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.
I wasn’t really planning on grilling. It’s not like I have to do it every day or anything. But if your wife brings home some meat and asks you to grill it, well, isn’t it then our manly privilege to make it so. To ignite fire and lay the meat to it with a caveman-like ease born of the ebbing seasons, hunkered over a smoldering pit. No, it is no hardship to grill if called upon by the fairer species. To ply our craft upon unruly meats with the sweeping efficiency of a chess grand master. No meat is out range for an accomplished keeper of the flame. No cut too challenging. “Bring it on!”, I yammered. And she did. My bride henceforth pulled from the grocery bag a lowly pack of ball park franks. Beef franks, as it were. Well, leastwise that’s what it said on the package. Not what I was expecting really, but fair enough. I was not above roasting the humble wiener if need be, to secure supper upon my plate. In some ways I was rather looking forward to it. I was feeling nostalgic you could say.
Once upon a time, you see, in every grill junkie’s past, he had to start somewhere. That first step unto a brighter future, and a meatier ideal. And for many of us, that point of embarkation into the BBQ sciences started with the lowly hot dog. And make no mistake, it was an event. It gave us reason to cater to a particular need, seeded deeply within our man psyche. The need to occasionally put meat to flame, and declare that is good. The poetry here has less to do with the meat, if you can call a tube steak – meat, but more to do with the soul engaging still, over a beautiful bed of coals, and the freshened air out there, and the gentle sunbeams which wax upon thy face. Hot dogs are OK, but the real joy is in the journey. If after all, our only goal was to eat them, then we might as well nuke them in the microwave, and be done in 30 seconds. But we’re partial to the scenic path around here. The slower ways. Come with us now, won’t you, and let’s go back to BBQ kindergarten and roast some weenies on the grill!
Residing pit side whilst supper cooks is one of my most favorite things to do. I love to tip back in my BBQ chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, and simply watch the day turn by. To enjoy how the clouds slowly idle overhead, and the tweety birds make their acrobatic sorties to the feeders brimming with seed. If there is a fairer way to roast a wiener, I’ve not heard of it. To up the ante a tad, I dialed in the Twins game on the little radio I keep by the pit. Figured if I was going to do some dogs, I might as well do it right, and partake in a little tailgating too. The conditions begged for it. Remote tailgating, I call it. That lofty, yet abiding gesture to the sporting gods, when you’d like to be there supporting your team with your grill all fired up, but you lack the honest desire to drive down to the stadium, and pay for parking there. A little remote tailgating is thus you’re next best option, and couldn’t be more pleasant, out on your own private patio, the serenade of song birds, and a homey bathroom harboring a few back issues of your favorite periodicals. Some thing not privy to a cold stadium parking lot.
Glory be to the remote tailgater, for you are a curious lot indeed. Nary leaving the house, feet kicked up by a smoking pit, listening to the play-by-play banter on the radio. Hark, you can almost hear the crack of the bat, and the leathery thwack of a fastball to the catcher’s mitt. The murmur of the crowds morphing into a boiling frenzy, at a crack deep to the warning track. Indeed, it’s almost like being there. Almost. The aromas of ball park franks drifting past your nose don’t hurt the illusion none either. And the same golden sunlight that is cast upon the field of dreams yonder, falls with great poetry upon your fair patio too, miles removed, where the chickadees cavort in the fragrant spruce, and the wood smoke lingers in the shafts of a pastel sun. Man.
So next time you can’t make it to the big game, why not whip up some dogs on the grill, whilst partaking in a little remote tailgating. There are other ways to support your team I guess, but none quite so pleasant, nor privileged, than these the glories, patron to the pit. Amen.