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
*To the readership. This is a rare event on PotP. Don’t miss your chance to enter to win a free Solo Stove Titan in our first ever giveaway. All you need to do is leave a comment below, then go to this link, Titan Giveaway – Patrons of the Pit, and it will guide you from there. Another way you can enter the giveaway is to like our Facebook page, and again, just go through the link above, and it will direct you to Facebook from there. If you can’t do either of those, an Email address will enter you into the contest also. Regardless, use the link if you want to participate in the giveaway. Think of the link as a conduit for getting things done. The widget needs the attention so it can keep track of who has entered the giveaway. Oh, and if you have previously liked our Facebook page, sorry, those likes do not count in this giveaway. Anyways, now let’s get on with this review already!
Not too long ago, last week in point of fact, I was backpacking through the hinter regions of northern Minnesota. Was on one of my usual haunts there, afoot with a pack on my back, enjoying some of the swiftly vanishing perks of wilderness travel. Solitude. Clean rushing rivers. Pure air in which to breathe, ushered on a breeze that which murmurs like poetry through the long-standing pines. It was October, and the tamarack along the way were turning golden there, kissed in an autumnal sunbeam. It was just plain lovely. So much so and in fact, it rather demanded a spot of tea.
Enter The Titan
I had along a new piece of gear this hike, one sponsored to us by the kindly folks at Solo Stove. It’s a backpacking stove, good for car camping too, that runs completely off wood, or what ever other forest debris, or bio fuel, you might find laying about. It’s pretty slick. And I don’t think I have ever had a more poetic, scientifically satisfying, trail-side cup of tea in my life, than I had with this ingeniously designed cooker. The Solo Stove Titan. The glory is in the flame. So grab yourself a cup of tea likewise, and let’s disect this thing, shall we.
Natural Convection Inverted Down Gas Gasifer
Here’s how it works. You build your fire on the nichrome wire grate down in the stove. Air comes in through the holes at the bottom of the stove, feeding oxygen to the fire there. With me so far? Simple enough. Here is where it gets interesting tho. The stove is double walled, and so warm air also travels upwards, heating up as it goes, between in the inner wall and the outer one. Once it reaches the top of the stove, it is expelled through another set of slightly smaller holes there. The oxygen coming out these holes, as mentioned, has been preheated in its ascent, and when it dumps back into the firebox, a literal secondary combustion occurs. And that, my friends, is the magic of the Solo Stove.
So What Does It Mean?
What it means is efficiency. This additional act of combustion assists the fire in burning more complete, they say. In point of fact, when the fire is going at full tilt, there is very little smoke produced at all, because it is so efficient. In theory, the stove will cook the smoke right out of the wood. Least wise that’s what the flame wizards at Solo Stove say. The efficient burn also means you will use less wood to cook with, when compared to cooking over an open camp fire. Not only that, when the fuel burns out, there is nothing but a fine, powdery ash remaining. No glowing embers to deal with, courtesy of that efficient burn. Needless to say, I was intrigued. So let’s get after that cup of tea, shall we.
It comes with a nicely crafted pot support, that nests inside the stove for travel. Anyways, I had a fire quickly kindled in its steel bosom, and set my old, blackened kettle on to boil. Enough for two cups of tea, I should wager. I sat back and watched the river gurgle by and admired this piece of cooking technology before me. Occasionally I fed it a small twig or stick to keep it happy. As the fire established, I must say, I was smitten by the results.
It didn’t take the fire long at all to stabilize, and the initial plumes of smoke on start-up, to dissolve into distant memories. There is an opening on the pot support, or cooking ring, as you can see, in which to further feed the fire as needed. We had to do a little of that. I’d wager the amount of wood used for two cups of water was something like two large handful’s of sticks broken into finger length pieces. Thicker hardwoods, of course, burn better and longer than the soft balsam fir sticks that I used, but I had about one million square acres of forest and wood to play with, so it didn’t really matter. That’s another joy of a wood burning backpacking stove, I discovered. You will never run out of fuel. Leastwise in the north woods of Minnesota, you sure won’t.
After a fashion, I also noticed the secondary combustion thing kicking in. It actually worked! Of course I failed to capture it in a photo for you, but if you were to peer down into the fire chamber a little more, you would see the fire seemingly coming out of that higher set of holes that we talked about earlier. Indeed, the main fire down on the grate was blazing away, but it was also shooting out of the holes up near the top. And the smoke was curiously absent, just like they said. I gotta say, I was impressed. Even my wife, who is not often impressed by scientific stuff, was suitably awed. We were sipping tea in no time, enjoying the warmth of a hot mug in our hands, and further admiring this little stove .
Later on in camp, we fired it up again.
The inner pyromaniac in me couldn’t get enough play time with this stove. I discovered its engineering went other ways too. Subtle ways. For example, I discovered that even when the stove is fiercely hot, that I could still move it around if I had to by gripping it below the lowest set of holes. It wasn’t exactly cool down there, but not hot enough either that you couldn’t hang onto it for a while if you had to move it for some reason. The reason that impressed us was because if it’s not hot down there, then that means you could set it on a picnic table, perhaps, and not have to worry about burning a nice 5.1 inch circle into your table top. Always a nice thing.
Here are some specs on the Solo Stove Titan, if you’re curious
Specs for the Sole Stove TitanPacked size: Height 5.6 inches, Width 5.1 inchesAssembled size: Height 7.9 inches, Width 5.1 inchesWeight: 16.5 ozMaterials: 304 stainless steel, nichrome wireFuel: sticks, twigs, pine cones and other biomassBoil time: 4-6 mins (32 fl oz of water)To read more on the Solo Stove Titan, do check out their website at:
And finally, the part you’ve been waiting for. As mentioned, Solo Stove has offered to do a giveaway for one lucky subscriber of Patrons of the Pit. We’ve never done a giveaway before, but you guys deserve it, and well, it might be fun. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are three ways to enter.
Three Ways to Enter!
We’ve all been there. Any pit jockey worth his or her tongs has been there. Has seen their beloved grill grate in various states of entropy and decay. With blackened carnage clinging to the grate in crusty reminders of smoke outs past, and grand family BBQ’s. And who hasn’t grabbed one of those steel brushes and got to work on the grate, cleansing it’s working surface for the betterment of thy people. You feel like a man when you do it. It’s what we’re trained to do. And the problem is, it’s not particularity a smart thing to do.
The Folly With Steel Wire
Seems the ageless wire brush we use on our grills has one painful folly. Every once in a while a steel bristle breaks off. And every once in a while beyond that, some one eats it. Well, we don’t need to go into detail how such a diet of steel bristles truly sucks, it’s as bad as you’re thinking it would be, but instead, lets just cut to the point, and find an answer to this quandary. An answer besides not BBQing that is. Because that would be no life at all.
Enter The Wooden Scraper
I’m sure many of the readership has heard of wooden scrapers by now. They’ve been out for a while, in response, no doubt, to steel pricks finding their way in to people’s intestinal tracks. Thus enters the wooden scraper. While we do not know who invented the idea of a wooden scraper for the BBQ arts, we gotta agree, it’s a good idea. Tho we have never once experienced a busted-off bristle ruining our BBQ, and we’ve BBQ’d a lot, it also stands to reason, why would you ever take the chance if you didn’t have to. We recently were given some wooden scrapers to test out by the good folks at bbqscraper.com. Nice little, functional scrapers made of birch. Simple, but effective. Like good BBQ, I suppose. And best of all, no chance ever of a wayward steel needle in your belly. Lets take a closer gander at this thing.
BBQ Scraper – Natural Wooden Grill Cleaner
The Original BBQ Scraper
The Scrape Down
Well there’s basically nothing to it, as you can see. Just use it. Tip it on edge over a hot grate, any kind of grate, and within the time frame of the first cook, the scraper begins to customize right to your grate. Creating its own set of grooves to match your grate. And yes, it’s a grate idea! Sorry. Had to. And further more, the more you use these kind of scrapers, the better, more customized they become. And of course, no worries about a trip the ER to dig out a steel pin from your gut, ruining your BBQ dinner. That’s always nice.
Anyways, these scrapers are looking like a good, solid, and serviceable product that should last quite a while. Well made and a pleasure to use. Adapts swiftly to your grate. There are many sorts of scrapers out on the market, and tho we cannot honestly say any are better than the other, we can say that these guys at BBQ Scraper.com were good to us, and we thank them for their scrapers. Be sure to check them out if you’re looking to ditch that old wire brush. Likewise steel bristles in your intestines. Amen.
You can find them on amazon too. As we are an affiliate for this product, we do receive a small commission if you go through our link. It is small too, but every little bit helps support this blog. We do appreciate all of you. Thank you!
It was with small fan fare that my elder brother and I made way this weekend last, for the resplendent, and highly secretive, Valley of the Trouts. A quaint locale of which neither of us is particularly keen in giving you the coordinates to. You know how it goes. Tell one person, tho well-meaning, and that person will in-turn will tell another, and that one passes it on to yet another bloke, and so on, thus engaging the metaphoric domino topple of death to your secret place. So we’re not going to disclose its location. Not today. We will tell you, however briefly, that the stream which gurgles along the valley bottom is of the sweetest variety. Clear and cold and sick with rainbow trout. Winding like a watery tapestry through forests of Oak, and Pine, and Shagbark Hickory. And the sun swings high in a summer sky there, dropping its warm light on golden slants to the valley floor, dappling through the hardwood canopies, and glittering upon trout waters. Indeed, it is a place worth being.
So it was my elder brother and I made an encampment upon these earthy shores of paradise. The stream ever-gurgling past our snug respite. Tweety birds in full form. We got to work doing what we do best – eating! Brother put some bacon to cook in the camper, whilst outside, I fired up the flimsy, old, portable BBQ grill that has seen a thousand and one campsites over the years. What holds that contraption together still, I do not know, but the answer must reside somewhere in the sinew of memories of campsite’s past, and the grilling under the tall pines we have done there. Oh how we love to cook out-of-doors. And especially this is so, in camp.
Perhaps it is the fundamentals of such things, why we aspire so to cook in camp. Just to lay meat to flame in the wild places. Or to hear supper sizzling over a quaint bed of coals, whilst the breeze whispers through stands of stately pines. Life nary achieves a simpler status than this. For a while anyways, all the complexities of our day-to-day are cast aside. And the only thing left now, the only pressing matter in life, is to eat. And to eat good. And then maybe watch the world slowly turn by.
From time to time, it is well to live this almost simpleton’s existence. It sort of reboots a soul to function proper-like, once again. And could nary be more fun.
“You know, cooking bacon is kind of like photographing a beautiful woman!” my brother belched from within the camper.
I’m not sure what he meant by that, for comparing women to bacon could go a multiple of ways, but no how, and even so, I could hear the bacon crackling in its pan of juices, whilst brother manipulated various plates and utensils. And I reveled in the acoustic glory of it. The aromas, too, of thick-cut pork belly wafting out the camper door. Mercy! And amid this splendor, I tended the grill and two portly pork chops there, with the bone in for added flavor. Seasoned simply with garlic and onion salt. And just like with the Weber kettle back home, I created a little pocket for indirect cooking, for a modicum of thermal control under such raw and primitive conditions. Camp life was in full swing.
Of course we engaged in our share of trout fishing whilst there. When you camp next to a trout stream, it sort of stands to reason. And when you love to fish, as we do, it is all but a certainty. We caught a few rainbows, but returned them all. Something a little easier to do when you have a baker’s dozen worth of pork chops in the RV ice box. And you can’t beat a trout camp for ambiance either. Just seeing the fishing gear propped about brings a smile across my heart. Old waders and spin casters and fishing bags. I haven’t however the faintest of clues who Bensy is, but they made the photo even so.
The chops were done at the same time the potatoes were. That’s true camp harmony right there. When two cooks conspire in the woods bringing together the perfect little meal, at just precisely the right time. We don’t always nail it like that, but we did this time. We forgot the cooking oil, however, so we had to fry our potatoes in bacon grease. It worked exceedingly well.
So we tarried there, with a plate of good food, in the Valley of the Trouts. The stream babbled over stones and fallen trees, creating a song which sang sweetly unto our ears. Wood smoke curled off the camp fire, and an old, white-enameled coffee pot sat nearby, and at the ready. Leaning back in our camp chairs with a plate of vittles on our lap, I gotta say, this was proper living. Our chosen life style if we could get it. We gobbled down our food like two pumas to a warthog, and fed the fire whilst the sun ebbed behind the valley rim. And the blue skies all tapered to black, and the stars emerged like scattered diamonds on high. We bantered into the night, as per par for trout camp, enjoying the soft glow of a kerosene lamp, the randomness of fire flies, and a contented feeling residing kindly in our bellies, and deep in our soul. Amen.
Stream side with grilled pork chops and fried potatoes. Oh yes, and bacon!
How we love to tarry in the prettier places. Often times striking off for the pristine hinter regions of northern Minnesota. And there, under the whispering pines, beside tumbling rivers, we press a tent stake into the soil, and rest like gentlemen of leisure. The cares of the city life metaphorically swirling down the drain, like dirty bath water after a long day afield. Soon, we think of nothing else, nothing but the wind, the sky, the woods, and the loveliness of water falling in paradise.
The river flows with a fierce elegance up here. She will dazzle you with her beauty, and in the flip of a heart beat, wash you into one of her deep pools, and pin you there but for the wages of eternity. Kayakers know this. And so do Patrons of the Pit, who cower wisely on the shores. Nay, these waters are best left to the native brook trout which loiter in the eddies, awaiting the wayward drift of a Rhithrogena germanica or the like.You know how it goes. Anyways, whence the night falls over the forest primeval, we do rather like to kindle a fire and bandy close to its coals.
An old, blackened tea-pot with a dented, and beaten-up lid, hangs hobo style over the fire, bringing the evening’s water to a boil. I rummage through my pack for my twenty year old steel mug, whilst the flicker of the flames dance softly over head on the bottom of the pine bows. Found it. I rip open a package of cinnamon tea, and plop the bag into my cup, it’s string hanging limply over the lip. I look up. The stars are out now, shimmering behind the tall pines, dappling through the thin needles. The river tumbles in the darkness. And I can smell the smoke waft off the fire, and taper into the pine-scented woods. Can you smell it!
Via the powers of the blogosphere, you have now been transported. Swept away through space and time, and plunked down in a saintly fashion at the Track Side Pit, where our fellow Patron is plying his craft upon a congregation of yard bird legs. Chicken legs for you city folk. He’s got a nice char going on, as you can see, with flirts of caramelization. Seasoned with who knows what, but it’s good! The aromas bellowing off the grill would turn a vegan silly, I’d wager. And can you smell the smoke…
Smoke. The smell of it. For some reason God has linked smells inextricably with memory. And that’s the curious link between here and there. Between cooking on the patio in the city, and cooking over the open fire, far away, encamped in a quiet, forest hollow. We’ve mentioned it before, but we’ll say it again. Because every time we light the fires here at home, the aroma of the smoke in-turn triggers a rush of memories from camp fires past. And a great many of those fires have been in the wilder places, in paradise, doing what we love to do. And as we rotate these gorgeous chicken legs over a fiery bed of coals, with metal tongs in hand, we cannot help but to reminisce at the same time of the beautiful locales from whence we’ve tarried. Oh yes. To reach back on the tender wings of nostalgia, and thumb through our memory vaults to those campsites past, fire-side, under fragrant pines and starry skies, where the water falls in paradise. Amen.
The other weekend my trail crony and I made camp at a nearby wilderness establishment; a locale of great loveliness, off the beaten path, and aside a watershed patron to a sky full of stars. As you may have gleamed around here, from time to time, we do rather like to engage our souls in the wilder places. In point of fact, if ever we were to scribe another blog, it would doubtless be one touting the high joys of the outdoor life. For this is what we do, by and by, besides grilling beautiful cuts of meat, that is. We seek to tarry where creation is most divine. And so there we were, naturally, on the forest floor, our tents poetically pitched at the tail of a moonbeam. The stars drifting across an ebony sky. And the coyotes yelping from the distant hills.
If you’ve never spent the night in the forest, your senses have never then been properly primed. Nor your imagination so sublimely stretched. To hear the critters scamper about, and everyone of them, you swear, sniffing the trembling corners of your tent. You can hear the diameter of coyote’s nose at ten paces, as it draws it’s air from the still night. The Trumpeter Swans bellowing in the darkness. You can hear those too. The Great Horned Owls stirring up a nocturnal racket, yapping on like little old ladies sitting in the tree tops. Then, some time in the wee hours, the undecipherable sounds of something heavy and hairy wandering at the edge of the woods. Nay, that’s just my camp mate, out for his nightly leg raise. It’s all good in the woods.
Shifting gears now, out at the pit. A light pecan smoke curls from the old kettle grill. It’s been a long week. A busy week. The kind of week that the big city is good at dishing out to those challenged and beleaguered souls entrapped within it’s elastic bosom. Everyone is in a hurry here. Pedal to the proverbial metal. Car horns blaring. Phones ringing. Sirens racing. It’s really something. Or at least you seem to notice it more, perhaps, after a good camping trip afield. Maybe that’s what it is. There is a palatial difference, or is it indifference, between the speed of life in the city and one out in the quieter places. One of head-turning, iconoclastic proportions. And it only takes one night bedded down on the forest floor to realize it. And so my grilling, as humble as it may be, is at last a small respite to me – a last beach head of tranquility in a world gone to haste.
So it was, and with great pleasure, too, that I laid the succulent pork chops over the pecan-scented flames. This one simple act, where man cooks meat over fire, outside, seems to trigger a domino of mental pleasures, all toppling forth in a splendid way before me. For starters, the smell of the wood smoldering over the fire. Very pleasant. Which in turn, connects to memories of cooking fires past. And some of those memories, of fires yonder, in places long ago. Of camp fires and good people. Over hill and by the dale, where the coyotes freely sing, and the moonbeams kiss the tender fabric of our tents. And illuminate the quiet hollows of our soul. Amen.
Pecan smoked pork chops, with garlic mashed potatoes and a good spill of peas. Good is good at the pit tonight. And even better cooked outside. A Pit Keeper’s respite.
It’s that time of the year again. Time for noise makers, popping corks, and quiet moments of retrospection by the fireside. Just shoveled out the BBQ area today, and it’s looking good. It only snowed a few inches. Tidy and well-kept, it is ready for action. Ready for some New Years Day pork ribs, and Boston butts. Anyhow, as I take a sip of tea, I find myself rummaging backwards in time through the annals of my memory, in particular, the many BBQ moments and cook outs often tallied on these cyber pages. It was another very good year at the pit. I think we averaged about once a week, year round. No matter what the outside temperature. No matter the weather. We stood stalwart at our pits, patron to the gently curling plumes of hickory smoke. In retrospection, I should like to favor you with some of our favorites culinary forays from the past year in the BBQ arts. Or at least the ones that stand out to us as remarkable, and worth mentioning again. The first, I guess, being the beaver.
Yes, aquatic rodent. You read that right. We ate one, oh, a little less than a year ago. That was a different sort of endeavor, I don’t mind telling you, but hey, we’re always up for a new challenge. We barbecued that thing just as kindly as we knew how. Dusted in rub, swaddled in foil, we ushered the odd but savory meat to what we declared a decidedly succulent end game. Turned out better than we hoped, and we didn’t hope for much. It looked akin to pulled beef, and didn’t taste far off from it either. Oddest BBQ Award goes to the beaver!
On occasion here at the pit, we fancy to do a review or two. But we usually only do such with stuff we really like. Because we could say yes, I suppose, to every buckaroo that hits up our inbox, but if their product stinks, well we’ve just wasted your time. So we try and only review the best of the best. Looking back, I think our most favorite piece of outdoor cooking equipment we reviewed this year has got to be, hands down, the Mojoe Griddle. 35 pounds of restaurant grade hot-rolled steel, nearly stick free, and oh what a pleasure to cook on, patron to the pit. When you’re not cooking with it, and if by chance you should find yourself in the heady crossfire of a gunfight, you can tip this griddle on edge and hunker behind it for blast protection. When the battle is finished, you can flip it back up and make pancakes for every one. We loved this griddle. And our Editor’s Choice Award for the year, goes to the Mojoe Griddle. Truly, the best of the best.
A great many spice rubs also come our way in a given year. Some that we buy, some that we make from scratch, and some that are sent to us by people who create them. Our surprise favorite spice rubs this year all came from our readership, and one reader in particular nailed it the best. Miner’s Mix. They challenged us to try a “real rub”, and sent us some samples. And we were blown away. Clean ingredients, great flavor, and even better people. We’re still trying out their many flavors, but if you’re looking for that next great rub to add to your larder, it don’t get much better than these cats. Our Favorite Spice Rub Review of 2015 goes to the good folks at Miners Mix.
We also had occasion to test out some mighty nice cast iron. Cast iron and cooking, especially grilling, is a marriage conceived straight from heaven. And one of the best upgrades you can make to your standard Weber kettle grill, is to grace it with a cast iron grate. One to last the eons, and give you those all impressive char marks. But it gets better. If you’re lucky enough to have a grate from the folks at Craycort, you also get to play with cool inserts. Our Favorite Cast Iron Accessory we tried this year, no doubt, was the cast iron pan insert for the Craycort grill. That thing was all too pleasant, and more than enough fun for a pit jockey proper. It’s pie shaped robustness slips nicely into place, merging with the main grate to create a symphony of cooking options for your grill. What a great idea, and a tip of our BBQ hat to the good people at Craycort for offering such coolness.
Somewhere along the way it rained. Lots of places across this beautiful globe get their wet seasons I’m sure, and Minnesota was no exception this year. We had a soggy stretch where it must have rained for 14 days straight. Such enduring weather would send most folk indoors to stare glumly out the window, but not a patron of the pit. Nay, we simply erected an old, blue tarp and carried on as usual. Thinking back over a year of BBQ, of all the umpteen cook outs, one beef rib smoke in the rain comes to mind as maybe our most favorite smoking sortie of 2015. There was just something keenly pleasant about roosting under a well-strung tarpaulin in a rain storm. Something quite therapeutic about it that which melted straight into the soul. The infinite drumming of the rain drops over head, whilst the hickory smoke silently pillared from the damper on the old weber smokey mountain. Not exactly sure what it was, but it was perfect even so. Hard to articulate, but easy to appreciate. Our Favorite Smoke of 2015 goes to the Rainy Day Beef Ribs. And oh yes, they hit the gastronomic bulls-eye!
Every once in a while, we like to venture away from base camp, and bring you something a little different. To go somewhere, and do something BBQ related. Well, it didn’t take much retrospection to find the most different thing we did this year. Dating way back to last winter, in point of fact, we loaded up our cameras, downy jackets, and headed north to the Fire on Ice BBQ Competition. The only BBQ competition in the world that we know of to be orchestrated over 4 feet of ice. It was a giddy experience shuffling past all the many custom pits lined up so neatly on the ice, forming the hallowed “BBQ Alley”. If you ever get the hankering to smoke a beef brisket whilst pulling a walleye up through a hole in the ice, this is the place. The Coolest BBQ Road Trip goes to the Fire on Ice BBQ Competition.
As I toss another log on the fire and warm up my tea a bit, I find there has been a vast many pleasantries, BBQ-wise, to come our way this year. Plenty to be thankful for. We’ve been undeniably blessed. Many good memories gently forged in the company of orange glowing coals and soft tendrils of wood smoke. The best memories tho, are not of ribs, or steak, or perfectly executed pork shoulder. Nor do they hail from all the cool toys a patron of the pit gets to play with. Nay, the best memories are of the people. Of you guys. Those lovely souls who often sidle by, if for nothing else, than just to say hi. You are our prized brisket. The true gems of the pit. So, a kindly and sincere thanks to the readership, and the regulars who frequent these online accounts. Who give lift to our airfoil in the cold vacuum of cyber space. We thank you for putting up with us, and tuning in so faithfully. We love to BBQ, and we love to tell you about it. To butcher the late, Robert Traver’s fly fishing tome, with BBQ in place of fishing – it isn’t that we regard BBQ as being so important, but it’s just that so many other things in life are just as unimportant, and not nearly so much fun. Amen.
Happy New Year!!
The sun barely hemorrhaged in a southwestern sky, its underbelly seemingly scratched by the dominant, leafless, silhouetted oaken forests below, bleeding it’s beautiful salmon hues and soft pastels over the frozen wetlands from whence we camped. Off the shore, a large pond nestled like a flattened jewel in the forest primeval, frozen in time, and reflecting the last colorful rays of the day. My trail cronie and I watched, as the last sunbeams kissed the cold earth, and all the land tapered into darkness. We felt like a couple of Apollo astronauts, adrift, our orbit silently slipping around to the dark side of the moon.
You see, it’s the winter solstice here in Minnesota. And thus it gets dark, swiftly, and kind of stays that way for an exquisite amount of time. The sun was to set at 4:34 in the afternoon, they said, and not to rise again until 7:48 the next morning. I quickly did the math. It came to around 15 hours of darkness. Now I have no idea what it’s like, or how long it takes to orbit around the far side of the moon. Nor how those brave astronauts must feel abandoning all light and heat, sailing on faith through the darkness, but this may be as close as I ever get. Cold, dark and alone. Well not alone, I have a fellow patron with me today. We decided at the last-minute to celebrate the shortest day of the year with a little camping trip afield. A sortie to one of our favorite little woodland retreats, to get away from the urban throng a bit, and if the day would have it, to bake a pizza.
Turns out we did. The crust was just one of those easy ones. You know, the kind where you get to pop open one of them pressurized cans. When its 20 degrees outside, we figure, who wants to mess around. Anyways, oil the bottom of the pan, and spread the dough out accordingly. Season with olive oil, oregano and garlic. Earlier, whilst still the recipients of a sunlit encampment, we baked the crust first. Call this instincts, but not all cooking over a camp fire is a sure thing. With uneven heating, and scant equipment at your disposal, as is commonplace in a campsite, we figured we best see to it the crust got the best shot it could towards a delicious end game. So we cooked it separately, for to keep an eye on it and make sure it complied to our highest bidding. First, we placed it on the fire grate, over direct heat and cooked the bottom. Then tipped it on edge, indirect of the fire, to finish it off by reflection. Now the crust is done all the way through. Because we have no oven, and are just winging this cave man style, this seemed good strategy. Next we assembled the yum!
I believe we had about two layers of pepperonis on that thing. A can of olives. A can of mushrooms. A pile of red and green peppers. And enough cheese to block up an elephant. Man! Whence the creation was built, it was then laid indirect of a good blaze, and tipped towards the fire as much as possible without dumping everything into the ash. Oh it’s a dicey game we play when we dare to dance the flames of camp fire cooking. A better technique would have been to put a lid over the pan of pizza, and scatter some coals atop of it. To cook it like that intensely from above. But we didn’t have a lid. We didn’t have much of anything really. We were camping, you see, and didn’t wanted to be bothered by the clutter. Which is another way of saying, I wish we had a lid! But we didn’t. Turns out if your patient type, you don’t need a lid after all, to bake your camp fire pizza. You just need time and heat. And we had both.
So we let the pizza ride indirect for 20 minutes or so, and rotated it 180 degrees for even cooking. It was the slowest pizza we have ever baked, but it was getting there alright. By about 40 minutes into it, you could just start to identify the aromas of fresh-baked pepperoni pizza wafting through camp. Say what you will, but out yonder in the hither regions where no man goes, with a frozen ground below your freezing toes, and the stars shimmering above, and no running water nor electrical outlet for your vain amusement, and an eternal December night stretched out in front of you – well, to smell hot pizza in your vicinity, let’s just say there is no reward so sweet!
Low and slow pizza is what this turned out to be. Such are the antics of the campfire chef. But good is good, and pizza is always good! And under the soft LED glow of a head lamp, we sliced into it, making first tracks on the dark side of the moon. Amen.
Upon waking this morning, I was informed by the WordPress Monkeys that today is Patrons of the Pits birthday. Yup, go figure that. They said we were 3 years old, today. In the blogosphere, just like in human years, well, that’s just getting out of your diapers for good. So it’s our birthday. Seems fitting then to re-print here our very first blog post, just because. Enjoy…
Many thanks to our fabulous readership. Without you there would be no birthday today. And a whole lot less meat pics in cyberspace.
If memories are linked with smell, and we believe this to be so, then there are a lifetime of them every time we light the grill. The charcoal grill that is. Not to be snobbish or disrespectful to you gassy people out there, your way is fun too, for at least you are out there, putting meat to flame, but less you plunk a tatter of wood upon thy burner, you simply will never know the joy of smoke. Nor achieve that true smokey flavor that real BBQ is known for. That’s half the reason we grill in the first place, for the smell of it. For the sheer wafting ambiance of wood smoke floating over a quiet pit. Ducks milling on the pond. Gophers dashing across the back forty. The waning golden rays of sun a’wash over your tranquil patio. And the smell of smoldering mesquite in the…
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