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!
Part One: The Day Off
There comes a time in a man’s day-to-day, when all the world seems to conspire around him. Where one social posture leads into the next, and for a while at least, he cannot seem to get his feet on solid ground. Nary can he find a hidden moment even, to catch his breath, and enjoy his inalienable right to watch the clouds slowly idle by. Such was the case here recently, as it sometimes is when one lives a busy life. Drawn henceforth from duty to duty, event to event, it’s easy for a pit jockey to get restless for his craft when he cannot do it. When the ever-whirling cog of society sweeps you under the rug of life, and you are mired there, like a dull, gray moth trembling in a spider’s web.
This weekend last, as the tweety birds cavorted in the morning dew, and the sun came up over the pond, for the first time in a string of many weeks, I found myself the proud owner of an entire day. A day in which, if I so fancied, I could do anything I pleased. No schedules to uphold. No duties to meet. Just sweet time at my disposal. Naturally, then, and without much fore thought, I did first what any red-blooded man would do. I grabbed a wood working magazine and headed for the little pit boys room. There I amused myself with cutting edge articles of mortise and tendon joinery, whilst casually forming my itinerary for the day. The goals at hand today would be lengthy, I concluded, but doable. Whilst still perched on my white throne, in the classic fist-on-chin-elbow-on-leg position suitable to the great thinkers of our time, I nonchalantly chucked my magazine aside, and with steely eyes trained on the far wall, tabulated the plan of attack for my day off. I would, I reasoned, under blue skies and warm breezes, smoke a brisket point low and slow, and by golly if I could help it any, refrain from doing anything else. It was mission statement I was up for I think, nay, born for some might say. In point of fact, I already had the pit coming up to speed. Lets head out there now and check out the Weber Smokey Mountain.
Here in the fire bowl, we have what is known in the smokey arts as the Minion Method. A technique developed by its name sake, one Jim Minion, of high BBQ immortality. If you are going to delve far into the low and slow philosophies, or just want a long-sustained fire in your pit, with minimal babysitting, then this is the way to go. It really works slick. To learn more about the Minion method, check out our write-up, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion
Now, Onward to the Beef!
As an aside, and in a show of flat-up beggery, if any of our lovely readership would ever feel the urge to send us a Wagyu Brisket for a slobber-tugging and thoughtful review, or just to be nice to a couple of pit boys, we are dutifully and irrefutably here for you! We like Wagyu. It’s just that we can’t afford it!
In a quaint haze of mesquite smoke wafting up out of the pit, I plunked on the gastronomic center piece of the day , – a modest, Wagyuless, 5 pound brisket point, or in fancy talk, a deckle. What ever you wish to call it, suffice to say, it’s an ornery slab of beef that which requires much love, and much pampering. And as the laws of conventional BBQ would have it, about 7 or 8 hours of quintessential pit time, aside curling plumes of wood smoke, and soft, tapered sun beams. Perfect. Just what I was looking for. It went on fat side up, for to harvest the natural basting effects of rendering fat and gravity. We also filled the water pan below with about two gallons of water for to promote a moist smoking environment, but more than that, to act as a heat sink from the raging fires just below.
Of Seasonings & Such
The home-made seasoning today was a simple affair to be sure. An ode to the Texan way of doing things, one part kosher salt, and one part black pepper. That’s all a good brisket needs is salt and pepper, thus letting the wonderful beef do the talking. Especially if you’re smoking for a mass variety of palates, going simple is the surest way to please the majority at least. But for kicks we mixed in a little garlic powder and a shot of cayenne pepper, just because, and to bring a wee more heat to our end game. There was a dash of paprika in there too. Here is the simple rub recipe we concocted.
- 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1.2 Cup Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Table Spoon Garlic Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Paprika
- 1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Before we carry on to Part Two, we would be remiss if we didn’t tell you about the book of books concerning brisket. Aaron Franklin makes the best brisket in the country! How do we know? Well, just read the reviews on his book. You’ll see. We humbly bow to his expertise. Anyways, back to our story.
The Campaign For Nothing
Big black enameled lid in place, and we were off. The aromatic issue of smoldering mesquite soon took aloft, and before I knew it, I was ensconced in my patio man chair, settling in for the day. Left leg crossed over right, lovely beverage in hand, I was ready, doing what I do best – nothing! And that is the secret to brisket. Patience. You gotta wait for it. Let your smoker do all the work. And you my friend, your biggest duty is just to kick up your feet and keep yourself hydrated hydrated. Just do nothing.
It didn’t take long tho, for temptations to rear. The tomatoes in the garden, for example, looked a wee bit thirsty. Why it wouldn’t take me but two minutes to give them a drink, I thought. But then that would go against my moral code of the day, which was to do nothing. So I resisted, and the tomatoes went thirsty. I kicked my feet up instead, and trimmed my hat towards the sun, eyes drawn shut whilst enjoying the aromas of curling wood smoke and the gentle clatter of the cottonwood leaves yonder. It was a fine day indeed, to smoke a brisket.
A few hours into it, I had amassed a commendable tally of tasks that I was able bodied enough to avoid doing. Temptations to productivity that I thus refused. And I was getting pretty good at it too. I resisted, for example, the re-occurring, yet compelling urge to wash my truck. Which turned out, wasn’t really that hard to resist after all. Likewise to scrub out the shower stall, which stood in long need, again wasn’t that tough! Napping however, was allowed I figured, for that is the veritable incarnate essence of doing nothing. Indeed I should aspire, I thought, for as many naps as I could. So when the urge to do something was strong, I just laid down until the feeling passed. I was developing a system that I could have gotten used to, or would have, had it not been for the ribs.
I love ribs. A cannot deny, they flutter about in my dreams, and court my very salivary glands to no end. I long to be in their presence, and admire their mahogany complexion post bathed in sweet hickory. Let me as soon as I can muckle onto a rack and henceforth make it my own. And the thing was, I had a rack in the refrigerator, and it was calling my name. Well I had to respond in kind, if but for the efficiency of the smoker alone. Would be a pity, I reasoned, to run that big old pit with just a wee little brisket on board. What a waste of fuel. It needed company. So before I knew it, the “do nothing treaty” was broken, and a rack of pork ribs lay prostrate on the pit. Tendrils of mesquite rose silent into the air. I settled back into the man chair, content with my biddings and resumed with the heady business of doing nothing.
That’s the great difficulty, I discovered, with doing nothing. You can’t stop to rest! It is very challenging and awkward at best. But it can be done, I’ve concluded, if but in short, well-calculated bursts. You kind of have to work up to it. After a fashion, a few hours at least, you do slip into a beautiful rhythm. A magical span of clock where the hours while away in a wondrous melody patron to the scenic path. You find you do not fight it any more, the urge to rush from one thing to another. That sort of hasty lifestyle is the rhythm of anxious city folk, and not fit for a pit keeper proper. Good BBQ should never be rushed. Instead there is an almost honest embrace taking place, for the leisure at hand. Like a prized trophy wrought from the battlefields of haste. What once was a struggle to sit still, is now your privilege. What great fun it is to lean back in your chair, in no hurry for once, and just let the world spin headlong with you. Letting up on the accelerator pedal of our lives for to bask at the end of warm sunbeams, where the wood smoke also rises.
Take the point to 195-205 internal temperature
We took the brisket to around 200 degrees internal. A brisket is usually tender between 195 to 205. That’s your window of victory. If the thermal probe slides in with little resistance, you probably got it right. We never wrapped it in foil either, tho some do. It didn’t need to be wrapped no how. The beefy juices fairly oozed forth, and the bark came out a robust, peppery ensemble of flavor. Man! We went about chopping up the brisket next, for to fashion a BBQ sandwich to match any man’s dream and meatiest ideal. And we declared it good. A good day indeed to smoke a brisket, and for a while at least, do very little else. Amen.
Slow Mesquite Smoked Brisket Sandwiches on a toasted Ciabatta Roll with a touch of tangy Sweet Baby Rays. Yum! Top it with slaw Carolina style if you please.
Postscript: When smoking the big meats like this, it is imperative to watch the internal temperature. If you miss that window of 195 to 205, you’ll probably screw up your supper. There are lots of gadgets for monitoring the temperature. The one we’ve been using for years now is the Maverick RediChek ET-73. A decent performer for a fair price. To see our review of it, click here. Or check it out on Amazon. We are an affiliate for this product, so a small commission will be sent our way ,eventually, if you go through our link. We do appreciate it.
The cooker we used, Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5, was a fantastic performer as usual. Always a pleasure. Check it out also on amazon!
This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
The Ring Of Fire
The lightning bolts shot jaggedly through the early morning sky, and the thunder boomed with a deafening authority, whilst our fellow patron stirred restlessly in his bed. It was 5:30 in the blessed morning, the hour of the butts, as it were, and time then to light the fires three. Three pits and 55 pounds of marinated pork shoulder. An estimated 15 hours of cooking lay ahead. A day of smoking bordering pert near biblical – a life event and utopia in meat. But the rain storms which parlayed through the night, and lingered into the morning, did not dampen the resolve of our faithful patron, and caretaker of the Track-Side Pit.
“Hark“, he belched, “I am a patron of the pit, I won’t let a little rain and lightening keep me from my appointed rounds! ”
Thus tarps were strung, and wind breaks sought, as he trimmed his pits towards the tempest. A pit keeper always finds a way, you see. And soon, the rains dissolved, as if in submission to a warm, blue sky and passionately curling plumes of hickory smoke. The fires hath ignited, people, and the games were on.
It seems our fellow patron was throwing a party for 200 of his closest friends. So like any man would, he bought a bunch of meat. Pork shoulder to be exact. Fifty five pounds of it. Glory be! This turned out to be a fair share and quantitative mass to exceed the capacity of his off-set smoker. And so about two days ago, naturally, he came knocking at my door. A patron has got to back another patron’s play, don’t you know, so I let him drive off with my beloved 22.5 WSM. I told him to treat it as if he were dating my offspring. He obliged heartily, and made off in a cloud of gravel dust.
The meat load exceeded the capacity limits of his off-set, and the WSM too, which I didn’t think was even possible, so somewhere along the way, he managed to scrounged up yet another smoker. A wee little electric model from the MECO company. A pit keeper proper will find a way people. Every time.
Turned out three pits were just right. Three smoking vessels set up for business, wrapping in a picturesque, smokey arc about his man chair, forming the hallowed BBQ dwelling and smoke camp our fellow patron lovingly coined, “The Ring Of Fire“. And the Triple Pit Smoke Out of 2014 was thus official. And by high noon, a total of 7 pork butts with adorning drip trays were already 5 hours into what would be a 17 hour marathon smoke. A hickory scented campaign of which would ply and test the very fabric of patience that which loosely clings to a tender soul. Smoking butts is a time-rich indulgence, and lest your butt be of the wee sort, it will extract some considerable clock out of your day. It will. The scope of common sense would harken it not even worth the trouble. But to an old-time pit jockey, this is what we live for. This is what we do! And what did here, you might say, was a whole lot of nothing. I digress.
That’s the nature of good BBQ. That is, at heart of the matter you will find a soul on the scenic path. For there are quicker ways to cook dinner in this world. Those of us who do it over wood and coals, and low and slow, quite frankly are in no hurry. Nay, we cherish the rising tendrils of blue-tinted smoke, and the longer the cook endures, well, the more we revel in its hearty spoils. The more we savor the journey. The process. It is our privilege to take that which we love, in this case, BBQ, and extend the moment for the moment’s sake. To hold the sun by the tail, and try to pause it there, hemorrhaging in a pastel sky. Ho hurries. That’s how we roll. Anyways, long about five in the afternoon, ten hours total thus far into this smokey campaign, the internal temperatures of the butts were hovering in around the 165 degree range, and you know what that means. Or maybe you don’t. If you are not familiar with the art and science of smoking the big meats, what happens around 165 is what meat maestros affectionately refer to as “The Stall“. And it’s always an interesting time.
At around 160 – 165, basically what happens is your meat forms a union and it goes on strike. It refuses, most times, to rise in internal temperature. The thermal doldrums of conventional BBQ. And it tries a man. What happens, they say, is the water in the pork is cooked out at that point, and the collagen begins to render. And tough begins to turn tender. It’s where the “magic happens”, pit keepers like to say. And for a while, sometimes even a greater while, the internal temperature gets stuck. And it appears on the surface of things as tho no progress is being made, even tho it is. Eventually tho, and reluctantly at that, the temp starts climbing again, and finally exits the stall, some times hours later. If you’d like to know more about the science of what is going on here, and it is some very interesting stuff indeed, we’d refer you to this article by one, Meathead, who explains it very nicely. Anyways, I went to pay our fellow patron a visit during the stall. To offer support during this trying time, and to partake in some of his smokey ambiance he had going on at the Track Side Pit.
He was hard at work when I got there, sitting in his folding man chair, considering the curvature of his belly button or something. I knew he was probably concerned for his plunder tho, not to mention a bit weary from ten hours loitering in the ring of fire, so I did what any good patron would do, I brought him a Dilly Bar. Ah yes, the venerable Dairy Queen stand-by. The ice cream swirl on a stick and dipped in chocolate gastronomic wonder, one of which brought a large smile to us both, as we sat back and watched the smoke curl together. It was clear, he enjoyed some company no less than the Dilly Bar. And understandably so. A man, you see, is particularly receptive to the good things in life when his meat has stalled. Any little victory he will take.
“I’ve been out here since 7 AM“, he croaked.
“Oh yeah“, I said, quizzically
“Yeah“, he continued, “I would have started earlier if it weren’t for the lightning storm this morning”
He slurped a big chunk off his ice cream, and added, “But I had to man up and get it done. The heck with the storms, I’m a Patron of the Pit!”
I finished off my dilly bar, and looked at all the pits puffing serenely into the muggy, Minnesota sky. The rains long gone now. It was a beautiful sight indeed. A train loaded with heavy coal suddenly rumbled by, rattling the earth like a waking volcano, rhythmic and pounding, yet some how soothing and therapeutic. It rumbled for a couple of minutes until it finally tapered into the distance and silence flooded back to the track side pit.
I tossed my ice cream stick into the trash, and yammered, “You know, you can go inside once in a while if you want to. These pits can baby sit themselves for a while.”
“Oh, I can’t do that“, he countered, “The wife thinks I’m working hard out here!”
“Crikies“, I croaked, “Yes, you mustn’t mess with that illusion! Good move old boy!”
This is one of the greater acts of deviance in the BBQ condition. The oft held high esteem for the pit master as being some sort of wizard that which requires long and protracted hours of manning the pit. If you value the quality of your supper, you’ll leave the pit keeper alone to do his duties, you see. This notion that he should be left alone out there is maybe only one half-engendered by circumstance and myth perhaps, but more importantly, it is widely accepted as truth by the significant other. Thus releasing a man for the duration of his smoke-out to do what ever he bloody well feels like. And this might explain, when you think about it, the occasional need for a pit keeper to smoke a 17 hour pork butt. Savvy?
Pit Hijinks and The Final Pull
We enjoyed some mutual agreement and insight there on the patio, and I lingered a bit more, I must say, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, watching our fellow patron’s acute talent for pit craft. He did something of which I don’t reckon I’d ever seen the likes of before in backyard BBQ. Lifting the lid to the little electric smoker, tongs in hand, he sought to manipulate the pork shoulder residing in there. Plumes of hickory smoke bellow out as he attempts to muckle on to the meat. And most of it he does, except for piece that prematurely pulled, you might say, and shot head long into the sky. And there it went, a good-sized chunk of smokey pork, a sandwich’s worth at least, launching skyward like a hickory scented meat missile. Up up up it went, until it too stalled at the hand of gravity, rotated slightly there against a lovely, Minnesota sky, crickets chirping, and made henceforth its return trip to earth. Now here is where it gets interesting. That glob of dripping pork landed smack dab in the middle of a piece of tin foil, one that our fellow patron had rolled out on a side table there just prior. It plopped to foil with a metallic thud, followed by a wiping of the patron’s brow, and I think a couple of hallelujahs were uttered too, just cause.
“Nice show!” I belched, “You could take this act on the road!”
Anyways, we lamented a spell more about the mysteries of stalling meat, and then I bid the man farewell. I had places to go, and things to do. OK, not really, but the bugs were coming out, and it was getting late. He understood, and thanked me kindly for the visit and the ice cream. And I left him to his own devises , there amid the curling smoke, sizzling pork, and another choo choo train building in the distance.
The Smoke De Force endured into darkness. With great resolve, numerous lovely beverages in hand, and an I-Pad on his lap, our fellow patron stayed the course. The smell of slow-smoked pork mingled with the earthy aromas of a summer’s night, and the sound of a pit keeper slapping his forehead for the carbide-tipped mosquitoes which prospected there. At one o’clock in the morning, 17 glorious hours later, he pulled the last butt off the pit and retired to bed. It had been a long day indeed. But a good day, as day’s go, where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.
They looked like meteorites swaddled in tin foil, and smelled nothing short of ridiculously wonderful. Each butt marinated over night and seasoned in raspberry chipotle rub, from the Wayzata Bay Spice Company, before the smoke. It was enough to make a hungry bloke mist over, it smelled so good. Later it was pulled to perfection, and set forth unto our people, with no less than three home-made BBQ sauces, of course, representing each end of the heat spectrum, and a little honey mustard sauce some where right in the middle, for those who just can’t make up their mind. Rounded off with a dollop of cool home-made slaw, Carolina style. Man! And the masses of people were thus pacified.
17 Hour slow smoked pulled pork topped Carolina style with homemade coleslaw and touch of sauce. Man oh man! This is what BBQ is all about, people. It don’t get no better.
I shuffled through the darkened house, groggy-faced, with hair tossed like a bad salad. I merged barefoot into the cold boots which were docked by the back patio door, and dawned my old, woolen smoking jacket there, turned up the collar, and stepped outside. It was 5:30 in the blessed morning, a toe nail moon shimmered through cracks in a cloudy veil, and the cold December breeze rustled the cotton fibers of my pajama pants. The world was still, almost abandoned it seemed, in perfect hibernation, whilst pale-blue moonbeams fell silent on crusty snow, and frozen ponds. A lovely time of day, peaceful like early mornings are, and unto which I thus and heartily pandiculated on my patio. Yes, that’s a word. Means to yawn and stretch at the same time. Something, off-hand, it turns out I am very good at come 5:30 in the morning. After that, and in one, easy motion born of sheer muscle memory, I snatched the charcoal chimney off the patio, shook the snow clean, and crammed a few choice wads of the political section up it’s underside. In no time, I had a pile of charcoal on the blaze, and the big Weber Smokey Mountain prepped for a long day’s duty. On the pit this morning, a classic in the smokey arts. Slow-smoked, pulled pork sandwiches. BBQ doesn’t get any more authentic than this folks. Or any tastier. This is the real thing. So grab your pork butt, and let’s get after it.
Good BBQ takes time. Lots of time. And pulled pork is the epitome of the concept. In case and point, this butt began its journey to excellence the night before it even hit the pit. We slathered it down in a cheap mustard to start, working it everywhere, like an Ecuadorian with a bottle of sun tan lotion, neath what balmy rays bequeathed. Then, we dusted it liberally with McCormick Sweet & Smoky Rub, 4.76-Ounce Units (Pack of 6) for that first step in the flavor profile. After that, it was wrapped in foil, then swaddled in a plastic bag, and placed in the refrigerator to marry overnight. The reason we opted for the mustard rub here, is to make the surface of the butt good and sticky for to receive the rub. That is the reason for any mustard slather – to act as an adhesive agent. Or maybe a primer for your rub, if you want to think of it that way. Regardless, and far be it any tongue nor taste bud that I know, can ever taste the mustard anyways. Hence, you might as well make it the cheap stuff then. At any rate, the better your rub sticks, the more potential you have for a robust and flavorful, and suitably awesome, bark.
Bark. Bark is the hallmark of good butt smoking. To the uninitiated, they will take a gander at your beautifully-barked-butt, and fall into a state weeping, and/or finger pointing, croaking forth their condolences as if you have just lost a loved one or something. No, that is just bark, you have to tell them. The magical residue wrought from the wages of smoke, rub, and hour upon hour of low and steady heat, at roughly 225. If you want to read about the science of bark formation, and all that sort of thing, we would refer you to amazingribs .com, which if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, is a fabulous resource for your BBQ aspirations.
Anyways, for the long smokes, such as brisket, and in this case, pork shoulder, it is hard to argue against the minion method. It is without hesitation the technique we turn to most concerning the longer cooks. Invented by a feller named Jim Minion, it is really rather elegantly simple. We ring the fire bowl parameter with unlit charcoal, resembling a doughnut, and dump a chimney full of blazing hot ones, right smack dab in the middle of it. What goes on here is the lit charcoals slowly ignite the unlit ones sitting next to them. And those coals, in turn, light the unlit ones next to them. And so on. Like a fuse. And it works exceedingly well. Such a technique will give you long, sustained burns to span the hours long. Which is perfect for the world of the big butts and savory pulled pork sandwiches. Man! Lets get this thing going already.
Once the pit was up to 225, and stabilized with a thin smoke, and the butt was on, fat cap up, I am not ashamed to admit that I went back to bed. And the sun rose over the pit with out me, casting long, morning shadows up to and onto my patio. Tweety birds emerged from their nocturnal tidings, and fed on the pit-side feeder, like they always do when I’m not there. And the world in general, was alive again, reborn, sunbeams falling through the spruce. But I slept in and was privy to none of this, courtesy of the minion method. A little pit boy needs his beauty sleep. Eventually I rose like a black bear, rubbed my back on some pine molding skirting the bathroom door, and ambled out to the patio henceforth to check on my plunder. The pit puffed contentedly away still, apple wood smoke softly curling from its damper, catching the morning sun. Ah what a way to start the day. Again.
The Venerable Weber Smokey Mountain
Off hand, as some have inquired, our pit we’re using today is the 22.5 Weber Smokey Mountain. These cookers run about $400, and to put it bluntly, they just work. A true, set-it-and-forget-it, type of smoker. Easily the best smoker we know of in this price range. If you don’t have yourself a smoker yet, and you wish to get started, this is a fine direction to point your wallet. You can get them at most good hardware stores, or online.
The hours passed, and the sun, how it swung across a beautiful, Minnesota sky, like a fiery pendulum to the gods. Chickadees flirted to and fro. Snow dripped fiercely off the roof. And I liked how my pajamas smelled like smoke. After breakfast, I went and did some errands for a while. After lunch, I settled into my man chair, which afforded a view out to the pit which sat stoically in the sun, still puffing away. Pork butts are safe to eat at 165 internal, but you’ll want to bring it up to 195 or so, whence the collagen has broken down, and the beast at last becomes pull-able. That is where the money is at. It is also done when the bone pulls out easily and clean. But again, it takes time. Be not in a hurry for this one. I thus kicked up my feet into a posture more suitable for the BBQ arts, and upon the cusp of instinctual reaction, I may have pandiculated again. In point of fact I did. And I won’t apologize for it. Then I fell asleep. This is the inherent rigors of making pulled pork sandwiches, people. It is not for the faint of ticker, nor those who fancy themselves impatient, or incapable of listing over on a couch if need be, for to fortify that bark a little more. And expect more than your fair share of lovely beverages to be drained whence commencing upon such mountains of pork. For there is a great spanning ocean of clock between you and your intended gastronomic rendezvous. And the only way to get there, the surest way, is to wait for it. To tarry in the wake of deeds well done, where the wood smoke also rises, and patron to the pit. Amen.
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Under gray, over-cast skies, and still in my pajamas, I sauntered out on to the patio this last Sunday morn, one, to check on my banana peppers growing in the pit garden there, and secondly, to fire up the Weber Smokey Mountain. All the great epic smokes seem to start in my pajamas. OK, that didn’t quite come off right. What I mean is the bigger the meat, like a Boston butt, or in this case, a big brisket, generally means a considerably longer cook. One of marathon status, by and far. Ten hours or more are not uncommon. Thus, and if you’d actually like to have the meat for supper that day, it also requires a rather early start. Reminiscent of what mountaineers refer to as an “alpine start“, when they arise at obscenely early hours for to assault the summit of snowy massifs like that of Mount Everest, before the weather degrades. Those guys are nuts. And we brethren of the smoke have our own Mount Everest. Often times hailed the most difficult, most ornery, and cantankerous cut of meat in our craft to tame. The beef brisket.
Now brisket comes from the front chest of the cow, and at it’s best is an unruly cut of meat, stubborn, yet highly favored by the skilled pit master. The thrill is in the journey, concerning brisket. Like mountaineers, we do it because “it’s there” I suppose. But if done right, it is also one of the most savory plunders in the smokey arts. Very satisfying, in both tummy and spirit. A true test of your pitmanship, or lack there of. And Texas pit masters have long made a living at it. They are to beef brisket what Sherpas are to Everest expeditions. Leastwise that is what they’d probably say in Texas. Those chaps love their brisket. The biggest piece of advice they might give us is that of patience. Briskets are their own beast for sure, an entity in meat, and not every one will be exactly like the other. But if your patient, and stoke your cooker full, and tweak it to 225 – 250 degrees F, well, that’s half the battle right there people. The remaining challenges dwell in the gauntlet of time. Like most good things in life, you just gotta wait for it. And wait and wait. If you’re in hurry, smoking a brisket is not the thing for you. So whilst the smoker came up to temp and stabilized, I started my brisket journey by procuring myself a big bowl of Apple Jacks for breakfast. It was going to be a long day after all, and I didn’t much need the torment of being hungry whilst waiting on a brisket. You know how it is.
Anyways, placing my cereal aside, I smeared the flat over with mustard first, then patted it down with a good smattering of Sucklebusters Competition Rub. Many a newbie to the smokey arts believes the mustard slather is for flavoring the meat, but that is rank folly. In point of fact, we challenge any of you to actually taste the mustard whence the cook is done. You can’t. Nobody can. The reason we do it really, is so our rub has a good surface to stick to. A bonding agent, if you will. You can skip the mustard step altogether too if you wish, and your rub will stick good enough. But we were after a generous bark on this beast later on down the road, and the mustard kind of seems to help with that. Many a brisket purest however, forego the rub all together, and let the full flavor of the meat do the talking. Just salt and a little pepper. And that works too. What ever your pit master instincts are nudging you to do, comply, and let it be well with the soul.
Once the cooker was up to 225 F and had stabilized with the sought-after thin, blue smoke, patron to smoldering hickory, we placed the flat on the upper grate, fat cap up. We did not trim any of the fat cap, as there wasn’t a whole lot to start with as it was. So we kept it all. Fat side up, naturally, for to harness the eternal powers of gravity married with the self-basting effect of rendering fat. Next we inserted the Maverick probe into the thickest, beefiest quadrant of the beast, taking pain not to plunge it into any globs of fat, less its readings go amuck. And that’s it folks. Put the lid back on and let her smoke. If you got things to do, like put a new roof on the house or something, might as well head out and do i tnow. It would be better , however,in our humble opinion, to take up residence in your hammock, with a lovely beverage in hand, and tarry the day away there aside your bride’s feature petunia bed. But that’s just us. Regardless, dig in for the long haul. For the brisket train ain’t arriving till, well, when the cows come home this evening. And maybe not even then. Like many a pit keeper laments, “Its done when its done“. And this is never more so, nor better represented, than with the venerable brisket.
A cool rain developed, like a summer-time treat, falling from the gray skies, and dampening the earth below. Starting slow, drop by drop, and then ebbing into something resembling the weather old Noah must have seen as he reached for his caulking gun. The tweety birds carried on despite, tweeting, and so did I. Rain jacket on, hood flipped up. I like the rain, especially when I’m BBQing. I like the mixed aromas of wet earth and wafting hickory. I like the sound of rain drops splatting over the hot, enameled lid of the smoker. I like the feeling of carrying on when most have dashed for cover. With a quality pit, you might be surprised at the degree of inclement you and your betrothed spoils can weather, nay, can thrive in, whilst the skies fall, and the tempests conspire about thee. A pit keeper is seldom keen to hang up his tongs you see, just for a mere storm cloud overhead. For there is meat to be cooked, and glory to be had, patron to the fellowship of the coals.
At 170 internal, the meat stalled. Like grid lock on a Los Angeles free way. A common phenomenon in smoking the big meats, where you start to think your thermometer isn’t working any more. But it is. The only way out of it, is to grab another beverage, and hit up your favorite easy chair. Sometimes it takes one, or maybe even two naps, for the internal temperatures to start rising again. A vicious game this brisket smoking. But you can do it!
Anyways, after about 8 hours, several of which bathed in hickory and maple smoke, the flat reached 195 internal. Most briskets start to get tender around this temperature. But not ours. It was still being ornery. Now we could have wrapped it in foil around the stall point, like many folks do, and that might have loosened things up a bit, but we were feeling rather lucky today, I guess. We felt like taking the long way around, you might say. The probe still pushed in firmly when I tested other spots, and if it were ideal, the probe would slide into the meat with strikingly little resistance. Most briskets reach optimal tenderness within the 195 – 205 range. This small window is where you have to keep an eye on your beloved meat, less it sidle off for the dark side of BBQ. Now is the time you don’t want to blow it, when you’re this close to the summit. Pull it off too soon, and you’ll have your self a nice, chewy, strap of boot leather. Over cook it, and it’s a dried out strap of boot leather. Yes, it’s a fickle beast. But one you can aptly tame with a liberal and abiding onslaught of patience.
At 225 – 250 degrees, you’re looking at probably 1 1/2 hours per pound. Whoa be it however, to the pit keeper who thinks he can cook a brisket by time alone. Nor can we rely solely on internal temperature either, as we learned with this brisket. The best test really, when you think you’re getting close, as with most BBQ , is to slice off a hunk and actually taste it. Think of it as an exercise in quality control. Your pit master privilege. A good brisket is a triumph in tenderness, wrought from seeds of patience. Victory from an unlikely beast. When our brisket hit 205 internal, it was finally tender to the probe, like a knife through a soft stick of butter, and, might I add, tasted undeniably exquisite. Satisfied with what had procured here, I thus foiled the flat and brought it inside to rest.
Resting your meat is the oft over-looked procedure of back yard BBQ. The summit is sight. By golly, you swear you’re standing on it even, with your flag in your hand. We hear you, brethren. We are giddy and hungry, and want nothing more than to tear into our plunder with a reckless abandoned. Especially after waiting the entire day long for to taste it. But old man patience has one last step to teach us. When we rest the meat, it loosens the muscle fibers up a bit. And the juices, which were once scattered from the considerable rigors of cooking flesh, redistribute now, back from whence they came, and thus flatters your end game and plate appearance with a much more savory, and juicy affair. A moist and smokey perfection. It is then, and only then, amid the lingering aroma of hickory, that the summit is officially yours. And you have earned it indeed. Amen.
Slow-hickory-smoked brisket. Oh buddy! A delicious bark, light smoke ring, moist and tender . You gotta be hungry now!
Eat it straight up, or chopped-up in a sandwich with a dob of cool coleslaw. Dang! There may be better things to eat out there…No, on second thought, I take that back. This is it!
Amid the lingering piles of snow, I sat out by the pit, like men do, enjoying the last sunbeams of the day. Nothing was on the grill tonight, as I didn’t have time really. We had to be somewhere in 45 minutes, and I had thus released the option of grilling tonight; something just not in the roll of the BBQ dice. But as the black-capped chickadee lit upon my bird feeder, I noted out of the corner of my eye, the little Weber standing stoically in place, childishly straddling its mountainous pan of ash. It was giving me the look again, the one it always gives me, every time I step out onto the patio. Like puppy dogs or cute babies, the grill knows how to work me, how to manipulate me, and eventually, how to get its way. I look at the clock. I look at the grill. Back to the clock. The grill. If the Weber had a bottom lip, it was jutted out pretty nice. Patron to pathetic indeed, and just a little bit inconsiderate.
“Fine then”, I muttered to the grill, as I grabbed the charcoal chimney in one easy motion, filling it three-quarters with coal, and plunking a couple chunks of apple wood on top. I crammed some papers up its bottom end, and put flame to it with a mechanical ease born of sheer muscle memory. Before I knew it, smoke was bellowing into the air, as I stood abreast of the little pit, mentally improvising a menu.
“I’ll give you what you want”, I said, “But it won’t be pretty”. The little Weber seemed delighted if but just for a moment, that it was going to get used. And a man’s pit should get used, just as often as it can be, for not only to season it, but to foster a degree of sanity upon one’s own meat lust, and the ever-abiding need to occasionally burn things. It is good for us.
Quick and dirty like, with no motion for poetry, I slapped together some winglets, gently seasoned in Lawry’s, and set them to sear in an orange blaze of apple wood. I had also been in the mood all day for a simple grilled cheese sandwich, so I tossed on one of them too, delicately toasting it over the bed of coals. Now some might hazard it plum foolery to cook his grilled cheese out on the grill, forsaking a nice kitchen range, but I contend that “on the grill” is the way it was always meant to be, and couldn’t be more fitting, nor more honorable to its namesake. The trick to really grilling your grilled cheese to watch it closely. Like a high maintenance relationship, keep checking in on it, and nurturing it as necessary. Yes, I suppose you could do it inside on the stove top like you’ve done all your life, and that is good too, but you would at once miss the tweety birds flirt amid the dogwoods, and the sun light slant through the fragrant spruce, and the wispy aroma of the grill, the fresh air, and the fellowship of the coals.
Grilled Cheese and Chicken. In a few short minutes, the call of the Weber had been pacified, and supper thus procured. Victory snatched from the jaws of haste. The little grill looked a trifle more at ease now, resting contentedly, smoldering quietly the last of its hot coals. Basking in the wake of deeds well done. Tomorrow, it will want to do it again. That’s the way man-pit relationships go. We just have to deal with it. True, good BBQ is all about taking our time, and that is always preferable than rushing head-long through it. But it is still better to have grilled and grilled fast, than not to have grilled at all. Because it is our stead-fast belief, or at least our sincere hope, that time spent grilling is not deducted from one’s life span. Which is handy, because it may take a life time even, to aptly tame your Weber.