Author’s Preface: There is one article I have been putting off for a while, and for good reason I suppose. But I finally broke. I had to. I know we will lose some readership over this one, but alas, it is a brother thing, and it had to be done. Here then is the story as I know it to be. For better or for worse.
The Woolly Bugger
With the crunch of cold tires over hardened snow, I pulled up into elder brother’s driveway, where, as I come to idle, stray cats scatter into the woodwork. I turn off the engine, and admire how the sunbeams sparkle off a mountainous bank of snow courting the western edge of the drive, where elder brother’s prized motor home is embedded into the side of said bank, like the fossilized remnants of a bygone era. I like to stop by and visit the bloke from time to time, just to see what he’s up to. Such is the case today.
The car door shuts with a muffled clunk, and I begin to stroll up his driveway. Classic man toys abound: Trucks, Jeep, motorcycle, boats, but I take note of his little Weber Smokey Joe instead, like I usually do, or would have I guess, had not it been completely buried and forgotten in six months worth and several hundred pounds of snow. But I knew the approximate coordinates where I saw it last autumn, least wise I think I do, and I paid my respects to the pile of snow there instead. Sad. Very sad.
I walk in through the kitchen door, and elder brother is standing at the sink, with his long, grayish hair floundering in a rather unruly fashion, sure to excite only a local Sasquatch at best, but he is my brother, so I don’t judge him. It appears he had just woke up anyways, rebooting as it were, the human hard drive.
“I gots something to show you!” Brother belched.
He dashed down the stairs into his basement where few have ever been, or dare to go, and returns momentarily holding a little glass test tube with something dark and fuzzy in it.
“What sort of specimen is that?” I queried
“My latest creation“, brother croaked.”
“Ohhh” ,I yammered.
“”Yes”, he went on” It is a woolly bugger I just tied, guaranteed to seduce even the most selective bass!
He was quite excited, and I nodded my head in affirmation. I didn’t have the heart to tell him however, it looked like a conglomeration of something he has been plucking out of his belly button every morning in the shower before work.
“Very nice, brother”, I lamented. “And say,” I said shifting the subject, “I noticed something outside you should be aware of. Your BBQ grill is very, very unhappy. You need to dig that thing out!”
Elder brother hung his head, his bottom lip protruding in stark remorse.
“I don’t have it in me, little brother”, he said.”The art of winter grilling has not fallen to this side of the family tree.”
The room fell silent, the way rooms always do when one admits their BBQ ineptness. I should like to also say, tho unoriginal, that the silence was only broken by the sound of mating crickets, but in point of fact, any crickets around here were still frozen stiff.
“Maybe you could grill something for me???” Brother yammered in soft, mono-toned voice, thus breaking the silence.
“I could I suppose” I said, staring calmly at the woolly bugger.
“Then I could live vicariously through you”, brother croaked, “and keep my BBQ honor intact, while you gleam the glory!”
My eyebrow rose, as I scanned the intent of his face which was lightly flaked with day old mustard.
“Sounds good my hairy brother“, I belched, “What would you like me to BBQ for you? You name it, and consider it done!”
Little did I know he would take the matter most seriously of course, and like a misguided dictator of a powerful army, he would steer the troops into a position of high compromise. And so brother thoughtfully stroked his scruffy beard as an enormous smile formed across his face.
“Would you grill me a spam sandwich and write about it?” he croaked, “I just love those things!”
“I certainly will not!” I grumbled.
“But you said you would BBQ me anything!” brother declared
“Yes but, I’m only thinking of your health, not to mention the readership of POTP. They are used to a finer fare than jellied ghetto meat!”
“But you said!”
If there is anything I have learned about the heady bond of brotherhood, it is that the bond goes deeper than logic or good sense. And that you have to back your bothers play. You got to look the woolly bugger square in the face and say, I don’t get you sometimes, but what ever. Lets party.
So it was tonight, many weeks hence, under stormy skies, the kind of April showers that soon waxed to sleet and then to snow. By the time I had the coals lit, the first sloppy, white flakes of an April blizzard were hitting the ground. That is how it has been this winter; ever-challenging for the northern pit keepers to get out and BBQ. But we find a way. It took a couple of tries to get the coals lit as the packing pellet-like snow fell from the heavens, but we got it done. Anyways, whilst the coals matured, I rummaged through the bowels of my pantry and found a lowly and forgotten can of spam.
Spam for the uninitiated, is a sort of processed meat that which many folk turn their noses up, tho it does have a faithful following from eccentric individuals, like elder brother. It is also yet another thrust in food technology, conceived and manufactured here in Minnesota. It is already cooked, and it keeps for years on end. Which comes in handy as an apocalyptic meat I suppose. You can eat it cold or hot. Slice it or dice it. You can do what ever you want with it I guess. Today, in honor of elder brother, we shall slow smoke the questionable meat amid a lavish bath of hickory and cherry wood smoke. We will take this greasy, pressed-meat cube and attempt to usher it unto a better place. Wish us luck!
So we sliced the contents of the can into 4 crude squares, putting them indirect, and tossed some onions on the cast iron griddle insert to saute. The polish sausage was merely an insurance policy on the off-chance this BBQ went decidedly south. Also, a special thanks to Rolf, at Craycort Grills for setting us up with this griddle accsessory. This is the first chance we’ve had to use it, and we absolutely love it. More to come on this toy in a future post.
Ah the smell of onions frying up in some butter over a beautiful bed of coals. Aromas reminiscent of a major league ball park. The soft tap of snow flakes on the brim of my hat, and their inevitable sizzle upon the hot cast iron grate below. This was ambiance. This is why we grill outside in winter. When the onions were sweet and complete, we took them off the pit, and replaced the old enameled lid. The wood smoke soon took draft, and a blend of hickory and cherry gently curled from the damper. I slipped my hands into my smoking jacket, like pit keepers do, and considered the day.
For canned meat it didn’t smell too bad, I thought. But then wood smoke can make even a grungy woodsman three days into the same underwear smell good. This I know. Don’t ask me how. And whilst the plumes of aroma emanated from the pit, the snow flakes fell gently to the earth, slowly cloaking the dear patch of grass that just last week I wallowed like a puppy in. Winter is a fickle lady indeed. But one in which I gladly accept, on her terms, if but to grill but one humble sandwich beneath her lovely yet demanding skies.
The last order of business was to apply the cheese and toast the hoagie roll that I picked special for the occasion. Now if you’re going to grill a Spam sandwich, you might as well use Velveeta cheese. I know what you’re saying. That stuff ain’t cheese. And you’re right. But spam ain’t meat either, so who cares. It just makes sense. Plus, Velveeta is elder brothers most favorite cheese, and this sandwich, after all, is in his honor. Anyways, whence the cheese went gooey, and the roll toasted up nicely, we brought the goods inside and thus assembled the masterpiece. And on that note, it’s not a sandwich to elder brother if it doesn’t first have some mayonnaise involved. So we were sure to put some of that in there too.
Man! Grilled onions smothered in cheese, a light tang of mayonnaise, and hickory scented spam on a toasted hoagie roll. The first bite was reminiscent of a hot bologna sandwich or something. The next bite disturbingly better. It was all uphill from there. And I must admit, I ate the whole thing happily. Well, all except that which my lovely bride curiously inhaled despite her premeditated prejudices towards the canned meat. All things considered, it was pretty good for a highly processed, pressed meat sandwich. I slurped it down, go figure, like a bass to a woolly bugger. And more importantly, I had backed my brothers play. Amen.
Slow Hickory Smoked Spam Sandwich, with sauteed onions and Velveeta Cheese on a toasted Hoagie Roll. Hey, you could do worse and not have nearly so much fun.
Today’s BBQ story begins out under neath my car. You see I woke up there, after a fashion – after a little routine maintenance amid its grungy under-carriage. I had it up on ramps in the garage a few weekends ago, television softly bantering in the shop, and was under there changing the oil like men do, when I at once felt a great and abiding drowsiness draw over me like a warm, wet, towel – feelings patron to the finer things in life, and I, being the capitalistic man that I am, seized it in due order. And I cannot tell you that the odd but savory sensations to be found napping under your automobile is representative of a stable-sounding individual, but I would stand be-funked to say that I didn’t enjoy it to no end. It was fabulous. Sheer pleasure it is, to dose off neath such a view as this: between struts, and ball joints, and the mechanical heavens snaking above. The sound of oil draining into a cold, plastic pan. Oh yes. The art of nap-seizing is something I learned from my elder brother long ago, and is a dark art, perhaps, settled nicely on the bottom of the family gene pool. I digress.
Elder brother, in his prime anyways, was known to fall asleep in the oddest of locales: from atop snow banks, up trees, half-submerged in trout streams, half-inserted inside big machines on the factory floor in which he works, and yes, under his cars supposedly changing the oil. Who doesn’t like a good, albeit dubious, oil change now and again. I wouldn’t have even thought napping under cars was possible, had not I caught the man mid-drool one day, on his drive way, snoring peacefully under his jeep. He’s been doing this sort of thing for years. The wife would walk by and see him laying under it, soiled boots splayed at forty-five degree angles, and mistakenly assume he was being productive. She’d scamper up the steps into the house none-the-wiser, with her groceries in her arms. Elder brother had cracked the code and the highest level of unashamed loitering. After I saw that it could be done, and not to mention what could be so dubiously accomplished, whilst all the while maintaining your illusion as an upstanding and useful individual, I started taking some of my own naps this way. And a couple of Saturdays ago was one of them.
I came to under the car, eyes coming to focus on the catalytic converter, and promptly rolled myself out and sat up, hair tossed like a bad salad.
“Crikies“, I thunk,” time to stir the stew!”
I made my way for the pit with haste in my foot steps, and snatched the lid clear of the old kettle grill. There a well-seasoned 12 quart cast iron dutch oven looked up at me, piled high full of stew fixings. A beefy aroma rolled off the steaming vittles as I stirred it accordingly, nurturing unto a better place. Gray clouds and cold breezes swirled through the naked alders skirting the pond. A light mist dappled over the land. And a squadron of Canadian geese honked over-head. I dare say, no finer weather nor more apt a comfort food, than a delicious, and hearty bowl full of home-made beef stew. It’s real easy to do too, and here is how.
One chimney full of charcoal is all you need. Rip-roaring and hot, spill it out into your grill, making a quaint layer but abiding layer. Shape the bed of glowing coals just a trifle smaller in diameter than your intended dutch oven. There upon, and with the ape-like ease of a brick layer, place your dutch oven accordingly, and precisely over the fiery bed. Here we go now. Splash in a little cooking oil, and a good matter of stew meat, and brown it up. That is where the money is. This is the heart of beef stew, so take your time and pamper it. Better yet, and if you feel like it, shish kabob the stew meat, and brown them up man-style, right over the hemorrhaging flames, so to impart a bit of smokey goodness into your plunder. Can’t beat that!
Next step is to add the fixings.
This part of stew making rides on the street car named discretion. Do what you will and how you like it. We put in a big pile of peeled and quartered potatoes. Enough carrots to make bugs bunny weep. An entire bag of french cut green beans. An entire bag of corn. And a quarter cabbage, chopped. Fill the gaps with water, until it almost drowns everything and dash on some salt and pepper, that is it. Stew making 101. And anybody can do it. Let it go until the coals exhaust themselves. Ours was done in about 3 hours. We also used the big iron lid for Dutch oven most of the cook
The joy of stew however, good stew anyways, is that it benefits with the sweet passage of time. The longer we let it be, the better it gets. In point of fact, this stew will taste even better the next day, having mingled over-night amid its own host of distinct and varied flavors. So don’t rush it on the pit, tho it should be done in but a few, scant hours. Let in linger there. Let it dwell in the good ambiance of rising smoke and slanting sunbeams. And for a while at least, let this crazed drive-through-sort of world spin headlong with out thee. You will eat just fine. For good cooking should take time. Plenty of time. This to afford a man his freedoms you see, to go about his business for the day. To get some things done around the house, as it were, and maybe even go out in the garage and change the oil again. But don’t bring a pillow, cause that would just be weird.
Hearty, wholesome, and so easy to do. Home Made Beef Stew hot off the grill. Man! Oil change optional.
This was sermon on the mount type of stuff. Indeed, I decided, right then and there that I was going to give it another try. I was going to smoke something! First thing was to get some wood chips.I eyed with intent, my wife’s sculptured flower beds, with their mounds of wood chips. Little brother cautioned against that. He did not say why, but like a parent with a questioning child just said… “Because I said so.”
I got within twenty feet of my Lilac bush before I heard him holler “Stop”! Like he would to a dog running into a busy street.
Likewise, when I picked up a Maple tree branch from my front yard, left over debris from winter storms, I glanced furtively over at brother. His eyes were closed, his chin was sunk to his chest in dispare, slowly shaking his head back and forth.I guess I was not impressing my teacher too much…At this point Little Brother stood up, glanced around and stated flatly, “I gotta go”.And that was that. I was on my own again.I could tell that my brother was a little bit displeased with my lack of attention to his teachings, so I was going to do something about it. I would go to the store and buy some of those dad-burned wood chips. I would get wood with a label on it, so that next time he cornered me,and wanted to know what the heck I was smoking, I could tell him!Fifteen minutes later,I pushed through the door of the hardware store like a gunman walking into an old western saloon. I stopped for a moment, studying the room and the sauntered over to where the barbecue grills were sitting in all their glory. I casually lifted a lid here and there , checking things out, trying to look cool while searching for wood chips. Golly, there was a lot of paraphernalia for smoking. There were four different kinds of thermometers, and half a dozen tongs to choose from. Then along the bottom shelf I found the wood chips.I found a lot of wood chips. I had no idea there were so many different kinds or what they were even used for. Pecan, Hickory, Apple, Peach, Grape, Mesquite, Cherry and I thought about that branch in my yard when I read the last one, Maple. About then a young gal came over to me, one of the clerks at the store, and asked me if I needed help. I glanced up from my kneeling position at the wood chip shelf, and asked if she might have a preference for one kind wood over the other.
“Oh my,” she stated, “that is way beyond me…I have no idea.”
The girl at the cash register was of the same mind, “Wow” she said, “You one of those guys who can use smoke?”
I stood up a little straighter, a little bit of pridefulness swelling in my soul. I was enjoying this.
“OH, I like to dabble a bit” I said.
I walked out of there with my chest pushed out,apple chips in hand and pride in my stride. Yup, I was one of those guys. I was on my way to becoming a patron of the pit.Back home I was excited to get the little Smoky Joe into action. I placed my seven pieces of charcoal gingerly onto the residual pile from the last cook, and lit up. I watched the flames for a while, mesmerized by the aroma of the smoke wafting out from the little grill. Back in the kitchen I prepared for the event to come. I had nice thick Pork Chops laid out on the cutting board and started to put the seasoning on, or “Rub” as my brother would say. I gently padded and rubbed the meat, trying to emulate my little brothers technique. I really did not know what this was all about, Me? I prefer to pat and rub my plump belly after I eat the meat. But then I respect little brother. After all, he has a Blog, I do not…While all this fondling of meat was going on, I had dutifully been soaking my apple chips in a bowl of water. I will tell you this, they looked just like the chips from the wife’s flower garden. I did the obvious calculation and discovered that it would cost well over a thousand bucks to do her flower beds with this exotic wood. Lucky for me, I only needed a small handful accomplish my needs.Wood on the coals, meat on the grill. I was doing it. I set the little lid on the little Weber and waited, soon puffs of smoke started rising through the holes in the lid. Alright! I sat there in wonder, the magic of the smoke drifting around my camper and driveway. I was surprised that people were not stopping along the street in front of my house to witness this extraordinary event.
An hour later, after shutting down the little grill, I brought my prized meat into the house, the perfume of the apple wood smoke lingering in the air. Gosh, this was good stuff. Brother would be proud of me. I had done a good thing here! I laid miraculous chops alongside the chopped potatoes that I had cooked in foil down in the coals during the cook. The presentation was completed with a dappling of steamed peas and carrots nestled into the grouping.
I work second shift, and as such rarely am home for supper, but I am the cook of the house and I cook for my bride almost every day. When she comes home, there is some kind of supper for her in the refrigerator, waiting for her to heat up. Today was no different, I placed cellophane over the plate and placed my prized meal on the refrigerator shelf like I was setting up an entry for a state fair competition. I would have the left overs when got home from work.
While I was at work, I could smell the distinct aroma of the apple wood,still clinging to my clothes, off and on the whole night. I wondered if anyone else could pick up on the scent. Each time I picked up the fragrance, I would get a flashback, seeing the smoke puffing out of the grill, the smell of the kitchen as I put the meal together. Man, when the bell rang and my shift was over I could not get home fast enough, I was ready to taste the spoils of my toils.
My wife was fast asleep when I got home, but I hardly cared, I was like a kid at Christmas, I had been thinking about those pieces of pork for nine hours. I went straight to the fridge and swung open the door. My mouth was watering as I stared blankly into the empty space that once held my long waited supper.
Nothing was there! I glanced feverishly around the kitchen, what the heck! Where was my supper? I looked in the freezer, and finally in the sink, and there found two dishes, remnants of meat stuck to the dirty edge of one plate. A stray green pea off to the side of the other. It became obvious that my supper was gone. I started at the plates, lifted one gently and took a whiff. Ah…the smell was still there, the fragrance of success. I set the plate back into the sink, leaned my hands on the edge of the counter, and smiled. The loss of my supper was also my gain. It meant that I had passed a test of sorts. I had smoked meat, and it was good.
Good enough that my bride ate it all.
I was now…a “Patron of the Pit”.