jock who does up his bacon and onions also on the grill. These two ingredients truly made the feast. Bacon and onions done over the stove are good and all, but doing them over the grill, allowing the wood smoke to adhere to the greasy bacon and the fried onions, well, it’s enough to make a grown body weep. And top these comestibles on your pecan smoked cheddar cheese burger and toasted pretzel bun, and well, I don’t have to tell you that you have officially arrived. And all your supper guests will smile and burp aloud, with grease dripping off their chins, as they tarry there, plumply, from the vantage of a pit keeper. Amen.
Above the pastels of a western sky, tarries a toe nail moon, slender and bright, whilst an autumn breeze mingles serenely amid the fallen leaves. I shift a bit in the BBQ chair, left leg crossed over right, a hot beverage in hand, and watch how the wood smoke gently curls from the old Weber kettle. Mesquite, aromatic tendrils of it, ascend into the tapering light, and a squadron of Canadian geese honk over head, their feathery wings paddling through the thin air. And yonder, the colors turn on the old cottonwood tree down by the pond, waxing yellow and brown – all gussied up for their imminent rendezvous with the earthen soils below. I take a sip off my beverage, relaxed and content with the day. Another day further into the season that is Autumn. A most privileged time of year indeed, to be a patron of the pit.
Gone now are the heady days of sweat, where a simple sojourn to the mail box would render you an unruly tatter, returning to the house in a glistening sheen of your own rank juices. Hark, your stench not much better off than the neighbor’s pit bull, or for that matter, the neighbor I suppose. No more, and I’m OK with this. With the cooler weather, I shall bring forth out of semi-retirement my beloved smoking jacket, its woolen fibers still tinted with the scented memories of a thousand and one past cook outs. Of feasts procured fireside, under starry nights, where the cosmos never ended. Most folk think they are under law to put their smokers and BBQ grills away this time of year, but to we avid pit junkies, and keepers of the flame, well sometimes I think the really good grilling season is just beginning. When the temperature drops to jacket clad levels, and darkness descends in mid-cook, here then you will discover a noticeable and very tangibly increased appreciation found in the fellowship of the coals. Your cooker is not just an instrument of gastronomic science anymore, but rather it is your companion. Your comrade in the trench. Your hickory scented infatuation. You sort of nestle up to the pit, and revel in the heat radiating forth from its steely bosom. And glory long in its soft, flickering light, tinted with the pungency of smoldering wood. I love it.
I also love, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. And there is not a better place or way to make them, than over a well-managed hardwood fire, out-of-doors, and under magnificent skies. Here then is how we did this classic sandwich. And how it went and came to be.
Firstly, you must understand that what is good about bacon is only amplified when cooked proper on the grill. There is no better aroma in all the land than bacon sizzling over hot cast iron. Like wise, there is no more comforting and pungent a parlay than said bacon sizzling over a hardwood fire. The melding of bacon smell and wood smoke is enough to send man or woman alike into a rapturous state of euphoria and well-being. Grown men will babble unintelligible phrases whence under the spell of bacon sizzling over an open fire. This aromatic combo of the gods, of bacon and wood smoke, tugs on tender strings to stuff residing deep in our souls. There is no explaining it. No justifying it. All we can do is appreciate it, and let it be at that. With our bacon tonight, we did it sans charcoal, completely, with a 100% cherry wood fire, the embers and coals of which, raked to one side of the pit for the option of indirect cooking.
If the fire is good and hot, place your bacon indirect, and put the lid on, top damper open of course. Most bacon will come smoked already, but we went and double smoked it again, just because. Bathing the beautiful strips of pork belly in continuous wafts of cherry wood smoke, until the bacon was cooked to suit thee. We’ve said it before, cooking your bacon in the kitchen is good, because bacon is good. Bacon will always be good. But cooking your bacon on the grill, over a real fire, is point-blank out of this world amazing. The higher quality the bacon, of course, the more proportionate this effect is. Your inner caveman will weep.
Lastly, a toast is order. A toasting of the bread that is. No grill smith worth his patented silver tongs should make a BLT on the grill and not toast the bread. I mean if you’re going to do it, then go all the way, right. And we did. Lightly buttering up some left over ciabatta bread, and roasting it quickly over the fire, for to usher in that crispness of texture to match the cold lettuce to come. And the tomato, well that was to be plucked ultra fresh of course, from our garden folds, which proudly holds on still, remnants of summer season now ebbed and gone.
Inside, we thus assembled the hallowed BLT, and with a nod to those who bring us bacon, and the new season upon us, we duly devoured. Amen.
Fire Roasted BLT’s over a Cherry Wood Blaze. Oh man!! If you haven’t tried this classic sandwich off the pit yet, well, then in the immortal words of the BBQ Pit Boys, you’re missing something out of your life!
It is a pleasant thing, the sound of a match striking the side of its patron box on a hushed, winter’s eve. Even that initial blast of sulfur off the flame, tho unruly and noxious, it still triggers memories long recessed for which I am glad. Memories of past cooks, and campfires, and fellowship with the flames.
Fire. It’s part of the allure of outdoor cooking, I think. We get to play with fire. Upon lighting the charcoal this evening, I may have regressed to the age of ten again, doing things I probably ought not to. But I couldn’t help it, it’s fire after all. That brilliant, orange-fluttering seduction of heat and light, that which boys are irrevocably drawn. And tonight, I frolicked in the flames. I noticed with tongs in hand, if I tapped a charcoal chimney that which smoldered heap full of maturing coals, I got an interesting result. One difficult however to appreciate at the default and governed speed of life. But if I froze the moment, for the moment’s sake, oh what startling beauty I discovered. And with the click of a shutter, the art of flame was beheld. Lovely vectors of light, and tracers of orange and yellow against a pale, blackened night. Articulate and unique, like a thumb print on fire. Very cool, I thought. And a fun, inaugural firework sort-of-way to kick off tonight’s grilling endeavor – the venerable bacon cheeseburger. So grab yourself a lovely beverage, and we’ll tell you a little more about it, and how it went and came to be.
After the initial fire lust had ebbed, I was able to prepare the patties. 80/20 ground beef as a rule, makes a very fine place to start with your hamburgers. We took a pound of it, and formed it into three, shapely and uniform patties. My bride expressed interest tonight, in keeping a handle, as it were, on my proclivity for experimental flavors. She just wanted a basic, and simple cheeseburger. And with bacon if I might. Well I can do that, I thunk. I’ve often croaked, after all, that “simple is the best design.”
“Very well“, I declared, “tonight’s feast shall be simple.”
Keeping to the simplistic theme, I dusted the patties lightly with only salt and pepper. Oh I was eyeing my racks of assorted spice and flavors, and tho it was difficult, I resolutely resisted. After the coals were scattered to the back side of the old kettle grill, setting it up for in-direct grilling operations, I ceremoniously tossed on a small chunk of cherry wood, just because. I found I rather like a bit of smokey taste to my burgers, and cherry wood is darn near about my favorite. I gently placed the patties over direct heat for a little while per side, lightly searing them there, and then inserted my tongs directly into the center of the BBQ grate, and with a torque of the wrist, twisted the entire grate, burgers and all, 180 degrees, thus putting all the patties simultaneously opposite the hot coals. A little trick Weber owners pick up on right away, courtesy of their inherent circular grates. I love that sort of thing!
The rest of the cook would be spent in-direct, bathed in that lovely and aromatic cherry wood smoke. We put some of the double cold smoked bacon we did up the other week, alongside the burgers. Bacon on the stove top is delicious, nobody will deny that. But bacon done out on the grill, over smokey hard wood flames, is point-blank out of this world. Yum! Anyways, with the sounds of muffled traffic in the distance, the night waxed ever darker whilst I dawdled out by the pit. It wasn’t too cold tonight, only zero degrees or something, and I could manage just fine in my smoking jacket. I stood henceforth abreast the pit, like men do, wallowing in the wondrous aromas belching forth there, and thinking for a moment, about burger craft.
Burgers are such personal things, I thought. Sort of like a blank canvas to start, and a pit master proper, puts his or her own unique stamp on it. Makes it their own. There is no one-and-only, nor singularly right way to make them, and that right there is where the science parleys to art. And maybe that is why I like grilling burgers so well, along with all the BBQ arts. Each creation a potential masterpiece. Each cook a personal journey. And for the string of moments whilst you’re at the grill front, steady-footed and tongs in hand, you are at once the resident Monet of Meat. You really are! At least in your own mind you are. And this then is your art. So be proud then in what you have done there, aside licking flames and pastel evenings, where the wood smoke gently rises. Amen.
“A snowy gesture, if you will, reflective of our smokey passion. An icy monument that which we thrust forth in stark indifference to winter and its heady throes.” -Potp
The weather was a balmy thirty and one degrees, which after a couple of weeks of below zero living, let me tell you, feels akin to the white sand beaches of Waikiki. Thirty degrees seemed to warrant a man’s finest swim wear, iffin he didn’t know better. Funny what a fellow will get used to. Likewise did the black-capped chickadees rejoice at the pit-side bird feeder today, freshly filled with sunflower seeds. All darting about, happy and flirtatious. And a lone and stately Blue Jay roosted above it all, in a nearby Spruce, doing what ever it is that Blue Jays do. I kind of think he was looking down upon me, and trying to figure out what I was doing. In point of fact, I’m pretty sure he was. You probably would be curious too, iffin you spied smoke curling from a wayward pile of snow, and a bloke standing before it, grinning, with several strips of bacon in his hand. I guess now is the time to digress.
Welcome to the Snow Smoker, least-wise that is what we’re calling it, the latest articulate brain thrust of the Patrons of the Pit. It may look simply as the lower ball, if you will, of Frosty the Snowman, hollowed-out some, and with a smoke stack on top. And that’s because it is. Many an idea are forged in the field of play, and yet most are forgotten there. But when there is bacon involved, a man will sit upright again, and note the gleaming bulb hanging figuratively over his head. Indeed, where there is bacon there is also generally the actions of a motivated man. I had BLT’s on my brain, I guess. Maybe my most favorite sandwich of all time. And I had an idea for it. Anyways, I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking how in the heck can you make a smoker out of snow and not melt it all to pieces before the cook is done? Good question. And the answer, naturally, resides in the mysterious folds of cold smoking.
Cold smoking is the business of adding the flavor of smoke to your food with out the nuisance of heat. Or very little heat, anyways. Meat is not cooked during cold smoking. Think of it more are a smokey marination. Cheese is a popular thing to cold smoke, because it won’t morph into goo on you when it’s all done. But other delicate things can benefit too, like trout or salmon. Some misguided goof balls have even cold smoked a block of chocolate before, but it takes a gutsier man than I to mess with an already lovely and immortally stable bar of chocolate. Mercy! But the point is, cold smoking can do these sorts of things. And do it exceedingly well. And thus is the obvious method for filling your igloo heap full with aromatic tendrils of wood smoke, iffin that is, you’re into that sort of thing.
The Smoke Generator
There are several means out there in which one can procure plumes of cold smoke, and we will not go into all of them here. Suffice it to say, the simplest and most effective way that we have found is the little generators put out by A-Maze-N Products, Inc. You can spend hundreds of dollars on other, fancier things if you really want to, but why? These gadgets are at once simple in design, and with no moving parts involved, almost fool-proof. They just do what they do. They make smoke. The perfect accompaniment for not only bacon, but an impromptu snow-smoker as well. Winter is just too much fun!
Once the smoke generator was lit, and the flames snuffed out, it promptly commenced with what it was designed to do. We tucked it in the snow smoker, and threw on the bacon for a couple of hours. Yes, bacon already comes smoked, but less you forget what blog you’re reading, you also know we will double-smoke just about anything. A good, thick-cut bacon, like these strips, can handle it. And you will suitably pump up the flavor of these fatty spoils two-fold in the process. And oh, what a lovely process it is indeed. There is something delightfully out-of-place, that comes with the site of thick plumes of apple wood smoke curling out of the snow. It is not your everyday thing, yet in the same breath, feels like it ought to be.
To the Brethren of the Brisket and Comrades of the Coal, to all the pit keepers out there who will not anytime soon hoist the white flag of surrender amid this trying season of ice and cold, here then is our song. A snowy gesture, if you will, reflective of our smokey passion. An icy monument that which we thrust forth in stark indifference to winter and its heady throes. For we love to be outside, I guess, no matter the inclement. And when you think about it, arctic BBQ is but a dance, and our partner, nature, always leads. So we sally forth, with our BBQ tongs in hand, keeping our chins up, our hearts humble, and our fires lit. And if we can, should the icy fates allow, we may yet meet the winter season on its own viable terms, and then embrace it there, aside gently curling wood smoke and curious Blue Jays standing by. Amen.
As the winter tempest barrels across this mighty country, I stoke the coals in the grill, banking them to the side of the old kettle. Plumes of heat bellow forth and feel good on my face, and my old wool smoking jacket feels “just right” as I place a small piece of hickory on the fire, which dutifully ignites, as if on queue to a higher calling. Hands to my pockets, I pause momentarily, to fancy the fire some, and to consider the day. To inhale that cool winter air, and declare that the moment is well here at the pit. It’s only like 30 degrees, which compared to what it has been, well, I may as well be grilling on the white sand beaches of Waikiki. Balmy! But a wall of snow approaches steadfastly from the East, as it sweeps across the northern states, leaving a wreckage of automobiles marooned in it’s wake. There are times when it is good to leave the house, and times when it is not. Times to build a fire and hunker down, as they say. We Patrons of the Pit, we know just what to do. It is our second nature. Thus, on the grill tonight: Bone-in Chicken Breasts, and some Bacon Cheese Onion Buds. As my fellow patron is fond of saying, “Bam!”
Start with the onion first, one of them big onions bout the size of an ostrich head, as it needs about an hour on the grill. Slice it like a blooming onion, or in a checker board pattern, going almost, but not quite all the way through. You want the onion, like so many rock bands we’ve grown to love, to just stay together. Next order of business is to dash it with a smattering of your favorite seasoning. I used some Cajun flavors I had laying about, but you can use what ever. Then lay two or three strips of bacon on top, because bacon is good, and should never be considered otherwise. Gently set the onion monument on the grill, over in-direct heat of course. Rotate once or twice in the next hour, at the discretion of your pit master instincts and beverage levels. The bacon will of course baste your onion as only bacon can.
Twenty minutes into the cook, put on the chicken breasts. I used the succulent bone-in sort, which renders the meat with more flavor I believe. The rub this time around was of the home-made variety, a sweet and salty concoction with just enough heat to make it interesting. Anyways, I thus dusted the breasts liberally and then seared them first over direct heat, to crisp them up, and then tucked them back by the onion for the rest of the cook. Lid on, dampers cracked nicely, and a light blue smoke, patron to smoldering hickory, wafting into a gray, Minnesota sky, with blizzards, and white-out looming distinctly on the horizon. It don’t get much more pleasant than that.
The last step, after about of hour, is to chop up the bacon and sprinkle it back over the onion with a whole lot of cheddar cheese! Glory! And pass the cardiologist!
Hickory Smoked Chicken Breasts and Bacon Cheddar Onion Buds hot off the grill.
No finer way to hunker down for a winter storm than that. Bam!
Dirt, rubbish, or waste matter.
Dirt….Rubbish….Waste Matter?? I’m slightly appalled at this definition of the word “muck”! Bean Muck is far from that. Though, the effect of eating too much of it could leave you feeling mucky, the dish itself is at best genius. Let me explain.
There was a time, a few years back, my Patron and I were up in the Northern bearings of the SHT. No, this is not a misspell for a foul word, it’s simply an acronym of the Superior Hiking Trail. The Superior Hiking trail is a footpath that extends the northeastern ridge line of Lake Superior for about 275 miles. It’s decorated with pine, birch, aspen, fir and cedar. On occasion you will hear the chickadees sing, the squirrels squawk and the lonely wolf howl. The breeze whistles through the pines in an airy lullaby at night, and you can get lost for days without running into your own species. Back to my point… It was the end of September, early October, and we had the itch to get out alone into the woods. Had a name for our trip, and we decided on the selfish title of Camp Glutton. We title our small adventure because we realized we had enough food to feed ourselves along with 10 other hikers that might cross our trail. So there we sat, 3 long, relaxing days cooking over a campfire. The air in our camp was thick with the odors of brats, steaks, a couple of loaves of French Bannock (story to come) and onion. My patron and I rarely go anywhere without a fresh onion. We cooked eggs for breakfast and soups for lunch. We often retreated to our camping chair and hammock, our guts full and domed high to the heavens waiting for the next round of meals.
We had made it to our last day of camp. Waking up as the sun hits our tents, stretching to the skies and hungry as bears out of hibernation. We knew we didn’t want to leave camp with food still in our packs so we got creative. I had one large can of Baked Beans and a couple of Apple Gouda brats left. My Patron pulled out of his pack an entire onion. We decided to get creative. So, over the fire the brats went. The onion diced up into small squares and the beans simmering over the flames in the pit. Once all three were done, they all ended up in the same pot. There is nothing pretty or attractive about this dish. There is no right or wrong way of making it. Why in Bean Muck you can add really whatever you want. Its Bean muck! We have flirted with the flavors of peppers, spices, honey, syrup, ground beef, and rabbit meat. There is only one key ingredient that one needs to start with and I’m sure you figured it out by now, a can of beans.
Now, the POTP cannot take credit for inventing Bean Muck. We are sure many of you others out there have been creative with your own can of beans. So let us know what some delicacies you have added to your Bean Muck. Share your secrets and lets prove that muck isn’t always dirt, rubbish or waste matter.
**WARNING** When experimenting with Bean muck make sure it’s on a weekend when you’re not around loved ones. If you do, you may find life can be lonely for a week or two. Carry on…