They came trucking up through the green grass as if they owned the place. And maybe they do. For let it be said, they were here long before we ever showed up. When we first moved in, they were the first to greet us. And when if we move from here, they’ll probably be standing there beside the driveway, the last to wave us good-bye. I speak of course, of the resident Mallards of the Pond Side Pit. And boy are they cute these days. Spring is just wrapping up here on the 45th parallel, and all the many ducks are closely followed by a feathery amoeba of miniature ducks, just like them – their little hairy faces, alive, and bright-eyed to a new, and outstanding world. Seems every time I light up the pit out back, they are there, investigating…Or maybe it is they’re just checking in that it is not their kin folk they smell cooking under my lid.
Fear not little ducks, for it is only a wee rack of pork ribs smoking under our lid today. With gentle plumes of pecan and apple wood, seasoned in Kits K.C. BBQ Rub from the good folks at Miners Mix. I’m telling you this, there are a precious few better ways to while away a beautiful afternoon, than to tarry long in your BBQ chair, with a cold beverage in hand, feet propped up as per proper pit master posture, wowwy, and a cool breeze washing fresh over you the day long. Indeed, bringing pork ribs to a succulent, and tasty end game is our heady privilege. A Pit Jockey’s delight.
5 Reasons Why Ribs Are The Perfect Thing To Smoke
Ribs are perhaps the perfect thing to smoke, and I’ll tell you why. First off, ribs are meat candy to a man. Let’s just be clear about that. We lust for them. Next to bacon, I suppose, nothing gets our slobbers running more than the heady prospect of a good rack of ribs.Carnal, but true. We just had to clear the air on that matter.
It’s About Time
Secondly, ribs take just the right amount of time to cook. Look, if you at all enjoy the many facets of the Smokey Arts, and aspire yourself a patron of the pit, then you know in your soul, just as surely as you know anything, just how fun smoking meat is. Burgers and bratwurst are good and all, but the show is over too quick with those. Your coals still burn for something more. You crave a longer campaign pit-side. Something that takes you deep into the game. Pork butts and brisket are fantastic, we’re talking out-of-the-ball park home runs, but you seldom have the available clock for them. In point of fact, you might as well rip a whole day off the calendar for those big meats. That’s how long they tend to take. But ribs, ah ribs, well they saddle up just right. They are the perfect afternoon smoking project. You can fire up the pit at noon, and have your ribs done by supper. That’s just enough time to make you feel like you’ve done something proper-like in the Smokey Arts. Just enough time to rejoice in the ways of the pit master, such as napping pit-side, or watching a ball game with your shoes off. Just enough time to flex your patience a little, and log some quality pit time under blue-bird skies.
In a world ripe with haste, ribs take precisely the right amount of time.
Another reason why ribs are the perfect thing to smoke, is that success is not always a given. There does seem to me anyways, a certain smokey-scented, serendipity, to cooking ribs in charcoal fueled pit. I know this because I always marvel when they turn out good. Now if I knew it was in the bank all along, then why would I marvel? I don’t know. But know this, ribs are satisfying to get right. Not just to your belly, but to your personal growth as an accomplished meat maestro. All your research and experimentation into technique and method, culminating in a few short hours under, long, smokey columns of goodness. In many ways, ribs are a sort of litmus test of your pit skills. You can divine a great deal about a pit keeper’s craft from his ribs.Ribs keep us learning.
Picasso in Pork
Next, ribs are the perfect blank pork canvas in which to paint your BBQ Picasso. You can season them up so many ways, from just salt and pepper to intricately conceived rubs snatched from only your brain pan alone. To sauce or not to sauce, well, leave it to your pit master instincts. Smoke woods, oh where to start! Every rack is a different journey into the smokey realm. Every rack its own entity. It’s own dance with fire and smoke. Ribs are your personal expression in meat art. Your Picasso in Pork. So wield your brush, people, with all due enthusiam.
A Ticket to Relax
And at last, and subtly under-toned along the way, every rack is your ticket to an afternoon off, to loiter pit-side, with a manly beverage in hand, and declare to yourself and those who come upon you, that you are in no hurry today. That you have, by choice, raised your foot clear of the accelerator pedal of life, and for a few short smokey hours, and maybe even longer than that, all your world is right. You’re not grilling hot dogs today. Nay, you’re smoking ribs. And that my friends, is a very a good day indeed. Amen.
Five hours, low and slow, people. Pecan/Apple Amoked BBQ ribs. Son! And my ducks were Okay with this.
By the softened light of a gray, December afternoon, two humble venison shoulders sizzled amid a cloud of hickory smoke in the old Weber Smokey Mountain. I sidled out the patio door to see the smoke in curl, and several black capped chickadees swoop off into the thickets yonder. Smiling, I tilted the lid up on the pit, and took a gander under there. The venison was taking on some color now, and smelling point blank, out-of-this-world. But we were only an hour into it, and had four more hours to go. So I shut the lid, content to wait. Because I knew in the back of my mind, back in those quiet places where men know such things, that these were the days you reach for, by and far, as a BBQ junkie. The sort of day where the wood smoke puffs away in marathon fashion, hour after hour, and you have nothing else in the world to do save for to tarry quietly in it’s gentle presence. That being said, I took a seat in the patio chair, left leg crossed over right, and further mused to myself. Need more time in a day? Then smoke yourself some meat. And do it slowly. Oh how the hours drag ever onward in a slow parade of salivating moments, with umpteen pleasant memories forged pit-side, under beautiful skies, and tinted in smokey goodness.
Our spice rub today is a keeper, leastwise for wild meats. Copy and paste it in your archives and thank us later!
Field & Stream’s Ultimate Wild Game Rub
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup ground black pepper
¼ cup sweet paprika
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed and minced
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Yeah, we had no juniper berries either. What can you do. Anyways, after three hours on the pit, the meat has received all the smoke it needs. In point of fact, it looked edible enough to eat right there iffin you had a mind to. But we didn’t. We sought the hallowed shores of succulence instead. We wanted this ornery cut of meat dropping off the bone like your mama’s pot roast. To accomplish such high bidding, we wrapped each leg/shoulder gently in foil, along with a half-cup of apple juice for to service as a steaming agent. Put it all back on the pit for two more hours, at 240 degrees, to wallow there in an apple scented steam bath. Oh man! And that was all it took. The bones came out as clean as hammer handles, and the meat pulled like a pork butt.
There is a great privilege in taking the better things in this life, slowly. From a date with your sweetheart, to Christmas morning with family, to simply preparing supper, if that’s what you love to do. If not for anything else, but to just extend the moment for the moment’s sake, and then to revel in it. So do it well, then, and with a heart of thanksgiving, and by all means, take your time with it, and enjoy the journey. For life sweeps by fast enough as it is, seems like. And every day is another reason, it stands to reason, for taking it slowly. Amen.
5-Hour Low and Slow, Hickory Smoked Pulled Venison Shoulder, Patron to the Pit. Yum people!
The winds of November felt more like September, this weekend last. And tho the leaves have all descended now, and the song birds have parted ways for yonder lands far to the south, and the earth is on hold now, seems like, waiting for winter; the weather that which remains this side of a setting sun, at the time of this draft anyways, has been nothing short of paradisaical. Shirt sleeve temperatures, leastwise for a Minnesotan it is. Blue skies, no humidity, and no bugs. I rather like it. And so does Gus.
Gus is my rabbit, don’t you know. He’s been hanging out at the pit with me a lot lately, often occupying the same corner of the yard, meticulously nosing through the lawn there whilst I putter on the patio. He’s a good rabbit, by and far. Never a cross word. Keeps out of trouble. And no, I’m not at all positive he’s a he. Nor does Gus cotton much towards my curiosity to check on these matters. So I let him be, under the plausible notion that it probably doesn’t matter anyways, and the two of us, man and rabbit, manage to co-exist together no how, where the wood smoke gently curls.
Such was the case last Saturday afternoon. I had me a beautiful skirt steak sizzling away over a good bed of coals, jazz music playing, and the afternoon long to while away here at the pit. Whilst Gus milled about in the grass, I tinkered with a new technique on my Weber Smokey Mountain. How to convert the classic smoker into a grilling machine. It’s elementary really, but I’ll tell you about it anyway, because that’s what we do around here.
The technique here is to use the lower rack in the smoker to hold your fire. I told you it was simple. And it works too! Those of you not familiar with the Weber Smokey Mountain could probably give a barn owl’s dropping about this, but to a WSM owner, a beautiful new world has just opened to thee. You take the charcoal ring from the fire bowl below, and place it, centered, on the lower cooking rack of the WSM, and thus kindle your blaze accordingly there. This not only ushers a hotter fire closer to your spoils, proper for the likes of steaks and burgers, but also expands the versatility of the WSM. Another method is to place a cooking grate directly over a good fire in the fire bowl itself, and do your grilling there. But I kind of like this method just as well, as it lets you stand up to do your cooking. Say what you will, but we do like to be civilized at the pit.
Anyways, about this skirt steak. Hark, if you could have smelled it here, I do believe you would have shed a tear, or at least had a man moment, patron to the pit. Man it smelled good! Even Gus flared a nostril. We marinated the beef for 6 hours in a 30 minute marinade. Now like most red-blooded American males, we figured if a little is enough, then too much is just right. Not sure if we were allowed to perpetrate such behavior, but we did. The marinade was Lawry’s Steak and Chop Marinade, and wow, did it pack some flavor into that skirt steak. Maybe 30 minutes would have been plenty after all. Even so, good is good. After the steak was almost, but not quite done, we converted the Weber Smokey Mountain yet again, this time into a giant frying pan!
Glory be but for the endless virtues of restaurant grade, hot-rolled steel, placed steadfastly over a beautiful bed of coals. By now you know of our love affair with the venerable, Mojoe Griddle. It’s no secret. And that’s good because we’re not ashamed to show it! Nay, we cannot help but to revel in it’s capabilities, and now coupled with the 22.5 WSM, set up in grilling mode, well, let’s just say that the culinary world is ours! From smoking, to grilling, to elaborate frying over the nearly nonstick Mojoe surface. This is high living, folks. Made in America. And made to last.
Whilst the Black Capped Chickadees lit atop the pit-side spruce, we tossed the vegetables onto the lightly oiled griddle and got to work. I suppose I ought to tell you, now that I think of it, what we’re cooking today. It goes like this. One of my favorite places to eat is the Chipotle Mexican Grill. And my favorite thing to eat there is the burrito bowl. Well, Chipotle has been in the news lately, as you may know. Apparently Escherichia coli is on the menu too there, and people don’t much care for it. I’m not sure what E coli does to a chap, but I just as soon steer clear of a dinner date with the Big E! Thus, and today, we do the only sensible thing a man can when he craves a Chipotle burrito bowl and can’t have one – we re-create it at home! Turns out its real easy to do too!
Onions and bell peppers chopped to suit, and tossed on the griddle. My they sizzle liked a love song there. We got some black beans heating up there too. Some corn also, dusted in Wholly Chipotle Rub from the good folks at Miners Mix. A pot of brown rice simmers off to the side on the pit stove. Can you smell it yet! The aromas which curled and ebbed about the pit, the onions and marinated smokey beef and peppers, man, well lets just say it was enough to draw the drool from the lip pit of anyone with an fair to adequate pulse! What a pleasure to escort these spoils about, spatula in one hand, lovey beverage in the other. Turning them, folding them, working them together unto a higher calling suitable to thee. My inner Mexican rejoiced, and for a moment, all the world was right.
It was time. I bid Gus a hearty adieu, who was still prospecting through the grass yonder. Then I plated up some spoils, and topped it fresh with some shredded cheese and of course, the token dollop of sour cream.Yum! Needless to say, but we will, it was aptly devoured in kind. And Amen.
Home made burrito fajita bowl, or how ever you wanna say it. Indeed, good is good, patron to the pit.
Links To Stuff We Used Today:
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!
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.
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!!
We’ll go ahead and admit it then, here at the pond-side pit, we are Weber junkies to the core. Like most of the grilling populous, we started out on the humble Weber kettle, cutting our teeth on the venerable grill, which straddled its ash pan stalwart through the ages. A grill by and far in which we still use heavily to this day. Eventually however, if you delve far enough into the BBQ arts, you will want to acquire yourself a good smoker. A rig designed to run low and slow for hours on end, demand very little baby sitting, and at the end of the day turn out some exceedingly good Q every time. The Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5 is what we have used for years now. It is your classic water or bullet smoker in design, reminiscent of a space droid blowing smoke out its head. And it is by far and away the best bang for the buck we have spent in the hobby of smoking meat. Here then is a more in-depth look at the WSM 22.5, in case you find yourself in the market, or if you just have a passing curiosity about the cooker. Because every once in while, we do occasionally need to do something useful around here.
Weighing in at a shipping weight of 76 pounds of glorious porcelain-enameled steel , it comes in one giant box, the cardboard of which is thick enough to flip out on the back stoop and serve as a guest room for visiting relatives.
Some assembly is required here, such as: screwing on the legs, the grate mounts, and one of the handles, the other being welded in place already at the top of the dome.
When erected, the beast stands roughly at 23 by 23 by 48 inches tall, and is guaranteed by the folks at Weber to last 10 years.
Included with the Cooker:
- 2 nickel-plated 22-1/2-inch-wide cooking grates
- 1 Steel charcoal grate
- 1 Three-Gallon porcelain enameled water pan and fire chamber
- Built in thermometer
- Aluminum fuel door
- 3 Aluminum legs
- 3 dampers on the bottom / one up top
- 2 Glass Reinforced Nylon Handles
- 1 Cover and owners guide included
- All hardware is included
All of this equals 726 square inches of premium smoking satisfaction.
To give you an idea of what that looks like in your world, think six racks of St. Louis cut ribs, or six 15 lbs pork butts. Or if you’d rather, you could do the thanksgiving turkey and a ham all simultaneously, with room to spare. Its big, people. Plenty big.
A Closer Look
The fire bowl is comprised of the bottom enameled steel bowl, a steel fire grate, an inner enameled fire ring(fire chamber) three aluminum legs and three dampers. The general procedure here, as shown in the photo, is to fill the fire ring with charcoal. How much charcoal can the WSM 22 1/2 hold you ask? Well let’s just say, if you were so inclined, you could empty an entire 20 lbs bag of charcoal into the belly of this beast with ease. And we have. Set up with the minion method, as seen in the photo, the cooker will run at around 250 degrees for ten hours easily. We have heard of folks getting longer burn times than that even. Reminiscent of the big old American trucks with the 40 gallon tanks, that could go half way across the country before needing a fuel stop.
The nickel-plated cooking grates are your standard Weber affair. 22 1/2 inches in diameter and functional I guess. Nothing very exciting save for that there are two of them. The other one residing about a holiday ham distance below the top one. And this is what gives the cooker its large capacity. Three racks of ribs up top, and a couple of pork shoulders down below, dang, you’re ready to party!
The dome is gigantic feeling too. But then everything about this smoker is. Just lifting the lid is somewhat of an event. The dome is big enough to easily cover the largest turkey you’ll ever want to smoke. In fact, people have been known to somehow fit a young suckling pig in the 22.5. It comes with the standard Weber thermometer you see on most of their products, and we have found it to be reasonably accurate. But keep in mind it only registers the temperature at the top of the dome, and not at grate level, where most pit masters are interested. For grate level readings, you’ll need to use other devices, such as this probe, that we reviewed a while back. But for general smoker temps, it does just fine. The dome also comes with two nylon handles, one on the top, and the other at the perimeter, just below the thermometer. The 4-hole damper vent is just opposite the thermometer.
Just below the two cooking grates you will find the 3 Gallon enameled water pan. It hangs on four strategically placed, multi-purpose brackets, just above the fire bowl. The water pan does two things for this smoker. Firstly, it promotes a moist environment within the cooker, this operating on the plausible theory that such an environment will also help keep your meat moist. While this is of debatable value to some pit maestros, the other thing the water pan absolutely does is act as a heat sink. It absorbs a commendable mass of heat from the fires below, and in turn greatly assists the pit in operating at lower temperatures, whilst at the same time creating a lovely indirect heat that which envelopes your tasty spoils. In point of fact, when the water pan is full, the Weber Smokey Mountain has always seemed to us to be happiest running around 225- 250 degrees F. This is good, because that is also the ideal temperature range in which to tarry, if you want to engage in low and slow smoking activities. Which you certainly do, other wise you wouldn’t be reading this. Fire door opening is roughly 12 inches wide and 14 inches tall.
The Bottom Line
Tho there are better smokers out there, in which the ceramic eggs and custom jobs come to mind, but if you cannot justify thousands of dollars to smoke your weenie on one of them, then the WSM is the next best thing. They are simply adept at doing what they do. Pit masters have won competitions with them, Slap Yo Daddy, Harry Soo for example. These pits just work. Once you dial in the temperature it stays there, no baby sitting, freeing you to go about the important business of loitering belly-up in your man chair, with a lovely beverage in hand. The 22.5 Inch WSM is $400. There are two other sizes out there as well. The 18.5 inch goes for $300. And the 14.5 inch you can find around $200. The porcelain enameled coating keeps these rigs looking sharp for years it seems. If you’re just getting into smoking meat, or want to dabble in competitive BBQ even, these pits fill the bill and your tummy alike. We absolutely love the Weber Smokey Mountain. We think it’s a dang good pit, and it’s our privilege to let you know. Mission accomplished.
Check them out sometime via our amazon affiliate link! Help put some meat on our grill, people!
- Line water pan with aluminum foil, inside and out for easier clean up
- Start with all dampers fully open and gradually feather the lower ones until pit is running at desired temperature
- In place of water, you can also use ceramic briquettes or play sand in the water pan, which will do the same job of a heat sink
- Spray the cooking grates down with grease before hand to prevent sticking later on
- Brand new WSM cookers tend to run a little on the hot side at first, until a good layer of smokey grime is established on the inner walls
- The Minon Method is highly recommended when using this cooker for sustained low temps for long periods of time
- When adding more fuel, simply toss a chimney full of unlit coals through the aluminum fire door, doing so a half hour before you think you need to
- Fill the water pan with hottest water your tap can produce to get the cooker up to temp faster
- When the lid is off, avoid setting it on the concrete to prevent chipping the enameled coating
- Close all the vents when cook is done to snuff out the remaining coals and reuse them next time
*We are an Amazon Affiliate for this product and others, so when you go to amazon through our link, if you buy, we will receive a small commission. It’s a fantastic pit, and we’re proud to endorse it here at PotP.
Part One: The Day Off
There comes a time in a man’s day-to-day, when all the world seems to conspire around him. Where one social posture leads into the next, and for a while at least, he cannot seem to get his feet on solid ground. Nary can he find a hidden moment even, to catch his breath, and enjoy his inalienable right to watch the clouds slowly idle by. Such was the case here recently, as it sometimes is when one lives a busy life. Drawn henceforth from duty to duty, event to event, it’s easy for a pit jockey to get restless for his craft when he cannot do it. When the ever-whirling cog of society sweeps you under the rug of life, and you are mired there, like a dull, gray moth trembling in a spider’s web.
This weekend last, as the tweety birds cavorted in the morning dew, and the sun came up over the pond, for the first time in a string of many weeks, I found myself the proud owner of an entire day. A day in which, if I so fancied, I could do anything I pleased. No schedules to uphold. No duties to meet. Just sweet time at my disposal. Naturally, then, and without much fore thought, I did first what any red-blooded man would do. I grabbed a wood working magazine and headed for the little pit boys room. There I amused myself with cutting edge articles of mortise and tendon joinery, whilst casually forming my itinerary for the day. The goals at hand today would be lengthy, I concluded, but doable. Whilst still perched on my white throne, in the classic fist-on-chin-elbow-on-leg position suitable to the great thinkers of our time, I nonchalantly chucked my magazine aside, and with steely eyes trained on the far wall, tabulated the plan of attack for my day off. I would, I reasoned, under blue skies and warm breezes, smoke a brisket point low and slow, and by golly if I could help it any, refrain from doing anything else. It was mission statement I was up for I think, nay, born for some might say. In point of fact, I already had the pit coming up to speed. Lets head out there now and check out the Weber Smokey Mountain.
Here in the fire bowl, we have what is known in the smokey arts as the Minion Method. A technique developed by its name sake, one Jim Minion, of high BBQ immortality. If you are going to delve far into the low and slow philosophies, or just want a long-sustained fire in your pit, with minimal babysitting, then this is the way to go. It really works slick. To learn more about the Minion method, check out our write-up, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion
Now, Onward to the Beef!
As an aside, and in a show of flat-up beggery, if any of our lovely readership would ever feel the urge to send us a Wagyu Brisket for a slobber-tugging and thoughtful review, or just to be nice to a couple of pit boys, we are dutifully and irrefutably here for you! We like Wagyu. It’s just that we can’t afford it!
In a quaint haze of mesquite smoke wafting up out of the pit, I plunked on the gastronomic center piece of the day , – a modest, Wagyuless, 5 pound brisket point, or in fancy talk, a deckle. What ever you wish to call it, suffice to say, it’s an ornery slab of beef that which requires much love, and much pampering. And as the laws of conventional BBQ would have it, about 7 or 8 hours of quintessential pit time, aside curling plumes of wood smoke, and soft, tapered sun beams. Perfect. Just what I was looking for. It went on fat side up, for to harvest the natural basting effects of rendering fat and gravity. We also filled the water pan below with about two gallons of water for to promote a moist smoking environment, but more than that, to act as a heat sink from the raging fires just below.
Of Seasonings & Such
The home-made seasoning today was a simple affair to be sure. An ode to the Texan way of doing things, one part kosher salt, and one part black pepper. That’s all a good brisket needs is salt and pepper, thus letting the wonderful beef do the talking. Especially if you’re smoking for a mass variety of palates, going simple is the surest way to please the majority at least. But for kicks we mixed in a little garlic powder and a shot of cayenne pepper, just because, and to bring a wee more heat to our end game. There was a dash of paprika in there too. Here is the simple rub recipe we concocted.
- 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1.2 Cup Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Table Spoon Garlic Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Paprika
- 1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Before we carry on to Part Two, we would be remiss if we didn’t tell you about the book of books concerning brisket. Aaron Franklin makes the best brisket in the country! How do we know? Well, just read the reviews on his book. You’ll see. We humbly bow to his expertise. Anyways, back to our story.
The Campaign For Nothing
Big black enameled lid in place, and we were off. The aromatic issue of smoldering mesquite soon took aloft, and before I knew it, I was ensconced in my patio man chair, settling in for the day. Left leg crossed over right, lovely beverage in hand, I was ready, doing what I do best – nothing! And that is the secret to brisket. Patience. You gotta wait for it. Let your smoker do all the work. And you my friend, your biggest duty is just to kick up your feet and keep yourself hydrated hydrated. Just do nothing.
It didn’t take long tho, for temptations to rear. The tomatoes in the garden, for example, looked a wee bit thirsty. Why it wouldn’t take me but two minutes to give them a drink, I thought. But then that would go against my moral code of the day, which was to do nothing. So I resisted, and the tomatoes went thirsty. I kicked my feet up instead, and trimmed my hat towards the sun, eyes drawn shut whilst enjoying the aromas of curling wood smoke and the gentle clatter of the cottonwood leaves yonder. It was a fine day indeed, to smoke a brisket.
A few hours into it, I had amassed a commendable tally of tasks that I was able bodied enough to avoid doing. Temptations to productivity that I thus refused. And I was getting pretty good at it too. I resisted, for example, the re-occurring, yet compelling urge to wash my truck. Which turned out, wasn’t really that hard to resist after all. Likewise to scrub out the shower stall, which stood in long need, again wasn’t that tough! Napping however, was allowed I figured, for that is the veritable incarnate essence of doing nothing. Indeed I should aspire, I thought, for as many naps as I could. So when the urge to do something was strong, I just laid down until the feeling passed. I was developing a system that I could have gotten used to, or would have, had it not been for the ribs.
I love ribs. A cannot deny, they flutter about in my dreams, and court my very salivary glands to no end. I long to be in their presence, and admire their mahogany complexion post bathed in sweet hickory. Let me as soon as I can muckle onto a rack and henceforth make it my own. And the thing was, I had a rack in the refrigerator, and it was calling my name. Well I had to respond in kind, if but for the efficiency of the smoker alone. Would be a pity, I reasoned, to run that big old pit with just a wee little brisket on board. What a waste of fuel. It needed company. So before I knew it, the “do nothing treaty” was broken, and a rack of pork ribs lay prostrate on the pit. Tendrils of mesquite rose silent into the air. I settled back into the man chair, content with my biddings and resumed with the heady business of doing nothing.
That’s the great difficulty, I discovered, with doing nothing. You can’t stop to rest! It is very challenging and awkward at best. But it can be done, I’ve concluded, if but in short, well-calculated bursts. You kind of have to work up to it. After a fashion, a few hours at least, you do slip into a beautiful rhythm. A magical span of clock where the hours while away in a wondrous melody patron to the scenic path. You find you do not fight it any more, the urge to rush from one thing to another. That sort of hasty lifestyle is the rhythm of anxious city folk, and not fit for a pit keeper proper. Good BBQ should never be rushed. Instead there is an almost honest embrace taking place, for the leisure at hand. Like a prized trophy wrought from the battlefields of haste. What once was a struggle to sit still, is now your privilege. What great fun it is to lean back in your chair, in no hurry for once, and just let the world spin headlong with you. Letting up on the accelerator pedal of our lives for to bask at the end of warm sunbeams, where the wood smoke also rises.
Take the point to 195-205 internal temperature
We took the brisket to around 200 degrees internal. A brisket is usually tender between 195 to 205. That’s your window of victory. If the thermal probe slides in with little resistance, you probably got it right. We never wrapped it in foil either, tho some do. It didn’t need to be wrapped no how. The beefy juices fairly oozed forth, and the bark came out a robust, peppery ensemble of flavor. Man! We went about chopping up the brisket next, for to fashion a BBQ sandwich to match any man’s dream and meatiest ideal. And we declared it good. A good day indeed to smoke a brisket, and for a while at least, do very little else. Amen.
Slow Mesquite Smoked Brisket Sandwiches on a toasted Ciabatta Roll with a touch of tangy Sweet Baby Rays. Yum! Top it with slaw Carolina style if you please.
Postscript: When smoking the big meats like this, it is imperative to watch the internal temperature. If you miss that window of 195 to 205, you’ll probably screw up your supper. There are lots of gadgets for monitoring the temperature. The one we’ve been using for years now is the Maverick RediChek ET-73. A decent performer for a fair price. To see our review of it, click here. Or check it out on Amazon. We are an affiliate for this product, so a small commission will be sent our way ,eventually, if you go through our link. We do appreciate it.
The cooker we used, Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5, was a fantastic performer as usual. Always a pleasure. Check it out also on amazon!
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The Ring Of Fire
The lightning bolts shot jaggedly through the early morning sky, and the thunder boomed with a deafening authority, whilst our fellow patron stirred restlessly in his bed. It was 5:30 in the blessed morning, the hour of the butts, as it were, and time then to light the fires three. Three pits and 55 pounds of marinated pork shoulder. An estimated 15 hours of cooking lay ahead. A day of smoking bordering pert near biblical – a life event and utopia in meat. But the rain storms which parlayed through the night, and lingered into the morning, did not dampen the resolve of our faithful patron, and caretaker of the Track-Side Pit.
“Hark“, he belched, “I am a patron of the pit, I won’t let a little rain and lightening keep me from my appointed rounds! ”
Thus tarps were strung, and wind breaks sought, as he trimmed his pits towards the tempest. A pit keeper always finds a way, you see. And soon, the rains dissolved, as if in submission to a warm, blue sky and passionately curling plumes of hickory smoke. The fires hath ignited, people, and the games were on.
It seems our fellow patron was throwing a party for 200 of his closest friends. So like any man would, he bought a bunch of meat. Pork shoulder to be exact. Fifty five pounds of it. Glory be! This turned out to be a fair share and quantitative mass to exceed the capacity of his off-set smoker. And so about two days ago, naturally, he came knocking at my door. A patron has got to back another patron’s play, don’t you know, so I let him drive off with my beloved 22.5 WSM. I told him to treat it as if he were dating my offspring. He obliged heartily, and made off in a cloud of gravel dust.
The meat load exceeded the capacity limits of his off-set, and the WSM too, which I didn’t think was even possible, so somewhere along the way, he managed to scrounged up yet another smoker. A wee little electric model from the MECO company. A pit keeper proper will find a way people. Every time.
Turned out three pits were just right. Three smoking vessels set up for business, wrapping in a picturesque, smokey arc about his man chair, forming the hallowed BBQ dwelling and smoke camp our fellow patron lovingly coined, “The Ring Of Fire“. And the Triple Pit Smoke Out of 2014 was thus official. And by high noon, a total of 7 pork butts with adorning drip trays were already 5 hours into what would be a 17 hour marathon smoke. A hickory scented campaign of which would ply and test the very fabric of patience that which loosely clings to a tender soul. Smoking butts is a time-rich indulgence, and lest your butt be of the wee sort, it will extract some considerable clock out of your day. It will. The scope of common sense would harken it not even worth the trouble. But to an old-time pit jockey, this is what we live for. This is what we do! And what did here, you might say, was a whole lot of nothing. I digress.
That’s the nature of good BBQ. That is, at heart of the matter you will find a soul on the scenic path. For there are quicker ways to cook dinner in this world. Those of us who do it over wood and coals, and low and slow, quite frankly are in no hurry. Nay, we cherish the rising tendrils of blue-tinted smoke, and the longer the cook endures, well, the more we revel in its hearty spoils. The more we savor the journey. The process. It is our privilege to take that which we love, in this case, BBQ, and extend the moment for the moment’s sake. To hold the sun by the tail, and try to pause it there, hemorrhaging in a pastel sky. Ho hurries. That’s how we roll. Anyways, long about five in the afternoon, ten hours total thus far into this smokey campaign, the internal temperatures of the butts were hovering in around the 165 degree range, and you know what that means. Or maybe you don’t. If you are not familiar with the art and science of smoking the big meats, what happens around 165 is what meat maestros affectionately refer to as “The Stall“. And it’s always an interesting time.
At around 160 – 165, basically what happens is your meat forms a union and it goes on strike. It refuses, most times, to rise in internal temperature. The thermal doldrums of conventional BBQ. And it tries a man. What happens, they say, is the water in the pork is cooked out at that point, and the collagen begins to render. And tough begins to turn tender. It’s where the “magic happens”, pit keepers like to say. And for a while, sometimes even a greater while, the internal temperature gets stuck. And it appears on the surface of things as tho no progress is being made, even tho it is. Eventually tho, and reluctantly at that, the temp starts climbing again, and finally exits the stall, some times hours later. If you’d like to know more about the science of what is going on here, and it is some very interesting stuff indeed, we’d refer you to this article by one, Meathead, who explains it very nicely. Anyways, I went to pay our fellow patron a visit during the stall. To offer support during this trying time, and to partake in some of his smokey ambiance he had going on at the Track Side Pit.
He was hard at work when I got there, sitting in his folding man chair, considering the curvature of his belly button or something. I knew he was probably concerned for his plunder tho, not to mention a bit weary from ten hours loitering in the ring of fire, so I did what any good patron would do, I brought him a Dilly Bar. Ah yes, the venerable Dairy Queen stand-by. The ice cream swirl on a stick and dipped in chocolate gastronomic wonder, one of which brought a large smile to us both, as we sat back and watched the smoke curl together. It was clear, he enjoyed some company no less than the Dilly Bar. And understandably so. A man, you see, is particularly receptive to the good things in life when his meat has stalled. Any little victory he will take.
“I’ve been out here since 7 AM“, he croaked.
“Oh yeah“, I said, quizzically
“Yeah“, he continued, “I would have started earlier if it weren’t for the lightning storm this morning”
He slurped a big chunk off his ice cream, and added, “But I had to man up and get it done. The heck with the storms, I’m a Patron of the Pit!”
I finished off my dilly bar, and looked at all the pits puffing serenely into the muggy, Minnesota sky. The rains long gone now. It was a beautiful sight indeed. A train loaded with heavy coal suddenly rumbled by, rattling the earth like a waking volcano, rhythmic and pounding, yet some how soothing and therapeutic. It rumbled for a couple of minutes until it finally tapered into the distance and silence flooded back to the track side pit.
I tossed my ice cream stick into the trash, and yammered, “You know, you can go inside once in a while if you want to. These pits can baby sit themselves for a while.”
“Oh, I can’t do that“, he countered, “The wife thinks I’m working hard out here!”
“Crikies“, I croaked, “Yes, you mustn’t mess with that illusion! Good move old boy!”
This is one of the greater acts of deviance in the BBQ condition. The oft held high esteem for the pit master as being some sort of wizard that which requires long and protracted hours of manning the pit. If you value the quality of your supper, you’ll leave the pit keeper alone to do his duties, you see. This notion that he should be left alone out there is maybe only one half-engendered by circumstance and myth perhaps, but more importantly, it is widely accepted as truth by the significant other. Thus releasing a man for the duration of his smoke-out to do what ever he bloody well feels like. And this might explain, when you think about it, the occasional need for a pit keeper to smoke a 17 hour pork butt. Savvy?
Pit Hijinks and The Final Pull
We enjoyed some mutual agreement and insight there on the patio, and I lingered a bit more, I must say, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, watching our fellow patron’s acute talent for pit craft. He did something of which I don’t reckon I’d ever seen the likes of before in backyard BBQ. Lifting the lid to the little electric smoker, tongs in hand, he sought to manipulate the pork shoulder residing in there. Plumes of hickory smoke bellow out as he attempts to muckle on to the meat. And most of it he does, except for piece that prematurely pulled, you might say, and shot head long into the sky. And there it went, a good-sized chunk of smokey pork, a sandwich’s worth at least, launching skyward like a hickory scented meat missile. Up up up it went, until it too stalled at the hand of gravity, rotated slightly there against a lovely, Minnesota sky, crickets chirping, and made henceforth its return trip to earth. Now here is where it gets interesting. That glob of dripping pork landed smack dab in the middle of a piece of tin foil, one that our fellow patron had rolled out on a side table there just prior. It plopped to foil with a metallic thud, followed by a wiping of the patron’s brow, and I think a couple of hallelujahs were uttered too, just cause.
“Nice show!” I belched, “You could take this act on the road!”
Anyways, we lamented a spell more about the mysteries of stalling meat, and then I bid the man farewell. I had places to go, and things to do. OK, not really, but the bugs were coming out, and it was getting late. He understood, and thanked me kindly for the visit and the ice cream. And I left him to his own devises , there amid the curling smoke, sizzling pork, and another choo choo train building in the distance.
The Smoke De Force endured into darkness. With great resolve, numerous lovely beverages in hand, and an I-Pad on his lap, our fellow patron stayed the course. The smell of slow-smoked pork mingled with the earthy aromas of a summer’s night, and the sound of a pit keeper slapping his forehead for the carbide-tipped mosquitoes which prospected there. At one o’clock in the morning, 17 glorious hours later, he pulled the last butt off the pit and retired to bed. It had been a long day indeed. But a good day, as day’s go, where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.
They looked like meteorites swaddled in tin foil, and smelled nothing short of ridiculously wonderful. Each butt marinated over night and seasoned in raspberry chipotle rub, from the Wayzata Bay Spice Company, before the smoke. It was enough to make a hungry bloke mist over, it smelled so good. Later it was pulled to perfection, and set forth unto our people, with no less than three home-made BBQ sauces, of course, representing each end of the heat spectrum, and a little honey mustard sauce some where right in the middle, for those who just can’t make up their mind. Rounded off with a dollop of cool home-made slaw, Carolina style. Man! And the masses of people were thus pacified.
17 Hour slow smoked pulled pork topped Carolina style with homemade coleslaw and touch of sauce. Man oh man! This is what BBQ is all about, people. It don’t get no better.
Every once in a while, a pit jockey develops a hankering to cook something big. Something epic. A festering itch not particularly, nor suitably scratched via anything you’ll find in the simple realm of hamburgers or hot dogs. Nay, it is a bit more involved than that. It usually requires big, obscene chunks of pig, and it usually takes protracted quantities of precious time. And such was the case today, under gorgeous, blue, Minnesota skies, and darting tweety birds, that we would mark off an entire day from the calendar for the simple pleasure of slow smoking some meat, and then of course, ingesting it at day’s end. It would be a long and taxing day, and would test my wares of loitermanship, beverage reservoirs, and patience with the pork. I was motivated, tho, you see. I had the itch to go big. We’re talking slow-smoked pulled pork here, and BBQ pork ribs. Its everything we get into BBQ for in the first place. The real thing. And it’s what we’re called to do! Let’s get after it shall we.
So it was, I arose on my day off at the most ghastly hour of 5:30 in the blessed morning in which to ply my craft afield. Still in my man pajamas, and whilst the morning sun caught the dew off the freshly hewn lawn, I stoically gathered my coals in one accord, taking flame to the political section that which made residence up the rusty arse of the old, charcoal chimney. Smoke signals soon spiraled aloft, declaring the day’s journey in meat thus embarked. And speaking of bark, lets head inside and rub the butt down again.
First on the pit is the eight pound bone-in pork shoulder, often called the “butt“. I know. What can you do. Anyways, the evening previous, the shoulder/butt was slathered in a cheap mustard, and hit with a commendable mass of Grill Mates, Sweet and Smokey Rub. Then we wrapped it in plastic, and left it alone in the fridge to marry over night with its new flavors. And here this morning, it’s time to hit it up with additional rub yet again. The rub is one of the most significant contributions you can make to the flavor profile of the pork, so do it up good. Ye need not hold back here. For the more liberal the rub, the better your bark tends to be later on down the road. And most pit keepers worth their tongs, always aspire for a robust bark.
The fire bowl of the Weber Smokey Mountain was set up accordingly. A chimney full of fiery coals dumped right smack in the middle of a ring of unlit coals. For you newbies, and budding pit masters alike, this is what we call the Minion Method. And it is an extremely effective technique for long, sustained smokes. To learn more about this method, and you really should if you plan on delving far into the BBQ arts, do read our write-up, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion, to get the low down on this classic technique.
Anyways, the butt was gently placed on the lower grate of the WSM, fat side up. Tossed some hickory and apple wood chunks on to the coals, put the lid on, and then did the only sensible thing I could think of at the moment – I went back to sleep!
About five hours later, two of which were spent belly-up counting little pigs jumping over white picket fences, I gradually came to, stretching like a lazy house cat in my soft, easy chair. Ah the rigors of BBQ. I scratched my belly and glanced out to the patio, gazed momentarily, and smiled. Nothing is quite so fine as waking up in your man chair to see your pit stoically puffing away in the afternoon sun. It calms a man, and settles well in his soul. It really does. Morale is always at a high, when wood smoke gently curls for the sky. Anyways, time to get up again. For there are pork ribs to prep. And here is how we did it.
The first order of business, naturally, is to remove that ornery membrane. That thing is on there tighter than a tick on a hound dog, but you can do it. The reasoning to remove it is two-fold. One, because chewing on it is rather like gnawing on the important end of an old, plastic fly swatter, and two, removing the membrane will promote better penetration by your rub and wood smoke. Say what you will, but this thing should be pulled off. The trick most folk do is slip a butter knife in on top of a bone, but underneath the membrane, wiggle it on in there, and pry it upwards. Then, and with a paper towel to assist in grip, thus peel the membrane down the length of the ribs. Mission accomplished. You might not get it at first, but after a few times, and a smattering of patience, you will wax of an old pit maestro, adept in your craft.
Once the membranes were peeled, we dusted over the racks accordingly. One in a fair amount of Famous Daves Rib Rub, and the other rack we made a bit more of a production of. Firstly, sprinkling on a light layer of brown sugar, then a layer of Grill Mates Sweet and Smokey rub, then yet another layer of brown sugar, to seal it all in. Mercy! At around five hours into the pork shoulder, we put these ribs gently on the top rack of the Weber smokey Mountain, and added a couple more chunks of hickory wood. Things were chugging along nicely now, and precisely as they should. Time for a lovely beverage and yet another pit-side repair.
Here is where most smoke wizards are at their very best. Down time. Frankly, it’s half the reason we BBQ in the first place. That hallowed slot of clock in which our feet thus prop like a gentleman of leisure, and all the world seems to spin fairly about thee. It is a time where a man proper can spend exorbitant and considerable amounts of it, doing seemingly nothing at all. It’s a case-in-point example, where as my elder brother would say, “doing nothing sure feels like something“. And it does. Just watching the smoke curl from the pit, with a cold beverage in hand, we are at once and assuredly at ease. Head master of our own protein-rich kingdom. For a while at least, and maybe more than that, we want for nothing else. Say what ever you will, but that is no small thing. And the cloud shadows quietly parade over the house tops and the thick green grasses below.
After fashion, about two and one-half hours I should wager, we wrapped the beautiful, mahogany-colored ribs in foil, along with a hearty splash of apple juice for a steaming agent. This simple trick will take your unruly pork by the hand, and escort it unto the savory realms every time. Reminiscent of taking them to the spa, if you will, and pampering every last muscle there. And an hour and half of this treatment is about all you need. Use your pit master instincts. Remove from foil, and place them back on the pit to tighten up a bit. Only during the final half hour did we lather on the Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory and Brown Sugar sauce. Man! And yes, that’s chicken thighs you see there on the pit. Hey, we like meat!
Oh buddy! You must excuse us here whilst we make the acquaintanceship of this smokey pork rib. It’s for quality control reasons you see, and a pit master’s privilege.
Now this is what you call a most suitable bark on your butt. Mercy! To the uninitiated eye, it will parlay thoughts of great remorse in your behalf. Onlookers may even want to buy you supper, they feel so sorry for your mass of blackened rubble there before them. But this is how it should be. Ten hours of low and slow therapy, people, gently curling wood smoke, two naps, tweety birds, slanting sunbeams, and a good share of manly beverage, equals sublime smokey pork satisfaction. Or something like that. You know what I mean. The shoulder/butt was brought to 197 internal, until the bone came out clean. Mission accomplished. And amen.
*Let the meat rest a while before you pull it, to redistribute its delicious juices.
A thin-blue smoke, patron to the scent of hickory, curled serenely from the pit damper and dissolved into a pastel-gray, Minnesota sky. It is beautiful here today, as I stroll in the back yard, somewhat labored through the deep snows. Like walking on the white sand beaches of Waikiki, but without the hassle of sunburn, and crowds of oil-slathered humans, or sand taking up roost in your nether places. Indeed, here at the pond-side pit, the snow drifts have conspired tall, wrought from a winter ever-lasting, yet business anyhow, and steadfastly, carries on. Like the stately Cardinal, beautiful in his red and black plumage, making the acquaintanceship of the bird feeder, pecking through the safflower seeds there, as it dangles and swings above the pit. Or the tracks of the local rabbit, hopping through the deep snow. I do not know what he finds to eat in a land so harsh and bare, but he does alright I guess, doing what ever it is that rabbits do in the winter months. And then there are the leaves of the sturdy old oak near by, which I have always held an admiration for. Here is leaf that which turns but does not easily fall, clinging on through the winter months, like the last illuminated photons at the tail of a rainbow. A reminder that another season does exist. And that the sun will rise again over fields of green.
I trudged back through the snow to the pit, hands warm in the pockets of my old woolen smoking jacket. I startled up some Black capped chickadees as I rounded the corner onto the patio, where upon I assessed the pit. 250 degrees and holding. A thin smoke gently wafting. It’s ready, I thought. Time to put the ribs on. And speaking of ribs, let me tell you a little more about them, and how they came to be, this lovely winter’s day at the pond-side pit.
Today, a real treat, and one of our very favorites – hickory smoked beef ribs. If you haven’t yet had occasion to enjoy a good beef rib, rest assured it is a veritable no-brainer very much worth your time. They’re real easy to do too. To start, we ripped the membrane off the back side. Beef rib membranes can be tighter than a tick to a hound dog, but persevere and you’ll get it. Then we rinsed the ribs under the tap for to wash clear any bone fragments or the like. Then hit them both sides with some Famous Dave’s Steak and Burger Seasoning. Or you can just use a salt and pepper if you’d like. Or what ever elaborate rub you may have in mind. But if it’s a good cut of beef, simple is often all you need on the matter of seasoning. As usual tho, the pit master has the final say, along with the token first bite to see if he actually knew what he was doing or not. Anyways, that is about it for prep on these ribs. We thus put them on the pit, bone side down, and got along with the all important business of drawing a manly beverage from the ice box and taking up residence someplace cozy.
Two hours passed, and maybe a little more than that, before I made my way out to the pit again, can of Coke in hand, to check in on things. The pit temp held stalwart, like Webers do, the smoke had mostly faded off, and the meat had pulled back a half-inch or so on the bones, which was right on schedule. Thus, and with little fan fare, the ribs were wrapped in aluminum foil, along with a splash of Coke for a steaming agent. Just a tablespoon or two is all that was needed. The rest was for the pit keeper! Foiled ribs and back on the pit, big lid replaced, and I was off again, striking an azimuth for my favorite man chair, remaining beverage in hand. I assumed the proper BBQ posture, and let the next hour or so take its course on me, as I dosed on and off, the Olympics bantering on the big screen, whilst the savory aromas of BBQ beef waft amid the patio environs. Dang people. I love smoking ribs!
About an hour and a half in the foil is all it took. They were done. Once out of the foil, you can sauce it if you please, but we are so smitten with the flavor of beef, we left it just like it was. And it was spectacular. A deep red smoke ring, married with a robust beefy flavor. A touch of garlic from the seasonings. Very nice. And just what we needed up here on the 45th parallel. A little something savory to take the edge off a long, and very keen winter. A statement if you will, to old man winter’s steely grip on the land, that we keepers of the flame will carry on despite. Like the leaves of the old oak tree, we hang but on slight tendrils, quivering, waiting for the rising sun. Amen.
Savory Slow Smoked Beef Ribs over a Hickory/charcoal fire, sided with home-made garlic mashed potatoes, and a lovely vegetable medley for to please the lady folk. Yum is in effect! If this don’t help pass a winter day it’s probably too late!
“The Sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the Universe to do.” – Galileo Galilei
Late morning sunbeams sparkle over the pond, long since frozen in time, whilst a cool, February breeze mingles though the pit-side Spruce trees and over the wintry land so callused in ice and snow. The first wisps of igniting charcoal waft quietly from the Weber Smokey Mountain, as it slowly comes up to speed. Black capped Chickadees dart playfully about, from spruce to feeder, and from feeder back to spruce again, nary holding still for the benefit of photographers. I didn’t mind. I was inside anyways, standing at the kitchen counter stuffing peppers with cream cheese, and enjoying how the amber shafts of sunlight fell into the house and warmed me there. It’s been a while, a good while indeed, since I’ve felt the sun on my face. It is rather remarkable when you consider, like Galileo did, that the sun is some 93 million miles away, and we only receive a small sliver of its energy, yet, in the same breath, it can make a bloke’s day when its unassuming light greets his window pane and lands warm upon his face like it had nothing else in the universe to do. The simple pleasures indeed. But then, its been a very long and cold winter, and I do tend to dwell on these things. Anyways, I should probably get along with the business of telling you what’s going on the pit today, and how it went and came to be. I think you’re going to like it.
Atomic Buffalo Turds. Yup, that’s a fact. That is what the under ground grilling community calls them anyways. Now I can’t quite figure out why they call it that, for I have on occasion made the acquaintanceship of a buffalo, and I can assure you that their back end tokens look nothing like what we’re about to cook! But who cares I guess. The name is catchy if not down right deplorable. And it is kind of fun to serve up a plate of declared buffalo turds and see how your guests thus roll their collective eyes. You might, I suppose, be better off calling them by their politically correct name, jalapeno poppers. In the end, it doesn’t matter I guess, because good is good, and these things are fabulous if you haven’t had the opportunity. Cream cheese stuffed jalapeno peppers wrapped in bacon and smoked on the pit. Glory! Lets get after it!
You will need the following:
- 10 jalapeno peppers
- 1 block of creme cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- teaspoon garlic salt
- teaspoon pepper
- 1 package of bacon
- 1 cup ground Italian sausage
Stir together in your favorite bowl
First order, and whilst the pit is coming up to speed, is to brown up some ground Italian sausage. Some folk use the little cocktail weenies. And some blokes just skip this part altogether. At any rate, once the sausage is browned, mix it all together with the packet of cream cheese, shredded cheese, garlic salt and pepper. Thus your tasty filling is alas ready for deployment. After this, you’ll want to slice the peppers in half the long way, or down their length. Some people like to leave them them whole, but slicing them in half is a salute to the higher powers of mathematics you see, and essentially doubles the appetizer output for the same price. So why not. Once sliced in half, if you’re a sally-tongued Swedish pansy like myself, you’ll most certainly want to clean out all the seeds, less you regret your life a few hours hence. And believe me the burn can come back to get you, no buffaloes required, if you know what I mean. But if you like that sort of thing, well then by all means, live the dream! But it is well to scrap the seeds out, and hence cast aside any jalapeno fears you might harbor, for the longer the peppers cook, the milder they seem to get. In the end they are a fraction of their fiery selves. A beautiful descendant and a hint of warm. And I’m OK with that.
Next, and with an artist’s hand, stick a good creamy glob of the filling onto each pepper halve, and then cloak them in a beautiful strip of bacon. Tooth picks are the secret here to keeping the bacon corralled and in place. And a half strip of bacon is just enough to aptly swaddled the handsome jalapeno, provided you are rationing your pork candy. That’s it. Time to bring these delectables out to the pit!
It only took about an hour on the smoker, running around 275 before the bacon had browned up and they were done. But an hour is just enough time, turns out, to procure a lovely beverage ice box and take up residence in one’s man chair, feet propped towards the fireplace. Just enough time to watch plenty of smoke curl out way of the patio door. And just long enough, off-hand and by-the-way, to pull up something interesting on the public television station, tug your hat to your nose, and promptly doze off there, that is iffin you have a mind to. And I might have. And whilst the hickory smoke gently curled from the pit with the aromas of bacon afloat in the air, and the tweety birds all resumed feasting again in my absence, the sun also swung into position as if on heavenly strings, it’s soft hint of warmth descending upon shafts of gold, kissing the window sill that which flanked my humble easy chair. A soothing, unmerited warmth oozed over me like soft peanut butter on a hot slice of toast. And I fairly reveled in it, like a lottery winner, my body like a sponge for the sun. Indeed, the old astronomer was right, there really was nothing better in the universe to do. Feet by the fire. Free solar heat massage. PBS induced nap. Man! This is the high rigors of BBQ people. You gotta work up to it! Amen.
Hickory Smoked Jalapeno Poppers. AKA, the Atomic Buffalo Turd. Cheesy, bacon-swaddled awesomeness on a peppery transport sure to be the hit of your party or get-together. *No buffalo were offended during the making of this appetizer.
It was a good day as days go. Plumes of cherry wood smoke in a cold November breeze. Black Capped Chickadees flirting to and fro, snatching seeds from the feeder. A pond frozen over, hard now, and awaiting its impending snowfall. A gentleman of leisurely BBQ, I crossed my legs and shifted slightly in my chair, and watched the day unwind, patron to the pit. A day where many folk I know, and few hundred million I don’t, dare the frothy seas of consumerism, shoulder-to-shoulder, seeking out what ever it is they could live without any other day but this. I don’t get it people. I don’t get it because there is no question the proper thing to do on Black Friday, iffin that is you have it off. And that is to smoke a ham of course! So pull up a seat and a hot brew, and we’ll tell you a little more about the process, and how it went, this heady business of smoking a ham.
Our Black Friday Ham started innocently enough, with a humble spiral cut procured from the refrigerated aisles of a local grocer. A tip of the hat to the deli lady there, and a sampling of her chip dip, I made haste for the door, ham tucked under my wing like an NFL full back. I was off in a cloud of camel dust, you might say. Or would be I suppose, iffin I lived in the desert. And come to think of it, drove a camel there. Anyways, when I got home, the ham was lovingly rubbed down with brown sugar on each flap of meat, then hit with a little Suckle Busters Competition Rub, for an additional depth of seasoning to the flavor profile. And I took my sweet pit boy time with it, too, doing it right, making sure not a slice of precious ham went unloved.
The pit was preheated to 250, and the cherry wood smoke had thinned out some by the time I placed the ham on the top grate. I basted it down with a little apple juice, and gently placed on the huge, enameled lid of the Weber Smokey Mountain. Cherry wood smoke soon was aloft, and for the next three hours, and maybe even longer than that, the world gently twirled. The aromas of sizzling ham and cherry wood, oh what a fine and pleasant respite it was from the retail gods and the consumeristic melee thrashing about the city. And there was great novelty too, in not being a part of it.
Now you might be asking, why smoke a ham if hams come already smoked? Well, trust us when we say, by double-smoking your run-of-the-mill ham, you will aptly up the flavor of the beast by ten-fold. And nary will you encounter a finer prize. The meat can take it. Nay, it wants it. It craves smoke like a woman desires more shoes. I don’t get it either. We like to use fruit woods on ham, but hickory, or pecan, or others are just as well. And we basted the ham in its own juices from time to time too, giving it some love, and some attention. An hour before it was done, we brushed on the maple and brown sugar glaze, which ushered it by the arm to the next level of optimum hamhood.
Maple and Brown Sugar Glaze
- 1/2 Cup Maple Syrup
- 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Apple Juice
- 1 TBSP Mustard
When glazing the ham, open all the vents on your pit, maximizing air flow there so to get it good and hot. This will help in the caramelization of the sugars. We will turn an eye if you need to do this part of the process in your oven. No one needs to know. Whence the ham looks right, and smells right, and samples correctly as per your pit master privilege, plate up the succulence at once, and offer it unto your loved ones. And then tarry in the wake of deeds well done, smiling faces, and the aromas of a perfectly execute ham.
Like I said, it was a good day, as days go. Amen.
Cherry Smoked Spiral Cut Ham with a delightful Maple and Brown Sugar Glaze. You can do other things on black Friday I suppose, but why…
The smoke curled nicely from the old kettle grill, whilst the crispy cottonwood leaves scattered in the October breeze. Its cool today, half way between noon and supper time, and the heat off the pit sure feels good on my hands. The shadows are dropping swifter now, much quicker than those months ago and patron to the steamy days of summer. How the heat and humidity then seems but a distant vapor now, and also with the sun, which once dallied eternal in the sky. It is all gone now. And so we embrace a new season at the pit. A transitional season. And what better way to do that, than with some succulent, apple smoked, pulled pork sandwiches, POTP style of course. This one is a humdinger, folks. And here’s how to do it.
After a meeting with your local butcher, acquire your self a heaping mass of country-style ribs. These will be of the pork variety, and true to meat nomenclature standards, not ribs at all. What they really are is chunks of a pork butt, which of course isn’t from the hind end at all, but rather the shoulder. Anyways, this is the same section of pig where your pulled pork is created from. Country style ribs are just a small portion of that. And it is because of this, that a three-hour pulled pork sandwich is even possible.
Next, and whilst your cooker is coming up to speed, rinse off the meat under cold water for to irrigate any bone fragments stowaways possibly leftover from the band saw used to cut them. And then dust them liberally with your favorite pork rub. We tried out some Cajun Blast this time, so to pack a bit of spicy heat into our plunder, on this chill, autumn day. After a fashion, and a tip of the hat, take them out to the pit, properly stoked with coal and a small matter of smoke wood. We used apple wood for ours. But you can use what ever, and no, that doesn’t mean green treated two by fours!
Using the old kettle grill, this isn’t exactly low and slow, tho we turned down the bottom dampers to anemic slits, governing the amount of oxygen coming in, thus dropping its temperature some. It all works out tho, as you will see. Place the pork opposite the hot coals, as in-direct as you can, then plunk on the lid and let it smoke for a couple of hours. Assume your standard pit side posture, feet up, manly beverage in hand, and muse over the curling smoke, racing cloud shadows, and darting tweety birds. After two hours of this most agreeable pastime, foil the meat with a half cup or two of your favorite beverage or juice, and put it back over indirect heat. This step is where the magic happens.
For the next hour, your meat will be in the likes of an expensive health spa, pampered, and loved in an all-inclusive steam bath. This step is often used on ribs or briskets, and works wonders here too. This is where the collagen breaks down and good things happen. Where elegance ingratiates meat. And it is a glorious thing. Check in on it after a spell, after about an hour or so. It is done when the meat pulls easily with but a twist of the aluminum tong.
Take the meat out of the foil for the final step, and put it back on the grill. Now is the time to varnish it up with your very favorite BBQ sauce. The final brush strokes, if you will, to your Picasso in Pork. Man! Can you smell it yet?
As a matter of course, we toasted up some lightly buttered kaiser rolls over the remaining coals, and assembled a proper, man-sized sandwich shortly there after. You will never regret toasting your buns people. It’s just the right thing to do. Especially on frigid evenings around the pit, where the wood smoke gently rises. Amen.
Three Hour, Apple Smoked, Pulled Pork Sandwiches. Tasty bark, deep smoke ring. Oh buddy. You getting hungry now! So next time you are in the mood for some savory pulled pork, but don’t have all day to smoke a big butt, try this little number. It’s good! A sandwich sure to please the ravaging stomach and the clock alike.
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A steady and abiding rain falls over the streets of Ketchikan, Alaska; a hard mist, as the locals call it. Gray clouds smother into the tall, green, mountainsides rising at the edge of town. My lovely bride and her mother take up position in the stern of a fishing charter, one of twenty, advancing out to sea. Stalwart sailors they were, and hardened anglers, listening to the rain tap over their up-turned hoods. The guttural rumble of the outboard engine merges onto the acoustic palate, along with the lapping of chill waters against the hull, and the distant bustle of the Ketchikan shores. Whales breached the choppy surface, spouted forth a few times, and submerged again; their mighty tails slapping the water with utter authority, and great majesty. A Bald Eagle drops suddenly from the heavens with an acute splash off the starboard, snatching a salmon for to feed her family. My bride is onto a salmon too, go figure, rod hooping violently, its tip tugging downwards towards the darkened abyss. A few minutes span on bobbing waves and rocking ship, reeling and peeling, and she too procures a salmon for the family; several of them, in point of fact. And despite her bouts with motion sickness, she had the mental faculty to have them put on dry ice, and airmailed hence forth to the door step of her working husband back home. And that, by and far, made his day.
It is a few weeks later now, I tarry pit-side, in good form, whilst a bleak and steady mist dapples over the pond, like a thousand pin pricks cast from on high. It is that hard-mist sort-of rain again; tho one that is livable, by Ketchikan standards at least, and doesn’t force a soul indoors, necessarily, to stare glumly out the window. Besides, I liked the rain. And I think the silver salmon in the smoker did too. Or would have. Sort of reminiscent, you might say, from whence what soggy straights they came. If you are going to smoke a fish from Ketchikan, after all, it is only right I guess, that you do it in the rain. It’s always raining in Ketchikan they say. And I believe them.
An October breeze rustles amid the water-side grasses, long and wet, and bending in the seasonal eddies. A gray over-cast parades over-head and the light smoke of apple and peach wood curls serenely from the WSM. No finer weather, let be said, than this, this barometric symphony of low pressure and constant mist, for the pleasures of the pit are only heightened. The aromas pop, as if in olfactory 3D. The joy of rain drops pattering over a hot lid. And the contentment patron to rising wood smoke on such a cold, and dreary day. Glory!
One of the finer spoils in the smokey arts is that of fish. And few fish seem better suited for the task than salmon. Thus, and with some fanfare, it was with the greatest delight when a box of them arrived on my doorstep. Good tidings from Alaska, and a smokey destiny according to my pit. Now the first order of business, before anything else, is to brine the fish for 24 hours. We used a wet brine this time around, one that has proven effective in the past. And it’s real simple to make.
Basic Brine Recipe
2 Quarts water
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Cup Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
*In an old gallon ice cream bucket, mix this all up thoroughly and allow your fillets to mingle in the solution for 24 hours.
Before you go and light the pit, and after the proper brine period, go ahead and dutifully rinse thy fillets under cold water and lay them out on a rack to air dry a bit. Mind your BBQ instincts, and linger here. I know, your young, and eager, and restless, and you want nothing more than to plop thy protein upon a smokey grate and commence with the task at hand. But don’t. Your patience kindled from years at the pit will serve you well here, if you let it. What it is you’re waiting for, you see, is the pellicle, and such can take a while. I know, you’re wondering what in the heck is a pellicle. Well, a pellicle is an outer coating of proteins that form on the surface of brined fish left to air dry, and is tacky, or sticky to the touch. Many a seasoned fish smoker covets the pellicle, for it is that very stickiness which also proves most abiding for smoke. For smoke adheres feverishly to it, like moths to fly paper, or novice skiers to snow fencing. So wait for the pellicle if you can. Some folks even use an electric fan here, to hurry things along. And you can too, I suppose, if you’re in a hurry. But if you’ve learned anything at all from this blog, you won’t be in such a tomfoolery mind-set anyways.
After the pellicle has formed, and is sticky to the touch, sally forth and ignite thy smoker. For this smoke, were looking to run it at about 150 degrees for 3 or maybe 4 hours. This was accomplished in the big 22 1/2 inch Weber Smoker Mountain by a single chimney of lit charcoal dumped directly in the middle of the fire bowl, along with 2 gallons of cold water in the water pan. It may have helped also, that a lovely, cool drizzle fell from the heavens this day, keeping the pit cooler. At any rate, do your best to get around 150 degrees. A little higher is fine. The salmon won’t care.
Whence you have established a stable pit, smoke gently puffing, spray a little PAM or some such thing over your grate, and lay your betrothed salmon hunks in orderly fashion over it. Many of the Alaskan locals like to smoke their salmon with alder wood, but we didn’t have any such flavor on hand. What we did have however, was apple wood, and let it be said, because it is true, that works just fine too. Let it smoke in accord, until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Its pretty much that easy. In the mean time, there is loitering to be done.
It was with the highest and most sincere pleasure I placed the heavy enameled lid on the smoker, and henceforth got along with the very important business of being a pit keeper. Namely, I went to the refrigerator and drew myself a manly beverage there. Seeing the rain wasn’t about to let up this day, albeit a light rain, I jockeyed for the man chair anyways, residing seductively in the living room. Some times we Brethren of the Brisket need to pamper ourselves. Yes we do. Toe-pits up, left foot crossed over right, I admired how the rain drops fell this day, on and off, outside the glass patio door. The symphony in mist, and the homey curls of apple wood smoke. My eyes grew weary, heavy from the day. I listed slightly in my man chair, ensconced in warmth and dryness; two glories made only sweeter on such a cold and decidedly wet day. My eyes fell shut, and my thoughts drifted out to sea. Leisure had asserted itself. A perfect day, as days go, to smoke a salmon. And I suppose to consider for a moment, for the moment’s sake, the rain which fell in Ketchikan. Amen.
Apple Smoked Salmon. Man! So next time you’re faced with a rainy day, and maybe feeling a little fish hungry, do the only sensible thing and light the pit. For any day is a good day where the wood smoke also rises.
I always admired a man who would hang up his jacket only to put on a sweater. Then take off his shoes, just put on some more shoes. Then when he was done with those things, go play with some puppets. I guess we all have our own ilks in this world. Things that draw us a step closer to where we want to be. We’ll be the first to admit, when we were wee lads knee-high to a fire hydrant, my fellow patron and I frequented Mr Roger’s Neighborhood. And it was good. With a grilled cheese sandwich and some chocolate milk, we found solace there, amid the chaotic years of pre-school. We found a friend in the properly kept man in the sweater. One our mothers would finally approve of. And when he ushered us into the Land Of Make Believe, we were at once putty in his formative hands. Oh yes, we had a good thing going with Mr Rogers. So did millions of other kids. And then some how, patron to the years, we turned into meat geeks. Which is odd because Mr. Rogers was also a practicing vegetarian.
What we learned most from the man may have been his catchy slogan – “Won’t you be my neighbor“. A wonderful gesture of good will towards man, and all that sort of thing. And so it was and came to mind, when an old friend moved into our neighborhood recently, that possible good will towards a man seemed the appropriate thing to do. And so the night before, I pulled out two racks of ribs from the freezer depths to thaw. Because to a man, and maybe even some women too, what says welcome to the neighborhood better, or with more sincerity, than a rack of perfectly executed pork ribs.
The next day, amid the afternoon sunbeams which dropped through the Spruce, I put two well-seasoned racks into the smoker. One dusted over with a pit favorite, Suckle Busters Competition Rub, and the other in Famous Dave’s Rib Rub, a spice blend concocted by the local BBQ legend , Dave Anderson, who off-hand and by-the-way, really is famous. Both racks were trimmed some, of extraneous junk, and the membrane on the back of the rack was removed. Why remove the membrane you ask? Well the answer is two-fold. The membrane is not unlike a sheet of plastic almost, in that it inhibits any penetration by seasoning or smoke – the two things we fancy most for our ribs. Secondly, it’s kind of like chewing on a latex glove. Mr. Rogers would not approve. So you will do well to remove said membrane, or at the very least, slice it all up with a series of well-meaning cross-hatches via a sharp knife.
Now the first stage in smoking good ribs lasts about 3 hours. A perfect time to sit back in your patio easy chair, and watch some smoke curl. And by golly, you deserve it. What a privilege it is to let up on the accelerator pedal of life for a bit, and tarry in the good ambiance patron to the pit. Lovely beverage in hand, perhaps some tunes on the pit radio, hark, you will want for nothing else. I loitered for a good while aside the pit, reclaiming the joys there, and the fellowship of the coals. Thin tendrils of apple wood smoke curling from the damper, as if they had nothing else in the world to do. And the chickadees bantered it up in the thick of the Alders, like a gaggle of old men at the barber shop.
After about three hours, of 250 degrees, and bathed in continuous apple wood smoke, the next step is to foil them for a bit. I foiled these racks with a splattering of apple juice each, as a steaming agent for the next hour and half. Foiling your ribs like this is like sending your meat to the health spa, where they will be pampered like no pig ever dreamed. The tough continuity of the collagen is at last loosened up a trifle, and a tender, more gentler world is revealed. The kind of world you can really sink your teeth into, shall we say. Which is precisely what we did after that hour and half in the foil. The ribs were carefully placed back on the grate, clear of the foil, for the benefit of cameras. My friend, who shall remain nameless, Dan, showed up around then too, keen to the heady aromas of BBQ. We both sported grins as wide as a Montana gulch, as I pointed to the smokey plunder which resided there on the grate. No sauces necessary.
“One for you”, I yammered, “and one for me!”
“Now won’t you be my neighbor!?”
Dan may have wept.
Slow-Apple-Smoked Pork Ribs. Man! Nothing says welcome to the neighborhood like a rack or two of perfectly smoked BBQ. Or, I suppose, a well-kept man in a blue sweater who plays with puppets.
Stemming from a long-family lineage of engineers, I have come to adopt the motto over the years “Simple is the best design“. The less moving parts in a device the better, for it cannot break if it isn’t there in the first place. Something that will stand the test of time, is often simple in design. Enter A-MAZE-N cold smoke generators. As simple as they get, and oh so very effective at doing what they do. Generating smoke.
Many of the new pellet grills out there, have attachments for generating smoke, for to engage in cold smoking endeavors and what not. But you will shell out a commendable wallet for such extravagances. On another plane, many a backwoods BBQ bloke has contrived his own cold smoke generator out of various odds and ends left about the house. And the contraption usually looks like something the police should maybe swing by and ask you about. But they work I guess. The simple gadgets from A-MAZE-N Products however, pretty much cut all that goofiness out, and just give you something elegantly simple, and easy to use. A product that will last a very long time. These generators really are kind of cool, and has something to do with cigars actually, and a bright idea from a guy named Todd Johnson.
Todd Johnson, a spare-time-meat smoking enthusiast and a fellow Minnesotan, was once upon a time in the construction business. A few years ago, he was working at a house around here of a retired police officer, who among other things, fancied to smoke the big, stinky cigars. Well one day Todd as looking at said cigars on the job site, how they glowed at the end when properly puffed, and how they burned right along kind of like a fuse. And then by chance, he noticed a pile of saw dust residing on the floor near there. Something then clicked in the man’s mind, kind of like epiphanies sometimes do. We all should be so lucky to have such moments in life, and Todd I guess had his there in the officers house. And thus from stinky cigars and sawdust, the humble A-MAZE-N Cold Smoke Generator was conceived. Turned out to be a pretty good idea too. So good in point of fact, folks of high BBQ immortality, such as Steve Raichlen, said it was the 4th best BBQ gift idea of the year in 2012. Now if Steve Raichlen, the Obe Wan Kenobi of BBQ says this to be so, well, there is no need for us to elaborate any more here. But we will.
We contacted A-MAZE-N Products to see about maybe reviewing some of their toys, and none other than the big man himself got back to us. Todd was very cordial, and prompt, and attentive, and frankly a hoot to talk to. Minnesotans are generally a friendly lot you see, and Todd is no exception. And quicker than we could smoke a brisket flat, that man had us a box of gadgets delivered to our door step. Check one star at least, for phenomenal customer service. We couldn’t have asked for better service, really. Them dudes were on top of it for sure.
Anyways, we will be looking at two A-MAZE-N products: The AMNPS 5 x 8 and the 12″ Tube Smoker, as seen above. Which ever one you go with, the first order of business is to bake the thing in the grill or oven for a half hour or so, to burn off the factory oils and what not. After that, its ready to use. And using it is about as easy as lighting your grill.
First let’s look at the AMNPS 5×8. Or, A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker as seen on amazon. Designed to use both with saw dust or proprietary smoking pellets. I filled the 5×8 maze with Pit Masters Choice pellets, almost, but not quite to the top, and lit off both ends of the maze with some hearty flame action. That’s the fun part of these gadgets. Getting to play with your blow torch. For a match or lighter just won’t cut it. But a business end of an ignited propane welder’s torch sure does the trick. Some folk have even used a can of sterno to light the pellets. It’s up to you, I suppose, and your pyromaniac instincts. We lit off both ends of the pellet fuse, one to double the smoke out put, and two, because these things will burn for umpteen hours if you only light one end, and we didn’t have the time to wait up for it to be done.
The working principle of these devises reminds us a good deal of the Minion Method, a technique now employed by many top-notch BBQ competitors. In the minion method, you get sort of a fuse deal going on too, where the lit coals gradually light off the unlit coals sitting up next to them. And those coals light the coals sitting next to them. And so on. Same principle seems to be at work with these smoke generators too, and go figure, big cigars.
After we got the 5 x 8 lit and puffing away, which only took about 45 seconds at each end of the fuse, we put it in the bottom of the big 22 inch Weber Smokey Mountain. The thing fairly bellowed with smoke. A tight blend of aroma quite pleasant, not to mention abiding, to a long time meat smoker. Placed a block of medium cheddar on the grate, and put on the lid. Cold smoking was underway. And it don’t get no easier.
Meanwhile, at his pit, our patron co-host worked the 12 inch tube smoker. First burning off the factory oils, then lighting one end of it, not unlike that there cigar again I guess. Tho he had a propane torch at the ready, he decided to try to light the tube with a chunk of smoldering ember plucked from his camp fire he had going. The creative sciences we’re upon the lad, and the idea worked brilliantly he said, after a wee bit of nurturing and blowing. After the pellets were suitably ignited, and smoldering as they ought, he tucked the tube in main chamber of his offset pit. The pit temperature only raised a few degrees higher than the outside ambient , and the smoke did it’s thing with a sweeping and convincing ease. He did up some salt, cheese, and everybody’s meat-love – bacon!
We both found the burn time of these smokers to be impressive. They just kept smoldering away. Never going out, nor varying in their output of smoke, until all the pellets were expired. Solid performance, hour after hour. The 5×8, lit at both ends, looked like it would last about 4 hours. So, stands to reason if you just want to light only one end, you might get a solid 7 – 8 hours of premium smoking satisfaction. Not bad. The 12 inch tube smoker gave a good 4 hours of burn time, which is exactly that which they were rated to do. It also came pre-filled with oak pellets. A nice touch, we thought.
The pellets for these smokers come in a rather distinguished variety. About every flavor you can think of, from: hickory and mesquite of course, and apple and peach, to more unique and exotic flavors such as sassafras, mulberry and savory herb! They sell saw dust too, which you can use in AMNPS 5 x 8, in all the usual smoke woods you can think of, but also in flavors you might not think of, such as: bourbon barrel, grapevine, and nectarine. Pretty cool. They certainly have no shortage of smokey goodness to select from. Check out their entire pellet menu here if your interested in seeing more.
The pellets we used were what they called, Pit Masters Choice, a blend of hickory, cherry, and maple. Tho we both found those pellets to smell great during the smoking process, we also thought the smokey flavor imparted on the cheese was a wee bit too strong for our taste buds. However, on bacon it was outstanding. In retrospect, if we were to do cheese with these pellets again, we would definitely smoke them only half as much. (Two hours) Or only light one end of the AMNPS 5 x 8. At the end of the day tho, it’s purely a taste preference you’ll have to make for yourself, via some cold smoking experimentation. All of which is good times.
These gadgets can also be used in traditional hot smoking. Just light them up, and tuck them down in a corner of your grill or smoker, and they will act as your smoke source, giving you the illusion of a fancy pellet grill, at a mere fraction of the price. Just be sure they are receiving adequate air flow where ever you place them in your pit, less they starve for oxygen.
In conclusion, the smoke generators from A-Maze-N Products LLC are about as simple and effective as you can get. No moving parts, these will stand the test of time we believe, and are delightfully simple to use. The pellet and dust flavors are as prolific as they are diverse. And the customer service is on par with the best we’ve experienced in any business. And all that for about 40 bucks. Not too bad if you want to get into cold smoking with out blowing the bank. It is very difficult to find anything negative to say here. I guess if we had to come up with something, it would be we both favor the smoke imparted from real wood over man-made pellets. We’re just purists like that. Even so, these really are fun gadgets to play with, and when cold smoking is your goal, we are hard pressed to find a better bang for the buck.
Two Patron Thumbs Up!
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Under gray, over-cast skies, and still in my pajamas, I sauntered out on to the patio this last Sunday morn, one, to check on my banana peppers growing in the pit garden there, and secondly, to fire up the Weber Smokey Mountain. All the great epic smokes seem to start in my pajamas. OK, that didn’t quite come off right. What I mean is the bigger the meat, like a Boston butt, or in this case, a big brisket, generally means a considerably longer cook. One of marathon status, by and far. Ten hours or more are not uncommon. Thus, and if you’d actually like to have the meat for supper that day, it also requires a rather early start. Reminiscent of what mountaineers refer to as an “alpine start“, when they arise at obscenely early hours for to assault the summit of snowy massifs like that of Mount Everest, before the weather degrades. Those guys are nuts. And we brethren of the smoke have our own Mount Everest. Often times hailed the most difficult, most ornery, and cantankerous cut of meat in our craft to tame. The beef brisket.
Now brisket comes from the front chest of the cow, and at it’s best is an unruly cut of meat, stubborn, yet highly favored by the skilled pit master. The thrill is in the journey, concerning brisket. Like mountaineers, we do it because “it’s there” I suppose. But if done right, it is also one of the most savory plunders in the smokey arts. Very satisfying, in both tummy and spirit. A true test of your pitmanship, or lack there of. And Texas pit masters have long made a living at it. They are to beef brisket what Sherpas are to Everest expeditions. Leastwise that is what they’d probably say in Texas. Those chaps love their brisket. The biggest piece of advice they might give us is that of patience. Briskets are their own beast for sure, an entity in meat, and not every one will be exactly like the other. But if your patient, and stoke your cooker full, and tweak it to 225 – 250 degrees F, well, that’s half the battle right there people. The remaining challenges dwell in the gauntlet of time. Like most good things in life, you just gotta wait for it. And wait and wait. If you’re in hurry, smoking a brisket is not the thing for you. So whilst the smoker came up to temp and stabilized, I started my brisket journey by procuring myself a big bowl of Apple Jacks for breakfast. It was going to be a long day after all, and I didn’t much need the torment of being hungry whilst waiting on a brisket. You know how it is.
Anyways, placing my cereal aside, I smeared the flat over with mustard first, then patted it down with a good smattering of Sucklebusters Competition Rub. Many a newbie to the smokey arts believes the mustard slather is for flavoring the meat, but that is rank folly. In point of fact, we challenge any of you to actually taste the mustard whence the cook is done. You can’t. Nobody can. The reason we do it really, is so our rub has a good surface to stick to. A bonding agent, if you will. You can skip the mustard step altogether too if you wish, and your rub will stick good enough. But we were after a generous bark on this beast later on down the road, and the mustard kind of seems to help with that. Many a brisket purest however, forego the rub all together, and let the full flavor of the meat do the talking. Just salt and a little pepper. And that works too. What ever your pit master instincts are nudging you to do, comply, and let it be well with the soul.
Once the cooker was up to 225 F and had stabilized with the sought-after thin, blue smoke, patron to smoldering hickory, we placed the flat on the upper grate, fat cap up. We did not trim any of the fat cap, as there wasn’t a whole lot to start with as it was. So we kept it all. Fat side up, naturally, for to harness the eternal powers of gravity married with the self-basting effect of rendering fat. Next we inserted the Maverick probe into the thickest, beefiest quadrant of the beast, taking pain not to plunge it into any globs of fat, less its readings go amuck. And that’s it folks. Put the lid back on and let her smoke. If you got things to do, like put a new roof on the house or something, might as well head out and do i tnow. It would be better , however,in our humble opinion, to take up residence in your hammock, with a lovely beverage in hand, and tarry the day away there aside your bride’s feature petunia bed. But that’s just us. Regardless, dig in for the long haul. For the brisket train ain’t arriving till, well, when the cows come home this evening. And maybe not even then. Like many a pit keeper laments, “Its done when its done“. And this is never more so, nor better represented, than with the venerable brisket.
A cool rain developed, like a summer-time treat, falling from the gray skies, and dampening the earth below. Starting slow, drop by drop, and then ebbing into something resembling the weather old Noah must have seen as he reached for his caulking gun. The tweety birds carried on despite, tweeting, and so did I. Rain jacket on, hood flipped up. I like the rain, especially when I’m BBQing. I like the mixed aromas of wet earth and wafting hickory. I like the sound of rain drops splatting over the hot, enameled lid of the smoker. I like the feeling of carrying on when most have dashed for cover. With a quality pit, you might be surprised at the degree of inclement you and your betrothed spoils can weather, nay, can thrive in, whilst the skies fall, and the tempests conspire about thee. A pit keeper is seldom keen to hang up his tongs you see, just for a mere storm cloud overhead. For there is meat to be cooked, and glory to be had, patron to the fellowship of the coals.
At 170 internal, the meat stalled. Like grid lock on a Los Angeles free way. A common phenomenon in smoking the big meats, where you start to think your thermometer isn’t working any more. But it is. The only way out of it, is to grab another beverage, and hit up your favorite easy chair. Sometimes it takes one, or maybe even two naps, for the internal temperatures to start rising again. A vicious game this brisket smoking. But you can do it!
Anyways, after about 8 hours, several of which bathed in hickory and maple smoke, the flat reached 195 internal. Most briskets start to get tender around this temperature. But not ours. It was still being ornery. Now we could have wrapped it in foil around the stall point, like many folks do, and that might have loosened things up a bit, but we were feeling rather lucky today, I guess. We felt like taking the long way around, you might say. The probe still pushed in firmly when I tested other spots, and if it were ideal, the probe would slide into the meat with strikingly little resistance. Most briskets reach optimal tenderness within the 195 – 205 range. This small window is where you have to keep an eye on your beloved meat, less it sidle off for the dark side of BBQ. Now is the time you don’t want to blow it, when you’re this close to the summit. Pull it off too soon, and you’ll have your self a nice, chewy, strap of boot leather. Over cook it, and it’s a dried out strap of boot leather. Yes, it’s a fickle beast. But one you can aptly tame with a liberal and abiding onslaught of patience.
At 225 – 250 degrees, you’re looking at probably 1 1/2 hours per pound. Whoa be it however, to the pit keeper who thinks he can cook a brisket by time alone. Nor can we rely solely on internal temperature either, as we learned with this brisket. The best test really, when you think you’re getting close, as with most BBQ , is to slice off a hunk and actually taste it. Think of it as an exercise in quality control. Your pit master privilege. A good brisket is a triumph in tenderness, wrought from seeds of patience. Victory from an unlikely beast. When our brisket hit 205 internal, it was finally tender to the probe, like a knife through a soft stick of butter, and, might I add, tasted undeniably exquisite. Satisfied with what had procured here, I thus foiled the flat and brought it inside to rest.
Resting your meat is the oft over-looked procedure of back yard BBQ. The summit is sight. By golly, you swear you’re standing on it even, with your flag in your hand. We hear you, brethren. We are giddy and hungry, and want nothing more than to tear into our plunder with a reckless abandoned. Especially after waiting the entire day long for to taste it. But old man patience has one last step to teach us. When we rest the meat, it loosens the muscle fibers up a bit. And the juices, which were once scattered from the considerable rigors of cooking flesh, redistribute now, back from whence they came, and thus flatters your end game and plate appearance with a much more savory, and juicy affair. A moist and smokey perfection. It is then, and only then, amid the lingering aroma of hickory, that the summit is officially yours. And you have earned it indeed. Amen.
Slow-hickory-smoked brisket. Oh buddy! A delicious bark, light smoke ring, moist and tender . You gotta be hungry now!
Eat it straight up, or chopped-up in a sandwich with a dob of cool coleslaw. Dang! There may be better things to eat out there…No, on second thought, I take that back. This is it!
Way up yonder, in the northern reaches of Minnesota, a series of Weber Smokey Joe grills quietly puffed in turn beneath the whispering pines. Men plying through their coolers, and spice stashes. Other men circling about, taking pictures. Patties of ground beef delicately formed, and laying at the ready. And a light humidity hung in the air. This was the scene of the 2013 Burger Throw-Down. A gastronomic snippet of a men’s retreat. A humble tho seriously esteemed competition held in the hinter lands of Northern Minnesota, along the White Fish chain of lakes. It was there in these competitive pools, that my fellow blog host sought to ply his burger craft. Each contestant was provided 2 pounds of ground beef, 4 hamburger buns, a Weber Smokey Joe, and what ever spice and accompaniments they wish to steal from their home pantries . There would be 8 judges, each sporting a most scrupulous eye, and two hours, give or take, in which to greatly impress them.
As the Canadian Jays and Black Capped Chickadees cavorted in the white pines, and the air smelled of damp earth from recent showers, the contestants hovered over their prep areas, one and all, prodding over patties of beef, and a litany of spice and cheese. The game was on, and our fellow blog host recalls, in his own words, getting things underway, in this, the great burger throw down of 2013.
“The burger throw down was as fun as I thought it would be. I was the first one to show up knowing I would have much prep for my burgers. I had my premixed jerk rub tightly vacuumed sealed for freshness and a large can of pineapple rings. I also brought a zip lock bag of hickory chips that has been soaking since Thursday night, so almost 2 days. So, I started my coals first, as one should always do, and as they began to burn I started moving them around the bowl of the Smokey Joe. Placing them on one side of the bowl so I can do a little in-direct smoking once the burgers were fully cooked. When people saw what I was doing with the coal placement, I could hear comments like “wow, he’s got it down to a science, or this guy is serious”. I was just doing what I’m used too.”
The men henceforth got down, as men do in competitive burger making. Got down to the heady business of procuring something memorable, and pleasing to the palate. Something apt to move a judge’s tummy for the better, and put a mile on his face. The contestants were up for the challenge Everything from pesto and jalapeno to feta and Munster cheese. Our fellow patron admits to being slightly intimidated, standing alongside some of these Meat Maestros. But he sticks with his game plan, and his secret weapon – 48 hour soaked hickory chips.
“I then quickly began to prep my burgers. Now, I brought a lot of spice rub with me and I wasn’t sure how much I should use so I decided I would start mixing the rub into the meat until I could smell it. I used about half of what I brought, folding and pounding the meat until the smell joined the wet pine of the camp. I quickly shaped my patties and filled the middle with blue cheese. I sprinkled a little more rub on the cheese and laid the other patty on top of it. I finished by pinching the patties together and rubbing spice on both sides of it. I think soaking the chips as long as I did helped put steam into the meat because I know my burgers were juicy. After they were fully cooked I moved them to indirect heat and placed the pineapple over the coals. I charred them up a little and then toasted the buns. I threw everything together and mine were the first for the judges to eat. I realized at that point I forgot two of my main ingredients, bacon, which would have gone on top of the pineapple, and then some smokey bbq sauce to go on top of the bacon. I’m glad my burgers were juicy, because sometimes without sauce you get a dry burger.”
Were talking a burger here folks. One that would make even a heathen man pause to say grace. One-half pound of hickory smoked ground beef, filled with a pocket of gooey blue cheese, seasoned with the patron kick of good jerk rub, topped with a charred pine-apple ring and of course, a toasted bun. Dang! You certainly are not going to eat a whole lot better under the whispering pines nor burger shack alike. And apparently the judges thought so too, as they gave our fellow patron 1st Place honors for his Smoked Blue Cheese Jerk Burger. Well done old chap. Well done indeed.
Besides getting to sport the title of Defending Champion for a year, he also won himself a chef’s hat and an apron. If we’re nice to him, and flatter him a little, maybe we can even get him to model it for us. I doubt it, but maybe.
A female Cardinal lit on the bird feeder yonder, pecking at the seed. The sun hung like a fiery chandelier in a blue Minnesota sky, dappling through the Spruce, and budding Cottonwoods, and glittering off the pond whilst a pair of mallards conspired for lunch along the edge of it. Chickadees flirted to and fro the suet I had hung for them, and a broad-tailed hawk spiraled upon the thermals far above. I stirred quietly in my BBQ chair, coming to for a moment to hear the tweety birds sing sweetly in the breeze. It felt good to loiter at the tail end of a sun beam today. To make the acquaintance of this old friend removed, from a winter long-standing. I stretched like a spoiled house cat in my chair, and took a sip of cool beverage, whilst casting an eye at the smoker thermometer. 225 degree it said. Which was perfect for the kind of loitering I had in mind today. Smoking ribs is hard work don’t you know, and I had been at it for a couple of hours already, and I do believe I could fancy another nap, as the BBQ rigors this day were decidedly high. Thus, I tipped my hat back over my eyes and resumed the proper BBQ posture, feet kicked up, at ease with the world, and the abiding aroma of smoldering hickory in the air. Welcome to rib smoking 101, POTP style.
Now I suppose, iffin you’ll let me, that I should go back to the beginning and show you few things about today’s smoke. There are a lot of wonderful things in this world you can choose to lay in a cooker and subject smoke to, and a man has got to reckon that a rack of succulent ribs might be the very best. There is nothing quite so fine as pig on the bone, perfectly smoked, married in a deep flavor profile, and yet tender to the teeth. Many a backyard pit keeper aspires towards ribs, often at first intimidated by the unruly cut of meat. Many a professional pit master, likewise, has spent the better part of their adult life pursuing this perfection in pork. No matter where you are on the rib ladder, one thing is for sure – ribs are good, and the journey, dare we say, is half the fun.
Things started out by firing up the big 22 1/2 inch WSM. As usual per my pit tendencies, I was in the mood for a little low and slow. The scenic route on the highway of BBQ. I set up the fire bowl using the Minion Method of course, because I had a lot of napping I wanted to get done today, and didn’t want to be bothered with the business of lighting up more charcoal again later. And let it be said, a Weber Smokey Mountain set up with the Minion Method affords a fellow a good deal of opportunity for napping. Its real easy to do too. Simply pour a chimney full of lit charcoal right smack in the middle of a bunch of unlit charcoal. Depending on how much coal you use, and how you tweak the vents, your cooker can burn at 225 to 250 for a very, very long time. Its a worthy technique used by many. If you want to learn more about it in-depth, feel free to waddle on over to our write-up, The Long Burn:The Method of Jim Minion.
After the smoker had gotten up to 225, and after I had ripped the membrane off the back of the ribs, and after it was liberally dusted over its entirety with SuckleBusters, Hog Waller Rub; after all these things, and procuring another cool, lovely beverage, the ribs were lovingly placed in the pit, top grate, like laying a new-born baby down on the diaper table. Well maybe not quite like that, but careful even so, so as not to knock off any of the precious rub. Lid on, and at once the Hickory smoke began to curl, bringing that signature scent to a man’s pit that equals sublime harmony with elevated levels of protein. Thus, and under very blue skies, I repaired to my BBQ easy chair, found something to kick my feet up on, and proceeded henceforth to ponder the day. And a sweet, pit-side nap was soon enough forthcoming.
You all know the old saying, “good things come to those who wait“. Probably true. But I also suspect that maybe crap can show up right away. Oh how many of us, at one time or another, have rushed our beloved rack of ribs. Pressing them along too fast, or too hot, only to render them into flanks of inedible boot leather. That is not how to do ribs, or much of any good BBQ for that matter. Let us at once revel and thrive in the slow ways. Dare to practice thy patience. May your rendering collagen be bathed in sweet time, and your bark emerge like the glaciers of yesteryear. For the smokey arts are rather a beautiful past time when you think about it, so what then would be your hurry to rush haphazardly through it. Nay! Now is our time, as patrons of the pit, to slow it all down, and tarry in the good favor of rising wood smoke and the savory aromas of sizzling meat. It is our highest privilege, to take the scenic route and try if we can to pause the sun momentarily in the sky. And we will.
Now one of the most common mistakes to procuring perfect ribs is over-cooking them. Folks tho do rather love to gloat that their ribs were “fall-of-the-bone perfect”. But as any competition rib bloke knows, if they are falling off the bone, you have done went and over-cooked them. And the judges will dock you accordingly, because it took less skill. They still taste amazing tho, no doubt, because at the end of the day, good is good, and ribs are good. And back yard pit keepers, well, they don’t really care anyways, so long as they can muckle themselves some rib meat at cook’s end. But if you want to challenge yourself, and hone your pit craft some, try to smoke them so they have some meat retention left on the bone. You want the meat to easily rip of the bone with each bite, yet be tender and succulent to chew. Such perfection lurks in a narrow window, its panes fogged with smoke, and so you must check in on your ribs frequently then, and further more you must know when they are done.
When a rib is done is a fickle business, because ribs vary, and smokers do to. Many like the bend test, and that is when you hold the end of the rack in your tongs and let them bend, like a fat man walking out onto a diving board. When the meat starts to split open at the bend, they are probably done. Likewise, others fancy the toothpick test, where the picker pokes his pick in the pork, and if it slides through real easy, its probably done. Others like to twist on a bone. Others go strictly by the clock. What I like to do is just by-pass the wondering all together, and cut myself off a hunk and try and eat the thing. You’ll know pretty quick what you’ve got on your hands.
Anyways, after about three hours of supreme loitermanship, for good measure, I tossed on a pot of peach baked beans and some chicken legs, and I also went ahead and foiled the ribs with a splash of apple juice. Foiling them, or the Texas Crutch, never seems to fail in loosening the meat up a little. Often times, its where the magic happens. You certainly don’t have to, but its success ratio is too good to ignore. So foil them and be not ashamed. I checked in on them after about 45 minutes, and by golly, they were eager little things turned out, and ready it seemed for their destiny according to my belly. I was kind of dismayed the smoke wasn’t going to last longer. But that is the nature of the BBQ arts. It is done when its done, as they say. And boy these ribs were done just right! I proceeded then to remove them from the foil and lay them back on the grate and then to sauce them with SuckleBusters Original BBQ Sauce. Brush strokes of love, upon my own personal, Rib Rembrandt.
Nothing quite like meat on the bone to set a man straight. Succulent. Tender. Smokey goodness! I took this sample back to my BBQ chair from whence I have loitered so well, and needless to say, had my way with it. Truly a pit master privilege. I smiled contentedly, BBQ sauce strewn across my face and over my belly. I kicked my feet up again, content with what I had done. And the mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. Amen.
It was a windows down sort of day, this day last, as I was driving about town. The hum of my tires on the road, and tweety birds chirping around every bend. No trace of snow anywhere, and the green things of this world gather now, conspiring in the warming light. Spring, if we get such a thing this year, looks poised to pop here, any day soon. I love this time year. Good weather to go for a drive, and to smell the earth unfold. Which is precisely what I was up to until I noted I was within striking radius of my elder brother’s abode. It’s usually a good time over there, so I thought I’d pull in, and visit him there for a while.
I was pleased to observe he was out on his driveway enjoying the day likewise. Brother had his motor home awning deployed, lawn chairs flipped out, and much to my delight, his little Weber grill was in service, puffing away like a mired toy battleship. The boy was “dug in”, not about to waste the beautiful spring day bestowed upon him. He greeted me with a smile as I walked up his drive way, and offered me his very best lawn chair. We sat together, at his urban camp, and chewed the fat a spell, like brothers do.
I noted his little Weber Smokey Joe was putting out a commendable smoke, and queried him accordingly.
“What do you have cooking there?” I asked
“Kielbasa!” he croaked. His grizzled face brimming with a joy usually reserved for 5-year-old school girls at Chuck E Cheese.
“Yup” he continued, “You have inspired me to try smoking. It’s been smoking away for about a half hour now in fact”
“Very cool”, I said, “The smoke looks a little funny tho, what sort of wood are you using?”
“”No idea”, he blurted.
I shook my head. Did he not know that the type of smoke wood was his leverage on poetry, his step stool to bragging rights, not to mention governor of the subtle effects it might impart upon his sausage.
“Well, where did you find this wood?” I queried again.
“Along side the road”, he belched.
My eyebrow raised. For all he knew, which admittedly wasn’t much about smoking, he could have tossed in some chips hewn from a manure-encrusted Lilac log , or worse yet, a pressure treated 2 x 4 or the like. The potential to defile his beloved Kielbasa hung in the balance. I just wanted to take over his cook, and land this plane.
“Well at least I soaked the chips”, he said. “That’s what you taught me to do!”
We milled about for a few more minutes in brother’s serene BBQ camp, and I gradually ebbed from critiquing his grill craft. For it was obvious, amid the afternoon sunbeams, that the man was clearly delighted with himself. I remember those heady days too, new to the smokey arts, where every thing I did was magic. Even if it was wrong. For in the BBQ and smoking sciences, there is a certain thrill undeniably embedded into the first portions of the learning curve. The first time you smell a cloud of mesquite wafting over your patio, and look upon those golden rays of sun slanting through it. Or the maiden voyage of a new smoker. Or your first 12 hour pork butt, when you had no idea what you were doing. Or the first time you try the minion method. The list goes on. Giddy times we old timers to the smokey arts look back on, in recollection, and smile. A smile kind of like what my brother had painted across his face today, whilst basking in the dubious aromas of an unknown smoke cloud. Pining for a smoked Kielbasa. Lost in the rapture of ignorance. Amen.
Today we saw something we have not seen in maybe eight months. We saw eighty degrees of blessed Fahrenheit grace our mercury tubes. The balmiest of suns hung in the sky, and its golden rays poured over the fair land, drenching the trees and those who wandered amid them, in a glorious, life-giving warmth. We didn’t quite know even what to do with ourselves. The last of the ice banks dissolved into a wet earth, whilst the morale of the people soared headlong with the temperatures. And the first buds of the Lilac bushes poked their heads cautiously out, to check and see if it was really as they had heard. If, whether or not, spring was commencing here on the 45th parallel. And it appears, with a rather optimistic hue, that it has.
Naturally, folks across fruited plain are finally firing up their BBQ grills, in a token light to the new grilling season. We were no different here at the POTP, tho sweeter these sorts of days are, I dare say, to those keepers of the flame who have bared the blizzards, and trimmed their grills against the tempest. To our winter grilling brethren out there, for whom’s glowing screen these cyber pages may stretch, who have stood strong in the face of defeating wind chill, eternal darkness, and driving sleet – we commend your fortitude, and your heady passion for the game. For those were our glory days, by and far, standing stalwart at our cookers as the calendar flipped, with our white flags stowed deep in our pockets. Paying our dues with the mounting drifts of snow. Those were the days indeed, robust and raw, and we can be proud of them, as we hold our tongs high. But these eighty degree days, with endless sun and darting song birds, well, they aren’t so bad either. And we can appreciate them just as well, I should say. Days indeed sweeter to the soul, having grilled long remember, on the dark side of the moon. Glory!
On the grill today, hickory-apple smoked country-style rib sandwiches. So get your bib on, cause this one is gonna fall on your lap!
This sandwich is something of an expedient pulled pork affair, for when you’re in the mood for a savory pulled pork sandwich, but you lack the time and fancy to smoke the big Boston butts for half the day long. In some ways, they are better even. A fraction of the time, and because the pieces are small to start with, you get an elevated smoke-to-meat-ratio. Every bite is not unlike the outer, most savory sections of a traditional butt, loaded with seasoning, bark, and smoke. Oh buddy!
Whilst the coals mature on the pit, gather up a pack of country-style ribs to prep. Country style ribs, by the way and if you haven’t heard, are not ribs at all. They are actually part of the pork butt, which actually isn’t a butt at all, but the front shoulder of the hog. Yeah, butchers have way too much fun I think. Anyways, I hit the meat with a good smattering of Famous Dave Rib Rub, and transferred the pork to the grill, opposite the hot coals. The smoke wood today is the pleasant duo of apple and hickory, and a tantalizing tandem in the smokey arts. Then top the grill with the lid, and turn down the dampers. Govern just enough air in to keep the coals alive, and that smoke wood smoldering with flavor.
The next step should come easy to a patron of the pit, and that is to draw yourself a cold beverage and position your self accordingly in your BBQ chair, like a solar panel to the sun. These are the days we have dreamed about all the winter long, distant fantasies once privy only to Florida people, and the blessed lucky schmucks of Ecuador. Today, we will all fend off sunburn, and our smoke will rise as equals. And what a beautiful day it was, with nary a remote disturbance in an otherwise endless blue sky. Mallards floating serenely on the pond, and the call of a song bird’s serenade from the whispering pine. I kicked up my feet on an old bucket, and laid my head back a spell, hat pulled over the eyes, and what hecticness there was at once evaporated into the summer-like breezes. A man at peace by his pit. Nothing is quite so fine. Two and a half hours later, I foiled the ribs.
I foiled the ribs with some apple juice, and let them hence enjoy a sweet steam bath for an hour or so, while I got back to the very important business of loitering in my man chair. Of monitoring sun angles, and judging the song bird try-outs. I may have even nodded off again, and that’s OK. After an hour or so in the foil, and the meat has loosened up a great deal, and the checkered flag is in sight, you’ll want to toast your buns. Yes, goes the extra mile people, and toast your buns. This is your art. Treat it as such! When everything is done, bring it all inside and prepare your sandwich accordingly. Chopping up the savory pork, and maybe mixing it with some of your very favorite sauce, or even hitting them again with a bit more rub. Lay the bite-sized chunks over the toasted bread, piling them together in a magnificent meat melee, and if you’re from South Carolina, or just weird like some of us, go ahead and dob on some cool coleslaw right over the BBQ pork. Man! Press your sandwich together, and commence with the one of the finer culinary pleasures in this life. Be warned tho, sloppy brown chunks may make the acquaintanceship of your lap.
Hickory-Apple-Smoked Country Style Rib Sandwiches. It sure don’t get much better folks! You hungry now? Man!
We are betwixt by the fire and by the ice. That oft volatile, yet seasonal line between winter’s bond and that of a lush, green lawn. Of snow banks and sun burn. Of golf clubs and wind chill. Of spring in Minnesota. This evening, upon the outer crust of the midlands of April, standing over a beautiful bed of coals, working the pit, admiring a lawn full of grass whilst blizzards gather headlong in the west, I am reminded yet again, of the heady pleasures of Minnesota BBQ. Sleet taps like ball bearings over the land now, and the cold wind curls around the old kettle grill – the wood smoke wrapped in eddies. Perhaps this is the reason you never hear our state mentioned on the same pages like that of Texas, South Carolina, and Kansas City, when it comes to BBQ. If those blokes had to BBQ in sub-zero temperatures for fifty percent of the year, perhaps we northern wannabes would tally a might higher in their counts. Its not easy, let me tell you, fighting off wind chill induced hypothermia while procuring a perfectly executed rack of ribs. But even so, some body has to do it, and we are up here despite, giving it a go. For it is the journey anyways, that we favor most in BBQ. The rest sorts itself out, by and by.
On the grill tonight, blizzard or not, we’re doing up a house favorite – BBQ chicken quarters.I know you’re tempted in the grocery aisles to pick up your packages of boneless chicken breast, but I have long held to the notion, that birds we’re designed to have their bones in them. More over, that the bone imparts a noticeably better flavor on your meat’s end game. Indeed, we are men, and we just know how ever it is men know things, that meat on the bone is poetically correct, and the very best way to go. And chicken quarters have lots of bones, beautifully placed alongside vast reserves of meat. It is a good thing. A worthy bone to meat ratio. Thus, and amid the falling sleet, the quarters were rubbed down in olive oil, and dutifully dusted in a liberal fashion with Grill Mates Chicken Rub. This while the fire matured, and the darkened, snow-laden clouds advanced upon our fair hamlet.
As usual, well that is if your interested in a crispier skin, we seared these lovely quarters a couple minutes per side, over some hot coals. Then of course tucked them back, to the cool side of the grill for the rest of the ride. We used apple wood for the smoke flavor tonight. Apple is an apt choice for all things poultry, and one can nary go wrong using it. Just a chunk. You do not want it bellowing like a choo choo train, as pretty as it may look. Nice thin wisps of smoke are what you’re after. Too much smoke is actually possible, and over-doing it has been known to result in bitter tasting meat. Indeed, it is well to think of smoke perhaps as a seasoning, and not an ingredient, like so many newcomers to the BBQ sciences postulate. Anyways, the lid thus was put into place, and the smoke began to curl. And for a while, tho the winter tempest was conspiring, all the world was right. That glorious, contented feeling, patron to wafting wood smoke, and savory meat sizzling quietly aside hot embers. The last ten minutes of the cook, I went ahead and applied the BBQ sauce. Brush strokes of a Meat Mona Lisa! The aromas of smoked chicken and apple wood a waft in the chill, April air. Man! Say what you will, but this is living!
Ain’t too many things finer before a spring snow storm, than a steaming plate of good BBQ chicken. Meat on the bone. It not only sets a man straight in his ways, but motions him to accept the prevailing weather scenarios with aplomb. To be OK straddling that curious but seasonal line the sand right now, which seems so privy to both fire and ice. Good BBQ knows no meteorological boundaries. It can’t you see, as we won’t allow such foolery, less we keepers of the northern flame would have to hang up our tongs half the year long. And that just ain’t right. Its not right at all.
In the morning, winter had returned, making itself at home on the pit once again. So be it. For a hearty flame still burns here, deep in the frigid north. And the wood smoke shall rise again. Amen.
It was one of those vintage, gorgeous Sunday afternoons here on the 45th parallel, if you can call 38 degrees gorgeous. Minnesotan’s I think can, because we love the spring. We love it because for a time, we were rather convinced it would never make our acquaintanceship again. For long was the winter, and eternal did its icy bonds adhere, not only to our driveways, and our favorite lakes, but unto the tender skin of our souls as well. Persistent ice and cold, well, it has it way of getting to some people, like barnacles on the buttocks of our lives. Even so, we kept a positive attitude, and we endured. But most folks I know of are done now with the winter, throwing up their middle fingers along with their shovels in a quiet contempt, dis-satisfied with its once frosty allure, for they are ready again, for the vibrancy of spring. Emboldened by the sun on their shoulders perhaps, and ready for action. Like for instance my ducks.
Our pit faces a pond you see, and these ducks, oh how they like to strut around the place, with their little chests puffed out so proud. Many a time I will be lighting up the grill, and I don’t know if it’s the smoke or the resounding clang of the enameled lid, but they more often than not come hustling up out of the pond to see whats for supper. And I tell them. I have to tell them you see, or they get mad at me. I have to assure them that this too is not their kin they smell cooking under the lid. They always show up as such, and always in the nick of time it seems, making things just a little awkward, as if they have every right to. And maybe they do. Some day I may just have to get it over with, and smoke a duck, and watch them all tout about, and field their penetrating glares. I don’t know. Regardless, and on the menu tonight, we’re making a backyard pit favorite – artisan pizza on the grill. So get a hold of your inner Italian, and let’s make a pizza pie!
If you’ve been paying attention in this blog over the last month or so, you will recall a write-up, How To Impress A Woman: Bread. You should also remember, because there was sugar involved, that the same bread dough we used for that, was also used to procure some rather amazing caramel rolls off the grill, in How To Impress A Woman Again: Caramel Rolls. These two culinary triumphs are not without a third. For we have subtly been holding your hand, here at the pit. Ask for but one strand of golden hair from an elvish queen, and she may give you three. Indeed, and henceforth, tho we ain’t no queen, here then is the third installment towards a higher carbohydrate utopia; a cheesy salute to an all-time favorite, and yet another use for this amazing dough. Sure to impress women and men alike, and maybe a couple of ducks too. If you need to refresh your memory on how to make the dough, just refer back to the links above. But here is memory nudge, none the less.
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
- 6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
You can use what ever pizza dough you wish of course, and many of you already have your own systems for pizza in place, which is great, but the whole point of this article, and the two previous blogs under the bread umbrella, as linked above, is to show you the utter versatility of this fantastic dough. From fresh bread, to pizza. To caramel rolls for dessert. Its real easy to do too.
Simply roll out the dough to a uniform 1/4 inch thickness, add what ever toppings you fancy, and transfer it to an oiled pizza stone, which has been preheated on the grill. Charcoal arrangement should wax reminiscent of a smoldering doughnut, sure enough about the diameter of your pizza stone, and the lid on for an oven-like atmosphere in the cooker. If you’re using a Weber kettle, vents should be wide open. Grilling pizza goes against everything we have taught you about the hallowed virtues of going low and slow. It is hard for us to utter such words, but hot and fast is your motto here. Thus for you a speedier rendezvous to your quintessential pizza nirvana. Whence the crust is of a golden brown, plate the pie, and offer it in good stride to your people. Oh, make haste with it. Plop it down on the table in front of them, with the steam still rising. And watch the molten cheese ooze over the sides whence you peel off a slice, appreciating for a moment how your people foster flattering notions for thee, as their pit master most cool, and bequeather of the beloved Artisan pizza pie. Yum!
Artisan Pizza hot off the grill. Man! Yet another culinary gem from the such a versatile dough, and even better of course, patron to the pit.