It was a pleasant morning as morning’s go. To be adrift out on a local waterway. Sunbeams glittering over the surface. Egrets and Blue Herons milling in the shallows. And a light-green, haze, signifying a budding spring, adorning every bush and every tree. The symphonic serenade of a thousand and one bird songs, mingle with that of dipping paddles, peeling fly line, flipping bails, and 1/32 ounce jigs clad in soft plastics, plopping in the drink. I drifted slowly along the wooded shoreline, resolutely plying the waters there, fishing rod in hand, with a clear, albeit idealistic mission – to catch a fish. Running this site, and eating T-bone steaks is great, and ribs sure do hit the spot, but I’ve been getting what they call “fish hungry” lately, and I aimed to do something about it. And today I might have even, had not I been such a lousy fisherman. Seems I departed the lake this morning with my stringer in void, not to mention my stomach. I was fish-less, and still, as it were, fish hungry.
Being the problem solver that I am, however, I did what any red-blooded, fish-hungry American would do. I stopped by the grocer on the way home and I bought me a fish! Mahi-mahi, to be exact. A lovely fare that which swims the oceans yonder, that at the time, seemed more than suitable for my needs. Let’s head back to the pit, and I’ll tell you more about it, and how it went and came to be.
Mahi-mahi, according to the Hawaiian interpretation, means very strong. By the looks of it, I’d say they’re probably right on that. A surface-dwelling, ray-finned fish known to inhabit tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate waters. They average about 15 to 29 pounds, can live up to 5 years of age, are highly sought after in sport fishing, and they sure as heck don’t live in Minnesota. But you can buy the meat of the Mahi-Mahi here, in point of fact, you can buy it all over the place. And man do they go good on the grill. Here’s how to do it.
Whilst the pit heated up, we patted dry two chunks of the tender fish, rubbed them in a coat olive oil, then, feeling Cajun or something akin, dusted them liberally with a blackened spice rub. Mahi-mahi is a non-fish lover’s fish. Meaning if you don’t fancy the flavor of fish, yet want to eat fish, then this is the fish for you. Very mild in fishy flavor, irrepressibly moist, and with the ensuing spice conglomerate, a delicious fare fit for the finest dinner table. Blackened spice is a real easy blend, and extremely tasty. A fish rub worthy of your time. Here is how to make it.
Blackened Spice Rub
- 2 Tablespoons paprika
- 1 Tablespoon each, onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon each dried basil and dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (increase this if you like a little burn on the lips)
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
Next step, and for artistic reasons only, we pre-heated the cast iron grate and coated it in a bit peanut oil for to secure the cosmetic beach-head of any would-be grill jockey – grill marks. Sear the fillets for a minute or so per side, just enough to get some nice grate lines. It doesn’t take long to cook these fish. They also are remarkably robust and hold together astoundingly well for this sort of grilling. Save your expensive planks for more delicate fish than this. You will be hard pressed, we wager, to dry out Mahi-mahi. Anyways, after some nice char marks were in vogue, we escorted the meat back to the cool side of the pit, opposite the hot coals, to loiter indirect there for the rest of the cook. The next item on the menu, is a little grilled asparagus, green and tender, for to please the lady folk. And it couldn’t be easier to do.
To amp up the flavor a bit, we had these asparagus spears soaking for a couple of hours in a simple marinade involving, but not limited to: Olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.
Roast the asparagus over direct heat for a couple of minutes, rolling them like a batch of hot dogs for even cooking, until your desired tenderness is reached, and then tuck them back opposite the hot coals, keeping the fish company for the rest of the cook. Speaking of, you’ll want to flip the fish fillets according to your pit master instincts. Do what you need to do. It’s a rather quick cooking meal, unfortunately. Maybe 15 minutes at most. Denying the pit keeper the much coveted down time for the all-important business of drawing a lovely beverage and watching the clouds idle past a pastel sky. But I guess that is what ribs are for. Anyways, when the fish flakes easily with a fork, your dinner is done. Plate up thy spoils at hand, and commence with what you do best! Amen.
Blackened Mahi-mahi sided with marinated Asparagus hot off the grill. Man! Can you taste it! So if you’re looking for something sort of fishy for your next BBQ, and lack the angling mojo to catch your own, try this one out for sure. You shan’t go wrong. Nor be fish hungry.
How to bring your spaghetti to the next level with a little smoke and cream cheese
So it was, under beautiful blue skies and amber shafts of light, that the last snow flake melted out by the pit today. And all the ice on the pond dissolved over the last few days, the last of it, today, into a cold, watery soup. The ducks dutifully reveled, of course, swimming to and fro in the pond’s lush water ways, whilst the resident tweety birds darted fiercely about the naked alders, all of which eagerly await the bounty of spring. Have we Minnesotans finally made it around the dark side of moon? Is this light yonder we see spanning into the evening hours really meant for us? Is it possible the barnacle-like grip of ice upon this fair land has at last and finally relinquished? Oh I believe so. For I have seen my shadow on steely blades of semi-green grass, and heard the call of the American Robin for to greet the morning hours. Spring has arrived. And all the northern pit keepers rejoice.
To usher in the milder season, and on the pit today, something a little different. Leastwise amid the grilling circuits it is. Smoked spaghetti meat sauce with a Philly twist. If you’re not a’feared of carbohydrates, you’re going to fancy this one. So grab yourself a manly beverage and I’ll meet you out by the pit.
Over a lovely bed of mature coals, in the old black iron pan, we browned up the ground beef as per the usual tactics to making spaghetti sauce. I know what some of you new to this site may be thinking. Why the heck is he doing this on the grill? To which I must reply, why wouldn’t I! This is a BBQ blog, and by golly, this is what we do! And let it be said, because it’s true, anything you can do on the kitchen range can not only be equaled out on a good pit, but in many cases improved upon, courtesy of the smokey goodness inherent there. Not to mention, it’s just plain beautiful outside tonight. You gotta cook supper regardless, so why not do it some place pretty.
Nothing quite so fine as the fresh spring breeze mingling with the aromas of sizzling beef. After a fashion, after it was cooked brown and drained, we added the sauce. Now you can use what ever sauce makes you happy. Make it home-made if you please, or do like we did, and use a jar of something we picked up at the grocer. It’s all good on the pit. So we pulled the pan to the cool side of the grill, opposite the hot coals, and then added a chunk or two of apple wood to the fire for to secure smokey custody of this classic supper time dish. Yes, smoke is the first of two secret ingredients here, that will set this spaghetti dinner apart from any you’ve ever had. If you’ve never done your meat sauce up on the grill this way, well, you’re missing something out of your grilling career. Like the sunbeams that which slant upon the green grass, it is worth our attention, our time, for to articulate a tasty path towards a higher culinary ideal, patron to the pit.
Whilst the meat sauce simmers in turn, we prepped some French bread with a simple:
(1 Clove finely chopped and 1/3 cup of softened butter)
Wrapped the loaf in foil, and placed it likewise, opposite the hot coals. Oh yes!!!
Put the lid on, establish a draft, and thus engage in some lengthy and protracted smoke watching. This is the portion of the cook where we grill jockeys are in our element. Or more truthfully, in our man chairs, pit-side, with a lovely beverage in hand. Legs perhaps crossed like a gentleman of leisure, hat tipped just so, to thwart the low hanging sun, and scads of sweet time in which to just sit there and do nothing at all. To watch the clouds idle in a pastel sky, and the song birds yonder warming up their little throats for to sing of their glories anew. To observe the gentle wake and science of duck propulsion on the pond. Or, if need be, even to close our eyes, and doze peacefully amid the aromatic tendrils of rising wood smoke. Glory!
Speaking of, every 5 minute or so, lift the lid and stir the meat sauce, for to infuse more of that patented smokey goodness into it. Also flip the bread over when you think of it, for even baking, and be mindful of your pit master instincts.
Lastly, and before we declared this meal complete, we added the final, secret ingredient to the meat sauce. At my bride’s suggestion, we added 1/4 cup of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Indeed, I was hesitant, but adventurous this night. She saw some one do it on the TV, and thought it would be tasty. So, and with the common sense of a gestating lemming, I gave it go. Stirring the glob of cheesy, white goo, into the beautiful meat sauce until it melted kindly away. The result hence escorting the smokey sauce unto yet another level seldom found in conventional spaghetti sauce. The result – a much creamier, full-bodied meat sauce that which sported a quaint smokey tint. Oh man!
Once the cream cheese is diffused to your specifications, plate up and commence with what you do best!
Smoked Philly Spaghetti and Garlic Bread. If you’re looking for a little something different for your next BBQ, definitely give this one a try. Man!
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.
A steady and abiding rain falls over the streets of Ketchikan, Alaska; a hard mist, as the locals call it. Gray clouds smother into the tall, green, mountainsides rising at the edge of town. My lovely bride and her mother take up position in the stern of a fishing charter, one of twenty, advancing out to sea. Stalwart sailors they were, and hardened anglers, listening to the rain tap over their up-turned hoods. The guttural rumble of the outboard engine merges onto the acoustic palate, along with the lapping of chill waters against the hull, and the distant bustle of the Ketchikan shores. Whales breached the choppy surface, spouted forth a few times, and submerged again; their mighty tails slapping the water with utter authority, and great majesty. A Bald Eagle drops suddenly from the heavens with an acute splash off the starboard, snatching a salmon for to feed her family. My bride is onto a salmon too, go figure, rod hooping violently, its tip tugging downwards towards the darkened abyss. A few minutes span on bobbing waves and rocking ship, reeling and peeling, and she too procures a salmon for the family; several of them, in point of fact. And despite her bouts with motion sickness, she had the mental faculty to have them put on dry ice, and airmailed hence forth to the door step of her working husband back home. And that, by and far, made his day.
It is a few weeks later now, I tarry pit-side, in good form, whilst a bleak and steady mist dapples over the pond, like a thousand pin pricks cast from on high. It is that hard-mist sort-of rain again; tho one that is livable, by Ketchikan standards at least, and doesn’t force a soul indoors, necessarily, to stare glumly out the window. Besides, I liked the rain. And I think the silver salmon in the smoker did too. Or would have. Sort of reminiscent, you might say, from whence what soggy straights they came. If you are going to smoke a fish from Ketchikan, after all, it is only right I guess, that you do it in the rain. It’s always raining in Ketchikan they say. And I believe them.
An October breeze rustles amid the water-side grasses, long and wet, and bending in the seasonal eddies. A gray over-cast parades over-head and the light smoke of apple and peach wood curls serenely from the WSM. No finer weather, let be said, than this, this barometric symphony of low pressure and constant mist, for the pleasures of the pit are only heightened. The aromas pop, as if in olfactory 3D. The joy of rain drops pattering over a hot lid. And the contentment patron to rising wood smoke on such a cold, and dreary day. Glory!
One of the finer spoils in the smokey arts is that of fish. And few fish seem better suited for the task than salmon. Thus, and with some fanfare, it was with the greatest delight when a box of them arrived on my doorstep. Good tidings from Alaska, and a smokey destiny according to my pit. Now the first order of business, before anything else, is to brine the fish for 24 hours. We used a wet brine this time around, one that has proven effective in the past. And it’s real simple to make.
Basic Brine Recipe
2 Quarts water
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Cup Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
*In an old gallon ice cream bucket, mix this all up thoroughly and allow your fillets to mingle in the solution for 24 hours.
Before you go and light the pit, and after the proper brine period, go ahead and dutifully rinse thy fillets under cold water and lay them out on a rack to air dry a bit. Mind your BBQ instincts, and linger here. I know, your young, and eager, and restless, and you want nothing more than to plop thy protein upon a smokey grate and commence with the task at hand. But don’t. Your patience kindled from years at the pit will serve you well here, if you let it. What it is you’re waiting for, you see, is the pellicle, and such can take a while. I know, you’re wondering what in the heck is a pellicle. Well, a pellicle is an outer coating of proteins that form on the surface of brined fish left to air dry, and is tacky, or sticky to the touch. Many a seasoned fish smoker covets the pellicle, for it is that very stickiness which also proves most abiding for smoke. For smoke adheres feverishly to it, like moths to fly paper, or novice skiers to snow fencing. So wait for the pellicle if you can. Some folks even use an electric fan here, to hurry things along. And you can too, I suppose, if you’re in a hurry. But if you’ve learned anything at all from this blog, you won’t be in such a tomfoolery mind-set anyways.
After the pellicle has formed, and is sticky to the touch, sally forth and ignite thy smoker. For this smoke, were looking to run it at about 150 degrees for 3 or maybe 4 hours. This was accomplished in the big 22 1/2 inch Weber Smoker Mountain by a single chimney of lit charcoal dumped directly in the middle of the fire bowl, along with 2 gallons of cold water in the water pan. It may have helped also, that a lovely, cool drizzle fell from the heavens this day, keeping the pit cooler. At any rate, do your best to get around 150 degrees. A little higher is fine. The salmon won’t care.
Whence you have established a stable pit, smoke gently puffing, spray a little PAM or some such thing over your grate, and lay your betrothed salmon hunks in orderly fashion over it. Many of the Alaskan locals like to smoke their salmon with alder wood, but we didn’t have any such flavor on hand. What we did have however, was apple wood, and let it be said, because it is true, that works just fine too. Let it smoke in accord, until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Its pretty much that easy. In the mean time, there is loitering to be done.
It was with the highest and most sincere pleasure I placed the heavy enameled lid on the smoker, and henceforth got along with the very important business of being a pit keeper. Namely, I went to the refrigerator and drew myself a manly beverage there. Seeing the rain wasn’t about to let up this day, albeit a light rain, I jockeyed for the man chair anyways, residing seductively in the living room. Some times we Brethren of the Brisket need to pamper ourselves. Yes we do. Toe-pits up, left foot crossed over right, I admired how the rain drops fell this day, on and off, outside the glass patio door. The symphony in mist, and the homey curls of apple wood smoke. My eyes grew weary, heavy from the day. I listed slightly in my man chair, ensconced in warmth and dryness; two glories made only sweeter on such a cold and decidedly wet day. My eyes fell shut, and my thoughts drifted out to sea. Leisure had asserted itself. A perfect day, as days go, to smoke a salmon. And I suppose to consider for a moment, for the moment’s sake, the rain which fell in Ketchikan. Amen.
Apple Smoked Salmon. Man! So next time you’re faced with a rainy day, and maybe feeling a little fish hungry, do the only sensible thing and light the pit. For any day is a good day where the wood smoke also rises.
A golden sun waned over the house tops, casting long shadows across the green grass, whilst I banked a chimney full of coals to the side of the old kettle grill. A delightfully cool breeze mingled through the pit-side Spruce and Cottonwood, and the heat from the fire, oddly enough, felt good for once. Tho you wouldn’t think from looking around, one sort of might get the sense that summer might be fading slightly. The sun, that precious, glowing orb aloft, sure was a lot lower at supper time now, much lower than it was a couple of months ago. And darkness swallows the land earlier these days, when once we were still strutting up the 7th fairway, lovely beverage in hand, and basking in the warm, bright light there. And what about this breeze that felt so cool. And the frequent fly overs of the Canadian geese, honking proudly on the wing. Something shifts amid us. Something elemental. Diurnal rhythms and little children afoot with colorful school packs. In Minnesota, we call this Autumn, or, the end of summer. And it is a glorious time to be alive. And even a better time in which to grill something edible.
Come with us, won’t you…To the pit, and let us show you what’s for supper.
We Patrons of the Pit, least wise we two blokes who offer forth this stuff, well, were from Minnesota. A place, don’t you know, of significant contribution to the betterment of man kind. For example, masking tape was invented in Minnesota. So was the roller blade. And if you’ve ever spent a winter up here, you’d also appreciate that we invented the one-piece long underwear get-up better known as the union suit. Later modified for that all-important “flap in the back“. Glory be, the game of Twister and the Breathe Right nasal strip, also, material spawn of Minnesota. All good things, I think. But our personal favorite invention, and monument to food technology, has to be the venerable, Juicy Lucy.
The Juicy Lucy. Man. If you’ve never had occasion, lets just say that a closer marriage between meat and cheese, you will not soon divine. It’s rather simple, if not brilliant. Done proper, these hamburgers have residing inside them a copious pocket of molten cheese. Yes, cheese swaddled in meat. Every man’s caloric ideal. So pop your cholesterol pills as we continue on in our burger series, and take yourself a closer look at this Minnesota original.
Prep is easy. Easy as wrapping ground beef around a hunk of cheese. You can use any cheese you’d like too. We used Velveeta, which we admit, ain’t cheese. But it was all we had on hand, and besides, it melts like an iceberg in the Gobi desert. So wrap your ground beef, or baring that, if you’re the wife of a deer slayer, ground venison, around a commendable wad of your favorite cheese, and form it into a patty suitable to thee. Season it lightly, and make way for the grill. We seasoned ours today, with Lipton Onion Soup Mix, because it’s not just for soup you know. Proceed to ply your grill craft with great effect, and do hence what you were born to do.
We tossed on an onion for good measure. We like onions at the pit, and they are elementary to do. One small onion was ample for this cook. Peeled and set over direct heat. Rolled about like an unsinkable pool ball. Whence the outer layers become tender, they will peel off with great ease, at the pinch of a tong, into gastronomic, smokey-tinted petals that which shall adorn your monolith of meat. Graced with cheese. And patron to the pit. Man!
And of course, we toasted the buns.
The Juicy Lucy. A taste of Minnesota. And sure to win over your belly, where the wood smoke rises, and the seasons gently ebb. Amen.
*Note to our fellow patrons, who look forward to our weekly smattering of meat and prose. We will be on vacation next week, and unless the meat gods intervene, there shall be no post to speak of. We thank you for your on-going patronage, and may your grills and lives be active and full.
A couple of weekends ago, deep in hither lands, and way up north in the Superior National Forest, of which precise coordinates I shall not utter here, my bride and I for a time, lingered in paradise. Balsam Firs and Black Capped Chickadees abounded. Downy woodpeckers pecking. Endless blue skies aloft. And our hammocks strung in a peaceful respite. Backpacking into the remote areas like this at once ushers an inherent quietude and tranquility not soon privy the city dweller. A stillness of earth and soul, and the waters there, oh how they run so delightful and clean. Tumbling through the mossy, forest crags, as if just to be lovely that way, and to nourish the fevered palates of those weary foot travelers who happen upon it. Folks like us. We liked it so much in point of fact, we set up our camp, and we stayed there a while, as patrons to paradise.
A lovely place. A place I couldn’t help but to recollect some, whilst tending to old kettle grill this evening last, on our home patio back in the city. I get like that every now and then. Reminiscent if you will, with pit-side reflections. And I can’t help it. Lighting the grill, and seeing the fire cordially lick for the sky, and tasting the aroma of the rising wood smoke, well, in a flip of a heartbeat, I am harkened back to other campfires in other places of enduring beauty. Places that I have once pressed a tent stake in, upon which earthy soils I have slept so soundly. I am smitten I guess, for the prettier places
Places where the star fields glitter, suspended in the blackness above, and the lonesome wail of the Timber Wolves echoed through the forest hollows. Places amid the whispering pines, where if you want a good dinner, you had better have packed it in, or barring that, possess an adeptness of procuring sustenance from the field and stream. For to live simply, and deliberately, and not to be bothered by much else is the goal here. To reduce life’s endless complexities to a few scant items, and stow them neatly away in our backpacks. And for a while at least, to be gone with everything else. To flex our muscles up the cardiac switchbacks, and breathe in that freshened air. To catch fish, climb rocks, and build campfires. To be 10 again, in the Sherwood Forest, and sport a quiver with but one crooked arrow.
Back in the city again, tending supper over this old pit, I leaned back in the BBQ chair, watching the smoke curl some. Still reminiscing whilst crescent moon dallied over the Spruce, and a growing family of mallards floated serenely out on the pond. It’s kind of pretty here too, I thought. Tongs in my hand, the aroma of Cheddar stuffed Polish sausages and hickory wafting from the pit. Glory! But I think of the hammock I strung up recently, in my quaint, northern sanctum – my Shangri-la in the woods. Hung nicely between two fluttering Aspen trees. A location I became much acquainted with in my stay up there. For I took not one, nor two, but three lengthy naps there, in dappled sunbeams, and beside burbling streams. Whiled away most of the afternoon in such fashion, harboring not a morsel of guilt. It was a lifestyle, by and far, that I could get used to. If only I could get my Weber Grill out there, I thought, in this land so remote. I think I should never again return.
The aromas of supper snapped me back to the present. Back to the city. I rolled the sausages about on the old grate. Onions were already diced. Ketchup and mustard at the ready. I toasted up a couple buns for my bride and I, and assembled this most basic of grilling endeavors. Grilling Polish sausage is about as simple as they come I guess, and yet, satisfying in a round about way. They taste good, but more over, it gives us pit keepers another excuse to play with fire. To smell that smoke wafting. And I guess just to be outside. And to this cook anyways, a porthole to a bevy of memories wrought over the open flame. Reminders which rise with the wood smoke, of good times, in pretty places, where the breeze blew sweetly through the trees. Something we like do every now and then. Keeping it simple. Like a good Polish Sausage. Amen.
It was one of those vintage, gorgeous Sunday afternoons here on the 45th parallel, if you can call 38 degrees gorgeous. Minnesotan’s I think can, because we love the spring. We love it because for a time, we were rather convinced it would never make our acquaintanceship again. For long was the winter, and eternal did its icy bonds adhere, not only to our driveways, and our favorite lakes, but unto the tender skin of our souls as well. Persistent ice and cold, well, it has it way of getting to some people, like barnacles on the buttocks of our lives. Even so, we kept a positive attitude, and we endured. But most folks I know of are done now with the winter, throwing up their middle fingers along with their shovels in a quiet contempt, dis-satisfied with its once frosty allure, for they are ready again, for the vibrancy of spring. Emboldened by the sun on their shoulders perhaps, and ready for action. Like for instance my ducks.
Our pit faces a pond you see, and these ducks, oh how they like to strut around the place, with their little chests puffed out so proud. Many a time I will be lighting up the grill, and I don’t know if it’s the smoke or the resounding clang of the enameled lid, but they more often than not come hustling up out of the pond to see whats for supper. And I tell them. I have to tell them you see, or they get mad at me. I have to assure them that this too is not their kin they smell cooking under the lid. They always show up as such, and always in the nick of time it seems, making things just a little awkward, as if they have every right to. And maybe they do. Some day I may just have to get it over with, and smoke a duck, and watch them all tout about, and field their penetrating glares. I don’t know. Regardless, and on the menu tonight, we’re making a backyard pit favorite – artisan pizza on the grill. So get a hold of your inner Italian, and let’s make a pizza pie!
If you’ve been paying attention in this blog over the last month or so, you will recall a write-up, How To Impress A Woman: Bread. You should also remember, because there was sugar involved, that the same bread dough we used for that, was also used to procure some rather amazing caramel rolls off the grill, in How To Impress A Woman Again: Caramel Rolls. These two culinary triumphs are not without a third. For we have subtly been holding your hand, here at the pit. Ask for but one strand of golden hair from an elvish queen, and she may give you three. Indeed, and henceforth, tho we ain’t no queen, here then is the third installment towards a higher carbohydrate utopia; a cheesy salute to an all-time favorite, and yet another use for this amazing dough. Sure to impress women and men alike, and maybe a couple of ducks too. If you need to refresh your memory on how to make the dough, just refer back to the links above. But here is memory nudge, none the less.
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
- 6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
You can use what ever pizza dough you wish of course, and many of you already have your own systems for pizza in place, which is great, but the whole point of this article, and the two previous blogs under the bread umbrella, as linked above, is to show you the utter versatility of this fantastic dough. From fresh bread, to pizza. To caramel rolls for dessert. Its real easy to do too.
Simply roll out the dough to a uniform 1/4 inch thickness, add what ever toppings you fancy, and transfer it to an oiled pizza stone, which has been preheated on the grill. Charcoal arrangement should wax reminiscent of a smoldering doughnut, sure enough about the diameter of your pizza stone, and the lid on for an oven-like atmosphere in the cooker. If you’re using a Weber kettle, vents should be wide open. Grilling pizza goes against everything we have taught you about the hallowed virtues of going low and slow. It is hard for us to utter such words, but hot and fast is your motto here. Thus for you a speedier rendezvous to your quintessential pizza nirvana. Whence the crust is of a golden brown, plate the pie, and offer it in good stride to your people. Oh, make haste with it. Plop it down on the table in front of them, with the steam still rising. And watch the molten cheese ooze over the sides whence you peel off a slice, appreciating for a moment how your people foster flattering notions for thee, as their pit master most cool, and bequeather of the beloved Artisan pizza pie. Yum!
Artisan Pizza hot off the grill. Man! Yet another culinary gem from the such a versatile dough, and even better of course, patron to the pit.
Why is it when us Patrons of the Pit become giddy as a kid on Christmas when we know a snow storm is in our forecast? Why is it we contemplate our next meat choice in the grocery store as the weatherman predicts a cold and heavy snow. Why do we bundle up and head out into the tundra as we know the rest of the world stays inside? As the winter wonderlands blow across our patios we hold our tongs in hand waiting to add another chunk of hickory to the flame. Our neighbors gaze out the window and question what we are up to next. Our wives sip hot coco and smile knowing that they will get a meal out of our insane obsessions. While the whole time we sit in peace. As snowflakes falling on our stocking hats and ice crystals collect on our whiskers. We breathe in and out, taking in as much of the aromatic mixture of smoke, meat and spice rubs. It’s natural…it’s poetic.
Yes, to all of those affected by the storm this weekend. Let your grill smoke away. Let your meat slowly fall apart on the hot grate, when only 1/16th of an inch away, Winter hammers the lid of your smoker with its fierce cold. When you sit at your dinner table, fork in hand and BBQ sauce in the other, smile at your accomplishments. Laugh at yourself knowing you have performed an act that most people in their right mind never would. Then eat!
Way up yonder, on the northern tiers of Minnesota, we often press a tent stake patron to some pretty places here and there. Places of exquisite beauty, where the waters run clearly, and the breezes taste sweet, sifted through the fragrant pines. My fellow patron and I routinely visit these locales, if not even for but one day. One day to inhale that pure, unpretentious air, and to absorb a rarefied tranquility lost, but not forgotten, in the ever-whirling cog of society. Indeed, we fancy to strike off for the wilder places just as often as we can, for to live simply, and abandon all tension there. For we are at home in the woods, by and by, and love to tarry fire-side amid the whispering pines.
Putterers by nature, we are content for hours on end it seems to cook exotic camp food over smoldering coals, repair in our chairs, and simply watch the smoke rise unto the standing pines. To tell story, and play song, whilst dotingly poking at the fire. Bannocks baking in blackened skillets, chickadees flirting, and all the many phone calls at once escaped in our own personal, wilderness sanctum. Oh the places, the beautiful places, that we have loitered in, here and there.
Campfires of Birch and Balsam often flicker in camp, as the lake serenely laps upon our shore, and the stately pines sway gently in the breeze, like a thousand and one fly rods, nay, make that a thousand and two. Oh how we love to cook over the open flame in these places, to ply our craft, turning our spoils into shore lunch. The stars, the moon, the forest glade, we love it all, even the smoke in our face! And here is the thing I have noticed, and maybe some of you have to; every time back home when we thus light the grill, and we smell that campfire-like smoke lofting towards the heavens, are we not at once, and irrevocably so, reminiscent, and smitten deeply for these places. Because smell is at once patron to memories, and memories thus flood back of those quiet campsites nestled aside shimmering waters. And for a moment, we can taste again the simple life we had once aspired to there. Because here it is again, deep in an urban sprawl, working over this old kettle grill; and there are blackened skillets, and chickadees even, and the sweet fusion of memories gently forged, both here and there, over the swiftly ebbing seasons, and the smoke which curled there. Amen.
Over a steaming cup of tea, I glance out the window at the pit, watching spindrift swirl off the house in a fashion suitable maybe, for the weathered, icy, flanks of Everest. The mercury gauge read a sporty 5 degrees F, but the weather man said it felt more like minus 15, and I guess believed him. You kind of have to believe him I concluded, when it feels like your parking brake is engaged when you back down the driveway in the morning, only it isn’t Yeah, it was cold out there alright. A vintage January day in Minnesota. The kind of day where you put on two or three shirts in the morning, and then you go about the business of getting dressed. I curled my toes in my warm socks, fingers cradling the hot, porcelain cup , and after a dash of consideration, I decided to do the only sensible thing I could think of – to go outside naturally, and ignite the Snow Weber!
Robert Frost postulates in his poem the virtues of world destruction either by the fire or by ice, figuring either, if we had to, would be pretty nice. I wonder tho if he ever grilled in winter, or knew that the two forces could harmonize together for the betterment of his tummy. Because they can. And so it was, with pork chops in hand, I stepped out onto the wind-swept patio, and at once my left eye lid seared tight from the keen northern wind. I love it! Tenderly I placed the two chops on the hot grate, and admired them there for a spell. The previous owners of which I’m sure knew each other back on their farm. Perhaps routinely getting together for morning slop, to discuss their lives, their hopes, and their dreams. Maybe they even aspired to make it on to this blog one day. Hmm. I shook off the thought, and dusted the chops with some Louisiana Fish Fry Cajun Seasoning instead.
After a while, and maybe even longer than that, I felt the compulsion to put the lid on, and go think about my life. Nothing quite so fine as repairing out in the yard with a 15 below cross-wind, whilst two pork chops sizzle on the snow grill. Glory! The art of winter grilling, if your wondering, is not to fight it. But to embrace it. To make the proverbial glass of lemon aid out of it. To meet it on it’s terms and not your own. That, and a degree of lunacy doesn’t hurt none either.
And supper is served, courtesy of, and inspired by:
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
We are men. And we are moved by meat. Don’t ask us why. We don’t know. Difficult perhaps to articulate, but easy to appreciate, whence our incisors have pierced the hallowed surface of that perfectly seared steak. Ah yes, steak. A good one will settle a restless man’s soul, and in turn draw him closer to thee, and unto his meatiest ideal. Hark, the world and it’s cares fairly ebb to a faint hush, and the pendulum of the sun at once holds stalwart in the sky, when at last we lay big meat to flame, and simply cook it there amid the rising smoke. Oh how we favor a good steak, abiding in it’s juices, sizzling quietly over a beautiful bed of coals. It moves us.
It was one of those vintage winter afternoons, under skies of sleet and falling snow, where the call of the grill was at it’s most primal. It’s most basic, I should wager. Nothing fancy today, as fancy would only ruin it. Nay, when bridled in the heady thralls of meat lust, let there just be meat on flame, and let hunger be our spice. The rest will sort itself out, by and by. For today, as in days past, we are smitten for the rib eye. The bone-in succulent sort known to send grown men into slobbering fits of idiocy. Plunk one of these down on a man’s plate, and plop a potato along side it, and he is at once and for all the world, a contented species. Gobbling quietly by himself, with no apparent no need for conversation. Like a pacifier to a new born, for a time anyways, he will require little else. Indeed, for a few fleeting minutes, and maybe even more than that, all the world is right. For let it be said, nothing is quite so efficient at setting a man straight, than grilled meat on the bone, and a fashionable side of potatoes.
So next time your looking for something simple off the grill, or have a restless man on your hands, well, ain’t too many things better suited for both, than a perfectly grilled Rib Eye, and the space in time to devour it.
Here is an excellent method for grilling delicate meats, such as fish. If you haven’t tried plank cooking yet, your missing something out of your grilling career. It’s frighteningly easy to do, and here is how you do it!
First off, get your hands on some cedar planks, and these are often found in any grilling section of any hardware or big box store. Next soak them in water for no less than an hour. After that, brush down the surface you’re going to lay the fish on with a coat of olive oil. Season the fish how ever you like, and lay them on the plank nice and pretty like. Then head out to the grill and gently plunk the plank over direct heat, and smile to yourself as you put on the lid. Yes, it’s that easy. In point of fact, perhaps the easiest grilled fish you’ll ever do. You don’t even need to flip the meat. Just let it go. And the less you touch it the better.
As with any fish, when it flakes easily with a fork, it’s done. What happens during the cook is truly a wondrous dance between smoke and heat. The plank fairly sizzles, and releases a delicate barrage of cedar smoke up into your meat, infusing it, whilst in the same breath, protects your spoils from the inferno below. The result is a savory cut of fish tinted with an aromatic marriage of cedar and seasoning. A delightful flavor profile, with a woodsy tint. And because you never have to turn the fish, this plank method is particularly well suited for meat of this delicate nature, tho other meats and vegetables can be cooked the same way.
Cedar plank grilling. Give it a try!
And yes, a bite was taken from this picture for quality control reasons. A pit master privilege.
Happy New Year, from our pit to yours.
Looking back over another good year of grilling and smoking, – of BBQ, one of our favorite cooks, hands down, was pecan smoked white fish, freshly caught from a pure, upper mid-west lake, that of course in these cyber pages, shall go unnamed. Fishermen every where will understand. The smoked fish was at once tasty, succulent, and decidedly agreeable with our bellies. Even my wife liked it, and she doesn’t so much fancy fish. So if you haven’t tried it yet, your missing something out of your grilling career. Nothing is quite so fine, let it be said, than a day on the lake, angling under a beautiful blue sky, procuring your limit, and then whiling away the evening hours smoking your spoils over a gentle fire, whilst kicked back, and feet up, lovely beverage in hand, watching the sun slowly arc towards the trees. Your finger on the pulse of nature, and what once swam yonder; cooking quietly on the grill… Man! We cannot teach you how to fish right now, but here is how to smoke one, should you be so lucky.
First off, and before anything else, clean the fish as you like and let it soak in a brine over night. I know what some of you may be asking. What’s a brine, and why should I do it? Well, a brine simply put is a solution of salt and water that you soak your meat in to improve the over all quality of your end game. To brine your fish will first off improve the texture, and also add considerable flavor. But what it does best is convince the fish to retain moisture during the cooking process, and that is no small thing. If you’re a meat geek, and want to learn more about the science of the brine, check out this in-depth link.
Anyways, here is the brine recipe we favor to get you started:
- 2 Quarts water
- 2 Cups brown sugar
- 1 Cup kosher or pickling salt
- 1/2 Cup soy sauce
- 1/2 Cup lemon juice
- 1 Teaspoon each Garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper
Soak your fish in this over night. It will look like a sickly stew, and your first instinct will be to go throw up somewhere, but you’ll grit through it some how, especially later on, whence you smell it on the cooker. Next day, you will need to employ your considerable pit master skills and get your grill or smoker running pretty low, like 150 degrees. Every smoker is different, and every grill its own entity. So be creative, and assert yourself, 150 isn’t that hard to do.
- One tip – is to build a smaller fire than you normally work with, and to add a big tray of water which will act as a heat sink, absorbing some of the thermal energy you don’t need, and thus keeping the temperature lower.
Once you get the temp dialed in, you have just completed the hardest part of smoking fish. Lastly, put on a chunk of gently smoking wood. Pecan wood yielded amazing results for us, but any fruit wood will do. Thus, put the wood on and then the fish, and let her do her thing. In the mean time, grab your pole and head back down to the lake and catch yourself some more. Or perhaps make the acquaintanceship of your hammock, a meeting long over due. When the fish easily flakes with a fork, it’s done. Usually a few hours.
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 air there, whilst your prized rump roast sizzles in the cooker. Ah yes, the ambiance. And the smoke, for better or for worse, is a part of that.
People often dash the charcoal grill for the speed and convenience of the gas units. We do not understand. Why would you take something you love, like grilling, and try to speed it up. For let it be said, because it’s true, anything that is worth doing in this life, is worth doing slowly. There is a pleasure in the process of lighting the coals, of watching the fire slowly come to life, and the puffs of smoke ascending to the heavens. To grill over charcoal is to say to yourself, and who ever else is looking, that you’re in no hurry. Such action confounds your peers, and grabs the sun by the tail as it were, and pauses it there in sky, extending the moment for the moment’s sake. And all the Brethren of the Smoke rejoice. Indeed, there is a simple joy residing with the charcoal and wood cookers, patron to those who choose the scenic path, and the smoke which rises there. Amen.