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!
The temperature was a balmy 32 degrees. The aromas of pecan smoke were in curl. Long, tapering, plumes of it, wafting into a gorgeous February sky. The sounds of chicken flesh could be heard sizzling over a hot bed of coals, and for a while at least, you could almost, but not quite, feel the warm sun press gently against your face. Oh it was a nice afternoon at the pit, I don’t mind telling you. Very abiding. A real treat after several weeks of sub zero grilling. It’s odd, I know, that 32 degrees can feel balmy, but trust me when I say, a body adapts. A sort of biological antifreeze develops, and you just get used to the cold, I suppose. And when it gets up into the 30’s in February, well, it is with great restraint that you some how resist the nagging urge to slip into your designer swimming trunks, smear SPF 15 suntan lotion over your hairy belly, and sidle over the neighbor’s fence to inflate their pool noodle. And all the neighbors rejoice.
This is to say, in other words, it was nice out, and yours truly frolicked accordingly. And the Black Capped Chickadees where in abundance, too, all singing their praises for another day of cavorting amid the piney trees. Of all the tweety birds I observe in the backyard, and living on a pond there are aplenty, I think my favorite is still the humble chickadee. They are not large, showy birds, who demand to be seen, but rather tiny little things, and somehow still maintain the quality of being impressive. I think what impresses me is that they are just more gregarious than other birds. Friendly, you might say. Chickadees have been known to drop onto your outreached hands for some seeds. Up north, where Chickadees are truly themselves, they will even land on your hat while you walk in stride, iffin that is you put some bread crumbs up there. They’re just cool little birds. Chickadees are also of the proper stock that does not leave us for the southern states, when winter’s tangled tempest encroaches our shores. Nay, the Black Capped Chickadee stays the winter long, chin up, and somehow seems to thrive. Like I said, impressive little birds. And they are always my little fuzzy cohorts, and inspiration, for these winter grilling sessions. Speaking of, today on the pit we have some chicken wing appetizers. You know, the kind you get at sports bars and the like. Tho these are undoubtedly better what with being cooked in a nice haze of smoldering pecan wood. Yum!
I do rather fancy how the sunbeams rest on my meat at times. Indeed, just to lay there, feeling that glorious heat do its bidding, with no pretense nor shame. Reminds me of my brother in-law’s old bull dog. He used to favor a sunny patch of linoleum at the foot of the stairs, where the 4 O’clock sun beam would make it’s way through the window pane, casting a warm glow upon the shoes and stuff on the floor. And the bull dog would go lay down in that patch of sunlight, belly up and illuminated, and simply revel there, with the sun warm upon his meat. Yup, I know from what he aspires to there…What we we talking about again? It was chicken wings, I thought! Hmm. I don’t know anymore…
I suppose I should let you know that these wings were all done indirect, meaning opposite the hot bed of coals. I do 90% of all my grilling indirect like that. You run very little risk then of burning your plunder. Or drying it out. Indirect slows down the cook too, I believe, and gives a pit jockey more time for the important things in grilling, such as: watching cloud shadows, observing more chickadee flirtations, dashing inside for a manly beverage, investigate your trees, dashing back inside to the little pit boys room, grabbing more manly beverages, picking your nose, and general, tho not always practical, pit-side loitering. Yup, indirect, people. It’s the best way to go!
Our seasoning of choice today, like most days lately, was from the kindly folks at Miners Mix. They have a lovely gamut of flavors, for all your culinary needs, and today we needed something for chicken. So it was off to our Miners Mix private shelf for some Poultry Perfection. I’m not sure how they do it, but they are certifiable spice wizards those dudes. If it didn’t exist in 1850, it ain’t in there. That could be one clue to how they do it. They use real stuff! The don’t put a ton of salt in it either, which makes it not only healthier, but I think promotes more attention to the subtleties of flavor. All this is to say, they make some really good rubs. If you’d like to grab some for yourself, and see what we mean, this rub and many more are on amazon. Below is our affiliate link to get you there. It would help support companies like Miners Mix, and we would also get a wee kickback too, so that we could go buy more Miners Mix. Plus your food would taste better. It’s just a happy deal all-around!
So it was, under glorious blue skies that our appetizer wings came to a most edible and succulent maturity. Then with a “new” paint brush from the garage, we glazed the spoils with a modest sheen of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce. The flavors merged together under the dome into a yard bird tome, sure to put any meat maestro on the brink of tears. I cannot divine an accurate way of conveying just how savory they smelled, tinted in pecan smoke and spice. Nor how flavor-packed and juicy they tasted. So I won’t. You’ll just have to make some yourself, and let the meat speak for itself. And if you’re a lucky bloke, you may even feel the sun smile on your face. Amen.
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The Modified Look
Well, it was one of those evenings where you waddle in through the front door tired and foot sore. It had been a long day afield, and all you want to do is procure a manly beverage and plant your prostate on your favorite man chair and watch some Clint Eastwood. But you can’t. Turns out your wife has had plans for you all day to grill her up some big, juicy cheeseburgers, patron to the pit.
“But darling”, you croak, “I haven’t but one ounce of energy, just let me tarry here in my chair a few hours more!”
Then she gives you a modified version of “the look”. Every man knows the look, but this one is slightly different. It’s the usual, you-better-obey kind of look, but then it’s modified somehow with a droopy, puppy dog face sort of thing going on, and it is all but impenetrable. And so you shrug your shoulders, pull your boots back on, and set off to work again. This, after all, is the life we pit masters have signed up for. And you got to take it in stride.
“Oh, can you make some ice cream too?” my wife said, batting her eyelashes.
Turns out her supper plans for me were borderline extravagant for a run of the mill weekday night. And before I knew it I had the ice cream maker sitting out at the pit with me, churning away in the dark. That accompanied by the soft, wispy plumes of smoke coming off the charcoal chimney, well, I started to get into my little ambiance there, dug out in the snow. I don’t think I have ever made homemade ice cream on a January evening in Minnesota before, but when your wife says she wants a chocolate shake with her cheeseburger, well a fellow ought to oblige if he can, right? And I could. So I did.
On the note of ice cream, and just to share with you guys, here is our secret ice cream recipe honed through the ages.
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
1/2 gallon whole milk
2 cups sugar
1 carton of egg beaters
splash of vanilla extract
Yeah, it’s complicated stuff! Not really, but it surely is delicious, and would make a fine compliment to our cheeseburgers tonight. A brilliant stroke, really. But it gets even better. Two words…French Fries!
My bride had recently acquired one of these doodleboppers. A little french fry making technology sure to up our game, giving your normal, boring french fry, the crinkled edge often coveted by french fry connoisseurs, such as yours truly. Never used one of these before, but it seemed to do the trick. These spuds were then lowered into a bubbling vat of peanut oil, and deep fried there until golden brown. If you haven’t made your own homemade french fries before, you’re missing out people. And they are not that hard to do either. Anyways, back out to the pit.
The burgers sizzled away like burgers do. And I loitered out there some, I must admit. The night wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be, and the companionship of the coals seemed particularly abiding this eve. Their orange glow, set in a field of frozen white seemed “just right”. And for while at least, I was glad I got up off the couch and made supper like I was told. This was nice. Good to be manning the faithful kettle grill again. Feels like it’s been a while. Near the end of the cook, I flipped the burgers over direct heat for a bit to form a modicum of crust, purely for textural appeal. I knew the fries were nearing their end game too, and the ice cream was ready. The culmination of an wintry evening’s efforts were soon at hand. It was just about time to head inside to our home diner.
The Home Diner Experience
My bride and I are creatures of nostalgia, in particular the 1950’s. Which is odd, because neither one of us even existed in the 50’s. Or the 60’s. Even so, we are smitten for the past. So much so, in point of fact, that we re-created this little 50’s style diner nook just inside the patio door. Purely for fun of it, of course. As much as I like to eat in my man chair by the TV, I knew it would be nostalgic blasphemy not to ingest this meal, “proper like” in the diner. And thus to this end, we did.
Toasted kaiser rolls, fresh tomato slices, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, hark, the works people! Sided with a lovely bouquet of homemade crinkle cut french fries, and a tall, homemade chocolate shake. Glory be! If eating a burger at home gets any better than this, I haven’t heard of it! A top notch culinary experience. And to think, I just wanted to sit on the couch and watch Clint Eastwood. Mercifully, my wife saw the better in me, and she was pleased. Come to think of it, so was I. Amen.
I thought I was a humble fellow, but I guess it turns out I’m not. It was just your run of the mill slab of pork ribs. Your basic kettle cook at 20 below. Truly, I thought nothing of it when my wife requested ribs for supper during a polar vortex. This is just what I do. Its who I am. And she knew it. However, in retrospect, I probably should have gone to McDonald’s for a Big Mac instead. Let me digress.
Indeed, the recent polar vortex to come through town put the kibosh on a great many outdoor activities. What with 20 below wind chills, it was a day obviously better suited for other endeavors besides the art of BBQ. But I had never gone sally with the elements before, leastwise where BBQ is concerned, and by golly, today wasn’t the day I would start. And the winds hurtled through the icy township with a divine authority that demanded respect. The good people of the world were huddled indoors, suckling hot cocoas and watching Netflix marathons. And then there was me. Fortunately, the Pond Side Pit was tucked into the gracious eddies of the house that which broke the keen and penetrating December wind. Well, for the most part it did. And there, amid my armory of Webers, I was able to make my stand.
I chose the Weber kettle as my tool of choice this smoke, for a couple of reasons. One, it’s small, and would require less fuel on this cold day to keep it hot. And two, I just didn’t feel like dumping ten pounds of charcoal into the Weber Smokey Mountain for one rack of ribs. As much as I love the WSM, it is rather the gas guzzling SUV of the meat smoking world. No matter, I was a Patron of the Pit. I had smoked ribs in the Weber kettle many times. This was old hat! Child’s play…
“Henceforth, I destroyed thy pork ribs with a vigor usually reserved for a nuclear detonation.”
They were hard, brittle, and crusty to the touch. Looked like the skeletal remains of a pet which did not make it clear of the house fire. It was bad. A chunk in hand could have maybe sufficed as a good charcoal pencil for the cave walls, that which I felt like I have just emerged from. Hark, it looked as if my elder brother had even come by and assisted me with my BBQ whilst I was not looking. Where did I go wrong?
What we learned
Well, for starters, I learned not to under-estimate the narcoleptic value of a good grandma blanket. Because that’s where I was for much of the smoke. Under a grandma in the living room, snoring like a brown bear whilst listening to football on the TV. It was an agreeable lifestyle. The kettle grill was left to its own devices out on the patio. I thought I had set it up for success. Turns out I had not. I had built the fires too hot inside it’s steely bosom. In an ill-guided miscalculation on my part, I figured somewhat logically, that because it was so cold out, I would counter the elements with a slightly larger fire. All this did however, was raise the pit temperature from pretty hot, to split-your-own-atoms, kind of hot. And thus incinerated my beloved ribs with all due effectiveness. Aw well. Live and learn, as they say. There’s always tuna fish sandwiches for supper.
A week has passed. Maybe a bit more than that. The new weekend was upon thee, and I had a span of clock available to smoke another rack of ribs if I wanted. Well, with my last efforts still dawdling on my mind like cigar smoke in the drapes, I wanted nothing more than to rectify my blunder, and set my status right again in the smokey community. To get this rancid flavor of defeat off my tongue. The temperature had risen now to a balmy zero degrees or something like that. The wind was low, in-effectively low, and the tweety birds were even active again, darting about the yellow block of suet I had set out for them. This is as good as it was going to get in a Minnesota winter. Like an aplinist siezing a window of proper weather in which to summit Everest, I knew I must act soon. And I knew this time I would do it right, and fire up the Weber Smokey Mountain.
Tho it uses moocho much fuel, one thing is for sure about the Weber Smokey Mountain. It works. And it works in the cold too. One heaping chimney full of orange glowing coals dumped into the center of a ring of unlit coals, as seen in the photo, is all it takes for a rack or three of ribs on any given day. The minion method is your friend here. That’s where the lit coals slowly light up the unlit coals, and those coals in turn light up other unlit coals, kind of like a chain re-action, thus employing a steady, even burn, to last many hours with out baby sitting. The WSM was soon established at 225 degrees, and it did not budge from this temperature the rest of the cook. I should have just done it right the first time, but you know how it goes.
To learn more about the minion method, we did a write-up years ago on that. It’s probably our most read article. Consume at your leisure is so inclined.
Meanwhile, we seasoned up the ribs with a splattering of Worcestershire sauce, and then liberally dusted it Kit’s K.C. BBQ rub from our friends over at Miner’s Mix. We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again; if we had to be monogomous to one spice rub company, I do believe the Miners Mix crew would be our choice. Just love their flavors. Here’s a link to their stuff if you guys haven’t yet had the occasion.
Anyways, we put the ribs on the pit, bone-side down, and let them do their thing for two and a half hours at 225 degrees in a gentle cloud of pecan smoke. Then we foiled them with a little smearing of butter and BBQ sauce for one more hour. And I napped only cautiously this time, under my grandma blanket, hockey game on the TV, and listened to the calling of my pit master instincts, as the culinary end game drew nearer to thee. And like it does in winter, the night fell early over the land, as the old bullet smoker puffed stoically out on the patio. The aromas of a Carolina BBQ shack wafted over the crusty fields of blue-tinted snow, for which a slender moon hung silently above. I slipped into my shoes, and waddled out the patio door to check the tenderness of my spoils, jacket zipped tight, and there under the scant starlight of a cold winter’s eve, amid the sounds of sizzling pork and aluminum foil unwrapping, I knew as surely I had known anything before, that these ribs would at once be amazing. And furthermore, that I had been quitely redeemed. Amen.
Succulent pecan-smoked pork ribs redeemed from the jaws of a polar vortex. Very satisfying, both to the stomach and soul. Grill on! -PotP
The sunbeams dappled through the turning cottonwood leaves, and the ducks rooted about the green grass like ducks do, whilst I tended a lovely bed of coals in the Weber Smokey Mountain. Autumn is in the air. The leaves are turning gold now, and red, and orange. Geese are on the wing. Shorter days and colder nights. I’ve always liked this time of year. Brings back some fond memories. Some potent ones too. Like the one time I found myself at the business end of a man hunt, mistaken there for a wanted murderer. That’s why I’m smoking a pork butt today. To pay remembrance to the day I felt like Harrison Ford in the fugitive. Grab yourself a spot of tea, won’t you, and I’ll tell you about it. We will reminisce through the old brain pan whilst I tend my BBQ here. And the wood smoke gently rises.
It was two years ago. It was a routine day, or should have been anyways, and I remember it well. I was on my commute, puttering along the back roads of outer suburbia on my 49cc Yamaha scooter. It was the perfect weather in which to go for a ride. The sun was golden, hanging in a beautiful autumn sky, and the geese were a’plenty as I motored by them feeling the softened wind on my face. It was lovely. About as quaint as an autumn day comes, well almost. That’s when I saw the pretty red lights flashing ominously in my mirror.
Now it isn’t often I get pulled over. And it is considerably less often I get pulled over on my little scooter. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to catch me for speeding on the thing. It can go from zero to sixty in, oh, about never. And I’d be lucky to hit thirty on a down hill, even, lest it was plummeting off a thousand meter embankment. So I was relatively sure I wasn’t speeding. So what did the state’s finest pull me over for then? And more over, why did they have their pistols out, trained on my coronary left ventricle?
It is a prudent thing to not try and out run cops on your scooter, especially when you likely look akin to a circus bear on the thing. So I did the most honorable tactic I could think of, and just pulled over. Why fight it. Their 9 millimeter Glock pistols, deployed and pointed at my rattling heart, sort of removes any procrastination on the matter.
“Get off the scooter and put your hands in the air!” croaked the fuzz. More officers suddenly materialized like phantoms on the scene. Resident squirrels darted for cover.
Now when you find yourself in this sort of predicament, with guns pointed at you, I must say your mind does rather tend to race. I was still trying to figure out what this is all about. They were taking my scooter ride very seriously, after all. And if this is how they deal with expired tabs, well, we’ve got problems. And then it occurred to me, like a dog who just crapped on the new carpet, that helicopters had been flying around all day, and I had heard on the news earlier that there was a dangerous fellow on the run in the area, who had just killed some one in a gas station parking lot a few miles away. Could it be the police thought I was this guy? Well, turned out they did.
I’ll tell you this, it is a lonely feeling to be a wanted fugitive. I didn’t have much going for me as the cops surrounded thee like a pack of wolves to a wayward moose, with my hands trembling in the air. The only thing I had going for me, I figured, was the truth. And eventually, I wagered, somewhere down a perilous and fickle line, they would figure that out. So I proceeded to enjoy a good frisking there along side the road, as the cops got to know me. They asked me some questions and I answered, of course, in an unintelligent blabber better suited for room full of baboons. But they understood it. They’ve seen my kind before. They looked at my ID, looked at me, looked back at the ID, then back at me again, and gloriously came to the accurate conclusion that I was not the man they were looking for. And that I was free to go. The truth had done it’s bidding.
“Sorry“, they said” But we’re looking really hard for some one right now“.
“That’s quite alright“, I croaked, and then I told them about the condition of my underpants. We all had a good laugh over that, and went our separate ways.
Yup, that was quite the day for a humble pit jockey such as yours truly. A day I will long remember, for better or for worse. But a day none-the-less of such note worthy stature that I figured it deserves, perhaps, a meal cooked outside, over a lovely bed of coals. Something slow, and meaningful. Something like pulled pork.
Well, once the pork shoulder ebbed over 195 internal it was ready to rest, and then an hour after that, ready to pull. Whence pulled to our proper spec, we drizzled the drip pan contents back over it, and mixed in some of Joe Joe’s Blackberry Sauce. Son of a yum! If you have not tried this sauce yet, man, I really think you’re missing out. Out of the sauces we reviewed from them, this one was the unanimous favorite by family and friends. Here is a link to it if you’re interested. Joe Joe’s Black Berry Sauce Oh, and Joe, if you’re reading this, we are all out of this amazing sauce...Hint.Hint!
So it was, as I prepped my pecan-smoked pulled pork sandwich, that my day of reflection drew to a close. I know cops have been on the news in recent times for not-so-good reasons, but I must say, that the ones who dealt with me were of good stock. Decent men with families who were just trying to do their job. Men who were putting their lives on the line for a guy on a scooter. For all of us, really. They are nothing short of heroes still in my book. And yes, they caught the guy they were after too, about a week later. He was standing at the Arby’s drive-thru, longing at a photo of a beef and cheddar sandwich there. He gave himself up with out a fight. And I was a free man. Amen.
Slow Pecan Smoked Pulled Pork with a Blackberry Tint. Say what ever you will, but backyard BBQ just doesn’t get any better than this.
In all the years we’ve been into BBQ, and all the smoking projects to come and go across the pit, one of the most elusive has been the venerable Tri Tip. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that up here in Minnesota, and many other places across the country, Tri Tip roasts are rather hard to locate. Sort of like a kindly old grandma at a heavy metal concert, it just doesn’t happen. Indeed, I’ve searched this county high and low, and nary a Tri Tip to be found. And then last week, on a casual bacon foray at my local butcher counter, I cast first glance upon my meaty betrothed.
She was beautiful. So shapely and raw. Three points of beef, and decidedly marbled. She laid under the glass like a super model, next to the T-Bones and the rump roasts. My, but I was smitten for this cut of meat. I was ready to drop to my knee right there, and dig out my wallet when a voice bellowed from behind the counter.
“Can I help you with something?” asked the butcher in the white shirt.
“Where have you been all my life!“, I belched through a long-standing gaze, wiping my drool off my chin.
The butcher man just shook his head in shades of pity. I pointed to my quarry beneath the glassy pane.
“Oh, we’ve carried Tri-Tips for years“, he croaked. “You just have to keep an eye out for them, as they do come and go“.
Conversation was squelched by my giddiness, no time to chew the fat, well, at least metaphorically speaking, and before long I had my beloved swaddled in butcher paper and tucked under my wing like an NFL half back, as I darted hither and yon through the crowded grocery store. Putting a spin move on a mother of four. Lowering my shoulder to the door. Back to the Pond Side Pit I went. Back to my caloric destiny! And I knew precisely what must transpire next.
Whilst the coals came to maturation on the old kettle grill, we seasoned up the tri tip with same goodness we used on our 4th of July brisket a while back. Maynards Memphis BBQ Rub, from the good people at Miners Mix. Absolutely love this rub. It has been fantastic on ribs and butts, and likewise we were keen to discover it performs well on beef too. Said so on the back of the bottle. Said it was recommended for Tri Tips, and well, that’s all we needed to know. So we coated the roast liberally with it. Then, as a second layer of flavor, and just because, we sprinkled on a fair coating of Montreal Steak Seasoning. If you have none of this, the old stand-by of salt and pepper is nothing to hang your head about. Add a little garlic and onion powder to that, and you have yourself a time-tested, and most worthy spice rub.
*You can season Tri Tips liberally because you are going to slice it later into thin 1/4 inch pieces, like a brisket. So let the seasonings fly.
It wasn’t long before my meat bounty lay prostrate next to a fiery bed of coals. It sizzled accordingly when it hit the hot Craycort grates, a sound well-loved by many a pit jockey in good form. The sound of that first sizzle sort of signifies to yourself, and those who may be looking on, that the games have indeed begun. That for a while, man and meat will dance, and the fires will be hot. I love it. And to hold with Santa Maria Tri Tip culture, we tossed some oak chips onto the coals. Red Oak is the most poetically correct wood to use. That’s what the Californians would say. But if you’re a rebel, use what you want. I hear pecan wood is no slouch for competent tri tip. We’d caution against green treated wood, however, from your deck. Don’t do it people.
The Poor Man’s Prime Rib
What do you get when a brisket and a sirloin steak get married and have a baby? I think it’s
Tri Tip. It reminds me quite a bit of working with a brisket. But it tastes something like a steak. Tri Tips are harvested from the sirloin, we’ve heard, so that is part of it I’m sure. Some folks like to think of the Tri Tip as the poor man’s prime rib. I like that sound of that too. But it is an exquisite cut of meat, and quite fun to cook. Out in California, they do it all over an open Santa Maria style grill. If I’m ever out in Santa Maria, I must check out their Tri Tip prowess. Those open grills look like too much for a patron of the pit.
As meats go, Tri Tip is an easy cut to cook. Ours was done in about an hour flat, courtesy of the Weber kettle grill. The little lady is not so much fond of rare red meat, so we brought the internal temperature to 150 or so, all on indirect heat, opposite the hot coals, and then plated the beast up and let it rest for 15 minutes or so. During the rest, the meat will reallocate its savory juices in adequate fashion. Then, and only then, we brought it back out to the pit once more, and seared it over direct heat this time. The reverse sear, as it called. Meaning to sear at the end of the cook versus the beginning. This, the one last glorious finale to the grilling process, produces a pleasurable crust, and sort of locks in the rested juices. Searing it at the end of the cook like this also means you do not have to rest it again. In point of fact, serve it immediately to your guests, and watch their eyeballs pop open with delight. The meat burst with succulence. And note the accolades which befall the chosen pit master. Man, can you smell it! Tip your hat, draw a lovely beverage, and thus tarry now in the wake of deeds well done. Indeed, where man and meat hath danced as one. Amen.
*When you slice your Tri Tip, do so as you would a brisket. Cut on the bias, or across the grain for a tender chew. It makes a remarkable difference.
Oak Smoked Kettle Grilled Tri Tip. Come on people now, it don’t get much better than this!
It was with small fan fare that my elder brother and I made way this weekend last, for the resplendent, and highly secretive, Valley of the Trouts. A quaint locale of which neither of us is particularly keen in giving you the coordinates to. You know how it goes. Tell one person, tho well-meaning, and that person will in-turn will tell another, and that one passes it on to yet another bloke, and so on, thus engaging the metaphoric domino topple of death to your secret place. So we’re not going to disclose its location. Not today. We will tell you, however briefly, that the stream which gurgles along the valley bottom is of the sweetest variety. Clear and cold and sick with rainbow trout. Winding like a watery tapestry through forests of Oak, and Pine, and Shagbark Hickory. And the sun swings high in a summer sky there, dropping its warm light on golden slants to the valley floor, dappling through the hardwood canopies, and glittering upon trout waters. Indeed, it is a place worth being.
So it was my elder brother and I made an encampment upon these earthy shores of paradise. The stream ever-gurgling past our snug respite. Tweety birds in full form. We got to work doing what we do best – eating! Brother put some bacon to cook in the camper, whilst outside, I fired up the flimsy, old, portable BBQ grill that has seen a thousand and one campsites over the years. What holds that contraption together still, I do not know, but the answer must reside somewhere in the sinew of memories of campsite’s past, and the grilling under the tall pines we have done there. Oh how we love to cook out-of-doors. And especially this is so, in camp.
Perhaps it is the fundamentals of such things, why we aspire so to cook in camp. Just to lay meat to flame in the wild places. Or to hear supper sizzling over a quaint bed of coals, whilst the breeze whispers through stands of stately pines. Life nary achieves a simpler status than this. For a while anyways, all the complexities of our day-to-day are cast aside. And the only thing left now, the only pressing matter in life, is to eat. And to eat good. And then maybe watch the world slowly turn by.
From time to time, it is well to live this almost simpleton’s existence. It sort of reboots a soul to function proper-like, once again. And could nary be more fun.
“You know, cooking bacon is kind of like photographing a beautiful woman!” my brother belched from within the camper.
I’m not sure what he meant by that, for comparing women to bacon could go a multiple of ways, but no how, and even so, I could hear the bacon crackling in its pan of juices, whilst brother manipulated various plates and utensils. And I reveled in the acoustic glory of it. The aromas, too, of thick-cut pork belly wafting out the camper door. Mercy! And amid this splendor, I tended the grill and two portly pork chops there, with the bone in for added flavor. Seasoned simply with garlic and onion salt. And just like with the Weber kettle back home, I created a little pocket for indirect cooking, for a modicum of thermal control under such raw and primitive conditions. Camp life was in full swing.
Of course we engaged in our share of trout fishing whilst there. When you camp next to a trout stream, it sort of stands to reason. And when you love to fish, as we do, it is all but a certainty. We caught a few rainbows, but returned them all. Something a little easier to do when you have a baker’s dozen worth of pork chops in the RV ice box. And you can’t beat a trout camp for ambiance either. Just seeing the fishing gear propped about brings a smile across my heart. Old waders and spin casters and fishing bags. I haven’t however the faintest of clues who Bensy is, but they made the photo even so.
The chops were done at the same time the potatoes were. That’s true camp harmony right there. When two cooks conspire in the woods bringing together the perfect little meal, at just precisely the right time. We don’t always nail it like that, but we did this time. We forgot the cooking oil, however, so we had to fry our potatoes in bacon grease. It worked exceedingly well.
So we tarried there, with a plate of good food, in the Valley of the Trouts. The stream babbled over stones and fallen trees, creating a song which sang sweetly unto our ears. Wood smoke curled off the camp fire, and an old, white-enameled coffee pot sat nearby, and at the ready. Leaning back in our camp chairs with a plate of vittles on our lap, I gotta say, this was proper living. Our chosen life style if we could get it. We gobbled down our food like two pumas to a warthog, and fed the fire whilst the sun ebbed behind the valley rim. And the blue skies all tapered to black, and the stars emerged like scattered diamonds on high. We bantered into the night, as per par for trout camp, enjoying the soft glow of a kerosene lamp, the randomness of fire flies, and a contented feeling residing kindly in our bellies, and deep in our soul. Amen.
Stream side with grilled pork chops and fried potatoes. Oh yes, and bacon!
Rule #1: Don’t Experiment On Your Guests
The heat index hemorrhaged around 102, but of course, it felt even hotter than that. It pretty much had too. I was grilling, you see. Grilling on the hottest day of the year. I stood abreast the pit, fires blazing as if spurted up from the very bowels of Hades, sweat tumbling off my nose like a Yosemite waterfall, spatula in hand, working deftly a herd of cheeseburgers about the grate, trying to coral them all into the indirect heat, opposite the orange bed of coals. The grease spilled from the burger underbellies, igniting like Ron Howard’s Back Draft on the coals below. The casualties of burnt knuckle hair a’waft in the evening slants of golden light. I slipped the lid on with all due haste, snuffing the inferno. Vexed like a Saber Toothed Tiger who just chased a monkey up a tree. I grabbed a paper towel and drew it across my forehead. My but it was hot and sporty at the pit today. Unmercifully heated! But I worked it. I had to. I stood my ground as Keeper of the Coals. For I had people to feed today. Lots of people.
We were having some company over, you see, and my bride hereby appointed me head cook for the crowd. You can do that, I guess, when you’re a wife of a patron of the pit. There are certain privileges they enjoy, such as not cooking, and getting to sample your routine grilling spoils. It’s a good life for them, I cannot deny. But they also must endure. They oft-times are the humble recipients of your experimental meat art. Of new flavors, and coarse culinary ideas. She never quite has let me live down the smoked peach cobbler incident, that which tasted more like a rank ash tray that any peach we knew. But what can you do? Seemed like a good idea at the time. This day, however, we were going with a known quantity sure to sooth the populous tongue. Cheeseburgers! And thus, under blue skies and a rather hellish sun, so it was, and came to be.
You Seasoned it With What???
Now when cooking En masse, because of a distinct variety of tastes you’re trying to please, I find a good technique as far as seasoning is to err on the edge of simple. Keep it simple. For some folks do not care for bold, in-your-face, flavors. They just don’t. And it is a pain in the pit keeper’s hind quarter, but alas he should refrain from impregnating his beloved beef patties with his newly contrived ghost pepper sauce. Just don’t do it. Lest you enjoy hearing your name moaned in vain across three and one-half zip codes. Keep it simple.
So to season our burger patties we went about as simple, and as time-tested as you can get. Just some kosher salt and some fresh cracked black pepper. That’s it. That’s all you need when sailing the sea of many palates. Throw some smoke wood on your coals to give the burger a little something extra, patron to the pit. And your guests will know at first bite that your burgers hail from the smokey realm. And don’t forget the bacon either!
Enter The Meat Candy
Being your quintessential red-blooded man, I estimated we needed roughly two pounds of thick cut, maple-smoked bacon, give or take, for our cheeseburgers. A frying project perfectly suited for the Mojoe Griddle. We took the steel behemoth from its box and lugged it pit-side, and centered it over the 30,000 BTU burner of the Camp Chef stove. Glory be, you have never in all your days seen a mound of bacon cook so swiftly, and so effortlessly as this. And the heady aromas which pummeled your nose bordered on cardiac utopia. Once again, we are smitten with the Mojoe way of life. But then, who wouldn’t be with all that bacon.
If you haven’t yet had occasion, and if you feel like it, do go and check out http://www.mojoegriddle.com/ You can learn all about the Mojoe there, and who knows, maybe even pick yourself up one for your next meat party.Worth every dime.
Thus it was with a sweat laden reproach that we scooped the last burger off the pit, some of them cloaked in a gooey pile of medium cheddar. Man! Lightly seasoned only in salt and freshly cracked pepper, and tinted with a sweet kiss of pecan smoke, just because. And all the fixings left to the discretion of your supper guests. That’s how you do it. If you’re a good pit jockey, you might even toast the buns for them. Amen.
If ever the sun dallied just right in a blue sky, this was it. By golly, this was it. I suppose it could be that my appreciation for a warm sun beam has been acutely honed through the sheer absence of such things, courtesy of a long, winter’s campaign; but I tell you this, never has a single golden ray of it kissed my grizzled face so fine as it did this quiet, unassuming day at the pit. It has been a long winter in Minnesota, and I guess I was just ready for the sun again. Biologically primed, if you will, to lavish in it’s life-giving rays, and to dawdle the day away if need be, for to soak up every last photon of it, delivered on easy slants of golden light. And I did. Pulling it in like a poker victor rakes in his chips. When a day this nice comes along, a man does what he has to, you see. He does what he must. He digs in.
Digging in. It means to plant roots. To anchor thyself in a chosen locale, usually of a lovely persuasion. To take up roost there, and nary be thwarted by anything else. That is the way of us pit jockeys, you see. When we get a nice ambiance going, or a beautiful day such as this, with wood smoke gently in curl, sunbeams dappling through the lofty tree tops, tweety birds in full serenade, well, it is ingrained in our pit master instincts to exploit it for all its worth. A task not too difficult, nor far fetched, when you are as advanced as yours truly, in the fine art of being lazy. You do know, don’t you, how we like to loiter around here? It’s rather our specialty. Still, and even so, one ought to have a goal of some sort, and I certainly did. Namely supper. In particular, beef stew patron to the pit. Are you ready for this?
Of the first order, that is after drawing a manly beverage from the refrigerator, I stood abreast the little pit, and plopped a commendable load of stew meat onto the hot cast iron grates. They sizzled in eager anticipation there, whilst I manipulated them with aluminum tongs in hand. Then, for the heck of it, because I’ve long heard that smoked cabbage is good, I tossed on a 1/4 head of cabbage, and chucked a small tatter of mesquite wood into the coals for a little smokey goodness. Put the lid on and let the pit do it’s magic thing whilst I diced up the vegetables under the eternal blue skies above.
It’s your beef stew, you put what ever you please in it. I like potatoes and carrots. Corn and green beans too. And like I mentioned, a little bit of cabbage. And some unsalted beef broth too, for it all to swim in. And the latter I would have, had I not mistakenly believed the beef broth had been tampered with. Turns out those cartons of broth are self-puncturing when you open it up. I didn’t know that, and thus, my alder bush out pond-side got a nice drink of beef broth, on the house. Live and learn, I guess.
So we nestled the dutch oven into the hot bosom of the old kettle grill, with a few coals below it, and the rest tucked around the perimeter. A little smoke wood was still smoldering, and the day was still glorious to behold. And I knew just what to do next. I put on the kettle lid, grabbed my beverage, and made camp!
Here to Stay!
Like I said, I aimed to stay here a while. To dig in! I’ve waited far too long for weather of this kind. More over, I wanted to test out my new backpacking tent, of which I launched this day, it’s maiden erection right here on the lawn, right beside the smoking kettle grill. I sensed a formidable tandem of sheer joy here. And it wasn’t long before I was belly-up in that thing, song birds blasting away, and for a moment, I was as giddy as a school boy, content with all the world, and then a few moments after that, I was dozing in the quietude, like an old man swaddled in blessings.
And the cloud shadows silently paraded across the grass, whilst the wood smoke gently tapered into that blue sky.
An unknown amount of time passed, like it always does when your dug in somewhere. I stirred quietly in my tent; scratching my hair, and then my belly, whilst listening to the day declare around me. The tweety birds still rejoiced, and the sun, I noted, had ebbed a little further south and west, on it’s fiery arc through the sky. And hark, the aromas of mesquite and beef stew wafted as if on angelic wings through the cool air, mingling with the scent of emerging spring chlorophyll in my little nylon hut. Glory! I must say, because it’s true, I’ve never had a Weber kettle grill in a campsite before, but now, after some consideration of the matter, not to mention first hand experience, I think it could be an agreeable venture after all.
I eventually emerged from my tent like a flannel-clad, ground hog, arose to a stately posture, and promptly itched my butt, then waddled over to the pit to check in on supper. Yes, I guess it is well to cook alone sometimes. Anyways, I gave it a good stir, mixing in some more of that smokey goodness. The carrots were soft. So were the spuds. I added some freshly cracked black pepper and some salt to taste. Man! I didn’t want this cook to end. This day to end. But eventually my coals did peter out. And my glorious sun swept with out care over the roof top, leaving a cold shadow over the patio from whence it shone.
That was enough, I thought. No sense in being greedier yet. It had been a good day at the pit, after all. A very good day indeed. A day in which I did precisely that which was well with my soul. A body needs such respites from time to time. And to do so where the wood smoke also rises. Amen. And time to eat.
Savory, Wholesome, Mesquite Smoked Beef Stew, Fresh out of the Dutch Oven and patron to the pit. Yum!!
“I do not know what it is about women and cheese, but I wager a good block of it will catalyst even the most apathetic of them into action.” -Me
Evening was soon to draw across the Pond-Side Pit, as I henceforth gathered my plunder in the soft, waning light. A glorious light of which is fleeting this time of year, for the supper that which teases the hollow rumble of my belly. I soldier on. I bank some fiery coals to the back of the old kettle grill, setting it up for a quiet spot of indirect cooking. Poker in hand, and shamelessly doting over the orange-glowing rubble, like they were precious gem stones in a cauldron of enameled coated steel. It’s March, on the 45th Parallel, and the breeze is as cool as it is sweet, summoning the best flannel shirts your closet has to offer. Indeed, I had mine on as I tended the fire, enjoying it’s radiant heat on my hands. Admiring the comradeship of the coals, whilst I waited on my lovely bride to shred the cheese.
She openly volunteered to shred up some Parmesan cheese for our supper tonight. I do not know what it is about women and cheese, but I wager a good block of it will catalyst even the most apathetic of them into action. Women love cheese. Leastwise mine does. And so she shredded me a large quantity of it, like a crazed beaver to Cottonwood tree. Swiftly earthing a pile of cheesy goodness into a modest, porcelain bowl. That and an equal part bread crumbs too, these for to play the supporting cast in tonight’s grilling ensemble. Parmesan Crusted Grilled Chicken Breasts, patron to the pit, of course.
What we did is this. We rolled the bone-in chicken breasts in a warm, slippery bath of melted butter, and after saying a quick prayer, liberally packed on a delightful preponderance of that cheese/bread crumb mixture we just talked about. Pack it on thick, people, and don’t be shy. If you want to give your woman what she wants, well this is it! Well, this is it this side of an empty wallet coming out of a jewelry store anyhow.
Kind of looks like coconut chicken, but it isn’t. This is where you must wield your meat with the authority and delicateness of a brain surgeon. Your dear chicken is in it’s most fragile state right now, so be mindful young pit jockeys, not to knock off that which you have so fiercely labored for. Place your lovely proteins with a gentle hand opposite the hot coals. Place the lid on next, and dutifully step aside. We didn’t use any smoke wood this time. The crusty cheese to come will do all the talking here.
It doesn’t take long before you lift the lid and see something like this going on. A beautifully textured crust – the highly edible marriage of Parmesan cheese fused with lightly toasted bread crumbs. This at last to usher these lowly chicken breasts unto their utmost culinary ideal. Glory!
Of course when confronted with nicely crusted proteins, such as these, I cannot help but to tarry pit-side in a bevy of my own thoughts. Here we have two ingredients, that which make up this crust. Two entities. That of Parmesan cheese, and the other of plain old bread crumbs. The Parmesan cheese is like my wife perhaps – white, and silky, and very good. Very forgiving. Gets better with time. And better, by and far, than I deserve. And I am not unlike the lowly bread crumbs here, even whiter still, and if left to my own devices, will likely only make a big mess of things. But here is where the analogy gets interesting, and far better for me. When married together on the charcoal grill of life, the cheese adapts like good cheese does, and works it’s way amid every nook and hollow presented thee by the flaky bread crumbs. In time, the cheese holds the humble bread crumbs together, even, and gives them support and reason and flavor. The bread crumbs thus toast to perfection, coming of age, if you will, and the two together form the most beautiful Parmesan crusted chicken you’d ever want to lay thine eyes upon.
It’s weird what comes to your brain whilst puttering over your pit. It’s all about relationships, my wife keeps telling me. Relationships. Maybe this is what women want. Just to love and be loved – together. Seems reasonable, I guess. And sure seems to be the case with my chicken tonight, I can tell you that. And in the pale light, I plated up said chicken, plunked the old kettle lid back in place, turned heel, and made way from whence I came. To my sweetheart residing warmly inside. Amen.
Feel The Burn!
Some time ago, back in the sultry days of summer, we received some rubs from the good folks at Miners Mix; a small bandy of spice wizards out way of California, who are quietly putting together, we learned, some of the best flavors in the world. They said if we ever wanted to try a “real rub”, just to let them know. Well, we’ve succumbed, and you’ve probably already read some accounts now of their rubs, and we will kindly remind you that they did not disappoint. Anyways, in passing, they mentioned that they also had some hot rubs, new to their line up, and if we wanted to try some of those too, they would set us up accordingly. Initially, I passed.
You see I am not a pepper head by nature. Nay, I’m Swedish. Which means concerning the spicier things in life, I am what you might call a pansy. A sally-tongued neophyte as easily recoiled by a humble jalapeno pepper, as I might be if my face were melting off. I know – boring. Luckily, however, the smokey co-founder of the Patrons of the Pit is most certainly a hot head, and I mean that in the most kindly of ways. He seems to favor a delightful burn. I mean, a sweaty forehead and runny nose is common place for the man. And it was he who offered to sample these hot rubs for us today. And I eventually caved in, as any grill jockey ought to, and went over to his house the other night for to sample some heat. Some Fire in the Hole Cheese Burgers. Oh man!
A cool, February wind whistled through the Track-Side Pit, where I found my fellow patron grilling up the burgers in the dark. When you grill in Minnesota in February, chances are you’ll be doing it in the dark. Anyways, he declared he tightened up the burgers with Fire in the Hole spice rub, from Miners mix. Now, I’ve heard of these guys!
Fire in the Hole. The name says everything you need to know, folks. All too much, in point of fact! This stuff is something else. Loaded with all matter of hot, make-your-forehead bleed sort-of mojo. Such as: Cayenne, Jalapeno, Habanero, Chipotle, Ancho, and oh yeah, Ghost Pepper powder! Mercy! One fellow at our little burger bash threw a pinch or two of this rub in his mouth, and promptly proclaimed “it burned a hole through my tongue!”
Indeed it could.
The Ghost Pepper, originally known as the bhut jolokia, is a interspecific hybrid chili pepper cultivated out yonder in India or something, and it means business, people. 400 times hotter than Tabasco, they say. At 1 million Scoville heat units, I’d wager they’re right about that. In point of fact, in 2007, it was lofted as the hottest chili pepper on the planet. That honor now belongs to the dreaded Carolina Reaper. I think I’d rather eat grilled spiders with John from Ecuador than make the acquaintance of a Carolina Reaper. Even so, we must still respect the ghost pepper. Anyways, that digression aside, Miners Mix loads this Fire in the Hole rub up with a nice quantity of ghost pepper powder, and when you note that such powder runs at about $180 per pound, well, let’s just say that the little bottle suddenly becomes the most handsome of all bottles on your spice rack.
Where’s The BEEF!
He plopped it down in front of me. I don’t think I had ever seen a hamburger in my life that was as tall as it was wide, but this one came dang close. A monolith of spicy hot meat in which to come of age with. We’re talking it must have been 3/4 of a pound of ground beef here, and maybe 2 tablespoons of Fire in the Hole rub, worked into every corner of protein. Our fellow patron took it one step further, and impregnated the burger with a molten core of Colby Jack cheese, and that too, was laced with even more spicy goodness. Mercy sakes, call the fire department! And I wasn’t hungry again for two days!
Thus, four men sat around a wooden table of red meat, attempting to open their pie holes to adequate apertures, for to make way with these giant, Juicy Lucys. Some of us had bigger mouths than others, and those somebodies gradually developed a good and abiding burn first.
Now it wasn’t the sort of burn than sends a man running post-haste for a glass of milk, blabbering in tongues of fools, but it was undeniably present, even so. Enough to make your eyebrows go moist, and your face to feel a little funny. A little runny nose deal is to be expected as well. And of course, the all encompassing fire from Hades in your mouth syndrome. Depends on your proclivity and tolerance for the spicy side of life, I suppose. And don’t even get us going on the morning after, whilst reading the paper in the little pit boys room. We need not go there! At any rate, I seemed to be doing better than I thought I would, concerning the heat, and here is where it got down right wonderful to behold.
We all noticed that after the burn had tapered, it was then we started picking up on the subtleties of the rub. A parade of delightful flavors start showing up in our mouths. In point of fact, from the moment you put the food in your mouth, clear down through your last burp of after taste, the flavors keep coming. And this is what sets this rub apart from a great many others we’ve tried over the years.
Our fellow patron said, and quote,”These guys got it going on!”
He said, “There just hasn’t been many spice rubs that can do that“, and he added, “with such a wide palate of flavors surfacing after the burn”.
Same thing happened with the HOTBANERO spice rub they sent us too. Not as hot as the Fire in the Hole, but spicy enough for Swedes like me. When the burn subsides, you get another show, an encore of flavors, like: chili powder, sugar, rosemary, onion, thyme, and a slight salty flavor. And it’s all really good! And the parade seems to meander from the front of your mouth towards the back. For a while, I was starting to see maybe what all ye pepper heads enjoy so much about spicy foods. Maybe there is more to it after all, than just burning a hole through your tongue. Indeed I wager now that there is.
If you’re a fan of a fine and pleasant burn, accompanied by exquisite flavors, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you go check out these guys. Outstanding work once again, good folk at Miners Mix. Man we love what you do! Amen.
*Rummaging about in the digital vault lately, we happened upon an article of old that never made the light of day. Not sure why. We’ll file it under the “Lost Patron Essays“, those wayward tomes which never took root in the cyber soils, left for dead and forgotten by the publishers that be. So it is our pleasure to kick the dust off this old one, now, which you might hazard, has been aging nicely in the digital wine cellar of PotP. Enjoy at your leisure. Or cast aside for further aging. We understand.
So one day you’re driving down a country road, kicking up gravel dust behind you, blue skies over head, and panoramic fields of long green grass swaying in the breeze. Your shadow looks good as it flies along beside you in the ditch, fluttering over the picket fences and such. Cold beverage in the cup holder, windows down, your favorite tunes on the radio. Life is good. And for a solid hour straight you have had the road to yourself now, nay the whole wide world to yourself. Up ahead you finally see a tractor idling slowly down the road.
So you slow down some, then just as you begin to make your move around him, you note an old pickup truck parked alongside the road, precisely where you and the tractor will meet. How does this happen! Not only that, now is also the time when you meet your first oncoming automobile in the last hour. And all of you, every single one of you, somehow through the mysterious forces of the working universe, your paths all manage to come together at this one geographic spot on the globe, and do so at this exact moment in time. If the timing were just a few seconds off, if you would have finished that whole cup of coffee, you’d all miss each other. Instead, you all converge in space and time.
Welcome to the Theory of Mass Convergence, and I don’t get it.
I was thinking about this phenomenon whilst lighting up the grill the other day. I was in my patio chair, doing my best not to do anything, save to sip a lovely beverage, and admire my Cottonwood tree, and how pretty it looked against a pale blue sky. A lovely evening to be sure. The smoke off the charcoal chimney swirled about, and the tweety birds sang sweetly in the waning light. Then I noticed the moon was out, tho not quite full, but hanging just over the budding crown of my tree. How nice I thunk. Then with a squint of the eye, I noticed something else, a jet plane, or the contrail of anyways, and who knows how far away it was, but it was heading straight for the moon. And for a moment in the vast time continuum: the plane, the moon, the Cottonwood tree and my patio chair all lined up as if it were their high calling all along. That is a weak example of the convergence theory, but none the less it is there.
The Theory of Mass Convergence, just to be clear is my own theory. And I admit to still be tweaking the math on this one. It’s just that the observations of this matter are so plentiful that I cannot disregard it’s inherent validity. I see it all the time. Anyhow.
I scratched my head at these simple wonders and rather than continued efforts in vain at divining the intricacies of universe, I did something rather more productive, and plopped a few chicken thighs on the barbie! Now this I understand. Man put meat to flame. Flame cook meat. Meat make man happy! Also on the pit, we did up a batch of tinfoil potatoes. Those were easy too, and maybe our very favorite side to make on pit. Just dice the spuds up into uniform chunks, season with what ever strikes your fancy, add a few pats of butter and wrap it all up in a sheet of tin foil. Place over direct heat for 25 minutes or so, flipping once at your pit master instinct. If you wanna get fancy with your tin foil potatoes, try adding any matter of vegetables that move you at the moment, from: onions, to corn, to peas, to carrots, shucks, it’s all tasty done up on the grill this way.
Now back to those thighs. The thighs were seasoned with some Bone Suckin’ Seasoning, which has been our go to bottle as of late. Fairly good stuff of which I humbly admit being wooed by its odd, but catchy nomenclature. They were thus liberally seasoned and seared a bit over direct heat. Such was the skin crisped up a might there before escorting back to the cool side of the grill, opposite the hot coals. And there they would stay the rest of the cook, slowly pampered in mesquite smoke.
With the lid in place and damper tweaked, the draft thus engaged, sending heady plumes of mesquite curling forth. I settled back into the patio man chair, positioned left leg over right, cold beverage in hand, and further mused over the intricacies of the universe at hand. Still thinking about that convergence thing. In point of fact, the very thighs which roast over these coals now, were wrought from mysteries of convergence.
We’ve all been there. Walking slowly down the grocery aisles, pushing that slightly squeaky cart to and fro, the one that always wants turn to the left, and will at the most inappropriate times. Well anyways, I was making my way there, rounding the corner to the meat section. I see a little old lady coming my way, her head just peaking up over her enormous purse residing in the infant seat of the grocery cart. She plods along, tipping her nose up for to gander through her bifocals at various things attractive to little old ladies. She has a slow, but steady strafe going on, very efficient I must say, as she sweeps along the meat aisle. Now like any red blooded man with a pulse, I just want to get to the poultry section, of course, grab my thighs, and make haste for home. The sooner done with shopping, the better. But as I approach the target area, and as if right on queue, our little old lady stalls out right smack in front of the chicken thighs, whereupon she gazes over them for some time, whilst rifling through a hand full of coupons. I yield for little old ladies. And chicken thighs too, I guess.
The theory of convergence strikes again. Some times I wonder if the Good Lord brings people together like that on purpose, cause it sure happens more than I can tell you. Here is yet another classic.
Also in the grocer, and don’t deny you this hasn’t happened to you, but you find yourself alone, say in the frozen foods aisle, and for a while now you have been battling a growing gas pain deep within your wretched being. You cast a glance hither and yon, as well you should, and the coast is irrefutably clear. Then, as if prompted by your carnal instinct, you bequeath an air biscuit of suitable proportion to your misery. Relief floods your body. A smile curls across your face. And then it happens. It always happens. The most beautiful specimen of a super model struts around the corner, long locks of blonde hair flowing in the florescent light, heels clacking over the hard white floor, and they make way straight for you. Classic convergence. And there isn’t a darn thing you can do about it. Anyways.
After a suitable fashion and the juices ran clear on the chicken, we varnished it over with some of that Orange Ginger Sauce we’ve been playing with as of late. Man that stuff is good. It has sugar in it tho, so be mindful not to burn your spoils too close to the fire. Blessed be the adept tong that which orchestrates your smokey symphony to a better end game. We plated up the mesquite scented thighs along with those tin foil potatoes, and sidled in through the patio door. One more convergence yet to go today. Namely this here succulent protein with my hungry belly down below. May it make the acquaintanceship post haste. Amen.
The sun is 93 million miles away. That’s what they say anyways. And only a small fraction of the light given off from it ever even reaches the earth. And a smaller piece of it yet, ever makes it to places like, Minnesota, where I am from. Even so, and despite it’s seemingly scant privilege, the light of a new day is cast no how, every day, often times sparkling over crusty fields of snow. It melts through piney tree tops, alive with darting Black Capped Chickadees. It glares over the frozen pond, all tracked-up now with little webbed footprints from the resident ducks. And the good light also spans the roof tops of the city, with their numerous chimney stacks, back-lit, and puffing into the crisp morning air. For not getting much sun light, what we do get we sure seem to notice. For example, some of that sunlight even slipped in through my bathroom window the other morning, and illuminated my toilet.
Ninety and three million miles away and it still lights up my can like it was all in the world it had to do. How about that. It’s the little things, people. And it is pleasurable event indeed, I cannot deny, to thus engage in your morning constitutional whilst positioned at the tail of a sunbeam. Sort of sets a man off right in his day, so-to-speak. I felt like the solar roulette wheel landed on my number for once, and graced me there on the bowl. Hey, it has been a long, cold, and exceedingly dark winter, so let a fellow bask when he can!
Anyways, onto lunch. It was simple affair of wings and spice. Nothing earth-tilting to report, but delicious even so. Now you all know how to grill a chicken wing, there’s nothing to it really. But here is how we did it, just in case.
Of the first order was to spice the wings up with one of our new favorite rubs from the kindly folks at Miners Mix. They call it Poultry Perfection, which does indeed live up to it’s billing. And we used it liberally. We put all the wings into a plastic bag, dumped in a good pile of this spice rub, and did the old “shake & bake” maneuver. Well in this case, “shake & grill“, which, off-hand, is about 93 million times more fun.
The generously coated wings were then placed opposite a hot bed of coals – indirect as we like to say in the smokey arts. Why? One reason comes to mind foremost. So they don’t morph into blackened charcoal-like substrates better utilized below your grate than above. In other words, so they don’t burn. Indirect heat is markedly gentler, and gets the job done just the same, and often times with a juicer, more evenly cooked end game. But best of all, by cooking indirect, you nary need worry then about whether or not your dear plunder will be sacrificed to the grilling gods in a column of black smoke. It’ll be just fine. Which frees up the pit jockey for equally as important pursuits, such as filling up his favorite mug with something lovely to slurp. Or watching the puffy clouds idle slowly overhead whilst loitering amid the earthy aroma of tomato plants. And if the day will have it, just maybe, to find someplace quiet to sit in the sun. Which when you think about it, at 93 million miles away, is about as indirect as it comes. Especially so on the privy! Amen.
Indirect, lightly smoked chicken wings, seasoned in Poultry Perfection, touched up with Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet n Spicy. Yum!
You were born to loiter. And especially so on Christmas morn. I remember as a pup, waking up at the break of day a most energetic individual, and dashing down the hall in my footie pajamas, out to the fake tree all gussied up in little red balls and dazzling lights, and quietly arrange my plunder there, so I could keep a child’s eye on them. And I would pace the living room floor hither and yon, waiting for the rest of my family to get their Christmas butts in gear. Boy they liked to sleep late. Didn’t they know I had presents to open up! Toys to play with! Worlds to conquer! In short, I always had to wait on Christmas morning. I had to loiter.
“Patience comes to those who wait…” -Elder Brother
Now loitering, as you know, is a key component to successful BBQ. And who knew my training for prolonged barbecue endeavors would start so young. Like a good brisket deckle smoking indirect over a nice bed of coals, nary can you rush things any more in the BBQ Arts, than you would with the festivities of Christmas. Like the old BBQ adage laments, “It’s done when it’s done“. Well, I’m here to say, likewise with the pleasantries of Christmas, and possibly the same with the cultivation of patience.
Patience is a fickle friend. Thing is, with advancing years, a soul tends to notice such things like Christmas are getting done with quicker and quicker. Leastwise that’s how it seems over here, and I’m not so sure that that’s fair. What once stretched eternal is now over in the flip of a heart beat. Before you can sing one round of Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer, our Savior’s birthday is done already, and your filling out your tax forms before April 15th rolls around again. What’s a bloke to do…
Well, what you can do, of course, is loiter! Perhaps over the years, you have gotten a distorted view of loitering. It’s not a bad thing if applied correctly. In point of fact, it’s good. Loitering is just deliberate living in the face of advancing time. Loitering is soaking in the metaphoric hot tub of the present moment. To absorb what is, and nary be bothered by any thing else. Loitering proper is simply to extend the moment for the moment’ s sake. Which is also what we love to do in BBQ. And with any thing that we love, really. To make it last.
And so it may sound far-fetched, I’m sure, but as a student of the BBQ Arts, you cannot help but to notice the same patience required, nay cultivated, to smoke a 14 hour pork butt, is invaluable just the same in properly prolonging the best day of the year. Patience is an interchangeable commodity this way. Consider your family gathered about the tree here in a few days. Indeed it’s all a pup can do to keep from ripping into his gift larder, this we know, but the old, wise grand parents, if you notice, tarry back on the parameter with cup of coffee, letting the day come to them as it will. They’re in no hurry. They have a lot of Christmas’s logged under their muffin tops, you see, and know precisely what they’re doing. They are elite in the mastery of stretching a moment. For they know how fanciful and swift the ever-ebbing passage of time can be, and they for one are in no hurry to speed it up. So they wait. They purposefully loiter in the warm wake of Christmas Day. Like an ode to Carpe Diem in bifocals.
So next time you’re in a hurry to speed Christmas along, take pause and reconsider. Think like a pit jockey instead. Or your grandma. It’ll be done when it’s done. And usually done quicker than you’d like. Would you rush a good rack of pork ribs? Of course not! For a pit master’s highest quality may be his patience, and it’s this same patience you may in turn wield at your discretion, to parlay the day unto greater and more appropriate effectiveness. To make it last. Indeed, to make it last. And I suppose that we all cultivate our patience in a great many of ways, it’s just that If I have any these days, it likely was forged pit-side, waiting for succulence. And in a round about way, very round, I guess that’s how BBQ saved Christmas. Or something like that. Now I just need some footie pajamas again. Amen.
It was the best of times…And it was still the best of times…They called me Mr. Two Smokes, cause that’s what I did last weekend. I smoked twice. Once on Thanksgiving day, like any man ought to. And once more the day after, on Black Friday, because, well, why wouldn’t you. And let it be said, because its true, a finer way to pass the holiday respite, than with good, smokey-tinted meat and warm fellowship I do not know. It will gratify the belly and appease the soul. And thus here it is, a tale of two smokes. Of a turkey and a ham, and the seasons first snow fall, patron to the pit.
Thanksgiving morn found me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before even the rising sun. All the house was silent, as I padded about in my favorite pajamas with the all-important business of turkey on my mind. The turkey, a free-range, never frozen, sixteen pound specimen of a gobbler, resided the night long in my cooler, in a bath of salty and sweet brine for to coax the oft borderline tolerable meat unto better days I suppose. The brine we used was the same formula we’ve been using frequently this fall, and if you want the recipe, you can grab it in this brine post we did a while back. Anyways, I pulled the bird from the brine, pampered it a bit with paper towel and the like, and set in motion a herb/butter paste, that which was rubbed under the skin and over the top of it too, smeared all about with a quasi-reckless abandoned. Cavity piled full of apples and onions and the timeless aromatics better known as rosemary and thyme. Does it get any better folks! And under the dark of night, in an abnormally quiet neighborhood, I lit the coals in the old Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, put the bird on, and with very little fan fare, promptly did what any pit keeper still in his pajamas before sunrise would…I watched a John Wayne movie.
Okay, I admit, “watch” is probably not the operative word to use here, unless, that is, you wager such still a fashionable verb when your eye lids have sunk like a couple of flat tires, and your head is tilted eighty seven degrees to the starboard, with a rivulet of drool seeping from one’s right lip pit. Classic pit master posture to be sure. But it was one of those delightful naps where part of you was still alert to your surroundings, appreciative of it, whilst the other part of you wallowed at the foot of unconscious rapture. I could still hear The Duke bellowing on the television. Could hear his many fist fights and heady blasts from a shot-gun. And also, off-hand, I could hear myself snoring there, listing comfortably on the couch. Not sure how that happens, but when your smoking a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, you have to put up with such inalienable rigors. I know I did.
Long about when The Duke was engaged in his final bar room brawl, I stirred momentarily under my blanket, stretching there like a fat, spoiled house cat. All was right in the world, or at least my world. I scratched my head, my hair tossed like a bad salad, then unashamedly pandiculated right there on the davenport. Pandiculate. That means to stretch and yawn simultaneously, people. And every body does it. Men, women, children, elderly folk, donkeys. And especially so pit jockeys early to their game! Anyways, I glanced out the patio door, there to gaze upon the smokey pillars of pecan wood gently curling aloft into a gray, November sky. A sky of which that was all a’flutter with sloppy white snow flakes. It was lovely, and a fine touch towards the ambiance of the day. What a pleasure to awaken from your nap to such a glories anew.
At any rate, we monitored the turkey’s breast temperature until it hit 165 degrees internal, and brought it into the house to rest. And here is how it came out, by and by. The aromas of pecan smoked turkey filled the house at once, and heads turned. I felt like hoisting it high for all the world to see. To lay eyes upon its golden brown carcass and supple leg quarters. It turned out real good. If you’ve never had turkey off the pit for Thanksgiving, you have put off a good thing far too long. Be encouraged, people, and smoke likewise…
The festivities of Thanksgiving lingered into the night, and I slept long the next morning. The season’s first real snow fall had accumulated a few inches in that time, and such seemed poetically right to me. It is good to have snow on Thanksgiving vacation. It just works. And even better still to have ham! You see, this day marked our 3rd Annual Black Friday Ham Smoke. A little tradition we have fashioned out of the swift-ebbing river of time. My but this living. Is there a finer way to bypass the heady throngs of mass consumerism, than with a single wisp of wood smoke off your patent enameled cooker? Nay, this is the course of a wiser man, to hold stalwart at the pit this day, and ply his craft to great effect there, whilst the snowflakes conspire on the lawn and the chickadees flirt amid the patron spruce. Indeed, let the heady throngs of consumerism all jockey for position on the commercial battlefield, we will be just fine here with our elbow room, a good recliner, and a tall glass of something cold to drink. This is our Black Friday Annual Ham smoke, and I nary can wait to get after it once again.
Firstly, after a proper slurp off a manly beverage, we built a good minion bed in the fire bowl of the WSM. It was comprised with plenty of unlit briquettes, lots of lit ones, some hickory wood, and to add a little sport to the day, some unlit chunks of mesquite lump charcoal. It was a nice pile of coal and wood, aptly fit for the day’s initiative, and did us proper for what we wanted to do. Smoke a ham.
Glory be, but what a sight on the old smoker grate, this lovely precooked ham, oh about ten pounds I should wager, and all matter of sexy. We greased it down in a mustard rub first, and then dusted it liberally with Maynard’s Memphis BBQ Rub from our friends over at Miners Mix. If you haven’t had occasion to try their spice rubs yet, here is another thing you’ve put off too long. They truly are delicious. Anyways, on with the lid. And on with the smoke. The 2nd smoke in as many days. This is the life!
The Posture of a Pit Keeper
Here then is our privilege as pit keepers; to tarry in our favorite chair, hat tipped up ever so slightly, manly beverage in hand, and simply observe the world gather and spin. This sort of enforced leisure, you might say, to mind the meat, sort of frees up a gent to a great many other important activities in life. Such as: watching clouds form in the sky, admiring tweety birds, catching up on naps, reading more magazines on the toilet, postponing annoying chores, watching football, observing bunny tracks in the snow, and if time allows, to take another nap. All things starkly absent to the consumeristic herds filing through the motorized double doors of Best Buy. Anyways.
Now a ham, or most hams people buy are already cooked, as you know. In point of fact, most are already smoked too. So some of you may be asking a very sincere question here, namely, what in the heck are we doing? Well trust us when we tell you that your average ham can stand to soak up a lot more smokey goodness. It can handle it, and will up the flavor of said ham by about ten fold. Apple wood works great here. Maple is fantastic. Pecan is no slouch either. But we used hickory as mentioned early. Hickory might be the most popular smoke wood in the entire country, probably over used by the BBQ populous, but even so, with good reason. It just works. Works with nearly everything. A little hickory smoked ham coming right up! Well in about three or four hours, anyhow.
Stalking The Black Berry Glaze
Eventually I had to get up. Every pit jockey does eventually. I was kind of in the mood for a glaze this time around, but I wasn’t sure what I had on hand. I thus rummaged through the pantry and fridge, looking for anything to concoct a simple glaze out of. Found some apricot preserves dated back I think, to the last time the Vikings made the playoffs. So its been a while. I cracked the lid, and looked in the jar like any man would. Not sure if that was fuzz I saw down in there, or just peanut butter leftover from some bygone midnight sandwich. Hmm, onto the next jar. That’s when I came upon a brand new jar of blackberry preserves, and I knew my sweet destiny had just been met.
Into a small sauce pan I compiled:
- 1/2 cup Blackberry Preserves
- 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Apple juice
- 1 Clove of garlic (smashed and minced)
Out at the pit stove, I brought the ingredients to a light boil, stirring gently, and whence the instincts of my inner Julia Child motioned me, I took the pot off the heat, and let it cool back down. Let it thicken up a tad, before I lovingly varnished my dear ham in this sporty nectar! And I cannot express the wondrous aromas floating about the pit right then. Like smokey pork in a candy factory. Man! Glory!
Such is the plight of pit keepers near and far. Just when we think our quarry is done, and the wait is over, we must wait yet again. This time to rest the meat. To let the juices back track unto their most favorable coordinates, and then, and only then, make the beastly pilgrimage into our awaiting gullets. And so concludes today’s culinary essay. And a weekend well spent. And well fed. And the Tale of Two Smokes, patron to the pit. Amen.
Hickory Smoked Blackberry Glazed Ham sided with home made scallop potatoes and green beans. In a word – YUM!
In the swiftly slanting light of an Autumn’s eve, I banked a bed of fiery coals to the side of the old kettle grill. Coaxing a few stragglers at the end of long tongs, thus setting the grill up for a quiet spot of indirect cooking. The sun conspired low over the golden tree tops where it ought to this time of year, with night coming on sooner and sooner. And the air was refreshingly cool, invigorating almost, with summer’s humidity a distant memory now. I buttoned up my flannel smoking shirt a couple of notches higher, and rummaged through the wood pile for today’s chosen smoke wood. Pecan sounded good. But then so did hickory. I vacillated over this quandary all of two nano seconds, I assure you, and just did what any pit jockey would at moments of such indecision – I used both. No compromise at the pit tonight. No wasted moments. For the light here quickly fades.
Before we get to cooking tonight, take a gander in this bucket. Lovely isn’t it…Three wild wood ducks, courtesy of a hunting friend, swimming in a flavorful home-made brine. Been there all of twenty and three hours already. And I tell you this, living your days as an acknowledged meat geek, you would be surprised what proteins seem to come your way. Meat just comes to me, people. I don’t know why. Warren Buffet has the same effect with money, I’ve noticed. And to Brad Pitt goes the girls. And me, well I get meat. And not necessarily classy meat either, but I ain’t complaining none. I thought the BBQ pulled beaver a while back turned out rather well, by and by. And I’m sure tonight’s plunder will too. Hickory Pecan Smoked Wood Duck, patron to the pit. Oh yes, let’s get after it.
Now concerning the gamy nature of wild duck. Some blokes like it, and some don’t. I suspect we here at he pit dally more towards the latter, so we concocted a simple, yet delicious brine for to leech some of that gaminess out. For three small birds we used:
Apple Cider Brine
1/2 Gallon Apple Cider
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Salt
Couple splashes of apple cider vinegar
6 slices of Ginger Root
5 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon Pepper
1/2 cup Orange Juice
*Go ahead and let your birds soak in the brine for about a day.
On a similar note, in case you are interested in such things, the very best recipe book we’ve found for wild duck is, Duck, Duck, Goose, by Hank Shaw. Really good stuff. Highly reviewed too, as you will see.
You can toss in what ever you like. From bay leaves, to sage, to your favorite spices. We do like to start with a base of apple cider tho. And yup, brine needs lots of salt. It won’t work otherwise. I guess the negative sodium ions attached themselves to proteins, and in-turn repel other negative ions which wander near to it, thus expanding the space between the proteins, the void of which is then diffused with your magnificent brine. Or something like that. Who knows. We are not scientists. We’re just men, who plop meat over flame and declare it good!
And so it was, the three little birds made the acquaintanceship of the hot cast iron grate, opposite a beautiful bed of coals. A chunk of hickory and a piece of pecan wood came to smolder, and the smoke softly billowed upwards in delicate, yet stately plumes. One bird we wrapped in bacon. One bird had only the rub. And the other we just left alone, to let the brine do all the talking.
Our rub today is another dandy from the good folks at Miners Mix. It’s called, Poultry Perfection Seasoning Rub for Turkey, Goose, Duck, Chicken, and Game, and I reckon it’s aptly named. Dang but they’ve got some good stuff. We dusted a couple of the ducks over pretty good with it, and man the smell of raw meat seasoned to perfection, well, it probably shouldn’t smell that good, but it does. Just one of the many privileges patron to the pit. And I nary can postpone any longer it’s gastronomic rendezvous with the biggest orifice on my face!
Near the end of our journey to 165 degrees internal temperature, we tossed some fresh vegetables into the Craycort frying pan insert, and sautéed them there in a splash of olive oil. It isn’t often we smell the aroma of sizzling cauliflower wafting from our pit damper, but we’re here to tell you, it don’t smell half bad. And it tastes a might better than that even. Every once in a while, even your most hardened pit jockey ought to stir up some vegetables on his cooker, if for any other reason than to try something new, and barring that, to at least please his lady folk.
Lid on, damper tweaked, a light wood smoke tapers into the autumn air whilst I make myself comfy in the patio chair, and muse over the day at hand. It was a good day, as days go, but my how the light is quick to flee. Used to be bright and balmy still, just a month or two ago, but here lately around supper time, the sun dips out of sight behind yonder roof tops, and doing so just a little swifter each day. Aw well, it’s just part of the natural balance of things living here on the 45th parallel. We get winter so we can better appreciate the summer, seems like. And I’m OK with that.
Long about the time that my pit-side introspection was wrapping up, and I could just start to smell the aroma of gently smoked duck bellowing from my pit vent, I knew then I had better keep an eye out for some visitors that equaled all matter of awkward. Now is the time they always show up. And I suppose it would be an ironic justice of sorts if they did. It’s common fact, you see, that if the Pond Side Pit were to have a mascot, well, it would probably be the lowly duck. Ducks are everywhere here. They abound in plentiful numbers, out numbering the residents two-to-one, and often travel in cantankerous packs. Many a time, whilst loitering at the pit, the little dudes will waddle up to me, first to see if I have any food to offer them, and then, as if driven by some moral code of duck law, they like to establish if whether or not it was their kin that they smelled cooking under my lid. And most days it’s not, and I’m free to loiter in peace. But this time they stood to get me out right, iffin I didn’t make swift work of it here. I probed the breast, looking for 165 internal, and instead hear a sickly chortle belching in the distance. Sounded like Phyllis Diller with a hang over. Hark! They were onto me! I could see them from across the far grass now, waddling in earnest. Well, good BBQ, as you know, is done when it’s done, and there is nothing we can say or do about that. And so the gap closed between them and I. Closed like a drawn curtain. My head hung a little lower, and my bottom lip drooped as they ambled on by, looking about as nonchalant as a duck can whilst still giving me the evil eye. Man…Yeah, I was hoping they wouldn’t show up today, as it’s all matter of awkward when they do. But on that note, and to a savory end, get you bib on people, it is time to eat. And Amen.
*No Pond Side ducks we injured during the making of this post.
**For further information on the cast iron modular grate system we use, check them out on amazon at the link just below. We are an affiliate for Amazon, and we sincerely do appreciate your support.
Hickory Pecan Smoked Wood Duck, seasoned in Poultry Perfection, man! Sided with lightly sauteed vegetables tinted in smokey goodness. Good eating, and every bit of it, patron to the pit.
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The first rain drops splattered over the land, and over the shallow waters from whence the White Egrets hunt. In the West, brooding storm clouds have gathered now, sweeping eastward, and strafing the southern tip of the lake from which my bride and I tarry, cradled in our plastic kayaks. We were afloat this local fishery, that, by and far, was a peaceful enough locale, and beautiful too – it’s calm waters reflecting the gray cloud massif advancing slowly over head. As I held my ultra lite fishing rod in hand, gently jigging into the watery abyss, mine eyes could not help but to mind the heavens above, darting to and fro, keen for bright flashes of illumination. For as much as this angler respects a bulging creel, and that is a fine thing indeed, I respect even more so, the zipper-melting mojo of a single bolt of lightning. And I might have thought it my only foe this eve, if it were not for this cheesy discord bloating forth in my belly. Indeed, seems supper, however tasty it might have been, wasn’t to loiter long down in the old plumbing. You’ve all been there. You know from what I mean. Aw well, and even so, good is good, and no less than that was this cheesy brat I tell you. Yum.
Hearken back with me won’t you, and I’ll tell you a little more about it, and how it went and came to be.
Well they look innocent enough. Quick to cook. Easy to perfect. We even toasted the buns in our never-ending quest to be semi-outstanding. But then you all know how to cook a bratwurst. What you might notice different here however, is a wee bit of spiral goofiness going on, of which we can explain. The working notion, if your up for it, is to take your knife and slice almost, but not quite halfway into the brat, and then kind of twist the meat and guide your knife along, creating a meat slinky of sorts. Anyways, you’ll want to leave about 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch of core so the beast has something to marry itself together with. But the idea here, and the reason for this surgery in the first place is that opening it up as such, will foster more smokey goodness into its fatty bosom. Simple as that. More flavor. More of anything really that you may wish to add. Such as seasonings, or in our case, obscene amounts of melted, cheddar cheese. Oh blimey that cheese!!
Now I love cheese, but every once in a moldy wheel, it is the heady bane of my intestinal existence. And with a tummy in recoil, whilst afloat over populated urban waters, well I don’t mind telling you that I had a favorable gaze fixed on one of them portable plastic outhouses at the boat launch. Specifically the blue and white one, half-draped in the wispy arms of an old willow tree. If I had to, I would lower myself to such means. Oh yes indeed. But just as the storm cloud I had been monitoring so carefully finally slipped out of danger, in that same wonderful moment, likewise did the cheesy turmoil go with it. I don’t know why. And I didn’t analyze it either. Instead an elegant rainbow took stage, sudden like, classic in arc, and pouring brilliantly out of the clouds, as if out of a fountain from heaven itself. Man. When are rainbows not fabulous to behold! Then of course it got even better, as my fishing rod in turn formed a rather nice hoop in it, courtesy of a wiling, large mouth bass. Line tightened, slicing sweetly through the opaque water, the serenade of loon song in the still air, lo, for a while at least, and maybe even longer than that, all my small world was right again. The tempests had passed.
That’s how it works sometimes with storms and belly aches. One minute you think you’ve surely had it, and the next minute you’re pulling fish from the end of a rainbow. Say what ever you will, but there is grace for us all. Amen.
I like birds. From the pretty tweety birds that sing from the tree tops come evening sunbeams, to the bald eagles who soar with magnificent ease high on the thermals. From the mama Cardinal roosting in the alders, to the Black Capped Chickadee flirting in the spruce. And unto the eerie wail of the common loons on camping trips into the far northern places. I like birds. I fancy the ducks – those marvelous mallards and dashing drakes who court the shores of Pond Side Pit, who seem always in a good mood, even when it rains. There is just something about bird life that has fascinated me for many years. Something in the way they go about business, that has contented me. Then I ran into this feathered bloke on one of my strolls through a local river hamlet. I called him Ed.
Ed wasn’t the best looking of birds. But then when you’re a Blue Heron, you don’t exactly get invited to beauty contests. No, you make your living in kinder, gentler circles, usually at the water’s edge, and usually with a keen eye for supper on the fin. Ed and I must have sat together for a half hour at least there, river-side, just watching the world go by. It’s odd to see a creature with so much patience, or maybe it was laziness, I’m not sure. That must have been what he thought of me also. But I didn’t care. I just admired his innate ability to loiter. If only birds could BBQ, this chap would be one of the best. Speaking of BBQ birds, do let me tell you about our last cook out. Grab yourself a lovely beverage and we’ll meet back at the pit, and tell you more about it, and how it went and came to be.
No, these are not the breasts of a Blue Heron. These are the boneless versions of a nameless yard bird, or two, that I have never met. Sometimes I wonder if the previous owners of these once knew each other back in the day. Perhaps they were buddies who’d bandy together for a good morning’s cackle. Or maybe even enemies who would eat each others poop, cause that’s what chickens do, according to a Grandma I know. Regardless, they sure looked fine sizzling over the hot cast iron grate of my Weber kettle grill. Glory be, they smelled good enough to eat raw. I suspect that was because of the marinade.
The World’s Easiest Best Marinade
One part Italian dressing.
One part your favorite BBQ sauce.
Like I said, simple. And nary have I ever seen it fail. Quite possibly the simplest one you’ll ever use. And the most fool-proof. It’s a rather popular one on the interweb right now, so we thought we’d give it a go. Anyways the notion is it let the meat marinate over night. Twenty and four hours is even better. Now I’ve heard places not to exceed four hours iffin your marinade has a high vinegar content, lest it morphs your chicken slightly rubbery as a result. But I guess the vinegar content of Italian dressing and Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce is not enough to awaken this anomaly. All I know is it works. And it works exceedingly well. No rubber chickens here.
We chunked on the old, enameled lid, its handle soiled in the grease and smoke of a thousand cookouts. The draft soon engaged, and sweet tendrils of wood smoke curled freely into a pure, Minnesota sky. I sat back in my patio chair, left leg over right, and admired how nice the smoke looked, puffing against the green back drop of a summer’s day. The pleasantries of the pit were at full speed, people. The ambiance meter pegged out. Manly beverage within reach, soft tunes on the pit sound system, song birds aloft, hark, I could want for nothing more save for the sun to pause in its arc, if but to extend the moment here for the moment’s sake. This is where the pit keeper cultivates his patience, you see. That hallowed span of clock from whence the meat hits the grate with an anointing sizzle, to when the meat at long last enters your slobber-strewn mouth. The magic hour. Or hours if need be. Indeed, it is good for us to wait for something once in a while. In an instant download, drive-thru, microwave kind of society, who has got to have their wares delivered at once by the hands of haste, such an act of patience will encourage some, and down right astonish the rest. But a pit master proper can pull this feat off with aplomb. It’s in our blood to tarry where meat is concerned. Just like that old, blue heron on the river bank. He could have been running all over the place that day, flying from one locale to another, but nay, he knew the value in waiting. The precious gold in a single strand of patience. And I admired him for it. There is much you can learn from those with wings. Yeah, I like birds. I like them quite a bit. And with that said, as the evening shadows creep over yonder fields, I think it’s time to finally eat this one!
Cheerio and Amen.
Twenty four hours, people, marinated in one-half Italian Dressing and one-half BBQ sauce, grilled over hickory, and kissed with sweet time. Man! Good eating, and good times, patron to the pit.
Pit Date: Easter Morning
Pit Weather: Cool. Light breeze out of the northwest.
Two cute Chickadees lit on the feeder outside the patio door, chirping their song for the morning at large. Yapping it up, like tweety birds do, and poised to flirt, if not for the nearest shrubbery, then with each other. Classic signs of spring time in Minnesota. You see it everywhere. Squirrels, ducks, bar tenders, you name it. The males of the species putting on a bit of a show, or a rather over-the-top exhibition, if you will. On my morning commute last week, in point of fact, I came upon two wild turkeys, strutting up the sidewalk. One of them, the male I presume, was proudly puffed up, it’s tail fanned out, bold and beautiful, as it did a little disco dance right there along side the road. Stomping around, flaunting his tail feathers and such. Goofy creatures I thought, as I drove past with an air of smugness and superiority and general awe. I was sure glad that my species at least, had come far enough along in life to not have to resort to such humbling, petty measures. Well, leastwise, not all of us males would do such things. Certainly not this male. That is until I smoked the Easter ham. Indeed, I may have had a small relapse then, to my more primitive side. I digress.
You see, I was milling about the house Easter morn, getting the Weber Smokey Mountain ready for the day’s culinary sortie, and I was coming in from the garage with a brand new bag of charcoal perched on my shoulder, when I caught sight of myself in the mirror.
“Shoot” I bellowed, “Now there’s a ruddy looking bloke!”
Ruddy. In my words, it means manly, and rather pleasant on the eyes. A condition usually spawned from a life out-of-doors.
I paused momentarily, to fully grasp the sight. I sported a light-weight red flannel smoking jacket, clashing with a pair of blue and green flannel pajama bottoms, brown leather boots with tongues that which hung forth like the fleshy namesakes of two over-heated bull dogs, and an old black ball cap that has seen the sweat of a thousand days. Not exactly a Sears and Roebuck model, but if flannel had a poster child this day, well, it was me!
The sound of my bride coming down the stairs snapped my attention clear of my evident self lust, but not enough so, turns out, to resist striking a manly pose for her, just the same. As her foot steps grew closer, I adjusted the 20 pound bag of charcoal on my shoulder, so she could better glimpse my bulging biceps, and taut mid section. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but listen, it’s my blog, and if I want a taut mid section, well then so be it. Anyways, my chiseled Norwegian jaw line took rather well in the morning light, and my gray steely eyes were trained on the metaphoric mountain tops whence she made her landing at the foot of the stairs.
“Wow, you’re wearing a lot of flannel!” She croaked, looking right at me, “Have you started the ham yet?”
“Well, yes, I’m getting there in due time“, I said, whilst nonchalantly adjusting my pose . “Must not rush the pit processes you know.”
“Excellent“, she said, as she began to sort through the morning paper.
I waited a few moments for a comment on my ruddiness… Nothing. I strutted past her with my bag of charcoal aloft, considering something relevant from the disco era to engage in, but I couldn’t think of anything, and soon gave up and headed for the patio. She was right tho, I best get the ham started, I guess. And I reckoned not even a turkey gets it right the first time. Anyway, here is how I lit up the pit.
Known in the BBQ sciences as the Minion Method. It is the choicest of techniques for operating the Weber Smoke Mountain. It’s simple to do too. Simply dump a chimney of fiery hot coals into a donut of unlit coals. Done. The hot coals will slowly light the unlit coals next to them. And those coals in turn will light up the coals next to them. And so on. We did an article a long while back that goes more in-depth on this technique, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion, and if you ever want to delve deeper into the smokey arts, it would be a good read for you. Anyways, once the pit was up to speed, 225 degrees, with a few chunks of pecan wood smoldering away, and after we scored the ham for better smoke penetration, we slathered the it in our finest cheap mustard first, then hit it over with a homemade ham rub consisting roughly of the following:
Home Made Patron Ham Rub
- 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 cup Turbinado Sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon Ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon Paprika
Now here is where the pit does its magic. And where a pit master proper is to simply stay out-of-the-way. And that’s what I did. Doing such in a semi-reclined Roman banquet sort-of-way on the couch, which just barely allowed me to consume thy lovely beverage without the hassle of sitting up straight. But this tactic soon faltered, of course, and with the shrewd hands of gravity, I soon found my self “belly up”, with not a care in the world. Eye lids growing heavy, something educational played on the television, tho I couldn’t tell you what. I didn’t care. I was smoking meat, and for a while at least, that was all the entertainment I needed. I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing precisely that which was well with my soul. And I may or may not have dozed off during the high rigors of BBQ here, whilst those wonderful, pecan-scented tendrils of wood smoke pillared into beautiful, April sky.
Long about 135 degrees internal temp, about 4 hours, I stirred up enough motivation to concoct a simple maple honey glaze for the ham, and varnished it on in turn. Here is the recipe we used for the glaze. It weren’t too bad!
Honey Maple Glaze
- 1/4 cup Honey
- 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
- 2 tablespoons Butter
At this point, we opened all the vents on the smoker to full throttle. The hotter it gets, the better things caramelize. But it turns out the smoker was low on fuel, and didn’t want to go much higher than it already was. But we muddled through it anyways, glaze and all, for poetic reasons alone. It is not shameful to use the oven tho, not to worry. Do what you gotta do. I just felt like ending the cook where it started- on the pit. Like I said, for the poetry. But keep an eye on it during the glazing process, less your sugars conspire against thee in a siege of burnt tidings upon your dear ham. It’s too late in the game to lose it all now. When your ham reaches 145 degrees internal, it’s ready for your people. Go any higher than that, and you risk drying it out.
And that is how a turkey smokes a ham on Easter day. Amen.
The north wind whispered among the fields and streams, and along the water’s edge down by the pond. With mallards quietly afloat there, watching as I was, the tiny white flakes of snow begin to twirl down from an ashen-gray sky. It was fairly cool out still, for the first day of spring, cool enough that is, to heighten the simple pleasures found in close bandy to a beautiful chimney of coals. One of which I had one going just then, as a matter of fact, with my hands hovering over the flames. I tossed a small piece of pecan wood into the chimney, and watched silently as it took flame.
I have always enjoyed the lighting of the coals. The process of it. The initial pungent blast of sulfur from a match, the first plumes of wood smoke curling aloft, and of course, the sweet time it takes to do such things, inherent to wood fired cooking. Oh yes indeed, there is a veritable gamut of quicker ways to procure supper for your self, this we know, from: the venerable stove top, to the drive through window of a fast food place, or hark, even behind the spattered plastic door of your personal microwave oven. Yuck. But it all works I guess. It all gets you there. Let it be said tho, because it is true, nothing so raises the bar of edible succulence, quite like a lovely rack of pork ribs riding the low and slow train all the afternoon long.
Cooking with wood and charcoal is at once an exercise in patience. Many folk have not the muster to do this anymore, or even want to do it, it seems, courtesy perhaps of our on-demand society. We are contented in large part, with what we can get quickly, and have forgotten at times, the pleasure of the wait. That’s what I love about BBQ proper. The essence of it, right down to its smokey core, is something of jaunt on the scenic path. It makes you wait for it. You have to respect the journey. And it is within the time span of this enforced leisure where the magic keenly unfolds. Lets take a peak under the lid, and I’ll tell you a little more about it, and what we have going on for supper at the pit today.
Oh sweet rendering collagen, how I darling thee! You work best at your own speed, and no one can tell you otherwise. Indeed, one should not rush the natural processes of rendering pork. It is a snail’s progression in Pig Picasso, right before our eyes. Just let it go, people, low and slow, and do your very best to just stay out-of-the-way. They say every time you lift the lid on your smoker that you add maybe 20 more minutes to the cook. And I suppose it’s true. But I had to show you, you see, if not for to glimpse the savory baby backs, but I suppose also to add 20 more wonderful minutes to my cook. Oh yes, I like the sound of that. It is well with my soul. For here is an activity of which I sincerely do love, to tarry pit side neath wild skies and darting tweety birds, just watching the wood smoke spiral and world gently spin round and round. I could do this for the better part of the day. And I do mean the better part. So why then would any misguided soul seek to hurry through it. Never!
I fancy the process of BBQ. And I like that it takes a long time. Because I suppose it gives me an excuse to loiter in my man chair and do nothing at all. It is a common secret among men, you see, and the women seem to let us get away with it, that we are hard at work out here manning our pits! That wood smoke would not curl right without our wise and manly influence. Nor would the protein cook proper like with out our steadfast sorties to the refrigerator for something cold to drink. Indeed, it is simply a man’s duty to tarry by his puffing pit and assure quality control there. And for some reason the women accept this, and the men are just wise enough not to fight it. Blessed be the pit jockey, in fact, who’s pork butt spans half the day, and the evening shadows grow long before his feet. The longer BBQ takes, the more content we are.
I reckon I ought to digress for the moment’s sake, and tell you a bit about the ribs, since your here and all. Easy enough. Firstly, we whipped up a homemade dry rub consisting roughly of what ever we had lying around, which included the following:
Basic Dry Rub of Whatever We Had Lying Around
- Brown sugar
- Smoked paprika
- Onion powder
- Garlic salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- Ground mustard
- Cayenne pepper
*Amounts are left up to the pit master’s instincts.
After the membrane was removed, we thus slathered the rack in Worcestershire sauce, and promptly patted the spice rub all over, to and fro, and tip to tip. Whilst we were getting friendly with the ribs, the Weber Smokey Mountain was coming up to speed, to 251 degrees, with a good charcoal/pecan fire burning in its steel bowl. After a suitable pause to slurp the top off a manly beverage, we placed the rack bone-side down on the pit grate for to come to edible maturity there, amid the softly rising plumes of pecan smoke. Glory!
And now is when we wait for it. A pit keeper’s pleasure, if you will. And darn near our highest privilege in the smokey realm. Time to settle in somewhere fair, splay our feet upon gentle inclines, and relish for once the noble feeling of not being in a rush. To let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and just be… To commune with the aromas of perfectly executed pork, that which we usher by the hand unto the enchanted land of succulence.
In closing, I am reminded of the late Colin Fletcher, of backpacking immortality, who once coined, and brilliantly so, “Anything that is worth doing, is worth doing slowly”.
So it is, Mr. Fletcher. And so it is with BBQ also. Amen.
The traffic was thick, but moving. Umpteen thousands upon thousands of automotive transports, motoring to and fro, and remarkably, if you ever think about it, all making their way, living their lives, and doing so in a unified, harmonious manner for the most part, save for those scattered but beleaguered souls, who’s middle fingers keenly ache from strident and resolved over-use. But that’s city driving for you. You come to expect the restless motorist or two. Anyways, upon a Sunday drive, we came upon the southern flanks of Minneapolis, which I think is a pretty city, as far as cities go. And I’m not much a city person, by and far. But I liked how this one looked, has always looked, in the beautiful evening slants of light, with its mighty steel and glass massifs sparkling down over the villages and alleyways. If you’re lot in life is to be a big stinky mess, you might as well look sexy then, in the right light at least. And this one always has. But I could never live there. It is the sort of land I must keep driving through, for my own sake, and for more open spaces. For venues of precious elbow room. For environs devoid of the blaring horn, and the well-timed, upward raised middle finger. Indeed, a place where the wood smoke so sweetly curls with the lullaby of bird song and whispering pine, that for moment, you know as surely as you’ve ever known anything, that you are exactly where we wish to be, doing precisely that which is well with your soul.
Let’s head there now, shall we, and I’ll show you what’s for supper, and how it went and came to be.
On the pit today, a simple fare. As simple as you please, really. A couple of thick cut pork chops, and a small bandy of diced potatoes swaddled in foil. Roasted with love. That was all we needed. Give a man meat and potatoes, and you have just given him the world. We are content with this. We long for this. Regardless, the chops were lightly dashed with a bit of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, each side. I seldom use this stuff, but mercy, when dusted over a good chop and merged with the heady scent of smoldering hickory, well, I can see why they sell it in the bulk, economy size. And why it has been around and going strong since the German tanks rumbled across the Austrian border in 1938. Lawry’s Seasoning has been around a good, long while.
The foiled potatoes were a bit more involved. But you all know how to do that. We added a few dollops of butter in there, along with a portion of a Lipton Onion Soup Mix packet, for a little extra flavor. Foiled them and placed them over direct heat for the entire cook, which takes about 20 – 25 minutes. Half way through, or at your pit master instincts, flip the taters with but a single, twisting wield of the tongs, and hear the meat sizzle on the hot cast iron grate, smile quietly to yourself, and consider your day well spent.
Somewhere in there, about the time I was to settle into a wee spot of loitering, I tossed forth onto the coals, a chunk of crooked hickory wood, roughly about the size of Laurie from down under’s big toe. If you haven’t had occasion yet to peruse his blog, Laurie27wsmith, you might find it quite the treat if you were ever at all curious about Australia and the pretty things that abound there. A wonderful bloke, always in good humor, and I do rather enjoy rummaging through his photos whilst pit-side, waiting on my plunder to mature. Nothing is quite so lovely as a male kangaroo posing unashamed on your portable device whilst the aromas of fresh meat bellow forth from your pit damper. Mercy!
I flipped the chops one last time, and stood abreast the steely bosom of the old kettle grill, savoring the heat on my hands. The smell of the Lawry-tinted pork about sent me straight to church, people, dripping there over a blazing rubble of orange coals. The sizzle and the hickory smoke, the breeze amid the Spruce, even the feel of the tongs in my hand, it all felt right and meant to be. Far removed from the bustling, ever-flowing ribbon of traffic that which flanks the city yonder; this meat, and this fire, and this endless sky above, it is for the moment all that I need. A simple fare where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.
It was seven below the zero mark, iffin it weren’t colder. And I think it was. Nobody was outside anyways, to tell me otherwise, not even the tweety birds. No one save for me, that is. And it was cold alright. The keen wind cut through the pond-side spruce with all the compassion and loveliness of a pit bull getting his favorite parts snipped off. The snow on the patio squeaked underfoot. And your breath, if you had any, spiraled like exhaust from an old diesel truck, and carried in the breeze a fathom and half over snow encrusted fields. Indeed, the day was cold against your face. My fellow patron and I were to discuss it, and we surmised that the odds were high, and probably accurate even, that I likely was the only humanoid within a hundred mile radius, out of warm doors right then, putting meat to flame on the BBQ. Oh how the neighbors must all roll their eyes every time they see my smoke rise, whilst the wind-driven ice crystals tap over their window pane. No matter, we Patrons of the Pit are a curious group by default. Not one for common thinking and none such. Forsaking oven and stove to cook instead over charcoal and wood, outside, and under random skies, we stand stalwart and proud at our pits, with our collars up and trimmed towards the tempest. BBQing in the cold is just what we do. What we have to do. Unless, I suppose you live, say, in Ecuador.
We have a reader amongst us, a long-time subscriber if you will, and an all-around good guy. Formerly of Minnesota, now roosting in the tropical climes of Ecuador. We have watched his blog, John and Mary Living it up in Ecuador, over the years, and admired their strange adventures, and knack for good living. If the winter draws long for you, do yourself a favor and check out their wonderful blog. It will warm you up, both inside and out. But the old boy there has a sense of humor, I must say, one that I often ponder in vain whilst I’m manning the smoker on sub-zero days like these. You see, he likes to chime in, and reminisce of what Minnesota in the winter was like. To nonchalantly act like he is in your corner. To recall fondly snowstorms in April, of football on the frozen ground, and of course, the cold. And then all too often, he likes to end his comments with some thing like this, and I quote “ I have to admit that I now usher in winter with a nice dip in the pool or the warm Pacific Ocean and a nap on the beach covered in SPF-30” John from Ecuador likes to rub it in that way. And we’re not just talking about his sunscreen. So it’s 7 Below. Lets smoke some ribs! We did this rack fairly simple. First rubbing it down with a little brown sugar, then hit it with a spicy rub I had sitting about. A little something to usher in the heat, if you can call it that. We placed the rack “bone-side” down on the pit, over a steely bosom crackling with orange glowing coals and two fist-sized chunks of hickory. Because it was so cold, no water was added to the water pan of the WSM. It didn’t need any help keeping them temps low today. Lid on. Damper tweaked. A nice pillar of blue-tinted smoke was soon in curl. And as nice as it was out there, I don’t mind admitting none, I sidled it back inside to my easy chair, and pulled a Grandma blanket up to my chin. Glory be! Feet propped up towards the fireplace, my socks hanging off my toes like Stan Laurel in his prime, oh what sheer pleasure it is to bandy with one’s favorite blanket and fire whilst smoking pork ribs on a frosty winter’s day. And as per most rib smokes this side of perfection, I may or may not have dozed off in turn. At hour three, we went ahead and foiled the ribs with another patting of brown sugar, a few dollops of butter and a shot or two of honey, just because. It smelled good enough to tear into right here, but like a good pit boy, I resisted. My elder brother says patience comes to those who wait. I think ribs probably aren’t far behind. A good hour or so in the foil, smoker running at roughly 257 degrees higher than the outside ambient temperature = 1 rack of authentically procured BBQ ribs. The real thing, people. Oh buddy! Varnish with your favorite sauce if you please, and ingest accordingly and at your will or whimsy. SPF-30 optional, at least for some of us. Amen. Four and a Half Hour Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs . Yum! A touch of heat and bunch of sweet. Another way to pass a northern cold snap with a wee bit of class, and patron to the pit. Grill on!
Well, the Superbowl has come and gone again, and we Americans are a little fatter because of it. Regardless of who won, and who lost, or even if you care nothing at all for football, I have come to realize one unbreakable truth concerning Superbowl Sunday – people will eat a lot! And I mean a lot. The latest math, of which you may have heard circulating about your sphere of influence, was something in the neighborhood of 6000 calories per person. Crikies! Them numbers are like three times what most folk ought to consume in day, and more likely than that to send your doctor’s eyes clear to the back of their head. Still, and even so, who are we to tamper with the annual football feast, let alone tug on tradition’s most unruly cape. Here then are a couple of appetizer recipes to get your calorie count up.
Jalapeno Popper (AKA – Atomic Buffalo Turds – ABT)
We love these things. And love is an appropriate word, I think. There is a process in making these. A relationship almost. But it is a sad fact for all the pampering that go into making them, that your guests will in turn only suck them down like so many chicken nuggets and nary seem to appreciate the effort nor the ensemble of flavors conspired there upon their palate. You can never make too many poppers, I’ve learned. They will always be consumed. Every last one of them. They are delicious, people, and I’m sure way too high in calories. Which makes them perfect for Super Bowl Sunday. Here is how to make them Patron of the Pit Style.
Whilst the pit comes up to speed, in a lovely bowl, mix together the following:
- 1 Cup Onion Chive Cream Cheese ( or what ever flavor inspires you)
- 1 Cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- pinch or two of salt
This amount is good for around 20 poppers. By slicing your jalapeno in half down their length, you only need 10 of them. So halve them length-wise, and remove the pithy core. Void the pepper with adept strokes of a grapefruit spoon, and if you are a sally-tongued Swede like myself, you would do well to remove all the seeds. That and the cooking process seems to be the trick to taming these peppers down. The signature burn of the jalapeno will be a distant fantasy with these poppers. You need not fear. Assemble as seen in the photo above, lastly swaddling them in a tender bacon wrap held stalwart with toothpicks. The toothpicks are key, lest your poppers “pop” apart during the smoke.
Now before we plop them on the pit, let’s get the chicken wings out of fridge and prep them too. They’re simple to do.
Italian BBQ Chicken Wings
We had a bag of these dudes marinating for about four hours with a bottle of zesty Italian dressing. If you haven’t tried Italian dressing for your marinating needs yet, well you’re missing out. It smells good enough to eat right out of the bag – but don’t, or you’ll be running to the little pit boys room with stunning frequency. You gotta cook em first, sorry. Anyways, then we dusted them over with some home-made all-purpose BBQ rub, and that was that. Time for the pit!
Oh the heady aromas of chicken and bacon and jalapeno and cheese, roasting dignified over a beautiful bed of coals. We used hickory for our smoke wood, and that was a fine choice, but apple would do well here also. Oak or pecan would too. Shoot, it’s all good at the pit. Most folks never think to cook their jalapeno poppers on the BBQ, and let me tell you, they are missing something out of their lives. They are good out of the oven, and that’s all well and fine, but off the pit, kissed by smoke under a beautiful blue-tinted sky, a popper is point-blank out of this world amazing. You will not regret it. And there after, you’ll never do them in the oven again.
Shortly after securing the big lid of the WSM, the smoke tendrils began to curl, signifying that glorious time in a pit jockey’s day where he is at once, and undeniably, in his true splendor. That wonderful slot-of-clock where he has nothing in the world to do, save for drawing a manly beverage from the ice box, and finding someplace appropriate to repair. And with our feet propped up, and our gaze not far from the wafting plumes of aromatic hickory or apple wood, there is little question in our minds, nor upon our tongue, that this is exactly where we wish to be, doing precisely that which is well with our soul. We just love it, and there’s no explaining it past that. We just do. We revel, if you will, in a metaphoric Grandma blanket of contentment, where the wood smoke also rises.
We let everything smoke for an hour or so, nay maybe longer than that, and then dabbed on a generous varnish of Sweet Baby Rays Sweet and Spicy. We just hit the wings with it, but you could do the poppers too, if you pleased. Then we let it smoke some more., just because. After a fashionable exchange of time, and prompted by your pit master instincts, plate up your spoils and serve them unto your guests of honor. They will marvel at the hickory scented feast before them, with a chin dampened by anticipatory drool. It ain’t quite 6000 calories, I don’t reckon, but you will have done your part in the journey, at least. And with the potluck help of other like-mined folks amid your Super Bowl Get-Together, disturbingly, you’ll probably get there. We’ll pray for you. Amen.
Way up north where the sun is barely felt, we made our way, my bride and I. A little get-away from the cliché urban rat race, and the ever-whirling societal cog. A time together and alone, along the Lake Superior coast, in which to unwind, listen to the waves gently lap, and muse at length over what ever else struck our fancy that day. It was good to get out. We strolled along the arctic-like shoreline, in one of the shore’s little fishing hamlets, jackets zipped up tight, admiring the many ice formations there, and yet, courtesy of the lake’s massive thermal inertia, how it’s waters remained fluid and resplendent.
I am no Ansel Adams, not by any means, but I rather fancied how this photo turned out. It was by all accounts and stature, a cloudy, over-cast, cold-to-the-bone sort of day. But in a flip of shutter, lo, the sunbeams did fall from a gray sky, glittered across the bay, and illuminated the ice before my feet. It was beautiful people. Sights patron to a great lakes winter. And for a while at least, you didn’t even notice the cold, and furthermore, you felt sort of privileged just to be there. Seized in the moment. This is nice, I thought. We should eat!
I had brought along on the trip some smoked turkey I had done up the weekend last, and we had been nibbling on it through out our journey in the north. There is something about smoked meat on the shore of a cold lake, with icebergs drifting by, that just feels right. Something partial and abiding with the soul. And as we tarried there snacking on the turkey, eyes drawn to narrow slits in the bright, sparkling light, I was reminiscent of how it went and came to be, this bird back home. It was kind of a fun cook, tho all endeavors at the grill are. Let’s go back in a time just a little, shall we, and I’ll tell you more about it.
One Week Prior
Whilst the pit was coming up to speed, I first rubbed a 13 pound turkey with a little soy sauce. I find soy sauce tends to add a most agreeable flavor to the end game, least wise with poultry. Then I hit the bird over with a good smattering of Tasty Licks Traditional Turkey Rub. I’ve used it before over the years, and it’s fairly good stuff, designed specifically for turkey. Not sure how they do that, but they do.
So it was with a great, and unbridled enthusiasm I placed the gobbler breast-side up, on a roasting pan for to catch the drippings of course, and further, to elevate the turkey up higher into the path of the smoke. A nice little system should you have the appropriate roasting pan that you don’t mind donating to the smokey sciences. Or, simply do not tell your wife.
The enormous dome was thus plunked onto the Weber Smokey Mountain, and things were set in motion. I admired how the golden rays of the afternoon soon dropped slantwise from a cold, January sky, and the wood smoke gently spiraled aloft. The wood we used this time around was pecan. A wonderful, slightly nutty wood that which compliments dead birds with aplomb. If you are lucky enough to have a pecan tree in your back yard, and favor the BBQ arts, you already know this. For us mere mortals however, you might be lucky to find some pecan wood in the grilling section of your local hardware store. Or you could order some online, I suppose. Pecan wood is good mojo tho. Very good!
We let the turkey smoke approximately 4 hours, at 250 degrees. This is of no hardship, either, to a patron of the pit. 4 hours is just right, in point of fact. 4 hours gives you just enough time to watch one NFL playoff football game. Consume two or three lovely beverages, and partake in one glorious, hour-long nap in your man chair. It was perfect. And so was the turkey! You’re supposed to bring the bird to an average of 165 internal, and that’s what every one will tell you I guess. But we brought ours to 160 degrees in spite of it all, and then foiled it, and then put it in a cooler for another hour to rest. During the rest is where the magic happens, where the turkey continues to cook, and the juices redistribute at the same time. The end game – lets just say, is a pecan-scented, walk-off, culinary home run. Man! Get your bibs out people. Consume it accordingly, and wipe thy bidding’s clear of your chin! Even take some with you on your next excursion to the prettier places. It’s all good, and worth every minute, patron to the pit. Amen.