The tapering buzz of the Cicadas fill the St Croix River Valley, of which the stately pines and hardwoods stand, their needles and leaves like whisper chimes to a soft, summer breeze. And the sun dallies aloft, warm and sure; bronzing, burning or beckoning to those who tarry below. The river slips with a gentle current there, and the ducks and egrets play whilst puffy white clouds idle silently in a thin-blue sky. It’s summer time in Minnesota. And I’ll tell you what, we may have half-a-year of snow and cold around here, and a few additional months more of poor sledding, but when it is a nice day in Minnesota, let it be said, there is no finer place to be in all the world than this.
Call of the Wild
Naturally, we went camping. It is half our joy in life it seems, to spend lots of money so that we can go play hobo in the woods. To understand this oddity in depth would take another blog, so let us instead just tell you what we made for supper here, along the beautiful banks of St Croix.
Now I’d like to fancy myself a very fine fisherman, able and capable of procuring a rainbow from the natural environs from whence it swam. With steely eyes and a flick of of a fly rod, reading the river, and knowing my opponent with the sureness of a chess grand-master, I could single highhandedly, if I so choose, seduce and woo any submersed aquatic adversary with child-like ease, and have it served next to a side of beans on my dinner plate in about a one-half hour’s time. Yup. Well that’s the dream anyways. But reality in the woods is often times not like we dream. Especially when you leave your fly rod at home. And I may have exaggerated a wee bit on my fishing skills, too. Maybe.
Okay I did. But we didn’t go hungry!
No Name Supper Insurance
Not to worry, for tucked in the cooler, I had the foresight to stash a supper insurance plan. Salmon! No Name Salmon, to be exact. And let me say, putting fish on the plate could hardly be easier or more tasty. I had never had No Name Salmon before, and I’ve come to learn I’ve been missing out.
On the box, it said you could cook the salmon on the grill, or in the oven, neither of which was an option in my primitive encampment. But I had a camp stove and a frying pan and a wee bit of olive oil. So that would have to do. Hungry men ain’t picky.
Preheat the pan with a little oil, and saute yourself a few onions to go with it. Hey, just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can’t be fancy! So we softened up some onions a bit before laying the fully thawed fillets in. Just a few seconds after they hit the pan and sizzled there, the aroma of the juices and marinade it was packed with fairly filled the campsite with the smells of a gourmet restaurant, the likes of which I am sure every black bear within a 10-mile radius tipped a nose to. Mercy it smelled good! And the frying pan method worked just fine, off-hand and by the way. Even got a bit of crust on the fish, which I always enjoy. Just flip the fillets from time to time for even cooking. And like most fish, when they flake easily, they’re done.
We also made up a little camp biscuit/fry bread called bannock. Very simple yet tasty stuff, comprised of water and Bisquick. We’ll tell you about that in another blog.
Supper is served. Put your face in this, people! Who needs a stinking fishing rod!
No Name Salmon, Biscuits and Beans, cooked camp style on the tranquil shores of the St Croix. I don’t know how they do it, but these things were delicious! And goes to show that you don’t need to catch fish to eat fish in the great out-of-doors. We dined henceforth in great style, thankful for the food, this campsite, and the cicada serenade that which buzzed amid the forest canopy, dappled in sunlight, and cast from above. Amen.
For more information on No Name Salmon and other succulent meats, check out their website at nonamesteaks.
As some of you know, we do on occasion dally with a YouTube channel. Not very much, but when we do, it sure is fun. Here is a little video we slapped together the other day depicting some quintessential time at the pit. Of slow rendering pork shoulder, with it’s juices dribbling down it’s glistening flanks. Not to mention a gaggle of the resident ducks, who seem always to come by when there is something cooking under the hood. It was good to see them. And supper was adequate. Enjoy!
The cold rain tapped across the window pane as I sipped hot tea from an old, blue-enameled cup, whilst the fingers of my other hand tenderly worked the analog dial of my old time short wave radio. It’s been hurricane season as you know, and I was hoping to find some hams out there discoursing on the weather. I know with the inter connected world of the internet, and a few swift keystrokes, I can find out the weather any where in the world much easier than listening to the radio, but I don’t care. I just like the poetry of a good analog radio. The challenge of trying to wring out a signal from across the country, with what by today’s standards is inferior equipment. Like BBQ, I was more into the journey here than anything. The process. The poetry of good things on cold, wet nights. So I was dredging the side-bands if you will, looking for amateur radio operators talking about the weather. But mostly I guess, I was enjoying just being here, listening to the radio and the rain. And thinking off and on about BBQ. And no, my name is not Jim Reitz. He apparently was the previous owner of the radio before I got a hold of it.
Turns out the last BBQ here at the Pond Side Pit was in the rain. There’s been a lot of that lately, which is of no matter to a patron of the pit. We will grill in sheer tropical force monsoons if need be. Lo, it would be a dark day indeed the moment we actually cook on a stove. Anyways, my wife gets in the mood for fish these days, which is new to me. She’s never been particularly fond of the finned foods. But they tell us when you’re raising a newborn to eat more fish, as it is supposed to help your child grow nice and smart. Well, being a proponent of smart children, I did what any proud and new Papa would do, and went out into the wilds and procured a fish for my family. OK, I really went down to the local grocer and plucked a salmon from the ice, but the other way sounds better don’t you reckon?
What You’ll Need
- Brown Sugar
- Miners Mix Wholly Chipotle
We slathered the salmon first in mustard, then packed on some brown sugar, a little salt, a little pepper, and for our secret ingredient, a dash or two of this blend from our friends at Miners Mix. Wholly Chipotle. It is considered one of their hot rubs, so if you’re not a pepper head, just use it sparingly. A little of this stuff goes quite a ways indeed, but adds that sought after kick of heat that some of us occasionally crave. Anyways, after seasoning this fillet up, we brought it out to the pit where the cedar plank was oiled and pre-heated.
The Art of the Plank
If you’ve never had occasion to try planking on your grill yet, you’re definitely missing something out of your life. It’s about as easy as grilling gets, people. Simply put the plank over direct heat. Remember to soak it for an hour or so beforehand. Lightly oil it if you wish, an pre-heat it like you would a frying pan. Then lay your intended protein gently on top. All you gotta do from here is just get out of the way and let the plank do it’s magic. And it will. This form of cooking is so effective you need not even flip the meat. The plank acts as a heat shield which in turn protects your plunder, whilst at the same time creating an even heat environment, not to mention releasing oils and smoke into your food, giving it a flavor reminiscent of the finest restaurants. It’s just good, people. Trust us!
Planks come in many flavors and thickness, from 1/4 inch cedar, to 1/2 inch maple. Thicker ones last longer of course, but tend to run a little more expensive. You can find them in most any big box store these days. Or you can be lazy and grab some off Amazon I suppose. The best planks we ever tested at PotP were Superior Planks, grown and harvested up north of here, on a small island in lake superior. Check out our write up of that here . Anyways, a really fun and tasty way to grill if you haven’t tried it yet. You can cook anything on them too, from burgers to steaks to vegetables. But the best thing to plank, in our opinion, is fish. Ever have your fish fall apart on the grill grate? Problem solved with the good and ever abiding virtues of the plank. Gotta try this people!
There you go. Spicy cedar planked salmon from the pit. Sided with a lovely bouquet of vegetables for to please the lady folk. And a baked potato smothered in butter. Man! Good eating! And maybe even someday a smart baby, if you’re into that kind of thing. Amen.
The wood smoke curls in a good way today. We’ve got a little treat for you all, patron to the pit. And needless to say, we’re kind of excited for this. I guess if you’re not into BBQ or cooking out-of-doors, you won’t care an easterner’s hoot. But then if you’re not into those things, why are you even reading this. So you probably do care. At least a little. Anyways, we’ve been asked on occasion who some of our BBQ influences are. Who inspires us to do what we do because they do what they do. Well, there is a long list of pit jockeys we could tally here, lots of them, but for now we’ll stick with one good old boy from the coast of Mississippi. A chap we have much admiration and respect for. One Rus Jones of Smoky Ribs
For the Love of the Game
Over yonder in the enchanted land of YouTube, you will find many endeavors. And one of the great resources over there, where BBQ is concerned, are guys like Rus. Individuals with an outstanding passion for outdoor cooking. Pit Keepers who routinely aspire to great things in the BBQ arts, and further more, and maybe even better than that, they operate a YouTube channel to share their journey for free with anyone who may be interested. And that’s just plain cool. These guys are all in it for the love of the game. True patrons of the pit. Good old boys, of the salt-of-the-earth variety. Highly decent folk who just love to put meat to flame and tell people about it. The community of YouTube pit masters out there ranks pretty amazing, and they really do know their stuff. We’ve learned much from those guys. Rus Jones is one of them.
We have been watching his Smoky Ribs videos for a long time now, and every time, the shows are at once inspiring, entertaining, and pretty much make you slobber out your jowls like the neighbor’s estranged bull dog. But that’s life where BBQ is concerned. You must deal with a certain amount of drool about your chin. Anyways, and to the point here, Rus Jones is one of the pit masters who have inspired us over the years, and we thought it would be fun to contact him and see if we could get to know him a little better. Perhaps hear some of his thoughts on BBQ. Well, turns out he had plenty, and was happy to give us his time. So what are we waiting for. Lets get after it, shall we…
The following is a little interview with Rus Jones. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Also, check out his website, http://www.smokyribs.com/
Or his YouTube channel here: Smoky Ribs BBQ & Southern Cuisine
Picking the brain of Rus Jones of Smoky Ribs
PotP: Who are your BBQ influences? Why did you start a YouTube Channel?
Smoky Ribs: Being raised here in the deep south, I was no stranger to real BBQ growing up. From roadside BBQ shacks ran by old black men, to more formal BBQ establishments in our area, I quickly developed a taste for good BBQ cooked over wood smoke and served with great sauces. The old black men really knew how to put out the best tasting BBQ you will ever eat, and they to this day have been my biggest influence on trying to perfect those delicious BBQ delights as they did. They are all gone now, but those memories will last the rest of my life and will live on in my attempts to preserve the art of BBQ. I was looking around YouTube one day in the summer of 2012 and stumbled across a cooking video, and that led me to finding many more and I was primarily searching for BBQ related channels, even though I have a huge passion for cooking in general. After watching a number of these videos, I instantly knew that I had found something that really anyone could do, and with the passion I have and always have had for cooking, I thought this was an excellent way to share my knowledge and ideas, so I went to reading just how to create a channel and the rest is history. I started this channel just for the love of cooking on July 8th 2012 . I was six months into the channel before I knew you could actually make money with YouTube. Even though I do have all of my videos monetized to help with cost, money was not the driving factor to starting my channel, and never will be, even though it is nice to get a monthly pay check that I can reinvest into my channel.
PotP: What is your favorite smoke wood?
Smoky Ribs: That really depends on what I’m smoking, but my top two for pork and beef is hickory and pecan, I also enjoy the pleasant taste that oak offers as well, and on fish I always use alder wood. On poultry I have used a variety of woods, but one of my favorites is pimento wood. I have probably used about all the different smoke woods you can get at one time or another just to see how it taste compared to other woods, such as orange, peach, apple, cherry, beech, etc.
PotP: Give one tip for aspiring pit masters
Smoky Ribs: I could probably write a book on tips, but showing how to videos as I do covers most of it. I don’t currently use and offset smoker, but I have in the past, and I plan on getting another one soon, primarily to offer videos on how to use them effectively. One bit of advice if a aspiring pit master is using a offset smoker is to first realize that the fuel consumption is much higher than any other cooker, and the tip I’m about to give, makes fuel consumption even worse, but helps tremendously in the overall flavor of the final result. A offset smoker requires a lot of attention while smoking meat because the wood does burn up rather fast, and every time you put a log into the firebox, the log will take time to catch up and burn properly, but during that time, it is putting off a lot of unwanted bellowing smoke which is going right into the meat chamber which can lead to off putting flavors. My tip is simply this: Have a separate fire pit near your smoker, and have a supply of hot ready to go coals and embers from burning logs, that when placed into the smoker fire chamber, it will just bring your heat back up to your desired range without adding anymore unwanted smoke. As I said, this will not help your fuel efficiency but will produce better tasting BBQ.
PotP: How often do you cook outside?
Smoky Ribs: At least twice a week, and sometimes more depending on my available time.
PotP: Favorite cut of meat to BBQ? Why?
Smoky Ribs: This is a hard one for me since I love so many different cuts from pork and beef, but as far as my favorite for BBQ in taste and texture, it would have to be beef chuck roast smoked and cooked down to tender shreds to make great BBQ beef sandwiches with. Chuck has a lot of beef flavor and works really well for traditional southern BBQ.
PotP: Do you have any outdoor cooking traditions?
Smoky Ribs: I wouldn’t really call it a tradition, but I do love sitting outside near the smoker especially in the colder months, just smelling the smoke in the air and getting a whiff of the meat cooking inside from time to time while sipping on a cold beer. That is the best “me” time there is!
PotP: What is your biggest BBQ blunder? What just didn’t work? When did Rus slap his head and go “whups!”
Smoky Ribs: As anyone knows who watches my Smoky Ribs videos, then they also know that I do other cooks and recipes other than BBQ. I once did a pizza video, and I made 3 pizzas for this particular video and while removing one of the pizzas from the pit, it slid off of the pizza peel, and turned upside down into the grass! That was a “whups” moment for sure. I was able to pull the video off without using that pizza, but I sure did hate seeing it go to waste!
PotP: Other than eating it, what is it about BBQ that excites you? Why do you keep pursuing it? What fuels your passion, Rus!
Smoky Ribs: I think it’s the other way around. My passion for BBQ & cooking is what fuels and drives me to keep doing it. It’s the pure love I have for it, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching other people eat what I prepare, and of course I also love sharing via video with all the viewers, and I get a lot of feedback from folks who have tried my recipes and feel compelled to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Those are always great to read!
PotP: When you don’t feel like cooking, where do you go for BBQ?
Smoky Ribs: We never go out for BBQ anymore, because no one around here can do BBQ like I had growing up, and I would rather do it myself, but from time to time we will go out to eat, and it’s normally seafood which we have plenty of here on the Mississippi coast.
PotP: What is your pit-side beverage of choice?
Smoky Ribs: If I start a long low & slow cook in the early hours of the morning, then I start with coffee, but as the day progresses I will then start consuming cold beer as I’m outside with my smoker.
PotP: What is your choice activity whilst smoking a 16 hour pork butt?
Smoky Ribs: In between just sitting and relaxing while sipping on a cold beer, I will prepare any sides that I’m planning for the meal, but I normally don’t do that until the meat is getting close to finishing up, so basically I just relax, chill, and enjoy the day. I never start editing a video until everything is finished, and I normally start that the following day.
PotP: What’s next for Smoky Ribs?
Smoky Ribs: My plans are to start incorporating more outdoors into my videos including, fishing, camping, etc. but these videos will still revolve around a recipe & cooking.
Way up yonder, on the northern tiers of Minnesota, we often press a tent stake patron to some pretty places here and there. Places of exquisite beauty, where the waters run clearly, and the breezes taste sweet, sifted through the fragrant pines. My fellow patron and I routinely visit these locales, if not even for but one day. One day to inhale that pure, unpretentious air, and to absorb a rarefied tranquility lost, but not forgotten, in the ever-whirling cog of society. Indeed, we fancy to strike off for the wilder places just as often as we can, for to live simply, and abandon all tension there. For we are at home in the woods, by and by, and love to tarry fire-side amid the whispering pines.
Putterers by nature, we are content for hours on end it seems to cook exotic camp food over smoldering coals, repair in our chairs, and simply watch the smoke rise unto the standing pines. To tell story, and play song, whilst dotingly poking at the fire. Bannocks baking in blackened skillets, chickadees flirting, and all the many phone calls at once escaped in our own personal, wilderness sanctum. Oh the places, the beautiful places, that we have loitered in, here and there.
Campfires of Birch and Balsam often flicker in camp, as the lake serenely laps upon our shore, and the stately pines sway gently in the breeze, like a thousand and one fly rods, nay, make that a thousand and two. Oh how we love to cook over the open flame in these places, to ply our craft, turning our spoils into shore lunch. The stars, the moon, the forest glade, we love it all, even the smoke in our face! And here is the thing I have noticed, and maybe some of you have to; every time back home when we thus light the grill, and we smell that campfire-like smoke lofting towards the heavens, are we not at once, and irrevocably so, reminiscent, and smitten deeply for these places. Because smell is at once patron to memories, and memories thus flood back of those quiet campsites nestled aside shimmering waters. And for a moment, we can taste again the simple life we had once aspired to there. Because here it is again, deep in an urban sprawl, working over this old kettle grill; and there are blackened skillets, and chickadees even, and the sweet fusion of memories gently forged, both here and there, over the swiftly ebbing seasons, and the smoke which curled there. Amen.