As I tarry now in my writing room, with stereophonic music in play, the wind driven sleet of an April blizzard raps against the window pane like a house guest no longer welcome. It was 60 degrees the other day here in Minnesota. 60 degrees. That’s like Miami beach around here. People were gleefully expelling their breath into pool noodles and slapping on last year’s sun tan lotion. My but it was lovely then. All the snow save for the deepest recesses of shade had melted into the grass. The nice cars of the world were back on the roads. And joy had returned to the eyes again of the mass captive audience that is the north-land. Indeed, our spirits lept in proportion with the mercury. But today all of that is gone now- humbled under a half-foot of wet snow. Like a sucker punch to the gut. Like the candy bar of summer dangled in front of thee, and then yanked from your outreached and trembling hands.
We stand strong in our mukluks tho, waiting and tingling, ready to pounce on the exploding sun.
Taking the Summit
I think back to just two days ago, standing in shirt sleeves at the pit, nurturing this beautiful pork shoulder. Oh how the tweety birds rejoiced in the trees, and the migrant Buffleheads frolicked in the pond. I reveled in how the sun felt warm against my shoulders, and how the air tasted so sweet, mixed with the soft, rising tendrils of hickory smoke. This was the measure of weather we northern pit keepers have waited so long for. That which we pined for amid the enduring winter tempests of yore. I thought maybe we were done with winter. Yes, there was a glimmer of hope naively affixed to my soul, even tho the weather man said the snows were coming back again. That schools would close. And roadways would go asunder as they do. He said it was coming. And sure enough it did. But for this brief window of time, this lull between the storms, like a mountaineer who claims his pocket of good weather for the summit, we parlayed our moments pit-side, under pastel blue skies, and we gloried there. Seizing the day, as they say. And procuring some really good pork along the way. Here’s the skinny on that.
How To Make Pulled Pork in the Weber Kettle
- The Seasoning
Pork butts are the easiest thing in the BBQ arts, provided you’ve got the time. Firstly, the night before we hit the shoulder with liberal quantities of our favorite butt rub, Miners Mix Memphis Rub, and let it soak into the meat all night long on the fridge, wrapped in plastic of course. Then we hit it again as it went onto the pit.
- Kettle Set up & Operating Procedure
This is easy too. For this cook we used the two baskets that came with the kettle, along with the stock grate with the two hinged trap doors deals on either side. Very handy for this style of cooking. Filled each basket half way with lit coals, and half way with unlit briquettes and a couple chunks of hickey wood. Basically creating two little minion fires. We put an aluminum pan with about an inch of water in between said baskets, and plopped the shoulder on the grate rightly in the middle. Fat cap up to self baste later on. That’s it. You don’t touch the meat until it’s done, or about 195 internal. The pit dampers were set to about 50% top and bottom, or until your kettle settles in to around 225 to 250 degrees. We did have to occasionally add some unlit briquettes to baskets too, and more wood chunks, but that is standard O.P. for this sort of smoking. All part of the BBQ arts, and kettle cuisine at its best.
Another fine smoke suckled from the scant offerings of pleasant weather dropped from above. If only for a day, weren’t we the kings. Or at least well fed, patron to the pit. Amen.
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!
As a February blizzard howls just past the frosted window pane, I tarry here in my writing den with stereophonic music in play, and a lovely beverage at hand, and reminisce now back over the previous season in BBQ. There have been some great victories pit-side to report. From Tri Tips over an oaken fire, to honey and maple glazed hams, to 14 hour slow-smoked Boston Butts that fell apart in your mouth. And all of those were delicious in their own right, not too mention biologically abiding. There is an extra hole drilled into my leather belt now to prove it. But furthermore, what I think I remember most about those cooks was not so much those things that satisfied my belly, but more, that which nourished the soul. And what I mean concerning that, by and by, is the people. The people. The more I delve into the BBQ arts, and the more I learn about making good food, the more convinced I am that these meals were never really meant to be ingested alone. One of our long time readers has been putting it this way for years now. “Remember what you cook isn’t nearly as important as who you cook it with.” –Mr Dodd.
It’s Good to Share
It’s true. You can smoke the best rack of ribs on the planet, or produce the most tender brisket this side of Aaron Franklin, but if you’re not sharing it with someone, well frankly, you’re missing out on half the fun in BBQ. And tho you may even feel full eating it all by yourself, something still inside you remains empty. Hungry. Perhaps that is why someone invented the all important shin dig. That glorious slot of time, pre-ordained by the masses, to come together over a table of good food and fellowship, and for a while at least, set aside the concerns of man, and just be together. And eat. There’s something about this simple act of stability that resonates in the soul, as if we’ve been wired for such activity all along. Mankind has been doing it for a very long time after all. And I suspect that’s because it is inalienably good for us. As good as any medicine contrived by the smart people of the world.
Our wee one is learning how to party, as you can see. Amid our summer BBQ’s she has learned the joy of green grass between her baby toes, and how to work the lid on the communal cooler with great effectiveness. She is equally as well-versed in the art of mooching off a bystander’s plate, and I can tell already she will be a force in future BBQ’s and family shindigs to come.
Yup, everyone enjoys a good party as you can see. Even this pup appreciated a wayward morsel tossed her way, not to mention a good belly rub afterward. But then, really, who wouldn’t! Life is good at the BBQ!
The Joy of BBQ
There is a camaraderie in food. I think this is because no matter who you are, or where you hail from, you probably consider yourself fairly adept at eating. Let’s face it, you’re the boss at stuffing your pie hole. We all are! And with that kind of communal talent, it’s no wonder we all like to throw a BBQ and work our skill sets together. And beyond that even, for a while at least, most folk seem even to be happy with a plate of good food in hand. Momentarily content in life’s crazy race. Say what you will, but that is no small thing. And to lean back in your lawn chair, wiping the sauce from your chin, and to survey the folks residing all about, chattering and chewing, laughing and smiling, babies crawling through the cool grass…Telling stories, singing songs…Going back for seconds.. Even thirds…The faces of those you love and those who love you. Well, it doesn’t take much to realize that this is what it’s all about. This is why we do what we do. And further, this is what the joy of BBQ looks like standing right in front of you. Amen.
Now let’s get cookin!
The Black Capped chickadees cavorted outside the tent in the gray, morning light, whilst shafts of cherry and gold began to burst over an endless sea. I looked over at my fellow patron, who was already mentally booted up and gazing out the tent flap at a sunrise fair to tally the ages. We were encamped on the wild shores of Lake Superior, in Minnesota’s famed arrowhead country. The big lake was alive, and pulsing with ice water waves that which rolled against the rugged coastline. We love it up here. It’s what we do. We’ve come not just escape the maddening urban throngs of the city, but more, to embrace the wild side of this planet, on it’s own varied and distinct terms. To live simply. To breathe purely. To sup from the fountain of youth. And if we’re lucky, maybe even cook something tasty here, where the earth meets the sky. And the steaks have no name.
Tradition Has No Name
It was a year ago about this time that we made steak sandwiches on our annual November romp in the prettier places. You can read about that write up here, if you’re into such things. The sandwich was so good, and so delightful on the palate, we sought to recreate it again this year. But this time we would up our game slightly with the always covetous and tender chew of No Name Steaks. Now I don’t know if you have ever had occasion to plate up No Name Steaks before, but to those who have, you know from what we speak when we say them things is tender. Like you almost don’t need a knife to cut it, kind of tender. The kind of steaks that give false-toothed grandpas a real kind of hope! We’ve grilled them now and again over the years, and we have concluded that you would have to be a rank folly pit keeper to screw up one of these endearing steaks. I don’t know what they do, or how they do it, or why they have no name, but meat wizardry is clearly at hand with these cuts. I suppose also one ought not to dawdle on these things either, but instead to say thank you to the kindly meat folk at No Name Steaks, for producing such lovely and slobber-tugging Hunks O’Tenderness. Our bellies are forever indebted to your mastery of the meats.
Anyways, lets get after it.
Griddle Up Boys!
Business was done in style this time, with our highly esteemed and beloved, Mojoe Griddle. We’re talking restaurant grade, people – 35 pounds of one-quarter inch, hot-rolled steel (insert grunts here), the thing will keep cooking after three apocalypses we reckon, and deflect bullets too if tipped up on end. Always a pleasure to cook on the Mojoe. True, our gas mileage was reduced by 5% hauling this thing up north, but lo, who cares. You can set it on a Weber kettle, or over the fire pit, or like we did this time, on the Camp Chef Stove. When cooking en-mass for a fair number of hungry and hardy outdoors people, not too many other griddles are as finely suited than this.
Thus it was merely a matter of slicing up the steaks into bite sized strips, along with some red onions and green bell peppers. Saute all this together over a very hot griddle, lightly coated in oil. The less oil the better the char. The Mojoe doesn’t need much oil either, as it’s near friction-less surface is akin to that of an air hockey table. Griddle up your steak chunks to a nice medium or how ever you like it, salt and pepper to taste, and bring the peppers and onions to an agreeable tenderness as well. We even tossed on some thinly sliced roast beef that we happened to have in the cooler. Why not! Be creative. This is really elementary cooking folks. Anyone can do it. We toasted the lightly buttered baguettes in one accord, and assembled the sandwiches with a fist full of shredded cheddar cheese, and some Mount Olive deli relish. Sided with a scoop of camp chili. Mercy!
Dinner was held by the romantic glow of the kerosene lamp, and was a pleasure all unto its own, serenaded by the pounding surf of Lake Superior, and the camaraderie of good friends and fine food. You could have offered us a table at the world’s finest 5 star restaurant then, but we would have turned you down, I think. For as our tummies tightened around these cheese steak sandwiches, and the stars turned above, we were at once and unitedly content there. At ease in our little corner of the world. We had come to live deliberately, as Thoreau once said. Where the earth kissed the sky. And we did that. And for a moment at least, and maybe even longer than that, weren’t we the kings. Amen.
A special thanks to the good folks at No Name Steaks for sponsoring our dinner tonight. They are a local Minnesota company based not too far from where we live. They’ve been putting out tasty steaks for years and years, and I can hardly wait to grill up the next one. Please check them out at No Name Steaks and get your pit master a box for Christmas or something!
Also, if you want to learn more about the Mojoe Griddle, here is their site for you too.
Grill on! -PotP
From time to time we get asked how can some one get into smoking meat with out the price tag and hassle of a fancy smoker. Well, if you have a humble Weber kettle grill, you can do it just fine. Here’s how.
The Snake Method
Here we have our beloved 22 inch kettle grill set up with what is affectionately referred to in the BBQ circles as “The Fuse Method” or “The Snake Method“. And it really works. You old timers already know all about this, but the basics of it is this – light one end of the “snake”, and gradually the lit coals will light up the unlit coals, and work its way along, like a fuse. Very similar to the Minion Method, of which we go into great depth and detail in our write up from many years ago now, called, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion.
The Snake Method, if you’ve not tried it before, is the common sense answer to the age old question of whether you need to buy a smoker or not. Well, from one pit jockey to another, of course you should buy yourself a new toy if you can have one, that’s half the fun. But if you can’t justify the money or the space for another pit, or just don’t want to deal with it altogether, this technique will hold you over with a degree of class and poetry representative of the big named smokers, with an end game every bit as succulent. All you need is that old Weber kettle sitting out back. It’ll work with other grills too, but here’s how to do it with a 22 inch kettle.
How To Set It Up
In your charcoal chimney plop in 12 briquettes and light them up accordingly. Whilst the dirty dozen are coming of age, line yourself up a snake of unlit briquettes along the inside edge of your grill, as seen in the photo above. We made the snake 2 briquettes wide, by 2 briquettes tall. We wrapped it about half way around the grill. Once the other 12 coals are grayed over, just place them in similar fashion at one end of the snake. Lastly, place your favorite flavor of smoke wood periodically along the snake. And viola, your done! You now have a smoker.
How It Works
As the unlit coals gradually light up, so too do the old coals gradually die off. The cycle of life in your pit. The magic of the snake method resides in this balance. At any given time, you see, the number of coals lit in your grill will produce enough just heat to keep it near to 250 degrees. The perfect temperature for smoking meat. And as the fuse burns it’s course, it will also ignite the smoke wood positioned along the way, providing a nice, continuous source of care free curls. It’s just plain lovely!
Your meat bounty should obviously be placed opposite the hot coals for proper indirect cooking, but in addition to that, with this particular method, you would do well to periodically relocate your meat as well, because the business end of the fuse does indeed, move. How long does it take to burn the snake out, you ask? We find it seems to average around 5 hours for a snake going half way around a 22 inch kettle. Results have of course varied with the weather, but that seems to be the average of things. Plenty long enough for a rack of BlackBerry Baby Backs to come to edible maturity, as you can see, patron to the pit. Let’s plate these babies up!
BlackBerry Glazed Baby Backs courtesy of the snake method. It works people! Give it a try!
Tips for Snake Method Cooking
- Open top and bottom vents wide open to start with, then adjust the bottom one as necessary. The more you close a vent the less air gets in, thus the cooler the grill will run
- Use of a water pan can also help lower pit temperatures if need be, and provide a humid environment within the pit.
- Move your meat once in a while as the fuse moves to keep your spoils indirect
- Patience. It takes the kettle grill a while to get up to 250, but it will get there, and when it does, it will stay there for many hours.
- You can skip the charcoal chimney part if you want, and just light one end of the snake with a weed burner or a mapp gas torch or some other manly lighting device you come up with
- That thermometer you have on your grill lid is probably not accurate. To really monitor your temps right most pit jockeys use a portable digital thermometer doodad, like this one
The tapering buzz of the Cicadas fill the St Croix River Valley, of which the stately pines and hardwoods stand, their needles and leaves like whisper chimes to a soft, summer breeze. And the sun dallies aloft, warm and sure; bronzing, burning or beckoning to those who tarry below. The river slips with a gentle current there, and the ducks and egrets play whilst puffy white clouds idle silently in a thin-blue sky. It’s summer time in Minnesota. And I’ll tell you what, we may have half-a-year of snow and cold around here, and a few additional months more of poor sledding, but when it is a nice day in Minnesota, let it be said, there is no finer place to be in all the world than this.
Call of the Wild
Naturally, we went camping. It is half our joy in life it seems, to spend lots of money so that we can go play hobo in the woods. To understand this oddity in depth would take another blog, so let us instead just tell you what we made for supper here, along the beautiful banks of St Croix.
Now I’d like to fancy myself a very fine fisherman, able and capable of procuring a rainbow from the natural environs from whence it swam. With steely eyes and a flick of of a fly rod, reading the river, and knowing my opponent with the sureness of a chess grand-master, I could single highhandedly, if I so choose, seduce and woo any submersed aquatic adversary with child-like ease, and have it served next to a side of beans on my dinner plate in about a one-half hour’s time. Yup. Well that’s the dream anyways. But reality in the woods is often times not like we dream. Especially when you leave your fly rod at home. And I may have exaggerated a wee bit on my fishing skills, too. Maybe.
Okay I did. But we didn’t go hungry!
No Name Supper Insurance
Not to worry, for tucked in the cooler, I had the foresight to stash a supper insurance plan. Salmon! No Name Salmon, to be exact. And let me say, putting fish on the plate could hardly be easier or more tasty. I had never had No Name Salmon before, and I’ve come to learn I’ve been missing out.
On the box, it said you could cook the salmon on the grill, or in the oven, neither of which was an option in my primitive encampment. But I had a camp stove and a frying pan and a wee bit of olive oil. So that would have to do. Hungry men ain’t picky.
Preheat the pan with a little oil, and saute yourself a few onions to go with it. Hey, just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can’t be fancy! So we softened up some onions a bit before laying the fully thawed fillets in. Just a few seconds after they hit the pan and sizzled there, the aroma of the juices and marinade it was packed with fairly filled the campsite with the smells of a gourmet restaurant, the likes of which I am sure every black bear within a 10-mile radius tipped a nose to. Mercy it smelled good! And the frying pan method worked just fine, off-hand and by the way. Even got a bit of crust on the fish, which I always enjoy. Just flip the fillets from time to time for even cooking. And like most fish, when they flake easily, they’re done.
We also made up a little camp biscuit/fry bread called bannock. Very simple yet tasty stuff, comprised of water and Bisquick. We’ll tell you about that in another blog.
Supper is served. Put your face in this, people! Who needs a stinking fishing rod!
No Name Salmon, Biscuits and Beans, cooked camp style on the tranquil shores of the St Croix. I don’t know how they do it, but these things were delicious! And goes to show that you don’t need to catch fish to eat fish in the great out-of-doors. We dined henceforth in great style, thankful for the food, this campsite, and the cicada serenade that which buzzed amid the forest canopy, dappled in sunlight, and cast from above. Amen.
For more information on No Name Salmon and other succulent meats, check out their website at nonamesteaks.
So I was assigned the prestigious and heady duties of procuring pulled pork for our daughter’s first birthday party. Even tho she can hardly manage a cheerio, I accepted the duties in full. I briefly scanned the weather charts and learned of the veritable monsoons that would impact our fair hamlet, naturally and precisely when I needed to smoke said pork shoulder. Now the reasonable minded cook would probably defer to his or her crock pot, I’m sure, or oven, but being I have a rep around here as a hardened pit jockey, I pretty much have to cook outside. No matter what.
The big day started fairly early, as most pork butts do, loading the fire bowl of the 22″ Weber Smokey Mountain with 20 pounds of charcoal. Yes, the entire bag. It’s a rather big cooker people, reminiscent of a Chevy Suburban and it’s awe inspiring 40 gallon gas tank. I suppose I could have dialed down the fuel costs on this smoke, but I didn’t feel like messing around. You know how it goes. It’s my baby’s birthday!
Anyways, the pork shoulder was seasoned the night before in the old stand-by, Miners Mix Memphis Rub, and dusted over yet again the next morning before plunking it on the smoker. The more time the pork has to marry with the spice rub, the better. The meat went on at 8 am, as I settled the giant porcelain enameled lid on to the smoker and surveyed the sky. It was gray over cast, with a minimal wind. Smoke curling straight up. I kept in mind the weather app on my phone is only wrong half the time. And the other half it just seems confused. We can do this!
By 9 am the first sprinkles dappled over the pond and the camouflage tarp I had strung up, just in case. It was lovely in it’s own way. A symphony of rain drops pattering like Beethoven in the key of nylon. I did the most proper thing I could think of, and simply sat in my BBQ chair and listened to the rain for a while, the sounds of pork sizzling in the pit, and watched the apple wood smoke pillar into the humid air.
By 10 am the rains fell considerably, like bed pans and hammer handles, pounding the pond side pit with gallons upon gallons of sky-born water. I dashed for the good cover of the house, and found sanctum on the couch with Netflix, and a lovely beverage there. Standard operating procedure for a hardened pit master.
By 11 am the rains came sideways as the fury of the tempest lashed like a thousand vipers outside my sliding patio door. To it’s credit, likewise to the engineers of Weber, the Smokey Mountain some how puffed contentedly away despite the Midwestern waterworks. Whilst the good critters of the world hunkered in their caves and holes, the rain continued to fiercely pound the land, and the wind bellowed from the north like Joshua’s trumpets. I could just make out my temperature gauge through the rain-cloaked window pane. The WSM was holding 250 degrees. Lo, this is how we BBQ!
By 1 pm the rain let up a trifle, good enough anyways that I could get the beans on the pit too, thus to lap up a bit of that good apple wood smoke there. They were your basic beans tightened up a bit with some ground beef, molasses, and some BBQ sauce. I was pleased also to see the butt, previously divided in half, had already developed a nice bark on it. A rough likeness suitable for a stand-in model of a good meteorite or something. But that’s how bark ought to be. It should raise the eyebrow of the uninitiated, and twist the grin of the seasoned pit maestro.
Around 2 pm the sun fairly exploded from behind curtains of gray, and the skies split into blue pastures, where song birds darted on the wing. Nice of it to wait until after I was done cooking, but that’s how it is sometimes at the pit. Mother nature gives us the finger. We adapt. And BBQ is accomplished never-the-less.
Around 3 pm all the guests arrived and sunk their chompers into this, a most succulent and well-deserved meat opus! Son-of-a-bacon-maker! Then they all celebrated one year of successful planetary living with our little girl: gathered around, watching her smile, opening gifts, crawling through multi-colored wrapping paper, and laughing like only one year old’s can for the benefit of our cameras, all the while unbeknownst of the previously mentioned rainy day smoking trials, patron to the pit. And after thinking about it for a bit, isn’t that precisely how it ought to be. Amen.
The days they taper slowly now, pulled by an ebbing sun. The tweety birds have all had their babies. And the green pepper plants are knee-high to a pit jockey’s eye. The cottonwood trees, pond-side, have completed their annual farting of the white fluffy things, which scatter in the summer breeze. The Lilacs have come and gone already, but my they were grand. And just like that, it’s summer time at the pit, and it’s glorious. And in some ways I thought it would never get here. Let’s digress…
Hearken back with me, won’t you, to just last April. Here is what it looked like then. This photo below tells the story so well that it made the face book page of our local news station.
April blizzards were the norm. Wintry tempests that would not cease. The wee one fancied a good window pane then, as you can see, observing the powerful winter storms beyond. They swirled endlessly it seemed, the hopes of summer BBQ but a whisper in the wind.
One day in May, I think, or was it June, the snow eventually petered away, and ground thawed and mud puddles and rain filled the days. The dirt smelled good and so we planted things there. They eventually took off like things do. And I suppose also that’s when the baby figured out how to crawl.
It was like a teenage kid learning to drive a manual transmission, stuttering in first gear in the parking lot at Sears. Eager and unashamed at the face of this daunting task, eventually she learned how to get the crawling mechanism going. Well sort of. She looked akin to a wounded puppy, sort of dragging herself along. But it worked. And she got to where she wanted to go. Which is good, I guess, it’s just that the only place she really wanted to go was straight to the fireplace.
Thus began the Chase Era. Every parent knows it. The span of months, maybe years, where you have to run down your little one and pluck them from danger at the last minute. And that’s the era we’re still in now. Maybe it never ends. Ever the perpetual eye must be kept on the little one, for the world is brand new to her, and exciting, and everything is worth investigating she thinks. And here at the beginning of July, today in fact, she is turning 1 years old already. How about that!
*On an aside, we here at PotP HQ would like to thank those of you in the readership who have faithfully stood by, or inquired where we’ve been and how we are doing. It’s been a while, I know. But we are doing amazing. As my Grandpa in-law is fond of saying, “We are blessed and highly favored!” And it’s true. Never has a rough pit master’s heart melted like this, people, nor his soul felt so satisfied. And as we start to find our new rhythms with baby, we hope to get more grilling posts out to you soon. Thank you kindly for your patience, and on going support.
As I grilled supper the other night, turning the protein over a beautiful bed of coals, breeze drifting quietly east to west, I thought back through the last year of raising a pup. I need not go into detail of the joys and the trials of such things. You all know that stuff already. But I am rather fond of one line of advice several people have told me over this last year, concerning babies. I think about it often. Perhaps you’ve heard it too.
That old saying that goes,” The days are long, but the years are short”.
How can something be so long and so short at the same time? I don’t know. But have yourself a baby and you will at least experience it first hand. I cannot for all the pork chops in Thailand figure how it has been a year already since birthing the wee one. Seems to me it was just a few weeks ago that we brought her home. Yet, in the same breath, it’s felt like this last year has taken a generation to unfold. And I suppose before you know it, she’ll be driving that stick shift and bringing home boys I do not like. These are the heady anomalies in the human condition I suspect we may never figure out. But a good reminder, however, to pay keen attention to the days we are in, and to whom we are with. For the days they may seem to taper slowly, but the years will be gone tomorrow. Like mesquite smoke snatched by the autumn wind. Amen.
Happy Birthday Day Emma! We love you!
It finally happened. The event we northerners have been waiting for all winter long. I tarried in my leather man chair with a hot cup of tea in hand and simply watched it for a while, swirl and dance outside the window pane. Snow. Lots of it. Riding a tempest. One might even go so far as to wager it was a blizzard, and by golly it hit the spot to see. It hit the spot because of all the many times the weather men cried wolf this winter, barking of the big one to come. And it never did. Believe it or not, there are some people who actually like snow, look forwards to it, and want to frolic accordingly amid it’s softened flakes. We be some of those people. So it was good to see a boisterous and proper, Minnesota snowstorm engulfing our fair hamlet again. This was how it should be. And after it settled a bit, I went outside to cook something there.
The Power of Halves
After examining my meat larder, something men of a certain age tend to do, I settled on one portly pork butt to do the job. I think it weighed in at 8 pounds, I don’t recall. But I knew if I wanted to have it done by supper time, (6 hours away) then I would have to deploy the old pit master trickery of slicing the butt in halves, thus to reduce the cooking time. It’s a technique I’ve used many times at the pit, and always with favorable results. Not only does it reduce cooking time by maybe a third, but it also increases the surface area. This is good because it basically unlocks new real-estate for more spice rub and smoke penetration. More bark people. Take that weather man!
The Science and Art of Bark
Here we are a few hours into the cook, and as you can see, we were already developing a flavorful and robust bark. The smoke, courtesy of two large hunks of apple wood, combined with the relatively low heat of the Weber performer, which ran at 275 degrees, and the spice rub, Kits KC BBQ Rub, courtesy of the good folk at Miners Mix, all came together in a magical union of yum! Bark is a scientific thing, but you don’t have to be an Einstein to eat it. The Flintstones will do! If you want to learn more about how it’s formed and what is going on, check out the master’s write up of it over at Amazing Ribs What is Bark.
So it was, as the Alberta clipper slid into town that we put the finishing touches on our pulled pork sandwich. A squirt or two of sweet baby rays, combined with some of the more succulent muscles of the pork shoulder, and as always, I like to mix lots of bark in there too, so you get some in every bite. Mercy! Can you smell that? That’s a proper pulled pork sammich people!
When The Bark is Worth the Bite
I plated it up with a side of beans and returned to my man chair. After settling in, feet propped up, and fueled by repetitive instinct, I reached for the TV remote like any red-blooded American man would, but then curiously caught myself looking out the window at the snow again. A soft smile formed from my lips, and I set the remote back down, and picked up my sandwich instead. I had been waiting a long time for this, and I didn’t want to dilute it with the flashing images of a TV. It would be just me, my pork, and the snow. And for a while at least, that was enough. Amen.
Nothing quite so fine as a plateful of bark and beans! Burp!
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