So did you notice that the 4th of July has slid right by now, patron to the swift-ebbing current of time? It has indeed, along with the weeks and months that tally the years. Just like that, they have all slipped into our rear view mirrors. But this is life I’ve noticed; the further you get along in it, the faster it seems to go. Like a good movie, or a bowl of your favorite ice cream. Yup, and suddenly your baby is two. You know how it goes. And maybe this is why I’ve always liked BBQ so much, because of the time it takes to make it. It makes you slow down and take your time. The purposeful sort of time that one must set aside to render succulence from the fires. And therein lies the secret. Because there are faster ways, after all, that you can procure yourself some supper in this world, but none of which so poignantly affix themselves to the scenic path of life, like that of good and abiding BBQ.
So come with us now on a little meat parade and see for yourselves some of the things we’ve cooked up at the pit over this last 4th of July. Starting first with a rack of baby backs.
Here is a pit classic sure to let up on the accelerator pedal of life. Good ribs take 4 to 5 hours to smoke, which most days, is just right to get yourself out of that hurried mode of the city life. It is good therapy in the human condition to smoke ribs at least twice a month we’d wager. Maybe more depending on how fast your life is bouncing by. By golly you hurried soul, what’s your haste made of anyhow? You’re in a hurry and don’t even know why! So get yourself pit-side, and kick up your feet for a few hours and watch the smoke curl there, in your own private meatopia! Just watch how relaxed you get, and let the world spin on with out you by and by. You’ll be just fine, by this fire, where the smoke curls thinly into a blue and yonder sky. We started our extended weekend with just such an event, seasoned with our favorite rib rub from the great folks at Miners Mix. Did the ribs on the kettle grill via the snake method. If you’ve not tried the snake method before, we recommend it. Here’s a link to more of how it works in detail.
On our second day of the BBQ parade, I favored the good company of the Santa Maria Grill Attachment for the Weber kettle. Wings were the order of the hour, and the Santa Maria frankly rocked the pants off of it. Santa Maria style cooking is like a dance, and your partner, the fire, always leads. Fires are moody by nature, and the heat fluctuates, but the Santa Maria grill lets you raise and lower your meats with a commanding control in accordance to fires. It’s dancing with the flames, and a fabulous way to grill. If you’re new to the Santa Maria style, below is a link to a write up we did on it a couple years ago. It’ll tell you everything you need to know. And some probably some stuff you didn’t want to know.
By the third day of continuous grilling, I was getting a little fish hungry, so I picked up some sockeye salmon at the local market, marinaded it for 15 minutes in Miners Mix Salmon marinade, and grilled the fillets skin side down on the freshly oil Craycort grates. Yes, Miners Mix even has salmon marinade. It ended up being more of a paste tho, which really lent a great flavor to the fish. Wasn’t sure if I was supposed to scrap it off or leave it on. Obviously I went with the latter. Burp!
Day 4 Meat Lust
By lunch time on the 4th day of continuous BBQ I had only one thing on my mind – steak! And when steak is your chief quarry of the day, as any man knows, only one species will do. Rib eye! I remember little of this event as meat lust was in high form. There was salt and cracked pepper involved. A baked potato, I remember. And a Minnesota Twins baseball game up on the flat screen. Then there was a nap, belly-up, with steak juices not even dry yet on my chin. It was a good time, people, and we’ll just leave it at that.
Day 4 / Part II
By supper time of the fourth day of continuous BBQ, and after a commodious bit of “quality time ” in the little pit boys room, I was ready to embark on the 5th grilled meal in 4 days. This time it would be a pile of chicken thighs. As an experiment, I seasoned half in just salt and pepper, and the other half with Miners Mix Steak and Veggie rub. Both my wife and I concurred, the Steak and Veggie rub beat out the salt and pepper hands down. I know you must get tired of hearing this from us, but dang it, if you don’t have some Miners Mix in your spice rack, well you’re just missing out.
Thus we see the terminus of the meat parade as it comes sadly to an end. It did it’s job tho. It fed us primarily. Fed us really well in point of fact. But in quiet undertones it also slowed us down, which is the natural by product of any good meal. For when we take time to cook, especially outside, where we must kindle our own fires, we also say to ourselves and to the rest of the world that we’re in no hurry right now. That for a while at least, we will be putting meat to flame, and be doing very little else. No instant gratification here. This will take some time. And the longer it takes the better, because this is what we love to do. And why would we want to rush something that which we love to do. And by slowing down, we may also trick the hands of time for to hold the sun aloft just a few hours more, that which we would have missed out on otherwise being in a rush. That’s the kind of stuff you can pull off when you slow down and cook. That’s what we’re privy to every day, here, patron to the pit. Amen.
As I tarry now in my writing room, with stereophonic music in play, the wind driven sleet of an April blizzard raps against the window pane like a house guest no longer welcome. It was 60 degrees the other day here in Minnesota. 60 degrees. That’s like Miami beach around here. People were gleefully expelling their breath into pool noodles and slapping on last year’s sun tan lotion. My but it was lovely then. All the snow save for the deepest recesses of shade had melted into the grass. The nice cars of the world were back on the roads. And joy had returned to the eyes again of the mass captive audience that is the north-land. Indeed, our spirits lept in proportion with the mercury. But today all of that is gone now- humbled under a half-foot of wet snow. Like a sucker punch to the gut. Like the candy bar of summer dangled in front of thee, and then yanked from your outreached and trembling hands.
We stand strong in our mukluks tho, waiting and tingling, ready to pounce on the exploding sun.
Taking the Summit
I think back to just two days ago, standing in shirt sleeves at the pit, nurturing this beautiful pork shoulder. Oh how the tweety birds rejoiced in the trees, and the migrant Buffleheads frolicked in the pond. I reveled in how the sun felt warm against my shoulders, and how the air tasted so sweet, mixed with the soft, rising tendrils of hickory smoke. This was the measure of weather we northern pit keepers have waited so long for. That which we pined for amid the enduring winter tempests of yore. I thought maybe we were done with winter. Yes, there was a glimmer of hope naively affixed to my soul, even tho the weather man said the snows were coming back again. That schools would close. And roadways would go asunder as they do. He said it was coming. And sure enough it did. But for this brief window of time, this lull between the storms, like a mountaineer who claims his pocket of good weather for the summit, we parlayed our moments pit-side, under pastel blue skies, and we gloried there. Seizing the day, as they say. And procuring some really good pork along the way. Here’s the skinny on that.
How To Make Pulled Pork in the Weber Kettle
- The Seasoning
Pork butts are the easiest thing in the BBQ arts, provided you’ve got the time. Firstly, the night before we hit the shoulder with liberal quantities of our favorite butt rub, Miners Mix Memphis Rub, and let it soak into the meat all night long on the fridge, wrapped in plastic of course. Then we hit it again as it went onto the pit.
- Kettle Set up & Operating Procedure
This is easy too. For this cook we used the two baskets that came with the kettle, along with the stock grate with the two hinged trap doors deals on either side. Very handy for this style of cooking. Filled each basket half way with lit coals, and half way with unlit briquettes and a couple chunks of hickey wood. Basically creating two little minion fires. We put an aluminum pan with about an inch of water in between said baskets, and plopped the shoulder on the grate rightly in the middle. Fat cap up to self baste later on. That’s it. You don’t touch the meat until it’s done, or about 195 internal. The pit dampers were set to about 50% top and bottom, or until your kettle settles in to around 225 to 250 degrees. We did have to occasionally add some unlit briquettes to baskets too, and more wood chunks, but that is standard O.P. for this sort of smoking. All part of the BBQ arts, and kettle cuisine at its best.
Another fine smoke suckled from the scant offerings of pleasant weather dropped from above. If only for a day, weren’t we the kings. Or at least well fed, patron to the pit. Amen.
A lot of Minnesotan’s want to give that ground hog a good burial right now. It weren’t too long ago, yonder in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the wily rodent emerged from his earthen hollow and declared for us all an early spring. And spirits leapt. Turns out tho one, Punxsutawney Phil, is full of crap. Yup. Ever since then it’s been one blizzard after another. Up here in Minnesota lately, driveways have been lost for weeks. Squirrels buried and orphaned. Icicles stalactites draw longer from the roof than the Trump administration. And the sun seems like a distant relative of whom you can’t quite remember their face. Welcome to March in Minnesota.
I woke up the other day with a sincere hankering for some good BBQ. Being the Keeper of the Coals that I am, I knew it was within my duty spectrum and skill set to do something about it. Now to get a good BBQ on in this inhospitable parallel, you must first dig out your pit, as shown in the accompanying photo. Some days this is as easy as taking to it with a little whisk broom. A few swipes of your fairy tale wand and you’re good to smoke. Other days not so much, and full-on, shovel action is required. Such was the case this Sunday last. I dug and I dug. And I dug and I dug some more. And eventually, whilst the crisp six below wind swept off the frozen pond, I had myself a pit proper again. I employed the propane assist on my vintage 1997 Weber Performer to get things cracking. I like that feature. Not as poetic, perhaps, as the political section stuff up the aluminum arse of a charcoal chimney, but nay, it is a manly way to light one’s charcoal for sure. And whilst the smoke curled in kind there, I gave a few final finishing touches with the snow shovel and headed inside to assess the pork shoulder. Come with me won’t you. Come check out this butt!
That’s one pork butt you see there. It was so big, I felt compelled to lop it in halves to spare a little time on the cook. But more, to increase surface area to garner more bark. An old pit keepers trick I’ve used many times. The rub today is probably our current favorite pork butt and rib rub, from the good folks at Miners Mix. If you’ve not tried their products yet, well you’re missing something out of your lives. That’s all I can say. They’re legit. As good as rubs come, we think. And no they don’t pay us anything other than send us a few bottles now and then. Good stuff. Anyhow, we liberally seasoned the bone-in butt with Maynard’s Memphis Rub and set her on the Weber kettle, indirect, for the next 7 hours. We dug out. Now we’re diggin’ in!
The technique we used here, as you can just make out in the photo, worked really well. We used the old stock grate that came with the pit, you know the stainless steel kind with the hinged trap door deals on either side. It was the perfect tool for this smoke. Under each hinged door, we set one charcoal basket with some hickory wood, some lit charcoals and some unlit coals, making two little minion baskets, you might say. As the cook progresses, all you need do is knock the ash off the coals now and then and add more unlit briquettes as necessary. Maybe some more wood too. It sort of just keeps rocking on like that until thy meat lands gently on the hallowed shores of succulence. 195 to 205 internal. Or until that bone comes out clean.
A Matter of Time
Pork shoulders take some considerable clock however. These kind of smokes are not for the easily bored or the impatient. They are for the loiterers among us. Those who can tarry in a view for hours on end and still think well of their lives. Butt smokes take time. Time to flip up your feet in your favorite chair, tip your hat over your eyes, and let yourself drift into the heavenly land of nod. Time to watch the game, or a movie, or even both. Time to chase the cat around, or the baby. Time to loiter with a lovely periodical in the little pit boys room until your legs go numb. Indeed, time to let up on the accelerator pedal of life for a while, and just be…
Time to do what ever you want really. And that’s what I love most about butt smoking. The time it takes. You see, when you take the time to smoke a butt, you’re really stealing some “me time” in a most hectic world. Even your people will tend to leave you alone if they know your cooking them supper. BBQ is hard work after all! Must leave the pit master to his calling, they think. And a wise pit jockey will do his kindest to water that weed!
Behold, Mount Pork Hath Risen! Succulent, hickory smoked pulled pork courtesy of the Weber kettle and a goodly amount of time. Quality time, patron to the pit. Amen.
March in Minnesota. Don’t believe a ground hog!
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 Black Capped chickadees cavorted outside the tent in the gray, morning light, whilst shafts of cherry and gold began to burst over an endless sea. I looked over at my fellow patron, who was already mentally booted up and gazing out the tent flap at a sunrise fair to tally the ages. We were encamped on the wild shores of Lake Superior, in Minnesota’s famed arrowhead country. The big lake was alive, and pulsing with ice water waves that which rolled against the rugged coastline. We love it up here. It’s what we do. We’ve come not just escape the maddening urban throngs of the city, but more, to embrace the wild side of this planet, on it’s own varied and distinct terms. To live simply. To breathe purely. To sup from the fountain of youth. And if we’re lucky, maybe even cook something tasty here, where the earth meets the sky. And the steaks have no name.
Tradition Has No Name
It was a year ago about this time that we made steak sandwiches on our annual November romp in the prettier places. You can read about that write up here, if you’re into such things. The sandwich was so good, and so delightful on the palate, we sought to recreate it again this year. But this time we would up our game slightly with the always covetous and tender chew of No Name Steaks. Now I don’t know if you have ever had occasion to plate up No Name Steaks before, but to those who have, you know from what we speak when we say them things is tender. Like you almost don’t need a knife to cut it, kind of tender. The kind of steaks that give false-toothed grandpas a real kind of hope! We’ve grilled them now and again over the years, and we have concluded that you would have to be a rank folly pit keeper to screw up one of these endearing steaks. I don’t know what they do, or how they do it, or why they have no name, but meat wizardry is clearly at hand with these cuts. I suppose also one ought not to dawdle on these things either, but instead to say thank you to the kindly meat folk at No Name Steaks, for producing such lovely and slobber-tugging Hunks O’Tenderness. Our bellies are forever indebted to your mastery of the meats.
Anyways, lets get after it.
Griddle Up Boys!
Business was done in style this time, with our highly esteemed and beloved, Mojoe Griddle. We’re talking restaurant grade, people – 35 pounds of one-quarter inch, hot-rolled steel (insert grunts here), the thing will keep cooking after three apocalypses we reckon, and deflect bullets too if tipped up on end. Always a pleasure to cook on the Mojoe. True, our gas mileage was reduced by 5% hauling this thing up north, but lo, who cares. You can set it on a Weber kettle, or over the fire pit, or like we did this time, on the Camp Chef Stove. When cooking en-mass for a fair number of hungry and hardy outdoors people, not too many other griddles are as finely suited than this.
Thus it was merely a matter of slicing up the steaks into bite sized strips, along with some red onions and green bell peppers. Saute all this together over a very hot griddle, lightly coated in oil. The less oil the better the char. The Mojoe doesn’t need much oil either, as it’s near friction-less surface is akin to that of an air hockey table. Griddle up your steak chunks to a nice medium or how ever you like it, salt and pepper to taste, and bring the peppers and onions to an agreeable tenderness as well. We even tossed on some thinly sliced roast beef that we happened to have in the cooler. Why not! Be creative. This is really elementary cooking folks. Anyone can do it. We toasted the lightly buttered baguettes in one accord, and assembled the sandwiches with a fist full of shredded cheddar cheese, and some Mount Olive deli relish. Sided with a scoop of camp chili. Mercy!
Dinner was held by the romantic glow of the kerosene lamp, and was a pleasure all unto its own, serenaded by the pounding surf of Lake Superior, and the camaraderie of good friends and fine food. You could have offered us a table at the world’s finest 5 star restaurant then, but we would have turned you down, I think. For as our tummies tightened around these cheese steak sandwiches, and the stars turned above, we were at once and unitedly content there. At ease in our little corner of the world. We had come to live deliberately, as Thoreau once said. Where the earth kissed the sky. And we did that. And for a moment at least, and maybe even longer than that, weren’t we the kings. Amen.
A special thanks to the good folks at No Name Steaks for sponsoring our dinner tonight. They are a local Minnesota company based not too far from where we live. They’ve been putting out tasty steaks for years and years, and I can hardly wait to grill up the next one. Please check them out at No Name Steaks and get your pit master a box for Christmas or something!
Also, if you want to learn more about the Mojoe Griddle, here is their site for you too.
Grill on! -PotP
From time to time we get asked how can some one get into smoking meat with out the price tag and hassle of a fancy smoker. Well, if you have a humble Weber kettle grill, you can do it just fine. Here’s how.
The Snake Method
Here we have our beloved 22 inch kettle grill set up with what is affectionately referred to in the BBQ circles as “The Fuse Method” or “The Snake Method“. And it really works. You old timers already know all about this, but the basics of it is this – light one end of the “snake”, and gradually the lit coals will light up the unlit coals, and work its way along, like a fuse. Very similar to the Minion Method, of which we go into great depth and detail in our write up from many years ago now, called, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion.
The Snake Method, if you’ve not tried it before, is the common sense answer to the age old question of whether you need to buy a smoker or not. Well, from one pit jockey to another, of course you should buy yourself a new toy if you can have one, that’s half the fun. But if you can’t justify the money or the space for another pit, or just don’t want to deal with it altogether, this technique will hold you over with a degree of class and poetry representative of the big named smokers, with an end game every bit as succulent. All you need is that old Weber kettle sitting out back. It’ll work with other grills too, but here’s how to do it with a 22 inch kettle.
How To Set It Up
In your charcoal chimney plop in 12 briquettes and light them up accordingly. Whilst the dirty dozen are coming of age, line yourself up a snake of unlit briquettes along the inside edge of your grill, as seen in the photo above. We made the snake 2 briquettes wide, by 2 briquettes tall. We wrapped it about half way around the grill. Once the other 12 coals are grayed over, just place them in similar fashion at one end of the snake. Lastly, place your favorite flavor of smoke wood periodically along the snake. And viola, your done! You now have a smoker.
How It Works
As the unlit coals gradually light up, so too do the old coals gradually die off. The cycle of life in your pit. The magic of the snake method resides in this balance. At any given time, you see, the number of coals lit in your grill will produce enough just heat to keep it near to 250 degrees. The perfect temperature for smoking meat. And as the fuse burns it’s course, it will also ignite the smoke wood positioned along the way, providing a nice, continuous source of care free curls. It’s just plain lovely!
Your meat bounty should obviously be placed opposite the hot coals for proper indirect cooking, but in addition to that, with this particular method, you would do well to periodically relocate your meat as well, because the business end of the fuse does indeed, move. How long does it take to burn the snake out, you ask? We find it seems to average around 5 hours for a snake going half way around a 22 inch kettle. Results have of course varied with the weather, but that seems to be the average of things. Plenty long enough for a rack of BlackBerry Baby Backs to come to edible maturity, as you can see, patron to the pit. Let’s plate these babies up!
BlackBerry Glazed Baby Backs courtesy of the snake method. It works people! Give it a try!
Tips for Snake Method Cooking
- Open top and bottom vents wide open to start with, then adjust the bottom one as necessary. The more you close a vent the less air gets in, thus the cooler the grill will run
- Use of a water pan can also help lower pit temperatures if need be, and provide a humid environment within the pit.
- Move your meat once in a while as the fuse moves to keep your spoils indirect
- Patience. It takes the kettle grill a while to get up to 250, but it will get there, and when it does, it will stay there for many hours.
- You can skip the charcoal chimney part if you want, and just light one end of the snake with a weed burner or a mapp gas torch or some other manly lighting device you come up with
- That thermometer you have on your grill lid is probably not accurate. To really monitor your temps right most pit jockeys use a portable digital thermometer doodad, like this one
The tapering buzz of the Cicadas fill the St Croix River Valley, of which the stately pines and hardwoods stand, their needles and leaves like whisper chimes to a soft, summer breeze. And the sun dallies aloft, warm and sure; bronzing, burning or beckoning to those who tarry below. The river slips with a gentle current there, and the ducks and egrets play whilst puffy white clouds idle silently in a thin-blue sky. It’s summer time in Minnesota. And I’ll tell you what, we may have half-a-year of snow and cold around here, and a few additional months more of poor sledding, but when it is a nice day in Minnesota, let it be said, there is no finer place to be in all the world than this.
Call of the Wild
Naturally, we went camping. It is half our joy in life it seems, to spend lots of money so that we can go play hobo in the woods. To understand this oddity in depth would take another blog, so let us instead just tell you what we made for supper here, along the beautiful banks of St Croix.
Now I’d like to fancy myself a very fine fisherman, able and capable of procuring a rainbow from the natural environs from whence it swam. With steely eyes and a flick of of a fly rod, reading the river, and knowing my opponent with the sureness of a chess grand-master, I could single highhandedly, if I so choose, seduce and woo any submersed aquatic adversary with child-like ease, and have it served next to a side of beans on my dinner plate in about a one-half hour’s time. Yup. Well that’s the dream anyways. But reality in the woods is often times not like we dream. Especially when you leave your fly rod at home. And I may have exaggerated a wee bit on my fishing skills, too. Maybe.
Okay I did. But we didn’t go hungry!
No Name Supper Insurance
Not to worry, for tucked in the cooler, I had the foresight to stash a supper insurance plan. Salmon! No Name Salmon, to be exact. And let me say, putting fish on the plate could hardly be easier or more tasty. I had never had No Name Salmon before, and I’ve come to learn I’ve been missing out.
On the box, it said you could cook the salmon on the grill, or in the oven, neither of which was an option in my primitive encampment. But I had a camp stove and a frying pan and a wee bit of olive oil. So that would have to do. Hungry men ain’t picky.
Preheat the pan with a little oil, and saute yourself a few onions to go with it. Hey, just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can’t be fancy! So we softened up some onions a bit before laying the fully thawed fillets in. Just a few seconds after they hit the pan and sizzled there, the aroma of the juices and marinade it was packed with fairly filled the campsite with the smells of a gourmet restaurant, the likes of which I am sure every black bear within a 10-mile radius tipped a nose to. Mercy it smelled good! And the frying pan method worked just fine, off-hand and by the way. Even got a bit of crust on the fish, which I always enjoy. Just flip the fillets from time to time for even cooking. And like most fish, when they flake easily, they’re done.
We also made up a little camp biscuit/fry bread called bannock. Very simple yet tasty stuff, comprised of water and Bisquick. We’ll tell you about that in another blog.
Supper is served. Put your face in this, people! Who needs a stinking fishing rod!
No Name Salmon, Biscuits and Beans, cooked camp style on the tranquil shores of the St Croix. I don’t know how they do it, but these things were delicious! And goes to show that you don’t need to catch fish to eat fish in the great out-of-doors. We dined henceforth in great style, thankful for the food, this campsite, and the cicada serenade that which buzzed amid the forest canopy, dappled in sunlight, and cast from above. Amen.
For more information on No Name Salmon and other succulent meats, check out their website at nonamesteaks.
So I was assigned the prestigious and heady duties of procuring pulled pork for our daughter’s first birthday party. Even tho she can hardly manage a cheerio, I accepted the duties in full. I briefly scanned the weather charts and learned of the veritable monsoons that would impact our fair hamlet, naturally and precisely when I needed to smoke said pork shoulder. Now the reasonable minded cook would probably defer to his or her crock pot, I’m sure, or oven, but being I have a rep around here as a hardened pit jockey, I pretty much have to cook outside. No matter what.
The big day started fairly early, as most pork butts do, loading the fire bowl of the 22″ Weber Smokey Mountain with 20 pounds of charcoal. Yes, the entire bag. It’s a rather big cooker people, reminiscent of a Chevy Suburban and it’s awe inspiring 40 gallon gas tank. I suppose I could have dialed down the fuel costs on this smoke, but I didn’t feel like messing around. You know how it goes. It’s my baby’s birthday!
Anyways, the pork shoulder was seasoned the night before in the old stand-by, Miners Mix Memphis Rub, and dusted over yet again the next morning before plunking it on the smoker. The more time the pork has to marry with the spice rub, the better. The meat went on at 8 am, as I settled the giant porcelain enameled lid on to the smoker and surveyed the sky. It was gray over cast, with a minimal wind. Smoke curling straight up. I kept in mind the weather app on my phone is only wrong half the time. And the other half it just seems confused. We can do this!
By 9 am the first sprinkles dappled over the pond and the camouflage tarp I had strung up, just in case. It was lovely in it’s own way. A symphony of rain drops pattering like Beethoven in the key of nylon. I did the most proper thing I could think of, and simply sat in my BBQ chair and listened to the rain for a while, the sounds of pork sizzling in the pit, and watched the apple wood smoke pillar into the humid air.
By 10 am the rains fell considerably, like bed pans and hammer handles, pounding the pond side pit with gallons upon gallons of sky-born water. I dashed for the good cover of the house, and found sanctum on the couch with Netflix, and a lovely beverage there. Standard operating procedure for a hardened pit master.
By 11 am the rains came sideways as the fury of the tempest lashed like a thousand vipers outside my sliding patio door. To it’s credit, likewise to the engineers of Weber, the Smokey Mountain some how puffed contentedly away despite the Midwestern waterworks. Whilst the good critters of the world hunkered in their caves and holes, the rain continued to fiercely pound the land, and the wind bellowed from the north like Joshua’s trumpets. I could just make out my temperature gauge through the rain-cloaked window pane. The WSM was holding 250 degrees. Lo, this is how we BBQ!
By 1 pm the rain let up a trifle, good enough anyways that I could get the beans on the pit too, thus to lap up a bit of that good apple wood smoke there. They were your basic beans tightened up a bit with some ground beef, molasses, and some BBQ sauce. I was pleased also to see the butt, previously divided in half, had already developed a nice bark on it. A rough likeness suitable for a stand-in model of a good meteorite or something. But that’s how bark ought to be. It should raise the eyebrow of the uninitiated, and twist the grin of the seasoned pit maestro.
Around 2 pm the sun fairly exploded from behind curtains of gray, and the skies split into blue pastures, where song birds darted on the wing. Nice of it to wait until after I was done cooking, but that’s how it is sometimes at the pit. Mother nature gives us the finger. We adapt. And BBQ is accomplished never-the-less.
Around 3 pm all the guests arrived and sunk their chompers into this, a most succulent and well-deserved meat opus! Son-of-a-bacon-maker! Then they all celebrated one year of successful planetary living with our little girl: gathered around, watching her smile, opening gifts, crawling through multi-colored wrapping paper, and laughing like only one year old’s can for the benefit of our cameras, all the while unbeknownst of the previously mentioned rainy day smoking trials, patron to the pit. And after thinking about it for a bit, isn’t that precisely how it ought to be. Amen.
The rendezvous was classic trout camp, sans the trout. One by one we came from various corners of the state and all conspired at the river’s soft edge for a bit of camping, fellowship, and good food under the crescent moon. We had come to trout country not to fish, however, because trout fishing annually closes it’s doors in Minnesota in November. Poachers we are not. Instead we came here just to be, in a place that we really liked being, which in itself was sweetly enough, because, as Robert Traver once wrote in his esteem book, Trout Magic, “I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful“. And they are.
So we made our camps here on the shores of trout waters, deep in south eastern Minnesota, and did what we do best – eat! Now I don’t want to suggest that we come to the woods like this just to stuff our pie holes with endless calories, but in truth, it is a part of it. When your camp mate is also your fellow patron and long time pit cohort, well, with two cooks in the outdoor kitchen, lets just say pants are going to get tight! Like our first night there when we made cheese steak sandwiches on the Mojoe Griddle. A better backwoods sammich I do not rightly recall right now. Let me tell you about it, and how it went and came to be.
Enter The Mojoe
Established readers to this blog have seen this sexy beast before. The Mojoe Griddle. I’m telling you, if you have the space in your truck and can lift 35 pounds, this is one of the finest camp cooking rigs you can get. And marry it with a humble, two burner, Camp Chef Explorer stove, shoot, the world is yours! One-quarter inch hot rolled steel, people, restaurant grade, nearly non stick, complete with aluminum griddle strap to keep your spoils from toppling into the dirt! And better yet, large enough to fry a pancake to match a man hole cover!
This is high living, people.
With the sun setting over the valley rim, tree lines waxing to silhouettes, we got to work in the doable illumination of the porch light outside of the camper. Red onions and bell peppers sauteed in olive oil. And steak, I don’t remember what kind, but steak, seared to perfection over the hot steel. Ah yes, camp cooking at it’s finest, right here.
Through the pungent woods of shag bark hickory you can hear the gentle tumble of trout stream, the quiet banter of our camp mates in tarry around a crackling pine fire, and the comforting sizzle of vittles cooking on the Mojoe. The smell of onions and meat waft in the damp, November air. The rhythmic clank and slide of a steel spatula on a hot griddle. Tummies rumbling. You getting hungry yet! I could do this all day!
Near the end of the cook, we toasted up our hoagie rolls for that added texture to the perfect backwoods sandwich. I don’t know about you, but I have never regret toasting my buns. Ever.
The Finishing Touch
After a fashion, all was done and we went inside the camper and assembled our spoils. My fellow patron brought along a jar of this stuff to put on our sandwiches. Boy did that add a lovely dimension of flavor and camping class. Really good! He thinks of these kinds of things, when I never would. I found it on amazon if you’re interested. Mt. Olive Simply Relish Deli Style Dill 16 fl (Pack of 2)
The cold rain began tapping over the plastic roof of the camper as we settled into the dinette by soft candle light. The heater kicked on, softly murmuring in the background, and mood music played on the radio. Yeah, okay, this wasn’t exactly the sort of rough and tumble camping as is often associated with the past time, but hey, it was November in Minnesota. Our last fling of 2017. We had come to smooth it! And besides, we get it rough enough in town! Anyways, we ate a lot of food on that trip. Good food. But this sandwich in particular hangs with an asterisks in the panniers of our mind. There was something about how it came together: in the woods, the joys of that big griddle, the way the deli relish set off the flavors, the char on the green peppers. I dunno, it was just good! And made better yet doing what we love, with people we really like, in a place we really enjoyed being. A place where the trout leapt. And the men were men. Amen.
Stuff We Used
Check out the Mojoe Outfitters at their site, here
Camp Chef Stoves are also available off amazon. Here’s a link to that. Happy Camping!
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It finally happened. The event we northerners have been waiting for all winter long. I tarried in my leather man chair with a hot cup of tea in hand and simply watched it for a while, swirl and dance outside the window pane. Snow. Lots of it. Riding a tempest. One might even go so far as to wager it was a blizzard, and by golly it hit the spot to see. It hit the spot because of all the many times the weather men cried wolf this winter, barking of the big one to come. And it never did. Believe it or not, there are some people who actually like snow, look forwards to it, and want to frolic accordingly amid it’s softened flakes. We be some of those people. So it was good to see a boisterous and proper, Minnesota snowstorm engulfing our fair hamlet again. This was how it should be. And after it settled a bit, I went outside to cook something there.
The Power of Halves
After examining my meat larder, something men of a certain age tend to do, I settled on one portly pork butt to do the job. I think it weighed in at 8 pounds, I don’t recall. But I knew if I wanted to have it done by supper time, (6 hours away) then I would have to deploy the old pit master trickery of slicing the butt in halves, thus to reduce the cooking time. It’s a technique I’ve used many times at the pit, and always with favorable results. Not only does it reduce cooking time by maybe a third, but it also increases the surface area. This is good because it basically unlocks new real-estate for more spice rub and smoke penetration. More bark people. Take that weather man!
The Science and Art of Bark
Here we are a few hours into the cook, and as you can see, we were already developing a flavorful and robust bark. The smoke, courtesy of two large hunks of apple wood, combined with the relatively low heat of the Weber performer, which ran at 275 degrees, and the spice rub, Kits KC BBQ Rub, courtesy of the good folk at Miners Mix, all came together in a magical union of yum! Bark is a scientific thing, but you don’t have to be an Einstein to eat it. The Flintstones will do! If you want to learn more about how it’s formed and what is going on, check out the master’s write up of it over at Amazing Ribs What is Bark.
So it was, as the Alberta clipper slid into town that we put the finishing touches on our pulled pork sandwich. A squirt or two of sweet baby rays, combined with some of the more succulent muscles of the pork shoulder, and as always, I like to mix lots of bark in there too, so you get some in every bite. Mercy! Can you smell that? That’s a proper pulled pork sammich people!
When The Bark is Worth the Bite
I plated it up with a side of beans and returned to my man chair. After settling in, feet propped up, and fueled by repetitive instinct, I reached for the TV remote like any red-blooded American man would, but then curiously caught myself looking out the window at the snow again. A soft smile formed from my lips, and I set the remote back down, and picked up my sandwich instead. I had been waiting a long time for this, and I didn’t want to dilute it with the flashing images of a TV. It would be just me, my pork, and the snow. And for a while at least, that was enough. Amen.
Nothing quite so fine as a plateful of bark and beans! Burp!