It was the best of times…And it was still the best of times…They called me Mr. Two Smokes, cause that’s what I did last weekend. I smoked twice. Once on Thanksgiving day, like any man ought to. And once more the day after, on Black Friday, because, well, why wouldn’t you. And let it be said, because its true, a finer way to pass the holiday respite, than with good, smokey-tinted meat and warm fellowship I do not know. It will gratify the belly and appease the soul. And thus here it is, a tale of two smokes. Of a turkey and a ham, and the seasons first snow fall, patron to the pit.
Thanksgiving morn found me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before even the rising sun. All the house was silent, as I padded about in my favorite pajamas with the all-important business of turkey on my mind. The turkey, a free-range, never frozen, sixteen pound specimen of a gobbler, resided the night long in my cooler, in a bath of salty and sweet brine for to coax the oft borderline tolerable meat unto better days I suppose. The brine we used was the same formula we’ve been using frequently this fall, and if you want the recipe, you can grab it in this brine post we did a while back. Anyways, I pulled the bird from the brine, pampered it a bit with paper towel and the like, and set in motion a herb/butter paste, that which was rubbed under the skin and over the top of it too, smeared all about with a quasi-reckless abandoned. Cavity piled full of apples and onions and the timeless aromatics better known as rosemary and thyme. Does it get any better folks! And under the dark of night, in an abnormally quiet neighborhood, I lit the coals in the old Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, put the bird on, and with very little fan fare, promptly did what any pit keeper still in his pajamas before sunrise would…I watched a John Wayne movie.
Okay, I admit, “watch” is probably not the operative word to use here, unless, that is, you wager such still a fashionable verb when your eye lids have sunk like a couple of flat tires, and your head is tilted eighty seven degrees to the starboard, with a rivulet of drool seeping from one’s right lip pit. Classic pit master posture to be sure. But it was one of those delightful naps where part of you was still alert to your surroundings, appreciative of it, whilst the other part of you wallowed at the foot of unconscious rapture. I could still hear The Duke bellowing on the television. Could hear his many fist fights and heady blasts from a shot-gun. And also, off-hand, I could hear myself snoring there, listing comfortably on the couch. Not sure how that happens, but when your smoking a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, you have to put up with such inalienable rigors. I know I did.
Long about when The Duke was engaged in his final bar room brawl, I stirred momentarily under my blanket, stretching there like a fat, spoiled house cat. All was right in the world, or at least my world. I scratched my head, my hair tossed like a bad salad, then unashamedly pandiculated right there on the davenport. Pandiculate. That means to stretch and yawn simultaneously, people. And every body does it. Men, women, children, elderly folk, donkeys. And especially so pit jockeys early to their game! Anyways, I glanced out the patio door, there to gaze upon the smokey pillars of pecan wood gently curling aloft into a gray, November sky. A sky of which that was all a’flutter with sloppy white snow flakes. It was lovely, and a fine touch towards the ambiance of the day. What a pleasure to awaken from your nap to such a glories anew.
At any rate, we monitored the turkey’s breast temperature until it hit 165 degrees internal, and brought it into the house to rest. And here is how it came out, by and by. The aromas of pecan smoked turkey filled the house at once, and heads turned. I felt like hoisting it high for all the world to see. To lay eyes upon its golden brown carcass and supple leg quarters. It turned out real good. If you’ve never had turkey off the pit for Thanksgiving, you have put off a good thing far too long. Be encouraged, people, and smoke likewise…
The festivities of Thanksgiving lingered into the night, and I slept long the next morning. The season’s first real snow fall had accumulated a few inches in that time, and such seemed poetically right to me. It is good to have snow on Thanksgiving vacation. It just works. And even better still to have ham! You see, this day marked our 3rd Annual Black Friday Ham Smoke. A little tradition we have fashioned out of the swift-ebbing river of time. My but this living. Is there a finer way to bypass the heady throngs of mass consumerism, than with a single wisp of wood smoke off your patent enameled cooker? Nay, this is the course of a wiser man, to hold stalwart at the pit this day, and ply his craft to great effect there, whilst the snowflakes conspire on the lawn and the chickadees flirt amid the patron spruce. Indeed, let the heady throngs of consumerism all jockey for position on the commercial battlefield, we will be just fine here with our elbow room, a good recliner, and a tall glass of something cold to drink. This is our Black Friday Annual Ham smoke, and I nary can wait to get after it once again.
Firstly, after a proper slurp off a manly beverage, we built a good minion bed in the fire bowl of the WSM. It was comprised with plenty of unlit briquettes, lots of lit ones, some hickory wood, and to add a little sport to the day, some unlit chunks of mesquite lump charcoal. It was a nice pile of coal and wood, aptly fit for the day’s initiative, and did us proper for what we wanted to do. Smoke a ham.
Glory be, but what a sight on the old smoker grate, this lovely precooked ham, oh about ten pounds I should wager, and all matter of sexy. We greased it down in a mustard rub first, and then dusted it liberally with Maynard’s Memphis BBQ Rub from our friends over at Miners Mix. If you haven’t had occasion to try their spice rubs yet, here is another thing you’ve put off too long. They truly are delicious. Anyways, on with the lid. And on with the smoke. The 2nd smoke in as many days. This is the life!
The Posture of a Pit Keeper
Here then is our privilege as pit keepers; to tarry in our favorite chair, hat tipped up ever so slightly, manly beverage in hand, and simply observe the world gather and spin. This sort of enforced leisure, you might say, to mind the meat, sort of frees up a gent to a great many other important activities in life. Such as: watching clouds form in the sky, admiring tweety birds, catching up on naps, reading more magazines on the toilet, postponing annoying chores, watching football, observing bunny tracks in the snow, and if time allows, to take another nap. All things starkly absent to the consumeristic herds filing through the motorized double doors of Best Buy. Anyways.
Now a ham, or most hams people buy are already cooked, as you know. In point of fact, most are already smoked too. So some of you may be asking a very sincere question here, namely, what in the heck are we doing? Well trust us when we tell you that your average ham can stand to soak up a lot more smokey goodness. It can handle it, and will up the flavor of said ham by about ten fold. Apple wood works great here. Maple is fantastic. Pecan is no slouch either. But we used hickory as mentioned early. Hickory might be the most popular smoke wood in the entire country, probably over used by the BBQ populous, but even so, with good reason. It just works. Works with nearly everything. A little hickory smoked ham coming right up! Well in about three or four hours, anyhow.
Stalking The Black Berry Glaze
Eventually I had to get up. Every pit jockey does eventually. I was kind of in the mood for a glaze this time around, but I wasn’t sure what I had on hand. I thus rummaged through the pantry and fridge, looking for anything to concoct a simple glaze out of. Found some apricot preserves dated back I think, to the last time the Vikings made the playoffs. So its been a while. I cracked the lid, and looked in the jar like any man would. Not sure if that was fuzz I saw down in there, or just peanut butter leftover from some bygone midnight sandwich. Hmm, onto the next jar. That’s when I came upon a brand new jar of blackberry preserves, and I knew my sweet destiny had just been met.
Into a small sauce pan I compiled:
- 1/2 cup Blackberry Preserves
- 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Apple juice
- 1 Clove of garlic (smashed and minced)
Out at the pit stove, I brought the ingredients to a light boil, stirring gently, and whence the instincts of my inner Julia Child motioned me, I took the pot off the heat, and let it cool back down. Let it thicken up a tad, before I lovingly varnished my dear ham in this sporty nectar! And I cannot express the wondrous aromas floating about the pit right then. Like smokey pork in a candy factory. Man! Glory!
Such is the plight of pit keepers near and far. Just when we think our quarry is done, and the wait is over, we must wait yet again. This time to rest the meat. To let the juices back track unto their most favorable coordinates, and then, and only then, make the beastly pilgrimage into our awaiting gullets. And so concludes today’s culinary essay. And a weekend well spent. And well fed. And the Tale of Two Smokes, patron to the pit. Amen.
Hickory Smoked Blackberry Glazed Ham sided with home made scallop potatoes and green beans. In a word – YUM!
Dunking your brand new white mop into a fresh batch of homemade sauce goes against everything mother had taught you. OK all rules ascend out the window when you begin to baste a half-done smoky rack of ribs. The aromatic mix of spice, vinegar, and smoke waft into the air, and you can’t help but to apply more.
I’d like to share a recipe I found online and tweaked a little for my taste. It’s a Chocolate Infused BBQ Sauce. I know what you’re thinking, “What is he thinking?” Chocolate and BBQ? Chocolate and Smoke? Don’t get me wrong, it sounds weird, but tastes very good. Here’s how it’s done!
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- 3 tablespoons molasses
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper – See Note Below
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped – See Note Below
- Combine ketchup and next 9 ingredients (through pepper) in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk. Reduce heat; simmer 8 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; add chocolate, stirring until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.
I decided to make a few notes for the interested reader.
- If you’re going to use Chocolate, go big! OK, I didn’t look too hard at the grocery store. I went with what cost more than Hershey’s or Nestle. I decided to go with Guittard’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips. I felt the flavor stood out more when I have baked with them in the past.
- Also, when a recipe calls for freshly ground pepper, then ground your pepper freshly! I have a mortar and pestle. I love going with a rainbow mix of Peppercorn.
- For those of you who have ever tasted chili infused chocolate, go ahead and throw in some chili powder to taste. The sweet of the chocolate and brown sugar really compliment the kick of pepper and chili powder.
Have you ever happened upon a piece of meat that should come with it’s own cardiac unit! A mass of flesh so prominent that folks are slowed by it’s gravitational field. That cameras are drawn, and grown men weep with happiness. Meat so big that it’s effects ripple into the stock market, and Wall Street, and pronounced plunger sales. Such a hunk of meatiness was spotted in the Minneapolis area over Christmas. Photos were snapped. Respects were paid. And then of course, after a moment of silence, it was eaten. Amen.
It happens like this more than I’d probably care to admit. How do I tell them, so innocent and feathery, that it is not their kin they smell humbled under the lid. And why is it they always have to show up when it seems they have every right to. That’s not fair. And just a little awkward for everybody.
Nothing is quite so fine, on a cool Thanksgiving Day morning, than walking out onto your patio to see the wood smoke gently curling from your cooker, and the aroma of sizzling bird neath the dark, black, lid. Once you smoke your Thanksgiving turkey, your not likely ever to return to your old ways. Brethren of the smoke know, some things are just better that way. And this is one of them.
Here is how to give your family and friends the bird, or at least how I like to do it.
Ingredients for your mop:
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup salad oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon-1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
Whilst your pit is warming up, mix together this stuff, and brush it all over your bird. Then light dash it with a little salt and pepper. A little garlic salt is nice too.
Place gobbler on grill over indirect heat. If your doing a true smoke here, be expecting 6 to 8 hours for a 12 pound turkey at 225 degrees. Or until the internal temp is at a minimum of 165 degrees, less you be running for the little pit boys room all too frequently. If you don’t have a smoker, no worries, it can be done on a traditional grill almost as poetically, but even faster. For example, your standard back yard Weber is going run much hotter than a smoker, and your turkey will probably be done in about 3 hours. Simply bank the coals to either side of your grill, and put on the bird indirect . Indirect placement, people, is a signature move of a seasoned pit master. Never under estimate it, and do it often.
For smoke wood in this application, I am a big fan of pecan wood. It seems to have that subtle smokey taste that just works with poultry. The pecan smoke also blends magically with the soy sauce and pretty much rocks your turkey to a new level. I prefer the baseball sized chunks of pecan wood that you can pick up at some box stores, or find online. Or if your one of those lucky schmucks who actually has a pecan tree growing in your yard, you are at once my envy, and we should be friends. Many stores sell chips too, which work so long as you soak them good before the smoke. Anyways, place your wood directly on your coals, put the lid back on your grill, and go watch some football. Return to grill on occasion and mop the bird. Remove and rest the bird when internal temp exceeds 165. And don’t forget your drip pan to collect the drippings, as it makes a smokey gravy that will have your ancestors slobbering. Proceed to give your people the bird.
A Small Cut of Meat Poetry
The grill is doing most of the work here, thus freeing you up for the highly important business of loitering in your recliner, or if the day is adequate, your Adirondack chair out by the pit. Be encouraged to slow your day down, and repair quietly with your favorite beverage, pit-side, watching the smoke waft upwards into a beautiful, November sky. And know that for a while the world will spin without you, and that your OK with that. For grilling proper harbors no haste. Life ebbs by fast enough as it is, so let not our grills, nor our time there, know any such swiftness. Indeed, we seek to extend the moment for the moment’s sake, and in that alone, it is well with our soul.