A few dim stars hung overhead as I struck a match and put sweet flame to the political section. Oh there are other sections of the daily paper equally as adept I suppose, at lighting your coals via the venerable charcoal chimney, but none nearly so satisfying. And as the initial rush of smoke curled into a cold, Minnesota sky, a comforting glow conspired neath the maturing coals. I tucked my hands in the pockets of the old smoking jacket, and for a moment, watched the smoke curl. I don’t know why, but I have always enjoyed lighting the coals this way. The process of it. And I suppose, because it is slow. The very thing many a well-meaning pit keeper has turned his back on, for the undeniable speed and convenience of the gas grills. And they are fast I suppose. And convenient too. We cannot deny this. But where these things reign, they also fall sadly short of that smokey flavor patron to the pit. For missing are those lofty aromatic tendrils of rising wood smoke. The crackle and the pop of hardwood lump coal. The ambiance in aroma and sound. And besides that, I like that it takes time to light charcoal. And I’ll tell you why. For here is something I love to do – to be out-of-doors, putting meat to flame, hark, let me hence extend its magic for all its worth. And when the smoke has finally faded, and the evening’s plunder resides steadfast in my belly, at least I will know, as surely as I’ve know anything, that I have just done that which is well with my soul.
Anyways, and all digressions aside, on the grill tonight, another foray into American succulence – Honey Pecan Pork Chops, lightly tinted with apple wood smoke. Dashed in garlic. Good eating, people. This fire looks ready to go, so grab yourself a manly or not-so-manly beverage, and let’s see how these chops turned out, courtesy of the coals.
The Thermal Trifecta of Modern Grilling
- Banking the coals to the back side of the old kettle grill for indirect operations is the first step. Nary is it ever a good idea to spread your coals everywhere in your grill, which we have seen many a smokey tenderfoot burned by. Far better, and more efficient to put them to one side of the pit, thus creating the coveted thermal trifecta of modern grilling. That is what we call it anyways. Three distinct temperature zones in which to ply your bidding. One directly over the coals for intense searing. One, cooler zone, opposite the hot coals for to nurture along your spoils at a safe and modest pace. And something rather of a Switzerland affair right in the middle. It is with these three zones of heat that we charcoal pit keepers can most effectively apply a sweeping thermal sovereignty through-out the smokey kingdom patron to the pit. Oh yes. Anyways, about those chops.
We lightly dusted them in garlic salt, both sides, and sent them straight to Switzerland. After a hearty rummage through the pit-side woodpile, I procured a lovely, baseball-sized chunk of apple wood, knocked the snow off it, and tossed it gleefully onto the orange coals to smolder there. Lid on the old kettle, and the smoke soon began to curl. And nothing is quite so fine on a cold, starry night, whilst the icy breeze sweeps over crusty fields of snow, than the heady aromas of wood smoke and pork. Man! After a fashion and a flipping of the chops, I whipped up the honey pecan glaze.
Honey Pecan Glaze
Are you ready for this. It’s complicated.
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 Tablespoon Crushed Pecans
Introduce them, marry them, and bring them together
Often times the better things in life are also simple in design. Like butter. And so go forth with your sweet and nutty glaze in pan, and whence your pork chops have almost, but not quite yet completed their journey on the pit, varnish them there in a fashion suitable to thee. Flip and brush some more on the other side, tucking them back to the cooler portions of the grill. Lid on, and be mindful whilst you tarry in the aroma of perfectly executed pork. Dang people! Bring them to the land of caramelization if you please, or not. It is a pit master’s discretion. But what ever you do, do not burn your spoils now! The resident sugars are prone to such fates, so monitor it closely, and bath it in smoke. When your chops reach their destiny according to your pit, plate them at once and sidle in through the door and present them to your loved ones. For a fairer fare you shall not find, nor ingest proper, patron to the pit, and courtesy of the coals. Amen.
We patrons of the pit, we favor all the seasonal folds, but there is just something about the cooler weather that stirs us. That tugs on tender heart strings that which tarries deep in our souls. And so here recently, a few weeks ago I should say, when summer’s ante of stifling heat and humidity was displaced by a sweetly descending cool air mass, we were at once, and undeniably, in favor. Forty degree nights in the middle of summer, hark, that is something we ought to bottle up and sell in the sleep aids section at the local drug store. Glory be but it was lovely. For what a noble thing it is after all, to be able to walk to mail box in the evening, and not, when it’s done and over, come back to the house glistening in a sheen of your own rank juices, and smelling not that much better than the neighbor’s dog. Or for that matter, the neighbor.
It felt good to do a little BBQing too, in the acute absence of sweat. A foretaste, if you will, of our favorite grilling season to come… Winter! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I banked the coals as usual, a whole chimney full, to one side of the old kettle grill. Creating the thermal trifecta of modern grilling. One zone directly over the coals for searing and intense heat. Another zone opposite the hot coals, for cooler, in-direct cooking. And a dicey sort of Switzerland affair right smack in the middle, which sometimes comes in handy too. The earth is comprised of various zones of temperature too, for what its worth, which keeps things working properly and efficient like. So be it with our grills also! Anyways, got the coals situated, the grill scraped down with the wire brush, tossed on some ceremonial peach wood chips for smoke, and after a quick glance past the towering spruce tops, I placed two lovingly prepared chicken leg quarters on the hot rack. They sizzled accordingly, over direct heat for a minute or so per side. Then slid them back, traversing Switzerland with a twist of the tong, to the coolest section of the grill, whereupon they would log some significant time. I followed suit, naturally, in my BBQ chair.
This is where we keepers of the grill are at our very best. Pit-side, lovely beverage in reach, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, it was sufficient pleasure to watch the peach smoke waft from the damper, and the clouds, back-lit by a golden sun, float silently overhead. I sipped my pit beverage in the favorable company of that gloriously cool breeze, courtesy of the Canadians I think, and mused over tonight’s cook as it were. And what it was, was honey roasted chicken. Or least wise that’s what I was calling it. Let me tell you a little more about it, and how it went down, by and by.
It was just going to be plain old chicken, seasoned with a wee bit of garlic salt and what not, or would have been had not I seen the bottle of honey sitting on the counter. Like many a pit keeper, we are smitten for the sweeter things. But it has also been a hard and fast rule in the grilling arts to refrain, if you can, from adding sugary things to your meat at the beginning of a cook, lest your spoils fall victim to fates of burning sugars. Good, sage advice, and I’ve never really listened it. My bride seems to think I hardly listen at all, in point of fact, when I’m in the vicinity of sugar. Especially sugar shaped like donuts. But I do. And so with these chicken quarters, and against the grain of conventional grilling wisdom, I rubbed them things down with liberal onslaughts of honey. Under the skin even, and everywhere else. Then, I hit them in a medium-to-light fashion with some SuckleBusters Competition Rub, for to add another layer to the flavor profile. And that was it. These chickens were ready for their destiny according to the pit!
In turn, they made their way to the grill along with one of our pit favorites, a bulging packet of tinfoil potatoes and corn. A suitable meal for thee, whilst the north winds beckoned through the towering cottonwoods. Potatoes were placed over direct heat the entire time, flipped once mid-way through the cook for good measure. The chicken, as mentioned, was seared carefully at first over the coals, not long, and then tucked to the coolest regions of the grill for the rest of the culinary journey. Harnessing the various temperature zones, in a harmonious dance between meat and flame. Tongs in hand, you the pit master are the conductor of your very own meat orchestra. Free to draft the song of your choice. Choose wisely then, amid the smoke and the flame , and parlay your spoils with great effectiveness to a better end. Keep your honey-coated meat well away from the coals, over on the cooler parts of the pit, and check in on them often. Employ a fair degree of your pit master instincts, and with any luck at all, you should find a sweet, caramelized, juicy, meat Nirvana there, sizzling at the end of a rainbow, where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.
Honey Roasted Chicken and Tin foil Potatoes, lightly smoked with peach wood. Grilled in paradise. And smells a heck of a lot better than the neighbor’s dog.
A chimney of hard wood lump charcoal crackled on the pit, its campfire-like aromas enveloping the patio. I long have fancied the patron scent of lump charcoal. The way it lights, smells, and pops like a Jack Pine fire kindled on the wild lake shores of the Canadian shield. Something in its fragrance, its mood, that transports me all at once, back to those rugged expanses of wilderness, and earthy camps from whence I have tarried long in my youth. I poured the fiery chimney load to one side of the old kettle grill, and reminisced some more like men do whilst playing with fire. My gaze sweeps over the back yard, as I mingle with the coals. The grasses surrounding my patio grow long now, with the ilk of a deep and abiding green. The sort of green that is there to stay. And there is a symphony of song birds too, perched all about, all yapping it up like a room full of women scrap booking, with hot tea at their sides. The sky is gray, the sort of gray that is a bridesmaid to the wet season it seems. Nary a breath of wind, and its neat to see the smoke from the grill go straight up for once. Some mallards conspire at the pond’s edge, rain drops cling to a lone Petunia, and a Canadian goose ambles by, trying to nonchalantly as a goose can I guess, check out my supper, and confirm it is not their kin they smell roasting under the lid.
No, it’s not goose, tho one day I probably should I suppose, just to get the awkwardness out-of-the-way. Nay, today on the grill is a simple affair – just some chicken legs, smoked over some hickory, with a light, honey twist. It’s real easy to do, easier than a lot of grill keepers might tell you. For it is an age-old rule of grilling, to apply your sweet sauces at the end of the cook, for the sugars inherent to sweet things can easily burn, and hence ruin your intended spoils as easily as a favorite dog squatting over your new carpet. You don’t let your dog onto your new carpet, and you certainly don’t put sweet things on your BBQ at the beginning of a cook out. But I do. And you can too if you’re careful is all. I rubbed down the chicken legs first in honey, then dusted them in liberal fashion with some Suckle Busters Competition Rub. Then set those legs in-direct of course for the entirety of the cook. A small piece of hickory wood for the smoke, placed directly on the coals. Lid on with the vent over the meat for a proper draft. Oh what sweet smoking pleasure it is, to kick back in your BBQ chair, lovely beverage in hand, and simply watch the smoke curl there. And to smell the damp earth mingle with that of smoldering hickory.
The only trick really to these sorts of sugary endeavors, lest the burning fates acquire your supper, is simply to keep an eye on it. Keep your tongs close, and check in on the meat. It’s OK to lift the lid, for this is no 14 pound pork butt or anything. Nay these legs will cook all too fast as it is. So visit them often, and let them know you love them. Pamper them, and turn them, and position them accordingly to your pit master instincts. If you see some going astray, be there for them, to catch them, and set them back on the proper path to excellence. See how they sing bathed in a fine hickory smoke. And note also, off-hand and by-the-way, how the world has spun on without you for a while now, whilst tending your humble pit. A sure sign that you’re doing it right. For you are in your own little paradise now, aside glowing coals, and gently wafting, blue-tinted smoke. You have put meat to flame, and in that alone there is something good enough, and it is well with your soul. Tongs raised to the heavens, this is your time now, to govern your meat with a supreme authority bequeathed those shapely souls who tarry near the fires and grilling posts of yore. Ah yes, grilling with honey – let us at once take our meat by the arm and walk it slowly down that fiery aisle, thus to culinary matrimony with our impending, tho forgiving bellies. Near the end of the cook, I brushed on a little more honey, just because. A little something more, as it were, for the old goose to think about. Amen.
Honey Tinted Hickory Smoked Chicken Legs. Dang! And yes, we ate the broccoli too!
Early spring in Minnesota. Melting snow, and river-lets of ice water meandering down the streets. Bird song returns to the barren tree tops, and the sun feels just right on your shoulders. Oh how we love this time of year. Just the mere thought of feeling the warmth from the sun again, not only registers as an event, but it is therapy too for the soul. For here is a simple pleasure, this light from on high, that has spanned the vacuum of space and landed precisely on your corner of the earth. Kissing your cheek there, like it had nothing better to do. That gives a winter riddled bloke hope, I think. And engenders in one’s brain pan those long but dormant notions of golf clubs, and fishing poles. And motorcycles and BBQ’s. The latter of course, something we here at this blog have never put away in the first place. Even so, as I banked the coals this evening to the side of the old kettle grill, I gloried in the purified air that spring seems to usher with it, and how a patch of grass in the spruce grove yonder, is flooded now, in a golden light. It is a pleasure to tarry by the pit on days such as this. And on the grill tonight, now that you mention it, apple smoked, honey tinted pork chops. Man! Are you ready for this!
Coals assembled like a flaming choir to the side of the pit, for proper indirect cooking. The chops were thus lightly rubbed in honey, and then sprinkled with some homemade spice, fresh out of the mortar and pestle. Now when you put sugar based things like honey on your meat at the beginning of the cook, you do increase your odds of burning things. But I didn’t care. With proper pitmanship, one can minimize the sugar rebellion, and procure some dang fine vittles. Thus, I went light on the honey, kept the meat well away from the coals, and just baby sat the beautiful pork chops, giving them almost all of my attention. It is a great hardship I suppose to sit tight to the grill, enjoying its radiant heat like that of a pot-bellied stove, whilst listening to the tweety birds cavort in the Alders. To at once let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and fancy the view of the world spinning with out me, whilst the apple wood smoke rises unto the heavens. This is a great pain indeed, these rigors of the BBQ arts, but one I am willing to endure now and again, for the assurance of delicious meat hot off the grill.
So it was, under blue skies and the banter of returning birds aside dwindling snowbanks, and warm sun beams cast upon my small little corner of the world, thy chops were dutifully grilled, with a touch of smoke, just because. Continually flipping them, nurturing them, ensuring they are having a good time there opposite the hot coals. I know I was. The aromas at the pit were a melody of inspiration, from the apple wood, to the caramelizing honey, to the fresh ground coriander and rosemary that my fellow patron gave me, as a token of good pit gesture. A spice rub we used in the Dual Patron Cook Out blog, consisting of brown sugar, Himalayan Pink Salt, onion powder, pepper corn, smoked paprika, coriander and rosemary. An agreeable host of aromas in which to aptly tarry by. And as I did precisely that in my patio chair, aside the smoking pit, I noted to myself how nice it was to be doing such a thing as this, with out a jacket, no less. The winter grilling season, and those 20 below cook outs, might I wager, are on it’s way out now. Confirmed yonder, by the melting snow, the bird song, and the golden rays of sun residing on a scant patch of grass. Oh yes, we love this time of year.
Apple smoked, honey-tinted pork chops, with freshly ground, aromatic spices. You could do a whole lot worse I suspect, but not have nearly so much fun.