The temperature was a balmy 32 degrees. The aromas of pecan smoke were in curl. Long, tapering, plumes of it, wafting into a gorgeous February sky. The sounds of chicken flesh could be heard sizzling over a hot bed of coals, and for a while at least, you could almost, but not quite, feel the warm sun press gently against your face. Oh it was a nice afternoon at the pit, I don’t mind telling you. Very abiding. A real treat after several weeks of sub zero grilling. It’s odd, I know, that 32 degrees can feel balmy, but trust me when I say, a body adapts. A sort of biological antifreeze develops, and you just get used to the cold, I suppose. And when it gets up into the 30’s in February, well, it is with great restraint that you some how resist the nagging urge to slip into your designer swimming trunks, smear SPF 15 suntan lotion over your hairy belly, and sidle over the neighbor’s fence to inflate their pool noodle. And all the neighbors rejoice.
This is to say, in other words, it was nice out, and yours truly frolicked accordingly. And the Black Capped Chickadees where in abundance, too, all singing their praises for another day of cavorting amid the piney trees. Of all the tweety birds I observe in the backyard, and living on a pond there are aplenty, I think my favorite is still the humble chickadee. They are not large, showy birds, who demand to be seen, but rather tiny little things, and somehow still maintain the quality of being impressive. I think what impresses me is that they are just more gregarious than other birds. Friendly, you might say. Chickadees have been known to drop onto your outreached hands for some seeds. Up north, where Chickadees are truly themselves, they will even land on your hat while you walk in stride, iffin that is you put some bread crumbs up there. They’re just cool little birds. Chickadees are also of the proper stock that does not leave us for the southern states, when winter’s tangled tempest encroaches our shores. Nay, the Black Capped Chickadee stays the winter long, chin up, and somehow seems to thrive. Like I said, impressive little birds. And they are always my little fuzzy cohorts, and inspiration, for these winter grilling sessions. Speaking of, today on the pit we have some chicken wing appetizers. You know, the kind you get at sports bars and the like. Tho these are undoubtedly better what with being cooked in a nice haze of smoldering pecan wood. Yum!
I do rather fancy how the sunbeams rest on my meat at times. Indeed, just to lay there, feeling that glorious heat do its bidding, with no pretense nor shame. Reminds me of my brother in-law’s old bull dog. He used to favor a sunny patch of linoleum at the foot of the stairs, where the 4 O’clock sun beam would make it’s way through the window pane, casting a warm glow upon the shoes and stuff on the floor. And the bull dog would go lay down in that patch of sunlight, belly up and illuminated, and simply revel there, with the sun warm upon his meat. Yup, I know from what he aspires to there…What we we talking about again? It was chicken wings, I thought! Hmm. I don’t know anymore…
I suppose I should let you know that these wings were all done indirect, meaning opposite the hot bed of coals. I do 90% of all my grilling indirect like that. You run very little risk then of burning your plunder. Or drying it out. Indirect slows down the cook too, I believe, and gives a pit jockey more time for the important things in grilling, such as: watching cloud shadows, observing more chickadee flirtations, dashing inside for a manly beverage, investigate your trees, dashing back inside to the little pit boys room, grabbing more manly beverages, picking your nose, and general, tho not always practical, pit-side loitering. Yup, indirect, people. It’s the best way to go!
Our seasoning of choice today, like most days lately, was from the kindly folks at Miners Mix. They have a lovely gamut of flavors, for all your culinary needs, and today we needed something for chicken. So it was off to our Miners Mix private shelf for some Poultry Perfection. I’m not sure how they do it, but they are certifiable spice wizards those dudes. If it didn’t exist in 1850, it ain’t in there. That could be one clue to how they do it. They use real stuff! The don’t put a ton of salt in it either, which makes it not only healthier, but I think promotes more attention to the subtleties of flavor. All this is to say, they make some really good rubs. If you’d like to grab some for yourself, and see what we mean, this rub and many more are on amazon. Below is our affiliate link to get you there. It would help support companies like Miners Mix, and we would also get a wee kickback too, so that we could go buy more Miners Mix. Plus your food would taste better. It’s just a happy deal all-around!
So it was, under glorious blue skies that our appetizer wings came to a most edible and succulent maturity. Then with a “new” paint brush from the garage, we glazed the spoils with a modest sheen of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce. The flavors merged together under the dome into a yard bird tome, sure to put any meat maestro on the brink of tears. I cannot divine an accurate way of conveying just how savory they smelled, tinted in pecan smoke and spice. Nor how flavor-packed and juicy they tasted. So I won’t. You’ll just have to make some yourself, and let the meat speak for itself. And if you’re a lucky bloke, you may even feel the sun smile on your face. Amen.
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It was seven below the zero mark, iffin it weren’t colder. And I think it was. Nobody was outside anyways, to tell me otherwise, not even the tweety birds. No one save for me, that is. And it was cold alright. The keen wind cut through the pond-side spruce with all the compassion and loveliness of a pit bull getting his favorite parts snipped off. The snow on the patio squeaked underfoot. And your breath, if you had any, spiraled like exhaust from an old diesel truck, and carried in the breeze a fathom and half over snow encrusted fields. Indeed, the day was cold against your face. My fellow patron and I were to discuss it, and we surmised that the odds were high, and probably accurate even, that I likely was the only humanoid within a hundred mile radius, out of warm doors right then, putting meat to flame on the BBQ. Oh how the neighbors must all roll their eyes every time they see my smoke rise, whilst the wind-driven ice crystals tap over their window pane. No matter, we Patrons of the Pit are a curious group by default. Not one for common thinking and none such. Forsaking oven and stove to cook instead over charcoal and wood, outside, and under random skies, we stand stalwart and proud at our pits, with our collars up and trimmed towards the tempest. BBQing in the cold is just what we do. What we have to do. Unless, I suppose you live, say, in Ecuador.
We have a reader amongst us, a long-time subscriber if you will, and an all-around good guy. Formerly of Minnesota, now roosting in the tropical climes of Ecuador. We have watched his blog, John and Mary Living it up in Ecuador, over the years, and admired their strange adventures, and knack for good living. If the winter draws long for you, do yourself a favor and check out their wonderful blog. It will warm you up, both inside and out. But the old boy there has a sense of humor, I must say, one that I often ponder in vain whilst I’m manning the smoker on sub-zero days like these. You see, he likes to chime in, and reminisce of what Minnesota in the winter was like. To nonchalantly act like he is in your corner. To recall fondly snowstorms in April, of football on the frozen ground, and of course, the cold. And then all too often, he likes to end his comments with some thing like this, and I quote “ I have to admit that I now usher in winter with a nice dip in the pool or the warm Pacific Ocean and a nap on the beach covered in SPF-30” John from Ecuador likes to rub it in that way. And we’re not just talking about his sunscreen. So it’s 7 Below. Lets smoke some ribs! We did this rack fairly simple. First rubbing it down with a little brown sugar, then hit it with a spicy rub I had sitting about. A little something to usher in the heat, if you can call it that. We placed the rack “bone-side” down on the pit, over a steely bosom crackling with orange glowing coals and two fist-sized chunks of hickory. Because it was so cold, no water was added to the water pan of the WSM. It didn’t need any help keeping them temps low today. Lid on. Damper tweaked. A nice pillar of blue-tinted smoke was soon in curl. And as nice as it was out there, I don’t mind admitting none, I sidled it back inside to my easy chair, and pulled a Grandma blanket up to my chin. Glory be! Feet propped up towards the fireplace, my socks hanging off my toes like Stan Laurel in his prime, oh what sheer pleasure it is to bandy with one’s favorite blanket and fire whilst smoking pork ribs on a frosty winter’s day. And as per most rib smokes this side of perfection, I may or may not have dozed off in turn. At hour three, we went ahead and foiled the ribs with another patting of brown sugar, a few dollops of butter and a shot or two of honey, just because. It smelled good enough to tear into right here, but like a good pit boy, I resisted. My elder brother says patience comes to those who wait. I think ribs probably aren’t far behind. A good hour or so in the foil, smoker running at roughly 257 degrees higher than the outside ambient temperature = 1 rack of authentically procured BBQ ribs. The real thing, people. Oh buddy! Varnish with your favorite sauce if you please, and ingest accordingly and at your will or whimsy. SPF-30 optional, at least for some of us. Amen. Four and a Half Hour Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs . Yum! A touch of heat and bunch of sweet. Another way to pass a northern cold snap with a wee bit of class, and patron to the pit. Grill on!
As you delve further into the BBQ arts, eventually you’ll wish to smoke something. It’s just the natural course of things. You need not fight it. Where to start, you ask? Well, as a general rule of thumb, if it grows fruit or nuts, it is probably a legitimate candidate for a smoke wood. Use common sense tho. Make sure it is seasoned, (not green) and not growing some sort of unruly fungus or anything. And please people, no smoking with green treated one by sixes off your back deck. That’s very bad!
Now one of the most common mistakes made by newbie smokers is over-smoking. The assumption that more is better is wrong. Don’t do it. Such antics can impart a bitter taste on your meat. If you see your pit puffing like a choo choo train, tweak the dampers, lift the lid, or wait it out. Wait for the smoke to taper into thinner, almost blue-tinted tendrils. That’s just right. And there is really no need to keep tossing on smoke wood through-out the cook. After about two hours, most meat has gotten all the smoke exposure it needs. Remember the old BBQ adage, smoke is a seasoning, not an ingredient.
Not counting the realm of pellet smokers, the smoke woods you will find come in either chips or chunks. Both work fine, but there is nothing like a good chunk! Two or three apple-sized chunks of smoke wood placed directly on the coals will give you all the smoke you need, many times generating wispy tendrils of it for a couple of hours. Many a pit keeper soak their chips, and even chunks in water or a variety of interesting brews, this to elongate the burn time and to add a bit more flavor. In point of fact, if you boil your wood in water, it will open the fibers and absorb even more water, and thus the wood will smoke longer. But let it be said, because its true, you need not bother with such heady antics, for at the end of the day a good chunk of smoke wood speaks for itself. Just place it on the coals, close the lid on your pit, ensure a good draft, and observe the magic that which gently transpires.
With these things in mind, here then is a little list of choice smoke woods to get you started, or experiment with. All good choices, and good, smokey fun! And many of them can be found at your local hardware or big box store. You may even have some laying in your back yard.
For your smoking convenience, a copy of this list was also placed up on the page index at the top of the site. Now lets smoke something!
- ALDER – A light smokey flavor. Excellent with the likes of fish, pork, and poultry.
- ALMOND – A sweeter tint of smokey flavor. Suitable with all meats.
- APPLE* – Very subtle, slightly sweet. Excellent with poultry and pork. This is one of our favorite smoke woods.
- ASH – A rather subtle but articulate flavor. Another fine choice for fish.
- BIRCH – Another subtlety sweet smoke. Good with pork and poultry.
- CHERRY – Lightly tinted of sweet. Does really well with red meat and pork.
- HICKORY* – Moderate to strong smokey flavor. Good for a variety of meats. If we could only pick one smoke wood, this would be it.
- MAPLE – Easy going and subtlety sweet. A light smokey taste. Good with pork, poultry. Great wood for planking.
- MESQUITE – Maybe the most robust of the smoke woods. Strong smokey flavor. Good with beef, chicken, and pork.
- MULBERRY – Reminiscent of apple wood, just harder to find.
- OAK* – Moderate to strong smokey flavor. Readily available, and a fine all around choice. Excellent for red meat. Does well with pork and fish. We would put this one in the smoke wood hall of fame.
- ORANGE- Mild and slightly sweet. Good with fish and pork and chicken and beef.
- PEACH -Another mild one. Slightly tinted in sweet. Great with beef, pork, fish and poultry.
- PEAR -Light smokey flavor.Great with chicken and pork and fish.
- PECAN* – Mild to moderate smokey flavor. Slight hint of nut. Good with all meats, especially poultry. Pecan is right up there with our very favorite smoke woods.
- WALNUT -Robust smokey flavor. Best with red meats.
*Patrons of the Pit Favorites
If not, amazon carries several species all available with a click of the mouse button. Here are a couple links to get you started.
Smoke on my cronies!
Patrons of the Pit 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
It was our loftiest intention to bring to you a choice morsel of grilling immortality this week, but the truth is, I ate it. Oh it was, shall we say, a beautiful T-Bone steak, bountiful in mass, and juicy, seared then grilled unto utter perfection over a hemorrhaging bed of hard wood coals. Indeed it was I guess. Lightly seasoned in onion and garlic, and not a shade less than meat utopia on a bone, and I ate it all. Prematurely launching into its savory flesh like a dingo to a bull frog. I did not possess the mental faculty to pause even, and take a picture for you. Nor to document the endeavor in due respect. The zeal ran high and the patience thin, you might say, where the wood smoke gently curled. And by the time I plated up, it was already too late. You must understand that it was a feverish, man-versus-meat scenario. Simultaneously disgusting yet wonderful. An event where instincts were to take over, and all manners cast over the flannel-clad shoulder. There was grunting, growling and belching involved. The heady sounds of incisors ripping into red meat. Bits of grizzled fat flipping headlong through the air. Long, ghastly stares from my bride. Oh it was good people. And I ate every bit of it.
Thus, I have nothing to show you this time around but a singly savaged T-bone on a bare ceramic plate, laying prostrate in its own juices. What can I say. The steak was there. I was there. It was mutual I think. Some days are like that I guess. Some days we eat our homework. Aw well.
The winds howl like Joshua’s trumpets, and the snows they fall almost, but not quite, horizontal, riding a northern gale. Four inches have accumulated out at the pit today, and a couple more are on the way they say. The roads have gone from motorbike friendly, yesterday, to an all-out 4-wheel drive, blizzard-incarnate today. Once fully functioning automobiles have mired and gone asunder, the way they always do on bad roads, their fenders gashed, and their owners shaken. Grumpy old men mutter to themselves as they go unpack their snow blowers – again. The wintry tempest wages on despite, ever the heartless taxman. Welcome to April in Minnesota. And we do love it this way. Well, least wise some of us do.
I had to admire one individual in particular today, the stately lady cardinal out at the pit-side feeder. Here was a soul not about to give up her supper just because of a raging snow storm. I admired her spunk. Her tenacity to carry on. For that feeder was swinging in the wind, the snowflakes hurtling through the air, but she tucked herself into the lee of it, scant as it was, and dined on the savory seeds there as if it were just another day at office. Well done, Mama Cardinal. A true patron of pit. Speaking of which, we procured a tasty supper off the grill last night, just under the wire as it were, before the blizzard hit. So grab a hot brew, and a good blanket, and settle in some where soft, and we’ll tell you more about it.
It was different sort of day yesterday. Much different. Blue skies, gentle breezes, and a band of tweety birds that wouldn’t let up. They belted out their pre-programmed chorus’ with great exuberance, and utter charm. Spring was in the air, and so was the flirtatious melodies of the Cardinals, and Red Wing Black Birds. Of the Robins and even the ducks which waddled by the pit as the first plumes of smoke wafted into the air. They are residents around the pond-side pit, and often give me a visit whilst I’m manning the coals there. They need to check in on me, you see, to make certain that it is not their kin they smell cooking under the lid. And it wasn’t. What it was, however, was chicken thighs. I get in a hankering for good BBQ chicken thighs from time to time. And it has been quite some time, it seems, since I’ve ingested any. Today was the day. The day we would make things right again.
Here’s how we did them up. Firstly, we hit the thighs liberally with some Sucklebusters Competition Rub. An excellent rub from a great company run by good people. The kind of rub where you can actually pronounce everything on the ingredient list on the back of the bottle. I like stuff like that. So we dusted over the thighs in this rub, and placed them skin side down over direct heat to start. This is your classic searing option, available at a pit keeper’s discretion. The idea is to crisp up that ever-flubbery skin-flap inherent to chicken thighs. To transform it from a rubbery monstrosity, to a well-crisped, flame-pampered delight. A minute or two over direct heat usually does the trick. If your chicken begins to resemble unlit charcoal, however, you’ve probably brought the technique too far down the rabbit hole.
After a suitable crisping session, and a slurp off your favorite beverage, it is time to escort the thighs to the cooler side of the pit, opposite the hot coals. Flip them over there, crispy-side up, and admire your work for a moment. Every painter fancies to step back from the easel at appropriate moments. So be it at the pit. Feel the heat bellow out of the old kettle grill, and how it merges hence with cool air aloft. Listen to how the meat sizzles in complete compliance on a hot cast iron grate. And note that for a moment at least, how your world is at once a simple place to be. Meat + Fire = Contented Man. Which explains, by and far, why we like to BBQ so much.
Anyways, next we tossed onto the bed of orange glowing coals, two small chunks of smoke wood. One of hickory, and the other being apple – just because. Then gently placed the old, enameled lid into position, with the top damper directly over the spoils. By the time another slurp of beverage was had, the draft had already engaged, and lovely, aromatic tendrils of wood smoke spiraled sloppily into a gorgeous blue sky. I had but to sit back in my BBQ man chair, and take in the day. In point of fact, I did. Legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, beverage in hand, it was sufficient pleasure to simply watch the smoke curl and the world twirl. Contented man indeed. For a while anyways, this was all I needed. I occasionally lit from my chair to varnish on some Honey BBQ Sauce, again from the good folks at Sucklebusters. But that was the extent of my pit-side ambition today. And it was wonderful.
After a half hour or so, or when the meat reached 165 internal, I plated up and took my plunder inside. As I slid shut the patio door, I paused momentarily, and glanced back out into the yard. There past the rising wood smoke, the Mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. I smiled as she darted up to the feeder, happy as a bird can be I reckon, that I had finally left. I guess it was supper time for both of us, and she was ready to eat. Tomorrow would be no different. Just colder. Amen.
Hickory Apple Smoked Honey BBQ Chicken thighs. Man! Talk about good grillin! Onslaught of slobbers and drool acceptable. It’s your keyboard.
Here in Minnesota, when the weather starts to turn, and the temperatures fall to subzero levels, we the faithful remnant, who call Minnesota our home, have to partake in an annual ritual known as, “winterizing the house“. Now when winterizing the house, we do such things as adding more insulation in the attic to prevent any heat from escaping. We blow out sprinkler lines and insulate outdoor water faucets to prevent water freezing in the lines and bursting pipes. Some people do the bare minimum to winterize a house and other folks go a few extra steps towards convincing victory, under the flag of reason – better to be safe than sorry.
We Patrons must also do the same in preparation for Minnesota’s wintry grilling season. As the temperatures drop and our bodies begin to acclimatize, we also must take the proper steps so we don’t lose that much coveted heat, or even worse…our pipes bursting. Now some Minnesotans do the bare minimum to prepare themselves for the winter months, but we Patrons of the Pit, we will always take a few extra steps because as mentioned earlier, it is better to be safe rather than sorry. We think so anyways.
Here at the Pit the proper attire for keeping cozy in the frozen out-of-doors is like second nature. For we are both fans of winter camping and so long johns, hats, gloves and even our smoking jackets are never an understatement. We are a rare breed; we take great delight in sitting beside our smoky pits, and as its chimney puffs away we might light up ones pipe and take in a good English tobacco. As the harsh winter winds slap sharp snowflakes across our face, we fill our trusted Stanley thermoses with our favorite hot drink, and sip away. As the temperature plummets past zero we begin to hug the hoods of our pits while a small camp fire may join us during a bitter cold smoking session, sharing in its efforts to keep us warm. Therefore, insulating the inside of our bodies after standing outside at our Pits during one of our famous blizzards is something we can always work on. This weekend we started that process with Homemade Chicken Soup.
- 1 (3 pound) whole chicken
- 4 carrots, halved
- 4 stalks celery, halved
- 1 large onion, halved
- 1 Bay Leaf
- Water to cover
- Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder to taste
- 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules (optional)
- Desired amount of Egg Noodles
- Desired amount of Wild Rice
Put the chicken, carrots, celery, onion, in a large soup pot and cover with cold water. Heat and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken meat falls off of the bones (skim off foam every so often).
Take everything out of the pot. Strain the broth. Pick the meat off of the bones and chop the carrots, celery and onion. Season the broth with salt, pepper, chicken bouillon and Garlic Powder to taste, if desired. We added a can of Cream Of Chicken Soup to thicken the broth up a little. Return the chicken, carrots, celery and onion to the pot and stir together. At this time also add the noodles and wild rice. Cook until Noodles and Wild Rice become soft and serve.
There is nothing better than dumping hot soup down one’s gullet and bringing a sudden rush of warmth to our bodies, thus beginning the process of acclimatizing our bodies from the inside out. Over the next few months, we might surprise the blog world with recipes for keeping one’s self warm and well insulated. So, let the process of winterizing begin.
“Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”
Strolling the local grocer this afternoon, hands in my pockets, I seemed to have had what you might call a chance encounter with a lovely stand of pork chops. They were plentiful and magnificent, and the obvious spoor of a butcher in a good mood, for they were about one-and-one-quarters inch thick I should wager, iffin they weren’t more than that even. That and they were on sale too, a modicum of reasoning I’m sure my bride would approve. It was destiny in the meat aisle, or something there short of it. If pork chops could talk, these dudes beckoned heavily from their frigid wares, if but to yammer, “Please, take me oh pit keeper, and eat me henceforth! Make me all that I can be!” I cast a glance side-to-side, eyes darting about like a predatory cat – this on the off-chance I might need to fend off a little old lady heading for my spoils. But I was in luck, and no old ladies were in sight. I gazed upon the chops there and promptly croaked “Your mine!” Snatching up two of them like young Richard Simmons to a donut buffet. Its best I suppose not to let the locals there, nor the governing bodies see you talking to their meat, for it stirs up a mild controversy you could say. But if the conversation doesn’t draw out too long, you should be alright. Quietly pay for your plunder, then tuck it under your arm like an NFL fullback, tip your hat to the cashier, and make a good expression of haste.
I brought these beautiful chops home and immediately immersed them in a homemade honey garlic marinade. A brew of which has proven more that adept over the years at bringing out the better side of pork. Its real easy to make, and we’ve mentioned it here before, but who cares, here it is again!
Honey Garlic Marinade
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon cracked pepper
After four long hours in the marinade, suppertime shadows fell across the pit area out back. The coals were already conspiring in the old chimney starter, weathered from the ages, belching forth that initial rush of smoke into the evening air. Plumes of it, curling, and rising into the thin blue sky. Signifying to yourself and who ever else is paying attention, that you are once again in your glory, doing precisely that which is well with your soul. And there is a giddiness in the air, electric almost, like the first day of summer vacation as a kid. It is a good day, but all days are I guess, to be a patron of the pit.
These beautiful, thick chops, I sliced a little pocket into them with a sharp knife before they hit the marinade. A strategy, it stands to reason, to get more of that delicious marinade into the heart of the meat. But also, to create a useful void in which to fill, nay, to pack to the gills with a heaping pile of home-made stuffing. Oh yes, cram it in there good, for this is your feast, your opus in meat. After they were packed tight with stuffing, and sort of held together with a some toothpicks, they were ready for the grill. So let’s get out there, where the metal meets the meat. And let us do what we were born to do. To put meat to flame, and declare that it is good!
The Stuffing is your basic Thanksgiving stuffing affair, consisting, well, of what we had handy.
3 cups of bread crumbs
1/2 onion, chopped and sauteed
1/4 cup of finely Chopped Italian Parsley
A little water or broth to bring it all together
Anyways, over in-direct heat as usual, carefully place your beloved and betrothed, pork chops that is, and listen to them sing and sizzle whence they merge onto that hot, fiery grate. Oh how we favor that sound. Tongs in my hands, I glance out over the pond, just in time, it turns out, to see the local Great Blue Heron gliding effortlessly on giant wings, and splashing down into the water there. Ripples radiate outwards across the pond, shimmering in the slanting shafts of a golden sun. I smile to myself, as I toss some peach wood chips, directly onto the coals, and carefully put the black-enameled lid on the old kettle grill. Say what you will, but this is living. And living well.
When the chops reached what I estimated to be mostly done, I got out the old black iron pan, and began putting together the home-made caramel apple sauce. Its pretty easy to do. Two apples diced as you desire, a few pats of butter and enough brown sugar to make it interesting. And do not forget a little cinamon too. Sizzle it all together in the pan over the coals, stirring frequently until apples are cooked, and tender. Perhaps splash a bit of your pit beverage in there too, just because. Nothing is quite so fine as standing over your old kettle grill, whilst the sun dips behind the houses to the West, and the song birds serenade thee from atop the fragrant Spruce. Stirring the apple sauce, the aroma of the chops, and smoldering peach wood, wafting up past your nasal front, and the sweet summer breezes caressing through the garden greens and pit-side Petunias. Glory be! Now why would you ever want to cook inside!
Around about when the applesauce was complete, so to were the pork chops which once wooed me so fiercely. They looked good. A lot better than they did in the butcher’s shanty. And I told them this. Told them that they looked mighty attractive now, and that they would be proud if they could see themselves. That if that quantum entanglement deal I once heard about on PBS, some how applied to pigs and their parts, that maybe the previous owners of these chops would be suitably flattered. No, I don’t expect you to follow that. Suffice it to say, however, these chops kicked pig butt, and they were good! Real good! Leastwise, that’s what I keep telling them. Tho I’m not sure why.
Honey Garlic Marinated, Peach Smoked, Stuffed Pork Chops with a Home-Made Caramel Apple Sauce. Good golly!
Grill on, Folks!
I found myself the other day, nestled up in the nose bleed seats at a Minnesota Twins home game, versus the New York Yankees. The sky was blue, swallows darting about, and the fans were all of good cheer I should say. Well at least that is until we fell behind five to nothing in the first inning. I didn’t mind the score any. A losing team is something we’ve gotten used to around here. Frankly, it was just good to be there, in the new open-aired stadium. Enjoying the day with other like-minded Minnesotans. I’ve always fancied to come down to the ball park once in a while, and appreciate the ambiance there. The sound of a fast ball to a leather catcher’s mitt. The organ lady pounding out some ditties. The golden sunbeams awash over a green, manicured field. The goofy mating cries of the beer vendors, marching up the stadium steps with an arm full of libations. And of course, maybe my favorite slice of ambiance from a major league ball bark – the heady aroma of Polish sausages in the breeze.
Ah, glory be to the Polish sausage who’s gastronomic fates fall unto thee, thou ardent baseball fan who resides stalwart, and yonder, up in the cheap, blue seats. By golly, I was having my way with one up there, whilst overlooking the field of dreams. And it was glorious. I’m not sure why, but them ball park sausages always make it worth the trip down town. We may lose the game, but they will never take our beloved sausage! A comforting fact I rejoiced in, as I worked my way through the Polish delight, topped with caramelized onions, ketchup, and spot of mustard. This is the high art of baseball spectating, you see. Not for the uninitiated, and not far removed from the BBQ arts.
Anyways, I gobbled the thing down with a semi-reckless abandon, with no small amount of damage neither, done to my pride. Leaning back in my seat, a big smile across my face, I was a gentleman at ease, you could say. Nary a care in the world. My bride who sat next to me, after pausing for my token belch of satisfaction, made quick work of pointing out the glob of ketchup clinging steadfastly to my chin. She always does that, when things are haphazardly adhering to my face. In point of fact, most women I suspect do that for men. And I think most men probably would go the better part of the day with it still there, had no one pointed out. And worse yet, we’d be OK with it. I know, its not how to look sexy, and we ain’t claiming it to be right. But it is also a badge of honor sort of, to a worthy feast and a time well-spent. That smear of wayward ketchup or mustard, it is a remembrance of recent glory. An emancipation of meat! Even so, I took care of it like a proper man ought to, and resumed to the spectating at hand. Indebted once again to the good graces of a woman.
What has all this baseball and women got to do with BBQ Pork Chops you ask? Well, not much! Probably nothing at all really. It’s just stuff I was thinking about whilst grilling supper this eve. Pit-side ponderments if you will. I must say tho, supper was quite tasty tonight, as good as any ball park Polish sausage, and not nearly as expensive. Another winner from the pit. Hickory Smoked BBQ Pork Chops. This one is likely to get your slobbers running, so grab yourself a bib, and a lovely beverage, and let’s get after it!
Whilst the coals matured to excellence, and in true pit keeper efficiency, I let the bone-in chops go for a swim in a teriyaki-flavored marinade. Tho BBQ sauce would still be applied at the end, I guess I just felt like a touch of teriyaki tonight, to compliment the flavor profile. I tossed on some well-aged hickory chunks too, for that smokey goodness patron to decent outdoor cooking. Set the meat as is accustomed, opposite the hot coals. You will never kick yourself for using in-direct cooking techniques. But oh how you may moan your name in vain, should in a misguided frenzy, your spoils be rendered into blackened char, because you left them over direct-heat whilst you went to the little pit boys room. Brethren of the smoke you see, are oft taken by leisure at a moment’s notice, and before we know it, before anybody knows it, we could be drool-deep into a good nap if we’re not careful. Better then to corral our meat on the cool side of the grate, just in case. And let leisure take its course.
I put the lid on and let the chops smoke for a while. Always a lovely segment of time. A time well appreciated from the vantage of your BBQ chair, watching the thin-blue smoke gently peel into the air. This is the ambiance of the pit, and all pits have their own, unique blend. And its our job, as pit keepers to simply sit back and revel in it. To note, by chance, the baby ducks down by the pond eagerly training to become big ducks some day. Their parents close at hand. The evening sunbeams, bright and golden on the shaft, and how they strike the full, green, leaves of the Cottonwood trees, which flutter against a gorgeous, blue sky. The Great Blue Heron yonder, across the pond, slowly stalking shallows. And the murmur of the pleasant summer’s breeze mingling through the pines. Oh how I’d fancy to press pause on the download of life right now, and hold that sun steadfast in the sky. Just to freeze it there, casting shadows, and watch the wood smoke gently curl.
Before you know it tho, kind of like life, your meat is done. Flipped once mid-way through the cook, and brushed with your favorite BBQ sauce at the end. We tossed on some corn too, just because. Because nothing is quite so fine, let it be said, as grilled corn on the cob, smothered in butter, on a cool summers eve. I plated up this drool-tugging ensemble, took up residence next to my bride, and in disturbingly short order, we feasted. Declarations of goodness ensued. I plunked a well-chewed bone on to my ceramic plate, and leaned back, smiling like a man ought to in such moments. Patting my tightened belly. It was good, people. The day was good. And I might have even been sexy too, had not I acquired once again that tell-tale glob of BBQ sauce, hanging from my chin. But I didn’t care. Amen.
Hickory Smoked BBQ Pork Chops with a Teriyaki Tint, sided with fresh corn-on-the-cob. You could do a whole lot worse people, and not have nearly so much fun.
Loitering pond-side, the old Weber kettle puffing quietly away, sweet sugar maple smoldering, wafting into the air. I lay aside the pit, in the thick, green grass there, immobile, in a fashion usually reserved for a coronary thrombosis I suppose. But I didn’t care. I was “hanging ten“, as the surfers out way of Waikiki would say. And the world was mine. Just staring up at the clouds as they roll past a beautiful, blue sky. Like Huckleberry Finn on the grassy banks of the Mississippi, I was at ease with everything. A cool summers breeze murmured amid Spruce , and tweety birds on high, serenaded the evening sun. The neighbors are probably used to seeing me “belly-up” in the grass like this, with the ilk of a hobo beside my smoking pits. But I’m slowly getting them trained in, by and by, and the pay off is high. For rarely now, whence I engage in such childish admissions, am I caught there and taken for dead.
On the grill tonight, we’ve got a dandy. Maple planked bacon cheese burgers. Kind of a two-part post, the first part being the recent write-up on Superior planks. Some of you expressed an interest in seeing more how this planking thing is done, and so that is what we’re up to today, at the patron’s pit. Its real easy to do, and will cast the viable illusion also, of being an experienced and highly-gifted pit master. Which is always nice.
The very first order of business when planking is to soak the wood thoroughly. Doesn’t matter how good your plank is, if it ain’t soaked, you will be singing a sorrowful rendition of Kumbaya around your flaming spoils should you neglect this key step. So just do it. An hour in the sink is suitable for most. But the longer the better. Then, whence your coals, or hark, even your gas grill is up and burning, go ahead then and lay the soaked plank on the grate and over direct heat. Let it preheat there a touch if you please, but you don’t even have to do that. Thus, and at last, place your intended vittles over the plank, and pause momentarily to appreciate the oddity of meat on wood. We formed some nice patties from some 80-20 ground beef, and laid a couple of strips of thick bacon on there too, for good measure. No man worth his tongs will ever argue the judicious use of premium bacon, and we weren’t about to tonight. Then place the lid over your grill, and assume your customary BBQ position – in the lawn chair, lovely beverage in hand, toes pointed to the heavens. And with this, you are half done already, and nearly a budding expert in the planking arts.
It is that easy folks. You nary need even touch it now until its done. You will want to, and its fine I suppose if you do flip the burger over, but we did not. It doesn’t need to be. When the lid is on, and the wood is acting like a heat shield of sorts, the grill turns into some what of an oven like atmosphere. Would you flip a burger in the oven? I don’t think so! That is half the magic of planking. The other joy tarries in the smoke. Depending on what flavor of plank you pick out, and some folks even soak them in apple juice, or wine, or what ever, the steam and smoke which rises forth, not to mention a hint of tree oil, dutifully impregnates your spoils with a woodsy authenticness like none other. As one of our readers, Carnivore Confidential, once said in his blog, “You don’t have a smoker? You don’t need one!” And its true. A more primal way of infusing smokey goodness into your supper, you shall not soon divine. Meat on wood over flame. Simplicity at its best. And poetry on the pit!
You can plank darn near anything too. From meats to vegetables to mashed potatoes, and even mushrooms. But perhaps the best use of planks is for the delicate fish fillet. No more dropping through the grate! Just put it on the plank and cook it. No flipping. No mess. No worries. So the next day, and with fish on my mind, I re-soaked the used plank. If you get good thick, hardwood planks, like that of Superior Planks, you can re-use them quite a bit. After a good soak in the sink, I placed the used-plank back on the hot grill along with some Tilapia fillets. Same process. Put the lid on and just let them do their thing. Many hard core plankers forego the seasonings all together, and just let the plank do the talking. And with that wood smoke and natural oils, turns out them old trees have a thing or two to say about good eating. Amen.
Like all fish, when they flake easily with a fork, they are ready for an immediate rendezvous with your belly! Smoked to perfection and kissed by smoldering wood. Man!
Maple Planked Bacon Cheese Burgers and Tilapia too, just because. Two of many things highly suitable for plank cooking. If you haven’t tried it yet, well, what the heck are you waiting for!
A couple of weekends ago, deep in hither lands, and way up north in the Superior National Forest, of which precise coordinates I shall not utter here, my bride and I for a time, lingered in paradise. Balsam Firs and Black Capped Chickadees abounded. Downy woodpeckers pecking. Endless blue skies aloft. And our hammocks strung in a peaceful respite. Backpacking into the remote areas like this at once ushers an inherent quietude and tranquility not soon privy the city dweller. A stillness of earth and soul, and the waters there, oh how they run so delightful and clean. Tumbling through the mossy, forest crags, as if just to be lovely that way, and to nourish the fevered palates of those weary foot travelers who happen upon it. Folks like us. We liked it so much in point of fact, we set up our camp, and we stayed there a while, as patrons to paradise.
A lovely place. A place I couldn’t help but to recollect some, whilst tending to old kettle grill this evening last, on our home patio back in the city. I get like that every now and then. Reminiscent if you will, with pit-side reflections. And I can’t help it. Lighting the grill, and seeing the fire cordially lick for the sky, and tasting the aroma of the rising wood smoke, well, in a flip of a heartbeat, I am harkened back to other campfires in other places of enduring beauty. Places that I have once pressed a tent stake in, upon which earthy soils I have slept so soundly. I am smitten I guess, for the prettier places
Places where the star fields glitter, suspended in the blackness above, and the lonesome wail of the Timber Wolves echoed through the forest hollows. Places amid the whispering pines, where if you want a good dinner, you had better have packed it in, or barring that, possess an adeptness of procuring sustenance from the field and stream. For to live simply, and deliberately, and not to be bothered by much else is the goal here. To reduce life’s endless complexities to a few scant items, and stow them neatly away in our backpacks. And for a while at least, to be gone with everything else. To flex our muscles up the cardiac switchbacks, and breathe in that freshened air. To catch fish, climb rocks, and build campfires. To be 10 again, in the Sherwood Forest, and sport a quiver with but one crooked arrow.
Back in the city again, tending supper over this old pit, I leaned back in the BBQ chair, watching the smoke curl some. Still reminiscing whilst crescent moon dallied over the Spruce, and a growing family of mallards floated serenely out on the pond. It’s kind of pretty here too, I thought. Tongs in my hand, the aroma of Cheddar stuffed Polish sausages and hickory wafting from the pit. Glory! But I think of the hammock I strung up recently, in my quaint, northern sanctum – my Shangri-la in the woods. Hung nicely between two fluttering Aspen trees. A location I became much acquainted with in my stay up there. For I took not one, nor two, but three lengthy naps there, in dappled sunbeams, and beside burbling streams. Whiled away most of the afternoon in such fashion, harboring not a morsel of guilt. It was a lifestyle, by and far, that I could get used to. If only I could get my Weber Grill out there, I thought, in this land so remote. I think I should never again return.
The aromas of supper snapped me back to the present. Back to the city. I rolled the sausages about on the old grate. Onions were already diced. Ketchup and mustard at the ready. I toasted up a couple buns for my bride and I, and assembled this most basic of grilling endeavors. Grilling Polish sausage is about as simple as they come I guess, and yet, satisfying in a round about way. They taste good, but more over, it gives us pit keepers another excuse to play with fire. To smell that smoke wafting. And I guess just to be outside. And to this cook anyways, a porthole to a bevy of memories wrought over the open flame. Reminders which rise with the wood smoke, of good times, in pretty places, where the breeze blew sweetly through the trees. Something we like do every now and then. Keeping it simple. Like a good Polish Sausage. Amen.
Repairing in the BBQ chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, I spied them from afar, ambling head-long through the steely grass. A half-dozen little yellow-green fuzz balls, escorted under the watchful wing of ma and pa. Bumbling creatures, but terribly cute, looking only at the ground, pecking about for what wonders may reside there. It was good to see new families like this. Triumps of unconditional love, and a feathery nurture. They seem to do this every year about this time, along with every one else. They wandered right up close to my BBQ chair, as if to address me in some formal manner reserved for goose ideology or the like. I adjusted my posture some, and noted how once again, these feathered blokes have ambled by precisely when the first plumes of smoke curl from my old kettle grill. More times than I have counted they have come to share supper with me like this, babies and all. I’d like to think it’s because they like me, and appreciate the ambiance of the pit I strive so hard for. But the truth of the matter is that I’m only being used. For I usually toss them some crusty old bread if I have any, and that seems well enough for them to at least fake a friendship out by the pit. And I’m OK with that.
Spring time. New life. Turns out one of our close friends this week, had a baby too. A wee little thing, neither yellow-green nor fuzzy, and pert near about as cute as they come in baby land. My bride suggested we do something nice for them, because she’s rather thoughtful like that, and being the fire-lighting, meat-eating man that I am, naturally the only logical course of action I could come up with, was to have a BBQ. What better way to introduce a new soul to this ever-spinning world, I thought, than a plate of tin foiled potatoes, BBQ chicken, and sirloin steak! Everything a wee pup needs to make a lasting, first impression. And besides that, it’s never too soon to draft another into the BBQ arts. I don’t know if they make little Weber grills for babies, but they should. I would set one down in front of the kid, just so they could imprint on each other. And it would be a better world because of it, somewhere on down the line.
The baby feast started with the potatoes naturally, because they take the longest. Diced up and seasoned tonight with a dash or two of Lipton Onion soup mix. Cause that stuff ain’t just for soup you know. Over the seasoned and diced potatoes, I added a lovely melody of vegetables for to please the lady folk, along with a few dollops of butter, and wrapped it all up in foil. This in turn placed over direct heat for 20 minutes or so, flipped over once mid-way for even cooking. Whilst the spuds did their thing, the chicken legs were then placed opposite the hot coals, and a small piece of hickory wood added to the fire for some smokey goodness. The legs previous were rubbed down in McCormick’s Chicken Rub, and later, at the end of the cook, painted with a generous layer of Sweet Baby Rays. Now what infant wouldn’t want to suck on one of them!
As the white clouds idled in a blue sky, and bird song rang from the Alders, I pulled the foiled potatoes over indirect heat. They were done, and so was the chicken. Lastly, and to bring a sense of closure to the meat fest, we seared a nice sirloin steak over a hot bed of orange-glowing coals, and then finished it off indirect. When you set up your grill like this, with the coals banked to one side, you will be afforded much control this way. You will have established in your grill’s fiery bosom, three distinct temperature zones. One for direct heat right over the coals, one for indirect cooking opposite the hot coals, and something of a Switzerland affair, right smack in the middle. The thermal trifecta of modern grilling. Anyways.
I plated up the meats and taters, and bid a farewell to my feathery friends, still pecking through the green grass. Not to be rude to the little geese, nor to point out the shallow nature of our relationship, but it was time to go show the newborn some of the finer things worth looking forward to in this world. Something far removed from a crusty old piece of moldy bread. Amen.
Hickory Tinted BBQ Chicken Legs, Sirloin Steak, and Tin Foiled Potatoes. Man! And so what if a baby doesn’t have teeth. The parents do!
A blustery north wind swirls under gray skies. Mercury levels hover in the 60’s, cottonwood leaves clack about, and an American Robin ambles through the green grass, with a squirming earth worm clamp steadfastly between its beak. I do not know what it is that compels a creature of suitable reason to otherwise abandoned its surely inherent need to ingest his intended quarry with the fierceness and efficiency like that of hungry lion to a Tanzanian Wart Hog, but it does. And frankly, I admire its restraint. Cause that wiggling worm to a Robin, is like a beef tenderloin to a pit keeper, marinated and smoked over cherry chips, rubbed in garlic and onion. The little bird proceeded to hop around the grass, nary once it seemed, contemplating the notion to eat its earthy spoils.
Good for you, I thought, but I’m getting hungry. And I shall not likely possess your oaken resolve to wait much longer. Thus, and on the grill tonight, an old-time classic and highly favored sandwich. BLTs – Patron of the Pit style. So get your fires lit people, an let’s get after it.
This evening, whilst wandering the aisles of the local produce shop, I came upon some fair looking rolls, whose destiny I knew at once, like men sometimes do, would involve an intimate acquaintanceship with my grill, over a beautiful bed of coals. I brought them home. Sliced and buttered, and set aside for the last portions of the cook. Now if you’ve never made bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches on the grill before, you are politely excused to go to the corner somewhere and murmur your name in vain. Here at once is such a simple treat, delicious, and easy to do. A dance where upon we take the hand of an old-time sandwich, which was dang good in its own right, and escort it to a whole new level, patron to the smokey realm.
Bacon is good, and the world knows it. No man nor woman alike would refute its gastronomic pleasure, lest they keep the company of pigs for pets or something. Bacon is glorious. Bacon cooked on the grill, over a smokey fire, is point-blank out of this world. I do not know how many bacon strips are allotted to a man’s lifespan, so when we do it, let it then be of the good stuff. Thick cut, and the very best your purse can afford.
Over a drip pan, lay your bacon opposite the hot coals. Toss on some smoke wood too. You’ll want a drip pan lest your grill wax into a real treat, of ash, fat and muck. For this cook, we used hard wood lump charcoal, and some hickory wood. A basic and primal heat source worthy of a pit keepers fondest intentions. Put the lid on and let the smoke and heat do their magic. You all know what you’re doing here. Cook the bacon as you please, and at the terminus of the cook, go ahead and toast those buttered buns with the pit master authority vested in you. Tongs in hand, be ever vigilant against the burn. For your buns shall not char today, but slide onto your dinner plate with a confident display of utter, toasted perfection. Build your grilled BLT accordingly, and thus to satisfy your lofty specifications.
Needless to say, I dove into this sandwich like an alcoholic to a German beer garden. Like a puma to an antelope. I do not know what it is, and my elder brother suffers from the same plight, as well as some other men I know, but when we are presented with a meaty affair, savory and to the point, well, we do not require a whole lot of time to ingest it. It kind of bugs us frankly, that we seldom harbor the patience to slow down with our food. We are beasts! We have noticed ourselves at times tearing into our food, as if governed by some genetic impulse to eat fast. There is some savage chomping, some wild slurping going on, and before you know it, before I knew it, my beloved BLT was gone. A few lone bread crumbs residing on my belly. I licked my lips, and picked the crumbs off my shirt whilst glancing out the window to the pit. It smoked quietly away over diminishing coals, at ease and content with its job well done. And just beyond that I noticed, standing in the green grass was the little robin, with that dang worm still, hanging limp from its mouth. He’ll eat when he’s good and ready I guess. And I really don’t know how he does it.
There you go. Grilled Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato on a Toasted French Roll. Next time you’re ready then to take your BLT to the next level, do the sensible thing why don’t you, and do it on the grill!
We are men, and we eat meat. Not that that we require meat every day or anything, but when we do, we want it to be worthy of the wages that beset our colon, not to mention our pocket book. When the day has ebbed long, evening shadows breaking, and we waddle through the kitchen door, pekid and of trembling legs from a day’s long labor, are we not secretly hoping for a big, thick, and decidedly juicy steak, plopped on a platter, juices oozing, sided with a plentiful allotment of potatoes? You’re darn right we are. We are men! We will never turn down a steak, so long as as our doctor is not in the room. Even women get this way from time to time, deliriously entombed in the heady thralls of meat lust. And we are not to analyze why, but instead to procure a succulent T-Bone or the like in short fashion. Yes indeed, there are some days in a pit keeper’s life menu where he must at once, and savagely so maybe, abandon all fanciful marinades and intricate rubs, and get down to the primal business of just putting meat to flame, and worry of nothing else. On days like this, and your body will tell you when, nothing quite so hits the spot better, than a big steak, and a lovely side of potatoes. That is all we need. Man fuel at its most basic. And hunger shall be our spice.
With meager fanfare, let us then lay meat to flame, and declare that it is good. An appetizer of chicken wings to start, just because. Then a thick T-Bone perfectly seared ought to do, surrounded in love by a starchy congregation of potatoes. Spuds rubbed first in olive oil, and seasoned lightly with a little salt, and a little pepper. Placed in kindly order over direct heat. And the steak, oh that beloved cut of beef that we have longed for so long, of all the things we cook on the pit here, this one holds a special place. I shall not regale you with a litany of promising spice and marinade, because in point of fact, there are none. Not for steak. Oh people do, and have a dear old time I know. But of all the meats in the grilling arts, I think I like to keep steak the simplest. Just a dash of garlic and and a touch of onion salt, and nothing more, seared in smokey perfection over a hardwood fire. Dang! Good meat will do the talking, by and far, if we would just get out of its way.
You could get a whole lot fancier, but nothing will hit the spot more keenly, nor lobby for a man’s fuel so feverishly, than fire grilled T-bone steak and potatoes. We are men you see. And if this is all we had, it would be alright. Amen.
A chimney of hard wood lump charcoal crackled on the pit, its campfire-like aromas enveloping the patio. I long have fancied the patron scent of lump charcoal. The way it lights, smells, and pops like a Jack Pine fire kindled on the wild lake shores of the Canadian shield. Something in its fragrance, its mood, that transports me all at once, back to those rugged expanses of wilderness, and earthy camps from whence I have tarried long in my youth. I poured the fiery chimney load to one side of the old kettle grill, and reminisced some more like men do whilst playing with fire. My gaze sweeps over the back yard, as I mingle with the coals. The grasses surrounding my patio grow long now, with the ilk of a deep and abiding green. The sort of green that is there to stay. And there is a symphony of song birds too, perched all about, all yapping it up like a room full of women scrap booking, with hot tea at their sides. The sky is gray, the sort of gray that is a bridesmaid to the wet season it seems. Nary a breath of wind, and its neat to see the smoke from the grill go straight up for once. Some mallards conspire at the pond’s edge, rain drops cling to a lone Petunia, and a Canadian goose ambles by, trying to nonchalantly as a goose can I guess, check out my supper, and confirm it is not their kin they smell roasting under the lid.
No, it’s not goose, tho one day I probably should I suppose, just to get the awkwardness out-of-the-way. Nay, today on the grill is a simple affair – just some chicken legs, smoked over some hickory, with a light, honey twist. It’s real easy to do, easier than a lot of grill keepers might tell you. For it is an age-old rule of grilling, to apply your sweet sauces at the end of the cook, for the sugars inherent to sweet things can easily burn, and hence ruin your intended spoils as easily as a favorite dog squatting over your new carpet. You don’t let your dog onto your new carpet, and you certainly don’t put sweet things on your BBQ at the beginning of a cook out. But I do. And you can too if you’re careful is all. I rubbed down the chicken legs first in honey, then dusted them in liberal fashion with some Suckle Busters Competition Rub. Then set those legs in-direct of course for the entirety of the cook. A small piece of hickory wood for the smoke, placed directly on the coals. Lid on with the vent over the meat for a proper draft. Oh what sweet smoking pleasure it is, to kick back in your BBQ chair, lovely beverage in hand, and simply watch the smoke curl there. And to smell the damp earth mingle with that of smoldering hickory.
The only trick really to these sorts of sugary endeavors, lest the burning fates acquire your supper, is simply to keep an eye on it. Keep your tongs close, and check in on the meat. It’s OK to lift the lid, for this is no 14 pound pork butt or anything. Nay these legs will cook all too fast as it is. So visit them often, and let them know you love them. Pamper them, and turn them, and position them accordingly to your pit master instincts. If you see some going astray, be there for them, to catch them, and set them back on the proper path to excellence. See how they sing bathed in a fine hickory smoke. And note also, off-hand and by-the-way, how the world has spun on without you for a while now, whilst tending your humble pit. A sure sign that you’re doing it right. For you are in your own little paradise now, aside glowing coals, and gently wafting, blue-tinted smoke. You have put meat to flame, and in that alone there is something good enough, and it is well with your soul. Tongs raised to the heavens, this is your time now, to govern your meat with a supreme authority bequeathed those shapely souls who tarry near the fires and grilling posts of yore. Ah yes, grilling with honey – let us at once take our meat by the arm and walk it slowly down that fiery aisle, thus to culinary matrimony with our impending, tho forgiving bellies. Near the end of the cook, I brushed on a little more honey, just because. A little something more, as it were, for the old goose to think about. Amen.
Honey Tinted Hickory Smoked Chicken Legs. Dang! And yes, we ate the broccoli too!
Way up yonder, in the northern reaches of Minnesota, a series of Weber Smokey Joe grills quietly puffed in turn beneath the whispering pines. Men plying through their coolers, and spice stashes. Other men circling about, taking pictures. Patties of ground beef delicately formed, and laying at the ready. And a light humidity hung in the air. This was the scene of the 2013 Burger Throw-Down. A gastronomic snippet of a men’s retreat. A humble tho seriously esteemed competition held in the hinter lands of Northern Minnesota, along the White Fish chain of lakes. It was there in these competitive pools, that my fellow blog host sought to ply his burger craft. Each contestant was provided 2 pounds of ground beef, 4 hamburger buns, a Weber Smokey Joe, and what ever spice and accompaniments they wish to steal from their home pantries . There would be 8 judges, each sporting a most scrupulous eye, and two hours, give or take, in which to greatly impress them.
As the Canadian Jays and Black Capped Chickadees cavorted in the white pines, and the air smelled of damp earth from recent showers, the contestants hovered over their prep areas, one and all, prodding over patties of beef, and a litany of spice and cheese. The game was on, and our fellow blog host recalls, in his own words, getting things underway, in this, the great burger throw down of 2013.
“The burger throw down was as fun as I thought it would be. I was the first one to show up knowing I would have much prep for my burgers. I had my premixed jerk rub tightly vacuumed sealed for freshness and a large can of pineapple rings. I also brought a zip lock bag of hickory chips that has been soaking since Thursday night, so almost 2 days. So, I started my coals first, as one should always do, and as they began to burn I started moving them around the bowl of the Smokey Joe. Placing them on one side of the bowl so I can do a little in-direct smoking once the burgers were fully cooked. When people saw what I was doing with the coal placement, I could hear comments like “wow, he’s got it down to a science, or this guy is serious”. I was just doing what I’m used too.”
The men henceforth got down, as men do in competitive burger making. Got down to the heady business of procuring something memorable, and pleasing to the palate. Something apt to move a judge’s tummy for the better, and put a mile on his face. The contestants were up for the challenge Everything from pesto and jalapeno to feta and Munster cheese. Our fellow patron admits to being slightly intimidated, standing alongside some of these Meat Maestros. But he sticks with his game plan, and his secret weapon – 48 hour soaked hickory chips.
“I then quickly began to prep my burgers. Now, I brought a lot of spice rub with me and I wasn’t sure how much I should use so I decided I would start mixing the rub into the meat until I could smell it. I used about half of what I brought, folding and pounding the meat until the smell joined the wet pine of the camp. I quickly shaped my patties and filled the middle with blue cheese. I sprinkled a little more rub on the cheese and laid the other patty on top of it. I finished by pinching the patties together and rubbing spice on both sides of it. I think soaking the chips as long as I did helped put steam into the meat because I know my burgers were juicy. After they were fully cooked I moved them to indirect heat and placed the pineapple over the coals. I charred them up a little and then toasted the buns. I threw everything together and mine were the first for the judges to eat. I realized at that point I forgot two of my main ingredients, bacon, which would have gone on top of the pineapple, and then some smokey bbq sauce to go on top of the bacon. I’m glad my burgers were juicy, because sometimes without sauce you get a dry burger.”
Were talking a burger here folks. One that would make even a heathen man pause to say grace. One-half pound of hickory smoked ground beef, filled with a pocket of gooey blue cheese, seasoned with the patron kick of good jerk rub, topped with a charred pine-apple ring and of course, a toasted bun. Dang! You certainly are not going to eat a whole lot better under the whispering pines nor burger shack alike. And apparently the judges thought so too, as they gave our fellow patron 1st Place honors for his Smoked Blue Cheese Jerk Burger. Well done old chap. Well done indeed.
Besides getting to sport the title of Defending Champion for a year, he also won himself a chef’s hat and an apron. If we’re nice to him, and flatter him a little, maybe we can even get him to model it for us. I doubt it, but maybe.
We will go out a limb here and foster the notion that summer has finally come to Minnesota. Or at the very least, I suppose, that winter is gone now – retreating rampantly into the far northern tiers of Canada and beyond. Minnesotan’s have cut their lawns now, for the first time since, well, I think since last October. It was a very, very long winter. But the people have emerged now. And there is hope on their face. They have wagered it plausible maybe stick a tomato plant in the ground. So to have the Lilacs began to bud, poised to unleash their fragrant bouquet any day. And the leaves of the Populus deltoides, or Cottonwood tree, have formed now, down by the pond. There is the smell of green in the air again, and humidity has come with it.
I raked the crackling hardwood lump coals to the side of the old kettle grill, readying it for in-direct cooking, and admiring the utter simplicity of pleasure it is, to do such things, and not have to stave off a subzero wind chill at the same time. Something year-round grill keepers don’t take for granted. Our stoic stands at the winter pit influence even these tranquil moments, pit-side, amid the sunshine and song birds. It is paradise over coals, and a patron of the pit knows it. He knows it by the soft impression on his soul, left by lazy clouds in a blue sky, and the silently curling smoke which lifts from his grill.
I spread out some chicken thighs over a cleaned grate, opposite the hot coals. Then I dusted them over with Cajun Injector Cajun Shake, and tossed on a small chunk of hickory wood, into the fiery coals. Lid on, and top vent tweaked – it was not long before a gentle smoke began to curl. I flipped the pit radio onto the local Twins game to complete the acoustic wallpaper. Then of course, I did what all real men of BBQ do best – repair to my BBQ chair with a lovely beverage, feet up, and survey my smokey kingdom. On the grill tonight, we’re doing one of my bride’s favorites, grilled chicken tacos – POTP style.
After a suitable amount of loitering, I flipped the chicken thighs over, and hit the other side with some more of that Cajun Shake, to give the routine meat a bit more flavorful kick. Lid back on, and the hickory smoke resumes as soon as I make it back to my roost. Hard work this BBQ stuff. I settled in, listening to the baseball game, whilst watching the thin smoke curl from the grill. A routine by and far that I could become accustomed to. The ambiance of the pit – something always missed, and then lamented over, every time a misguided pit keeper opts to cook his spoils indoors.
When the chicken is done, chop it up into man sized chunks, and consult your tortilla taco making instincts. Like a true man, I stuffed my tortilla way too full of smoked chicken, tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, onions, and sour cream. And savory globs fell all which way. But who cares. Good is good, and this was good! And my pants were already dirty.
So next time you’re hungry for a taco, and want to take it to the next level, try doing them up on the BBQ. Because everything is better outside, and absolutely better off the grill.
Hickory Tinted Grilled Chicken Tacos. If a taco gets any better, you all let us know about it!
A female Cardinal lit on the bird feeder yonder, pecking at the seed. The sun hung like a fiery chandelier in a blue Minnesota sky, dappling through the Spruce, and budding Cottonwoods, and glittering off the pond whilst a pair of mallards conspired for lunch along the edge of it. Chickadees flirted to and fro the suet I had hung for them, and a broad-tailed hawk spiraled upon the thermals far above. I stirred quietly in my BBQ chair, coming to for a moment to hear the tweety birds sing sweetly in the breeze. It felt good to loiter at the tail end of a sun beam today. To make the acquaintance of this old friend removed, from a winter long-standing. I stretched like a spoiled house cat in my chair, and took a sip of cool beverage, whilst casting an eye at the smoker thermometer. 225 degree it said. Which was perfect for the kind of loitering I had in mind today. Smoking ribs is hard work don’t you know, and I had been at it for a couple of hours already, and I do believe I could fancy another nap, as the BBQ rigors this day were decidedly high. Thus, I tipped my hat back over my eyes and resumed the proper BBQ posture, feet kicked up, at ease with the world, and the abiding aroma of smoldering hickory in the air. Welcome to rib smoking 101, POTP style.
Now I suppose, iffin you’ll let me, that I should go back to the beginning and show you few things about today’s smoke. There are a lot of wonderful things in this world you can choose to lay in a cooker and subject smoke to, and a man has got to reckon that a rack of succulent ribs might be the very best. There is nothing quite so fine as pig on the bone, perfectly smoked, married in a deep flavor profile, and yet tender to the teeth. Many a backyard pit keeper aspires towards ribs, often at first intimidated by the unruly cut of meat. Many a professional pit master, likewise, has spent the better part of their adult life pursuing this perfection in pork. No matter where you are on the rib ladder, one thing is for sure – ribs are good, and the journey, dare we say, is half the fun.
Things started out by firing up the big 22 1/2 inch WSM. As usual per my pit tendencies, I was in the mood for a little low and slow. The scenic route on the highway of BBQ. I set up the fire bowl using the Minion Method of course, because I had a lot of napping I wanted to get done today, and didn’t want to be bothered with the business of lighting up more charcoal again later. And let it be said, a Weber Smokey Mountain set up with the Minion Method affords a fellow a good deal of opportunity for napping. Its real easy to do too. Simply pour a chimney full of lit charcoal right smack in the middle of a bunch of unlit charcoal. Depending on how much coal you use, and how you tweak the vents, your cooker can burn at 225 to 250 for a very, very long time. Its a worthy technique used by many. If you want to learn more about it in-depth, feel free to waddle on over to our write-up, The Long Burn:The Method of Jim Minion.
After the smoker had gotten up to 225, and after I had ripped the membrane off the back of the ribs, and after it was liberally dusted over its entirety with SuckleBusters, Hog Waller Rub; after all these things, and procuring another cool, lovely beverage, the ribs were lovingly placed in the pit, top grate, like laying a new-born baby down on the diaper table. Well maybe not quite like that, but careful even so, so as not to knock off any of the precious rub. Lid on, and at once the Hickory smoke began to curl, bringing that signature scent to a man’s pit that equals sublime harmony with elevated levels of protein. Thus, and under very blue skies, I repaired to my BBQ easy chair, found something to kick my feet up on, and proceeded henceforth to ponder the day. And a sweet, pit-side nap was soon enough forthcoming.
You all know the old saying, “good things come to those who wait“. Probably true. But I also suspect that maybe crap can show up right away. Oh how many of us, at one time or another, have rushed our beloved rack of ribs. Pressing them along too fast, or too hot, only to render them into flanks of inedible boot leather. That is not how to do ribs, or much of any good BBQ for that matter. Let us at once revel and thrive in the slow ways. Dare to practice thy patience. May your rendering collagen be bathed in sweet time, and your bark emerge like the glaciers of yesteryear. For the smokey arts are rather a beautiful past time when you think about it, so what then would be your hurry to rush haphazardly through it. Nay! Now is our time, as patrons of the pit, to slow it all down, and tarry in the good favor of rising wood smoke and the savory aromas of sizzling meat. It is our highest privilege, to take the scenic route and try if we can to pause the sun momentarily in the sky. And we will.
Now one of the most common mistakes to procuring perfect ribs is over-cooking them. Folks tho do rather love to gloat that their ribs were “fall-of-the-bone perfect”. But as any competition rib bloke knows, if they are falling off the bone, you have done went and over-cooked them. And the judges will dock you accordingly, because it took less skill. They still taste amazing tho, no doubt, because at the end of the day, good is good, and ribs are good. And back yard pit keepers, well, they don’t really care anyways, so long as they can muckle themselves some rib meat at cook’s end. But if you want to challenge yourself, and hone your pit craft some, try to smoke them so they have some meat retention left on the bone. You want the meat to easily rip of the bone with each bite, yet be tender and succulent to chew. Such perfection lurks in a narrow window, its panes fogged with smoke, and so you must check in on your ribs frequently then, and further more you must know when they are done.
When a rib is done is a fickle business, because ribs vary, and smokers do to. Many like the bend test, and that is when you hold the end of the rack in your tongs and let them bend, like a fat man walking out onto a diving board. When the meat starts to split open at the bend, they are probably done. Likewise, others fancy the toothpick test, where the picker pokes his pick in the pork, and if it slides through real easy, its probably done. Others like to twist on a bone. Others go strictly by the clock. What I like to do is just by-pass the wondering all together, and cut myself off a hunk and try and eat the thing. You’ll know pretty quick what you’ve got on your hands.
Anyways, after about three hours of supreme loitermanship, for good measure, I tossed on a pot of peach baked beans and some chicken legs, and I also went ahead and foiled the ribs with a splash of apple juice. Foiling them, or the Texas Crutch, never seems to fail in loosening the meat up a little. Often times, its where the magic happens. You certainly don’t have to, but its success ratio is too good to ignore. So foil them and be not ashamed. I checked in on them after about 45 minutes, and by golly, they were eager little things turned out, and ready it seemed for their destiny according to my belly. I was kind of dismayed the smoke wasn’t going to last longer. But that is the nature of the BBQ arts. It is done when its done, as they say. And boy these ribs were done just right! I proceeded then to remove them from the foil and lay them back on the grate and then to sauce them with SuckleBusters Original BBQ Sauce. Brush strokes of love, upon my own personal, Rib Rembrandt.
Nothing quite like meat on the bone to set a man straight. Succulent. Tender. Smokey goodness! I took this sample back to my BBQ chair from whence I have loitered so well, and needless to say, had my way with it. Truly a pit master privilege. I smiled contentedly, BBQ sauce strewn across my face and over my belly. I kicked my feet up again, content with what I had done. And the mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. Amen.
It was a windows down sort of day, this day last, as I was driving about town. The hum of my tires on the road, and tweety birds chirping around every bend. No trace of snow anywhere, and the green things of this world gather now, conspiring in the warming light. Spring, if we get such a thing this year, looks poised to pop here, any day soon. I love this time year. Good weather to go for a drive, and to smell the earth unfold. Which is precisely what I was up to until I noted I was within striking radius of my elder brother’s abode. It’s usually a good time over there, so I thought I’d pull in, and visit him there for a while.
I was pleased to observe he was out on his driveway enjoying the day likewise. Brother had his motor home awning deployed, lawn chairs flipped out, and much to my delight, his little Weber grill was in service, puffing away like a mired toy battleship. The boy was “dug in”, not about to waste the beautiful spring day bestowed upon him. He greeted me with a smile as I walked up his drive way, and offered me his very best lawn chair. We sat together, at his urban camp, and chewed the fat a spell, like brothers do.
I noted his little Weber Smokey Joe was putting out a commendable smoke, and queried him accordingly.
“What do you have cooking there?” I asked
“Kielbasa!” he croaked. His grizzled face brimming with a joy usually reserved for 5-year-old school girls at Chuck E Cheese.
“Yup” he continued, “You have inspired me to try smoking. It’s been smoking away for about a half hour now in fact”
“Very cool”, I said, “The smoke looks a little funny tho, what sort of wood are you using?”
“”No idea”, he blurted.
I shook my head. Did he not know that the type of smoke wood was his leverage on poetry, his step stool to bragging rights, not to mention governor of the subtle effects it might impart upon his sausage.
“Well, where did you find this wood?” I queried again.
“Along side the road”, he belched.
My eyebrow raised. For all he knew, which admittedly wasn’t much about smoking, he could have tossed in some chips hewn from a manure-encrusted Lilac log , or worse yet, a pressure treated 2 x 4 or the like. The potential to defile his beloved Kielbasa hung in the balance. I just wanted to take over his cook, and land this plane.
“Well at least I soaked the chips”, he said. “That’s what you taught me to do!”
We milled about for a few more minutes in brother’s serene BBQ camp, and I gradually ebbed from critiquing his grill craft. For it was obvious, amid the afternoon sunbeams, that the man was clearly delighted with himself. I remember those heady days too, new to the smokey arts, where every thing I did was magic. Even if it was wrong. For in the BBQ and smoking sciences, there is a certain thrill undeniably embedded into the first portions of the learning curve. The first time you smell a cloud of mesquite wafting over your patio, and look upon those golden rays of sun slanting through it. Or the maiden voyage of a new smoker. Or your first 12 hour pork butt, when you had no idea what you were doing. Or the first time you try the minion method. The list goes on. Giddy times we old timers to the smokey arts look back on, in recollection, and smile. A smile kind of like what my brother had painted across his face today, whilst basking in the dubious aromas of an unknown smoke cloud. Pining for a smoked Kielbasa. Lost in the rapture of ignorance. Amen.
This winter in Minnesota was a very long, drawn out winter. A winter where we thought for moment our region of the United States by chance had entered into a new Ice Age. We had a few glimmers of hope, but as soon as we saw fresh grass…… FRUMP!, We were again snowed on. Though we Patrons are tolerable with utilizing out our pits all year long we find Spring to be a sigh of fresh air. Don’t take us wrong, wiping snow off of our pit covers and removing our gloves to light a chimney full of coal is just the way of the bbq force out here. We know that for 5 to 6 months of the year removing our boots and putting them back on to maintain the pit is an expected part of the bbq process. HARK! We are now ready for the luxury of flinging off the flip flops and melting into our favorite patio chair with a cold beverage in hand, whilst sitting next to our hot smoky pits. AH yes, to sit downwind so that the cool breezes can blow the pit smoke directly into our paths becomes a fantasy while sitting in a cubical during our weekly rotating responsibilities. The time has come when we can rightfully say goodbye to a season that I can comfortably say had overstayed its welcome. I love winter and I love snow, but it is that time I welcome Spring.
Grill on – POTP
A formal apology must be made to my fellow Minnesotan’s, for I guess I uttered a tad too loudly in a recent blog, that winter, by and far, was done now. Oh what foolery hath slipped from my lips. For it looks like the old man winter caught wind of that, and naturally dumped a foot of snow on our BBQ grills, just for spite. Just because he can. A little slap in the face perhaps, to an over-eager gesture, here in the mid-folds of April. The snow now is shin-deep again. And tight still are the icy bonds from whence we have so endured. Tho there is hope I see, residing yonder.
The american Robin has moved back in to town now. An usher of hope. I guess he hadn’t got the word on his original twitter account, that it was still winter up here. Like many of us, he too had gotten his little hopes elevated. He’s sitting up in a tree right now, over fields of snow, chirping in a disgruntled manner, whilst no doubt reconsidering his life as a bird. Come to think of it, many people I know are doing the same thing, more or less, in the homely posture of snow-bound tweety birds. All they want for is a little green grass, and a splash of golden sun. A convenience simply not meant to be, this day, as one and all, we parlay for warmer times, and softer skies. One and all, we must surely wait.
I kind of think the wait is good for us BBQ people at least. The wait, after all, is analogous to the low & slow mantra much revered in the smoking sciences. The wait is what makes it all worth it. The longer we extend the smoke, the slower we go, the more time the meat has to absorb the smoke, and for the collagen to break down. The longer we wait, the more savory it gets, sometimes hunger alone even, need be our only spice. In this day and age of the drive through mentality, people just don’t like to wait. But I think by getting what ever we want in expedient fashion all the time, has taken something away from us as a people. It has taken our patience. Smoking meats low and slow at once returns us to that realm of waiting. Teaches us that it is OK, nay, it is beautiful, to let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and do something slowly for once. To nurture that reserve of patience we have lost touch with, and that when it comes down to it, that it is our privilege to wait for something, less we betray the beauty of the moment, and fall victim to the tragedy of haste. Patience is indeed a virtue most lovely. And, as my elder brother is fond of saying, “Patience comes to those who wait”.
A day passeth, and a brilliant sun the likes of which we have not seen in many months, rises high into a blue, Minnesota sky. Snow dripped from the roof of the house with the fierceness of a brooding rainstorm. Oh a fair shade different than yesterday. But that is the nature of spring in Minnesota, fickle and shifting, like the mood of a woman. Neither can help it, and we understand that. For it lends a greater joy towards the good days, and that which we have waited for. Anyways, it was my hallowed day off, and I knew, like any man would, that I would be grilling this day, for the day itself begged of it, and I felt more than a wee bit abiding. On the grill today, slow smoked sirloin pork roast and tin foil potatoes. Oh buddy! Let me tell you about it now, and just how it was done.
Long before any coals were lit, the pork roast was lovingly scored with a knife about a quarter-inch deep, in an artistic checker board pattern. Mostly a maneuver aimed at opening it up a little, so more spice and smoke penetration could be had. I then let it marinate for a few hours, in our standard patron marinade we use here. A sweet and garlicky affair that really helps out unruly pork cuts.
Sweet Garlic Marinade
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon cracked pepper
After a few hours, and after the sun had risen higher yet into that gorgeous blue sky, I sought the next installment of today’s flavor profile, with this delicious paste rub. In a food processor, toss in the following ingredients, and thus process them accordingly.
Sweet Apple Paste Rub
1 Chopped Sweet Onion
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoon mustard
3 tablespoons apple juice.
Next, dutifully work the paste rub into all the many surfaces of the roast. Be gentle and take your time. Remember we’re in no hurry today. Today is the day we choose to wait. To cultivate the patience patron to low and slow victory. Whence all the paste is rubbed in, let the roast sit there with its new flavors. Let it them mingle and get to know one another. This while you are outside lighting the coals.
Bank the coals to the side, and add a chunk or two of your favorite smoke wood. We used apple wood in this cook, as most find it favorable with pork. Maple is good too. Set the roast on the grate indirect of course, with a temperature probe if you got it. If not, no worries, just keep checking back in on it. We are looking for the minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Rotate your prized meat once or twice during the smoke for even cooking. At around 150 degrees internal, is a good and worthy time to apply the glaze. Here is the wonderful glaze we used on this savory pork roast.
Caramel Apple Glaze
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
3 Tablespoons salted butter
3 Tablespoons apple juice
2 Tablespoons mustard
Boiled this all down in your favorite little sauce pan for ten minutes or so, and baste it on to the pork roast with a brush every ten minutes or so, until you reach 165 internal. Keep the lid on, and the smoke going. Turn down the dampers on the grill. Take your time people. This is your magic hour of grilling. That precious span of minutes where your vittles sizzling give off their most excellent aromas, of spice and sugars, of wood smoke and dripping fats. It is your privilege now, to slow it all down. To extend the moment for the moment’s sake. To take up residence in your BBQ chair, and tarry in the sun there. Good advice I know, and I might have taken it even, had not I spied something green yonder, by the old spruce tree. I got up and wobbled over there, and lo, a patch of grass, spread out before me, between receding patches of snow. I knelt down to investigate it. It has been some time indeed, since I’ve felt a patch of grass with my hands, and smelled its earthy bouquet. Even better, it was dry. Dry enough in point of fact, that I could sit down on it with out that awkward event of having to get up again and looking for all the world like you should be wearing a diaper. In no time, I found myself belly up in the sun there, staring up through the fragrant spruce bows, to a deep blue sky beyond. The song birds rejoiced around me, and my soul did sing. And for a moment, and maybe even longer than that, I felt a kinship with the robin I saw yesterday, and the other souls mired in winter’s clutch, once chirping in disdain over fields of snow. Turns out all I needed indeed, was but a little green grass, and a splash of golden sun.
After a fashion under the old spruce tree, I foiled the roast and brought it inside to let it rest a spell. Ah yes, even when the food is done, a good pit junkie will let his meat rest. To wait even more, in a pleasurable torment, amid aromas of perfectly smoked pork. As it rests, and you pace the floors like a predatory cat, the juices will return to where they most ought to be, and then in turn, to the infinite pleasure of thy palate awoken. Slice the roast into serviceable pieces and dribble some more of that glaze over it, and hail the dinner bell for those so lucky, and patron to your spoils. This a meal by and far, succulent, and most worthy of the wait. Amen.
Slow smoked sirloin pork roast with a caramel apple glaze, sided with tin foiled potatoes. Man! Feel free to drool. We’ll clean it up.
We are betwixt by the fire and by the ice. That oft volatile, yet seasonal line between winter’s bond and that of a lush, green lawn. Of snow banks and sun burn. Of golf clubs and wind chill. Of spring in Minnesota. This evening, upon the outer crust of the midlands of April, standing over a beautiful bed of coals, working the pit, admiring a lawn full of grass whilst blizzards gather headlong in the west, I am reminded yet again, of the heady pleasures of Minnesota BBQ. Sleet taps like ball bearings over the land now, and the cold wind curls around the old kettle grill – the wood smoke wrapped in eddies. Perhaps this is the reason you never hear our state mentioned on the same pages like that of Texas, South Carolina, and Kansas City, when it comes to BBQ. If those blokes had to BBQ in sub-zero temperatures for fifty percent of the year, perhaps we northern wannabes would tally a might higher in their counts. Its not easy, let me tell you, fighting off wind chill induced hypothermia while procuring a perfectly executed rack of ribs. But even so, some body has to do it, and we are up here despite, giving it a go. For it is the journey anyways, that we favor most in BBQ. The rest sorts itself out, by and by.
On the grill tonight, blizzard or not, we’re doing up a house favorite – BBQ chicken quarters.I know you’re tempted in the grocery aisles to pick up your packages of boneless chicken breast, but I have long held to the notion, that birds we’re designed to have their bones in them. More over, that the bone imparts a noticeably better flavor on your meat’s end game. Indeed, we are men, and we just know how ever it is men know things, that meat on the bone is poetically correct, and the very best way to go. And chicken quarters have lots of bones, beautifully placed alongside vast reserves of meat. It is a good thing. A worthy bone to meat ratio. Thus, and amid the falling sleet, the quarters were rubbed down in olive oil, and dutifully dusted in a liberal fashion with Grill Mates Chicken Rub. This while the fire matured, and the darkened, snow-laden clouds advanced upon our fair hamlet.
As usual, well that is if your interested in a crispier skin, we seared these lovely quarters a couple minutes per side, over some hot coals. Then of course tucked them back, to the cool side of the grill for the rest of the ride. We used apple wood for the smoke flavor tonight. Apple is an apt choice for all things poultry, and one can nary go wrong using it. Just a chunk. You do not want it bellowing like a choo choo train, as pretty as it may look. Nice thin wisps of smoke are what you’re after. Too much smoke is actually possible, and over-doing it has been known to result in bitter tasting meat. Indeed, it is well to think of smoke perhaps as a seasoning, and not an ingredient, like so many newcomers to the BBQ sciences postulate. Anyways, the lid thus was put into place, and the smoke began to curl. And for a while, tho the winter tempest was conspiring, all the world was right. That glorious, contented feeling, patron to wafting wood smoke, and savory meat sizzling quietly aside hot embers. The last ten minutes of the cook, I went ahead and applied the BBQ sauce. Brush strokes of a Meat Mona Lisa! The aromas of smoked chicken and apple wood a waft in the chill, April air. Man! Say what you will, but this is living!
Ain’t too many things finer before a spring snow storm, than a steaming plate of good BBQ chicken. Meat on the bone. It not only sets a man straight in his ways, but motions him to accept the prevailing weather scenarios with aplomb. To be OK straddling that curious but seasonal line the sand right now, which seems so privy to both fire and ice. Good BBQ knows no meteorological boundaries. It can’t you see, as we won’t allow such foolery, less we keepers of the northern flame would have to hang up our tongs half the year long. And that just ain’t right. Its not right at all.
In the morning, winter had returned, making itself at home on the pit once again. So be it. For a hearty flame still burns here, deep in the frigid north. And the wood smoke shall rise again. Amen.
Through the cold and dark the smoke shall rise
a curling blue mist that burns in the eyes,
Stoked coals heat the patient Patron
with pit scented fleece and a dirty apron,
The smells of spices thicken with rain
the longer he waits the temperature gains,
Hickory heats and odors his jacket
the pit brings peace from everyday racket,
He quietly waits as the rain drips on
and spring ushers out a snow filled lawn,
A flaming pit through its yearly fashion
the ash pan fills with a fiery passion.
“Grill on” – POTP
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.
Chickadees lit amid the Alders, chirping and rejoicing, as shafts of brilliant, warm, sun slanted through the stands of Spruce with aplomb. The smell of apple wood smoke tinted the air, as snow melt dribbled from the roof like, cold, glacial run off, reminiscent of the icy ramparts of the Mountain West. Like a seasoned man’s hairline, the snow piles around the pit had receded some in recent days, exposing for the first time in a long time, a few sickly looking, tendrils of grass, bent over from a winter’s hiatus. A good life choice I suppose, if you’re a blade of grass in Minnesota. Take the winter season off, and re-group come springtime. A mindset of no such value however, to we patrons of the pit, who have been grilling hard all the winter long. Keepers of the flame, and chickadees alike, know no such luxury as hibernation. Nor at the end of the day, I wager, would we want to. It’s a beautiful Saturday. The inaugural first smoke of the spring. The tweety birds are singing. And my fellow patron has come over to share it with me, like any good BBQ crony would.
Every once in while, if the stars and the orbits of our lives align, my fellow patron and I like to get together to ply our craft. The likely recipients of our exploits, for better or for worse, being our beloved wives. Sweet girls who have put up with their fair share of experimental BBQ over the years. They have been there for the very best of it, delighting in our victories, and they have been there amid our fool blunders too, politely eating it anyways. Lovely souls, who just so happen today, to be out on the town together, doing what ever it is ladies do when their out together. My fellow patron and I henceforth found ourselves doing what only came naturally, hunkered over my pit, procuring some rather tasty vittles for our women, whilst at the same time entertaining the notion of keeping digital tabs on our credit card accounts. Anyways, on the pit tonight, smoked chicken thighs and peach baked beans. Grab yourself a lovely beverage, and let us get after it.
Whilst the big WSM was coming up to speed, being the efficient creatures that we were, we split up the duties. Divide and conqueror tactics if you will. John took the chicken thighs, and I took the beans. The chicken was amazing, seasoned in a blend of home-crushed spices, and I’ll tell you more about that in a bit, but first let’s get after these peach baked beans. And don’t curl your nose, I think you’ll like them. They humbly are not of our brain thrust, but of Pit Master Myron Mixon, who was at one time at least, the Tiger Woods of competitive BBQ. Say what you will about the man, but he can smoke. And these beans I figured, were at least worth a shot. Here’s how you do it.
Peach Baked Beans
- 1 can baked beans
- 1 can sliced peaches or peach pie filling
- 1 diced red bell pepper
- 1 cup chopped bacon
Into your grilling pot, empty the contents of your favorite can of baked beans. Then dump yourself in a can of sliced peaches. A little of the peach juice is a good idea, but you may want to refrain from dumping the whole thing like I did, less you fancy a soupier baked bean. Or a better bet is to use a can of peach pie filling, which is what you’re really supposed to use, but I didn’t have any on hand. Next thing is to dice up a red bell pepper and toss that in there too. Finally, and to every meat lovers fancy, add a good handful of chopped up bacon chunks. If you really want to do it right, you’ll do up the bacon on the grill first, and impart a liberal dosage of smoke upon it, because its bacon after all, and bacon is worthy of our highest flattery. So mix all these wonderful ingredients together, and if you have a hankering, sprinkling in a little of your chosen spices of the day, is hardly ever a move soon regretted, and compliments the main course with a quiet, but favorable elegance. Proceed then to let the flavors mingle and stew for two hours out on your pit, stirring on occasion to circulate a little more smokey goodness into your bean pot of glory. Man! Now let’s see how John did up those thighs.
First order, he removed the flaps of skin common to inhabit chicken thighs, and then rubbed them down in olive oil. This to properly receive his freshly ground melody of spices which include, but are not limited to: Coriander, brown sugar, pink Himalayan salt, pepper corn, onion powder, smoked paprika and ground rosemary. By freshly ground, we’re talking an hour before the cook, in his mortar and pestle. Glory! It don’t get no better than that folks. Then he sprinkled some over the thighs. A little of this stuff goes a very long ways, he said, so he made work of it with a light hand. Delicately allotting the spices equally over the meat. He was quite proud of his creation, often bellowing in acute joy over how pretty it looked. The spice he has since coined, Rolling Stone Rub, its namesake inspired in the heady wages of the recent kidney stone he recently passed. A token beam of brilliance wrought from a most miserable circumstance. Anyways, then he gently placed the thighs out on the smoker, where upon an apple wood fire had already stabilized into a light, easy-going smoke. There they would stay for the next couple hours, next to the pot of beans. Oh buddy!
So it was, meat and beans on the pit, a light apple wood smoke wafting amid the patio, sunbeams melting in through the windows, and we menfolk at last taking up the proper BBQ posture, in our man chairs, beverages in hand, and a couple of hours of premium loitering ahead of us. Nothing quite so fine as that, after a hectic week whirling about in the cog of society. And we chew the fat some, as men do when they are waiting for meat, frequently gazing out to the pit, appreciating the curling smoke there. We kick our feet up and get a trifle more comfortable, click on the TV, and settle in for the high rigors of the BBQ life. Somebody has to do it.
Apple smoked chicken thighs and peach baked beans. If there’s a better way to usher in the spring, I can’t think of any.
*Bean recipe was ultra simplified here, but of you want to see the original recipe, in it’s uncut form as Myron Mixon intended it, let us refer you to the following link: