The cold is an interesting beast. On one hand we need it, to keep our foods from spoiling too fast. On the other hand, we run from it when ever it sinks its icy fingers into our own meat. Some people hate the cold so much that they leave the north altogether, and live in the south. My brother’s neighbor once lamented that he was done with winter in Minnesota, and that he was going to load up his snow blower into the back of his pick up truck, and drive south until some one asked him what it was. It was there, he figured, would be a good place to live.
It’s 6 Below Outside.. So What!
To my brethren of the brisket of whom’s pit dampers puff ever stalwart in this arctic blast, we salute thee. Our warmer days will come. They always do. But in the mean time we thus must embrace the wintry folds that which are upon us now. A pit jockey well seasoned takes no issue with inclement of weather. For good BBQ will always find a way. Besides, if we waited for the perfect weather to BBQ in, well, we Minnesota folk would only grill maybe twice a year! I was lucky this cook tho, for it was only a meager and sultry, 6 below. And mercifully the north winds were blocked by our humble abode. That helps one’s situation ten-fold right there. So grab yourself a hot cocoa or something, and get comfy and we’ll tell you all about it, and how it went and came to be, patron to the pit.
Firstly, I must digress for a bit. For it has been a couple of moons at least, since we’ve last posted here. As many of our readership know, we done birthed a little patron last summer, and she is by far the sweetest thing our eye’s hath ever seen. Oh we were warned by other parental types how little babies, can, with a flick of heart beat, melt your soul into a rather nice pile of unintelligible goo, and I guess I am here to report that these people were right. You all were right. I’ve been a big pile of goo for the last 6 months, I’d say, in awe at the preciousness of a baby. Every time I hold her hand, I get weak in the knees, and mine heart fills with a gladness I’ve never known before. And for a while at least, and maybe even longer than that, it’s not so cold outside after all. For my heart burbles over with warmth of a different sort. The kind forged in unconditional love. And that is maybe the greatest warmth you can ever feel.
Stranger Things Below Zero
Life below zero is always interesting. Take for example my steaming patties. This is just something you don’t see at your classic summer BBQ. Raw meat spilling it’s vapors like curling plumes of hickory smoke. I’m not sure what principles of physics and science were at play here, but I thought it amusing if only for a while.
Once you have a lovely bed of coals glowing in the bosom of your grill, it’s pretty much business as usual, no matter how cold it is. A good kettle grill can keep up just fine. And so it was with a modicum of effort, I worked the burgers with my big steel spatula, enjoying the warmth of the fire, the sound of sizzling beef, and my eyes drawn to thin slits from the bright sun resplendent over crusty snow. Ah yes!
There is a joy to be had patron to the pit in the wintry months. Maybe it’s because the mass populous thinks it’s miserable, or just not worth it effort in the cold, that makes doing so all the more sweeter. I don’t know. I would offer you this thought, tho, – that it’s maybe not the ordeal you think it to be. For to bandy close to the coals when the mercury drops, is the coziest of affairs. The gift of heat always at hand. The thrill of contrast. And there is a certain but articulate satisfaction gleamed as well, enjoying grilled meat in the dead of winter. I cannot deny that. And neither would you!
Anyways, it’s good to log some time at the pit again. Good to scribe another entry for the POTP archives. We do hope you all have been well, and are enjoying your winter and new year to come. We’re slowly getting back in the groove again, here. Finding our footing in the new and intoxicating world of babies. We are blessed and highly favored at the pit these days, I don’t mind telling you. So I’m going to take this plate of burgers now and go enjoy some of the good life. Time spent in food and fellowship. And yeah, I got me a soft, little hand to hold afterwards, accompanied with a string of unending smiles, and enough BTU’s to warm mine heart for the next thousand years at least. Amen.
*BTU Baby Thermal units
If you are from the northern tier states, and you have lately and by chance poked your nose unassumingly outward of warm environs, well it is no secret that it is butt-cold out there. In your face, nothing-you-can-do-about-it, butt-cold. The kind of cold that which penetrates the crust of a person’s finest attitude, slaps them strong across face, and can have them cowering on the ground in matter of sheer minutes. The fellow on the morning news said a given face, pretty or not, had in his estimation, about five minutes out there, before frost bite would latch on to your epidermis and ruin your day. Upon waking this morning, it was 21 below in Minneapolis. Schools statewide were canceled, the educational system’s white flag tossed onto the ring of battle, where upon it promptly froze to the ground. And the common sense sort of people in town stayed home if they could, curled up under old grandma quilts, nursing hot teas, and mused headlong about the weather out there. Others of us tho, carried on as normal, went to work, and when duties were done, came home and promptly lit the BBQ as if it were the middle of July. Yeah, it’s just what we do!
On the grill tonight, a simplistic respite from the complexities of the smokey arts, whilst also a gentle parlay towards classical american succulence – the chicken thigh. Thighs are one of our most favorite parts of the chicken to grill. High fat content keeps this dark meat moist and juicy, and if married with the right rubs or seasonings, it is a real treat. Our rub of tonight was Famous Dave’s Rib Rub. It says on the bottle to use it on every thing, not just ribs. So we did. It provides an easy but not over-powering heat, and some other spices too that just seem to work on a variety of meats. Old Dave is famous for a reason I guess. Anyways, we dusted the thighs over pretty good whilst the coals matured out on the pit. Then doffed the old woolen smoking jacket and made haste out into the deep, penetrating cold.
Banking the hot coals to the back of the pit for in-direct cooking, we placed the seasoned thighs over the cooler regions of the grill, which is real easy to do, don’t you know, when the mercury scraps the minus 20 mark. Mercy. The heat from the coals bellowed up out of the pit in stark contrast to the frozen world beyond. I tossed on a couple of chunks of apple wood, watched them quickly catch blaze as I tucked my hands into my pockets. I gazed at the fire for a moment, and enjoyed how the light felt against my face. What a pleasure it is, tho quaint in size, to be in the good company of fire and flame on a night such as this. A night where all the world bends on knee to the authority of a merciless cold. Where would we be if it were not but for the spoils of fire. Of glorious and unabridged heat. The energy that which drive our days, and caters to our nights. It would be mighty cold chicken thighs tonight indeed, with out this, a simple fire.
I put the black enameled lid atop the old kettle grill, and the draft caught soon enough, and ushered out a lovely wood smoke through the top vent. We were up and cooking, and there was contentment in the pit. I might have dallied some there, dreaming of summer BBQ’s past, of cool, green grasses and song birds serenading from atop wavering willows, but the peculiar feeling of my left eye lid fusing shut sort of snapped me back to reality. What ever! I sidled inside, unashamed, and drew a hot beverage there. I got to watching the evening news, which I seldom do, with a hot brew cradled in my hands. The weatherman said that today was a special day here in Minnesota. He said that at one point during the day, for a moment anyways, that Minnesota was colder than even the north pole. In point of fact, he added, Minnesota was colder than anywhere. He said, sort of proudly, that this was the coldest place on earth, today. And I believed him.
I smiled sharply as I gazed out at my faithful pit, puffing stoically away on the patio. It’s a good pit. A faithful stead. And it knows not the inclement of weather, nor some days do I think it even cares. Who says you have to hang up your BBQ tongs when the mercury plummets! Indeed, with but a degree of mild lunacy, the grilling season may be extended the calendar long. And rewardingly so. And if you’re really lucky, you can even claim to have grilled your chicken thighs in the coldest place on earth.
“There is just something emancipating about putting meat to flame, and declaring that it is good. Something poetic, yet raw. Something in the simple act which tugs on tender strings that which tarries deep in our souls. And the cold is no governor of this, tho the weatherman might say otherwise. “-POTP
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all the weathermen said it would get mighty cold. One said 14 below for these parts, and even colder still, up way of the frigid tiers across northern Minnesota. Wind chills would plummet to dangerous levels, they warned. And children should be kept inside, the elderly too, swaddled in warm blankets and faced with hot mugs of steaming cocoa cocoa. Machinery didn’t fare much better. Automobiles were going down like black hawk helicopters today, and you could see their cold carcasses scattered and abandoned in apocalyptic fashion along many a roadside. Why did Gramma have to live over the river, and through the woods too! It got so cold, in point of fact, that the chemicals the city put down on the roads for to melt the ice there, were at best, ineffective, paltry attempts at ice management. Things would just have to wait, the weatherman said, for a heat wave of about ten degrees or so. Things would have to wait indeed. Everything that is, but my supper this night. Which off-hand and by the way, was out smoking on the pit. So turn up your collar and let’s go have a look.
There is nothing quite so fine on a frosty winter’s eve than flames rocketing out of one’s pit. And when the mercury levels have dropped out of sight, and you are to question your very sanity, oh how sweet the British thermal units are which radiate from that fiery kettle. In other words, and to the point, the heat from the pit felt dang good! Moreover, I had two portly chicken breasts on the grill tonight, opposite the hot coals. Each one dusted nicely in a, spicy Cajun rub. Heat people. A patron of the pit will take it in any form or incarnation, on sporting nights such as these.
You all know how to grill chicken. There is nothing special here about the process. In-direct, flipping frequently, and cooked until the juices run clear. We did add a bit of apple wood for good measure, because that is how we roll. The rest, by and far, was left to the grilling fates. Indeed, sub-zero grilling is always an interesting time. In case of point, I had finished washing my hands, like BBQ people often do, and went out to the pit to check in on the evening’s plunder. Let it be said, and re-stated here, that super-chilled aluminum tongs and slightly wet hands provide a moment of clarity in sub-zero weather. Not as humbling as licking frozen steel, which is a rite of passage for a Minnesotan it seems, but genuinely notable, none-the-less. It took a little thawing out over the BBQ before the tongs peeled off my hand. Glory! Not that the victory endured tho, for soon the keen northern winds had in turn seared my left eye lid shut, which might have been my only inconvenience, had not I also had a wind-chill induced ice cream head ache coming on. Son!
Ah yes, winter grilling. Why would any one be so daft, you might inquire.
Because there is ambiance in the coals, I suppose. Camaraderie in flame. It is not like we don’t have a perfectly acceptable heat source out there, bellowing forth its glories anew. Oh we do indeed. And we embrace it all the more. It’s just the line is much sharper, tracing that hallowed ground between fire and ice. Between life and death. And you are drawn unto it with an enlarged capacity to appreciate it, nay to revel in it. And where the apple smoke gently rises there too is also peace. There is just something emancipating about putting meat to flame, and declaring that it is good. Something poetic, yet raw. Something in the simple act which tugs on tender strings that which tarries deep in our souls. And the cold is no governor of this, tho the weatherman might say otherwise. Amen.
By the soft light of the old kerosene lamp, I bandied together a few salmon fillets, previously plucked by my lovely bride from the icy straits of Ketchikan, Alaska. They were handsome fish once upon a time, and still were, patron to the grill front this eve. Their deep, orange flesh looked good in the scant light, and would look even better, I wagered, on a plank, over a smoldering bed of coals. And that’s what we did. So grab yourself a lovely beverage and settle in why don’t you, and let me tell you how it went and came to be, this the glory of spicy maple planked salmon, hot off the grill. Man!
Whilst your plank is coming up to temp over a lovely bed coals, (you soaked it for an hour at least didn’t you?) assemble your salmon fillets in one accord, and lightly dash them over with a wee bit of salt, and tad and half of pepper. Then, and just because, we add a dash of dill weed too. Call it instincts. Then, we slathered the top and the sides of each fillet with a good, spicy, Chipotle mustard. Lastly, and with a soft hand, we sprinkled dark brown sugar over it all, and in turn, beneath a crescent moon, all was well. A recipe we cannot take credit for, but rather one adapted some from the Obe Wan Kenobe of professional pit mastering, one, Steve Raichlen. If he can do it, surely any pit jockey can.
Once your plank has curled some, indicating it’s hot enough, with a deft tong, gently place the gussied up fillets where they need to be. The plank, by the way, should be placed directly over the coals, but on the grate, for this culinary procedure. Planking, if you haven’t tried it yet, is a fabulous way to grill your meats and infuse them with smoke at the same time. And we are big fans of it here on this site. It is maybe the easiest grilling you will ever do. The plank acts as a heat shield of sorts, so your spoils do not morph into blackened rubble, whilst at the same time, impregnating your proteins with the pefectly formed smoke, and thus, the savory flavor this heady game is known for.
After the fillets were properly placed, in other words, no parts over-hanging the plank, go ahead and place the cover back on the grill. The hardest part of planking is now done, freeing up the pit master for the more important and often neglected business of drawing a lovely beverage from the refrigerator. Or it might be your style to affix yourself to your favorite man chair, and while away the minutes there, toe-pits up, your favorite tunes aloft in the room. Or maybe it is you need to sally off for the little pit boys room, and get caught up with some appointed tasks there, with a Guns and Ammo magazine in hand. It is all at the discretion of your most viable pit master instincts. Do what you must.
Mind the clock, however, and after 15 minutes or so, maybe even 20, do sidle out the door and check upon your plunder. If it flakes easily with a fork, it is done. If you’ve really done it right, you will find glorious deposits of yum where the brown sugar caramelized. That blended with the occasional spicy kick from the mustard, and the flavors of salmon and maple wood smoke, oh buddy, do you need a bib yet! You do not even need to flip the fish during the cook, because planking is just that easy. Between the heat shield effect of the plank and keeping the lid on the pit, you have basically created an oven with smoke. Something only found at the pit front, people, under the open skies and fragrant breezes. Beneath waxing moons, and cavorting bird song. Another reason grilling outside blows away the finest kitchen range. And why it is, precisely, we do what we do, patron to the pit. Amen.
Spicy Maple Planked Salmon sided with fried potatoes. Spicy yet sweet, and all good where planking salmon is concerned.
Here in Minnesota, when the weather starts to turn, and the temperatures fall to subzero levels, we the faithful remnant, who call Minnesota our home, have to partake in an annual ritual known as, “winterizing the house“. Now when winterizing the house, we do such things as adding more insulation in the attic to prevent any heat from escaping. We blow out sprinkler lines and insulate outdoor water faucets to prevent water freezing in the lines and bursting pipes. Some people do the bare minimum to winterize a house and other folks go a few extra steps towards convincing victory, under the flag of reason – better to be safe than sorry.
We Patrons must also do the same in preparation for Minnesota’s wintry grilling season. As the temperatures drop and our bodies begin to acclimatize, we also must take the proper steps so we don’t lose that much coveted heat, or even worse…our pipes bursting. Now some Minnesotans do the bare minimum to prepare themselves for the winter months, but we Patrons of the Pit, we will always take a few extra steps because as mentioned earlier, it is better to be safe rather than sorry. We think so anyways.
Here at the Pit the proper attire for keeping cozy in the frozen out-of-doors is like second nature. For we are both fans of winter camping and so long johns, hats, gloves and even our smoking jackets are never an understatement. We are a rare breed; we take great delight in sitting beside our smoky pits, and as its chimney puffs away we might light up ones pipe and take in a good English tobacco. As the harsh winter winds slap sharp snowflakes across our face, we fill our trusted Stanley thermoses with our favorite hot drink, and sip away. As the temperature plummets past zero we begin to hug the hoods of our pits while a small camp fire may join us during a bitter cold smoking session, sharing in its efforts to keep us warm. Therefore, insulating the inside of our bodies after standing outside at our Pits during one of our famous blizzards is something we can always work on. This weekend we started that process with Homemade Chicken Soup.
- 1 (3 pound) whole chicken
- 4 carrots, halved
- 4 stalks celery, halved
- 1 large onion, halved
- 1 Bay Leaf
- Water to cover
- Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder to taste
- 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules (optional)
- Desired amount of Egg Noodles
- Desired amount of Wild Rice
Put the chicken, carrots, celery, onion, in a large soup pot and cover with cold water. Heat and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken meat falls off of the bones (skim off foam every so often).
Take everything out of the pot. Strain the broth. Pick the meat off of the bones and chop the carrots, celery and onion. Season the broth with salt, pepper, chicken bouillon and Garlic Powder to taste, if desired. We added a can of Cream Of Chicken Soup to thicken the broth up a little. Return the chicken, carrots, celery and onion to the pot and stir together. At this time also add the noodles and wild rice. Cook until Noodles and Wild Rice become soft and serve.
There is nothing better than dumping hot soup down one’s gullet and bringing a sudden rush of warmth to our bodies, thus beginning the process of acclimatizing our bodies from the inside out. Over the next few months, we might surprise the blog world with recipes for keeping one’s self warm and well insulated. So, let the process of winterizing begin.
“Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”
“We are men. We eat meat. And half the year we grill in the dark. We do it in part because not doing it chews about as well as a half-cooked brisket.”
I was out at the pit the other day, grilling up some supper, and noticed it then. Like a long-lost and once-upon-a-time house guest peering over the bushes. Darkness. And it stirs folks to action. It is getting to that point in the year where good people are rolling their cookers into garages and sheds, or barring that, getting comfortable with the mind-set of putting the BBQ toys away for the winter. We do not understand. These were once upstanding citizens, you see, capable of much smokey goodness. Able to roll a brat or flip a burger with the very best of us. Now regressed, cowering in their flannel sheets and cotton afghans, supping herbal teas and watching the Wheel of Fortune. That sort of Tom Foolery seldom sits will with a patron of the pit. You will nary see a white flag waving over our cookers, nay, not if we can still lift a bag of charcoal you won’t. There is a better way. So stand tall brethren of the brisket, for now is not the time to become lax. It is a smokey imperative that we bandy together, and stoke the fires tall, for a great darkness is coming, and snow is coming with it.
Go henceforth to the market and secure yourself a plunder of meat and coals, and stock your larder at once. Let there be no excuses whence the gales of November come howling. Devise a wind break if we must, for to thwart that icy wind, and light the fires strong, boys, for there is still meat to be smoked, and joy to be had, patron to the pit. There is. It is our time now to rise and to revel in the quaint ambiance of the night shift. To where as my elder brother is fond of saying, “the metal meets the meat“. To warm our hands over a beautiful bed of coals. To be out-of-doors, under star-spangled nights, aside smoking pits, grilling at the end of blue-tinted moon beams. Glory!
Or, I suppose, we could dawdle inside our thermally advanced housing units, in designer slippers, watching that wheel spin by, and nary see any of this.
Indeed, it is wired into our manly nature to put meat to flame, and declare for all the world that it is good. It is just what we do. And to do outside, under magnificent skies, is how it was always meant to be done. The heck with heat waves or blizzards or any other inclement for that matter. And as this fair Autumn ebbs into darkness, which it will, we will be there too, pit-side, with our tongs in one hand, and lovely beverage in the other. There is no off-season for the keeper of the flame, you see. Nor would be wish for there to be. This is our twinkle. Our humble opus. So let us treat it as such.
And so together we will stand stalwart at our pits, leaning into the wintry tempest. You are not alone. We are the fellowship of coals. And there is camaraderie in flame. And meat.
This concludes our pep talk. Grill on and sally forth!
This winter in Minnesota was a very long, drawn out winter. A winter where we thought for moment our region of the United States by chance had entered into a new Ice Age. We had a few glimmers of hope, but as soon as we saw fresh grass…… FRUMP!, We were again snowed on. Though we Patrons are tolerable with utilizing out our pits all year long we find Spring to be a sigh of fresh air. Don’t take us wrong, wiping snow off of our pit covers and removing our gloves to light a chimney full of coal is just the way of the bbq force out here. We know that for 5 to 6 months of the year removing our boots and putting them back on to maintain the pit is an expected part of the bbq process. HARK! We are now ready for the luxury of flinging off the flip flops and melting into our favorite patio chair with a cold beverage in hand, whilst sitting next to our hot smoky pits. AH yes, to sit downwind so that the cool breezes can blow the pit smoke directly into our paths becomes a fantasy while sitting in a cubical during our weekly rotating responsibilities. The time has come when we can rightfully say goodbye to a season that I can comfortably say had overstayed its welcome. I love winter and I love snow, but it is that time I welcome Spring.
Grill on – POTP
Repairing on the couch with lovely beverage in hand, I muse over the weather forecast. The man on the screen says a wintry tempest brews, and a prominent Canadian chill is soon to descend upon us, with no mercy. And the winds will howl, and the temperatures will feel akin to twenty below. Squirrels will fall from trees, and children will openly weep. I crossed my legs like a gentleman of leisure, gazing into the warm glow of the fire-place, whilst listening the weatherman banter, and the cold sleet tap like ball bearings over a frozen window pane. I could almost hear the mercury sink for cover in its fragile, glass tube. Like any opportunist, I knew this was some fine weather to do a little baking. To partake in some quality ambiance. In point of fact, I already had some bread going out on the grill!
Let it be said, because it’s true, anything you can cook in the house, you can also do on the grill. Take bread for instance. Once thought to be the sole domain and prize of a good oven, we keepers of the pit have been puttering on such matters, and are here to tell you, good bread can be baked right along side your steaks and chicken, if you have a mind to. And why wouldn’t you! Bread is good, and besides that, the lady folk all seem to appreciate it, and take to it with consistent good cheer. Say what you will, but that is no small thing.
First off is the dough. I’ll admit, I’m a man, and I can’t bake bread. I have tried before, the end result resembles something rather like a stale, old shoe. And once upon a time, along with many menfolk I presume, I had given up all together of ever having the sufficiency of skill for baking worthy bread. And I was OK with that. I’ll stick to steaks, and leave the bread to the prettier folk. But then one day, on a visit to my elder brother’s abode, everything changed. I stepped into his house and was greeted by a wondrously pleasant aroma I don’t often associate with my elder brother – that of fresh-baked bread. And he was procuring loaves upon beautiful loaves of it from his faithful oven. A big grin on his face, a tightened belly, and mass quantities of bread lay steaming at the end of a bright sunbeam. Well, he had cracked the code it appeared, and after a sampling, a passing of the knowledge was in order, and of course, I felt compelled then to adapt it for the grill.
The bread I speak of is from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A day, an excellent book that swept the nation a few years back. I’m quite sure many of you already know about that, but some of you may not. If you’re in the minority and fancy yourself a bread lover, but inept at making it, then you’re in for a lovely treat. Instead of regurgitating some one else’s brilliance, let me instead link you to the masters themselves. This short video will tell you everything you need to know about making this wonderful bread. Then we will show you how to work it on the grill.
In case you didn’t catch the master recipe, you’re going to want to hang on to this for some future grilling adventures here at the Patrons of the Pit. We have but just begun to show you what is possible, where the bread maker and the grill master meet in stride.
- 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
*We have found, through extensive experimentation, that 5 1/2 cups of flour makes for a considerably softer bread, and though the dough is trickier to work with, it does at least save some flour.
Adapting it to the grill is easy too. Every thing about this bread is easy. Now the grill we’re using this cook is your basic Weber kettle type, on the assumption that’s what most people have. If your working the BGE or other ceramic egg types, odds are since you have one of those, you already know how to set it up for baking. If your working a barrel type grill, the concept we will share isn’t too far off. You’re pit master instincts will serve you well. Anyways, while ideally you’ll want your grill at about 450 degrees, it’s not that big of deal if it’s not. Employ your considerable skills to get it close enough. Next, if you like a crunchy crust on your bread, lay it directly on the grate, in-direct of course. For a more easy-going crust, lay the dough on a pizza stone or in a cast iron pan, and again, over in-direct heat. A pan of water in the grill is also supposed to lend to crisper crust, but having done it both ways, neither seem to make much difference, so I usually just go with out. Put on the lid to create an oven-like atmosphere, and proceed to go draw yourself a lovely beverage. As it bakes, check in on it from time to time, and rotate it 180 degrees at least once for even baking. At 450 degrees, it should take about 30 minutes. This particular loaf took 45 minutes, none the worse for the journey. You’re looking for an internal temperature of 200 degrees. After some practice, you’ll know exactly when it’s done by its hollow sound, with but a mere strike of the finger upon its golden crust.
Artisan bread on the grill. It will amaze your family, and astound the women in your life too. Womenfolk like bread you see, don’t ask me why, they just do. They are drawn to it, and irrevocably so. To its soft center, shielded by a firm crust. To its deposits of guilty carbohydrates inherent within. They just like bread is all. And if they see a man make it, well, you quickly become their hero. And you’ll just have to deal with it, by and by.
I know, a meatless blog by The Ministers of Meat. It ain’t right. Rest assured tho there was chicken grilled also during this cook, and that this bread makes for amazing, robust, meat sandwiches if one so chooses. Anyways, gentlemen, if you want to impress your lady, try baking them a loaf of home-made artisan bread. Better yet, go do it on the grill, and you’ll both be happy ever after, I think…
Sometimes life should stay simple. Though us Patrons enjoy working hard at making culinary masterpieces over a flame, we don’t always have the time to do so. Surprised you might be to the fact that we also work full-time jobs. Though we may post many things on here throughout the week, it’s not because we stay at home grilling and smoking meats all day, tho there are days where we wish we could do so. Days when the flirtatious considerations of leaving the trustworthy 9 to 5 and becoming a full-time food artist dance across the brainwaves of our minds. We sit back in our desk chair, stomachs groaning, while the pondering issues related to our work trade gather in the background. We exhale a sigh, because all we want to do is fill a coal chimney, stuff it with newspaper and light it with a flame. Then of course, reality strikes, and we can’t. We eat a granola bar to cater to grumbles of the stomach and press on until the whistle blows. During the winter when the sunlight is less than your blessed summer nights; we like most of you out there need to keep meals simple. A brat, corn and baked beans are one of the most intelligible meals you can get. So simple that the only spice I used was cracked pepper over the beans. It may be simple, but it hits the spot…always. In closing, cheers to those who work real jobs, a full eight-hour shift that allows little glimpse of sunlight. To those who need to think of something fast, remember there is always hot dogs, brats, corn and peppered baked beans. Grill On – POTP
It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all. – Laura Ingalls Wilder
As the winter tempest barrels across this mighty country, I stoke the coals in the grill, banking them to the side of the old kettle. Plumes of heat bellow forth and feel good on my face, and my old wool smoking jacket feels “just right” as I place a small piece of hickory on the fire, which dutifully ignites, as if on queue to a higher calling. Hands to my pockets, I pause momentarily, to fancy the fire some, and to consider the day. To inhale that cool winter air, and declare that the moment is well here at the pit. It’s only like 30 degrees, which compared to what it has been, well, I may as well be grilling on the white sand beaches of Waikiki. Balmy! But a wall of snow approaches steadfastly from the East, as it sweeps across the northern states, leaving a wreckage of automobiles marooned in it’s wake. There are times when it is good to leave the house, and times when it is not. Times to build a fire and hunker down, as they say. We Patrons of the Pit, we know just what to do. It is our second nature. Thus, on the grill tonight: Bone-in Chicken Breasts, and some Bacon Cheese Onion Buds. As my fellow patron is fond of saying, “Bam!”
Start with the onion first, one of them big onions bout the size of an ostrich head, as it needs about an hour on the grill. Slice it like a blooming onion, or in a checker board pattern, going almost, but not quite all the way through. You want the onion, like so many rock bands we’ve grown to love, to just stay together. Next order of business is to dash it with a smattering of your favorite seasoning. I used some Cajun flavors I had laying about, but you can use what ever. Then lay two or three strips of bacon on top, because bacon is good, and should never be considered otherwise. Gently set the onion monument on the grill, over in-direct heat of course. Rotate once or twice in the next hour, at the discretion of your pit master instincts and beverage levels. The bacon will of course baste your onion as only bacon can.
Twenty minutes into the cook, put on the chicken breasts. I used the succulent bone-in sort, which renders the meat with more flavor I believe. The rub this time around was of the home-made variety, a sweet and salty concoction with just enough heat to make it interesting. Anyways, I thus dusted the breasts liberally and then seared them first over direct heat, to crisp them up, and then tucked them back by the onion for the rest of the cook. Lid on, dampers cracked nicely, and a light blue smoke, patron to smoldering hickory, wafting into a gray, Minnesota sky, with blizzards, and white-out looming distinctly on the horizon. It don’t get much more pleasant than that.
The last step, after about of hour, is to chop up the bacon and sprinkle it back over the onion with a whole lot of cheddar cheese! Glory! And pass the cardiologist!
Hickory Smoked Chicken Breasts and Bacon Cheddar Onion Buds hot off the grill.
No finer way to hunker down for a winter storm than that. Bam!
Why is it when us Patrons of the Pit become giddy as a kid on Christmas when we know a snow storm is in our forecast? Why is it we contemplate our next meat choice in the grocery store as the weatherman predicts a cold and heavy snow. Why do we bundle up and head out into the tundra as we know the rest of the world stays inside? As the winter wonderlands blow across our patios we hold our tongs in hand waiting to add another chunk of hickory to the flame. Our neighbors gaze out the window and question what we are up to next. Our wives sip hot coco and smile knowing that they will get a meal out of our insane obsessions. While the whole time we sit in peace. As snowflakes falling on our stocking hats and ice crystals collect on our whiskers. We breathe in and out, taking in as much of the aromatic mixture of smoke, meat and spice rubs. It’s natural…it’s poetic.
Yes, to all of those affected by the storm this weekend. Let your grill smoke away. Let your meat slowly fall apart on the hot grate, when only 1/16th of an inch away, Winter hammers the lid of your smoker with its fierce cold. When you sit at your dinner table, fork in hand and BBQ sauce in the other, smile at your accomplishments. Laugh at yourself knowing you have performed an act that most people in their right mind never would. Then eat!
Over a steaming cup of tea, I glance out the window at the pit, watching spindrift swirl off the house in a fashion suitable maybe, for the weathered, icy, flanks of Everest. The mercury gauge read a sporty 5 degrees F, but the weather man said it felt more like minus 15, and I guess believed him. You kind of have to believe him I concluded, when it feels like your parking brake is engaged when you back down the driveway in the morning, only it isn’t Yeah, it was cold out there alright. A vintage January day in Minnesota. The kind of day where you put on two or three shirts in the morning, and then you go about the business of getting dressed. I curled my toes in my warm socks, fingers cradling the hot, porcelain cup , and after a dash of consideration, I decided to do the only sensible thing I could think of – to go outside naturally, and ignite the Snow Weber!
Robert Frost postulates in his poem the virtues of world destruction either by the fire or by ice, figuring either, if we had to, would be pretty nice. I wonder tho if he ever grilled in winter, or knew that the two forces could harmonize together for the betterment of his tummy. Because they can. And so it was, with pork chops in hand, I stepped out onto the wind-swept patio, and at once my left eye lid seared tight from the keen northern wind. I love it! Tenderly I placed the two chops on the hot grate, and admired them there for a spell. The previous owners of which I’m sure knew each other back on their farm. Perhaps routinely getting together for morning slop, to discuss their lives, their hopes, and their dreams. Maybe they even aspired to make it on to this blog one day. Hmm. I shook off the thought, and dusted the chops with some Louisiana Fish Fry Cajun Seasoning instead.
After a while, and maybe even longer than that, I felt the compulsion to put the lid on, and go think about my life. Nothing quite so fine as repairing out in the yard with a 15 below cross-wind, whilst two pork chops sizzle on the snow grill. Glory! The art of winter grilling, if your wondering, is not to fight it. But to embrace it. To make the proverbial glass of lemon aid out of it. To meet it on it’s terms and not your own. That, and a degree of lunacy doesn’t hurt none either.
And supper is served, courtesy of, and inspired by:
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Dunking your brand new white mop into a fresh batch of homemade sauce goes against everything mother had taught you. OK all rules ascend out the window when you begin to baste a half-done smoky rack of ribs. The aromatic mix of spice, vinegar, and smoke waft into the air, and you can’t help but to apply more.
I’d like to share a recipe I found online and tweaked a little for my taste. It’s a Chocolate Infused BBQ Sauce. I know what you’re thinking, “What is he thinking?” Chocolate and BBQ? Chocolate and Smoke? Don’t get me wrong, it sounds weird, but tastes very good. Here’s how it’s done!
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- 3 tablespoons molasses
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper – See Note Below
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped – See Note Below
- Combine ketchup and next 9 ingredients (through pepper) in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk. Reduce heat; simmer 8 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; add chocolate, stirring until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.
I decided to make a few notes for the interested reader.
- If you’re going to use Chocolate, go big! OK, I didn’t look too hard at the grocery store. I went with what cost more than Hershey’s or Nestle. I decided to go with Guittard’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips. I felt the flavor stood out more when I have baked with them in the past.
- Also, when a recipe calls for freshly ground pepper, then ground your pepper freshly! I have a mortar and pestle. I love going with a rainbow mix of Peppercorn.
- For those of you who have ever tasted chili infused chocolate, go ahead and throw in some chili powder to taste. The sweet of the chocolate and brown sugar really compliment the kick of pepper and chili powder.
Well, we had allot of left over roast beef from the Po Boy cook a couple days ago, so I thought to myself, self, why don’t you do up something a little different with that left over meat. Something involving the blessed binder of cheese. Take your sandwich kick you’ve been on to another state, and salute something good there. Viola, the destination was clearly then apparent – Philadelphia, and the gloried cheese steak sandwiches – POTP Style.
Man! Sauteed some onion and green pepper, re-heated the Po Boy meat, and mixed it all together. Then promptly topped it with everyone’s favorite ghetto cheese – Velveeta. Slipped this monument to sandwich technology into the toaster oven for a couple minutes, and thus arrived on the shores of cheese steak bliss. It was good people. It was real good.
I went out to the grill the other night, in routine fashion to tend the meat, and found myself for a time just standing there, staring into the hot, glowing coals. It was a crisp night, and the heat from the fire felt good on my hands. And the sky was dark, and scattered with stars, shimmering vanward to a blackened infinity. I turned up the collar on my smoking jacket, and noted momentarily how pleasant it was – this fire, this night. The simple pleasures of loitering pit-side, while lovingly doting over a piece of meat. I just love it. But why. Why would a grown man of apt intelligence forsake a perfectly good stove top, and a heated house, to go instead outside, into the cold, and cook his supper in the humbling style of hobos and passing vagrants. I pushed the meat over indirect heat, paused, and thought about it for a while.
The reasons reside I suspect, with the soft-rising tendrils of smoke, and the waving mirages of heat against a pale, crescent moon. With the dancing flames, and the aromas of smoldering wood. It might also be because of all the many campsites beneath whispering pines I am thus reminded of, every time I strike a match, and kindle a fire. Because meat cooked over an open fire is at once a pleasure, and akin to something deeper in our souls than electric skillets or microwave ovens. Because of the freshened air which expands my chest, and the Black Capped Chickadees which flirt yonder, in the stately trees. Because BBQ is a fickle pursuit, and you are not always so sure how it will turn out. And because good BBQ takes time, lots of time, and loitering over a beautiful bed of coals, with my tongs in hand, is at once a stand of small defiance, in a falling world wrought with haste. And that is no small thing.
Because one day I might smoke the perfect rack of ribs.
Indeed, the reasons are many I suppose, of why we do what we do. And I suppose too there are plenty of other ways to cook a cut of meat, that will taste just as good, and surely a might more comfortable than standing out in the cold. But scarce any of them, let it be said, are nearly so much fun as this; with this fire, this night out-of-doors, under magnificent skies, and over fiery beds of glowing coal. Ah yes. The simple pleasures patron to the pit, and to those who tarry there. This I suspect, is why I grill by and by, and why it is we do what we do.
That, and I like to eat! Amen.
Have you ever happened upon a piece of meat that should come with it’s own cardiac unit! A mass of flesh so prominent that folks are slowed by it’s gravitational field. That cameras are drawn, and grown men weep with happiness. Meat so big that it’s effects ripple into the stock market, and Wall Street, and pronounced plunger sales. Such a hunk of meatiness was spotted in the Minneapolis area over Christmas. Photos were snapped. Respects were paid. And then of course, after a moment of silence, it was eaten. Amen.
As you delve into your pit master career, and hone your craft there, every once in a while it’s good to regress back to something basic, something easy. The sort of cooks that once upon a time you cut your teeth on, all those many years ago, back when you thought putting a hot dog on the grill was a holy event. Indeed, it’s a refreshing respite on the grilling front, for a time, to set aside all notions of fancy rubs and intricate marinades, of exotic smoke woods, and elaborate technique, and simply put meat to flame and call it good enough. That’s what I felt like today, beneath a cold December sky. Something simple.
A couple of chicken thighs in the back of the freezer would be just right. Had I the proper equipage, I might have done a carbon 14 dating process on the meat, but seeing I had no such device, why not let ignorance be my ally. Thus, over a beautiful bed of coals glowing hot-orange, thighs were put over direct heat to start, to sear and crisp them up a little, then placed over indirect heat for the rest of the cook. Even at 9 degrees Fahrenheit outside, on a wintry Minnesota eve, with the lid on the grill it easily kept up to the task of cooking supper. I stood grill-side, hands in my jacket pockets, admiring how the moon looked in the sky, whilst savoring the simplicity of the cook. We all should do this sort of grilling more often, I thought. I even resisted the urge to add smoke wood, purely to adhere to my simplistic mantra of the day. However, I did hit them with a touch of garlic salt, just because. The results later, were a couple very tender chicken thighs, juicy, with a crisp skin, sided with a left-over portion of the Christmas corn. Son! Perfection in simplicity. Procured at the tail of a moon beam. And for all the fancy flavors we like to impart on our meat, and they are quite good, don’t get me wrong, there is still something to be said for a little salt, a dash pepper, and a hot bed of coals.
Looking out the frosted window and the wind-driven snow mounting there, and noting the mercury is reading in the single digits now, wind chill of 7 below, and the longest night of the year has settled upon the land, there is a curious tug upon the soul I find, to light up, and put some meat to flame. A true Patron of the Pit knows no such convenience as the off season. Nor would we harbor ever the thought, to throw in the towel upon such a game as we have come to love. The reason why is this. If we had to wait for a nice day – a day of smiling weather, warm sunbeams, and song birds twittering from the Dogwoods, well, up here in Minnesota, on the 45th Parallel, we might be waiting for six months then, to grill. And that’s just not right. No meat geek worth his tongs should abandoned his sanctioned grilling post for that long, less he morph into what we’ve heard is a normal person. And so yesterday, just because, and neath the moon and the stars which shimmered above, we grilled. It was 5 pm.
Turns out many miles away, cross the wind-swept and frozen land, my fellow patron had his new smoker fired up as well, in sort of an upward raised middle finger to the inclement of weather. Bless him. Were were probably the only two blokes within a 100 mile radius to be grilling this frigid eve, impassioned by our craft. A deep, penetrating cold pressing over a hot bed of coals. The glorious interface of a winter grill master’s lofty ideal. The proving grounds. The cusp between light and darkness. Between fire and ice.
I took the wings, John took the legs, and together and apart, we grilled. Hands in our pockets, huddled over our appointed stations, the ambiance of our fires flaring; crackling in the frozen night. The smell of hickory a’waft in the wintry air. The star fields sprinkled over head, like diamonds cast over a blackened canvas . Glory! And the neighbors all glare at us from behind their warm looking windows, aglow in artificial heat, just shaking their heads. They do not understand that which they are missing.
Intrepid, no. Crazy, maybe. Impassioned, absolutely. To those who grill, and have seen it’s joys, it is our privilege to aspire towards it. To bundle up and put ourselves out there, where the metal meets the meat. For grilling is simply too much fun, and too well with our souls, to forsake it for the seduction of a warm easy chair. In the air of what the good mail men used to chant; neither snow, nor rain, nor heat – we Patrons of the Pit heed the creed, holding it near to our hickory-scented jackets. Perhaps the mail service never intended it for the Brethren of the Flame, but we latch onto as if it were our own, and lavish accordingly in our intended spoils. A victory not soon extinguished it seems, from snow, or rain, or heat, nor, as it turns out, even the gloom of night. Amen.