As I repair here in my den, with a bit of stereophonic music in play, and a hot cup of tea at hand, I listen also to the rain which drums with great exuberance over the brown-shingled roof above. The rain. A cold, autumn kind of rain. The sort that callously knocks the last of the colored leaves from their mama trees to the cold, dampened earth below. Leaves that which cling only by tender stems, quaking in the autumn wind, where their inherent will to hold on, and their remaining chlorophyll count, rank about as equal, I should say. Yup, it’s a tough day as days go, to be a leaf in Minnesota. Indeed, it’s the kind of all day rain that renders a chap a distinct chill in his bones, and moves a body hence for his or her patented grandma-knitted afghan. To curl up on the Davenport, with a good narrative, fire-place crackling, and while away the hours there, whilst the rain drops collect hither on the window pane.
I might just do that. But before I do, let me tell you about another sort of day. One just a few sunrises ago, in point of fact. One of blue skies, and darting tweeting birds, and gently curling plumes of hickory smoke. One of heightened leisure, and good eating. It’s about a turkey, don’t you know, and his day off, patron to the pit.
It started early on with this brine, you see. The day prior, to be exact. We’ve been on a brine kick here lately at the pit, and for this turkey, a good, cider-based brine seemed like the logical road to wander down. And so we did. Amid the morning sunbeams off the pond, so golden and resplendent, we stirred up a good pot of it over the pit stove, bringing it to a gentle boil, letting the flavors all meld together there in a harmonious liquid opus suitable for the fairest of fowl. Our brine consisted roughly of the following kitchen tatter:
Apple Cider Turkey Brine
1/2 Gallon apple cider
1 Cup Kosher Salt
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Oranges, quartered and squeezed
1 Lemon quartered and squeezed
6 Cloves Garlic
6 Slices of Ginger Root
Splash or two of apple cider vinegar
A few dashes of Miners Mix Poultry Perfection Rub
*Pretty much the same brine we used in our wild duck post last time around.
So we let the bird wallow in the brine for about twenty and fours hours, that, and give or take an episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Rinsed it thoroughly under cold tap water, to get as much salt off as we could, then transferred it to the Weber Smokey Mountain, which off-hand, was already up and running at 225 degrees. We were very efficient here at the pit today. We had a couple of fist-sized pieces of hickory wood on the coals too, the smokey plumes of which had already taken on that light-blue tint that every good pit jockey aspires for. Things were in place, and the day spun as it ought to. Nothing to do now save for to draw a lovely beverage and make the speedy acquaintanceship of your favorite lawn chair. And by golly, we certainly did that!
With my old reliable, the ET-73 Maverick Redi Chek digital probe at my side, well lets just say that such technology at the pit grants a man the boyish freedom to dally about his fancies with relative impunity towards over-cooking his meat. Because every schmuck knows, or ought to know anyways, never to over cook a turkey. Thus the Redi Chek, if properly set, will bleep and belch at you when your target temperature is reached. We set it to croak at 163 internal, because it was a small bird, half a bird really, weighing only 7 pounds. So 163 internal, I wagered, would garner enough thermal inertia to coast up to the 165 finish line even after the bird is removed from the heat, and tented in tinfoil to rest. Oh yes, we were on our game here at the pit today. In the zone you might say.
So it was, with an undeniable pleasure that I kicked my feet up on some low flying patio furniture, tipped my hat just so, and placed my chin on my chest, thus assuming the proper pit master posture for a quiet spot of turkey smoking. Oh how I do revel in these moments. These pit-side sorties by myself. They are like a mini vacation to me, by and by. The manly equivalent of a trip to the spa. For to tarry there in the good light of an afternoon sun, whilst the clouds idle against a blue sky, and the chickadees cavort in the spruce, hark, ’tis medicine for a haggard soul. It is. To feel the sun, warm still against my flannel, knowing full well that the first snow fall of the season is maybe only weeks away, well a man learns to take pause in his day to days, and to loiter long on such occasions, where the wood smoke also rises.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking…What did we use for rub? Well we didn’t. Don’t much recommend it either, where this brine is concerned. For there are plenty enough potent flavors to keep a taste bud busy here. Just the brine and the smoke itself, are fully capable of doing all the talking here, kind of like that one couple at a dinner party who never shut up. If you do want to season the turkey with something, go lightly, and by all means stay clear of using something salty. It doesn’t need any help in that department, courtesy of the brine.
Three days later…and back in the Den
Well, the sun has set, and the night scatters through-out the land. The rain it seems has let up a tad now, tho my music still plays softly. The tea is mostly gone too, save for that cold, amber-colored puddle residing at the bottom of the enameled cup. And you might be keen to know, that for a while at least, I don’t know, but a few minutes to be sure, the rains tapered to the first snow flurries of the season here in Minnesota. And it was beautiful. I rushed outside like a school boy. Tiny white flakes descending on a cold breeze from an ashen gray sky, melting against my face whilst I grinned into the tempest. Lovely. The first snow flurry also stirs something elemental in both critter and man alike. Our chilly queue perhaps, albeit sans subtle, that a shift in season is upon us on the 45th parallel. Indeed, winter’s first tendrils grapple for purchase. And I cannot help but to reminisce fondly because of it now, to just a few days ago, pit side, with wood smoke in curl, and how good it felt just to tarry there, and sit stalwart in the sun. Amen.
24 hour apple cider brined, hickory smoked turkey breast, moist as turkey can get, sided with homemade dressing and REAL garlic mashed potatoes. Man! Who can wait for Thanksgiving anyways!
I’ve never been to Ireland but my gnome has. And I guess the worst part of it is that I didn’t even know he was gone. He was one of those little dudes in your life that you tend to take for granted, I guess, until he comes back to you. You see he tarries in the garden, where any self-respecting gnome ought to, and no, he doesn’t have a name. I’m not much of a gnome fellow, and I do not see what my wife sees in him, but none-the-less, he stands stalwart among the bean plants, like a gate-keeper to the greens. She picked him up on one of her many errands to the garden center, and nary ever bothered in turn to tell me why. Either you get gnomes or you don’t, I guess. Kind of like Neil Diamond. But I suppose he’s cute enough, by and by. And I’m talking about the gnome, thank you kindly.
Well one day not too long ago, and unbeknownst to us, he was covertly and flagrantly gnome-napped. Taken hostage by two friends of the female variety, who stowed the little fellow into their travel satchel of assorted womanly sundries, and henceforth made way over the big pond in an aeroplane for Ireland. For ten days, our little gnome parlayed for mercy at the hands of his abductors, and for ten days he was forced to pose for photos in front of a variety of Irish land marks. I did not know whether to be happy or sad for him, this mostly, again, because I didn’t even know he was gone. But he was. And that’s the great patheticness of it all.
Here is a photo of him let out to pee by the Irish Sea.
And here is one of him bandied together with like-minded drinking buddies or the kin. I think they were making a break for it and were caught again by the female captures. Their faces say it all.
I digress. This post was supposed to be about the art of grilling supper, and some how you got me going on gnomes. It’s just that whilst I was loitering by the pit here, the little gnome has done the very same in the pit-side garden. Him and I hang out like this a lot, don’t you know. Just watching the smoke curl into a beautiful Minnesota sky. Leastwise we do these days. Now that his ransom has been won, and he has thus been returned to my garden plot with his spoils intact. I don’t take him for granted as much as I once did. Anyways, about supper. Take a gander at these thick cut chops! For seasoning tonight, we went fairly simple. Salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That’s it. If it’s good pig, that’s all you need most days.
For ninety seconds, we placed the chops over direct heat, to sear in the juices there. Then we flipped them for ninety seconds more on the other side. Gray clouds idles overhead. A Great Blue Heron swoops past the scene, it’s massive wings fanning through the summer air. The pork chops sizzle sensuously on the hot cast iron grate. If smells were music, then the heady aromas bantering about the pit were like a lovely dollops of Beethoven up your nose. Glory! We then tossed a chunk of hickory wood on the fire, and thus escorted the chops over to indirect heat, opposite the hot coals. And there they would ride the remainder of the path unto a hickory-tinted, highly edible succulence. And it didn’t take long either.
We also prepped up some tin foil potatoes, one of our very favorite sides for the grill. Two potatoes and one onion, diced to uniformity, and seasoned in salt and pepper, along with a few globs of butter to keep things sporty whence foiled over direct heat. Tin foil potatoes are an easy victory, people. Twenty minutes or so over direct heat, flipping once at your pit master instincts. They are the perfect side to compliment any meat patron to the pit. Yum!
The Gnome Thieves
It is likely our civic duty to gnomes, and to lovers of gnomes, to post these mug shots in kind. They probably don’t want their identities revealed, and we won’t do that here, but suffice it this way – if you happen to spy these two ladies poking about your homestead, all I can say is grab your gnomes before they do! Grab them post-haste, people, and run!
Hickory Smoked Thick-Cut Garlic Chops, sided with Tin Foil Potatoes. Man! The Land of Meat and Potatoes, people. Where good is good, and less is more than enough. Amen.
It was a smoke of many rains. Some times it fell from the ashen sky like pitch forks and hammer handles. Other times like puppies and anvils. And if it weren’t doing that, it generally sailed side-ways on a tempest’s fist, for to kiss you kindly on the face. Oh yes, it was a sporty day on the BBQ front. The storms drummed with great frequency over the land, washing the infinite contours there, and rushing the sodden gullies. For some this equates to borrowing indoors to stare glumly out the window, our plans awash, whilst the watery, wind-driven pellets tamp over the glassy pane. But I for one have always fancied a good rain. There is just something contenting about it. Something eternally right in its rhythmic splatters. About the way it sounds on the roof of a good home, whilst dozing under your favorite grandma blanket. Or the way it dapples over the surface of a pond, water-on-water. It’s beautiful. And like-wise, what a privilege to emerge from our cozy dens after the storms have tapered. To pad about a world renewed, and wet. To boyishly stroll a land so freshly cleansed.
When the rain lightened up a tad, I did just that, sidling out the patio door to inspect the day, and lo, to check up on my beloved Weber Smokey Mountain. There it stood as it should, stalwart, with faint-blue tendrils of hickory smoke puffing from its top vent. I had to smile. Oh how I adore the aromas of damp earth and gently rising wood smoke. There’s nothing like it, patron to the pit. It stirs me. An ambiance of quietude and well-being to aptly lift the wrinkles of a harried soul. The very occasional waft of beef ribs coming to perfection, doesn’t hurt none either. Man! This is good eating today! It truly is. So grab yourself a lovely beverage and pull up your poncho, and we’ll tell you how it went and came to be.
Taking a peak under the bonnet for you is a pit master no-no, but I don’t care and I’ll tell you why. They say, and this is old pit jockey lore, but every time you raise the lid on your smoker, things cool off in there tremendously. Your thermal inertia, as it were, takes a firm whack to the private parts. End result is you add 20 minutes to your cook time. To which we proudly bellow – bravo! Those long-standing in the readership know full well how we feel about taking our time around here. About the pleasure of the wait. Hark, we are the Lieutenants of Leisure! The Lords of Loitermanship! This is what we do. This is what we love. And if for any reason we can extend the joy another 20 minutes, well, let it be said, we will! So take a gander folks, as this portly rack of hickory smoked beef ribs, sporting a mahogany bark upon its fatty flanks. The meat has pulled back some now, about three hours in, and it’s time to transfer them to the foil. And there they’ll tarry in a splash of BBQ sauce for another hour or maybe even two. This, of course, at the discretion of the pit master’s instincts.
We’re not so much about recipes around here. No, you can find plenty of those elsewhere. There are many fantastic sites out there that do a better job of it anyways. Nay, we’re more about ideas and having fun. About crafting some quality time in a hurried day. Once you get the basics of spice rubs down, they’re generally the same anyways. So for our seasoning today, we just tossed a few odds and ends together from the old spice rack. Things like, but not limited to: garlic powder, onion powder, salt, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. We opted to steer clear of sugars, as beef seems to do better with out them. If these were pork ribs, however, you might want to add a little sweet to the flavor list. But that is the inherent joy of cooking, and spice rubs in general, and that is the freedom to experiment. To come up with brain thrusts, try them out, and see what happens. This beef rub turned out pretty tasty, by and far. Some garlic goodness in the front, with a little heat in the backdrop to keep things interesting.
THE ORNERY MULE!
About the membrane on beef ribs. Reminiscent of a tick on a hound dog. I don’t know about you guys, but I find them to be a son-of-a-gun to remove. I’m talking about the membranes on beef ribs, people, not ticks on your hound dog. Unlike pork ribs, of which the membranes are generally an agreeable entity, the beef rib is a different customer. And whoa be it to the pit jockey engaged in a tangle with a stubborn beef rib membrane. Usually we tell you to peel that thing off, but in this case, if it’s as ornery as your uncle’s senile mule, well, it ain’t worth losing your mojo over. So we employed the age-old pit keeper’s trick of scoring a cross-hatch all over the membrane. When it cooks, it usually breaks up reasonably well. Some times beef membranes come off easy, but this one had, shall we say, undeniable resolve. So we let it win. Where not here to “rough it” people. We get it rough enough away from the pit.
So about three hours into it, like I said, we wrapped the ribs in foil. Before you wrap, you’re looking for some meat pull back, and the general color pleasing to your eye, what ever that might be. Three hours , at 250 degrees, usually gets you there. We wrapped them good with a shot of BBQ sauce for a little moisture and added flavor, and then placed the rack tenderly back in the smoker for another hour or so. Long about this time, the rains moved in again, tho it never really stopped I guess. It was one of those forever, soggy days, patron to the pit. And I loved it. Not one to cower from our appointed patio time just because of a little inclement weather, we patrons of the pit instead find a way. So I rigged up a little blue tarp over the patio, pulled my chair under it, and simply sat there, and listened to the rain. Content not to do anything, or go anywhere. Oh how I do fancy a rainy day. The semi-enforced respite of it all. Listening to a million and one falling drops of rain gently pattering like Beethoven over a well-strung tarpaulin, glory be, I had found my rainy day paradise. And as the wood smoke curled into a gray, Minnesota sky, and a damp breeze mingled through the spruce unto which tender rain drops clung, I knew as surely as I had known anything that day, that I was precisely where I wished to be, doing exactly that which was well with my soul.
I tarried beneath the old tarp for a while, soothed by the rain, and the slow-curling tendrils of hickory smoke. The ribs, pampered in foil, would come to a tender, and most succulent end game after around 90 minutes or so. Of course this can vary dependent on your cut. So from time to time, check in on them, and when they are tender enough to your liking, nod to the heavens, cast your worldly inhibitions aside, and dive henceforth and face-first into your smokey spoils. And care not what your people may think. You’ve earned these ribs, today. You’ve held their hand through a long and dampened campaign. You’ve sat in the rain, pit keepers, and you’ve reveled there. Amen.
I don’t care what you say, this is delicious! Four and one-half hours, low & slow beef ribs. Yum people! Kissed in hickory, nurtured to succulence, and every minute of it, patron to the pit.
I’m not sure why, but I like flowers. I know this is not the most manly thing for a meat blog to disclose, but it’s true. I like flowers. I like rolling fields of them, turning abreast in the morning sun. And I like the little one’s too, that roost on a single stem, all by themselves. I like the flowers men get for their sweethearts in February. And I fancy the lanky lilies down by the pond. I even like dandelions, for what they’re worth. Weeds to some, but pretty even so. But what I really like are petunias.
I have some petunias which lavish the flanks of the pond-side pit, delicate and dainty, and they are my daily reminder of what is lovely in this world. In the misguided haste of youth, I remember using my mother’s petunia garden for traction in many a game of backyard tag. Today, however, with advanced years, I’m more inclined to pull up a chair and tarry a spell, and wonder why I hadn’t been doing this all along.
I like flowers. And as these chops sizzle over a beautiful bed of hickory-accented coals, I hope you don’t mind none if I ruminate a touch more on the softer things. You see we get it rough enough in this life just having a pulse. Your kinda of born by default into your share of the unsavory, and just when you think maybe the world is a whole lot of unfair, you come across a purple petunia to direct you otherwise. There they be, fragrant and fragile, beautiful but bold. Bold in their soft, but showy arrangements, which thus flirt in proud contrast amid the many sprawling weeds of life. Maybe that’s what I like about flowers. I like what they stand for. Of unmerited goodness in a world fallen. They’re just plain wonderful is what they are. And they put up with you too. These Petunias are good to me, even when I forget to water them. There is much grace in their little purple petals. Much patience, kindness and forgiveness. They didn’t have to be this way, you see, but they are. And that’s what makes them great. Kind of like they were created just for you, seems like. And as the season ebbs on, some how, through the grace that be above, they seem only to get better and better. Yeah, I like flowers.
I smiled as I reached for a manly beverage, whilst summer clouds idled overhead. And just then, rather unexpectedly, my lovely bride pokes her head out the patio door just to say hi, and boy howdy, if I don’t get them same gooey petunia feelings all over again. Golly… Blessed is the man with both pit and petunias and a sweetheart there to share them with.
Speaking of the pit, about these chops. They are your simple bone-in affair, delicious, and highly pleasant to do. They started a couple of hours ago with a swim in a tasty homemade honey & garlic marinade.
Honey Garlic Marinade
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cracked pepper
After the marinade, we placed them semi-ceremoniously upon the hot cast iron grate, opposite the hot coals. The cold protein sizzled to life there, as a light shroud of hickory smoke curled into the air. A portly bumble bee buzzed by, as I plunked on the old, enameled lid. The draft soon engaged, and I settled back into my patio chair again, feet up, icy beverage in hand, taking up the resident pit master posture that might otherwise be mistaken for a fellow doing nothing. These are the high rigors of BBQ, people. Somebody has to do it!
Watching the wood smoke curl there, and listening to the song birds trill in the evening light, one can’t help but to appreciate all these little things which abound. From the frogs sounding like so many rubber bands, warming up down by the pond. To the way the summer breeze flutters the cottonwood leaves, clacking gently there, under an endless, blue sky. Then to the aroma of perfectly executed pork wafting through the tomato plants. The way the crescent moon peeks around the darkened spruce tops, and how at day’s end, sunlight washes over the freshly clipped grass in a scenic flood of amber and gold. All of these “flowers” , if you will, and many more simple wonders, are always there, I’ve noted, iffin we have a mind to see them. They tarry in life’s quiet eddies, tingling to be noticed. That’s how flowers work, don’t you know. They’re only as useful as the soul who embraces them. You gotta slow down for them tho. It’s Okay to yield for flowers. Nay, it’s our privilege. Amen. Hickory Smoked, Honey Tinted Pork Chops hot off the Pit. Man! Grill on comrades! Go forth and grill likewise, and do so with great exuberance!
Pit Date: Easter Morning
Pit Weather: Cool. Light breeze out of the northwest.
Two cute Chickadees lit on the feeder outside the patio door, chirping their song for the morning at large. Yapping it up, like tweety birds do, and poised to flirt, if not for the nearest shrubbery, then with each other. Classic signs of spring time in Minnesota. You see it everywhere. Squirrels, ducks, bar tenders, you name it. The males of the species putting on a bit of a show, or a rather over-the-top exhibition, if you will. On my morning commute last week, in point of fact, I came upon two wild turkeys, strutting up the sidewalk. One of them, the male I presume, was proudly puffed up, it’s tail fanned out, bold and beautiful, as it did a little disco dance right there along side the road. Stomping around, flaunting his tail feathers and such. Goofy creatures I thought, as I drove past with an air of smugness and superiority and general awe. I was sure glad that my species at least, had come far enough along in life to not have to resort to such humbling, petty measures. Well, leastwise, not all of us males would do such things. Certainly not this male. That is until I smoked the Easter ham. Indeed, I may have had a small relapse then, to my more primitive side. I digress.
You see, I was milling about the house Easter morn, getting the Weber Smokey Mountain ready for the day’s culinary sortie, and I was coming in from the garage with a brand new bag of charcoal perched on my shoulder, when I caught sight of myself in the mirror.
“Shoot” I bellowed, “Now there’s a ruddy looking bloke!”
Ruddy. In my words, it means manly, and rather pleasant on the eyes. A condition usually spawned from a life out-of-doors.
I paused momentarily, to fully grasp the sight. I sported a light-weight red flannel smoking jacket, clashing with a pair of blue and green flannel pajama bottoms, brown leather boots with tongues that which hung forth like the fleshy namesakes of two over-heated bull dogs, and an old black ball cap that has seen the sweat of a thousand days. Not exactly a Sears and Roebuck model, but if flannel had a poster child this day, well, it was me!
The sound of my bride coming down the stairs snapped my attention clear of my evident self lust, but not enough so, turns out, to resist striking a manly pose for her, just the same. As her foot steps grew closer, I adjusted the 20 pound bag of charcoal on my shoulder, so she could better glimpse my bulging biceps, and taut mid section. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but listen, it’s my blog, and if I want a taut mid section, well then so be it. Anyways, my chiseled Norwegian jaw line took rather well in the morning light, and my gray steely eyes were trained on the metaphoric mountain tops whence she made her landing at the foot of the stairs.
“Wow, you’re wearing a lot of flannel!” She croaked, looking right at me, “Have you started the ham yet?”
“Well, yes, I’m getting there in due time“, I said, whilst nonchalantly adjusting my pose . “Must not rush the pit processes you know.”
“Excellent“, she said, as she began to sort through the morning paper.
I waited a few moments for a comment on my ruddiness… Nothing. I strutted past her with my bag of charcoal aloft, considering something relevant from the disco era to engage in, but I couldn’t think of anything, and soon gave up and headed for the patio. She was right tho, I best get the ham started, I guess. And I reckoned not even a turkey gets it right the first time. Anyway, here is how I lit up the pit.
Known in the BBQ sciences as the Minion Method. It is the choicest of techniques for operating the Weber Smoke Mountain. It’s simple to do too. Simply dump a chimney of fiery hot coals into a donut of unlit coals. Done. The hot coals will slowly light the unlit coals next to them. And those coals in turn will light up the coals next to them. And so on. We did an article a long while back that goes more in-depth on this technique, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion, and if you ever want to delve deeper into the smokey arts, it would be a good read for you. Anyways, once the pit was up to speed, 225 degrees, with a few chunks of pecan wood smoldering away, and after we scored the ham for better smoke penetration, we slathered the it in our finest cheap mustard first, then hit it over with a homemade ham rub consisting roughly of the following:
Home Made Patron Ham Rub
- 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 cup Turbinado Sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon Ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon Paprika
Now here is where the pit does its magic. And where a pit master proper is to simply stay out-of-the-way. And that’s what I did. Doing such in a semi-reclined Roman banquet sort-of-way on the couch, which just barely allowed me to consume thy lovely beverage without the hassle of sitting up straight. But this tactic soon faltered, of course, and with the shrewd hands of gravity, I soon found my self “belly up”, with not a care in the world. Eye lids growing heavy, something educational played on the television, tho I couldn’t tell you what. I didn’t care. I was smoking meat, and for a while at least, that was all the entertainment I needed. I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing precisely that which was well with my soul. And I may or may not have dozed off during the high rigors of BBQ here, whilst those wonderful, pecan-scented tendrils of wood smoke pillared into beautiful, April sky.
Long about 135 degrees internal temp, about 4 hours, I stirred up enough motivation to concoct a simple maple honey glaze for the ham, and varnished it on in turn. Here is the recipe we used for the glaze. It weren’t too bad!
Honey Maple Glaze
- 1/4 cup Honey
- 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
- 2 tablespoons Butter
At this point, we opened all the vents on the smoker to full throttle. The hotter it gets, the better things caramelize. But it turns out the smoker was low on fuel, and didn’t want to go much higher than it already was. But we muddled through it anyways, glaze and all, for poetic reasons alone. It is not shameful to use the oven tho, not to worry. Do what you gotta do. I just felt like ending the cook where it started- on the pit. Like I said, for the poetry. But keep an eye on it during the glazing process, less your sugars conspire against thee in a siege of burnt tidings upon your dear ham. It’s too late in the game to lose it all now. When your ham reaches 145 degrees internal, it’s ready for your people. Go any higher than that, and you risk drying it out.
And that is how a turkey smokes a ham on Easter day. Amen.
The north wind whispered among the fields and streams, and along the water’s edge down by the pond. With mallards quietly afloat there, watching as I was, the tiny white flakes of snow begin to twirl down from an ashen-gray sky. It was fairly cool out still, for the first day of spring, cool enough that is, to heighten the simple pleasures found in close bandy to a beautiful chimney of coals. One of which I had one going just then, as a matter of fact, with my hands hovering over the flames. I tossed a small piece of pecan wood into the chimney, and watched silently as it took flame.
I have always enjoyed the lighting of the coals. The process of it. The initial pungent blast of sulfur from a match, the first plumes of wood smoke curling aloft, and of course, the sweet time it takes to do such things, inherent to wood fired cooking. Oh yes indeed, there is a veritable gamut of quicker ways to procure supper for your self, this we know, from: the venerable stove top, to the drive through window of a fast food place, or hark, even behind the spattered plastic door of your personal microwave oven. Yuck. But it all works I guess. It all gets you there. Let it be said tho, because it is true, nothing so raises the bar of edible succulence, quite like a lovely rack of pork ribs riding the low and slow train all the afternoon long.
Cooking with wood and charcoal is at once an exercise in patience. Many folk have not the muster to do this anymore, or even want to do it, it seems, courtesy perhaps of our on-demand society. We are contented in large part, with what we can get quickly, and have forgotten at times, the pleasure of the wait. That’s what I love about BBQ proper. The essence of it, right down to its smokey core, is something of jaunt on the scenic path. It makes you wait for it. You have to respect the journey. And it is within the time span of this enforced leisure where the magic keenly unfolds. Lets take a peak under the lid, and I’ll tell you a little more about it, and what we have going on for supper at the pit today.
Oh sweet rendering collagen, how I darling thee! You work best at your own speed, and no one can tell you otherwise. Indeed, one should not rush the natural processes of rendering pork. It is a snail’s progression in Pig Picasso, right before our eyes. Just let it go, people, low and slow, and do your very best to just stay out-of-the-way. They say every time you lift the lid on your smoker that you add maybe 20 more minutes to the cook. And I suppose it’s true. But I had to show you, you see, if not for to glimpse the savory baby backs, but I suppose also to add 20 more wonderful minutes to my cook. Oh yes, I like the sound of that. It is well with my soul. For here is an activity of which I sincerely do love, to tarry pit side neath wild skies and darting tweety birds, just watching the wood smoke spiral and world gently spin round and round. I could do this for the better part of the day. And I do mean the better part. So why then would any misguided soul seek to hurry through it. Never!
I fancy the process of BBQ. And I like that it takes a long time. Because I suppose it gives me an excuse to loiter in my man chair and do nothing at all. It is a common secret among men, you see, and the women seem to let us get away with it, that we are hard at work out here manning our pits! That wood smoke would not curl right without our wise and manly influence. Nor would the protein cook proper like with out our steadfast sorties to the refrigerator for something cold to drink. Indeed, it is simply a man’s duty to tarry by his puffing pit and assure quality control there. And for some reason the women accept this, and the men are just wise enough not to fight it. Blessed be the pit jockey, in fact, who’s pork butt spans half the day, and the evening shadows grow long before his feet. The longer BBQ takes, the more content we are.
I reckon I ought to digress for the moment’s sake, and tell you a bit about the ribs, since your here and all. Easy enough. Firstly, we whipped up a homemade dry rub consisting roughly of what ever we had lying around, which included the following:
Basic Dry Rub of Whatever We Had Lying Around
- Brown sugar
- Smoked paprika
- Onion powder
- Garlic salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- Ground mustard
- Cayenne pepper
*Amounts are left up to the pit master’s instincts.
After the membrane was removed, we thus slathered the rack in Worcestershire sauce, and promptly patted the spice rub all over, to and fro, and tip to tip. Whilst we were getting friendly with the ribs, the Weber Smokey Mountain was coming up to speed, to 251 degrees, with a good charcoal/pecan fire burning in its steel bowl. After a suitable pause to slurp the top off a manly beverage, we placed the rack bone-side down on the pit grate for to come to edible maturity there, amid the softly rising plumes of pecan smoke. Glory!
And now is when we wait for it. A pit keeper’s pleasure, if you will. And darn near our highest privilege in the smokey realm. Time to settle in somewhere fair, splay our feet upon gentle inclines, and relish for once the noble feeling of not being in a rush. To let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and just be… To commune with the aromas of perfectly executed pork, that which we usher by the hand unto the enchanted land of succulence.
In closing, I am reminded of the late Colin Fletcher, of backpacking immortality, who once coined, and brilliantly so, “Anything that is worth doing, is worth doing slowly”.
So it is, Mr. Fletcher. And so it is with BBQ also. Amen.
The traffic was thick, but moving. Umpteen thousands upon thousands of automotive transports, motoring to and fro, and remarkably, if you ever think about it, all making their way, living their lives, and doing so in a unified, harmonious manner for the most part, save for those scattered but beleaguered souls, who’s middle fingers keenly ache from strident and resolved over-use. But that’s city driving for you. You come to expect the restless motorist or two. Anyways, upon a Sunday drive, we came upon the southern flanks of Minneapolis, which I think is a pretty city, as far as cities go. And I’m not much a city person, by and far. But I liked how this one looked, has always looked, in the beautiful evening slants of light, with its mighty steel and glass massifs sparkling down over the villages and alleyways. If you’re lot in life is to be a big stinky mess, you might as well look sexy then, in the right light at least. And this one always has. But I could never live there. It is the sort of land I must keep driving through, for my own sake, and for more open spaces. For venues of precious elbow room. For environs devoid of the blaring horn, and the well-timed, upward raised middle finger. Indeed, a place where the wood smoke so sweetly curls with the lullaby of bird song and whispering pine, that for moment, you know as surely as you’ve ever known anything, that you are exactly where we wish to be, doing precisely that which is well with your soul.
Let’s head there now, shall we, and I’ll show you what’s for supper, and how it went and came to be.
On the pit today, a simple fare. As simple as you please, really. A couple of thick cut pork chops, and a small bandy of diced potatoes swaddled in foil. Roasted with love. That was all we needed. Give a man meat and potatoes, and you have just given him the world. We are content with this. We long for this. Regardless, the chops were lightly dashed with a bit of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, each side. I seldom use this stuff, but mercy, when dusted over a good chop and merged with the heady scent of smoldering hickory, well, I can see why they sell it in the bulk, economy size. And why it has been around and going strong since the German tanks rumbled across the Austrian border in 1938. Lawry’s Seasoning has been around a good, long while.
The foiled potatoes were a bit more involved. But you all know how to do that. We added a few dollops of butter in there, along with a portion of a Lipton Onion Soup Mix packet, for a little extra flavor. Foiled them and placed them over direct heat for the entire cook, which takes about 20 – 25 minutes. Half way through, or at your pit master instincts, flip the taters with but a single, twisting wield of the tongs, and hear the meat sizzle on the hot cast iron grate, smile quietly to yourself, and consider your day well spent.
Somewhere in there, about the time I was to settle into a wee spot of loitering, I tossed forth onto the coals, a chunk of crooked hickory wood, roughly about the size of Laurie from down under’s big toe. If you haven’t had occasion yet to peruse his blog, Laurie27wsmith, you might find it quite the treat if you were ever at all curious about Australia and the pretty things that abound there. A wonderful bloke, always in good humor, and I do rather enjoy rummaging through his photos whilst pit-side, waiting on my plunder to mature. Nothing is quite so lovely as a male kangaroo posing unashamed on your portable device whilst the aromas of fresh meat bellow forth from your pit damper. Mercy!
I flipped the chops one last time, and stood abreast the steely bosom of the old kettle grill, savoring the heat on my hands. The smell of the Lawry-tinted pork about sent me straight to church, people, dripping there over a blazing rubble of orange coals. The sizzle and the hickory smoke, the breeze amid the Spruce, even the feel of the tongs in my hand, it all felt right and meant to be. Far removed from the bustling, ever-flowing ribbon of traffic that which flanks the city yonder; this meat, and this fire, and this endless sky above, it is for the moment all that I need. A simple fare where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.
Way up north where the sun is barely felt, we made our way, my bride and I. A little get-away from the cliché urban rat race, and the ever-whirling societal cog. A time together and alone, along the Lake Superior coast, in which to unwind, listen to the waves gently lap, and muse at length over what ever else struck our fancy that day. It was good to get out. We strolled along the arctic-like shoreline, in one of the shore’s little fishing hamlets, jackets zipped up tight, admiring the many ice formations there, and yet, courtesy of the lake’s massive thermal inertia, how it’s waters remained fluid and resplendent.
I am no Ansel Adams, not by any means, but I rather fancied how this photo turned out. It was by all accounts and stature, a cloudy, over-cast, cold-to-the-bone sort of day. But in a flip of shutter, lo, the sunbeams did fall from a gray sky, glittered across the bay, and illuminated the ice before my feet. It was beautiful people. Sights patron to a great lakes winter. And for a while at least, you didn’t even notice the cold, and furthermore, you felt sort of privileged just to be there. Seized in the moment. This is nice, I thought. We should eat!
I had brought along on the trip some smoked turkey I had done up the weekend last, and we had been nibbling on it through out our journey in the north. There is something about smoked meat on the shore of a cold lake, with icebergs drifting by, that just feels right. Something partial and abiding with the soul. And as we tarried there snacking on the turkey, eyes drawn to narrow slits in the bright, sparkling light, I was reminiscent of how it went and came to be, this bird back home. It was kind of a fun cook, tho all endeavors at the grill are. Let’s go back in a time just a little, shall we, and I’ll tell you more about it.
One Week Prior
Whilst the pit was coming up to speed, I first rubbed a 13 pound turkey with a little soy sauce. I find soy sauce tends to add a most agreeable flavor to the end game, least wise with poultry. Then I hit the bird over with a good smattering of Tasty Licks Traditional Turkey Rub. I’ve used it before over the years, and it’s fairly good stuff, designed specifically for turkey. Not sure how they do that, but they do.
So it was with a great, and unbridled enthusiasm I placed the gobbler breast-side up, on a roasting pan for to catch the drippings of course, and further, to elevate the turkey up higher into the path of the smoke. A nice little system should you have the appropriate roasting pan that you don’t mind donating to the smokey sciences. Or, simply do not tell your wife.
The enormous dome was thus plunked onto the Weber Smokey Mountain, and things were set in motion. I admired how the golden rays of the afternoon soon dropped slantwise from a cold, January sky, and the wood smoke gently spiraled aloft. The wood we used this time around was pecan. A wonderful, slightly nutty wood that which compliments dead birds with aplomb. If you are lucky enough to have a pecan tree in your back yard, and favor the BBQ arts, you already know this. For us mere mortals however, you might be lucky to find some pecan wood in the grilling section of your local hardware store. Or you could order some online, I suppose. Pecan wood is good mojo tho. Very good!
We let the turkey smoke approximately 4 hours, at 250 degrees. This is of no hardship, either, to a patron of the pit. 4 hours is just right, in point of fact. 4 hours gives you just enough time to watch one NFL playoff football game. Consume two or three lovely beverages, and partake in one glorious, hour-long nap in your man chair. It was perfect. And so was the turkey! You’re supposed to bring the bird to an average of 165 internal, and that’s what every one will tell you I guess. But we brought ours to 160 degrees in spite of it all, and then foiled it, and then put it in a cooler for another hour to rest. During the rest is where the magic happens, where the turkey continues to cook, and the juices redistribute at the same time. The end game – lets just say, is a pecan-scented, walk-off, culinary home run. Man! Get your bibs out people. Consume it accordingly, and wipe thy bidding’s clear of your chin! Even take some with you on your next excursion to the prettier places. It’s all good, and worth every minute, patron to the pit. Amen.
I held aloft your mahogany-tinted rack for all the world to see. For you are mine, and I have fairly loved you so. I slaved over you, from membrane to rub, and from foil to dinner plate. You were no small task, let me say. And aside this quaint fire, with embers glowing, and a lovely beverage at hand, I am moved to reminisce but for the heady days of yore. To hearken back to our time together, which goes way back today indeed, about five hours I should say. Nay, maybe six. Oh who am I kidding, I loved you at first sight, you know. When it was I saw you laying there, with all the other pork racks just like you, sprawled in one accord, in the cold, artificially lit compartments of the grocery aisle. Your fat cap was pronounced, and unashamed, illuminated in the soft fluorescent light, and your meatiness struck me just right. And you won me over there, like good ribs do, wrought from the hands of a balding butcher named Sam.
So with a courtship anew,I brought you home, and henceforth, like any pit crooner would, I made you my own. It didn’t go well at first. Nay, you were reluctant if you recall. Stripping thee of your gnarly membrane, which peeled in a fashion like that of industrial adhesive off an old tennis shoe. But we muddled through it alright. We made it there together. And then I trimmed you of your ill-flattering flaps, and squared you up a bit, a la the immortal St Louis cut, fashioning you at once presentable to thee. You looked svelte in the morning light, and eager with purpose. Indeed, you were destined for the smokey fires yet to come.
Now whilst the smoker came up to speed, I bathed thee. Flushing your bone fragments clear under the cool streams of the kitchen sink. I think you kind of liked that, tho I’m not sure. Next I slathered you with a cheap, embarrassing mustard. It was cold, but you didn’t complain. Nary said a word, humbled in that yellow smear. For you and I both knew of the adhesive properties of a mustard base, and we were OK with it, by and far. And then, with delicate hands, I pampered your flanks with a litany of spice and rub, conceived the night prior, just for you. Patting you down, and around, and everywhere else, for to fortify the flavors most becoming of your shapely rack. It was good times, and the outlook was high. Stomachs rumbled on cue.
Ushering you to the smoker, it was my privilege to place you gently upon the oiled grate, bone-side down of course. There but to bathe you now, for three hours in the heady plumes of aromatic hickory and apple wood smoke. Ever stalwart, ever by your side, I tarried long in my reclining man chair, chin upon my chest. You were never far from my sight, beloved. Well sort of. That is until I fell asleep, I suppose, lulled to nap amid the succulent images of your forthcoming, which flirted asunder about the flickering emulsion of my mind. I awoke as if by instinct, eyes snapping open, prompted from above. I scampered pit side, your bones were showing now, and your meat had pulled back just right. And hence I swaddled you tenderly in aluminum foil, in the mild acquaintance of apple juice and a wee shot of honey, for to while away the next hour and a half, at 250 degrees. A sweet steam bath for the unruly likes concerning you. And never since had a set of ribs been so pampered. The swine who grew you would even nod in approval.
Lastly, with foil removed, I saw you there, tender, and falling apart. You wouldn’t win any awards, but for the one which took my stomach straight to church. For a good rack of ribs is much more than just supper in the belly. It is a relationship, you see. A journey. And every rack is a little different trip. Every trip takes time. And oh but to taste that first glorious bite, the venerable pit master privilege. Succulent and savory – the edible opus of spice and smoke and sweet time. And there in the slanting rays of the evening sun, you were declared worthy, and for a moment at least, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. So I held aloft your mahogany-tinted rack for all the world to see. For you are mine, and I have fairly loved you so…
And then of course I ate you. Amen.
Way up north in the hinter regions, there resides a modest lake in good form. Two hundred acres plus, I should wager, and if you had a mind to, you could see twelve feet down into it’s gin-clear waters – the aquatic homestead of umpteen bucket mouth bass, and northern pike. The shores there are delightful too, studded in Red and White Pines, with the occasional sturdy Oak thrown in for good measure. A walk amid these tall timbers invariably reveals beavers at work, and whitetails on the forage. Downy woodpeckers engaged in wild headbanging, and of course the customary sighting of Minnesota’s most beloved bird, the common loon. Oh how it’s otherworldly song echoes through the forest primeval, and likewise the tender recesses of your soul.
I had occasion earlier this Autumn, just before deer season in point of fact, to take my passion for loitering up way of this lake. There is a modest cabin there, topped by gray shingles clad with green moss, and an old, rickety outhouse outback, where you are to toss a scoop of lye down the hole after each use. No electricity, no plumbing, no worries. Simple arrangements to be sure. And if less is really more, then this was just what I was looking for. A little respite, if you will, from the ever-whirling urban machine. From sirens screaming and horns blaring. From a world sadly fraught with haste. To these tranquil shores I have come now, to tarry long under tall pines where the breeze gently murmurs. To brew a cup of tea, toss another log on the fire, and just gaze out over the water, in no hurry to do anything, or go anywhere…
Eventually tho, my tummy had other ideas, namely lunch!
There is an old kettle grill up there, mercifully. A Weber wanna-be, but good enough for my likes, for a patron of the pit is not picky under such remote conditions afield. We will gladly cook out of an old tin can plucked from a garbage pile, if there is nothing else. In point of fact, we have. So this old kettle grill was quite the luxury, you see. Crikies, the world was ours! So the coals where promptly fired and put to work down in it’s steely bosom, and I enjoyed the comforting heat radiating up out of the kettle into the cool, blue Minnesota sky. Life was good in northern Minnesota. But it was about to get better. Time to plop on the meat!
In a small hamlet no less than a half hours drive away, we procured from the local butcher shop there a mass quantity of hot dogs and some rather rotund bratwursts. Under the flag of simple living, we had simple food. I would wash no dishes this weekend. Nay, I would eat like a beast instead, and wipe my chin only with a sleeve. Likewise, if I wanted to burp, I’d burp. If I wanted to scratch, I’d scratch. You get the idea. And besides, some times a good dog, swirled in ketchup, mustard and onions just plain hits the spot. Such was the case today, on the shores of paradise. The simple life, people. No TV channels to flip. Now twits to tweet. We didn’t even have cell phone reception…And I reveled in every minute of it. It is good for us. It is medicine. From time to time, I concluded, it is well for a soul to unplug from the “Borg Collective”, and live simply. Or barring that, simply live. Star Trek fans will understand.
And in the distance, somewhere down the lake, the silence broke again with echoes of loon song. Amen.
Brats and Dogs and Whispering pines. Simple Living and good times, patron to the pit!
Smoke Date: November 28, 2014
Location: Pond-Side Pit
Outside Temp: 23 Degrees F/Pit Temp: 251 Degrees F
About two miles away, there is a store. A big store, as stores go, and today they offer the very best deals for to sooth the mass consumerism that which has spawned upon it’s very flanks. And shoulder-to-shoulder the covenant die-hard will dutifully tread to and fro amid the fields of commerce. Racing head long to get their paws on that which they easily lived without just yesterday. Today is different, however. Today is Black Friday. The herds are on the move again. And we here at this blog know just how to handle such nauseum. We are well schooled, you see, in the art of crowd avoidance techniques. Indeed, how to and with great effect, lay low from the masses. Thus, it is time to head out to the pit, of course, and smoke our Annual Black Friday Ham!
A light, but abiding sleet taps rapidly over the black enameled lid of the smoker. It’s almost up to speed now. Cherry smoke is stabilizing. A cold, November breeze swirls over the snow-encrusted pond, and mingles through the naked branches of the old Cottonwood tree. And the Chickadees flirt about, perch-to-perch, frolicking, or doing what ever it is that Chickadees do. I nary question their motives anymore. They are perhaps the hardiest little birds I know, spending the winter long living out-of-doors, seemingly giddy to be alive. Always fluffy. And always active. Our stalwart mascot of the winter pit! Anyways, let’s head inside shall we and get to that ham.
We prepared two things to get this ham started. A liquid base and/or baste. And a simple, sweet rub. Here is the recipes for both
Honey Ham Baste
- 1/3 Cup Apple Juice
- 1/3 Cup Orange Juice
- 1/3 Cup Pineapple Juice
- 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Honey
Bring these ingredients henceforth to a nice simmer, for to marry the flavors appropriately.
Patron Ham Rub
- 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Turbinado Sugar
- 1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1/2 Teaspoon Ginger
- 1/2 Teaspoon Paprika
First order is to score the ham a good 1/2 inch deep. This humble act will allow further penetration of both spice and smoke. Say what ever you want, but this is a good thing, people! So we scored the ham in an semi-attractive checker board pattern, and then lavished it with liberal brush strokes of the honey baste. Whilst wet, we then gave it a good coating of the ham rub too. And that’s that, folks. Take it at once out to the pit, and commence with what you do best!
This truly is where most pit junkies are at their finest. Or at least at their happiest. Whence the wood smoke begins to curl, there is a special, contented sort of mojo that which transpires across a pit keeper’s soul. Something about the curling plumes, and the aroma of meat on the low and slow, that sets a fellow at ease. We can at once draw a manly beverage, and prop our feet by the fire, and for a while at least, require very little else in this life. Indeed, we are privileged this way, to revel in the simple order patron to the pit. So I moseyed inside, and lit the fireplace there. Turned the man chair towards the heat, whilst maintaining a good line of sight out to the pit, which puffed serenely just past the frosty patio door. And as I leaned back, feeling the first waves of a nap slosh the shores of consciousness, I couldn’t help but to think of those mass herds of shopping folk, elbowing their way in and out of lines, chasing the ultimate bargain. Filling mini vans. Thinning wallets. Bringing home bountiful piles of stuff, for to add to their already mountainous piles of other stuff. Mercy. I nudged my feet a little closer to the fireplace, pulled a blanket over me, and did the only sensible thing I could divine at the time…
When I awoke, the ham was pretty far along. I gave it another baste, and dusted it over with another smattering of rub. The goal is to take its internal temperature up to 145 F. Higher than that tends to dry a ham out. Since most hams are already cooked, how hot you wish to make it is left to your discretion, of course. But 145 F seems to be a happy temp for most folks. This ham needed more time, a duty of which was my pleasure to ensure. And so I put the lid back on, and sidled through the door, returning from whence I came to my man chair still warm, for a few minutes more under a soft blanket, beside the crackling fire. Rigorous work indeed, this pit keeping. It is not for wimps, nor the faint of heart. You gotta work up to it, people! Thus, I nuzzled back into my nest, feet propped up just right, whilst the chickadees zipped past the window pane.
I repeated this process hourly, two more times in point of fact, before the ham was hot all the way through. A routine you should know, that you may become quite accustomed to. A most beautiful, intoxicating rhythm indeed, when Black Friday rolls around, or any day really, when you feel the re-occurring need to lay low. Amen.
Sweet and Smokey: Cherry-Smoked Honey Ham, fresh off the pit, sided with a heaping spoonful of homemade scallop potatoes, and a vegetable medley for to please the lady folks. Yum! You can do more popular things on Black Friday, I suppose, but why!!
A cool wind stirs, as the last of a golden light ebbs over the neighborhood roof tops, their silhouetted chimney stacks puffing contentedly against a pale, autumn sky. Where geese occasionally cruise on the wing, first stars appear, and the moon holds still, suspended in time, above the old Cottonwood tree down by the pond. A tree almost, but not quite yet ready to give up its beloved leaves. Umpteen thousands of them, born of green, the shapely spawn of the Populus deltoides, such as the Latins have coined, and my but how they have fluttered brightly the summer long. A life of sunny days and rainy nights. Of storms and droughts. Of bluebird skies that would never end. Now one by one, laying to rest in fields of gold.
Oh what a show the Minnesota trees are putting on right now. By the time this is published, most of the leaves, save for the stubborn, old oaks, will have parted ways with their respective tree, and made their rendezvous with decay on the forest floor. One can’t help but to marvel at the beauty of it all right now, and I guess if you’re anything like us, kindle a good fire in the pit, and cook something there. To flip meat over flame whilst the leaves rain down upon thee. It’s good times, people. And while the coals come up to speed here, let us head inside, shall we, and see how we prepared tonight’s protein.
Now, just as I do not know how many leaves have fallen in my yard, likewise, I cannot tell you how many cheeseburgers I have grilled in my life. Both tallies are rather uncountable, I should wager, and neither will ever be enough. Oh how I fancy a good burger. When guests are to come over, burgers are at once an easy dinner solution that most people, save for the odd, toothless relative, seem to devour with a haste usually reserved for flannel clad individuals on a diet with a disturbing affection for maple glazed doughnuts. You know who you are. Burgers are just good, people. And they always will be. Here then is this patron’s go-to burger recipe when rumbling tummies come calling.
What we do is disperse one envelope of onion soup mix evenly through a pound or so of 80-20 ground beef . The soup mix, if you like that sort of thing, adds a delicious ensemble of flavor, that which favors beef, and can nary attempt to be any simpler. Work it into the meat good and thorough and get your hands dirty. It’s OK. Good meat responds to the hands that which pamper it. Anyways, that’s it for the seasoning. In point of fact, it’s more than enough. In the steel bowl towards the back, in case you were wondering, resides a few spuds from the fertile fields of Idaho, lovingly shaped by my beautiful bride into a plethora of french fries for to swim in the electric deep fryer. Nothing accents your burger craft with more authority than a batch of home-made french fries. Do go out of your way some time, and try it.
Burgers deployed over the iron grate, opposite the hot coals. You can cook burgers anyway you want. If you want to go directly over the coals, and cook them hot and fast, then let it be so. Today, however, I was in the mood to mosey. To take the scenic path as far as grill craft is concerned. So we placed them indirect, and tossed on a hunk of mesquite wood too.
After a fashion, the old, porcelain enameled lid was set in place, and the damper adjusted just so. Naturally there after I assumed the proper pit master position, in the outdoor man chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, lovely beverage within reach, and the brim of my hat tipped up in a rather nonchalant manner. The blue-tinted smoke spiraled out of the vent in long, magical tendrils, dissipating into the ether, and smelled point-blank out of this world. I hear the tell-tale honk from one of Minnesota’s patented voices, the Canadian goose, who it seems is always aloft this time of year – the benediction of Autumn. It brings a smile to my face, as I lean back and look over the kettle lid, at the old Cottonwood tree, standing handsome at the edge of the pond. It’s upper most canopy still lit in the evening sun. It’s leaves softly clacking in the breeze. And for a while at least, all the world spins as it should. These are but the moments pit-side we cling to, and try to remember come the frigid, short days of winter. And so I sat there in the quietude, with wood smoke rising, trying to remember. Amen.
God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December – James M Barrie
Mesquite Smoked Cheddar Cheese Burgers, Darting Canadian Geese, Autumn Awesomeness & Deep Moments – it’s all there, people, and patron to the pit.
I love to loiter, it’s true. On my patio, next to the faithful Weber kettle, smoke curling serenely from its old damper. It soothes me. Leaning back in the grilling chair, with a manly beverage in hand, what a pleasure it is to watch the world gently spin there, circling about thee. Oh I could do other, more productive things I suppose, but I don’t want to. Not today. Right now as the Spruce rise blackened against a pale western sky, with this beautiful bed of coals residing pit-side, well, this is all that I need. This and a few moments more patron to the pit. Moments where the Canadian geese engage in their dutiful and seemingly daily fly by, with those large, magnificent wings slicing through the cool, autumn air. And then there is the poetic turn of foliage, of once green and hardy leaves, now tinted with orange and yellow and red. Now fluttering to the earth in a showy submission to the likes of gravity and sweet time.
I fasten another button on my smoking jacket, and turn up the collar as I poke at the coals in the fading light. I find myself lingering there, staring into the fire. Loitering. Absorbing the ambiance of waning daylight, and relative warmth, and the sight still of green grass. For we northern patrons of the pit, we are quietly keen to the slow-ebbing path of the sun. We know it’s plotted course, its time to shine and when it goes dark. We are acquainted indeed with the diurnal rhythms at hand. And we see it coming now, just around the cosmic bend. The day we will be grilling supper in the dark again. The day we usher our BBQ pits over to the dark side of the moon. A campaign that up in these parts can last almost half a year. Say what you will, but this is why I loiter now. This is why I tarry in the tapered light.
On the pit tonight, mesquite smoked chicken breasts. It’s easy to do, and oh so very tasty. Join us won’t you, and we’ll tell you more about it, and how it came to be.
Simple. That was the motto tonight. I didn’t want anything too complex you see, that it would interfere with my prospect of loitering. So what we did was take two portly chicken breasts, with the bone-in of course, and oiled them up a tad to promote a more crispy skin come the end game. You’ll never regret choosing bone-in meat, people, if you have the choice that is. There is a wonderful and undeniable flavor with meat on the bone, courtesy to the marrows and other things residing with that perfect marriage in protein. Yum! It’s how man was always meant to ingest meat! On the bone, with juices running down your fore arm. Anyways, the seasoning also was pert near as simple as it gets – a sprinkle of garlic salt, and an equal dash of onion salt. Many a time I have enjoyed this simple combo with more enthusiasm than some elaborate spice rub I have concocted in the kitchen laboratory. As one of our heroes, the late, great Dick Proenneke said, “I eat simple food seasoned with hunger“. And that’s about how we rolled tonight. Simple. And hungry.
Thus atop a beautiful bed of orange-glowing coals, we tossed on one small chunk of mesquite wood, no bigger than a golf ball, to christen this meat benefactor of the smokey realm. We laid the breasts carefully over direct heat, intensely searing them there, this to get the skin good and crispy, and maybe a little charred. Flipping the meat at your pit master instincts, give the other side some time over the direct heat too. It only takes a minute or two if your fire is good and hot. Once the skin was crisp and tight, we escorted the chicken back to the cooler side of the pit, indirect as they say, opposite the hot coals. This then is where we put the lid on, top damper over the meat, where the draft catches and the wood smoke began to curl.
Glory, but these are moments a pit jockey craves, aside his faithful cooker, aromas of meaty plunder dancing in the air, mingled in mesquite. For a moment at least, and maybe even longer than that, we are exactly where we wish to be, doing precisely that which is well with our soul. And may the clouds idle by then, and the sun hold still in a gorgeous sky, it’s warm rays cast upon our shoulders, and through the dappled leaves. The simple pleasures, people, and good times patron to the pit. So when you see your favorite pit boy loitering by a good bed of coals, remember there is probably more going on there than just meat and flame. There is joy also. And this is usually the case. Amen.
Mesquite grilled chicken breasts with a crispy skin, sided with hot buttered corn, dashed in pepper, and touched in salt. Simple food seasoned with hunger. Man!
Above the pastels of a western sky, tarries a toe nail moon, slender and bright, whilst an autumn breeze mingles serenely amid the fallen leaves. I shift a bit in the BBQ chair, left leg crossed over right, a hot beverage in hand, and watch how the wood smoke gently curls from the old Weber kettle. Mesquite, aromatic tendrils of it, ascend into the tapering light, and a squadron of Canadian geese honk over head, their feathery wings paddling through the thin air. And yonder, the colors turn on the old cottonwood tree down by the pond, waxing yellow and brown – all gussied up for their imminent rendezvous with the earthen soils below. I take a sip off my beverage, relaxed and content with the day. Another day further into the season that is Autumn. A most privileged time of year indeed, to be a patron of the pit.
Gone now are the heady days of sweat, where a simple sojourn to the mail box would render you an unruly tatter, returning to the house in a glistening sheen of your own rank juices. Hark, your stench not much better off than the neighbor’s pit bull, or for that matter, the neighbor I suppose. No more, and I’m OK with this. With the cooler weather, I shall bring forth out of semi-retirement my beloved smoking jacket, its woolen fibers still tinted with the scented memories of a thousand and one past cook outs. Of feasts procured fireside, under starry nights, where the cosmos never ended. Most folk think they are under law to put their smokers and BBQ grills away this time of year, but to we avid pit junkies, and keepers of the flame, well sometimes I think the really good grilling season is just beginning. When the temperature drops to jacket clad levels, and darkness descends in mid-cook, here then you will discover a noticeable and very tangibly increased appreciation found in the fellowship of the coals. Your cooker is not just an instrument of gastronomic science anymore, but rather it is your companion. Your comrade in the trench. Your hickory scented infatuation. You sort of nestle up to the pit, and revel in the heat radiating forth from its steely bosom. And glory long in its soft, flickering light, tinted with the pungency of smoldering wood. I love it.
I also love, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. And there is not a better place or way to make them, than over a well-managed hardwood fire, out-of-doors, and under magnificent skies. Here then is how we did this classic sandwich. And how it went and came to be.
Firstly, you must understand that what is good about bacon is only amplified when cooked proper on the grill. There is no better aroma in all the land than bacon sizzling over hot cast iron. Like wise, there is no more comforting and pungent a parlay than said bacon sizzling over a hardwood fire. The melding of bacon smell and wood smoke is enough to send man or woman alike into a rapturous state of euphoria and well-being. Grown men will babble unintelligible phrases whence under the spell of bacon sizzling over an open fire. This aromatic combo of the gods, of bacon and wood smoke, tugs on tender strings to stuff residing deep in our souls. There is no explaining it. No justifying it. All we can do is appreciate it, and let it be at that. With our bacon tonight, we did it sans charcoal, completely, with a 100% cherry wood fire, the embers and coals of which, raked to one side of the pit for the option of indirect cooking.
If the fire is good and hot, place your bacon indirect, and put the lid on, top damper open of course. Most bacon will come smoked already, but we went and double smoked it again, just because. Bathing the beautiful strips of pork belly in continuous wafts of cherry wood smoke, until the bacon was cooked to suit thee. We’ve said it before, cooking your bacon in the kitchen is good, because bacon is good. Bacon will always be good. But cooking your bacon on the grill, over a real fire, is point-blank out of this world amazing. The higher quality the bacon, of course, the more proportionate this effect is. Your inner caveman will weep.
Lastly, a toast is order. A toasting of the bread that is. No grill smith worth his patented silver tongs should make a BLT on the grill and not toast the bread. I mean if you’re going to do it, then go all the way, right. And we did. Lightly buttering up some left over ciabatta bread, and roasting it quickly over the fire, for to usher in that crispness of texture to match the cold lettuce to come. And the tomato, well that was to be plucked ultra fresh of course, from our garden folds, which proudly holds on still, remnants of summer season now ebbed and gone.
Inside, we thus assembled the hallowed BLT, and with a nod to those who bring us bacon, and the new season upon us, we duly devoured. Amen.
Fire Roasted BLT’s over a Cherry Wood Blaze. Oh man!! If you haven’t tried this classic sandwich off the pit yet, well, then in the immortal words of the BBQ Pit Boys, you’re missing something out of your life!
They were cute once, iffin you didn’t already know it. My beloved tweety birds which dart about the pond-side pit here, happy-go-lucky, flirtatious, and like I say, cute. But this morning as I stepped out on the patio, beverage in hand, I find a gaggle of them floundering fancy in the ash pan residing beneath the old kettle grill. Flopping about there, doing their best wildebeest impressions, antics oft reserved for the dusty plains of Botswana. Their little feathers cloaked in ashen debris, kicking up little gray clouds of it, which scattered in the morning breeze. What a bunch of goof balls, I thunk. Rolling around like pigs in the mud. Like puppies in the grass. Like grown men in the ball pit at the Burger King. They were having a good time at it too, and I nary could convince them otherwise. But then again, I wasn’t trying to.
I’ve long admired blokes, you see, who make the best of things. When your bird bath is as dry and filthy as a Weber ash pan, and you look like a bird who has just endured a volcanic blast, yet you still frolic with great and unbridled enthusiasm, well my hat is off to you little bird. Not conformed by conventional thinking or naysay, but emboldened perhaps, by the cliché cup of lemonade that awaits you – you made the best of things, and you did so with the least of things. You did it with a pile charcoal ash. I guess they were just washing themselves, or something akin. Tweety birdologists could enlighten us, I suppose. But I say if their goal was to get out the other side of this activity cleaner than they began, well, they failed miserably at it. I had me some dirty birds at the pit today. Some very dirty birds indeed.
Anyways, lunch was a trifle cleaner you might say, and probably better tasting too, than tweety birds rolled in ash. We henceforth evicted them of their little health spa, and fired up a chimney of coals. And whilst those coals matured, we sprinkled some of this Cajun Blast Seasoning over two portly patties of 80-20 ground beef. We were burger hungry at the pit today, I cannot deny. But then if you asked us most days what we would fancy, a good hamburger is usually at the top of the list, and rightly so. For they are a rather filling affair of meat and bun. Easy to do. And quick too, if that is how you like to bend. But above all that, burgers are just plain good, and nothing more needs to be said about that.
You all know how to grill a hamburger, so we shan’t prolong here the intricacies of it. A hamburger is personal anyways, as every pit keeper embellishes his or her own unique touch on it. Like a finger print, perhaps, no two burgers are the same. A burger proper is but a reflection of your mood that day. Some days you’re feeling spicy, other days just plain. Some days you’ll hanker for the works, plucking everything and anything out of the refrigerator door. While still other days, you’ll just stick a fork in your burger and eat it like meat Popsicle. It’s all good in Burgerville, and that is precisely what makes them so wonderful.
We tossed some cherry wood into the coals for to smoke there, and brought the burgers to a state of well done, just before of course, toasting the buns. We almost always toast our buns, if but to add that extra texture so lovely in a hamburger. Then melted some medium cheddar cheese as a matter of course, added a slice of tomato from the garden folds, and lastly, and totally fueled by impulse here, squirted a shot of Thousand Island-like salad dressing on the bottom bun. Man!
As I plated up, sunbeams swept across the green lawn. Clouds the shape of pork chops and wiener dogs idled overhead, and a gentle breeze with subtle kisses of autumn mingled through the fluttering tree tops. Tomatoes ripening before thine eyes. Bean plants sprawling. Honey bees buzzing. The ninth inning of summer was going strong. And yet another span of moments pit-side, sealed in that smokey vault of memories. Satisfied, my plated spoils in hand, I stepped into the house, sliding the screen door shut behind me. And just then, and rather out the woodwork, three little tweety birds fluttered up on my six, and with a cheerful chirp, lit again into their hallowed ash pile- floundering around there in little gray clouds stretched by the wind. I smiled quietly. What can you do. I had some dirty birds on my hands today, and that’s all there is about it. But they were cute once, I tell you, they really were. Come to think of it, they still are I guess. And burgers are always good. Amen.
What can be said, really, if for the shafts of warm light that which still fell from above. We’ll take it. And the quietude only pierced by the sound of my paddle blades dipping rhythmically into the still, glassy waters, stained amber from a waning sun. We’ll take that too. And I suppose also, the charming banter of barn owls, perched up their oaken stays; glory be but what a hoot-fest at hand, echoing through the musty, forest glade, and the tender places deep in my soul. Indeed, what can be said, but thank you, and we’ll take it. For it was one of those vintage, long summer days you see, that which the likes of you wish would never cease. With memories of winters past, so cold and so stiff, I guess a bloke knows when he’s onto something good. Something exquisite, with a gently arcing sun. And long may it tarry there, we pray, hovering over the western shore, sizzling, the illumination of a daily bookend, for those of us lucky enough to linger in but one of its golden rays. Indeed, we’ll take it if you please.
We’ll take it because we keepers of the pit notice these things. We spy yonder the tweety birds acting differently. Formations of geese overhead, as if in a dress rehearsal for the banquet that is fall. The subtle turn of a Cottonwood leaf. The tell-tale nip in the morning air. And of course, the swifter days, ebbing into longer nights. And whilst it still feels like summer, and looks like summer, we know in the back of our minds that these days are numbered. Thus, the DNA reflex to seize them now, vigorously whilst we can, in this, life’s heady game of memories, and the acquisitions there of.
On the pit tonight, a little a salute then, to summer’s good tidings – roasted red potatoes, and green beans harvested from the pit-side garden. And yes a little steak tossed in there too for to please the men folk. Cause steak is good and we mustn’t fight these things!
Red potatoes over direct heat
First on the pit, the red potatoes. We love roasting these little starchy spheres on the kettle grill. It works so good, every time. No foil needed. They were sufficiently cleaned I should wager, leastwise good enough for this pit boy, and then pointedly rolled about in a smattering of olive oil. This to act as an adhering agent if you will, for the seasoning. We used some more of that Grill Happy Seasoning we’ve been using lately. You can read more about that in our previous post if you wish, or just click here. Anyhow, the spuds were placed over direct heat the entire cook. Flipping once or twice at your discretion. About twenty minutes, or until soft. They’re real easy to do too. The end product of yum should be crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. Like many of us.
Foiled green beans on the grill
Next we tossed on some green beans plucked fresh from the garden’s green bosom, which were wrapped up in some foil along with a dollop or two of butter, and a splash of olive oil, and some home-grown scallions, just because we can. Salt and pepper to taste. These can be placed over medium or indirect heat for 15 minutes or so. Flipping once at your pit master instinct. Of which we did not soon after plopping on a hunk of cow, the cut of which I couldn’t rightly tell you. It was one of those pleasant finds I had discovered rummaging through the freezer, a left over that I had tucked away there from a previous cook out. I believe it was some form of sirloin or the like. But the truth is it doesn’t even matter, I guess. We are men you see. And we eat meat. It doesn’t matter if it has a proper name or not for to make the acquaintanceship of our bellies!
A rather swift cooking meal, this shouldn’t take more than a half hour if your fire is good and hot. Long about the half hour mark, the steak was done, nay, everything was done, and we pulled the beans off and took a peak inside. Steam bellowed from the sparkling folds of foil to the green harvest residing within. Very nice. Nothing is quite so delightful to the soul, it seems, than feasting on what you have grown. I suspect it is how we were always designed to live. Closer to the garden than a card board box. So plant what is wise, logic suggests. Not just in the garden, but in the very soils of our life. Plant what is good and right and decent in this world, the things worth growing, and watch then how the sunbeams fall over the fields of green, shadows cast, and rainbows stick to the sky, in these, the long days of summer, by and by. Amen.
Grilled steak, roasted red potatoes lightly seasoned, and hot, buttery green beans, fresh from garden to grill, and all patron to the pit. So next time you’re looking for something tasty on the BBQ, swing by the garden first and see what’s growing there.
It was rather warm in Minnesota today, as day’s go I suppose. Ninety and one degrees they said, with the customary humidity to match. And I know, you folk way of Texas or the like, will do your finest to shed a single tear down your collective cheeks, post rolling your eyes towards the heavens. But hey, we’re bred for polar vortex’s up here, sub-zero wind chills, and days so bitterly cold, icicles form on the tip of our noses, amongst other things. That’s what we’re used to. So pardon thee if we sweat a little here, amid the thick green foliage, and steamy environs of a Minnesota summer.
It’s not all bad tho. There are some redeeming qualities, turns out, to living in a sauna. Such as an increased joy factor in root beer floats and ice-cold watermelons. Man that stuff is good! Also, we do not have to scrape ice off our wind shields in the morning, which is nice. Nor observe the humbling sights of small children with their tongues fused to subzero wrought iron railings. It happens folks. It happens more than you’d care to admit. And then there are the tomatoes. How I fancy taking a seat out at the pit-side garden and watching things grow there, and especially so the tomatoes. Who doesn’t like to gently rattle those plants from time to time, and smell that delightfully earthy, chlorophyll-tinted fragrance of a thriving tomato plant. Few aromas in this world lend more brilliantly to summer’s bliss, than this. It soothes thee amid soft summer breezes. It makes me happy.
Anyways, whilst I was inhaling my produce, the smoker was slowly coming up to the operating temperature of 225 degrees. Which strikingly was only 85 degrees removed from where it sat, “cold” as it were. We super genius types like to put our smokers out in the sun like that, to capitalize on solar manipulations. You Texas folk do that too, I heard, baking cookies in the cab of your truck. Nice. A gesture towards sanity, perhaps. Indeed, this is how you roll with the prevailing weather patterns, or stubborn dance partners if you will, who must always lead.
On the pit today, every smoke wizard’s prize – pork ribs! A pit master’s litmus test. They’re pretty easy to do too. So grab something cold, and pull up seat, and we’ll tell you all about it, and how it went and came to be, patron to the pit.
After a surgical removal of the membrane (read how to do it here), we dusted the rack over heavily in Famous Dave’s Rib Rub, and placed it bone-side down on the pit. For smoke wood today, we used a blend of hickory and cherry wood. Apple works great with pork ribs too, but we didn’t have any of that on hand. If you want to learn more about smoke woods, and what goes with what, don’t forget to check out our smoke wood page we created just for you, at the top of this site. Or just click here.
Once the heavy black dome of the Weber Smokey Mountain was put in place, and the top damper tweaked, I went ahead and assumed the proper BBQ posture – in the man chair, feet propped up, and a cold beverage in hand, thus to while away the enchanted hours there. No sense, after all, putting these important matters off. This is our time! And as you delve into the BBQ arts, you will begin to concur that good BBQ indeed takes a requisite amount of time. It just does. Time in which the pit jockey proper will have to partition off from an otherwise overly, and no doubt busy schedule, for the heady business of watching smoke curl. And mind you, a good rack of ribs can take between 4 to 6 hours at 225 degrees. If you are a hurried soul, BBQ may not be the thing for you. Consult your nearest microwave.
Some where along the line, I forget exactly when, we tossed on a few chicken thighs as a matter of course, to keep the pig company in there. After about three hours on the pit, at 225 degrees, the rib meat had a nice mahogany color to it, and had pulled back on the bones some, poised suitable now for step 2: The foil.
Also known as the Texas Crutch, we foiled up the ribs with a hearty splash of apple juice to act as a steaming agent. This is where the magic happens, folks. This steaming process really loosens up that toughened meat, rendering the collagen, and escorts your unruly pork by the hand, down the aisle and unto its promising marriage with all that is good and right and savory. Oh yes!
After an hour and a half or so in the foil, I sliced off and sauced a small portion in which to partake in that long-standing custom better known as the pit master privilege. Our moment before the opus, as benefactors of the meat, away form the eyes and mouths of onlookers and meat thieves alike, to bask momentarily, yet with great effect, in the succulent climax of our smokey spoils. It is good, nay it’s the suitable thing to do, to secure the choicest morsel for the pit master. You deserve it after all, what with napping in your chair and such, whilst the warm sunbeams pendulum across a pastel sky. And the breeze which flutters through the Aspen leaves, only to stir your soul, like the tweety birds which sing and flirt in the dapples of the dogwoods. Not to mention the Mallards yonder, and handsome Drakes that which chortle on the pond. Ah summer. These the ambient cast patron to the pit, where the wood smoke rises, and the tomatoes so gently grow. Amen.
There are some days in the human condition when a man proper needs to catch his own protein. A time required when he simply, and to an end, needs to fish. To stalk environs still wild, and pluck from them that which lurks and swims in the murky underwaters. To hoist thy plunder proudly into the air, dripping there, sunbeams glinting of scaly flanks of slime, and declare that dinner is henceforth secured from this barren and trying land. And somewhere deep down, just past that soulish area where it ought to, it feels good. Indeed, it feels right. Such was the case recently, whilst afloat a lovely Wisconsin fishery that shall go nameless here, naturally, to throw off any would-be angling gumshoes, that my elder brother and I came into the good fortune of tight lines and nicely hooping rods. Pulling in assorted pan fish and frisky crappies, which when escorted by hook and line, floundered over the water’s surface with an acoustic DNA like that of the final slurps of a draining laundry tub. And we drained a few tubs indeed. We were men you see. Fishing men!
Speaking of, when we first fired up this blog, almost two years ago now, one of the first genuine interactions we made in the vastness of the blogosphere, was with another fisherman, one by the name of TJ Stallings. A kindred soul. A man who has made his living for decades, in the business of fishing. A feat any bloke who has ever wetted a line and declared it good, has just got to admire. And I do. If you fish much, you’ve probably heard of his company, Road Runner by Blakemore. And to this day, I enjoy perusing through his blog, to learn new things, and see what old TJ has been up to concerning fish craft. It’s a good resource, and if you’re into angling at all, as we are, you may wish to check it out some time at TJ STallings Fishing Blog.
Anyways, TJ must have grown a liking for the weekly drool which accumulated on his keyboard after reading our BBQ posts, and one day sent us a box of tackle, just because. That’s just how TJ is I guess. I thanked him accordingly, but it never felt like enough. So, TJ, this is another, albeit humble attempt of ours, thanking you for your kindness, and your generosity. And for just being plain cool. This is our fish dinner, you see, and it’s in your honor. This one is for you! Here then is how it went, and came to be.
So back at the lake, I tied on one of these 1/8th oz jig spinners, Reality Shad by Road Runner, and that was all it took. The games were on, you might say, and the fish were agreeable on Wisconsin waters. Rod tips pulsing towards China, blue gills and crappie on the run, 6 pound test line as tight as guitar strings, slicing through a quiet lake, whilst the summer breezes gently murmured through an oaken shoreline. Say what you will, but this is living!
And before I knew it, I had stringer well enough along for a decent supper. TJ would have caught them bigger, I know, but golly, I think I had just as much fun. So we loaded the boat, saddled up in the truck, and made our way homeward, over the border, and through the spanning countryside, winding roadways, and one well-placed Dairy Queen stop, all the while conjuring the glorious meal yet to come.
At POTP Head Quarters, first on the pit, and being the proper order of things, were the tin foil potatoes. They take about twenty minutes or so, over direct heat, flipping once for good measure. We like to season them with a dash of salt and pepper of course, and a few pats of butter to keep things sporty. We also tossed some frozen peas in there too, cause I heard once potatoes are not a real vegetable. What ever.
Meanwhile, and after the fish had been filleted out, they were dunked in a milk/egg mixture, and then shook about in a semi rhythmic fashion amid a plastic bag containing flour, salt, and pepper, until each morsel of fish meat was suitably dusted over.
Tossing some peach wood onto the coals, we preheated the griddle accessory of our craycort grate, added a little vegetable oil, and man oh man, what sweet pleasures then ensued when that cold fish hit the hot iron. The aroma and the sizzle, wafting into a beautiful, summer’s sky, whilst the tweety birds and men did rejoice. Man! And yes, that is a steak you see there towards the back of the pit, lightly seasoned in onion and garlic, and grilled to perfection. What can I say, I should have kept more fish! So surf and turf, of course, was the only viable course of action here. One of which I was prepared to endure. Oh yes. A pit keeper proper does what he must!
The fish cooked very fast, like most fish do. Just a few minutes per side, until they flaked easily with a fork. And tho the cook was fairly swift, the day was still delightfully long and tapering. A morning on a tranquil, Wisconsin lake, plying our craft of rod and reel. Then a drive through the rolling countryside, windows down, bass boat in tow – our shadows flickering through picket fences in the pastels of a long, evening light. And rounded off with a quiet spot of grilling at day’s end, at ease in the patio man chair, and an ice-cold beverage in hand. There are far worse ways to spend a day, people. I leaned back, tipped up the brim of my hat, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, and further mused over the day at hand. How the sunlight dappled through the fluttering cottonwood leaves, and the clouds yonder, drift lazy but with purpose over head, where the wood smoke so gently rises. That too, and memories of fish and of men, for be it also the essence this day, impressed gently on the emulsion of the soul.
I am content, and highly blessed. And well fed. Amen.
Thanks again, TJ. Blessings!
Grilled tin foil potatoes, juicy steak seared and brought to medium, and a pile of freshly procured fish, fried over a peach wood fire, and all, every ounce of it, patron to the pit. Man! Are you hungry yet!
Chlorophyll. It’s a fancy word, which to a Minnesota-bound, Patron of the Pit, means “easy grilling! ” You’ll know you are in the presence of good chlorophyll by the tell-tale beads of sweat adorning the outside tin of your man drink, not to mention your brow. You’ll know it also by the length of clock in which you can span pit-side with out in turn your feet going numb, and your eye brows frosting over. Chlorophyll is a wondrous pigment that not only tarries the summer long in tree and bush and long, steely, blades of grass, but it is also a gesture in green, to milder times and a warm, setting sun. For there was a time, not too long ago in fact, where it felt like summer would never show. Entrenched we were, in four feet of snow, icicles clinging to our homes, and the smart people of the world all rolled their BBQ grills into the garage for the winter. But not us. Not we die hards of pit and flame. Nay, for better or for worse, we stood vigil at our posts, whilst the Alberta Clippers descended across the land. A swath of wind so cold you got the ice cream head ache thing going on, save for the benefit of the ice cream part. Not fair.
Summer time is easy grilling. I like earning my ice cream head aches the proper way, with a hot fudge malt in front of my face, with my feet up, and an old fishing hat shading my eyes. A summer time repair, if you will. To think about how far things have come along. Like how I fancy the green leaves of the Cottonwood tree, which look so lovely, down by the pond. I like how they tremble and clack in the gentle, summer breeze. I know those leaves are hard at work, doing photosynthesis and other scientific things, along with all the other chlorophyll clad inhabitants, working together in one-accord to bring life-sustaining mojo to this fair land. I appreciate that a lot. And my does it make for some rather fine grilling. What sheer pleasure it is to repair pit-side on long summer days like these, base ball game on the radio, cool beverage in hand, warm sunbeams melting through the tree tops, and a breeze so gentle and so sweet, ’tis like a kiss blown from angels on high. It is well for a year-around pit maestro to revel in such things, nay it’s our privilege. For we have seen winter’s tempest, felt her keen sting, and have fired up the barbie on the dark side of the moon. Today shall we say, is easier than that.
On the pit today, nothing too special or elaborate. Just the steak and potatoes thing every man hankers for. And a couple other odds and ends you’ll probably like too. So grab a lovely beverage for yourself, and meet us out by the grill, and we’ll tell you more about it, and how it went and came to be.
It started out humble enough, with a few potatoes dice into manageable and equal sized chunks. Some people call them hobo potatoes, other folk call them tinfoil potatoes. What they really are is… Good! Diced, a couple pats of butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, wrapped in foil and placed over direct heat for the duration of the cook. About 20 minutes or so. Good eating! See our previous write up , tin foil potatoes, if you want to learn more. Next on the pit were a nice set of rib eyes, maybe our most favorite steak. Seared over direct heat a couple of minutes per side, and then tucked back indirect, lightly seasoned in garlic and onion salt. This was going to be it, a nice smattering of meat and potatoes. Everything a man needs to set him straight again. But then my bride brought home some asparagus and some corn on the cob, just in the nick of time to hit the pit. And thus it did. The little grill was filling up!
Nothing is quite so fine as some quality outdoor cooking, under lovely skies, and soft breezes. Oh we could cook all of this indoors, over the expensive, thermostatically controlled kitchen range – but why! It would be a pity to miss out on those warm, golden sunbeams that which took a winter in the making to appreciate. Likewise the blooms of the wild Iris’s, and the playful melodies of bird song in the Spruce. Of cloud shadows sweeping past, and hard-working honey bees pollinating the radishes and the pole beans which daily reach for the sky. Nay, we don’t want to miss out on these things. These wondrous and endearing gifts, and easy grilling, all-in-one, and patron to the pit. Amen.
Grilled rib eyes, tin foil potatoes, asparagus spears and corn on the cob. Oh yes! It won’t get too much better than this folks. Nor be nearly so much fun.
As I repair here at the pond-side pit, lovely beverage at hand, I muse over the delightful breeze skirting the dogwoods yonder, and the cool blades of steely, green grass which grow up to my patio front. I like how the Chickadees flirt to and fro the suet I had set out for them here, and how the late even sunlight slants through the Spruce bows as if on golden arms from above. Like-wise how the stately Spruce sports its new growth this time of year, in dollops of soft, green needles, lighter in appearance, but softer to the touch. I like that for some reason. Also with the resident Mallards which cavort out on the pond, and the handsome Cardinals that banter from the old cottonwood tree, this, and the chorus of a thousand and one song birds trilling at once, whilst the apple wood smoke rises from the grill damper, in soft, aromatic tendrils which dissolve into a pastel sky. What a fabulous evening to be a pit keeper in Minnesota.
On the pit tonight, a simple affair. Juicy, apple-smoked chicken thighs and grilled asparagus. Good eating, and simple to do. Let’s get after it.
First order of business was to hit the thighs liberally in some Grill Happy Seasoning. If you haven’t had occasion, Grill Happy Seasonings is the best thing since Colonel Sanders to a dead a chicken. I first discovered this seasoning many years ago, at the Minnesota State Fair. Being a patron of the pit, and general meat enthusiast, I always make the rounds of the various grilled food there. And one thing I make sure to never miss is the pork chop on a stick. For the longest time I loved those pork chops and didn’t know why exactly. And then one day I figured it out – the seasoning. Turns out you can buy the very same seasoning they use right there at the fair for their world-famous pork chops. Also turns out, go figure, it goes great on chicken too. And that’s what were up to tonight. Grill Happy chicken thighs! So buckle up and tie your bibs on, people, cause here we go!
After seasoning the chicken, and oiling down the cast iron grate, go ahead and place the meat over direct heat, and sear up the thighs to your pit master standards. We like a crispy skin on our thighs, so we let them sear there over the hot coals for a couple of minutes probably. Monitoring them frequently with tongs in one hand, and manly beverage in the other. It’s a lovely dance between man and meat that you will soon get the hang of, iffin you’re not a master of it already. Once seared and crispy, especially upon that notoriously floppy flap of skin which is the bane and burden of most chicken thighs, do slide them over, opposite the hot coals, for the remained of their thermal journey. We added some apple wood to the coal bed, our smoke wood of choice today, plunked the old enameled lid on, and then got about the heady business of doing what we do best – loitering!
Nothing is quite so fine, nor nourishing to the soul, than taking up a quiet residence in your man chair, aside wafting plumes of apple wood smoke. To kick your feet up there, and consider the day. How the heavens sing of a deep blue, and the air is as soft and pleasant as a new baby’s face. Note how the leaves of the cottonwood tremble in form, clacking gently, like a million-and-one credit cards in the wind. And the hearty banter of bird song fill the smokey tinted air with poetry and grace. I sink a little lower in my BBQ chair, slouching in posture, and completely at ease. My eye lids draw shut like a New York City shop keep pulling his shades down at day’s end. The nasal pleasing ideal of apple wood smoke and grill happy seasoning mingle on the scene. My head bobs to and fro, loose at the neck, until my chin comes to rest upon my flannel clad chest. A Black Capped Chickadee chirps at the feeder. I am out. I am, as the Italians like to say, “fuori dalla griglia” , or, off the grid.
OK, I don’t know if Italians really say that or not, but I’d like to think they do. It’s how it should be at the pit. When those coals are lit, and the smoke is curling, our world and our cares are at once reduced, or simplified in the moment. And it is our job as pit keepers to simply savor that moment, for the moment’s sake. And let the world spin head long with out us for a while. Let the cog of society chew on its own spore and not on you! This is our time to kick back. To relish the supreme ambiance and endearing joys patron to the pit. Amen.
Ten minutes from the end of the cook, we tossed on some marinated asparagus, indirect, to add a bit of green to the end game, and to gain marks with the lady folk. If we men were left to our own devices, we’d probably eat a plate just straight up with meat. And it would be fine! Anyways, the asparagus was good. Really good. Marinated for a couple of hours first in a solution of: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. It adds a rather robust, yet abiding and lovely taste to the vegetable. Give it a try some day.
Apple Smoked Grill Happy Chicken Thighs and Marinated Grilled Asparagus Spears. You could eat a lot worse and not nearly have so much fun.
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It was a pleasant morning as morning’s go. To be adrift out on a local waterway. Sunbeams glittering over the surface. Egrets and Blue Herons milling in the shallows. And a light-green, haze, signifying a budding spring, adorning every bush and every tree. The symphonic serenade of a thousand and one bird songs, mingle with that of dipping paddles, peeling fly line, flipping bails, and 1/32 ounce jigs clad in soft plastics, plopping in the drink. I drifted slowly along the wooded shoreline, resolutely plying the waters there, fishing rod in hand, with a clear, albeit idealistic mission – to catch a fish. Running this site, and eating T-bone steaks is great, and ribs sure do hit the spot, but I’ve been getting what they call “fish hungry” lately, and I aimed to do something about it. And today I might have even, had not I been such a lousy fisherman. Seems I departed the lake this morning with my stringer in void, not to mention my stomach. I was fish-less, and still, as it were, fish hungry.
Being the problem solver that I am, however, I did what any red-blooded, fish-hungry American would do. I stopped by the grocer on the way home and I bought me a fish! Mahi-mahi, to be exact. A lovely fare that which swims the oceans yonder, that at the time, seemed more than suitable for my needs. Let’s head back to the pit, and I’ll tell you more about it, and how it went and came to be.
Mahi-mahi, according to the Hawaiian interpretation, means very strong. By the looks of it, I’d say they’re probably right on that. A surface-dwelling, ray-finned fish known to inhabit tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate waters. They average about 15 to 29 pounds, can live up to 5 years of age, are highly sought after in sport fishing, and they sure as heck don’t live in Minnesota. But you can buy the meat of the Mahi-Mahi here, in point of fact, you can buy it all over the place. And man do they go good on the grill. Here’s how to do it.
Whilst the pit heated up, we patted dry two chunks of the tender fish, rubbed them in a coat olive oil, then, feeling Cajun or something akin, dusted them liberally with a blackened spice rub. Mahi-mahi is a non-fish lover’s fish. Meaning if you don’t fancy the flavor of fish, yet want to eat fish, then this is the fish for you. Very mild in fishy flavor, irrepressibly moist, and with the ensuing spice conglomerate, a delicious fare fit for the finest dinner table. Blackened spice is a real easy blend, and extremely tasty. A fish rub worthy of your time. Here is how to make it.
Blackened Spice Rub
- 2 Tablespoons paprika
- 1 Tablespoon each, onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon each dried basil and dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (increase this if you like a little burn on the lips)
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
Next step, and for artistic reasons only, we pre-heated the cast iron grate and coated it in a bit peanut oil for to secure the cosmetic beach-head of any would-be grill jockey – grill marks. Sear the fillets for a minute or so per side, just enough to get some nice grate lines. It doesn’t take long to cook these fish. They also are remarkably robust and hold together astoundingly well for this sort of grilling. Save your expensive planks for more delicate fish than this. You will be hard pressed, we wager, to dry out Mahi-mahi. Anyways, after some nice char marks were in vogue, we escorted the meat back to the cool side of the pit, opposite the hot coals, to loiter indirect there for the rest of the cook. The next item on the menu, is a little grilled asparagus, green and tender, for to please the lady folk. And it couldn’t be easier to do.
To amp up the flavor a bit, we had these asparagus spears soaking for a couple of hours in a simple marinade involving, but not limited to: Olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.
Roast the asparagus over direct heat for a couple of minutes, rolling them like a batch of hot dogs for even cooking, until your desired tenderness is reached, and then tuck them back opposite the hot coals, keeping the fish company for the rest of the cook. Speaking of, you’ll want to flip the fish fillets according to your pit master instincts. Do what you need to do. It’s a rather quick cooking meal, unfortunately. Maybe 15 minutes at most. Denying the pit keeper the much coveted down time for the all-important business of drawing a lovely beverage and watching the clouds idle past a pastel sky. But I guess that is what ribs are for. Anyways, when the fish flakes easily with a fork, your dinner is done. Plate up thy spoils at hand, and commence with what you do best! Amen.
Blackened Mahi-mahi sided with marinated Asparagus hot off the grill. Man! Can you taste it! So if you’re looking for something sort of fishy for your next BBQ, and lack the angling mojo to catch your own, try this one out for sure. You shan’t go wrong. Nor be fish hungry.
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.
It is with great adoration, yet reserved applause, that this Minnesotan declares the arrival of Spring. I came out of my hole the other day, and I saw my shadow, so that must mean something I figure. I have seen motorcycles too, whizzing up and down the local roadways. Golfers milling through the local foliage in search of wayward shots. The turdus americanus is also in town, hopping about the semi-green grass in search, I suppose, of a good worm or two. I have noted likewise, that the ice has dissolved off the local lakes and waterways, and people of generally good ilk are walking to their mail boxes with out the aid of down parkas or thermal underwear. Things are looking up in other words! And just below it all, quivering in the trees and bushes, in the brown fields and winding stream banks, is that once upon a time and long ago lost color that is green. Chlorophyll! Glorious galleys of green chlorophyll. And it tingles and aches, leashed by a solar clock, waiting patiently to explode.
On the pit tonight, a house favorite. Hickory smoke pork chops with a maple glaze. They’re real easy to do too, so let’s get after it.
These bone-in chops came smoked right out of the package, and I swear smelled good enough to eat right there, but like any pit keeper worth his tongs, we’re going to double smoke the chops on the old kettle grill. Oh yes! Placing them opposite a good bed of mature coals, with a few small chunks of hickory wood added to the fire, we were ready for action. We lightly sprinkled the chops in garlic and onion salt, and placed the old, black enameled lid on, tweaked the damper, and caught the draft. Soon aromatic plumes of hickory smoke mingled about the patio, signifying to thee yet another pit session in progress. I was about to assume the proper BBQ posture in the pit-side man chair, but a maple glaze needs to be made, and such things don’t make themselves you know. Here is how to do the glaze.
- 3/4 Maple Syrup
- 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Ketchup
- 2 Tablespoons Mustard
- 1 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
Stir it all together and bring to a boil. Then remove from heat.
With about ten minutes left in the cook, we varnished on the maple glaze, with greater Picasso-like brush strokes. You’ll want to stay mindful here, making sure your chops are indirect still, for the sugars in the glaze can get burned easier than a kindly old grandma in a used car lot. Be good to your chops, people, and unto your grandmas too! Keep the hickory smoke wafting, and repeatedly brush on the glaze, frequently flipping the chops. Open up the bottom damper, and get the heat up if you can, for to caramelize your spoils aside a hemorrhaging bed of coals.
I pulled the man chair up close to the pit, tongs still hand, and tarried there a spell, like pit keepers do. The aromas of smokey pork mingle with the freshened, April breeze. I leaned back, left leg crossed over right, and mused over the cottony clouds parading over head. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do this. To loiter pit-side and watch the clouds go by, that is with out fusing my hind-end to a subzero, ice-encrusted patio chair. Outdoor leisure only operates for so long when the temperatures court that of a Popsicle factory. But today was different. No jacket needed. And the sun tarried aloft more than adequately to see to cook by. Mallards chortled out on the pond. Blue Jays darted to and fro. And the sweet aromas of perfectly executed pork wafted in the air. I smiled to myself. I could sit here all day, just watching the world spin, and I might have iffin I weren’t so hungry right now. Our supper is done. Lets plate up these chops, and commence to doing what men do best – stuffing face!
Maple Glazed Hickory Smoked Pork Chops hot off the grill. A delightful blend of sweet and smokey meat sure to take your belly straight to church! Man!
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.