Somewhere in northern Minnesota
When the wind stopped talking to the stately pines, and the waves settled into calm glass, I could at once hear the lonesome wail of the loon and the distant cry of an eagle in flight. The sun waxed amber over the western shores, distantly beautiful and studded in balsam and papal and birch. The pine-scented air hung freshly in the encampment, as I came down to the canoe for to survey my kingdom and the wilderness sanctum that which spanned the miles nary soiled by the hand of man. I stood there at the water’s edge, gazing, letting the silence which echoed through the forested primeval melt into my mind, and drip down hither into my soul. This is where I longed to be. Where I simply had to be. Living deliberately. Somewhere in northern Minnesota.
My Secret Spot
No, I shall not in a thousand and one blogs be likely to illuminate you as to where this lovely photo was snapped. I cannot reveal my paradise, not even to you good folk and readership of the POTP. You must understand the glories of the quieter places, and the toils upheld there to preserve them. Nay, you’re just going to have to go find your own wilderness sanctum, let it’s magic sidle upon you and nestle into your heart, and when you return home, figure out yourself how to not mistakenly divulge your secret spot’s location. It’s hard not to tell people, but alas, it would not be a secret spot any more if you did. So I won’t. I will tell you however, that we did eat well out there. Not all camping is hardtack and swamp water you know. Not if you’re a patron of the pit.
Brought the Solo Titan along on this romp. You might remember this piece of kit from last autumn. We did a review on it. A wood gassifier stove! Yeah, it’s a wee bit too heady to explain right now, but if you want to read the review and learn all about it, here is a link for that. Solo Stove Titan Review
We cooked up a couple of bannocks and this lovely dish of corned beef hash and eggs for breakfast. A filling way to start a day in the bush. Or were we ending the day? No matter, good is good.
Somewhere Else in Minnesota
Oh we’ve been getting around. Let me show you another secret spot about 7 hours away from the last spot. Stream-side we were, where the native brook trout make their home and lives in the swift flowing currents of this quaint river. I couldn’t catch trout this day, but that did not mar my dinner plans. I knew I wouldn’t woo any trout so I brought along a suitable protein in it’s stead. Steak!
For this cook we broke out the old Mojoe Griddle. Remember this beast? If ever there was a love affair with a 1/4 inch, hot-rolled, 35 pound steel disc, then this is it. As always, a privilege to cook on, especially in the prettier places. It’s a restaurant grade griddle, and could not be more fun. If you want to learn more about the Mojoe, check out our review in this link – Mojoe Griddle
Aside the babbling stream we fried up a massive hunk of steak, sided with several piles of black beans and corn and fajita stuff; all of this was served over a good bowl of red beans and rice, and thus topped with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream. Go ahead and wipe the drool from your chin now…We’ll stand by and wait for you. Oh man that was good! I could eat this every day!
And….Somewhere Else Again…Still in Minnesota
This secret spot was along Lake Superior. That’s all I’ll disclose. Suffice it to say there is no better place to cool off on a summer’s day than on the rugged shore of the big lake they call “Gitchigumi” . That’s Ojibway for “Huge Water“, in case you’re interested. Anyways, we ate good here too! Man was it pretty!
More steak and beans, this time on the Instagrill. Yet another cooking gem we reviewed not long ago. Truly a portable charcoal powered cooking unit fit for the gypsy and wandering nomad in all of us. Love this little pit!
We cooked all our meals on it at this campsite. Here is a lovely breakfast burrito in the making. We’re toasting the tortilla whilst the ham and egg and cheese innards stay warm up in the corner. We really enjoyed cooking over this thing. The perfect camping grill. If you missed the review of this one, you can check it out here, InstaGrill Review
Or better yet, just check out their website Myinstagrill. By the way, they met their kickstarter goal, and are supposed to go into production of this little cooker this summer sometime. Good on you Jonathan!
A fine little grill to be sure. But if you can swing it, and have the inclination, not to mention perhaps a fair degree of lunacy, then nothing beats a 22 inch Weber Kettle grill in camp!
Somewhere Else’s Else….Yes, still in Minnesota
Boy we’ve been living the camper’s dream this spring. Gone every other weekend, living sweet lives. My cronie, bless his heart, he done dragged this Weber kettle about an 1/8 of a mile down the winding trail, through the woods and across creeks, to one of our favorite campsites, where upon we enjoyed quaint billowing clouds of wood smoke and the aromas of slow cooking pork ribs. Nothing is quite so fine as that in a rustic, backwoods encampment. It would have been better tho, I suppose, had he remembered to bring the cooking grate.
Indeed. But with a few pop cans and some green branches procured from the camp-side thickets, we were able to make do and eat well anyways, patron to the pit. Let no obstacle stand between a man and his meat! It’s all about working with what you’ve got, and adapting to your place in the sun. And that is how you stay alive in the woods, not to mention some secret spots of paradise that we can’t really tell you about. You understand.
Life is good when you go bush. Life is even better if you have good food there. And we did. And you can too! Amen.
It was a morning of slow-curling pillars of pecan smoke which tapered and twirled in the golden shafts of a rising sun. The tweety birds also were in full symphony, flirting in the naked dogwoods at the pond’s edge. And the breeze which sifted through the patio furniture was cool, but soft to the touch, with a tint of mildness lingering in the eddies; a heady sensation not privy to these parts in many moons. And the winter’s snow bounties are receding now, like an old man’s hairline. And there is grass. It’s not the best grass, but alas it’s grass no how, and say what you will, but in February in Minnesota, that is no small thing. I delight also in the way the snow courts the spruce trees yonder. Filling in between the needles. The contrast of green with pockets of white. It’s just a lovely time of year. A first hint of longer days.
Pulled Pork in Less Time With More Bark
On the pit this morning, awash in the early morning light, we have what might appear to be two handsome pork butts. But in point of fact, they are only one. One petite butt, actually, sliced in half. And the reasoning for this is something we’ve been experimenting with here at PotP Headquarters for some time.
You see, I’ve had to eat a few sandwiches for you people to figure this out, but alas, it’s a price for knowledge that I am willing to pay. I’m good with it. But it turns out you do not need to smoke a pork butt for 12 hours to accomplish effective BBQ. That is, I suppose, if you don’t want to. Because there are plenty of days I would just as soon take the scenic route like that, if for no other reason than I rather fancy the journey. But there is a secret bypass on the road to succulence. A route in detour slightly swifter, but just as edible. One that flirtatiously courts the ever-ebbing passage of time with the affable affinity and gentle premise of the tooth fairy. Lets go there, shall we. Lets do this!
The Power of Halves
By slicing your pork butt in half, what you have done, we figure, is reduced the cooking time by maybe a third. My calculations are crude, I admit, but it’s something like that. Smaller butts cook faster than bigger ones. It just stands to reason. What you have also done is increase the surface area. This opens up more acreage for more spice rub and further, more smoke penetration. And what all that means is, you’ll get more bark.And every pit jockey fancies more bark. All of this just from slicing your butt in half. So we sliced it.
The night before, in a zippered plastic bag, we marinated the pork in Kits KC BBQ Rub, from our friends over at Miners Mix. Meat and spice. It’s like hooking two lovely souls up on a highly engineered blind date. It just can’t help but to go swimmingly. We just let the flavors mingle the night long, and let nature take its course. To “get happy“, as they say, in the romantic, yet estranged confines of the refrigerator. And by golly, they did!
Or if you want to whip something up yourself, here is a basic rub recipe pretty amazing on pork.
Basic Pork Rub
- 1/4 cup Paprika
- 1/8 cup Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- 2 tablespoons Garlic Powder
- 2 tablespoons Onion Powder
- 1 tablespoon or more Cayenne Pepper
- 1/4 cup Coarse Salt
- 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
In the morning the meat was ready, already smelling amazing, and was plopped accordingly on the old kettle grill. Now, I would usually use the Weber Smokey Mountain for pulled pork, but again, I was in the experimenting mood. There isn’t much, after all, you can’t accomplish with a good kettle grill. The smoker is designed to hold a lower temperature, but you can do it on the Weber too. The trick with the kettle grill, at least the 18.5 that I used, is to build a smaller fire than usual. We’re talking just ten to fifteen briquettes, if that. Maybe a few unlit briquettes to sport a little Minion Method if desired. All this to keep the temperatures low, say around 250 degrees.
We tossed on a couple chunks of pecan wood, mostly because it’s the only wood we have in stock right now. Just so happens tho, pecan wood seems to go well with any meat you might wish to smoke. A fine all-around smoke wood. Anyways, we plunked on the old enameled lid, and went about our business. Namely that of tucking a periodical under the arm and sauntering into the little pit boy’s room for a spell. You know how it goes.
On an aside, we often get asked about our cast iron grates. They are from a company called Craycort, and might very well be the nicest thing you ever do for your Weber. Check them out on our Amazon affiliate link below. It helps keep a good company in business, gives us a wee kickback, and pretty much pimps out your kettle grill to the highest order. Sincerely, they are great grates!
*Rotate the butts 180 degrees every now and then for even cooking.
After the coals had nearly gone out, we checked under the lid and I noted I had gotten the color I was after. And that’s good enough. You don’t even need to take it’s temperature. That’s how easy this pulled pork is. And that’s all the further time the butt needs to spend on the pit. The next step is to plate them up temporarily, and ferry them inside and put them into…I can’t believe I’m saying this…but yes, put them into a….crock pot.
Now I know what you’re thinking. What would a patron of the pit be doing with a crock pot! Well, to answer that, I know what else you’re thinking. You’re thinking crock pots are awesome! Brilliant pieces of culinary technology worthy of enshrinement in various halls of fame and grandmotherly kitchens. Why wouldn’t a patron use one! And I agree. But let’s digress, shall we, to the day you were born.
Babies and Pork Butts
You see, those first couple of hours on the pit are not unlike a baby’s first two hours out of the womb. It is the golden period of maternal bonding and modern meat smoking alike. Not only are the first two hours after birth where a mother bonds intensely with her spore, but likewise, it is also where a man imprints with his meat! Okay, I got carried away there. What I’m really try to say is, your meat gets all the smoke it needs after the first two hours. In point of fact, I’ve read from multiple sources that a smoke ring is done forming around 140 degrees internal temp. Or about two hours. It just works that way. Any smoke after that point, technically, is wasted in kind. You can read more about such things, here, if you’re interested.
So the pork has all the smoke it needs after two hours on the pit. That’s the thing to remember here. It’s not done cooking. It has just received the high blessings of the pit, is all. It has been anointed in smoke. We then transferred it to the crock pot, with a few squirts of BBQ sauce, where upon and with the aid of modern crock pot wizardry, you simply leave it to it’s own devices. Bequeath it to the BBQ fates to fall apart as it will. And it will indeed at around 195 – 200 internal. And you do not need to take its temperature here either. Pulled pork in a crock pot is easy like that. Just let the meat speak to you. Use your pit master instincts. It will tell you when its done by its tender flanks submitting to the masterful glide of your fork, as succulent pieces of butt topple over itself into whetted pools of its own glorious juices. The crock pot really does take the guess work out of it. The babysitting. And when its done, it will even keep itself warm until supper. Golly! What utter decadence! It is like a Boeing 747 landing its self on autopilot, and the pit jockey need not raise a finger. And in the end, after you pull it into savory shreds, and stuff it into a good roll, you’ll have yourself some authentic, smoke house quality, BBQ pulled pork, succulent enough for the kings, fit for the pit master, and the crown jewel of your crock potting career. And it was easy too. Real easy, patron to the pit. Amen.
Savory pecan smoked pulled pork, with plenty of delicious bark. Patron to the Pit. Courtesy of the Kettle Grill/Crock Pot Hybrid System. Works real good. But tastes even better.
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*Another experiment, resurrecting a post from the archives. One of our lesser read pieces, that explains in part, I think, why it is we do what we do. Enjoy.
Blessings – PotP
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 hea…
Source: Testament of a Grilling Geek
The temperature was a balmy 32 degrees. The aromas of pecan smoke were in curl. Long, tapering, plumes of it, wafting into a gorgeous February sky. The sounds of chicken flesh could be heard sizzling over a hot bed of coals, and for a while at least, you could almost, but not quite, feel the warm sun press gently against your face. Oh it was a nice afternoon at the pit, I don’t mind telling you. Very abiding. A real treat after several weeks of sub zero grilling. It’s odd, I know, that 32 degrees can feel balmy, but trust me when I say, a body adapts. A sort of biological antifreeze develops, and you just get used to the cold, I suppose. And when it gets up into the 30’s in February, well, it is with great restraint that you some how resist the nagging urge to slip into your designer swimming trunks, smear SPF 15 suntan lotion over your hairy belly, and sidle over the neighbor’s fence to inflate their pool noodle. And all the neighbors rejoice.
This is to say, in other words, it was nice out, and yours truly frolicked accordingly. And the Black Capped Chickadees where in abundance, too, all singing their praises for another day of cavorting amid the piney trees. Of all the tweety birds I observe in the backyard, and living on a pond there are aplenty, I think my favorite is still the humble chickadee. They are not large, showy birds, who demand to be seen, but rather tiny little things, and somehow still maintain the quality of being impressive. I think what impresses me is that they are just more gregarious than other birds. Friendly, you might say. Chickadees have been known to drop onto your outreached hands for some seeds. Up north, where Chickadees are truly themselves, they will even land on your hat while you walk in stride, iffin that is you put some bread crumbs up there. They’re just cool little birds. Chickadees are also of the proper stock that does not leave us for the southern states, when winter’s tangled tempest encroaches our shores. Nay, the Black Capped Chickadee stays the winter long, chin up, and somehow seems to thrive. Like I said, impressive little birds. And they are always my little fuzzy cohorts, and inspiration, for these winter grilling sessions. Speaking of, today on the pit we have some chicken wing appetizers. You know, the kind you get at sports bars and the like. Tho these are undoubtedly better what with being cooked in a nice haze of smoldering pecan wood. Yum!
I do rather fancy how the sunbeams rest on my meat at times. Indeed, just to lay there, feeling that glorious heat do its bidding, with no pretense nor shame. Reminds me of my brother in-law’s old bull dog. He used to favor a sunny patch of linoleum at the foot of the stairs, where the 4 O’clock sun beam would make it’s way through the window pane, casting a warm glow upon the shoes and stuff on the floor. And the bull dog would go lay down in that patch of sunlight, belly up and illuminated, and simply revel there, with the sun warm upon his meat. Yup, I know from what he aspires to there…What we we talking about again? It was chicken wings, I thought! Hmm. I don’t know anymore…
I suppose I should let you know that these wings were all done indirect, meaning opposite the hot bed of coals. I do 90% of all my grilling indirect like that. You run very little risk then of burning your plunder. Or drying it out. Indirect slows down the cook too, I believe, and gives a pit jockey more time for the important things in grilling, such as: watching cloud shadows, observing more chickadee flirtations, dashing inside for a manly beverage, investigate your trees, dashing back inside to the little pit boys room, grabbing more manly beverages, picking your nose, and general, tho not always practical, pit-side loitering. Yup, indirect, people. It’s the best way to go!
Our seasoning of choice today, like most days lately, was from the kindly folks at Miners Mix. They have a lovely gamut of flavors, for all your culinary needs, and today we needed something for chicken. So it was off to our Miners Mix private shelf for some Poultry Perfection. I’m not sure how they do it, but they are certifiable spice wizards those dudes. If it didn’t exist in 1850, it ain’t in there. That could be one clue to how they do it. They use real stuff! The don’t put a ton of salt in it either, which makes it not only healthier, but I think promotes more attention to the subtleties of flavor. All this is to say, they make some really good rubs. If you’d like to grab some for yourself, and see what we mean, this rub and many more are on amazon. Below is our affiliate link to get you there. It would help support companies like Miners Mix, and we would also get a wee kickback too, so that we could go buy more Miners Mix. Plus your food would taste better. It’s just a happy deal all-around!
So it was, under glorious blue skies that our appetizer wings came to a most edible and succulent maturity. Then with a “new” paint brush from the garage, we glazed the spoils with a modest sheen of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce. The flavors merged together under the dome into a yard bird tome, sure to put any meat maestro on the brink of tears. I cannot divine an accurate way of conveying just how savory they smelled, tinted in pecan smoke and spice. Nor how flavor-packed and juicy they tasted. So I won’t. You’ll just have to make some yourself, and let the meat speak for itself. And if you’re a lucky bloke, you may even feel the sun smile on your face. Amen.
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Autumn is a lovely time of year. Cooler days and chilly nights. Walking out to the car in the morning, there is a crisp bite in the air, and it just smells better, somehow, because its cold. Geese are on the wing, daily it seems, flying like bomber squadrons overhead, honking as they strafe past, their strong wings whooshing through the chill air. And then there are the leaves. Umpteen billions of them. Golden, and orange, and fiery red; around every corner, down every road – and they quiver and tingle on thin stems in the slightest breeze, quaking there. Waiting to drop. Waiting the turn.
I was cooking supper at the Pond Side Pit the other night, just admiring the autumn scene. Namely the big, old cotton wood there, and how resplendent its leaves looked against a blue, October sky. I don’t know how it is in Texas, or the desert, or even for our friends down there in Ecuador, but autumn in Minnesota is maybe why we all live in here in the first place. It is surreal. Something beautiful to behold every square foot, leastwise in the natural realm. All the trees gussied up so fine, free of that chlorophyll stuff, and my but they look akin to bride’s maids for the Fall.
Supper was some pork chops. Thick-cut of course, for not only are we Patrons of the Pit, but hark, we’re also hungry! So thick-cut it would be. For seasoning we tried some rub our old buddy, TJ Stallings, sent to us. His good friend, O’Neill Williams, of O’Neill Outside came up with some new flavors, and we were lucky enough a hold of some,thanks to TJ. Tonight’s medley of yum is the Wild Game Seasoning, tinted with a light mesquite smoke, and some darn succulent chops. Granted, my pork chops aren’t too wild, but no how, good is good, right, and now wildly good, perhaps, with some of this seasoning. We’ll give it a shot.
As I bandied a pile of orange glowing coals to the side of the little kettle grill for indirect cooking, it dawned on me that my leisurely summer evenings of cooking in the sunlight were coming to a close. The turn was at hand. Where autumn fades to longer nights. If there is a draw back to this fabulous season, at least for a pit jockey, it is the longer nights. Up here in Minnesota, the nights will come on all-too-swiftly in the coming weeks, and before somewhere in December, the nights will last about 14 hours altogether. That just ain’t right. So that means one of two things for a pit keeper. You either make your supper elsewhere, or you grill in the dark. For some reason I cannot completely divine, we’ve always been partial to the latter. Probably the sum result of inhaling one too many smoke plumes off a smoldering hickory log. Aw well.
So as I brought these gorgeous chops to the sultry land of succulence, I couldn’t help but to lavish also in the scant light that which lingered at the pit this night. How the long slants of an autumn sunbeam washed through the fluttering cottonwood leaves, and lit up that blue sky above for just a few minutes more. Indeed, we’ve been blessed. I savored the moments here, pit side, with tongs in hand, listening to the pork sizzle over the bed of coals, and enjoying the radiant heat off the old kettle grill. This was nice, I thought. Very pleasant. Maybe because I knew in the back of my mind that the winter grilling season was right across the way. I mean, I could see it yonder. Just over there, behind that seasonal curtain waiting to drop. Behind those beautiful leaves fixed to fall. But for the moment anyways, and maybe even longer than that, I know that I am grilling in the light, and long may we tarry here in the sweet sun that which fills the day. Amen.
Mesquite Tinted Pork Chops seasoned with O’Neill Outside Wild Game Seasoning on an October Eve swiftly fading. And all the pit jockeys rejoiced!
Ps…If you’re so inclined, we made a little companion video of this pit session to share with you. Another way to see our meat! Yes, we have a you tube channel. And no, we never use it! But it’s there for times like these, even so. Enjoy!
In all the years we’ve been into BBQ, and all the smoking projects to come and go across the pit, one of the most elusive has been the venerable Tri Tip. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that up here in Minnesota, and many other places across the country, Tri Tip roasts are rather hard to locate. Sort of like a kindly old grandma at a heavy metal concert, it just doesn’t happen. Indeed, I’ve searched this county high and low, and nary a Tri Tip to be found. And then last week, on a casual bacon foray at my local butcher counter, I cast first glance upon my meaty betrothed.
She was beautiful. So shapely and raw. Three points of beef, and decidedly marbled. She laid under the glass like a super model, next to the T-Bones and the rump roasts. My, but I was smitten for this cut of meat. I was ready to drop to my knee right there, and dig out my wallet when a voice bellowed from behind the counter.
“Can I help you with something?” asked the butcher in the white shirt.
“Where have you been all my life!“, I belched through a long-standing gaze, wiping my drool off my chin.
The butcher man just shook his head in shades of pity. I pointed to my quarry beneath the glassy pane.
“Oh, we’ve carried Tri-Tips for years“, he croaked. “You just have to keep an eye out for them, as they do come and go“.
Conversation was squelched by my giddiness, no time to chew the fat, well, at least metaphorically speaking, and before long I had my beloved swaddled in butcher paper and tucked under my wing like an NFL half back, as I darted hither and yon through the crowded grocery store. Putting a spin move on a mother of four. Lowering my shoulder to the door. Back to the Pond Side Pit I went. Back to my caloric destiny! And I knew precisely what must transpire next.
Whilst the coals came to maturation on the old kettle grill, we seasoned up the tri tip with same goodness we used on our 4th of July brisket a while back. Maynards Memphis BBQ Rub, from the good people at Miners Mix. Absolutely love this rub. It has been fantastic on ribs and butts, and likewise we were keen to discover it performs well on beef too. Said so on the back of the bottle. Said it was recommended for Tri Tips, and well, that’s all we needed to know. So we coated the roast liberally with it. Then, as a second layer of flavor, and just because, we sprinkled on a fair coating of Montreal Steak Seasoning. If you have none of this, the old stand-by of salt and pepper is nothing to hang your head about. Add a little garlic and onion powder to that, and you have yourself a time-tested, and most worthy spice rub.
*You can season Tri Tips liberally because you are going to slice it later into thin 1/4 inch pieces, like a brisket. So let the seasonings fly.
It wasn’t long before my meat bounty lay prostrate next to a fiery bed of coals. It sizzled accordingly when it hit the hot Craycort grates, a sound well-loved by many a pit jockey in good form. The sound of that first sizzle sort of signifies to yourself, and those who may be looking on, that the games have indeed begun. That for a while, man and meat will dance, and the fires will be hot. I love it. And to hold with Santa Maria Tri Tip culture, we tossed some oak chips onto the coals. Red Oak is the most poetically correct wood to use. That’s what the Californians would say. But if you’re a rebel, use what you want. I hear pecan wood is no slouch for competent tri tip. We’d caution against green treated wood, however, from your deck. Don’t do it people.
The Poor Man’s Prime Rib
What do you get when a brisket and a sirloin steak get married and have a baby? I think it’s
Tri Tip. It reminds me quite a bit of working with a brisket. But it tastes something like a steak. Tri Tips are harvested from the sirloin, we’ve heard, so that is part of it I’m sure. Some folks like to think of the Tri Tip as the poor man’s prime rib. I like that sound of that too. But it is an exquisite cut of meat, and quite fun to cook. Out in California, they do it all over an open Santa Maria style grill. If I’m ever out in Santa Maria, I must check out their Tri Tip prowess. Those open grills look like too much for a patron of the pit.
As meats go, Tri Tip is an easy cut to cook. Ours was done in about an hour flat, courtesy of the Weber kettle grill. The little lady is not so much fond of rare red meat, so we brought the internal temperature to 150 or so, all on indirect heat, opposite the hot coals, and then plated the beast up and let it rest for 15 minutes or so. During the rest, the meat will reallocate its savory juices in adequate fashion. Then, and only then, we brought it back out to the pit once more, and seared it over direct heat this time. The reverse sear, as it called. Meaning to sear at the end of the cook versus the beginning. This, the one last glorious finale to the grilling process, produces a pleasurable crust, and sort of locks in the rested juices. Searing it at the end of the cook like this also means you do not have to rest it again. In point of fact, serve it immediately to your guests, and watch their eyeballs pop open with delight. The meat burst with succulence. And note the accolades which befall the chosen pit master. Man, can you smell it! Tip your hat, draw a lovely beverage, and thus tarry now in the wake of deeds well done. Indeed, where man and meat hath danced as one. Amen.
*When you slice your Tri Tip, do so as you would a brisket. Cut on the bias, or across the grain for a tender chew. It makes a remarkable difference.
Oak Smoked Kettle Grilled Tri Tip. Come on people now, it don’t get much better than this!
Two Men, Two Pits, and Forty Pounds of Yard Bird
It was early Saturday morning at the Track Side Pit. The song birds were singing as brightly as the warm, August sun, of which it’s golden shafts dropped with authority from an eastern sky, kissing the Petunias that which bordered the patio here. Soft music played on the pit speaker system, whilst the tall, leafy stalks of the track-side Mullen plants leaned in the morning breeze. Smoke curled off the freshly lit charcoal chimney, as I prepped the 22 inch Weber Kettle grill for action. My fellow patron, and caretaker of the Track Side Pit, patiently tinkered with his old, Char-Griller Outlaw, also prepping it for business. Yes indeed, a dual patron cook out was in progress. We love it when this happens. It is not often both co-founders of PotP bandy together to ply their craft in one locale. But we did this morning. We had things to do. Manly things. And we would do it together, by and far, as Patrons of the Pit. We would do it for Lee.
There is this BBQ chain that I rather admire, called Sonny’s BBQ. Many of the readership here have probably heard of it. Many have probably even partook of it. Sad to say I have never been there however, nor sampled their smokey wares. I’m sure the vittles are good tho, I don’t question that. But it isn’t their food so much that impresses me, even tho I know it would. Nay, it is their character, and in particular, this thing they do, called, Random Acts of BBQ.
What they do is find some one in the community who has been giving selflessly, of their time and talent to others. And doing so whilst asking for nothing in return. Just plain good people helping other people. Anyways, the team at Sonny’s BBQ cater a bunch of tasty BBQ to these folks, throwing a shin dig as just a way to say thanks, and to let them know they are appreciated. Pretty cool stuff. Well, figuring that there is no copyright on kindness, we here at PotP thought we’d dabble in the practice ourselves, and do something nice for some one else, who could use some good BBQ.
That some one is friend that goes to our church. She’s been through a rough time of it lately, rougher than most people I know, losing her husband, Lee, in a car accident last spring. It’s miserable stuff, but with grace handed to her from the Lord above, she’s managing through it alright. Life goes on, as you know, and here lately, she had to throw a graduation party for her daughter, and she needed a lot of meat grilled up for this. She needed help. And this is where a Patron of the Pit must answer his calling. This is what we’re born to do! And we were glad to do so.
40 pounds. That’s about how much chicken we had to grill up this morning. This would later be chopped up for a massive quantity of Chicken Caesar Wraps, sufficient enough in-part to feed a parade of hungry tummies. It’s a lot of chicken! And rotating between two pits: the 22 -inch kettle grill, and the Char-Griller Outlaw, we made it happen. Systematically cranking through it. Several chimneys of charcoal. Several lovely beverages. And four hours of good, meat-flipping comradeship. We were men, you see. Soldiers of the Smoke. And highly smitten for the day. What a pleasurable cook it was. And it started of course, with bacon.
No, the bacon was not an ingredient for the Chicken Caesar Wraps. Nay, it was for us! If you’ve not yet experienced the joys of breakfast at the pit, well you’re missing out on some of the finer moments of life. My fellow patron brought out his camp stove, and set it up pit-side, and in a few moments, the sounds and aromas of sizzling bacon were at play. That combined with a gaggle of fried eggs, a cup of coffee and some old fashion donuts, well, such set our bellies off right, here in the golden shallows of a morning sun.
So it was, batch by batch, we grilled our way through the morning hours, whittling away on the 40 pound pile of chicken breasts. It is not technical grilling. Anybody could do it. We seasoned each chunk in a light offering of salt, pepper and garlic. SPG as it’s called in the business. Then we placed them over direct heat to start, right over the coals, this to sear them a touch, and promote a moderate crust with lovely bits of char. And when this was completed on both sides, the breasts were then escorted by tong in hand over to the other side of the grill, opposite the hot coals, and there they would finish out the remainder of the cook, and their journey to excellence. And we did our best of course, not to get in the way of that.
Indeed, once we found our rhythm, we settled down into our patio chairs when appropriate, legs crossed like gentlemen of leisure, and just watch the smoke pillar from from our grills. Sunbeams broke through the deck above us, illuminated in smokey shafts. Tweety birds sweetly serenaded us from afar, and the grass yonder never looked so green. The children frolicked in the sand box, and you could almost hear the garden growing right beside us. We looked at each other and smiled. Nary a word was said, or needed to be said. We both knew we had arrived. Doing precisely that which is well with our souls. What a beautiful day to grill something. And what a better day yet, to do something helpful for someone else. And to let them know that they matter, and that we’re here for them, by and by.
This one’s for you, Lee. And the little lady. Blessings. And amen.
What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.
– James 1:27
It was with small fan fare that my elder brother and I made way this weekend last, for the resplendent, and highly secretive, Valley of the Trouts. A quaint locale of which neither of us is particularly keen in giving you the coordinates to. You know how it goes. Tell one person, tho well-meaning, and that person will in-turn will tell another, and that one passes it on to yet another bloke, and so on, thus engaging the metaphoric domino topple of death to your secret place. So we’re not going to disclose its location. Not today. We will tell you, however briefly, that the stream which gurgles along the valley bottom is of the sweetest variety. Clear and cold and sick with rainbow trout. Winding like a watery tapestry through forests of Oak, and Pine, and Shagbark Hickory. And the sun swings high in a summer sky there, dropping its warm light on golden slants to the valley floor, dappling through the hardwood canopies, and glittering upon trout waters. Indeed, it is a place worth being.
So it was my elder brother and I made an encampment upon these earthy shores of paradise. The stream ever-gurgling past our snug respite. Tweety birds in full form. We got to work doing what we do best – eating! Brother put some bacon to cook in the camper, whilst outside, I fired up the flimsy, old, portable BBQ grill that has seen a thousand and one campsites over the years. What holds that contraption together still, I do not know, but the answer must reside somewhere in the sinew of memories of campsite’s past, and the grilling under the tall pines we have done there. Oh how we love to cook out-of-doors. And especially this is so, in camp.
Perhaps it is the fundamentals of such things, why we aspire so to cook in camp. Just to lay meat to flame in the wild places. Or to hear supper sizzling over a quaint bed of coals, whilst the breeze whispers through stands of stately pines. Life nary achieves a simpler status than this. For a while anyways, all the complexities of our day-to-day are cast aside. And the only thing left now, the only pressing matter in life, is to eat. And to eat good. And then maybe watch the world slowly turn by.
From time to time, it is well to live this almost simpleton’s existence. It sort of reboots a soul to function proper-like, once again. And could nary be more fun.
“You know, cooking bacon is kind of like photographing a beautiful woman!” my brother belched from within the camper.
I’m not sure what he meant by that, for comparing women to bacon could go a multiple of ways, but no how, and even so, I could hear the bacon crackling in its pan of juices, whilst brother manipulated various plates and utensils. And I reveled in the acoustic glory of it. The aromas, too, of thick-cut pork belly wafting out the camper door. Mercy! And amid this splendor, I tended the grill and two portly pork chops there, with the bone in for added flavor. Seasoned simply with garlic and onion salt. And just like with the Weber kettle back home, I created a little pocket for indirect cooking, for a modicum of thermal control under such raw and primitive conditions. Camp life was in full swing.
Of course we engaged in our share of trout fishing whilst there. When you camp next to a trout stream, it sort of stands to reason. And when you love to fish, as we do, it is all but a certainty. We caught a few rainbows, but returned them all. Something a little easier to do when you have a baker’s dozen worth of pork chops in the RV ice box. And you can’t beat a trout camp for ambiance either. Just seeing the fishing gear propped about brings a smile across my heart. Old waders and spin casters and fishing bags. I haven’t however the faintest of clues who Bensy is, but they made the photo even so.
The chops were done at the same time the potatoes were. That’s true camp harmony right there. When two cooks conspire in the woods bringing together the perfect little meal, at just precisely the right time. We don’t always nail it like that, but we did this time. We forgot the cooking oil, however, so we had to fry our potatoes in bacon grease. It worked exceedingly well.
So we tarried there, with a plate of good food, in the Valley of the Trouts. The stream babbled over stones and fallen trees, creating a song which sang sweetly unto our ears. Wood smoke curled off the camp fire, and an old, white-enameled coffee pot sat nearby, and at the ready. Leaning back in our camp chairs with a plate of vittles on our lap, I gotta say, this was proper living. Our chosen life style if we could get it. We gobbled down our food like two pumas to a warthog, and fed the fire whilst the sun ebbed behind the valley rim. And the blue skies all tapered to black, and the stars emerged like scattered diamonds on high. We bantered into the night, as per par for trout camp, enjoying the soft glow of a kerosene lamp, the randomness of fire flies, and a contented feeling residing kindly in our bellies, and deep in our soul. Amen.
Stream side with grilled pork chops and fried potatoes. Oh yes, and bacon!
Rule #1: Don’t Experiment On Your Guests
The heat index hemorrhaged around 102, but of course, it felt even hotter than that. It pretty much had too. I was grilling, you see. Grilling on the hottest day of the year. I stood abreast the pit, fires blazing as if spurted up from the very bowels of Hades, sweat tumbling off my nose like a Yosemite waterfall, spatula in hand, working deftly a herd of cheeseburgers about the grate, trying to coral them all into the indirect heat, opposite the orange bed of coals. The grease spilled from the burger underbellies, igniting like Ron Howard’s Back Draft on the coals below. The casualties of burnt knuckle hair a’waft in the evening slants of golden light. I slipped the lid on with all due haste, snuffing the inferno. Vexed like a Saber Toothed Tiger who just chased a monkey up a tree. I grabbed a paper towel and drew it across my forehead. My but it was hot and sporty at the pit today. Unmercifully heated! But I worked it. I had to. I stood my ground as Keeper of the Coals. For I had people to feed today. Lots of people.
We were having some company over, you see, and my bride hereby appointed me head cook for the crowd. You can do that, I guess, when you’re a wife of a patron of the pit. There are certain privileges they enjoy, such as not cooking, and getting to sample your routine grilling spoils. It’s a good life for them, I cannot deny. But they also must endure. They oft-times are the humble recipients of your experimental meat art. Of new flavors, and coarse culinary ideas. She never quite has let me live down the smoked peach cobbler incident, that which tasted more like a rank ash tray that any peach we knew. But what can you do? Seemed like a good idea at the time. This day, however, we were going with a known quantity sure to sooth the populous tongue. Cheeseburgers! And thus, under blue skies and a rather hellish sun, so it was, and came to be.
You Seasoned it With What???
Now when cooking En masse, because of a distinct variety of tastes you’re trying to please, I find a good technique as far as seasoning is to err on the edge of simple. Keep it simple. For some folks do not care for bold, in-your-face, flavors. They just don’t. And it is a pain in the pit keeper’s hind quarter, but alas he should refrain from impregnating his beloved beef patties with his newly contrived ghost pepper sauce. Just don’t do it. Lest you enjoy hearing your name moaned in vain across three and one-half zip codes. Keep it simple.
So to season our burger patties we went about as simple, and as time-tested as you can get. Just some kosher salt and some fresh cracked black pepper. That’s it. That’s all you need when sailing the sea of many palates. Throw some smoke wood on your coals to give the burger a little something extra, patron to the pit. And your guests will know at first bite that your burgers hail from the smokey realm. And don’t forget the bacon either!
Enter The Meat Candy
Being your quintessential red-blooded man, I estimated we needed roughly two pounds of thick cut, maple-smoked bacon, give or take, for our cheeseburgers. A frying project perfectly suited for the Mojoe Griddle. We took the steel behemoth from its box and lugged it pit-side, and centered it over the 30,000 BTU burner of the Camp Chef stove. Glory be, you have never in all your days seen a mound of bacon cook so swiftly, and so effortlessly as this. And the heady aromas which pummeled your nose bordered on cardiac utopia. Once again, we are smitten with the Mojoe way of life. But then, who wouldn’t be with all that bacon.
If you haven’t yet had occasion, and if you feel like it, do go and check out http://www.mojoegriddle.com/ You can learn all about the Mojoe there, and who knows, maybe even pick yourself up one for your next meat party.Worth every dime.
Thus it was with a sweat laden reproach that we scooped the last burger off the pit, some of them cloaked in a gooey pile of medium cheddar. Man! Lightly seasoned only in salt and freshly cracked pepper, and tinted with a sweet kiss of pecan smoke, just because. And all the fixings left to the discretion of your supper guests. That’s how you do it. If you’re a good pit jockey, you might even toast the buns for them. Amen.
A thin-blue smoke pillared from the old bullet cooker as a bandy of black birds sang from the pond’s edge. It was mid-afternoon, mid-summer, and mid-week come to think of it, and all the world seemed on the bustle today, and busy, and hurried to get along. Well, save for yours truly that is. Nay, I had other plans this afternoon. To smoke up a rack of ribs, for one, and also some chicken wings to take to some friends who could use a good meal these days. A BBQ care package, I guess you could say. People just like barbecue.
Something For Everyone
Barbecue. Have you noticed ever when you go into a BBQ joint that there is just something in the air, something besides the most succulent aromas known to mortal man. That’s right. There is an abiding sort of gastronomic appreciation there. A universal reverence almost, for what is smokey and good. A joy for BBQ scattered in unbiased fashion across the social cross-section. Your class or zip code makes no bearing in BBQ. Doctors and lawyers, I suspect love BBQ. So do teachers and garbage men. Clergymen and atheists. Pig farmers and even vegetarians, I bet, tho they won’t eat it, deep down admire BBQ. Even people from Iowa! Indeed, black, yellow, white or brown, your skin matters not in BBQ. Every one is free to tarry on it’s savory shores.
That’s the beautiful part about good BBQ. People from many walks of life coming together in food and fellowship. No matter who you are, or where you’re from, if the BBQ is good, you will gladly slurp it off a paper plate, and wipe your face with your sleeve.Whether you’re a grease monkey from Queens, or the Queen of England herself, everybody is equal where fine smoked meat is concerned. And say what you will on this, but that is no small thing. For BBQ is oft times regarded as a fickle, and snobbish pursuit. One of the most opinionated subjects in the free world, just behind politics and religion. Yet, and somehow, we all come together in fellowship for some good BBQ.
It’s a childish notion, I know, but what if all the leaders of a world gone mad, conspired together for lunch some day, and had BBQ. All sitting around a big table, with make-shift, paper towel bibs, and tall drinks at hand. Communing and dining on perfectly executed BBQ. I bet they’d be in a pretty good mood for the most part. Well as good a mood as you can be, I suppose, being a world leader and all. There’s just something about BBQ that makes it all okay.
And so they would eat and feast and look around the table at each other, everybody sporting a little BBQ sauce wayward on their face, and a pleasant, satisfied feeling deep in their bellies. For a while at least, and maybe even longer than that, I hope they would notice that it’s not all bad having lunch together. That if they can get along well enough for an hour or so, maybe they can do it some more, and maybe even become friends, with a plate of good food in front of them. Childish notions for sure, but hark, the working model of this, of course, has already been perfected -a little something your local BBQ shack has known for many years. BBQ brings people together.
A Time to Share
As the mallards milled about on the pond’s edge, and the breeze mingled sweetly in the trees, I glazed up the wings with some more Blackberry BBQ Sauce, from the kindly folks at Joe Joe’s Hog Shack. On the other pit, the ribs had just come out of the foil, highly pampered there in brown sugar, butter, and a squirt of honey. Smoked with pecan wood. Oh buddy! They were almost, but not quite, falling off the bone. Time to deliver these spoils for whom they were intended! And time to make time, for what is good. And what is right.Barbecue may never save the world, but I’ll tell you this, it sure is a better tasting place because of it. And that’s a start at least. Amen.