As December rolls around here on the 45th parallel, and the snow begins to fly, I tarry here at my desk, with a lovely beverage at hand, and reminisce on another year in BBQ. Another calendar traverse of manning the pit through sunny days that would not end, to tempests and heatwaves, and penetrating arctic cold fronts. All from which this vantage I do declare blessings to behold. Did many a smoke out this year, and most of it was edible by our standards. Here then is a list of our favorites, and how they went and came to be.
Best New-To-Us Cut of Meat That We Grilled
The venerable Tri-Tip Roast. I know you California folk see this fare at every grocery store, but for what ever the reasons, the heck if we could find a Tri Tip in Minnesota. And then one day last summer, oh how I remember it now, mine eyes lay gaze upon the Tri Tip roast of my dreams, residing prostrate behind the butcher’s glass. I knew then, as surely as I had ever known anything in the past, that there was a rendezvous in my future. A meaty conspiring with this formidable chunk of beef. And I loved it! So delicious and worthy of the hunt.
Somewhere between a brisket and a steak, this Tri Tip was at once a love affair. I cannot wait to do the next one, when ever that may be. Here is a link to our write up on this one, if you’re keen to such things.
Best New BBQ Sauce We Tried
No question here. Joe Joe’s Hog Shack Blackberry Sauce. All their flavors were excellent, but the blackberry sauce was unreal. The undisputed favorite in the two households we served the sauce in. It went fabulously with everything from: chicken to pulled pork, to beef. Only down fall was that it didn’t last long enough. A hungry family can suck a bottle of this nectar up in just days if you’re not witty about it. We weren’t too witty.
Indeed, if you’re looking for your next favorite sauce, do check out these blokes from out east. Here’s a link to that write up if you’re so inspired.
Here is their website too!
Best New Hot Rub That We Tried
This one is easy too. Fire in the Hole. We’ve been using the rubs from Miners Mix for a while now, and have pretty much fallen in love with everything they do. They are Spice Wizards, and just have special powers that us mere mortal folk cannot divine. I’ve stopped trying to figure out how they do it. Going along with the theory that some of the good things in life just ought not to be analyzed, but savored. So we do such with Miners Mix. When we tried their latest brain thrust, Fire in the Hole, I think the world stopped rotating on its axis for a moment. Or maybe that was our faces melting off. I’m not sure. It is a legitimate heat source tho, with lots of ghost pepper powder in it. A rub to be respected! But my, the parade of undertones that come sailing by your palate is a journey in of itself. Most hot rubs we’ve tried just try to blow you away with sheer scoville units. They figure if they melt a hole in your tongue, then their job is done. But it’s not. The spice jockeys of Miners Mix went to extra pains to make sure their hot rub experience did not stop with the heat, but instead to incorporate a symphony of flavors, perhaps heightened by the heat. I dunno. Like I said, they just know stuff we don’t concerning spice rubs. Anyways, best hot rub of 2016 goes to Fire in the Hole, aptly coined by the good folks at Miners Mix.
Here is our blog on that one.
Most Interactive Subscriber on This Blog in 2016
Well, we have a great many wonderful subscribers to this blog. Diverse, beautiful people from all over the world and we probably wouldn’t be writing this post at all today, if it were not for you. So a heart felt thank you, to all of you. But looking at the stats page, just from a mathematical perspective, two subscribers have risen above all the rest, in terms of leaving comments. Both in frequency and in substance. Which is about as interactive as you can be on a blog. Two gentlemen of commitment! And loyalty. And keen wit! The race was close too, about neck-and-neck, I should say. Neither one would probably even care if they were the number one comment maker anyways, so we’ll call it a tie, because in truth, it is. And besides that, we just want to say thank you.
So in no particular order, Todd Baker, come on down! Perhaps none of our subscribers have been more stalwart in showing up in 2016, than Todd. And always with a thoughtful comment. Interacting and showing the love on Facebook even. A brethren of the pit, likewise, we would be remiss not to mention his blog. Here is one we subscribe to and enjoy. Todd is at once an excellent writer in his own right, and cobble smith of the English language. His essays are like fine Swiss chocolate, crafted to the highest levels. For example, he can write an essay on going to a heavy metal concert, of which I have no interest in, and still make you think by the end of the read that it has been time well spent. Say what you want, but that’s a good writer. Be who you are, like what you like, and do cool stuff. That’s his tag line, and it fits. He is who he is, likes what he likes, and by golly, does cool stuff! Many thanks to you, Todd, for being such a great subscriber. And yeah, doing cool stuff.
John and Mary in Ecuador share the prize with Todd, for Most Interactive Subscriber to the blog. Tho I suspect John does most of the talking, Mary has chimed in too, on occasion. One of the greatest privileges of running a blog we’ve found out, nay the best thing about blogging, is meeting cool people. John and Mary in Ecuador are two of them. Once upon a time they hung a shingle and worked in the USA, and now are retired, and living the sweet life in Ecuador. We subscribe to their blog too, and is one of our favorites to peruse. What a pleasure to tarry by the fireside up here in Minnesota on frosty winter nights, and read about John in Ecuador inflating his pool noodle. He often times likes to rub it in like that too. When he sees that we have blizzard going up on here, I think he gets a particular joy in letting me know of his paradise like conditions patron to the Ecuadorian lifestyle.
“You just like to rub it in“, I would croak.
“Only thing I’m rubbing in is my sun tan lotion!” he would yammer.
You see how it goes. And we love it! Check out both of these guy’s blogs some day when you’re looking for something good to read.
Best Smoked Meal of 2016
This one was not so easy. There was plenty of yum coming off the pit this year. But the one that stands out, the one that I keep thinking back to again and again, the one that I know I must try and replicate at some point yonder, has got to be the burnt ends.
It was the 4th of July weekend, and I was doing up my annual brisket, the full packer as it were, when I decided to finish off the cook by making some burnt ends from the point. A common move of a well-versed pit jockey. Now it may not look like much, but if you’ve ever had occasion to ingest some burnt ends in your days, you know what I mean here. You know from what utter succulence I refer. The brisket turned out just fine, but these burnt ends, mercy, I do believe they were the very tastiest thing procured off the pit this year. The most tender and succulent smoked meat I may have ever put in my mouth and declared good. Blame it on the high fat content, I suppose, but my, what a treat. The perfect blend of smoke and Miners Mix spice, tinted with some of that Blackberry sauce we talked about earlier. Even half a year later, I’m still getting compliments from family members about this humble pan of meat. Really enjoyed these burnt ends.
Here’s the link to this one too.
Best Day at the Pit
It was spring. The pond was still frozen, but the sun was warm, and the grass dry. The kind of day you wait for all winter long. The sort of day a soul rejoices in the sun. So I did up a batch of beef stew that day on the faithful, Weber kettle grill. Oh what loitering Nirvana then was at hand. Black Capped Chickadees in full flirtation. Cool spring air mingling through the pit side spruce. The smell of the earth in a slow reveal. It was so lovely, I remember, that I set up my new backpacking tent, just because, and pretty much camped out pit-side, whilst the wood smoke curled into a blue, Minnesota sky. There are some days at the pit where you know as surely as you’ve known anything, that you’ve scored. Both in weather and in calorie. No time crunch either. Hanging ten on the metaphoric waves of outdoor cooking. It’s easy to do when it works. Just let the smoke curl and the vittles bubble, whilst you do your best to tarry there in the gentle wake of deeds well done. And I did. And also amen.
Every once in a while, we here at the pit like to sample the wares of our readership, and then if you don’t mind, tell you about it. You might call it a review, but we just call it spreading the word. It’s a highly tasty thing we get to do, so we don’t mind none doing it. I mean, golly, we get to eat BBQ, and help out some others along the way. Why wouldn’t we! So this won’t be our normal sort of post that you’re accustomed to. But rather a thank you to some good folks who sent us some of their spoils! Today’s culinary brain thrust comes to us all the way from the lovely folds of Maryland, courtesy of Joe Joe’s Hog Shack.
Joe, the man behind the curtain over there, has come up with three pretty darn impressive sauces: Blackberry, Sweet “N” Tangy, and a Carolina Sauce, the latter of which, is the final incarnation of his first sauce, Joe Joe’s Hog Sauce. But before we tell you about his sauces, we wanted to first tell you a little more about the man, because I think we rather fancy him. And you might too.
Joe is a traveling man. An outdoors man. Leastwise, that’s what we’ve gathered. And that right there ranks him decidedly high in our book. A bit of a gypsy’s soul, apparently he can oft-times be found gunk holing up and down the east coast tarmac in his recreational vehicle. Gunk holing. It’s a sailing term. Honest. Not sure how it applies here, but I just like the word, I guess. Anyways, back to Joe. You might also spot him dug in at a campsite somewhere, aside beautiful rivers and fluttering trees. Routine weekends at the hunting lodge are not uncommon with Joe either. Yeah, we like this guy! Anyways, Joe started to develop BBQ sauces to take with him on his many trips afield. Something for to please the palate of his travel mates. And what at its genesis was just a hobby, morphed into something far greater. A passion. And a business. These three sauces are the culmination of much kitchen tinkering. Much work. And much love. Let’s dig in, shall we, and learn a little more about them!
Seek the Meat!
Rummaging through the freezer for a test meat is always fun. My bride is a highly organized individual with an acute need for tidiness. This is reflective in all her areas of the house. Color coded and alphabetized. Even our movie collection is organized into Genre. And of course alphabetized from there. But my freezer at once, is the opposite of this. I’m talking about the freezer out in the garage, now. Man space, as it were. To open the top lid of that freezer is to view chaos in its most distilled, and paralyzed form. There is everything in there from ham bones, to pheasant, to liver, to fish guts wrapped up in plastic bags and stashed and forgotten there to keep them from smelling up the trash can. And somewhere down in the icy crags of the freezer, shoulder deep, I found the perfect test meat for our sauces today. Chicken legs. Plain, old, boring chicken legs. If anything would bandy well with a flavorful sauce, these would be it.
So I got to work at once with a little searing over direct heat, to crisp up the skin, and then tucked them back over indirect heat, opposite the hot coals, for the rest of the cook. We applied the sauces at the end of the cook, during the final few minutes.
Meanwhile, over at the Track Side Pit, our fellow patron/co-founder, was doing some testing himself. He had a much better portion of the yard bird too. Thighs! Man, we love them thighs! And here is a shot of them in full maturity, heavily glazed in Joe Joe’s Blackberry Sauce. Man, get your bibs on people!
The Blackberry Sauce was at once a delight on the tongue. It’s a thin sauce. There is no spicy after-kick, and was highly favored by our food critics, also known as, our wives. Mother In-law approved too. It sported a very pleasant blackberry flavor, not over-powering, but just pleasantly there, sweet, yet mildly complex, and because of its high sugar content, be sure to use this stuff only at the end of the cook. It would make a great glaze, we wagered, be it on your pork ribs, or beef ribs, chops, even the Easter ham! It also is supposed to do well with vegetables, we read, and of which we had to agree. When our corn on the cob wandered by happenstance into the sauce, it almost felt like a marriage had just transpired on my plate. It was amazing. Out of the three sauces, the Blackberry was my personal favorite, and the favorite also of most of the people we ran it by. You just wanted to eat with a spoon right out of the jar! It’s a very, very fine sauce.
Our fellow patron, however, thought the Carolina Sauce smothered on his apple wood smoked pork chops, was, and I quote, “A death row kind of meal“. And whilst I don’t care to thoroughly test his thesis on that, I shan’t argue too hard against it either. For through some rather exhaustive field studies of my own, forced to smoke up a rack of spare ribs the other day, I varnished said ribs with a good deal of this Carolina Sauce, and what henceforth transpired in my mouth can only be summarized as, “meant to be“. Man that was good! Authentic BBQ flavor. We both thought all these sauces were very good on chicken, but we both agreed they were outstanding on pork. Especially this vinegar-based, peppery, Carolina Sauce.
We were also pretty much in accord that the ultimate end game for this Carolina Sauce, in our opinion anyways, has got to be a good pulled pork sandwich. Something of which we were glad to verify. The thinner viscosity of this vinegar-based sauce oozed with great effect into the succulent hollows of the pulled pork, it was quite tasty, people, and no doubt would satisfy any man or woman in kind. Even, perhaps, those unfortunate enough to be residing in the cold, incarcerated flanks, of death row.
Sweet “N” Tangy
Now back to the legs, where we’ll finish things off today. The last sauce we tried was Sweet “N” Tangy, of which we liberally slopped on a couple of the chicken legs. Now here was a tomato-based sauce that as soon as you popped the lid off the jar and took a sniff, you just knew that Mr Joe, of Joe Joe’s Hog Shack was a gifted man. And you become relatively certain also, that his family is probably well-fed! A tint of smokey goodness, it is a thicker sauce with a very impressive peppery kick at the end. Not enough to make your nose run or anything, but enough to let you know you’ve lived a good life today. It’s a very good sauce, as good as any you’ll buy in any store somewhere. Maybe even better, because Joe made it.
Joe, you’ve done good, good sir. Your sauces are worthy. Adept. And well thought out. Thank you for your expertise, your time, and simply giving the sauce business a go, so that we all can share in your spoils. The world is a little better tasting now, because of you. Thank you!
On another note, and about the only thing we can knock on the sauces, is the glass jars they come in. We love glass over plastic, but they were rather prone to cracking during shipment. Not a big deal, because when we contacted them, they promptly sent us a replacement. Very quick customer service over there. And good people, too.
So if you’re looking for a new sauce to try out, give our friends at Joe Joe’s Hog Shack a try.
And tell Joe he done good! Because he did…