As December rolls around here on the 45th parallel, and the snow begins to fly, I tarry here at my desk, with a lovely beverage at hand, and reminisce on another year in BBQ. Another calendar traverse of manning the pit through sunny days that would not end, to tempests and heatwaves, and penetrating arctic cold fronts. All from which this vantage I do declare blessings to behold. Did many a smoke out this year, and most of it was edible by our standards. Here then is a list of our favorites, and how they went and came to be.
Best New-To-Us Cut of Meat That We Grilled
The venerable Tri-Tip Roast. I know you California folk see this fare at every grocery store, but for what ever the reasons, the heck if we could find a Tri Tip in Minnesota. And then one day last summer, oh how I remember it now, mine eyes lay gaze upon the Tri Tip roast of my dreams, residing prostrate behind the butcher’s glass. I knew then, as surely as I had ever known anything in the past, that there was a rendezvous in my future. A meaty conspiring with this formidable chunk of beef. And I loved it! So delicious and worthy of the hunt.
Somewhere between a brisket and a steak, this Tri Tip was at once a love affair. I cannot wait to do the next one, when ever that may be. Here is a link to our write up on this one, if you’re keen to such things.
Best New BBQ Sauce We Tried
No question here. Joe Joe’s Hog Shack Blackberry Sauce. All their flavors were excellent, but the blackberry sauce was unreal. The undisputed favorite in the two households we served the sauce in. It went fabulously with everything from: chicken to pulled pork, to beef. Only down fall was that it didn’t last long enough. A hungry family can suck a bottle of this nectar up in just days if you’re not witty about it. We weren’t too witty.
Indeed, if you’re looking for your next favorite sauce, do check out these blokes from out east. Here’s a link to that write up if you’re so inspired.
Here is their website too!
Best New Hot Rub That We Tried
This one is easy too. Fire in the Hole. We’ve been using the rubs from Miners Mix for a while now, and have pretty much fallen in love with everything they do. They are Spice Wizards, and just have special powers that us mere mortal folk cannot divine. I’ve stopped trying to figure out how they do it. Going along with the theory that some of the good things in life just ought not to be analyzed, but savored. So we do such with Miners Mix. When we tried their latest brain thrust, Fire in the Hole, I think the world stopped rotating on its axis for a moment. Or maybe that was our faces melting off. I’m not sure. It is a legitimate heat source tho, with lots of ghost pepper powder in it. A rub to be respected! But my, the parade of undertones that come sailing by your palate is a journey in of itself. Most hot rubs we’ve tried just try to blow you away with sheer scoville units. They figure if they melt a hole in your tongue, then their job is done. But it’s not. The spice jockeys of Miners Mix went to extra pains to make sure their hot rub experience did not stop with the heat, but instead to incorporate a symphony of flavors, perhaps heightened by the heat. I dunno. Like I said, they just know stuff we don’t concerning spice rubs. Anyways, best hot rub of 2016 goes to Fire in the Hole, aptly coined by the good folks at Miners Mix.
Here is our blog on that one.
Most Interactive Subscriber on This Blog in 2016
Well, we have a great many wonderful subscribers to this blog. Diverse, beautiful people from all over the world and we probably wouldn’t be writing this post at all today, if it were not for you. So a heart felt thank you, to all of you. But looking at the stats page, just from a mathematical perspective, two subscribers have risen above all the rest, in terms of leaving comments. Both in frequency and in substance. Which is about as interactive as you can be on a blog. Two gentlemen of commitment! And loyalty. And keen wit! The race was close too, about neck-and-neck, I should say. Neither one would probably even care if they were the number one comment maker anyways, so we’ll call it a tie, because in truth, it is. And besides that, we just want to say thank you.
So in no particular order, Todd Baker, come on down! Perhaps none of our subscribers have been more stalwart in showing up in 2016, than Todd. And always with a thoughtful comment. Interacting and showing the love on Facebook even. A brethren of the pit, likewise, we would be remiss not to mention his blog. Here is one we subscribe to and enjoy. Todd is at once an excellent writer in his own right, and cobble smith of the English language. His essays are like fine Swiss chocolate, crafted to the highest levels. For example, he can write an essay on going to a heavy metal concert, of which I have no interest in, and still make you think by the end of the read that it has been time well spent. Say what you want, but that’s a good writer. Be who you are, like what you like, and do cool stuff. That’s his tag line, and it fits. He is who he is, likes what he likes, and by golly, does cool stuff! Many thanks to you, Todd, for being such a great subscriber. And yeah, doing cool stuff.
John and Mary in Ecuador share the prize with Todd, for Most Interactive Subscriber to the blog. Tho I suspect John does most of the talking, Mary has chimed in too, on occasion. One of the greatest privileges of running a blog we’ve found out, nay the best thing about blogging, is meeting cool people. John and Mary in Ecuador are two of them. Once upon a time they hung a shingle and worked in the USA, and now are retired, and living the sweet life in Ecuador. We subscribe to their blog too, and is one of our favorites to peruse. What a pleasure to tarry by the fireside up here in Minnesota on frosty winter nights, and read about John in Ecuador inflating his pool noodle. He often times likes to rub it in like that too. When he sees that we have blizzard going up on here, I think he gets a particular joy in letting me know of his paradise like conditions patron to the Ecuadorian lifestyle.
“You just like to rub it in“, I would croak.
“Only thing I’m rubbing in is my sun tan lotion!” he would yammer.
You see how it goes. And we love it! Check out both of these guy’s blogs some day when you’re looking for something good to read.
Best Smoked Meal of 2016
This one was not so easy. There was plenty of yum coming off the pit this year. But the one that stands out, the one that I keep thinking back to again and again, the one that I know I must try and replicate at some point yonder, has got to be the burnt ends.
It was the 4th of July weekend, and I was doing up my annual brisket, the full packer as it were, when I decided to finish off the cook by making some burnt ends from the point. A common move of a well-versed pit jockey. Now it may not look like much, but if you’ve ever had occasion to ingest some burnt ends in your days, you know what I mean here. You know from what utter succulence I refer. The brisket turned out just fine, but these burnt ends, mercy, I do believe they were the very tastiest thing procured off the pit this year. The most tender and succulent smoked meat I may have ever put in my mouth and declared good. Blame it on the high fat content, I suppose, but my, what a treat. The perfect blend of smoke and Miners Mix spice, tinted with some of that Blackberry sauce we talked about earlier. Even half a year later, I’m still getting compliments from family members about this humble pan of meat. Really enjoyed these burnt ends.
Here’s the link to this one too.
Best Day at the Pit
It was spring. The pond was still frozen, but the sun was warm, and the grass dry. The kind of day you wait for all winter long. The sort of day a soul rejoices in the sun. So I did up a batch of beef stew that day on the faithful, Weber kettle grill. Oh what loitering Nirvana then was at hand. Black Capped Chickadees in full flirtation. Cool spring air mingling through the pit side spruce. The smell of the earth in a slow reveal. It was so lovely, I remember, that I set up my new backpacking tent, just because, and pretty much camped out pit-side, whilst the wood smoke curled into a blue, Minnesota sky. There are some days at the pit where you know as surely as you’ve known anything, that you’ve scored. Both in weather and in calorie. No time crunch either. Hanging ten on the metaphoric waves of outdoor cooking. It’s easy to do when it works. Just let the smoke curl and the vittles bubble, whilst you do your best to tarry there in the gentle wake of deeds well done. And I did. And also amen.
In all the years we’ve been into BBQ, and all the smoking projects to come and go across the pit, one of the most elusive has been the venerable Tri Tip. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that up here in Minnesota, and many other places across the country, Tri Tip roasts are rather hard to locate. Sort of like a kindly old grandma at a heavy metal concert, it just doesn’t happen. Indeed, I’ve searched this county high and low, and nary a Tri Tip to be found. And then last week, on a casual bacon foray at my local butcher counter, I cast first glance upon my meaty betrothed.
She was beautiful. So shapely and raw. Three points of beef, and decidedly marbled. She laid under the glass like a super model, next to the T-Bones and the rump roasts. My, but I was smitten for this cut of meat. I was ready to drop to my knee right there, and dig out my wallet when a voice bellowed from behind the counter.
“Can I help you with something?” asked the butcher in the white shirt.
“Where have you been all my life!“, I belched through a long-standing gaze, wiping my drool off my chin.
The butcher man just shook his head in shades of pity. I pointed to my quarry beneath the glassy pane.
“Oh, we’ve carried Tri-Tips for years“, he croaked. “You just have to keep an eye out for them, as they do come and go“.
Conversation was squelched by my giddiness, no time to chew the fat, well, at least metaphorically speaking, and before long I had my beloved swaddled in butcher paper and tucked under my wing like an NFL half back, as I darted hither and yon through the crowded grocery store. Putting a spin move on a mother of four. Lowering my shoulder to the door. Back to the Pond Side Pit I went. Back to my caloric destiny! And I knew precisely what must transpire next.
Whilst the coals came to maturation on the old kettle grill, we seasoned up the tri tip with same goodness we used on our 4th of July brisket a while back. Maynards Memphis BBQ Rub, from the good people at Miners Mix. Absolutely love this rub. It has been fantastic on ribs and butts, and likewise we were keen to discover it performs well on beef too. Said so on the back of the bottle. Said it was recommended for Tri Tips, and well, that’s all we needed to know. So we coated the roast liberally with it. Then, as a second layer of flavor, and just because, we sprinkled on a fair coating of Montreal Steak Seasoning. If you have none of this, the old stand-by of salt and pepper is nothing to hang your head about. Add a little garlic and onion powder to that, and you have yourself a time-tested, and most worthy spice rub.
*You can season Tri Tips liberally because you are going to slice it later into thin 1/4 inch pieces, like a brisket. So let the seasonings fly.
It wasn’t long before my meat bounty lay prostrate next to a fiery bed of coals. It sizzled accordingly when it hit the hot Craycort grates, a sound well-loved by many a pit jockey in good form. The sound of that first sizzle sort of signifies to yourself, and those who may be looking on, that the games have indeed begun. That for a while, man and meat will dance, and the fires will be hot. I love it. And to hold with Santa Maria Tri Tip culture, we tossed some oak chips onto the coals. Red Oak is the most poetically correct wood to use. That’s what the Californians would say. But if you’re a rebel, use what you want. I hear pecan wood is no slouch for competent tri tip. We’d caution against green treated wood, however, from your deck. Don’t do it people.
The Poor Man’s Prime Rib
What do you get when a brisket and a sirloin steak get married and have a baby? I think it’s
Tri Tip. It reminds me quite a bit of working with a brisket. But it tastes something like a steak. Tri Tips are harvested from the sirloin, we’ve heard, so that is part of it I’m sure. Some folks like to think of the Tri Tip as the poor man’s prime rib. I like that sound of that too. But it is an exquisite cut of meat, and quite fun to cook. Out in California, they do it all over an open Santa Maria style grill. If I’m ever out in Santa Maria, I must check out their Tri Tip prowess. Those open grills look like too much for a patron of the pit.
As meats go, Tri Tip is an easy cut to cook. Ours was done in about an hour flat, courtesy of the Weber kettle grill. The little lady is not so much fond of rare red meat, so we brought the internal temperature to 150 or so, all on indirect heat, opposite the hot coals, and then plated the beast up and let it rest for 15 minutes or so. During the rest, the meat will reallocate its savory juices in adequate fashion. Then, and only then, we brought it back out to the pit once more, and seared it over direct heat this time. The reverse sear, as it called. Meaning to sear at the end of the cook versus the beginning. This, the one last glorious finale to the grilling process, produces a pleasurable crust, and sort of locks in the rested juices. Searing it at the end of the cook like this also means you do not have to rest it again. In point of fact, serve it immediately to your guests, and watch their eyeballs pop open with delight. The meat burst with succulence. And note the accolades which befall the chosen pit master. Man, can you smell it! Tip your hat, draw a lovely beverage, and thus tarry now in the wake of deeds well done. Indeed, where man and meat hath danced as one. Amen.
*When you slice your Tri Tip, do so as you would a brisket. Cut on the bias, or across the grain for a tender chew. It makes a remarkable difference.
Oak Smoked Kettle Grilled Tri Tip. Come on people now, it don’t get much better than this!