As a February blizzard howls just past the frosted window pane, I tarry here in my writing den with stereophonic music in play, and a lovely beverage at hand, and reminisce now back over the previous season in BBQ. There have been some great victories pit-side to report. From Tri Tips over an oaken fire, to honey and maple glazed hams, to 14 hour slow-smoked Boston Butts that fell apart in your mouth. And all of those were delicious in their own right, not too mention biologically abiding. There is an extra hole drilled into my leather belt now to prove it. But furthermore, what I think I remember most about those cooks was not so much those things that satisfied my belly, but more, that which nourished the soul. And what I mean concerning that, by and by, is the people. The people. The more I delve into the BBQ arts, and the more I learn about making good food, the more convinced I am that these meals were never really meant to be ingested alone. One of our long time readers has been putting it this way for years now. “Remember what you cook isn’t nearly as important as who you cook it with.” –Mr Dodd.
It’s Good to Share
It’s true. You can smoke the best rack of ribs on the planet, or produce the most tender brisket this side of Aaron Franklin, but if you’re not sharing it with someone, well frankly, you’re missing out on half the fun in BBQ. And tho you may even feel full eating it all by yourself, something still inside you remains empty. Hungry. Perhaps that is why someone invented the all important shin dig. That glorious slot of time, pre-ordained by the masses, to come together over a table of good food and fellowship, and for a while at least, set aside the concerns of man, and just be together. And eat. There’s something about this simple act of stability that resonates in the soul, as if we’ve been wired for such activity all along. Mankind has been doing it for a very long time after all. And I suspect that’s because it is inalienably good for us. As good as any medicine contrived by the smart people of the world.
Our wee one is learning how to party, as you can see. Amid our summer BBQ’s she has learned the joy of green grass between her baby toes, and how to work the lid on the communal cooler with great effectiveness. She is equally as well-versed in the art of mooching off a bystander’s plate, and I can tell already she will be a force in future BBQ’s and family shindigs to come.
Yup, everyone enjoys a good party as you can see. Even this pup appreciated a wayward morsel tossed her way, not to mention a good belly rub afterward. But then, really, who wouldn’t! Life is good at the BBQ!
The Joy of BBQ
There is a camaraderie in food. I think this is because no matter who you are, or where you hail from, you probably consider yourself fairly adept at eating. Let’s face it, you’re the boss at stuffing your pie hole. We all are! And with that kind of communal talent, it’s no wonder we all like to throw a BBQ and work our skill sets together. And beyond that even, for a while at least, most folk seem even to be happy with a plate of good food in hand. Momentarily content in life’s crazy race. Say what you will, but that is no small thing. And to lean back in your lawn chair, wiping the sauce from your chin, and to survey the folks residing all about, chattering and chewing, laughing and smiling, babies crawling through the cool grass…Telling stories, singing songs…Going back for seconds.. Even thirds…The faces of those you love and those who love you. Well, it doesn’t take much to realize that this is what it’s all about. This is why we do what we do. And further, this is what the joy of BBQ looks like standing right in front of you. Amen.
Now let’s get cookin!
The days they taper slowly now, pulled by an ebbing sun. The tweety birds have all had their babies. And the green pepper plants are knee-high to a pit jockey’s eye. The cottonwood trees, pond-side, have completed their annual farting of the white fluffy things, which scatter in the summer breeze. The Lilacs have come and gone already, but my they were grand. And just like that, it’s summer time at the pit, and it’s glorious. And in some ways I thought it would never get here. Let’s digress…
Hearken back with me, won’t you, to just last April. Here is what it looked like then. This photo below tells the story so well that it made the face book page of our local news station.
April blizzards were the norm. Wintry tempests that would not cease. The wee one fancied a good window pane then, as you can see, observing the powerful winter storms beyond. They swirled endlessly it seemed, the hopes of summer BBQ but a whisper in the wind.
One day in May, I think, or was it June, the snow eventually petered away, and ground thawed and mud puddles and rain filled the days. The dirt smelled good and so we planted things there. They eventually took off like things do. And I suppose also that’s when the baby figured out how to crawl.
It was like a teenage kid learning to drive a manual transmission, stuttering in first gear in the parking lot at Sears. Eager and unashamed at the face of this daunting task, eventually she learned how to get the crawling mechanism going. Well sort of. She looked akin to a wounded puppy, sort of dragging herself along. But it worked. And she got to where she wanted to go. Which is good, I guess, it’s just that the only place she really wanted to go was straight to the fireplace.
Thus began the Chase Era. Every parent knows it. The span of months, maybe years, where you have to run down your little one and pluck them from danger at the last minute. And that’s the era we’re still in now. Maybe it never ends. Ever the perpetual eye must be kept on the little one, for the world is brand new to her, and exciting, and everything is worth investigating she thinks. And here at the beginning of July, today in fact, she is turning 1 years old already. How about that!
*On an aside, we here at PotP HQ would like to thank those of you in the readership who have faithfully stood by, or inquired where we’ve been and how we are doing. It’s been a while, I know. But we are doing amazing. As my Grandpa in-law is fond of saying, “We are blessed and highly favored!” And it’s true. Never has a rough pit master’s heart melted like this, people, nor his soul felt so satisfied. And as we start to find our new rhythms with baby, we hope to get more grilling posts out to you soon. Thank you kindly for your patience, and on going support.
As I grilled supper the other night, turning the protein over a beautiful bed of coals, breeze drifting quietly east to west, I thought back through the last year of raising a pup. I need not go into detail of the joys and the trials of such things. You all know that stuff already. But I am rather fond of one line of advice several people have told me over this last year, concerning babies. I think about it often. Perhaps you’ve heard it too.
That old saying that goes,” The days are long, but the years are short”.
How can something be so long and so short at the same time? I don’t know. But have yourself a baby and you will at least experience it first hand. I cannot for all the pork chops in Thailand figure how it has been a year already since birthing the wee one. Seems to me it was just a few weeks ago that we brought her home. Yet, in the same breath, it’s felt like this last year has taken a generation to unfold. And I suppose before you know it, she’ll be driving that stick shift and bringing home boys I do not like. These are the heady anomalies in the human condition I suspect we may never figure out. But a good reminder, however, to pay keen attention to the days we are in, and to whom we are with. For the days they may seem to taper slowly, but the years will be gone tomorrow. Like mesquite smoke snatched by the autumn wind. Amen.
Happy Birthday Day Emma! We love you!
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.
Mesquite Fired Chicken Fajitas and the Decline of the Western Kitchen
I’ve been watching a show lately, called, Cooked, and it’s fascinating. Any food blogger worth their apron, I’d wager, would probably be intrigued by it also, because I know I was, and I don’t even have an apron. I must say, the docu-series has inspired me, as if I need any further inspiration, to, and for a lack of better words – cook. But it has. One of the things they said on the show, the thing that stirred the soup of my soul, if you will, was that the average American house hold is trending away from cooking. And it’s been heading that way for a long time.
Since the 60’s, they said, we’ve been cooking at home less and less. Preparing food in the kitchen has declined almost 50%. And the United States, they said, cooks less than any other country in the world.
That’s right. And the reason is time, or lack of it. We’re in too big of a hurry these days, to cook a proper meal in our own kitchen. In point of fact, we’d gladly pay some one else to do the cooking for us. And in the process of this, we’ve lost something rather precious, and inalienable along the way. We’ve lost the fellowship of the cook. We’ve diluted the human food experience to a few beeps and boops on the microwave, or the speed dial on our cellular phones. In our haste, we’re bypassing the good stuff, the therapeutic sounds, say, of a knife chopping through vegetables in a quiet room. Or the aroma of bread baking on a wintry afternoon. Or the satisfying taste of a homemade soup wrought from the nourishing bounty of our own gardens. Not to mention a disbanding of the most important thing maybe, and that is the warm camaraderie of family or friends gathered in fellowship, in the kitchen, whilst we dutifully ply our craft. We’re missing out on all of these pleasantries when we’re too harried to cook. And because of that, we are cooked.
Well that did it. I needed to cook then. No ordering out for a pizza tonight. No forays through the freezer for a frozen dinner. I got to do this right. Take the scenic path. And I figured my best shot at it, being that I’m a man and all, would be out at the BBQ grill of course. Thus, and emboldened with new vigor, I got right after it out at the old kettle grill. First cooking up some boneless chicken breasts, smoked with mesquite wood, and gently dusted in Miners Mix Wholly Chipotle Rub. This rub is excellent, but I should tell you, off-hand and by-the-way, it does have a little kick to it, so be mindful not to dump it on with a great abandon, lest you enjoy a runny nose dribbling onto your supper plate. Anyways, the chicken was seared a little on both sides, as is often the case with grilling chicken, and tucked indirect, opposite the hot coals for the remainder of the cook. The meal was coming together nicely. Then I brought out my chopped vegetables. I tell you, the modular cast iron grate from the good people at Craycort sure made the difference in this cook-out. What a pleasure it is to grill with this sort of equipage. Everything just seems to fall right into place. And they operate with a certain sort of ease that which I find very comforting to the soul. We put the pan insert into service tonight, as you can spy, and sauteed up the lovely and timeless duo of green peppers and onions. The aromas of which garnished the air of this chill evening, whilst the tweety birds quietly puttered in the alders at the pond’s edge. We love to cook, it’s true. But what we really love is to cook outside.
Next we needed some corn and black beans, of which came to edible maturity in short order, thanks again to the cast iron pan insert. They sizzled accordingly there, adding more aromas to the outdoor kitchen. I cannot deny, there is a certain love affair going on with this cast iron grate. It’s a relationship. And if you’re good to it, it’ll be good to you. Cast iron is like that. It requires a modicum of attention, with a gentle oiling before and after each use. As if it needs to be reminded you care, I guess. But then again, who isn’t like that.Who doesn’t like to be told they are loved from time to time. Cooking at last brings people together like that, so that we can tell them, if only through making them a simple meal, that we love them. Like our friend Mr. Dodd likes to say, “What you cook isn’t nearly as important as who you cook it with.” Amen Mr. Dodd. Amen.
Speaking of Mr Dodd, just above is a link to his site of you’re into reading about tasty BBQ, of which you must be or you wouldn’t be reading this!
An Act of Small Rebellion
Well, after the chicken is done, and the peppers and onions are done, and after the beans and corn are warmed through, seasoned with some Miners Mix Steak and Veggie Seasoning, and after you’ve boiled up a pot of rice, bring the food henceforth inside, and let the savory aromas at once curl into the air. And watch now how the respective noses of family members pan your way. There is energy in the air. Note also the abiding communion which begins, or has begun, ever since you first lit the flames to cook. This one simple act of taking time out of your busy day, to slow down and deliberately cook supper, even when you don’t feel like it, is at once an act of small rebellion in a world gone mad with haste. And it is beautiful.
Chop up the protein into sizes of appropriate diameter for your body’s largest orifice, and thus assemble at your leisure, this lovely mesquite smoked chicken fajita bowl over a steaming bed of rice. Man, can you taste it! Don’t forget the freshly shredded mozzarella cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Let the flavors mingle together, and get happy there. The fajita flavors are designed to marry on your plate. This is what they do. They are many times better together than apart. A fusion of individual tastes. Of texture and spice. And when you think about it, in a round about way, so are we. And that’s why cooking healthy meals at home is so important you see. Because it brings us together in fellowship and good food. And say what you will, but precious few other things in this world are quite as lovely as that. And not nearly so tasty. Amen.
*Here is the show, Cooked, that we were talking about earlier. Good stuff!
They were cute once, iffin you didn’t already know it. My beloved tweety birds which dart about the pond-side pit here, happy-go-lucky, flirtatious, and like I say, cute. But this morning as I stepped out on the patio, beverage in hand, I find a gaggle of them floundering fancy in the ash pan residing beneath the old kettle grill. Flopping about there, doing their best wildebeest impressions, antics oft reserved for the dusty plains of Botswana. Their little feathers cloaked in ashen debris, kicking up little gray clouds of it, which scattered in the morning breeze. What a bunch of goof balls, I thunk. Rolling around like pigs in the mud. Like puppies in the grass. Like grown men in the ball pit at the Burger King. They were having a good time at it too, and I nary could convince them otherwise. But then again, I wasn’t trying to.
I’ve long admired blokes, you see, who make the best of things. When your bird bath is as dry and filthy as a Weber ash pan, and you look like a bird who has just endured a volcanic blast, yet you still frolic with great and unbridled enthusiasm, well my hat is off to you little bird. Not conformed by conventional thinking or naysay, but emboldened perhaps, by the cliché cup of lemonade that awaits you – you made the best of things, and you did so with the least of things. You did it with a pile charcoal ash. I guess they were just washing themselves, or something akin. Tweety birdologists could enlighten us, I suppose. But I say if their goal was to get out the other side of this activity cleaner than they began, well, they failed miserably at it. I had me some dirty birds at the pit today. Some very dirty birds indeed.
Anyways, lunch was a trifle cleaner you might say, and probably better tasting too, than tweety birds rolled in ash. We henceforth evicted them of their little health spa, and fired up a chimney of coals. And whilst those coals matured, we sprinkled some of this Cajun Blast Seasoning over two portly patties of 80-20 ground beef. We were burger hungry at the pit today, I cannot deny. But then if you asked us most days what we would fancy, a good hamburger is usually at the top of the list, and rightly so. For they are a rather filling affair of meat and bun. Easy to do. And quick too, if that is how you like to bend. But above all that, burgers are just plain good, and nothing more needs to be said about that.
You all know how to grill a hamburger, so we shan’t prolong here the intricacies of it. A hamburger is personal anyways, as every pit keeper embellishes his or her own unique touch on it. Like a finger print, perhaps, no two burgers are the same. A burger proper is but a reflection of your mood that day. Some days you’re feeling spicy, other days just plain. Some days you’ll hanker for the works, plucking everything and anything out of the refrigerator door. While still other days, you’ll just stick a fork in your burger and eat it like meat Popsicle. It’s all good in Burgerville, and that is precisely what makes them so wonderful.
We tossed some cherry wood into the coals for to smoke there, and brought the burgers to a state of well done, just before of course, toasting the buns. We almost always toast our buns, if but to add that extra texture so lovely in a hamburger. Then melted some medium cheddar cheese as a matter of course, added a slice of tomato from the garden folds, and lastly, and totally fueled by impulse here, squirted a shot of Thousand Island-like salad dressing on the bottom bun. Man!
As I plated up, sunbeams swept across the green lawn. Clouds the shape of pork chops and wiener dogs idled overhead, and a gentle breeze with subtle kisses of autumn mingled through the fluttering tree tops. Tomatoes ripening before thine eyes. Bean plants sprawling. Honey bees buzzing. The ninth inning of summer was going strong. And yet another span of moments pit-side, sealed in that smokey vault of memories. Satisfied, my plated spoils in hand, I stepped into the house, sliding the screen door shut behind me. And just then, and rather out the woodwork, three little tweety birds fluttered up on my six, and with a cheerful chirp, lit again into their hallowed ash pile- floundering around there in little gray clouds stretched by the wind. I smiled quietly. What can you do. I had some dirty birds on my hands today, and that’s all there is about it. But they were cute once, I tell you, they really were. Come to think of it, they still are I guess. And burgers are always good. Amen.
I can’t go often in life without music. Creating playlist or soundtracks as I like to call them has become a hobby of mine. Matching music up to what I’m doing at that moment. To become the musical director for my life is something I take serious. Being that I’m a musician, I’m very picky and biased when doing so. To go into the many avenues of life and tell you about my music selections would probably force me to start another blog, so I’m going to focus on sharing of my music stations I have created when dedicating an afternoon at the BBQ pit.
First off, who could go wrong with a B.B King station. How often is it you walk into a BBQ joint and they have classical music, or rap playing on their overhead speakers? What music is better associated with BBQ than blues music. The crying guitars whine as your basting your meat. The harmonica calls out while the hickory smoke curls into a dimming orange sunset. The singer cries as they have lost their lover over, perhaps over someone else’s BBQ. My B.B. King station of course is always my first choice of serenades when standing next to a smoking pit.
My second choice is my Elvis station. I grew up listening to Elvis and have many fond memories of establishing myself on a sunny afternoon. Our backyard patio packed with Aunts and Uncles. My dad sat with his banjo and my Uncles sat with guitars, often livening up the family with classic rock and roll tunes and old country western songs. This station is often listened to because of the strong feeling of nostalgia it brings on. I can remember words of songs I hadn’t heard in 20 years purely because I fell in love with the moment I first heard them. Thus, Elvis often joins me when BBQing for large groups of people.
Now there is a station I don’t often brag about. This station is played in my headphones so many people don’t judge my geeky side of life. But here, I hide nothing about my BBQ experience. So I would like to publicly announce the third choice of station is my Lord of the Rings Soundtrack station. I use this station when having a full day ahead of me – of a long drawn out smoke. When smoking a cut of meat that may need a little more effort. From the point of lighting the flame to pushing a sharp knife through that saucy, sweet, smoky, spicy side of meat. You then know your efforts have paid off and the epic journey of BBQ was fulfilled. No other station encourages such BBQ geekiness as my Lord of the Rings Soundtrack Station.
So, my question is to you who have read this, what music do you like to listen to during an afternoon at the pit? What might be on your BBQ playlist?
Have a good day – POTP