Amid the spring thaw, and blustery gales , I touched flame to the chimney of hardwood lump. I love the smell of lump charcoal lighting, and the sound of it as it crackles and pops. I am transported all at once back up into the northern tiers of my Minnesota bush lands, back to camp fires past, neath the whispering pines, in the forest hollows, aside babbling streams, at tranquil campsites pitched upon the cold, bones of the earth. Those camp fires of birch and balsam, how their warm light reflects off the faces of camp mates, always make a soul feel more at home there, in a harsh, and barren land. I often reminisce in this way, every time I light the pit here on the patio. I hover my hands over the chimney, relishing the heat there, as the keen northern winds slice with disturbing ease through the city streets, kicking up old tatter along the way. And tho it is cold this April day, the sun is still out, and tweety birds, well they don’t seem to care one way or the other, if it’s cold, or windy, or what sort of charcoal I may be using. And that’s OK. I’m not sharing my supper with them anyways. Speaking of supper, come inside with me won’t you, and let me show you what we have marinating tonight.
On the counter, in a zippered plastic bag we have a good couple handfuls of chicken wings, the kind of wings popular at sports bars and taverns, and places with more big screens than a showplace theater facility. Blessed is the man whose freezer harbors a bag of these wings. In the immortal words of Mary Tyler Moore, it can take an otherwise nothing day and suddenly make it seem all worthwhile. And it has. For we are men. We eat meat. And we are keen for the wing!
The winglets today, before they hit the hot grate, receive a good pampering in a delicious home-made marinade. A salty and sweet affair with a touch of garlic. Here is the recipe for it if you have a hankering.
Sweet Garlic Marinade
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 3 table spoons honey
- 3 table spoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
Also whilst the coals come to maturity, and the wings marinate, we are soaking some peach wood too. I still prefer the big fist sized chunks, as there is no need to soak those. But if all you have is chips, you make do, and you’ll need to soak them before the cook, less they disintegrate like a 20-year-old pair of underwear whence they hot the coals. Not that I’ve tried that. I was pleased to find some peach wood at the local Cabelas, on one of my monthly forays there. You don’t see that sort of flavor up here in the frozen north too often, and I grabbed it rather by instinct when I saw it. A bit of Floridian essence amid icy winds sounded good today.
Nothing is quite so fine as peach smoke carried in the wind. Do to the high sugar content of the marinade, we went indirect the whole way this cook. Life opposite the hot coals is a good motto to grill by, and will long keep you out of grilling peril. I put the lid on and admired the smoke for a bit, like BBQ people do. I sat down, hunkered into my smoking jacket, and watched the smoke dance off into the stately breezes. And then, rather out of the blue, my left eye lid began to droop. Followed closely by the other. And I pandiculated right there in the chair. Pandiculation. That’s my new word. It means to stretch and yawn at the same time. Turns out I’m really good at pandiculating, and so are a lot of people I know. Anyways, when we brethren of the smoke feel such lethargy brewing, there is of course only one suitable course of action. I promptly went inside and took up residence in the man chair, reclined back to its utter most fancy, and there upon, and with great abandoned, did what sleepy men do when meat is slowly cooking on the grill – I belched and wafted off to sleep. It was lovely.
Most men, we postulate, and some women too I think, are born with an internal meat alarm clock. A meat sense, if you will. Sort of a quantum entanglement deal, where upon we just know when our betrothed meat is ready to eat, or more over, if it is in jeopardy of burning, or being pillaged say, by the neighbor’s dog. It’s a great skill set to have really, whence your aspirations for sleeping on the job come to fruition. BBQ is rigorous work after all, and we should be privy to all the tricks. Anyways, the internal alarm went off and I awoke in my man chair with a gentle yet satisfying graduation, like that of brisket coming to its temperature ideal, whilst resting on the counter top. I wiped the accumulated drool from my left lip pit, as my body rebooted. Golden beams of sunlight washed over my face, as I stretched like a spoiled old house cat in the soft chair. Yes, I pandiculated again. And I knew, as surely as one can know these things I guess, that my meat was done. It was time to eat, and after a fashion, never rushed, we did just that. And the wood smoke tapered in the breeze. Amen.
Peach smoked winglets with a tint of sweet garlic, and the theory of quantum meat entanglement. Man oh man. If you understand one, you probably have the other.
Game day in the National Football League Playoffs. 9 degrees of mercury registering. What do you think we’re going to do! Lets light the smoker!
There are a precious few alignments in the human condition so fine, as football and BBQ. Don’t ask me why. All I know is one shouldn’t tamper with the good things in life, nor try to analyze it much, less it evaporates, like the morning mist over still waters. No, we shall not try to figure out why, but instead be emboldened to embrace it. To put meat to flame, and declare the day is well. Thus to salute the rising smoke, and for a while at least, maybe even to live the dream.
As I repair by the fire-place, in my favorite man chair, the game quietly on the TV, a glance out to the patio sees the brand new 22 1/2 inch WSM puffing gently that fine-blue smoke patron to a good and established, hickory fire. It’s maiden voyage, if you will, like a big ship slipping slowly out to sea. On board today, a rack of maple syrup glazed beef ribs, and a good matter of country-style pork ribs, both dusted in a sweet but spicy, home-made rub. The country-style ribs, which are really cut from a pork butt, took a bit further journey tho, pampered long over-night in a custom marinade adept at improving pork. Like all good journeys, the journey of BBQ starts with an idea, and is done when it is done, never quite positive of where you may end up. Or how you may get there. And I do not think we would have it any other way.
The spoils are on the smoker now, for a two and one half hours I should wager, bathed in light hickory smoke, at a modest 250 degrees. The keen wind chill, of which it must be subzero, slices with ease, and not-so-compassionately through the trees, and over the frozen land: but the WSM holds stalwart in the face of bitter inclement. A victory affording myself the high pleasure of taking up residence “belly up” in the man chair, feet propped up by the fireplace, dosing peacefully amid the banter of Sunday football. There are few naps finer than football naps, save for perhaps golf naps, tho that would probably be up for debate I suppose. My brother likes to take naps under his truck, but that’s a different story. At any rate, as cozy as I was, eventually I knew I had to get up and foil the ribs, of which I did. A labor of love, by and by. It was no big deal.
Another hour and half in the foil, with a dose of BBQ sauce and splash of Dr Pepper, just cause. This loosened up the meat with aplomb, and took it by the hand, escorting the unruly meat to the next level. Taming the beast, as it were, swaddled in tin foil. Pampered with love.
Lastly, a toasting of the french bread, over the remaining, tho still softly-glowing embers, for that finishing touch savored by the lady folk.
After the bones pulled freely, we then plated the ribs, and chopped them into lovely man-sized chunks, and served them lightly basted in BBQ sauce on the toasted french bread. This was it. We had arrived. The maiden voyage of the new smoker had landed, nudging the fateful shores of a meat utopia. A land where the slobbers run freely, and a good burp is considered high praise. If ever you want to one-up your standard pulled pork sandwich, this is how to do it. Man!
Next time you’re in the mood for some tasty football food, and wanna do something a little different, try yourself some slow-smoked rib sandwiches. Ain’t too many things finer.