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.