What can be said, really, if for the shafts of warm light that which still fell from above. We’ll take it. And the quietude only pierced by the sound of my paddle blades dipping rhythmically into the still, glassy waters, stained amber from a waning sun. We’ll take that too. And I suppose also, the charming banter of barn owls, perched up their oaken stays; glory be but what a hoot-fest at hand, echoing through the musty, forest glade, and the tender places deep in my soul. Indeed, what can be said, but thank you, and we’ll take it. For it was one of those vintage, long summer days you see, that which the likes of you wish would never cease. With memories of winters past, so cold and so stiff, I guess a bloke knows when he’s onto something good. Something exquisite, with a gently arcing sun. And long may it tarry there, we pray, hovering over the western shore, sizzling, the illumination of a daily bookend, for those of us lucky enough to linger in but one of its golden rays. Indeed, we’ll take it if you please.
We’ll take it because we keepers of the pit notice these things. We spy yonder the tweety birds acting differently. Formations of geese overhead, as if in a dress rehearsal for the banquet that is fall. The subtle turn of a Cottonwood leaf. The tell-tale nip in the morning air. And of course, the swifter days, ebbing into longer nights. And whilst it still feels like summer, and looks like summer, we know in the back of our minds that these days are numbered. Thus, the DNA reflex to seize them now, vigorously whilst we can, in this, life’s heady game of memories, and the acquisitions there of.
On the pit tonight, a little a salute then, to summer’s good tidings – roasted red potatoes, and green beans harvested from the pit-side garden. And yes a little steak tossed in there too for to please the men folk. Cause steak is good and we mustn’t fight these things!
Red potatoes over direct heat
First on the pit, the red potatoes. We love roasting these little starchy spheres on the kettle grill. It works so good, every time. No foil needed. They were sufficiently cleaned I should wager, leastwise good enough for this pit boy, and then pointedly rolled about in a smattering of olive oil. This to act as an adhering agent if you will, for the seasoning. We used some more of that Grill Happy Seasoning we’ve been using lately. You can read more about that in our previous post if you wish, or just click here. Anyhow, the spuds were placed over direct heat the entire cook. Flipping once or twice at your discretion. About twenty minutes, or until soft. They’re real easy to do too. The end product of yum should be crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. Like many of us.
Foiled green beans on the grill
Next we tossed on some green beans plucked fresh from the garden’s green bosom, which were wrapped up in some foil along with a dollop or two of butter, and a splash of olive oil, and some home-grown scallions, just because we can. Salt and pepper to taste. These can be placed over medium or indirect heat for 15 minutes or so. Flipping once at your pit master instinct. Of which we did not soon after plopping on a hunk of cow, the cut of which I couldn’t rightly tell you. It was one of those pleasant finds I had discovered rummaging through the freezer, a left over that I had tucked away there from a previous cook out. I believe it was some form of sirloin or the like. But the truth is it doesn’t even matter, I guess. We are men you see. And we eat meat. It doesn’t matter if it has a proper name or not for to make the acquaintanceship of our bellies!
A rather swift cooking meal, this shouldn’t take more than a half hour if your fire is good and hot. Long about the half hour mark, the steak was done, nay, everything was done, and we pulled the beans off and took a peak inside. Steam bellowed from the sparkling folds of foil to the green harvest residing within. Very nice. Nothing is quite so delightful to the soul, it seems, than feasting on what you have grown. I suspect it is how we were always designed to live. Closer to the garden than a card board box. So plant what is wise, logic suggests. Not just in the garden, but in the very soils of our life. Plant what is good and right and decent in this world, the things worth growing, and watch then how the sunbeams fall over the fields of green, shadows cast, and rainbows stick to the sky, in these, the long days of summer, by and by. Amen.
Grilled steak, roasted red potatoes lightly seasoned, and hot, buttery green beans, fresh from garden to grill, and all patron to the pit. So next time you’re looking for something tasty on the BBQ, swing by the garden first and see what’s growing there.
There are some days in the human condition when a man proper needs to catch his own protein. A time required when he simply, and to an end, needs to fish. To stalk environs still wild, and pluck from them that which lurks and swims in the murky underwaters. To hoist thy plunder proudly into the air, dripping there, sunbeams glinting of scaly flanks of slime, and declare that dinner is henceforth secured from this barren and trying land. And somewhere deep down, just past that soulish area where it ought to, it feels good. Indeed, it feels right. Such was the case recently, whilst afloat a lovely Wisconsin fishery that shall go nameless here, naturally, to throw off any would-be angling gumshoes, that my elder brother and I came into the good fortune of tight lines and nicely hooping rods. Pulling in assorted pan fish and frisky crappies, which when escorted by hook and line, floundered over the water’s surface with an acoustic DNA like that of the final slurps of a draining laundry tub. And we drained a few tubs indeed. We were men you see. Fishing men!
Speaking of, when we first fired up this blog, almost two years ago now, one of the first genuine interactions we made in the vastness of the blogosphere, was with another fisherman, one by the name of TJ Stallings. A kindred soul. A man who has made his living for decades, in the business of fishing. A feat any bloke who has ever wetted a line and declared it good, has just got to admire. And I do. If you fish much, you’ve probably heard of his company, Road Runner by Blakemore. And to this day, I enjoy perusing through his blog, to learn new things, and see what old TJ has been up to concerning fish craft. It’s a good resource, and if you’re into angling at all, as we are, you may wish to check it out some time at TJ STallings Fishing Blog.
Anyways, TJ must have grown a liking for the weekly drool which accumulated on his keyboard after reading our BBQ posts, and one day sent us a box of tackle, just because. That’s just how TJ is I guess. I thanked him accordingly, but it never felt like enough. So, TJ, this is another, albeit humble attempt of ours, thanking you for your kindness, and your generosity. And for just being plain cool. This is our fish dinner, you see, and it’s in your honor. This one is for you! Here then is how it went, and came to be.
So back at the lake, I tied on one of these 1/8th oz jig spinners, Reality Shad by Road Runner, and that was all it took. The games were on, you might say, and the fish were agreeable on Wisconsin waters. Rod tips pulsing towards China, blue gills and crappie on the run, 6 pound test line as tight as guitar strings, slicing through a quiet lake, whilst the summer breezes gently murmured through an oaken shoreline. Say what you will, but this is living!
And before I knew it, I had stringer well enough along for a decent supper. TJ would have caught them bigger, I know, but golly, I think I had just as much fun. So we loaded the boat, saddled up in the truck, and made our way homeward, over the border, and through the spanning countryside, winding roadways, and one well-placed Dairy Queen stop, all the while conjuring the glorious meal yet to come.
At POTP Head Quarters, first on the pit, and being the proper order of things, were the tin foil potatoes. They take about twenty minutes or so, over direct heat, flipping once for good measure. We like to season them with a dash of salt and pepper of course, and a few pats of butter to keep things sporty. We also tossed some frozen peas in there too, cause I heard once potatoes are not a real vegetable. What ever.
Meanwhile, and after the fish had been filleted out, they were dunked in a milk/egg mixture, and then shook about in a semi rhythmic fashion amid a plastic bag containing flour, salt, and pepper, until each morsel of fish meat was suitably dusted over.
Tossing some peach wood onto the coals, we preheated the griddle accessory of our craycort grate, added a little vegetable oil, and man oh man, what sweet pleasures then ensued when that cold fish hit the hot iron. The aroma and the sizzle, wafting into a beautiful, summer’s sky, whilst the tweety birds and men did rejoice. Man! And yes, that is a steak you see there towards the back of the pit, lightly seasoned in onion and garlic, and grilled to perfection. What can I say, I should have kept more fish! So surf and turf, of course, was the only viable course of action here. One of which I was prepared to endure. Oh yes. A pit keeper proper does what he must!
The fish cooked very fast, like most fish do. Just a few minutes per side, until they flaked easily with a fork. And tho the cook was fairly swift, the day was still delightfully long and tapering. A morning on a tranquil, Wisconsin lake, plying our craft of rod and reel. Then a drive through the rolling countryside, windows down, bass boat in tow – our shadows flickering through picket fences in the pastels of a long, evening light. And rounded off with a quiet spot of grilling at day’s end, at ease in the patio man chair, and an ice-cold beverage in hand. There are far worse ways to spend a day, people. I leaned back, tipped up the brim of my hat, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, and further mused over the day at hand. How the sunlight dappled through the fluttering cottonwood leaves, and the clouds yonder, drift lazy but with purpose over head, where the wood smoke so gently rises. That too, and memories of fish and of men, for be it also the essence this day, impressed gently on the emulsion of the soul.
I am content, and highly blessed. And well fed. Amen.
Thanks again, TJ. Blessings!
Grilled tin foil potatoes, juicy steak seared and brought to medium, and a pile of freshly procured fish, fried over a peach wood fire, and all, every ounce of it, patron to the pit. Man! Are you hungry yet!
We shall then henceforth, and without any acute delay, boldly sally and declare that spring, with all of its heady promises, has now descended upon our fair land that which is Minnesota. The snow is at last, and mercifully gone, and replaced now with fields of green. Say what you will, but this is no small thing, people. Lest you forget the winter of 2013/2014 that is. For the icy pangs of it still sharply laden our frontal lobes, and we still remember vividly how eternal it spread. You southern folks may have whacked your lawns eleven and one times already, and daily fire up your air conditioning units for to thwart the beads of nasty sweat which dribble down your collective foreheads. But it is not like that here. Not yet. The air is still cool, and sweet to the taste. We have yet to slap the first mosquito or pull the first weed. And the leaves and the grass and the other green things of the world, tho still in stark miniature, are no less hard at work, so much so, that you can almost hear them fiercely growing, in the silence of a sunbeam.
Spring, we do adore this time of year. Naturally one of the better things you can do in spring, is to BBQ. May is National Grilling Month after all. And to a Minnesotan, it would stand to reason that May is the very best month of the year. It’s just plain beautiful here. So on the pit today, we’re doing your basic taco really. Nothing too fancy. And I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, well why the heck doesn’t he just make his tacos on the kitchen stove then, like everybody else? The answer: I don’t want to! Let me explain.
As I repair here on the pit-side patio, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, enjoying the aromas of sizzling beef in a black iron pan, I try to reminisce how long it has been, by and far, that I could actually do such a thing like this: to tarry on the patio, watching supper cook, and not, when it is said and done, require medical attention for frostbite or mild hypothermia. To loiter aside the curling wood smoke in but a light flannel jacket, and muse over the green blades of grass yonder. It has been a while indeed. Too long, in point of fact. Counting backwards – April, March, February, January, December, November… Go ahead and count it. It’s six months people. Give or take the rare and freakish anomaly of a randomly placed warm day, it has been a half a year since it has been truly comfortable at the grill front. That kind of ain’t right. And this is why we patrons of the pit shall not any time soon, tend to our tacos over a thermostatically spoiled kitchen range. No no no!
After the ground beef is almost but not quite browned, we tossed onto the coals a handful of oak chips for an additional layer in the flavor profile. Oak wood is fantastic for red meat, lending a firm but friendly, mildly nutty, sort of smokey goodness to your end game. It’s very good. Anyways, we mixed in the taco seasoning with the beef, and pulled the black iron pan over indirect heat, put the lid on the pit, and let the meat smoke there for a while. Now is the time to assume your customary BBQ posture, as per the graces this kind of high leisure affords. Lovely beverage in hand, man chair under butt, and a quiet world of gently curling smoke in front of thee. This, a pit keeper comes to know, is all we need. We’re in no hurry folks. And good grilling should never be flanked by wretched tentacles of haste. Anyways, pull the lid and stir the taco meat very occasionally, this in order to circulate more beef into the path of wafting oak smoke. The smoke, after all, is what will set these tacos apart from any you’ve ever had.
Whence the meat has browned sufficient to your standards, and the smokey goodness has infused your carefully prepared meat booty, go forth and assemble thy taco as you will, with what you will. Rice, beans, peppers, cheese, tomatoes, onions, sour cream – what ever moves thee another step closer to your culinary ideal. We’re not done yet tho, nay, so hold on to your inner Mexican just a bit longer. Swaddled in a flour tortilla shell, place your spoils back on the pit, indirect, for the final step towards taco immortality. We’re looking to crisp up the shell a trifle here, and put on a few char marks, patron to the pit. This move will at once signature your taco, branding it if you will, a product of the smokey realm. And you will know it from the sound of your incisors piercing its soft, yet crispy shell, and by the flavorful, smoke-tinted spoils within.
Happy Grilling Month of May. Fire them up proudly, people, and tarry long where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.
Oak Smoked Grilled Beef Tacos. Man! Edible proof that what is good for the stove top is even better on the grill. Not to mention a whole lot more fun.
And yes, a bite was taken out of this photo op, for quality control reasons. You know how it goes.
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.
“We have often said that anything you can cook on the indoor range can be duplicated on the grill. In many cases, even improved, courtesy of the coals. And one of the best examples of this is the Sloppy Joe.“
Not too long ago, the guy on TV said to set our clocks one hour ahead, of which I dutifully obliged. Seems to me however, like just last fall, which is like instantaneous ago to some one over 30, he told us to set it an hour backwards, and here we are putting it forwards to where it was again. Go figure. And ironically, time flies I guess, and like many folk, I gotta wonder why bother. I’m not altogether sold if it’s a good idea or not. I have tho long admired places like Arizona, who have also heard what the guy on TV said, thought about it for a while, like Arizonans do, shrugged their shoulders, and declared the heck with it. I thought of doing that too, in my own world, but I have actually gleamed a good use for springing forwards this time of year, namely BBQ!
Have you noticed, as I have, the blessed sun and how it dawdles in the sky now, well past supper time. We pit keepers in the northern latitudes notice these things. Indeed, we revel in these things. I cannot express to you the simple joy of actually grilling in the day light – slanting beams of heat cast by a warm and forgiving sun. And after a disturbingly long winter, mired in the icy depths of cold and darkness, this small thing is enough to make an old pit keeper weep. Like a lone astronaut emerging from a trip around the back side of the moon, the earth and the sun swinging back into view, and hope is thus renewed. The light is back! And all the winter-bound pit keepers rejoice.
On the pit today, an old favorite around here, hickory smoked Sloppy Joes. If you haven’t made your Sloppy Joes out on the grill yet, your missing out on one of the finer things to happen to a loose meat sandwich. Oh the stove-top Joes your mother used to make are good too, and we’re not cutting that short. But to bring them to the pit, and infuse some smokey goodness there, is to usher this classic sandwich into the next echelon of what is good. We have often said that anything you can cook on the indoor range can be duplicated on the grill. In many cases, even improved, courtesy of the coals. And one of the best examples of this is the Sloppy Joe. So the first order of business, of course, is to brown a pound or so of ground beef. And in an old, cast iron skillet, this is what we did.
Once the ground beef is browned up nice and pretty, mix in your sloppy sauce of choice. You all have your own thing I know, but here is what we had on hand:
Sloppy Joe Sauce
3/4 Cup Ketchup
2 Teaspoon Yellow Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
3 Teaspoons Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce (optional but awesome)
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Now in many loose meat sandwich recipes folk like to put some onions and green peppers in the pan along with the ground beef, and cook them up there. And we would have too had we not had an abiding case of lazymanship this day. Dreadful stuff, but shoot, sometimes you just don’t feel like running to the grocer for any odd thing. Nay, not when the tweety birds and the sunbeams adorn your patio sanctum with Picasso-like perfection. And the breeze sifts sweetly through the fragrant spruce whilst the hickory smoke gently curls. We’ve been waiting far too long for a day like this to waste it traipsing about the cityscape. Anyways.
Hickory smoke and Sloppy Joes marry with great effect. The union of flavors rise together, hand-in-hand, in a wonderful compliment to each other, and your world, by golly, is a better place because of it. The whole idea of doing it on the grill, after all, is to mix in some of that smokey goodness patron to the pit. And so we set the black iron pan opposite the hot coals, and banked the meat as far towards to cooler side as we could, piling it up there like a meat snow bank in an iron cul-de-sac. We then plopped a small chunk of hickory directly onto the coals, and deployed the old, black enameled lid of the Weber into service. Be mindful to put the damper on the lid directly over your savory spoils so to enforce a proper draft of smoke there. Wood smoke is what sets this loose meat sandwich apart from any you’ve ever had. And so for the next 15 minutes, every 3 minutes or so, with manly beverage in hand, stir thy plunder with an artist’s hand. Circulate the smokey meat to the bottom and bring the less smoked meat to the top. And keep repeating this heady procedure in true pit keeper fashion until your drool humbly sizzles one too many times upon the fiery flanks below. When you deem your plunder smokey enough to suit, there is only one reasonable step left to do. Toast the buns.
Toasting the buns is an often skipped over step in the BBQ arts. Kind of like resting the meat. We get so excited to eat, I suppose, that we don’t think of anything but, let alone toasting a lowly bun. But it only takes a minute, really, and in return adds a fabulous texture to your end game. It also, off-hand and by-the-way, nurtures the virtue of patience, which is as important as a good bed of coals to a pit keeper. Patience is the soil in which greatness sprouts forth. Patience also takes an exorbitant amount of time, at the time, it seems. But it is good for us. Patience slows a hurried soul and hence elevates it’s capacity to absorb. To focus. To glory and bask in the simple and abiding pleasures patron to the pit. Like the thin, wispy tendrils of wood smoke back-lit by a shaft of golden sun at supper time. Something easy to appreciate, let me tell you, after six stark months of grilling on the dark side of the moon. And tho the snowbanks tarry, and the breeze is still keen, the light is at last upon us. Finally. Like my elder brother is fond of croaking, “Patience comes to those who wait”. And it’s about time.
It was a busy week as weeks go. A cornucopia of social duties shaped by the ever-winding, never biased, current of life. Bumper to bumper, inching along congested tarmacs. Shoulder to shoulder in the halls of commerce, forming lines for the shallow and the monetary. Appointments to uphold, and deadlines to beat. Social postures and long-winded phone calls. In the ever-whirling cog of society, you might call it a state of being overly busy, and it’s true. It’s not all non sense tho. Because there within develops a tipping point, a rather glorious fraction of time, nay an opportunity, to raise the metaphoric middle finger and do what comes naturally to a patron of the pit. Indeed, if only but to light a fire and put meat to flame, that seems enough, and oh how it soothes a tattered man’s soul. That is what we did anyways. We had to. For sometimes a man ought to take a time out of his hectic existence, to feverishly, and without guilt, ingest some red meat!
Over a radiant bed of coals, we placed a packet of tin foil potatoes to get things started. Plenty of spuds diced in uniform fashion, drizzled in olive oil, and seasoned in a packet of Lipton onion soup mix. If you haven’t tried Lipton onion soup mix on your hobo potatoes, it ain’t half bad. Wrap it all up in tin foil, and put it over direct heat for about a half hour, or until soft. When the spuds are nearly done, we slid them over to homestead a bit indirect to make room for searing up a couple of mouth water rib eyes.
We love rib eyes here at the pit. Pert near our very favorite cut of steak. Nay, it is our favorite. Lightly dashed in garlic and onion salt, and ushered to its gastronomic destiny over a beautiful bed of coals. And oh what sweet music it is, under a crescent moon, and two twinkling stars aloft, to hear this meat sizzle on a hot iron grate. And do let it sizzle. This is one occasion where it is quite satisfactory to cook over direct heat. A minute or two ought to do. Put don’t flip it quite yet. Instead rotate it about 90 degrees, and give it another minute or so, depending on your heat there. The imperfect math for the quintessential and oft coveted, diamond hatch grill marks. Something we are finding exceedingly easy to come by with this fancy cast iron grate from Craycort Grills. Once you have achieved some pleasurable char marks, flip the rib eye, and suitably repeat.
Standing abreast the pit, tongs in hand, flipping meat over dancing flames is precisely what this old boy needed. You could feel the hecticness of the week dissolve like melted butter into a hot bowl of popcorn. Like a gob of cream cheese on an exhaust manifold. Let the world scatter along henceforth and with out me. I will be quite alright. For there is poetry at the pit tonight. Where soft blue moonbeams drop from on high. Where starlight flirts behind the snowy spruce tops. The fellowship of the coals, and that sweet, immeasurable heat, drawn from the ashen bosom of the old kettle grill. And the quaint aromas of steak that which tarry in the air. Glory! Let the world spin on indeed, and I shall not chase after it. For this is precisely where I pine to be. Pit-side, with my steak and potatoes. This is my respite. A time out for man. And the man declared that it was good! Amen.
Grilled Rib Eye Steaks and Tin Foil Potatoes. For what ails you! Everything you need, and nothing you don’t, to set a man straight again.
“The Sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the Universe to do.” – Galileo Galilei
Late morning sunbeams sparkle over the pond, long since frozen in time, whilst a cool, February breeze mingles though the pit-side Spruce trees and over the wintry land so callused in ice and snow. The first wisps of igniting charcoal waft quietly from the Weber Smokey Mountain, as it slowly comes up to speed. Black capped Chickadees dart playfully about, from spruce to feeder, and from feeder back to spruce again, nary holding still for the benefit of photographers. I didn’t mind. I was inside anyways, standing at the kitchen counter stuffing peppers with cream cheese, and enjoying how the amber shafts of sunlight fell into the house and warmed me there. It’s been a while, a good while indeed, since I’ve felt the sun on my face. It is rather remarkable when you consider, like Galileo did, that the sun is some 93 million miles away, and we only receive a small sliver of its energy, yet, in the same breath, it can make a bloke’s day when its unassuming light greets his window pane and lands warm upon his face like it had nothing else in the universe to do. The simple pleasures indeed. But then, its been a very long and cold winter, and I do tend to dwell on these things. Anyways, I should probably get along with the business of telling you what’s going on the pit today, and how it went and came to be. I think you’re going to like it.
Atomic Buffalo Turds. Yup, that’s a fact. That is what the under ground grilling community calls them anyways. Now I can’t quite figure out why they call it that, for I have on occasion made the acquaintanceship of a buffalo, and I can assure you that their back end tokens look nothing like what we’re about to cook! But who cares I guess. The name is catchy if not down right deplorable. And it is kind of fun to serve up a plate of declared buffalo turds and see how your guests thus roll their collective eyes. You might, I suppose, be better off calling them by their politically correct name, jalapeno poppers. In the end, it doesn’t matter I guess, because good is good, and these things are fabulous if you haven’t had the opportunity. Cream cheese stuffed jalapeno peppers wrapped in bacon and smoked on the pit. Glory! Lets get after it!
You will need the following:
- 10 jalapeno peppers
- 1 block of creme cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- teaspoon garlic salt
- teaspoon pepper
- 1 package of bacon
- 1 cup ground Italian sausage
Stir together in your favorite bowl
First order, and whilst the pit is coming up to speed, is to brown up some ground Italian sausage. Some folk use the little cocktail weenies. And some blokes just skip this part altogether. At any rate, once the sausage is browned, mix it all together with the packet of cream cheese, shredded cheese, garlic salt and pepper. Thus your tasty filling is alas ready for deployment. After this, you’ll want to slice the peppers in half the long way, or down their length. Some people like to leave them them whole, but slicing them in half is a salute to the higher powers of mathematics you see, and essentially doubles the appetizer output for the same price. So why not. Once sliced in half, if you’re a sally-tongued Swedish pansy like myself, you’ll most certainly want to clean out all the seeds, less you regret your life a few hours hence. And believe me the burn can come back to get you, no buffaloes required, if you know what I mean. But if you like that sort of thing, well then by all means, live the dream! But it is well to scrap the seeds out, and hence cast aside any jalapeno fears you might harbor, for the longer the peppers cook, the milder they seem to get. In the end they are a fraction of their fiery selves. A beautiful descendant and a hint of warm. And I’m OK with that.
Next, and with an artist’s hand, stick a good creamy glob of the filling onto each pepper halve, and then cloak them in a beautiful strip of bacon. Tooth picks are the secret here to keeping the bacon corralled and in place. And a half strip of bacon is just enough to aptly swaddled the handsome jalapeno, provided you are rationing your pork candy. That’s it. Time to bring these delectables out to the pit!
It only took about an hour on the smoker, running around 275 before the bacon had browned up and they were done. But an hour is just enough time, turns out, to procure a lovely beverage ice box and take up residence in one’s man chair, feet propped towards the fireplace. Just enough time to watch plenty of smoke curl out way of the patio door. And just long enough, off-hand and by-the-way, to pull up something interesting on the public television station, tug your hat to your nose, and promptly doze off there, that is iffin you have a mind to. And I might have. And whilst the hickory smoke gently curled from the pit with the aromas of bacon afloat in the air, and the tweety birds all resumed feasting again in my absence, the sun also swung into position as if on heavenly strings, it’s soft hint of warmth descending upon shafts of gold, kissing the window sill that which flanked my humble easy chair. A soothing, unmerited warmth oozed over me like soft peanut butter on a hot slice of toast. And I fairly reveled in it, like a lottery winner, my body like a sponge for the sun. Indeed, the old astronomer was right, there really was nothing better in the universe to do. Feet by the fire. Free solar heat massage. PBS induced nap. Man! This is the high rigors of BBQ people. You gotta work up to it! Amen.
Hickory Smoked Jalapeno Poppers. AKA, the Atomic Buffalo Turd. Cheesy, bacon-swaddled awesomeness on a peppery transport sure to be the hit of your party or get-together. *No buffalo were offended during the making of this appetizer.
Banking the hot coals to the back of the old kettle grill, I cast a glance upon the pond, and the skies of gray, rolling over-head. A mist dapples over the land, the house, and the bushes down by the water look wet, and tired today. The leaves of the cottonwoods have all turned yellow now, and many of them have fallen to their inevitable rendezvous with the earthen substrates below. One of them, however, landed on my patio, soaked, but still lovely, in this, the last turn of autumn. One last confident gesture of something beautiful, before ice and snow and darkness seize the land. It hasn’t much more to do in its life now. No more duties to uphold on the heady matters of photosynthesis. It need not provide shade nor solace for critters or kin. And it will decompose in time, like things do, and morph into dirt or the like. Something rather unbecoming of a once beautiful leaf, but in the same breath, kind of noble and good. An intricate interlace in the ongoing circle of life. One of which I considered some whilst plucking some bell peppers from the fertile soils of the pit garden. We’re having chili tonight, you see, and I like peppers in my chili.
What better spoil for the pit, on a misty, autumn day, than some smoked pit chili, procured over a beautiful bed of coals. Its real easy to do. As easy as on your kitchen range, but dare I say, twice as fun. I started with the old, black iron frying pan, and a pound or so ground beef, browned in accord. Then I tossed in some diced onions and bell peppers plucked fresh from the garden folds. Sautéed and softened a tad, before adding the rest of the ingredients.
The other ingredients can be as vast or as precise as you wish. Chili is a most forgiving dish. There is no hard and fast rule to chili making, especially on the pit. So make it however you like. I started with a base of tomato sauce, one can as it were, followed by half that can of water. Then a can of kidney beans, drained of course. A big squirt of ketchup, and a modest handful of brown sugar. Some salt and pepper. About a table-spoon of chili pepper. And a dwindling bag of frozen corn I discovered in the furthest recesses of the freezer. I like corn in my chili, I don’t know why. All this is stirred up and left to simmer in a sloppy-brown communal affair, opposite the hot coals. Let the flavors marry, and get to know one another. Next comes the good part.
The part that separates the outdoor chef from the kitchen dweller. Smoke. I’m sure the cowboys of old, who slept under the stars, were used to a smokey flavored chili, but that is something wrung tight now out of the human experience. Doing your chili out on the pit, with a bit of hickory wood thrown in for good measure, is not only a supreme means of procuring some tasty supper, but you are also paying homage, in a way, to how chili was always meant to be done – over the camp fire. I tossed on a chunk of smoke wood and placed the old, black-enameled lid back on. Tweaked the top vent, and in no time, aromatic plumes puffed contentedly away. Thus, and unto the journey’s end, let the pot simmer away for as long as you wish. And very occasionally stir the contents. This, in part, to stir in more of that smokey goodness, which is half the reason for cooking outside in the first place. Glory!
Whilst the wood smoke curled up into a gray, mist-ladened sky, I stood abreast of the pit, gleaming what heat I could from it. Hands in the pockets of my smoking jacket, eyes surveying the pond. A gentle drizzle tapping over the brim of my hat. There is a chill in the air, and a dampness to match it. And one lone mallard afloat out on the pond – quacking away. Seemingly laughing, almost, in an upward-raised indifference to the weather. Ducks are like that. Hamming it up, he was, like Phyllis Diller in her prime. And I admired him for it. I admire any schmuck, come to think of it, winged or not, who seems to enjoy the soggy, cold, days of life such as these. For that matter, any day in which he is given. Those wholly absorbent souls who grasp a moment for the gift that it is, and belch forth of its glories anew. That is a confident gesture of something beautiful, if you ask me. Something noble and good.
I muckle onto the hot iron of steaming chili and bring it inside, closing the patio door behind me. The autumn mist dawdles on, whilst the old mallard chortles from the dappled pond. What a good day it has been, I thought. A gift indeed. And another golden leaf dropped from above. Amen.
Hickory Smoked Chili fresh off the pit. Dang people. If that don’t warm your belly and soul on a wet day, you probably have dirt in your face.
Vacation was good. Romping about the Montana mountains with elder brother, in a dusty, old Jeep. Pitching encampments aside gin-clear trout streams, and beneath aromatic pines. Morning views of frosted ramparts thrusting high into a wild, Montana sky. Days of misty mountain majesty. Rains drops on pine needles. And wily rainbow trout at the end of thin tippets. These are but the days we will remember. Where the mountains did rise, our souls soared, and the rivers ran below it.
I remember them indeed. A thousand miles and seven days later, I remember. And as I bank the coals to the back of the old kettle grill this evening, looking upon the familiar scene patron to the home patio, I recall the natural splendor our eyes beheld amid the beautiful contours of Montana. “God gave us memories“, I once heard, “So we could have roses in December“. I am smitten for the flowers. I tossed on a cup cake-sized chunk of apple wood, directly on the coals. The heat felt good on my hands, as I pondered some more my recent trip afield. The memories we come back with, I thunk, are why we go on a trip in the first place. This is why we take pictures and write things down in our note books – to remember.
Anyways, to the business of supper. As the amber shafts of sunlight struck against the Cottonwoods, I plunked down two chicken thighs over in-direct heat, seasoned very simply in smoked garlic salt. Salt that I cold smoked earlier this summer, amid tweety birds and lofty ambition, and tucked away for further use. Today was the day. Also wrapped up in foil, we have a humdinger. Several potatoes, diced to uniform thickness, patted with a little butter, some salt and pepper. A few manly pinches of shredded cheddar cheese, and of course every one’s meat fantasy, bacon, chopped and scattered amid the spuds, like ambassadors to the cholesterol gods. All this wrapped tight in a pocket of aluminum foil, and set over direct heat for to come of age, and to its destiny according to my belly.
I put on the black-enameled lid, tweaked the damper, and the smoke of apple wood almost immediately began to curl. A smile lit over my face. Any pit master proper aspires for this portion of the cook. This glorious string of moments where meat is sizzling, and smoke is rising. There is harmony and well-being and contentment in the fellowship of the coals. And you sit back in your BBQ chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, manly beverage at hand, and you simply survey your kingdom as it were. The angle of the sun, the banter of the birds, the wake of the muskrat propelling across the pond. I think half the reason people grill in the first place is to be out-of-doors. To bask in the inherent beauty patron to the pit.
Lifting the lid to check in on the plunder, the thighs have taken on a beautiful golden-brown color, wrought from the wages of smoke and heat. I flipped them once right along with the foiled potatoes. And mercy it smelled good!
Pit Tip: If you are smoking meat and want to simultaneously cook a side that doesn’t so much abide with a smokey taste, like potatoes, you can never go too far wrong with foiling them. The foil blocks the smoke whilst preserving the seasonings you so lovingly dappled there. And the world and your tummy is a better place for having done so. Tin foil and the pit keeper have a most understanding relationship.
The cheese in the foil married up kindly with the potatoes, sort of merging into them in a delightful, cheesy fusion. And the bacon basted the whole thing like only bacon can. Glory! Eating these potatoes, one sort of got the feeling he should check to make sure his health insurance premiums were up to date. Anyways, when the thighs are done, and the spuds are soft to the touch, plate-up the ensemble and sally forth to your loved ones. Note how the savory aromas of deeds well done trail you in to the house, and how heads will turn. Place the plate of steaming plunder on the counter, sprinkle on some more shredded cheese, and declare the supper bell hath rung. Mop up the drool as necessary.
Apple Smoked Garlic Chicken Thighs and Bacon Cheddar Potatoes. Man! Not quite a trip to mountain folds of Montana, but still something I might just remember a while. Something to do with where the wood smoke rises, and the flowers that which gently bloom there. Amen.
Way up yonder, in the northern reaches of Minnesota, a series of Weber Smokey Joe grills quietly puffed in turn beneath the whispering pines. Men plying through their coolers, and spice stashes. Other men circling about, taking pictures. Patties of ground beef delicately formed, and laying at the ready. And a light humidity hung in the air. This was the scene of the 2013 Burger Throw-Down. A gastronomic snippet of a men’s retreat. A humble tho seriously esteemed competition held in the hinter lands of Northern Minnesota, along the White Fish chain of lakes. It was there in these competitive pools, that my fellow blog host sought to ply his burger craft. Each contestant was provided 2 pounds of ground beef, 4 hamburger buns, a Weber Smokey Joe, and what ever spice and accompaniments they wish to steal from their home pantries . There would be 8 judges, each sporting a most scrupulous eye, and two hours, give or take, in which to greatly impress them.
As the Canadian Jays and Black Capped Chickadees cavorted in the white pines, and the air smelled of damp earth from recent showers, the contestants hovered over their prep areas, one and all, prodding over patties of beef, and a litany of spice and cheese. The game was on, and our fellow blog host recalls, in his own words, getting things underway, in this, the great burger throw down of 2013.
“The burger throw down was as fun as I thought it would be. I was the first one to show up knowing I would have much prep for my burgers. I had my premixed jerk rub tightly vacuumed sealed for freshness and a large can of pineapple rings. I also brought a zip lock bag of hickory chips that has been soaking since Thursday night, so almost 2 days. So, I started my coals first, as one should always do, and as they began to burn I started moving them around the bowl of the Smokey Joe. Placing them on one side of the bowl so I can do a little in-direct smoking once the burgers were fully cooked. When people saw what I was doing with the coal placement, I could hear comments like “wow, he’s got it down to a science, or this guy is serious”. I was just doing what I’m used too.”
The men henceforth got down, as men do in competitive burger making. Got down to the heady business of procuring something memorable, and pleasing to the palate. Something apt to move a judge’s tummy for the better, and put a mile on his face. The contestants were up for the challenge Everything from pesto and jalapeno to feta and Munster cheese. Our fellow patron admits to being slightly intimidated, standing alongside some of these Meat Maestros. But he sticks with his game plan, and his secret weapon – 48 hour soaked hickory chips.
“I then quickly began to prep my burgers. Now, I brought a lot of spice rub with me and I wasn’t sure how much I should use so I decided I would start mixing the rub into the meat until I could smell it. I used about half of what I brought, folding and pounding the meat until the smell joined the wet pine of the camp. I quickly shaped my patties and filled the middle with blue cheese. I sprinkled a little more rub on the cheese and laid the other patty on top of it. I finished by pinching the patties together and rubbing spice on both sides of it. I think soaking the chips as long as I did helped put steam into the meat because I know my burgers were juicy. After they were fully cooked I moved them to indirect heat and placed the pineapple over the coals. I charred them up a little and then toasted the buns. I threw everything together and mine were the first for the judges to eat. I realized at that point I forgot two of my main ingredients, bacon, which would have gone on top of the pineapple, and then some smokey bbq sauce to go on top of the bacon. I’m glad my burgers were juicy, because sometimes without sauce you get a dry burger.”
Were talking a burger here folks. One that would make even a heathen man pause to say grace. One-half pound of hickory smoked ground beef, filled with a pocket of gooey blue cheese, seasoned with the patron kick of good jerk rub, topped with a charred pine-apple ring and of course, a toasted bun. Dang! You certainly are not going to eat a whole lot better under the whispering pines nor burger shack alike. And apparently the judges thought so too, as they gave our fellow patron 1st Place honors for his Smoked Blue Cheese Jerk Burger. Well done old chap. Well done indeed.
Besides getting to sport the title of Defending Champion for a year, he also won himself a chef’s hat and an apron. If we’re nice to him, and flatter him a little, maybe we can even get him to model it for us. I doubt it, but maybe.