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!
In the swiftly slanting light of an Autumn’s eve, I banked a bed of fiery coals to the side of the old kettle grill. Coaxing a few stragglers at the end of long tongs, thus setting the grill up for a quiet spot of indirect cooking. The sun conspired low over the golden tree tops where it ought to this time of year, with night coming on sooner and sooner. And the air was refreshingly cool, invigorating almost, with summer’s humidity a distant memory now. I buttoned up my flannel smoking shirt a couple of notches higher, and rummaged through the wood pile for today’s chosen smoke wood. Pecan sounded good. But then so did hickory. I vacillated over this quandary all of two nano seconds, I assure you, and just did what any pit jockey would at moments of such indecision – I used both. No compromise at the pit tonight. No wasted moments. For the light here quickly fades.
Before we get to cooking tonight, take a gander in this bucket. Lovely isn’t it…Three wild wood ducks, courtesy of a hunting friend, swimming in a flavorful home-made brine. Been there all of twenty and three hours already. And I tell you this, living your days as an acknowledged meat geek, you would be surprised what proteins seem to come your way. Meat just comes to me, people. I don’t know why. Warren Buffet has the same effect with money, I’ve noticed. And to Brad Pitt goes the girls. And me, well I get meat. And not necessarily classy meat either, but I ain’t complaining none. I thought the BBQ pulled beaver a while back turned out rather well, by and by. And I’m sure tonight’s plunder will too. Hickory Pecan Smoked Wood Duck, patron to the pit. Oh yes, let’s get after it.
Now concerning the gamy nature of wild duck. Some blokes like it, and some don’t. I suspect we here at he pit dally more towards the latter, so we concocted a simple, yet delicious brine for to leech some of that gaminess out. For three small birds we used:
Apple Cider Brine
1/2 Gallon Apple Cider
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Salt
Couple splashes of apple cider vinegar
6 slices of Ginger Root
5 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon Pepper
1/2 cup Orange Juice
*Go ahead and let your birds soak in the brine for about a day.
On a similar note, in case you are interested in such things, the very best recipe book we’ve found for wild duck is, Duck, Duck, Goose, by Hank Shaw. Really good stuff. Highly reviewed too, as you will see.
You can toss in what ever you like. From bay leaves, to sage, to your favorite spices. We do like to start with a base of apple cider tho. And yup, brine needs lots of salt. It won’t work otherwise. I guess the negative sodium ions attached themselves to proteins, and in-turn repel other negative ions which wander near to it, thus expanding the space between the proteins, the void of which is then diffused with your magnificent brine. Or something like that. Who knows. We are not scientists. We’re just men, who plop meat over flame and declare it good!
And so it was, the three little birds made the acquaintanceship of the hot cast iron grate, opposite a beautiful bed of coals. A chunk of hickory and a piece of pecan wood came to smolder, and the smoke softly billowed upwards in delicate, yet stately plumes. One bird we wrapped in bacon. One bird had only the rub. And the other we just left alone, to let the brine do all the talking.
Our rub today is another dandy from the good folks at Miners Mix. It’s called, Poultry Perfection Seasoning Rub for Turkey, Goose, Duck, Chicken, and Game, and I reckon it’s aptly named. Dang but they’ve got some good stuff. We dusted a couple of the ducks over pretty good with it, and man the smell of raw meat seasoned to perfection, well, it probably shouldn’t smell that good, but it does. Just one of the many privileges patron to the pit. And I nary can postpone any longer it’s gastronomic rendezvous with the biggest orifice on my face!
Near the end of our journey to 165 degrees internal temperature, we tossed some fresh vegetables into the Craycort frying pan insert, and sautéed them there in a splash of olive oil. It isn’t often we smell the aroma of sizzling cauliflower wafting from our pit damper, but we’re here to tell you, it don’t smell half bad. And it tastes a might better than that even. Every once in a while, even your most hardened pit jockey ought to stir up some vegetables on his cooker, if for any other reason than to try something new, and barring that, to at least please his lady folk.
Lid on, damper tweaked, a light wood smoke tapers into the autumn air whilst I make myself comfy in the patio chair, and muse over the day at hand. It was a good day, as days go, but my how the light is quick to flee. Used to be bright and balmy still, just a month or two ago, but here lately around supper time, the sun dips out of sight behind yonder roof tops, and doing so just a little swifter each day. Aw well, it’s just part of the natural balance of things living here on the 45th parallel. We get winter so we can better appreciate the summer, seems like. And I’m OK with that.
Long about the time that my pit-side introspection was wrapping up, and I could just start to smell the aroma of gently smoked duck bellowing from my pit vent, I knew then I had better keep an eye out for some visitors that equaled all matter of awkward. Now is the time they always show up. And I suppose it would be an ironic justice of sorts if they did. It’s common fact, you see, that if the Pond Side Pit were to have a mascot, well, it would probably be the lowly duck. Ducks are everywhere here. They abound in plentiful numbers, out numbering the residents two-to-one, and often travel in cantankerous packs. Many a time, whilst loitering at the pit, the little dudes will waddle up to me, first to see if I have any food to offer them, and then, as if driven by some moral code of duck law, they like to establish if whether or not it was their kin that they smelled cooking under my lid. And most days it’s not, and I’m free to loiter in peace. But this time they stood to get me out right, iffin I didn’t make swift work of it here. I probed the breast, looking for 165 internal, and instead hear a sickly chortle belching in the distance. Sounded like Phyllis Diller with a hang over. Hark! They were onto me! I could see them from across the far grass now, waddling in earnest. Well, good BBQ, as you know, is done when it’s done, and there is nothing we can say or do about that. And so the gap closed between them and I. Closed like a drawn curtain. My head hung a little lower, and my bottom lip drooped as they ambled on by, looking about as nonchalant as a duck can whilst still giving me the evil eye. Man…Yeah, I was hoping they wouldn’t show up today, as it’s all matter of awkward when they do. But on that note, and to a savory end, get you bib on people, it is time to eat. And Amen.
*No Pond Side ducks we injured during the making of this post.
**For further information on the cast iron modular grate system we use, check them out on amazon at the link just below. We are an affiliate for Amazon, and we sincerely do appreciate your support.
Hickory Pecan Smoked Wood Duck, seasoned in Poultry Perfection, man! Sided with lightly sauteed vegetables tinted in smokey goodness. Good eating, and every bit of it, patron to the pit.
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A steady and abiding rain falls over the streets of Ketchikan, Alaska; a hard mist, as the locals call it. Gray clouds smother into the tall, green, mountainsides rising at the edge of town. My lovely bride and her mother take up position in the stern of a fishing charter, one of twenty, advancing out to sea. Stalwart sailors they were, and hardened anglers, listening to the rain tap over their up-turned hoods. The guttural rumble of the outboard engine merges onto the acoustic palate, along with the lapping of chill waters against the hull, and the distant bustle of the Ketchikan shores. Whales breached the choppy surface, spouted forth a few times, and submerged again; their mighty tails slapping the water with utter authority, and great majesty. A Bald Eagle drops suddenly from the heavens with an acute splash off the starboard, snatching a salmon for to feed her family. My bride is onto a salmon too, go figure, rod hooping violently, its tip tugging downwards towards the darkened abyss. A few minutes span on bobbing waves and rocking ship, reeling and peeling, and she too procures a salmon for the family; several of them, in point of fact. And despite her bouts with motion sickness, she had the mental faculty to have them put on dry ice, and airmailed hence forth to the door step of her working husband back home. And that, by and far, made his day.
It is a few weeks later now, I tarry pit-side, in good form, whilst a bleak and steady mist dapples over the pond, like a thousand pin pricks cast from on high. It is that hard-mist sort-of rain again; tho one that is livable, by Ketchikan standards at least, and doesn’t force a soul indoors, necessarily, to stare glumly out the window. Besides, I liked the rain. And I think the silver salmon in the smoker did too. Or would have. Sort of reminiscent, you might say, from whence what soggy straights they came. If you are going to smoke a fish from Ketchikan, after all, it is only right I guess, that you do it in the rain. It’s always raining in Ketchikan they say. And I believe them.
An October breeze rustles amid the water-side grasses, long and wet, and bending in the seasonal eddies. A gray over-cast parades over-head and the light smoke of apple and peach wood curls serenely from the WSM. No finer weather, let be said, than this, this barometric symphony of low pressure and constant mist, for the pleasures of the pit are only heightened. The aromas pop, as if in olfactory 3D. The joy of rain drops pattering over a hot lid. And the contentment patron to rising wood smoke on such a cold, and dreary day. Glory!
One of the finer spoils in the smokey arts is that of fish. And few fish seem better suited for the task than salmon. Thus, and with some fanfare, it was with the greatest delight when a box of them arrived on my doorstep. Good tidings from Alaska, and a smokey destiny according to my pit. Now the first order of business, before anything else, is to brine the fish for 24 hours. We used a wet brine this time around, one that has proven effective in the past. And it’s real simple to make.
Basic Brine Recipe
2 Quarts water
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Cup Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
*In an old gallon ice cream bucket, mix this all up thoroughly and allow your fillets to mingle in the solution for 24 hours.
Before you go and light the pit, and after the proper brine period, go ahead and dutifully rinse thy fillets under cold water and lay them out on a rack to air dry a bit. Mind your BBQ instincts, and linger here. I know, your young, and eager, and restless, and you want nothing more than to plop thy protein upon a smokey grate and commence with the task at hand. But don’t. Your patience kindled from years at the pit will serve you well here, if you let it. What it is you’re waiting for, you see, is the pellicle, and such can take a while. I know, you’re wondering what in the heck is a pellicle. Well, a pellicle is an outer coating of proteins that form on the surface of brined fish left to air dry, and is tacky, or sticky to the touch. Many a seasoned fish smoker covets the pellicle, for it is that very stickiness which also proves most abiding for smoke. For smoke adheres feverishly to it, like moths to fly paper, or novice skiers to snow fencing. So wait for the pellicle if you can. Some folks even use an electric fan here, to hurry things along. And you can too, I suppose, if you’re in a hurry. But if you’ve learned anything at all from this blog, you won’t be in such a tomfoolery mind-set anyways.
After the pellicle has formed, and is sticky to the touch, sally forth and ignite thy smoker. For this smoke, were looking to run it at about 150 degrees for 3 or maybe 4 hours. This was accomplished in the big 22 1/2 inch Weber Smoker Mountain by a single chimney of lit charcoal dumped directly in the middle of the fire bowl, along with 2 gallons of cold water in the water pan. It may have helped also, that a lovely, cool drizzle fell from the heavens this day, keeping the pit cooler. At any rate, do your best to get around 150 degrees. A little higher is fine. The salmon won’t care.
Whence you have established a stable pit, smoke gently puffing, spray a little PAM or some such thing over your grate, and lay your betrothed salmon hunks in orderly fashion over it. Many of the Alaskan locals like to smoke their salmon with alder wood, but we didn’t have any such flavor on hand. What we did have however, was apple wood, and let it be said, because it is true, that works just fine too. Let it smoke in accord, until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Its pretty much that easy. In the mean time, there is loitering to be done.
It was with the highest and most sincere pleasure I placed the heavy enameled lid on the smoker, and henceforth got along with the very important business of being a pit keeper. Namely, I went to the refrigerator and drew myself a manly beverage there. Seeing the rain wasn’t about to let up this day, albeit a light rain, I jockeyed for the man chair anyways, residing seductively in the living room. Some times we Brethren of the Brisket need to pamper ourselves. Yes we do. Toe-pits up, left foot crossed over right, I admired how the rain drops fell this day, on and off, outside the glass patio door. The symphony in mist, and the homey curls of apple wood smoke. My eyes grew weary, heavy from the day. I listed slightly in my man chair, ensconced in warmth and dryness; two glories made only sweeter on such a cold and decidedly wet day. My eyes fell shut, and my thoughts drifted out to sea. Leisure had asserted itself. A perfect day, as days go, to smoke a salmon. And I suppose to consider for a moment, for the moment’s sake, the rain which fell in Ketchikan. Amen.
Apple Smoked Salmon. Man! So next time you’re faced with a rainy day, and maybe feeling a little fish hungry, do the only sensible thing and light the pit. For any day is a good day where the wood smoke also rises.
Looking back over another good year of grilling and smoking, – of BBQ, one of our favorite cooks, hands down, was pecan smoked white fish, freshly caught from a pure, upper mid-west lake, that of course in these cyber pages, shall go unnamed. Fishermen every where will understand. The smoked fish was at once tasty, succulent, and decidedly agreeable with our bellies. Even my wife liked it, and she doesn’t so much fancy fish. So if you haven’t tried it yet, your missing something out of your grilling career. Nothing is quite so fine, let it be said, than a day on the lake, angling under a beautiful blue sky, procuring your limit, and then whiling away the evening hours smoking your spoils over a gentle fire, whilst kicked back, and feet up, lovely beverage in hand, watching the sun slowly arc towards the trees. Your finger on the pulse of nature, and what once swam yonder; cooking quietly on the grill… Man! We cannot teach you how to fish right now, but here is how to smoke one, should you be so lucky.
First off, and before anything else, clean the fish as you like and let it soak in a brine over night. I know what some of you may be asking. What’s a brine, and why should I do it? Well, a brine simply put is a solution of salt and water that you soak your meat in to improve the over all quality of your end game. To brine your fish will first off improve the texture, and also add considerable flavor. But what it does best is convince the fish to retain moisture during the cooking process, and that is no small thing. If you’re a meat geek, and want to learn more about the science of the brine, check out this in-depth link.
Anyways, here is the brine recipe we favor to get you started:
- 2 Quarts water
- 2 Cups brown sugar
- 1 Cup kosher or pickling salt
- 1/2 Cup soy sauce
- 1/2 Cup lemon juice
- 1 Teaspoon each Garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper
Soak your fish in this over night. It will look like a sickly stew, and your first instinct will be to go throw up somewhere, but you’ll grit through it some how, especially later on, whence you smell it on the cooker. Next day, you will need to employ your considerable pit master skills and get your grill or smoker running pretty low, like 150 degrees. Every smoker is different, and every grill its own entity. So be creative, and assert yourself, 150 isn’t that hard to do.
- One tip – is to build a smaller fire than you normally work with, and to add a big tray of water which will act as a heat sink, absorbing some of the thermal energy you don’t need, and thus keeping the temperature lower.
Once you get the temp dialed in, you have just completed the hardest part of smoking fish. Lastly, put on a chunk of gently smoking wood. Pecan wood yielded amazing results for us, but any fruit wood will do. Thus, put the wood on and then the fish, and let her do her thing. In the mean time, grab your pole and head back down to the lake and catch yourself some more. Or perhaps make the acquaintanceship of your hammock, a meeting long over due. When the fish easily flakes with a fork, it’s done. Usually a few hours.