The rendezvous was classic trout camp, sans the trout. One by one we came from various corners of the state and all conspired at the river’s soft edge for a bit of camping, fellowship, and good food under the crescent moon. We had come to trout country not to fish, however, because trout fishing annually closes it’s doors in Minnesota in November. Poachers we are not. Instead we came here just to be, in a place that we really liked being, which in itself was sweetly enough, because, as Robert Traver once wrote in his esteem book, Trout Magic, “I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful“. And they are.
So we made our camps here on the shores of trout waters, deep in south eastern Minnesota, and did what we do best – eat! Now I don’t want to suggest that we come to the woods like this just to stuff our pie holes with endless calories, but in truth, it is a part of it. When your camp mate is also your fellow patron and long time pit cohort, well, with two cooks in the outdoor kitchen, lets just say pants are going to get tight! Like our first night there when we made cheese steak sandwiches on the Mojoe Griddle. A better backwoods sammich I do not rightly recall right now. Let me tell you about it, and how it went and came to be.
Enter The Mojoe
Established readers to this blog have seen this sexy beast before. The Mojoe Griddle. I’m telling you, if you have the space in your truck and can lift 35 pounds, this is one of the finest camp cooking rigs you can get. And marry it with a humble, two burner, Camp Chef Explorer stove, shoot, the world is yours! One-quarter inch hot rolled steel, people, restaurant grade, nearly non stick, complete with aluminum griddle strap to keep your spoils from toppling into the dirt! And better yet, large enough to fry a pancake to match a man hole cover!
This is high living, people.
With the sun setting over the valley rim, tree lines waxing to silhouettes, we got to work in the doable illumination of the porch light outside of the camper. Red onions and bell peppers sauteed in olive oil. And steak, I don’t remember what kind, but steak, seared to perfection over the hot steel. Ah yes, camp cooking at it’s finest, right here.
Through the pungent woods of shag bark hickory you can hear the gentle tumble of trout stream, the quiet banter of our camp mates in tarry around a crackling pine fire, and the comforting sizzle of vittles cooking on the Mojoe. The smell of onions and meat waft in the damp, November air. The rhythmic clank and slide of a steel spatula on a hot griddle. Tummies rumbling. You getting hungry yet! I could do this all day!
Near the end of the cook, we toasted up our hoagie rolls for that added texture to the perfect backwoods sandwich. I don’t know about you, but I have never regret toasting my buns. Ever.
The Finishing Touch
After a fashion, all was done and we went inside the camper and assembled our spoils. My fellow patron brought along a jar of this stuff to put on our sandwiches. Boy did that add a lovely dimension of flavor and camping class. Really good! He thinks of these kinds of things, when I never would. I found it on amazon if you’re interested. Mt. Olive Simply Relish Deli Style Dill 16 fl (Pack of 2)
The cold rain began tapping over the plastic roof of the camper as we settled into the dinette by soft candle light. The heater kicked on, softly murmuring in the background, and mood music played on the radio. Yeah, okay, this wasn’t exactly the sort of rough and tumble camping as is often associated with the past time, but hey, it was November in Minnesota. Our last fling of 2017. We had come to smooth it! And besides, we get it rough enough in town! Anyways, we ate a lot of food on that trip. Good food. But this sandwich in particular hangs with an asterisks in the panniers of our mind. There was something about how it came together: in the woods, the joys of that big griddle, the way the deli relish set off the flavors, the char on the green peppers. I dunno, it was just good! And made better yet doing what we love, with people we really like, in a place we really enjoyed being. A place where the trout leapt. And the men were men. Amen.
Stuff We Used
Check out the Mojoe Outfitters at their site, here
Camp Chef Stoves are also available off amazon. Here’s a link to that. Happy Camping!
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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
I can’t help it if she’s beautiful. That when her little hand grabs my finger that all my insides melt into an irrefutable kind of goo. And I can’t help it either that when she looks at me with her baby blue eyes, that my heart spills over with gladness at what the Lord has done. No, I can’t help it that’s she’s beautiful. And I tell her this all the time.
As many of the readership of PotP know, we got ourselves a little patron in the making this summer. A gift straight from above. And thus the deployment of BBQ articles has dwindled for a time, as we managed our way through the fog of a newborn in your life. Many of you have been there, done that. You know what it’s all about. And so we thank you for your patience, and all the Emails wondering how we are. Yup, we are doing fabulous, by and by, and sort of finding our footing again, amid the new rhythms of life and baby. Indeed, we’re starting, maybe, to get back into the groove again.
Adjusting For The Curve
We learned after while that you can still have a life post baby. That, off-hand, you can still go to baseball games if you want, and manage a fine time. That most stadiums actually have a “mother’s room” somewhere around, with soft chairs, and flat screen TV’s, in which to feed your baby and still keep an eye on the score. I never knew that.
We learned also that our time at the pit need not be compromised. That babies enjoy watching the meat cook as much as we do. And that you can both tarry there together under summer skies and watch how the grass bends in the wind, and the tweety birds all follow each other about from thicket to thicket. I learned that little babies have a natural wiring to make a good pit master. They are well versed, for example, in sitting around and doing absolutely nothing, at least until the next feeding is in queue. Yup she’s good at that, and I had to scratch my head as she’s an awful lot like her daddy that way. Hmm. Maybe that’s why we get along as we do.
Getting Back In the Game
So in an attempt to get back in the groove of things, let me show you my sandwich I made the other day, and how it went and came to be, all patron to the pit, and with a little help from my friend.
The Basics of Pork Butts
It was your most basic of pork butts, of which we seasoned heavily in Miners Mix Maynards Memphis Rub. It’s the same rub we’ve used a hundred times now, but there is of course a reason for that. It’s awesome. And yeah, I guess I threw on rib eye too, you know, for good measure. Hey, pork butts take some considerable clock, and a pit boy needs his snacks! Anyhow, it was an easy smoke as most pork shoulders are. Dampers tweaked down to thin slits, both top and bottom, meat set indirect, and turned 180 degrees from time to time for even cooking. A little hickory wood on the coals. That’s all you gotta do people. That and take it slowly up to 195 degrees internal temperature for to pull there into highly succulent pork sandwiches. Oh, which reminds me. Let me tell you about some sauces we recently got in to test.
Low Country Barbecue
These were pretty tasty. Low Country Barbecue sauce comes in both tomato based and vinegar. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to think a proper BBQ pulled pork sandwich is at it’s most authentic with a good vinegar based sauce, of which this one was very good. But I also tried a sandwich with the tomato based version and honestly, it was just as good. Really good. And I suppose there are thousands of BBQ sauces out there all looking for attention, and these are just some of them. But Shawn, from the Snazzygourmet was kind enough to send us some samples to see what we thought, and being he is a fellow Minnesotan we found out, well, it’s good to help a brother out. And so we will. So if you get a chance, he runs a great website called the Snazzygourmet, which is pretty much a wonderland for foodies. Not just BBQ stuff, but other goodies as well. Check it out!
Anyways, after we pulled the pork into tasty tendrils of BBQ heaven, and mixed a little of the new sauces into it, letting it’s thin viscosity mingle into all the right places, I plated up a nice sandwich or two for my wife. Baby would have to wait, I suppose, until she grew some teeth! But my other sweetheart was more than thrilled, as she usually is, holding to the good status of being the wife of a patron. She said thank you, and smiled brightly as I handed her the plate. I smiled back. Yeah, I can’t help it if she’s beautiful too!
Slow smoked and succulent, glistening in a light vinegar sauce. The privileges of the pit, the good life, and holding hands with those you love. Amen.
To the time-lapsed eye, a golden sun arced like a fiery pendulum across a blue summer sky. And the cumulus clouds hung puffy and white like heavenly mobiles on high. Songs birds bellowed their stoic harmonies from yonder dogwoods and cattails softly bent in the summer breeze. Such lovely times of it here on the 45th parallel, or summertime in Minnesota. Everything is so alive and vital. So green and so plentiful. The earth spins swiftly here too, and the weeds in the garden grow like babies in the evening’s long shadows.
On the pit tonight, a big birthday steak, for yours truly! In these archives, she will go by the name Mrs Sturminator. No, not the steak, but a person we know. Mrs Sturminator is a long time friend, and frequenter of the pit, and when your birthday comes along, she tends to set a chap up rather well, so-to-speak. She’s been doing such things for years. So this year she gave me a steak. And not just any steak. A grass fed top sirloin steak, so thick I do believe it should have come with it’s own pair of suspenders! Mercy! No sir, Mrs Sturminator never is one for giving wimpy gifts.
I had some yard bird thighs handy, so I tossed those on the pit too. Along with some foiled potatoes, and of course, thy beloved and highly esteem sirloin. Of which I discovered was actually pair of steaks, which if course, was even better. The thighs were seasoned in miners mix XXX Garlic, and the potatoes were wrapped in foil along with olive oil and some Miners Mix Steak and Veggie. Yes, more Miners mix. Sorry, it’s just when you find something that’s better than most, well, you eat it! Then we also sauteed up some mushrooms in butter and more steak and veggie seasoning on the Craycort cast iron griddle insert. A modular grate affair that just keeps getting better. Love those Craycort grates!
For seasoning the steak, as always, I like to keep it simple. Steaks are too precious to screw around with. Just onion and garlic salt on this one, grilled to a modest medium over hardwood lump coal. Quite possibly my favorite thing to eat in all the known world. Happy Birthday indeed, and patron to the pit.
Think we’ll just leave it at that this week. Let the photo of this perfectly seared top sirloin topped with sauteed mushrooms do the talking. Boy did my belly wrap rightly around this one, people. Man! A special thanks to cows that eat only grass, and to Mrs Sturminator for sending a portion of one my way. Your talent for giving is one of quiet legend. But your heart measures even more so. To good people and good food.
Many thanks, and Amen.
We had occasion this weekend past to grill for the masses at the bachelor party of a good friend. It was your vintage summer day, as days go. And your classic BBQ party. With a sizzling sun suspended in a bluebird sky, casting golden shafts of light that which fluttered through the thick, green, deciduous canopies of oak and maple and birch. The lawn was freshly cut too, of which I for some reason admired the aroma. My fellow patron’s google music account provided endless streams of proper country and rock for to adorn the acoustic backdrop. Tho one musically misguided brethren in the group kept wanting to listen to once-upon-a-time boy bands, to which we had to snatch the phone from his meaty hand, and tell him to think about his life. Some blokes are just like that for some reason. Always a stinker in the bunch.
What a lovely time of it tho, this day was. You see, when friends beckon a patron to cater for them, they don’t have to twist our tongs much. We love this sort of thing. And for a bachelor party, it is sort of our privilege to escort the groom-to-be on his way to holy matrimony with a gut full of perfectly executed meat! And so it was, the evening slants of light caught the pale tendrils of gently rising oak smoke from the bosom of the Gabby’s Grill. A great little addition for ye Weber owners out there. For those who aspire to a scaled down version of the Santa Maria style of BBQ, to which we are swiftly becoming a devoted fan. Oh how I do fancy manly meat cooking machinery! When you get a chance, go check out their website here. Junior, the man in charge over there, is a good dude and will take care of you fast. His customer service is off the charts. And as you can see, he’s a gifted fabricator too.
We had this beast loaded up too, with dueling tri tip roasts, and enough chicken thighs to choke a wildebeest. You will note the baked potatoes also, tucked down into the fiery depths of the grill. This is how you do it Gabby Grill style people! Load it up! Oh yes, good times indeed. But bachelor party food does not stop with mere meat and potatoes…
For to please the lady folks who may be reading this, we also grilled up some vegetables. Yes mam we did! We was GOOD patrons! On the auxiliary grill, we got sliced zucchini here, along with onions liberally dusted with a pit staple – Miners Mix Steak and Veggie Seasoning. Can you smell it? Of course you can’t, you’re just reading pixels through a dirty glass screen But trust us. If ever you wanted to smell a man’s pits before, this would be the proper occasion!
Here is one of our affiliate links where you can pick up some of that seasoning. Goes good on just about everything. Especially vegetables! Get a bottle of this and just leave it on the table as your new pepper.
Back to the meat! Mama Mia! The thighs were seasoned with Miners Mix Poultry Perfection which never fails. And the beef, well, it’s a top secret blend that we might get to tell you about some day. Here is where you can pick up some of that Poultry Perfection tho! It’s another affiliate link that we get a wee kick back from. So if you’re looking for a way to be nice to us and help us better afford baby diapers, links like this one below help a little! Thank you kindly in advance if you do! If not, thank you anyways for just being here. You guys surely class up the place regardless.
After about an hour or so, the tri tips were done, and whilst they rested in a foil tent, we tossed on the cobs! If you haven’t grilled your corn in this manner before, we do believe you’re missing something out of your life. And of course, the Gabby Grill took it like a boss! We’re telling you, you gotta pick up one of these rigs for your Weber! We’re not sponsored by them in any way, we just think it’s a great idea long over due!
Lets not forget a massive black iron pan full of sauteed mushrooms and onions, again seasoned up with Miners Mix Steak and Veggie. Oh yes, we pulled out all the stops for the man in the fading twilight of his bachelorhood. It was a good time of fellowship and food under fair and lovely skies. We wish you well in your marriage my friend. And now you even know what to cook for her! Amen.
Check out these 2 great companies for your next BBQ
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Somewhere in northern Minnesota
When the wind stopped talking to the stately pines, and the waves settled into calm glass, I could at once hear the lonesome wail of the loon and the distant cry of an eagle in flight. The sun waxed amber over the western shores, distantly beautiful and studded in balsam and papal and birch. The pine-scented air hung freshly in the encampment, as I came down to the canoe for to survey my kingdom and the wilderness sanctum that which spanned the miles nary soiled by the hand of man. I stood there at the water’s edge, gazing, letting the silence which echoed through the forested primeval melt into my mind, and drip down hither into my soul. This is where I longed to be. Where I simply had to be. Living deliberately. Somewhere in northern Minnesota.
My Secret Spot
No, I shall not in a thousand and one blogs be likely to illuminate you as to where this lovely photo was snapped. I cannot reveal my paradise, not even to you good folk and readership of the POTP. You must understand the glories of the quieter places, and the toils upheld there to preserve them. Nay, you’re just going to have to go find your own wilderness sanctum, let it’s magic sidle upon you and nestle into your heart, and when you return home, figure out yourself how to not mistakenly divulge your secret spot’s location. It’s hard not to tell people, but alas, it would not be a secret spot any more if you did. So I won’t. I will tell you however, that we did eat well out there. Not all camping is hardtack and swamp water you know. Not if you’re a patron of the pit.
Brought the Solo Titan along on this romp. You might remember this piece of kit from last autumn. We did a review on it. A wood gassifier stove! Yeah, it’s a wee bit too heady to explain right now, but if you want to read the review and learn all about it, here is a link for that. Solo Stove Titan Review
We cooked up a couple of bannocks and this lovely dish of corned beef hash and eggs for breakfast. A filling way to start a day in the bush. Or were we ending the day? No matter, good is good.
Somewhere Else in Minnesota
Oh we’ve been getting around. Let me show you another secret spot about 7 hours away from the last spot. Stream-side we were, where the native brook trout make their home and lives in the swift flowing currents of this quaint river. I couldn’t catch trout this day, but that did not mar my dinner plans. I knew I wouldn’t woo any trout so I brought along a suitable protein in it’s stead. Steak!
For this cook we broke out the old Mojoe Griddle. Remember this beast? If ever there was a love affair with a 1/4 inch, hot-rolled, 35 pound steel disc, then this is it. As always, a privilege to cook on, especially in the prettier places. It’s a restaurant grade griddle, and could not be more fun. If you want to learn more about the Mojoe, check out our review in this link – Mojoe Griddle
Aside the babbling stream we fried up a massive hunk of steak, sided with several piles of black beans and corn and fajita stuff; all of this was served over a good bowl of red beans and rice, and thus topped with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream. Go ahead and wipe the drool from your chin now…We’ll stand by and wait for you. Oh man that was good! I could eat this every day!
And….Somewhere Else Again…Still in Minnesota
This secret spot was along Lake Superior. That’s all I’ll disclose. Suffice it to say there is no better place to cool off on a summer’s day than on the rugged shore of the big lake they call “Gitchigumi” . That’s Ojibway for “Huge Water“, in case you’re interested. Anyways, we ate good here too! Man was it pretty!
More steak and beans, this time on the Instagrill. Yet another cooking gem we reviewed not long ago. Truly a portable charcoal powered cooking unit fit for the gypsy and wandering nomad in all of us. Love this little pit!
We cooked all our meals on it at this campsite. Here is a lovely breakfast burrito in the making. We’re toasting the tortilla whilst the ham and egg and cheese innards stay warm up in the corner. We really enjoyed cooking over this thing. The perfect camping grill. If you missed the review of this one, you can check it out here, InstaGrill Review
Or better yet, just check out their website Myinstagrill. By the way, they met their kickstarter goal, and are supposed to go into production of this little cooker this summer sometime. Good on you Jonathan!
A fine little grill to be sure. But if you can swing it, and have the inclination, not to mention perhaps a fair degree of lunacy, then nothing beats a 22 inch Weber Kettle grill in camp!
Somewhere Else’s Else….Yes, still in Minnesota
Boy we’ve been living the camper’s dream this spring. Gone every other weekend, living sweet lives. My cronie, bless his heart, he done dragged this Weber kettle about an 1/8 of a mile down the winding trail, through the woods and across creeks, to one of our favorite campsites, where upon we enjoyed quaint billowing clouds of wood smoke and the aromas of slow cooking pork ribs. Nothing is quite so fine as that in a rustic, backwoods encampment. It would have been better tho, I suppose, had he remembered to bring the cooking grate.
Indeed. But with a few pop cans and some green branches procured from the camp-side thickets, we were able to make do and eat well anyways, patron to the pit. Let no obstacle stand between a man and his meat! It’s all about working with what you’ve got, and adapting to your place in the sun. And that is how you stay alive in the woods, not to mention some secret spots of paradise that we can’t really tell you about. You understand.
Life is good when you go bush. Life is even better if you have good food there. And we did. And you can too! Amen.
It was years ago I first married my bride now, and many years before that, that I tried my first White Castle Slider. That the two entities should ever conspire together some day was but a fanciful pipe dream. For it is not with out merit that my lovely bride has refused to eat one the entire time I’ve known her…Except yesterday.
Turns out she has an adventurous palate after all, or barring that, at least a cameo moment of some rather low standards. Makes a patron take pause, it does, and consider his cooking prowess for a bit. That aside, I will admit the venerable White Castle Slider is not what we should call, gourmet. Or even good. In point of fact, half the time I wonder why I just ate it. But for some reason they persist upon the buttocks of human consumption and culinary enigmas as a gastronomic anomaly all unto their own. Why do we eat these things? The fact that I can’t answer this question sort of adds to their own legend. And that’s the disturbing pleasure of it all. But I digress.
Backcountry Sliders 101
Hearken back with me now to another time and place, far away and up north. North of the big city where the wind whispers in the pines with a stately purpose, and the rivers tumble through wide, rocky gorges, and the skies spill the color blue like you have never seen before. It was up there, at a camp site in Jay Cooke State Park, where my bride and I made camp last, and where I also cooked her the PotP version of a proper slider.
Helping me out on this cook today was our little grill donated to us by Instagrill. A prototype they were working on, which off-hand and by the way, has raised the proper funding now to put these babies into production. If all goes well, they should start becoming available this summer some time. Feel free to learn more about it in the link provided here.
Two quarter-pound patties of ground chuck, people, each impregnated with globular clusters of cheddar cheese and the occasional bit of onion. Still more onion was put on the grill, these slathered in olive oil and seasoned in salt and freshly cracked black pepper. We did onions like this a few posts back, and one of our subscribers, Todd baker, suggested that such an onion be slapped onto a burger some day. Doh! I was inspired by the man’s genius, and well, this one is for you Todd. And by the way, if ever you are looking for some good reads concerning running, metal concerts, and the odd rumination of life, do check out Todd’s blog, anddocoolstuff. Quite enjoyable. Anyways, back to the cook.
Ever gander at your meat from below? No, not with a mirror when you’re checking for ticks. But like in the photo above. I found this a refreshing angle not privy to most grills. I sat there in my folding man chair and just watched the fat render and drip, sizzling onto the coals whilst listening to Milwaukee Brewers baseball on the little radio. Oh yes, there are worse things in life than roughing it in the woods.
You all know how to grill a hamburger. There’s no secret here. We did go the extra mile however, and toasted the dollar buns like a good pit jockey ought to. We chose dollar buns because, well, that’s all the little store along the country road had. But the little buns were about the same size as a White Castle bun, and secretly I knew it would only accentuate my bountiful burgers into a thing of rapturous beauty. And this in turn would impress my wife, who was not all that impressed, I think, with the meat offering in the original WC. I can see why. The White Castle Slider sports some dubiously thin meat. Thin as a worm’s tongue it is. And not all that better tasting. Well, tonight in the woods, things would be different. Much different indeed. We would not want for beef!
Glory be! Say what you will, but this is a proper meat-to-bun ratio! Mercy, it knocked the hunger pangs out of the park like a Roger Maris home run. I was too full to even burp!
This was adequate camping grub, let me tell you. And tho I cannot promise I will never set foot inside a White Castle again, let this be an example of what can be procured in the woods or at home. Should you have a mind to, one half pound of ground beef, and a couple of dollar buns patron to the pit. Amen.
We were out in the woods this weekend last, playing hobo and such, and just enjoying the pleasures of a lovely spring day afield. The sun was warm, but the lakes and ponds still frozen, and patches of snow tarried in the shadows. We hiked along the wooded trails, kicking up leaves from last autumn, and smelling the earth unwrap itself after a long winter’s hiatus. A vintage spring day in Minnesota. The kind we wait for, and pine for. The sort we hold out hope for, that once winter has had its way with us, that it might bequeath us such climatic spoils. And it did. And what better thing to do in all the world on such a day, than to make a camp in the woods, and cook some good food there.
Enter the InstaGrill
Now I’m a tinkerer. My father is a tinkerer. My brothers are tinkerers. Tinkering, you might say, is in my blood. And so when I get to test out another man’s brain thrust, I feel honored. I can appreciate the engineering, the thought, and the time that went in to it. Such was the case this last trip afield, as we tested out the InstaGrill. A cool, little, highly portable BBQ grill sent to us by a fellow tinkerer, named Jonathan, down in Texas.
InstaGrill. That’s what he’s calling it as of now. It’s an idea he had for easy, spontaneous, low-key grilling. He sent us a prototype so we could get a better idea how it works, and maybe share it with you guys. Here is his website also, if you want more details. www.myinstagrill.com. It’s a pretty nifty little rig, and if you don’t mind, we’ll give you the nickel tour ourselves.
It’s pretty clever at first blush. As you can see, it’s a charcoal grill at its core. That’s what it runs on. You fill it half way up or so like you would a charcoal chimney, and light it from below with crumpled up newspaper or like we did in this case, with a fire starter cube. She lit right up in tremendous fashion, thanks to the built-in chimney effect. In all my years of using portable grills, I can honestly say, this is the best lighting grill we’ve ever used. No lighter fluid needed. It lights like a charcoal chimney, because, well, it is! This is probably our favorite feature of the grill. But anyways, onto the fun part!
When the coals reach maturity, or grayed over, (about 10 minutes) you simply unlatch the side and open it up. Sort of like them Murphy Beds that fold up into the wall, if you’re familiar with those. Yet another clever idea! Then you rake the coals about a bit to suit your fancy, and install the grate as seen in the photo.
As seen above, you can set the grate to three different levels. We liked that feature too!
We found the grill to be just big enough to meet the needs of about two people, least wise for breakfast out in the hinter regions. The grate size is roughly 10 inches by 10 inches. Large enough for four burgers or two steaks. The other dimensions of the grill are 5″D x 10″W x 12″ H. It weighs about 5 pounds. We found it very portable, and simple to set up and easy to use. No complaints!
Granted it was designed for more traditional grilling fare than corned beef hash and eggs over-easy, but alas when your bush, you work with what you’ve got. Regardless, it was a lot of fun cooking with it. The husky handle at the back made it effortless to transport or move it, even when it was lit, should you ever want to do such things. And to extinguish the coals, you simply close it back up and pour some water on the fire. Disperse in the trash at your nearest convenience.
Overall, it was really a joy to cook on. A well thought-out, and articulate little grilling rig. We liked it’s compactness, and portability, and absolutely loved how it started up a batch of charcoal. We can see it being useful for things like: camping, or tailgating, or even just out on your deck. It’s low key enough, it won’t draw much attention, and finally, you’ll get a proper meal cooked over a beautiful bed of coals. Such as grilling was always meant to be.
So here’s the other part of the story. If you want to buy one, you’re going to have to get in line and wait a while. This is a prototype, you see. The ultimate fit & finished product does not exist yet. That’s why the prototype was sent to us, to help Jonathan garner a little exposure. He has also set up a KICKSTARTER Campaign, here, and when and if it reaches it’s goal, he will then go into production with these grills. So if you think it’s a worthy endeavor, and want to help him get his business going, not to mention secure yourself one of his grills later on down the road, head over to his kickstarter page and help a tinkerer out!
I thought I was a humble fellow, but I guess it turns out I’m not. It was just your run of the mill slab of pork ribs. Your basic kettle cook at 20 below. Truly, I thought nothing of it when my wife requested ribs for supper during a polar vortex. This is just what I do. Its who I am. And she knew it. However, in retrospect, I probably should have gone to McDonald’s for a Big Mac instead. Let me digress.
Indeed, the recent polar vortex to come through town put the kibosh on a great many outdoor activities. What with 20 below wind chills, it was a day obviously better suited for other endeavors besides the art of BBQ. But I had never gone sally with the elements before, leastwise where BBQ is concerned, and by golly, today wasn’t the day I would start. And the winds hurtled through the icy township with a divine authority that demanded respect. The good people of the world were huddled indoors, suckling hot cocoas and watching Netflix marathons. And then there was me. Fortunately, the Pond Side Pit was tucked into the gracious eddies of the house that which broke the keen and penetrating December wind. Well, for the most part it did. And there, amid my armory of Webers, I was able to make my stand.
I chose the Weber kettle as my tool of choice this smoke, for a couple of reasons. One, it’s small, and would require less fuel on this cold day to keep it hot. And two, I just didn’t feel like dumping ten pounds of charcoal into the Weber Smokey Mountain for one rack of ribs. As much as I love the WSM, it is rather the gas guzzling SUV of the meat smoking world. No matter, I was a Patron of the Pit. I had smoked ribs in the Weber kettle many times. This was old hat! Child’s play…
“Henceforth, I destroyed thy pork ribs with a vigor usually reserved for a nuclear detonation.”
They were hard, brittle, and crusty to the touch. Looked like the skeletal remains of a pet which did not make it clear of the house fire. It was bad. A chunk in hand could have maybe sufficed as a good charcoal pencil for the cave walls, that which I felt like I have just emerged from. Hark, it looked as if my elder brother had even come by and assisted me with my BBQ whilst I was not looking. Where did I go wrong?
What we learned
Well, for starters, I learned not to under-estimate the narcoleptic value of a good grandma blanket. Because that’s where I was for much of the smoke. Under a grandma in the living room, snoring like a brown bear whilst listening to football on the TV. It was an agreeable lifestyle. The kettle grill was left to its own devices out on the patio. I thought I had set it up for success. Turns out I had not. I had built the fires too hot inside it’s steely bosom. In an ill-guided miscalculation on my part, I figured somewhat logically, that because it was so cold out, I would counter the elements with a slightly larger fire. All this did however, was raise the pit temperature from pretty hot, to split-your-own-atoms, kind of hot. And thus incinerated my beloved ribs with all due effectiveness. Aw well. Live and learn, as they say. There’s always tuna fish sandwiches for supper.
A week has passed. Maybe a bit more than that. The new weekend was upon thee, and I had a span of clock available to smoke another rack of ribs if I wanted. Well, with my last efforts still dawdling on my mind like cigar smoke in the drapes, I wanted nothing more than to rectify my blunder, and set my status right again in the smokey community. To get this rancid flavor of defeat off my tongue. The temperature had risen now to a balmy zero degrees or something like that. The wind was low, in-effectively low, and the tweety birds were even active again, darting about the yellow block of suet I had set out for them. This is as good as it was going to get in a Minnesota winter. Like an aplinist siezing a window of proper weather in which to summit Everest, I knew I must act soon. And I knew this time I would do it right, and fire up the Weber Smokey Mountain.
Tho it uses moocho much fuel, one thing is for sure about the Weber Smokey Mountain. It works. And it works in the cold too. One heaping chimney full of orange glowing coals dumped into the center of a ring of unlit coals, as seen in the photo, is all it takes for a rack or three of ribs on any given day. The minion method is your friend here. That’s where the lit coals slowly light up the unlit coals, and those coals in turn light up other unlit coals, kind of like a chain re-action, thus employing a steady, even burn, to last many hours with out baby sitting. The WSM was soon established at 225 degrees, and it did not budge from this temperature the rest of the cook. I should have just done it right the first time, but you know how it goes.
To learn more about the minion method, we did a write-up years ago on that. It’s probably our most read article. Consume at your leisure is so inclined.
Meanwhile, we seasoned up the ribs with a splattering of Worcestershire sauce, and then liberally dusted it Kit’s K.C. BBQ rub from our friends over at Miner’s Mix. We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again; if we had to be monogomous to one spice rub company, I do believe the Miners Mix crew would be our choice. Just love their flavors. Here’s a link to their stuff if you guys haven’t yet had the occasion.
Anyways, we put the ribs on the pit, bone-side down, and let them do their thing for two and a half hours at 225 degrees in a gentle cloud of pecan smoke. Then we foiled them with a little smearing of butter and BBQ sauce for one more hour. And I napped only cautiously this time, under my grandma blanket, hockey game on the TV, and listened to the calling of my pit master instincts, as the culinary end game drew nearer to thee. And like it does in winter, the night fell early over the land, as the old bullet smoker puffed stoically out on the patio. The aromas of a Carolina BBQ shack wafted over the crusty fields of blue-tinted snow, for which a slender moon hung silently above. I slipped into my shoes, and waddled out the patio door to check the tenderness of my spoils, jacket zipped tight, and there under the scant starlight of a cold winter’s eve, amid the sounds of sizzling pork and aluminum foil unwrapping, I knew as surely I had known anything before, that these ribs would at once be amazing. And furthermore, that I had been quitely redeemed. Amen.
Succulent pecan-smoked pork ribs redeemed from the jaws of a polar vortex. Very satisfying, both to the stomach and soul. Grill on! -PotP