The winds howl like Joshua’s trumpets, and the snows they fall almost, but not quite, horizontal, riding a northern gale. Four inches have accumulated out at the pit today, and a couple more are on the way they say. The roads have gone from motorbike friendly, yesterday, to an all-out 4-wheel drive, blizzard-incarnate today. Once fully functioning automobiles have mired and gone asunder, the way they always do on bad roads, their fenders gashed, and their owners shaken. Grumpy old men mutter to themselves as they go unpack their snow blowers – again. The wintry tempest wages on despite, ever the heartless taxman. Welcome to April in Minnesota. And we do love it this way. Well, least wise some of us do.
I had to admire one individual in particular today, the stately lady cardinal out at the pit-side feeder. Here was a soul not about to give up her supper just because of a raging snow storm. I admired her spunk. Her tenacity to carry on. For that feeder was swinging in the wind, the snowflakes hurtling through the air, but she tucked herself into the lee of it, scant as it was, and dined on the savory seeds there as if it were just another day at office. Well done, Mama Cardinal. A true patron of pit. Speaking of which, we procured a tasty supper off the grill last night, just under the wire as it were, before the blizzard hit. So grab a hot brew, and a good blanket, and settle in some where soft, and we’ll tell you more about it.
It was different sort of day yesterday. Much different. Blue skies, gentle breezes, and a band of tweety birds that wouldn’t let up. They belted out their pre-programmed chorus’ with great exuberance, and utter charm. Spring was in the air, and so was the flirtatious melodies of the Cardinals, and Red Wing Black Birds. Of the Robins and even the ducks which waddled by the pit as the first plumes of smoke wafted into the air. They are residents around the pond-side pit, and often give me a visit whilst I’m manning the coals there. They need to check in on me, you see, to make certain that it is not their kin they smell cooking under the lid. And it wasn’t. What it was, however, was chicken thighs. I get in a hankering for good BBQ chicken thighs from time to time. And it has been quite some time, it seems, since I’ve ingested any. Today was the day. The day we would make things right again.
Here’s how we did them up. Firstly, we hit the thighs liberally with some Sucklebusters Competition Rub. An excellent rub from a great company run by good people. The kind of rub where you can actually pronounce everything on the ingredient list on the back of the bottle. I like stuff like that. So we dusted over the thighs in this rub, and placed them skin side down over direct heat to start. This is your classic searing option, available at a pit keeper’s discretion. The idea is to crisp up that ever-flubbery skin-flap inherent to chicken thighs. To transform it from a rubbery monstrosity, to a well-crisped, flame-pampered delight. A minute or two over direct heat usually does the trick. If your chicken begins to resemble unlit charcoal, however, you’ve probably brought the technique too far down the rabbit hole.
After a suitable crisping session, and a slurp off your favorite beverage, it is time to escort the thighs to the cooler side of the pit, opposite the hot coals. Flip them over there, crispy-side up, and admire your work for a moment. Every painter fancies to step back from the easel at appropriate moments. So be it at the pit. Feel the heat bellow out of the old kettle grill, and how it merges hence with cool air aloft. Listen to how the meat sizzles in complete compliance on a hot cast iron grate. And note that for a moment at least, how your world is at once a simple place to be. Meat + Fire = Contented Man. Which explains, by and far, why we like to BBQ so much.
Anyways, next we tossed onto the bed of orange glowing coals, two small chunks of smoke wood. One of hickory, and the other being apple – just because. Then gently placed the old, enameled lid into position, with the top damper directly over the spoils. By the time another slurp of beverage was had, the draft had already engaged, and lovely, aromatic tendrils of wood smoke spiraled sloppily into a gorgeous blue sky. I had but to sit back in my BBQ man chair, and take in the day. In point of fact, I did. Legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, beverage in hand, it was sufficient pleasure to simply watch the smoke curl and the world twirl. Contented man indeed. For a while anyways, this was all I needed. I occasionally lit from my chair to varnish on some Honey BBQ Sauce, again from the good folks at Sucklebusters. But that was the extent of my pit-side ambition today. And it was wonderful.
After a half hour or so, or when the meat reached 165 internal, I plated up and took my plunder inside. As I slid shut the patio door, I paused momentarily, and glanced back out into the yard. There past the rising wood smoke, the Mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. I smiled as she darted up to the feeder, happy as a bird can be I reckon, that I had finally left. I guess it was supper time for both of us, and she was ready to eat. Tomorrow would be no different. Just colder. Amen.
Hickory Apple Smoked Honey BBQ Chicken thighs. Man! Talk about good grillin! Onslaught of slobbers and drool acceptable. It’s your keyboard.
Though the snow may be cold
And the wind chills the air
Associates gather to bend their wit
These two logs have held the cheeks
Of Patrons of the Pit
Conversations of brisket cuts
And ribs that drip with flavor
To watch your cronies eat with joy
And sacrifice dietary behavior
The culinary dares may bet and fly
To see who alters the plan
The recipe changes from bloke to bloke
Yet still fill the greasy drip pan
Though our pits don’t always look the same
The outcome still comes together
To give your smoke some bragging rights
Because you have smoked in astringent weather…
No, I do not speak of the kind of smoking jacket you’re probably thinking of. The purple-velvet sort worn by gentlemen of high leisure, who own a humidor, and pace about in front of their fireplace with a pipe in hand, attempting to look thoughtful. No, the jacket I speak of is more humble than that, but equally as enchanting. And if you tend the grill year-around, and live in the colder places, you probably have one too. Indeed, it is the jacket we dawn most when favoring our spoils over a beautiful bed of coals, pit-side, amid the rising wood smoke. It is our smoking jacket, and it is well with our souls.
My go to grilling jacket is a thick, red and black, checkered affair, and made entirely of wool. It has just enough pockets to hold the various spices allotted for the cook, a book of matches, and a couple of cold hands. But what it holds best, is smoke. Something about the woolen fibers which absorb and record a tapestry of cooks in the out-of-doors. Grill-side gems I am reminded of every time I slip into its heavy sleeves, and I smell the aromas patron to the good life, and the memories procured there. It all tarries quietly in the smoke.
Memories of a thousand and one heady cook outs, on crisp, autumn days and frigid, starry nights. Of blizzards, and Christmas hams. And tho I never wear it in the warmer months, it even reminds me gently of Memorial Day cook-outs, and long Fourth of July smokes, beneath a balmy sun. Oh yes, if smell is linked with memories, and science has proven this to be so, then a smoking jacket proper beholds a lifetime supply of them. A cornucopia of moments, doing something we love, preserved in smoke. And tho I may not have the fanciest smoker, or the biggest grill, nor the covetous meat budget of some other guys, even so, every time I put on the smoking jacket, and smell the gloried past upon it, I know that I am favored, and a considerably a rich man. Amen.