A lot of Minnesotan’s want to give that ground hog a good burial right now. It weren’t too long ago, yonder in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the wily rodent emerged from his earthen hollow and declared for us all an early spring. And spirits leapt. Turns out tho one, Punxsutawney Phil, is full of crap. Yup. Ever since then it’s been one blizzard after another. Up here in Minnesota lately, driveways have been lost for weeks. Squirrels buried and orphaned. Icicles stalactites draw longer from the roof than the Trump administration. And the sun seems like a distant relative of whom you can’t quite remember their face. Welcome to March in Minnesota.
I woke up the other day with a sincere hankering for some good BBQ. Being the Keeper of the Coals that I am, I knew it was within my duty spectrum and skill set to do something about it. Now to get a good BBQ on in this inhospitable parallel, you must first dig out your pit, as shown in the accompanying photo. Some days this is as easy as taking to it with a little whisk broom. A few swipes of your fairy tale wand and you’re good to smoke. Other days not so much, and full-on, shovel action is required. Such was the case this Sunday last. I dug and I dug. And I dug and I dug some more. And eventually, whilst the crisp six below wind swept off the frozen pond, I had myself a pit proper again. I employed the propane assist on my vintage 1997 Weber Performer to get things cracking. I like that feature. Not as poetic, perhaps, as the political section stuff up the aluminum arse of a charcoal chimney, but nay, it is a manly way to light one’s charcoal for sure. And whilst the smoke curled in kind there, I gave a few final finishing touches with the snow shovel and headed inside to assess the pork shoulder. Come with me won’t you. Come check out this butt!
That’s one pork butt you see there. It was so big, I felt compelled to lop it in halves to spare a little time on the cook. But more, to increase surface area to garner more bark. An old pit keepers trick I’ve used many times. The rub today is probably our current favorite pork butt and rib rub, from the good folks at Miners Mix. If you’ve not tried their products yet, well you’re missing something out of your lives. That’s all I can say. They’re legit. As good as rubs come, we think. And no they don’t pay us anything other than send us a few bottles now and then. Good stuff. Anyhow, we liberally seasoned the bone-in butt with Maynard’s Memphis Rub and set her on the Weber kettle, indirect, for the next 7 hours. We dug out. Now we’re diggin’ in!
The technique we used here, as you can just make out in the photo, worked really well. We used the old stock grate that came with the pit, you know the stainless steel kind with the hinged trap door deals on either side. It was the perfect tool for this smoke. Under each hinged door, we set one charcoal basket with some hickory wood, some lit charcoals and some unlit coals, making two little minion baskets, you might say. As the cook progresses, all you need do is knock the ash off the coals now and then and add more unlit briquettes as necessary. Maybe some more wood too. It sort of just keeps rocking on like that until thy meat lands gently on the hallowed shores of succulence. 195 to 205 internal. Or until that bone comes out clean.
A Matter of Time
Pork shoulders take some considerable clock however. These kind of smokes are not for the easily bored or the impatient. They are for the loiterers among us. Those who can tarry in a view for hours on end and still think well of their lives. Butt smokes take time. Time to flip up your feet in your favorite chair, tip your hat over your eyes, and let yourself drift into the heavenly land of nod. Time to watch the game, or a movie, or even both. Time to chase the cat around, or the baby. Time to loiter with a lovely periodical in the little pit boys room until your legs go numb. Indeed, time to let up on the accelerator pedal of life for a while, and just be…
Time to do what ever you want really. And that’s what I love most about butt smoking. The time it takes. You see, when you take the time to smoke a butt, you’re really stealing some “me time” in a most hectic world. Even your people will tend to leave you alone if they know your cooking them supper. BBQ is hard work after all! Must leave the pit master to his calling, they think. And a wise pit jockey will do his kindest to water that weed!
Behold, Mount Pork Hath Risen! Succulent, hickory smoked pulled pork courtesy of the Weber kettle and a goodly amount of time. Quality time, patron to the pit. Amen.
March in Minnesota. Don’t believe a ground hog!
The cold is an interesting beast. On one hand we need it, to keep our foods from spoiling too fast. On the other hand, we run from it when ever it sinks its icy fingers into our own meat. Some people hate the cold so much that they leave the north altogether, and live in the south. My brother’s neighbor once lamented that he was done with winter in Minnesota, and that he was going to load up his snow blower into the back of his pick up truck, and drive south until some one asked him what it was. It was there, he figured, would be a good place to live.
It’s 6 Below Outside.. So What!
To my brethren of the brisket of whom’s pit dampers puff ever stalwart in this arctic blast, we salute thee. Our warmer days will come. They always do. But in the mean time we thus must embrace the wintry folds that which are upon us now. A pit jockey well seasoned takes no issue with inclement of weather. For good BBQ will always find a way. Besides, if we waited for the perfect weather to BBQ in, well, we Minnesota folk would only grill maybe twice a year! I was lucky this cook tho, for it was only a meager and sultry, 6 below. And mercifully the north winds were blocked by our humble abode. That helps one’s situation ten-fold right there. So grab yourself a hot cocoa or something, and get comfy and we’ll tell you all about it, and how it went and came to be, patron to the pit.
Firstly, I must digress for a bit. For it has been a couple of moons at least, since we’ve last posted here. As many of our readership know, we done birthed a little patron last summer, and she is by far the sweetest thing our eye’s hath ever seen. Oh we were warned by other parental types how little babies, can, with a flick of heart beat, melt your soul into a rather nice pile of unintelligible goo, and I guess I am here to report that these people were right. You all were right. I’ve been a big pile of goo for the last 6 months, I’d say, in awe at the preciousness of a baby. Every time I hold her hand, I get weak in the knees, and mine heart fills with a gladness I’ve never known before. And for a while at least, and maybe even longer than that, it’s not so cold outside after all. For my heart burbles over with warmth of a different sort. The kind forged in unconditional love. And that is maybe the greatest warmth you can ever feel.
Stranger Things Below Zero
Life below zero is always interesting. Take for example my steaming patties. This is just something you don’t see at your classic summer BBQ. Raw meat spilling it’s vapors like curling plumes of hickory smoke. I’m not sure what principles of physics and science were at play here, but I thought it amusing if only for a while.
Once you have a lovely bed of coals glowing in the bosom of your grill, it’s pretty much business as usual, no matter how cold it is. A good kettle grill can keep up just fine. And so it was with a modicum of effort, I worked the burgers with my big steel spatula, enjoying the warmth of the fire, the sound of sizzling beef, and my eyes drawn to thin slits from the bright sun resplendent over crusty snow. Ah yes!
There is a joy to be had patron to the pit in the wintry months. Maybe it’s because the mass populous thinks it’s miserable, or just not worth it effort in the cold, that makes doing so all the more sweeter. I don’t know. I would offer you this thought, tho, – that it’s maybe not the ordeal you think it to be. For to bandy close to the coals when the mercury drops, is the coziest of affairs. The gift of heat always at hand. The thrill of contrast. And there is a certain but articulate satisfaction gleamed as well, enjoying grilled meat in the dead of winter. I cannot deny that. And neither would you!
Anyways, it’s good to log some time at the pit again. Good to scribe another entry for the POTP archives. We do hope you all have been well, and are enjoying your winter and new year to come. We’re slowly getting back in the groove again, here. Finding our footing in the new and intoxicating world of babies. We are blessed and highly favored at the pit these days, I don’t mind telling you. So I’m going to take this plate of burgers now and go enjoy some of the good life. Time spent in food and fellowship. And yeah, I got me a soft, little hand to hold afterwards, accompanied with a string of unending smiles, and enough BTU’s to warm mine heart for the next thousand years at least. Amen.
*BTU Baby Thermal units
As I repair here at my desk, I’m reminiscent, of well, just yesterday. A day spent at the pit doing what I do. It was a day similar to a long stretch of other days lately, in that it was point blank beautiful outside, and a pleasure to behold. How could I not be out there, putting meat to flame. But it was a day also different, in that I got to cook over an open fire, the venerable Tri Tip Roast. A rarefied cut of meat out here in the Midwest, of which the popularity I do believe may be trending eastwards from the coastal hollows from whence it was immortalized. That of Santa Maria, California.
I’ve long heard stories of this enchanted hamlet, nestled somewhere in the Golden State. And I’ve heard tale of the Tri Tip festivals they hold there, and how the local meat eaters prize this particular cut of beef, and the sheer joy they take in BBQing it for others. In point fact, here is a facebook page devoted to just that.
I know that some day I must pilgrimage there, for it is the call of the pit jockey and it echoes strongly over the western hills. It would surely be to my delight, if not for the lovely aromas and tastes of perfectly executed Tri Tip in their native environs, then for the classy pits from which they were so masterfully grilled there.
Part of the romance of the Tri Tip Festival, and a great share of the poetry there, I think, would be found in their pits. From afar, my oh my but they are pleasing to the eye. As my elder brother would say, “Like Raquel Welch in hot pants“. And up close their charm and steely appeal still holds up under good light and scrutiny. Indeed, if there was ever a beauty contest held just for BBQ grills, well the lavish pits of Santa Maria would probably win every time. I’d betroth one in a heartbeat if I could afford it.
I’ve had cars cheaper than some of these grills. Some things in life will just have to wait, I told myself. Or would they? Maybe there was a poor man’s option out there, that would let a bloke like me experience the joys of a Santa Maria style grill. So, emboldened with a new and novel brain-thrust, I did what any grill lusting chum of age would do in the year 2017. I googled it. And this is what I discovered.
It’s called the Santa Maria Attachment, from Gabby’s Grills. They cost about 200 bucks, 50 of which I found out was for shipping. I read reviews and thought about it for while, you know, the usual routine people do before they crack open their wallets. And then in a moment of passion, and perhaps because it was my birthday, I snatched one up. Maybe it was an impulse buy, I’m not sure, but I haven’t regretted the purchase yet, I’ll tell you that much. The first thing I tested it on was my old chimenea out on the patio, and as you can see, it fit right in there. Thus converting the fire pit into something a wee bit more useful. But it was designed by Junior Castro, founder of Gabby’s Grills, to fit into all kinds of things, not the least of which is your Weber Kettle grill, and that’s where our story leads us next.
So it was, after a trip to the local butcher shop, that the Pond Side Pit paid a quiet homage to the pit masters of Santa Maria, as a hardwood fire crackled underneath a succulent and dripping Tri Tip roast. Oh buddy! I cannot tell you how fun this was, nor the joy that which built up in my heart and toppled out into my soul. Almost like a mini BBQ dream come true. If you like to play with fire, and are one to flip your meat with great frequency, this may be the style of cooking meant for you. Man it was fun.
A Few Specs and Such
The Gabby’s Grill Attachment is built to last too. As soon as I took it out of the box, I knew it would likely survive the 3rd and 4th World Wars with aplomb. The ring is 3/16 inch thick, 1 1/2 inch spun angle iron. And the grate can be cranked up and down like the big boy grills to a height of about 16 inches. Perfect for slower cooking high above the fire, and even better for dropping it down to coal level for a world class sear. Basically this little rig gives you most of the joys of Santa Maria style grilling at a modest man’s price. Plus, no assembly required. Just plunk it over your fire and get to cooking. Can’t beat that.
To do it authentically as they do in Santa Maria, you would also need to get you hands on some red oak. But we didn’t have any red oak, and just used hickory instead. We do ask for the forgiveness of the Santa Maria purists out there. We did what we could, and leveraged what we had.
Zooming up a little, you’ll see we tossed a few potatoes in the there too. Easy cooking people. We rotated the spuds once during the hour they spent down there, and that was enough. Did I mention this was fun stuff!
Seasoning and Stuff
Traditional Santa Maria seasoning goes along with the” less-is-more” mantra you hear a lot of these days. Most purists put only salt, pepper and garlic on their Tri Tips. “SPG” as we call it in the business. And you really can’t go wrong with that. Also, you want a good flame when cooking Santa Maria style. Embrace the flame as if it were another tool in your shop, and let it work for you. You want it licking for the heavens unto your spoils freshly placed there. As far as we know, you want the flames to just touch your meat, not to engulf it.
TIP: Pour a little bit of your manly beverage over the meat as it cooks, letting it drip down into the coals to create a billowing pillar of smoke for to rise unto your plunder. It’s good entertainment, and adds a wee smokier taste to this already wood fired way of cooking.
The End Game
I suppose you should take your Tri Tip to 145 internal, maybe removing it a little before that and wrapping it in foil to rest. The internal temp, like most big cuts of meat will continue to rise a little after it’s removed from the pit. I say, I suppose, because it’s all personal you see. Tri Tips are like big steaks, so cook it like you like your steaks and you’ll be just fine. And remember to always slice it across the grain for a proper and tender chew. Just like you would a brisket. Just like they do out way of Santa Maria, where the red oak smoke also rises. Amen.
Santa Maria Style Tri Tip Roast, grilled over the open fire. Succulent, smokey goodness! If there is a more fun way of watching meat cook, we haven’t heard of it yet!
If you want to hook your Weber up with this Santa Maria attachment, you can find it courtesy of the good people over at Gabby’s Grills
Check them out!
We love baseball here at the pit. Love having it on the radio whilst plumes of pecan smoke curl into the air. Or on the TV whilst we nap soundly in our man chairs. And we love to go to games when we can, too, and see the boys of summer ply their craft afield. There is just something about the ambiance of a baseball game of which is as endearing to me, perhaps, as the game itself. From the sounds of wooden bats cracking on a warm summer’s night, to the violent thwack of a fastball arrested in a catcher’s mitt, to the highly-honed riffs of the organ lady as she rallies the crowd. I even enjoy the thoughtful scoop of the plastic seats. And the hearty bellow of the hot dog vendor as they ascend the steps. The sound of some one shelling peanuts in the seat behind you. It’s all part of the ambiance. And ah yes, the food.
The food is half the ambiance right there. From the aroma of polish sausages, and sauteed onions, riding on a breeze. To freshly popped popcorn. And pork chops and deep fried walleye. And Tony O’s Cuban sandwiches. And the heady scent of hot mini donuts drifting down a crowded concourse. Man! Indeed, the ambiance, and the food of baseball, is maybe why we go to games in the first place. It’s the best thing going, after all, when your team is last in their division. Nay, when they are the worst team in all of baseball. Yes, the Minnesota Twins are that team this year. They achieved this status early on in the season, and haven’t bothered to budge ever since. They have struggled. A list of expectations seldom met. Aw well. Let’s just say they’re having some troubles with the curve. But then again, don’t we all.
Indeed, we all run into curve balls from time to time, and sometimes even with things we’re supposed to be good at. Like BBQ. I think of a couple of weekends ago, the July 4th weekend as it were. I was up before the tweety birds, and like many American men, still in my pajamas, standing on the patio gazing up at the stars. It was a beautiful night, or morning, or what ever you want to call it that time of day. Let it be said, however, there is only one thing in this world that will get a man up this early on his day off, and that thing is brisket! Yes sir, I was the proud owner of a 10 pound prime packer brisket, and it was beautiful, and today, if the BBQ gods would have it, it would finish it’s life’s course with a succulent rendezvous deep inside my belly! I was giddy, I don’t mind telling you. But this is brisket, and as any pit jockey knows, you have to wait for brisket.
Whilst the Weber Smokey Mountain came up to temp, we went inside and trimmed the brisket of excessive fat. There are like two kinds of fat on a brisket. Hard fat and softer fat. The hard stuff doesn’t render that well, and we would do well to carve it out of there. The softer fat renders better, but oft times there is just too much of it. And while the fat does baste the meat and help keep it moist, all the big shots in the BBQ industry seem to say to trim it down anyways to about a 1/4 inch thickness. So that’s what we did. We also took a slice off the corner of the flat, as you can see. This an old pit jockey’s trick to remind us later on, whence the brisket is cloaked in bark, which way it was again that we were supposed to slice the thing. Always slice your brisket across the grain for a tender piece.
For the rub today, we used two standbys around here. The first layer is maybe our favorite rub in recent months, Maynards Memphis BBQ, from our friends over at Miners Mix. If you haven’t tried this stuff yet, you’re missing out, people. Very good! So that was the first layer. For a secondary layer of flavor, we like to put on a light to moderate dusting of McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning. This just gives brisket another layer of flavor that is flat-up awesome. A little something extra to greet your tongue at the front door, and invite you in to the show. Man! Let’s get this on the pit already.
We dialed in the pit temp to a nice 250 degrees, of which the plan was to hold it there all the day long. The going formula these days for a brisket is 1 hour and 15 minutes per pound. We had a 10 pound brisket, and well, you do the math. It would be a long smoke. One of almost heady proportions. Hence our early pit call this morn. And so we put the brisket in the WSM, fat-side up, for to render that fat down into the meat whilst it cooked. Now the choice smoke wood for brisket, if you’re a Texas man anyways, is Post Oak. We couldn’t find any oak about these parts, so we went with the next best thing, pecan wood. Pecan wood is fast becoming our favorite all-around smoke wood. It just works with everything, it seems. And for some reason, stores carry it around here, despite there being no pecan trees in Minnesota. Go figure.
So it goes, under a shimmering star field, our brisket sets out on its long, smokey voyage. And in time, the night sky dissolves into the blue pastels of early morning, courtesy of a softly rising sun. The pecan smoke curls gently in the stillness of the dawn, and I can hear the brisket start to sizzle and drip. Song birds sing sweetly from on high, and it appears, if but just for the moment anyways, all the world is right, and in perfect working order. My eye lids droop like as I pandiculate pit side. I check the pit temp one more time, and then do what any red-blooded man who got up at 4 in the morning would do…I itched my butt and went back to bed
That’s one of the high joys of the long smokes you see. No, not butt itching, but the inevitable spans of clock now at your disposal. Free time. For our people generally leave the pit master alone when meat is on the cooker- to mind it you see, to nurture it, and guide it via our vital pit master instincts to a happy and most edible end game. Now when you have a good smoker, like say a Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, or even in our case, a Weber Smokey Mountain, once you dial in that temperature, well, you can rest relatively assured that it will stay at that temperature for as long as the coals hold out. And I dumped in a goodly amount of coals, let me tell you.A full 20 pound bag of charcoal, in point fact, and expected a good 12 hours of burn time. Reminiscent of my elder brother’s suburban back in the day, with the 40 gallon gas tank. Anyways, I was a might pooped, and like I said, I sidled back to bed a spell. Belly-up and snoring post-haste, whilst the morning sun crept across a blue sky, the tweety birds cavorted at the pond’s edge, and my pajamas smelled like wood smoke. It was glorious. And then of course, came the curve ball…
Mind Your Meat!
I had been asleep, oh, about 3 hours I should think. Not much more than that. I was awoken by my friend, Ralf’s, text. It’s a good thing too, because when I went out to the pit to check in on things, like pit keepers ought to, I discovered something rather interesting had transpired with my beloved brisket. The internal temperature of the flat was 208! Over done by just a tad, but it would suffice. For brisket you want to get it somewhere between 195 and 205. That’s your window of good fortune! That’s where the most amazing things happen in Brisketville. What is interesting here tho is that it reached this temperature in about 4 hours flat! I was expecting something rather more in the vicinity of 12 – 15 hours. And rightfully so. But it happened in 4 instead. And to this end, I have no explanation. I’m what you might call, “Bum-puzzled”. Scratching my head, I couldn’t tell you the tip of my nose from my big toe on this one. The old BBQ adage, “Its done when its done“, certainly applies to this smoke, I guess. The mysteries of conventional BBQ, folks. What can you do? But the thermal probe slide into the tender meat with a butter like consistency, leastwise in the point it did. That’s when you know you’ve nailed. When the probe slides in with no resistance. Just didn’t expect to get there in 4 hours.
Resting Your Meat
No matter. The brisket needed to rest anyways. Always rest your meat before slicing it, to ensure that the juices are properly sucked back into their appropriate locations. Resting your meat 1 to 2 hours is plenty, but if you must, or you screw up like us, you can rest it for 6 hours like we had to. Just wrap it in foil really good, so that no leaks are present, and then place it in your cooler with a bunch of towels. We’ve been using this trick for years, and it will keep your brisket or pork butt piping hot for several hours on end. It really works great.
Blackberry Burnt Ends
This is where we hit the curve ball out of the park. An hour before the meal was to be served, we chopped the point of the brisket up into cubes suitable for burnt ends. Dashed them over with more Maynards Memphis Rub, some Joe Joe’s Hog Shack Blackberry BBQ sauce, along with a splash or two of apple cider vinegar. The pan thus was put back out on the pit for another 45 minutes or so, to do its thing. And no, I did not go take another nap.
Burnt ends are fabulous, people. If you have not yet had occasion to make yourself a batch of these kingly BBQ morsels, you are pretty much missing out on one of the top four best things in BBQ. They melt in your mouth like popcorn, almost. These had a subtle blackberry tint to them, a nice, flavorful bark, and some mighty succulent smoked beef. Man! It is in my estimation the best thing we’ve pulled off the pit in a very long time. Maybe ever. Great Scott they were good!
I plated up a handsome portion of these beefy spoils, and made the acquaintanceship of my man chair. Feet kicked up like a gentleman of leisure, I flipped on the TV to the Twins game to see how they were doing. Turns out they were losing, go figure, and as usual, I didn’t seem to mind much. Not with a plate of good vittles in front of me anyways. That’s the thing. The better the food, I’ve noticed, the easier it is to watch them lose, which explains, now that I think about it, why there is so much good eating at the stadium. And it stands to reason, if good food can take the edge off a losing season, then perhaps a properly smoked brisket is of suitable caliber for the worst team in baseball. Amen.
Pecan smoked brisket and blackberry burnt ends. Yum! You gotta eat, so why not eat well.
Location : Track-Side Pit
Time : Not too long ago…
Take a gander at this spread, won’t you, put on by John, our Patron of the Pit Co-Founder, and care taker of the Track Side Pit. Yes indeed, he was seen in his backyard recently, plying his craft over a hemorrhaging bed of orange coals. Nothing stood in his way of culinary, smokey-tinted perfection. We’re talking :butter, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, scallops, shrimp, onion, pepper and red potatoes. Man! If this don’t make you hungry right now, you probably have a face full of dirt! As he so bluntly, but exquisitely phrased it, “Freakin sexy goodness!” Indeed, old boy. Indeed.
He’s coming along, that boy. In point of fact, he finally got himself a 22 inch Weber Kettle Grill. And he’s loving it. I don’t know what he was waiting for either. And as you can see, he’s been making good use of it too.
Here is another thing he whipped up off-hand the other day. A pit keeper’s favorite.
ATB’s. Better known as Atomic Buffalo Turds. He took them a step further than most pit jockeys, and later glazed them in maple syrup, and dashed them with fresh cracked pepper. Mercy!
So that’s the recent goings on of the Track Side Pit. It’s good to see the other half once in a while. He doesn’t very often post here, or brag of his grilling talents. But I personally think he can grill circles around most people I know, including myself. He holds down the social media branch for PotP, and samples any spices or sauces that are sent our way. If you want to see more of what he’s been up to, you can find him supporting our Patron of the Pit Instagram account. Boy it’s a party over there! Stop by and say howdy to him!
Sometimes he shows up on our facebook page too.
By the softened light of a gray, December afternoon, two humble venison shoulders sizzled amid a cloud of hickory smoke in the old Weber Smokey Mountain. I sidled out the patio door to see the smoke in curl, and several black capped chickadees swoop off into the thickets yonder. Smiling, I tilted the lid up on the pit, and took a gander under there. The venison was taking on some color now, and smelling point blank, out-of-this-world. But we were only an hour into it, and had four more hours to go. So I shut the lid, content to wait. Because I knew in the back of my mind, back in those quiet places where men know such things, that these were the days you reach for, by and far, as a BBQ junkie. The sort of day where the wood smoke puffs away in marathon fashion, hour after hour, and you have nothing else in the world to do save for to tarry quietly in it’s gentle presence. That being said, I took a seat in the patio chair, left leg crossed over right, and further mused to myself. Need more time in a day? Then smoke yourself some meat. And do it slowly. Oh how the hours drag ever onward in a slow parade of salivating moments, with umpteen pleasant memories forged pit-side, under beautiful skies, and tinted in smokey goodness.
Our spice rub today is a keeper, leastwise for wild meats. Copy and paste it in your archives and thank us later!
Field & Stream’s Ultimate Wild Game Rub
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup ground black pepper
¼ cup sweet paprika
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed and minced
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Yeah, we had no juniper berries either. What can you do. Anyways, after three hours on the pit, the meat has received all the smoke it needs. In point of fact, it looked edible enough to eat right there iffin you had a mind to. But we didn’t. We sought the hallowed shores of succulence instead. We wanted this ornery cut of meat dropping off the bone like your mama’s pot roast. To accomplish such high bidding, we wrapped each leg/shoulder gently in foil, along with a half-cup of apple juice for to service as a steaming agent. Put it all back on the pit for two more hours, at 240 degrees, to wallow there in an apple scented steam bath. Oh man! And that was all it took. The bones came out as clean as hammer handles, and the meat pulled like a pork butt.
There is a great privilege in taking the better things in this life, slowly. From a date with your sweetheart, to Christmas morning with family, to simply preparing supper, if that’s what you love to do. If not for anything else, but to just extend the moment for the moment’s sake, and then to revel in it. So do it well, then, and with a heart of thanksgiving, and by all means, take your time with it, and enjoy the journey. For life sweeps by fast enough as it is, seems like. And every day is another reason, it stands to reason, for taking it slowly. Amen.
5-Hour Low and Slow, Hickory Smoked Pulled Venison Shoulder, Patron to the Pit. Yum people!
As I repair here in my den, with a bit of stereophonic music in play, and a hot cup of tea at hand, I listen also to the rain which drums with great exuberance over the brown-shingled roof above. The rain. A cold, autumn kind of rain. The sort that callously knocks the last of the colored leaves from their mama trees to the cold, dampened earth below. Leaves that which cling only by tender stems, quaking in the autumn wind, where their inherent will to hold on, and their remaining chlorophyll count, rank about as equal, I should say. Yup, it’s a tough day as days go, to be a leaf in Minnesota. Indeed, it’s the kind of all day rain that renders a chap a distinct chill in his bones, and moves a body hence for his or her patented grandma-knitted afghan. To curl up on the Davenport, with a good narrative, fire-place crackling, and while away the hours there, whilst the rain drops collect hither on the window pane.
I might just do that. But before I do, let me tell you about another sort of day. One just a few sunrises ago, in point of fact. One of blue skies, and darting tweeting birds, and gently curling plumes of hickory smoke. One of heightened leisure, and good eating. It’s about a turkey, don’t you know, and his day off, patron to the pit.
It started early on with this brine, you see. The day prior, to be exact. We’ve been on a brine kick here lately at the pit, and for this turkey, a good, cider-based brine seemed like the logical road to wander down. And so we did. Amid the morning sunbeams off the pond, so golden and resplendent, we stirred up a good pot of it over the pit stove, bringing it to a gentle boil, letting the flavors all meld together there in a harmonious liquid opus suitable for the fairest of fowl. Our brine consisted roughly of the following kitchen tatter:
Apple Cider Turkey Brine
1/2 Gallon apple cider
1 Cup Kosher Salt
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Oranges, quartered and squeezed
1 Lemon quartered and squeezed
6 Cloves Garlic
6 Slices of Ginger Root
Splash or two of apple cider vinegar
A few dashes of Miners Mix Poultry Perfection Rub
*Pretty much the same brine we used in our wild duck post last time around.
So we let the bird wallow in the brine for about twenty and fours hours, that, and give or take an episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Rinsed it thoroughly under cold tap water, to get as much salt off as we could, then transferred it to the Weber Smokey Mountain, which off-hand, was already up and running at 225 degrees. We were very efficient here at the pit today. We had a couple of fist-sized pieces of hickory wood on the coals too, the smokey plumes of which had already taken on that light-blue tint that every good pit jockey aspires for. Things were in place, and the day spun as it ought to. Nothing to do now save for to draw a lovely beverage and make the speedy acquaintanceship of your favorite lawn chair. And by golly, we certainly did that!
With my old reliable, the ET-73 Maverick Redi Chek digital probe at my side, well lets just say that such technology at the pit grants a man the boyish freedom to dally about his fancies with relative impunity towards over-cooking his meat. Because every schmuck knows, or ought to know anyways, never to over cook a turkey. Thus the Redi Chek, if properly set, will bleep and belch at you when your target temperature is reached. We set it to croak at 163 internal, because it was a small bird, half a bird really, weighing only 7 pounds. So 163 internal, I wagered, would garner enough thermal inertia to coast up to the 165 finish line even after the bird is removed from the heat, and tented in tinfoil to rest. Oh yes, we were on our game here at the pit today. In the zone you might say.
So it was, with an undeniable pleasure that I kicked my feet up on some low flying patio furniture, tipped my hat just so, and placed my chin on my chest, thus assuming the proper pit master posture for a quiet spot of turkey smoking. Oh how I do revel in these moments. These pit-side sorties by myself. They are like a mini vacation to me, by and by. The manly equivalent of a trip to the spa. For to tarry there in the good light of an afternoon sun, whilst the clouds idle against a blue sky, and the chickadees cavort in the spruce, hark, ’tis medicine for a haggard soul. It is. To feel the sun, warm still against my flannel, knowing full well that the first snow fall of the season is maybe only weeks away, well a man learns to take pause in his day to days, and to loiter long on such occasions, where the wood smoke also rises.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking…What did we use for rub? Well we didn’t. Don’t much recommend it either, where this brine is concerned. For there are plenty enough potent flavors to keep a taste bud busy here. Just the brine and the smoke itself, are fully capable of doing all the talking here, kind of like that one couple at a dinner party who never shut up. If you do want to season the turkey with something, go lightly, and by all means stay clear of using something salty. It doesn’t need any help in that department, courtesy of the brine.
Three days later…and back in the Den
Well, the sun has set, and the night scatters through-out the land. The rain it seems has let up a tad now, tho my music still plays softly. The tea is mostly gone too, save for that cold, amber-colored puddle residing at the bottom of the enameled cup. And you might be keen to know, that for a while at least, I don’t know, but a few minutes to be sure, the rains tapered to the first snow flurries of the season here in Minnesota. And it was beautiful. I rushed outside like a school boy. Tiny white flakes descending on a cold breeze from an ashen gray sky, melting against my face whilst I grinned into the tempest. Lovely. The first snow flurry also stirs something elemental in both critter and man alike. Our chilly queue perhaps, albeit sans subtle, that a shift in season is upon us on the 45th parallel. Indeed, winter’s first tendrils grapple for purchase. And I cannot help but to reminisce fondly because of it now, to just a few days ago, pit side, with wood smoke in curl, and how good it felt just to tarry there, and sit stalwart in the sun. Amen.
24 hour apple cider brined, hickory smoked turkey breast, moist as turkey can get, sided with homemade dressing and REAL garlic mashed potatoes. Man! Who can wait for Thanksgiving anyways!
I have a superpower. I’m probably not supposed to disclose this, but it’s true. Kind of like you see in the superhero movies that are popular these days, though milder I suppose, but yeah, I’ve got one of those sorts of powers. Some dudes can levitate metal objects. Others can read and manipulate minds. While still others can run faster than a speeding bullet. Well, I can’t do any of those things, but what I can do, and astoundingly well I might add, is break stuff. I can take your perfectly functioning automobile, for example, drive it once around the block, and return hither with the muffler dragging, wipers that won’t shut off, one head light out, and furthermore, get out of the car and hand you the blinker lever too. And most days, I can do this without even trying. My elder brother sometimes refers to me as “Lo-Tech”, which sadly, and off-hand, would be my super hero name. Iron Man wouldn’t stand a chance against me, as all I would have to do is lay hands on his suit of many gizmos, and, well…That’s my superpower. I break stuff.
Thus it was with a raised eyebrow, when, Cam, from http://www.mojoegriddle.com, hooked me up with one of his steel griddles specifically designed for a variety of heat sources, and stated that henceforth, this thing could not be broken no how. Clearly he doesn’t know my powers, or he wouldn’t have bellowed such folly. For many things have come and gone out of my life, claiming to be unbreakable. And most of those things reside now at the bottom of a dump heap somewhere, a sad shadow of their gloried past. But this here griddle looks to have a different fate. And I knew this as soon as I heaved it from the box.
THE LOW DOWN
Nearly 24 inches in diameter. 1/4 inch thick hot rolled steel. Weighing in at 35 pounds of pure cooking satisfaction, I tell you this griddle meant business the very moment I muckled onto it. We have never seen another griddle on the market so well endowed. It’s quality and it’s craftsmanship are top-notch. It’s cooking area, in a word, sprawling. They are also made in California, I learned, which in our opinion, makes it all the more better. But enough talk, let’s get to testing this beast out, shall we!
The Mojoe comes with a very nice set of steel handles that grapple onto the griddle with ape-like ease. They seem well made, not that you will be moving the griddle very much once in place over your heat source, but when you do, the Mojoe is one hot & heavy entity, and bless it’s maker for including a couple of good handles with it. Now lets take a gander at the underside.
It’s simple looking under here too, however, there is more going on than meets the eye. Note the obvious – the three steel bars welded on edge. This is what holds the griddle off the top rim of your kettle grill, by about an inch, and furthermore promotes air flow for the fire below. And it works, people. It works exceedingly well. These bars also enable you to place the Mojoe on a variety of heat sources, like propane burners. These same bars also help re-enforce the griddle from warping due from extreme heat traumas patron to the pit. And the 5/8th inch nuts you see welded under here, well they’re for the galvanized steel legs to screw into, for say, if you wanted to cook over a campfire and such. Love it! Simplicity is always the best design, and this whole Mojoe experience is an example why.
With a deft fire catered in coals, we placed the griddle over the fiery bosom of the old kettle grill. The two merged together like old friends. Like they’ve been doing it all along. And it didn’t take long for the Mojoe airflow system to kick in, cranking up that fire good and hot. *Splash a little water onto the griddle, and if it dances about in a sizzle, it’s hot and ready to rock.
Of the first order, they say, is to season this puppy. And it’s real easy to do too. On a hot griddle, sprinkle it over with some table salt, and splash it with a little cooking oil. Lastly smear the works about the entirety of the griddle surface. The salt acts as a food grade abrasive, and make sure you wad up a good bee hive worth of paper towels in your hand before engaging in this activity. We were done with this process in about 30 seconds. They say to do it again after your meal is done. Kind of like book ends to your cooking. My pleasure. It kind of engendered the same, satisfied, feeling you get when you wipe down your favorite sports car after a Sunday drive. Leastwise I think that’s what that feeling was. I dunno. I don’t have a sports car. Anyways, how about some breakfast!
Have you ever been on those sorts of kicks where you just want breakfast food all the time? Well that’s been the case for things around the pit lately. And the Mojoe Griddle certainly supports such gastronomic whimsy in the human spirit. I didn’t fight it either. So we diced up two large potatoes to uniform size, and tossed them on the freshly oiled griddle. They sizzled henceforth to life, as we in turn, dusted them over with some all-purpose seasoning. With a lovely beverage in hand, we escorted the spuds about with our steel spatula as per the promptings of our pit master instincts. Very pleasant. Reminiscent of cooking on one of them fancy griddle tops you see in restaurants and cafes. Very much like the one you see at the Mongolian stir fry places. After a time, we added in some chopped onions and bacon to the ensemble. Man, the aromas bellowing about the patio could have tipped the nose of any black bear within a twenty and one mile radius. And I suppose it would have, iffin there were any black bears in the suburbs of Minneapolis. But there weren’t. And I still don’t have a sports car.
Now I was told that the surface of the griddle was nearly non stick, and I’d say that by and far, this was an accurate statement. The more you use it, and season it, the better it gets. The first cook here hardly anything stuck, and if it did, it wasn’t bad. The onions, in point of fact, slid about a little too happy-go-lucky, like you were engaged in a game of competitive air hockey or something. I even lost a few morsels over the edge, and if it weren’t for the griddle lip accessory, I probably would have lost a few more to the tall grass residing below.
The griddle lip, or metal strap, arcing around the back of the griddle, proved to be quite useful for us sloppy backyard chef types. You can take it on or off, by popping it into the same holes used for the handles. The lip was a real potato saver for this patron of the pit, and in general, a very good idea we thought. When the spuds were done, we banked them accordingly against it, to keep them warm there, and to open up room for the rest of our breakfast feast. Man! I love breakfast! Can you smell it yet!
Here is one of the other simple pleasures of the Mojoe Griddle – no edge lip or grease trough. Thus allowing one to sweep his spoils directly onto his dinner plate with aplomb. No edge around the griddle also makes clean up poignantly swift! As Cam from Mojoe Outfiitters coined, “Clean up is a snap!”. I like his thinking!
There is something therapeutically right which impresses upon the emulsion of your soul, when you cook out-of-doors. Sure we could do this sort of thing inside, whilst the TV flickers in the background, under artificial lights, and processed air, but why. For what blue skies yonder do we miss then, and the bird song too, and the sweet summer breeze which flutters the green leaves just past our outdoor kitchen. And the sun, how it sweeps in a golden trail across a beautiful blue sky, and the cloud shadows which drift silent over the land and the sea. This is why we cook outside. The food is only half the reason.
A beautiful product. We really enjoyed our maiden cook on it. It’s almost, but not quite, non stick. It sports vast acreage of cooking space. At 35 pounds, it is a bit heavy for ye types of scant muscle mass, but we reckon you’ll be able to manage. If you can lift a chubby toddler you can lift this griddle just as well. The craftsmanship is excellent. The handles are very nice. The legs were simple, but effective. We also liked that you can cook a lot of food at once on it, which makes it worthy for back yard parties, group camping, or even tailgating. Or maybe you just like to eat! The griddle lip accessory is wonderful too. If you get one of these griddles, you’ll probably want to pick up a griddle lip. We liked the option of being able to pop it on and off at our discretion. The only hit against this griddle we could find really was the price point. $264 is enough to make most wallets groan a little, but at least you only have to buy one of these. Ever. It’s not like we are going to out live the thing. Shoot, these griddles will probably still be around after the third world war has re-arranged the posture of the planet. High grade steel is like that. Over all, though, a rock-solid, versatile, large, nearly stick free, enjoyable cooking surface built to last the ages. Your grandchildren’s grandchildren will inherent this griddle. And in this disposable society in which we tarry, say what you will, but that’s money well spent. And yes, try as I may, my superpower was all but ineffective against the Mojoe. Indeed, I couldn’t break this thing, no how. And I like that. I like that very much.
WHERE TO LEARN MORE
When you get a chance, go check out http://www.mojoeoutfitters.com. Cam Stone, the man in charge over there, we found to be a kindly, salt-of-the-earth, engaging chap, with a sense of humor as durable as his griddle. A griddle 8 years in the making he said. Much tinkering in overland campsites, cooking for his trail mates. He said he got disgruntled with his little frying pan trying to cook for 4 to 5 people, that eventually he found himself a surplus steel disc, propped it up over the camp fire, and was “blown away” by the performance. He was able to cook for 5 people in about 20 minutes. Thus the Mojoe Griddle was conceived. And the world is just a little better place now, because of it. Go check it out if you please!
The kayak dawdled in the shallows whilst umpteen blue gills and assorted sun-fish loitered just beneath the hull. The sunlight had ebbed behind a bank of thickened clouds, and a bald eagle lit atop a shoreline maple tree, like a huge, feathered monolith fit for the gods. It was a fair day on the water, even tho progress was slow. Fishermen like to bellow that its not the fish count that matters where angling is concerned, but rather the act of fishing being what is important. Yeah. The truth is that’s just what we tell ourselves when we suck monkey butts. We get all poetic about things, often gazing henceforth to the horizon with gray, marbled eyes; turning our chiseled, Norwegian jaw line to the catch the golden sunlight of a quickly fading day. We stroke our grizzled chin, and then after some consideration of the matters at hand, generally come to the conclusion that we still suck, and casually shrug our shoulders upwards in a disheartening gesture of bitter defeat. Sometimes you just can’t get the fish. They just stare up at you, taunting thee, laughing little bubbles up at you and your meager pittance. You are but the unwanted blight in their aquatic world. No better than the biologic residue floating off their poo which resides at the bottom of the lake. Unless, however, you are lucky enough to have in your possession the humble J-Bug.
That’s what my elder brother coined it anyways, after its inventor who namely is me. The “J-Bug” is your classic fly tier’s brain thrust. A conglomerate affair of elk hair, a hank of neatly wrapped chenille, a size 10 nymph hook, and a highly selective draft of re-purposed ceiling fan parts. I dunno, but it works. When all else fails, the J-Bug works. Time was ticking, and the day was morphing towards night, so I tied one on and got to work. The fly rod hooped immediately into action, as if I knew what I was doing, it’s tip pulsing, the 7-pound leader slicing through the dark water, and within a half-hour I had half a limit already. That was good enough for this bloke. I laid down the fly rod, and unshackled my little thermos, drawing a hot cup of tea whilst adrift by a bed of lily pads. Well that was easy, I thought, quietly sipping my brew and studying the surface of the water. The old J-Bug did it again. For kicks I tied on something else, if for any other reason than to validate the worth of the J-Bug. But I promptly caught two more blue gill instead, and it wasn’t even a challenge. So yet again, I tied on something else, something a wee bit less appetizing- some unraveled, sickly looking clot of thread resembling a disheveled house fly with its tongue hanging out. And I couldn’t keep the dang fish away. Ten minutes later, however, and this is a fact – nothing… Not even a rise. That’s a day on the water for you. That’s fishing. We cannot understand fish anymore than we can understand women. The latter perhaps life’s finest enigma.
The next day, back at the Pond-Side Pit, it’s shore lunch time as the aroma of potatoes and onions frying on the old kettle grill dally forth into the still, evening air, courtesy of the cast iron deep dish pan from the good folks at Craycort Cast Iron Grates. This is the good life, people. You spend the whole day out-of-doors, so why would you go inside now, just for supper. Nay, fire up the outdoor kitchen instead, and lavish in the enduring pleasures patron to the pit. Firstly, chop the spuds uniformly, add a little oil, and be mindful to scoop them around, circulating the tater population for even cooking. For taste, we lightly dashed them with some Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. And after they were almost, but not quite done, we moved them over to the griddle portion of the grate to finish off there, and proceeded to fill the now vacant pan with enough oil for a quaint spot of deep-frying. Pop your cholesterol pills, because man, this is going to be good!
Time to prep the batter. Here’s the recipe for that.
Basic Batter for Fish
- 3/4 Cup of flour
- 2 Tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 Teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 Teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 Teaspoon salt
- 3/4 Cup of water
Now make sure you start with good, hot oil before dropping your hard earned plunder in there. You all know how to do this. I like to drip a little batter in the oil and see what it does. You can even stick a match in the oil, and if the match lights, you’re good to go. We lined up the cast iron pan over direct heat, to get that oil good and hot. When everything chimes in accord with your pitmaster instincts, dip your fish in the batter, and let the frying commence!
Let it be said, because it true, but the sound of your once upon a time elusive quarry frying up in a vat of hot oil, accompanied by occasional nasal drifts of fried potato and onion, well there is no better illumination upon the skin of your soul that you have done something very good this day. Leastwise for your belly that is. Not to mention that small, often times forsaken tendril of real estate in a man’s mojo, that every once in a while needs to effectively and without error, “live off the land“, if but for any other reason than because he can. It feels good. Tastes good too. Check out these crispy fillets, people!
Oh yes. Pardon this patron, but I’m sorry, I’m going to take a bite of this right in front of you. You’re just going to have to deal with it.
Crispy, hot, flaky and succulent. Man! For what swims in yonder waters, for to court my iron pan and kettle grill, I salute thee. Nay, I devour thee. You gotta remember to breathe people. It helps by and by.
Deep-fried pan fish sided with fried potatoes and onions. Now that’s some kind of good! And your classic shore lunch, once again, patron to the pit.
- 1 Can of your favorite baked beans
- 1 Can on Peach Pie Filling
- 8 Strips of Bacon
- 1 Onion
- 1 Red Bell Pepper
- 1/2 Cup favorite BBQ sauce
- 2 Tablespoons favorite BBQ rub
As I repair here pit-side, at ease in my patio chair, whilst listening to the song birds evening serenade, I think about this recipe for peach baked beans. Who would have ever thought this unlikely pairing would bandy so well. If you haven’t tried peaches in your baked beans yet, you need to get after it people. Leastwise if you fancy peaches that is. And I suppose beans too. It’s one of those gastronomic anomalies in the human condition that doesn’t make much sense at first, but after trying it, you wonder why you haven’t been doing this all along. It was invented, as far as we know, by Myron Mixon, as seen on the hit TV series, BBQ Pitmasters. Whether you take to Myron’s personality or not, one cannot deny that the man knows BBQ. He just wins. In point of fact, he’s won more on the competitive circuit more than any person alive. Least wise at the time of this writing he has. He’s good, people. And so are his beans. So to pay homage to these glory beans, tonight we deploy our latest toy from http://www.cast-iron-grate.com. The cast iron pan insert.
It was pretty much love at first sight when this came in the mail. Many thanks to Rolf, of Craycort Cast Iron Grates, for taking good care of we patrons of the pit. His products are excellent, and stand the test of time. If you have a kettle grill, and don’t have one of these grates yet, you’re missing out people. Your grand kids will inherit this stuff, and pass it on down to their kids. That’s the beauty of cast iron. And this pan is just plain slick too, and the perfect cooking vessel for our peach baked beans. Let’s get to cooking, and we’ll show you how it went and came to be.
Under the blue skies of a summer’s eve, whilst the cottonwood leaves gently fluttered in the breeze, we started up affairs tonight by doing a few slices of bacon in the Craycort pan. The recipe calls for 8 slices, but lo, we’ve been eating a lot of bacon lately it seems, so I felt it a might prudent to maybe tone it down a touch. You know how it goes. So I think we put in only 4 slices. They sizzled to life on the hot cast iron, which was opposite a hot bed of coals, and their wonderful aroma mingled in the late, evening air. A pleasant way to start the supper-time festivities. And it only gets better.
Then came the onion and bell pepper, chopped to suit, and tossed headlong into the pan. A little bacon grease left over to lubricate the ensemble, and this medley came to maturity in no time flat. Cook it just long enough to get the raw out, but not so much your onions get translucent. Chop the bacon in to appropriate man-sized bites. Man…Can you smell it yet!
Lastly, we added in the rest of the ingredients, stirring gently, and cooked up two picturesque pork chops for good measure, lightly dashed in Lawry’s seasoned salt. The chops were done over the Craycort griddle insert, yet another wonder of cast iron technology. That’s the great fun of these Craycort grates. You can swap out various inserts to accommodate your culinary inclination of the day. Quick and effective. And nothing cooks as evenly as old fashion cast iron.
I settled back into my chair, momentarily, just to watch my beans bubble. It’s one of those simple pleasures, you see, patron to the pit. If you are in a hurry in this life, well, you wouldn’t understand. I adjusted in the chair, listing a bit more to the starboard now, left leg over right, and I find I am soothed by the gentle sounds of stewing beans. Vittles on the fire. They say to let it bubble for an hour or so, and I might have, had not they looked so delightful. But I tried. I dallied as long as I could beneath a waxing, pastel-blue sky, adorned in soft, billowy clouds, which caught the evening sun. I tried to linger in the last choruses of bird song, and the caressing summer breeze which melted through the alders and the spruce. I tried to tarry there, and do what I do best, but the chops were done, my tummy was hungry, and the beans beckoned to me.
Game over. And amen.
If you are so inclined, which you ought to be, do check out http://www.cast-iron-grate.com
There you go, peach baked beans on the kettle grill, sided with a set of succulent pork chops! Delicious! One of those things you gotta try first, before you knock it. As you will come to learn, it’s all good, patron to the pit…