Two Men, Two Pits and a Blog

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Camp Fire Pizza: The Dark Side of the Moon

The sun barely hemorrhaged in a southwestern sky, its underbelly seemingly scratched by the dominant, leafless,  silhouetted oaken forests below, bleeding it’s beautiful salmon hues FullSizeRender (1)and soft pastels over the frozen wetlands from whence we camped. Off the shore, a large pond nestled like a flattened jewel in the forest primeval, frozen in time, and reflecting the last colorful rays of the day. My trail cronie and I watched, as the last sunbeams kissed the cold earth, and all the land tapered into darkness. We felt like a couple of Apollo astronauts, adrift, our orbit silently slipping around to the dark side of the moon.

You see, it’s the winter solstice here in Minnesota. And thus it gets dark, swiftly,  and kind of stays that way for an exquisite amount of time. The sun was to set at 4:34 in the afternoon, they said,  and not to rise again until 7:48 the next morning. I quickly did the math.  It came to around 15 hours of darkness. Now I have no idea what it’s like, or how long it takes to orbit around the far side of the moon. Nor how those brave astronauts must feel abandoning all light and heat, sailing on faith through the darkness, but this may be as close as I ever get. Cold, dark and alone. Well not alone, I have a fellow patron with me today. We decided at the last-minute to celebrate the shortest day of the year with a little camping trip afield. A sortie to one of our favorite little woodland retreats, to get away from the urban throng a bit, and if the day would have it, to bake a pizza.

Turns out we did. The crust was just one of those easy ones. You know, the kind where you get to pop open one of them pressurized cans. When its 20 degrees outside, we figure, who wants to mess around. Anyways, oil the bottom of the pan, and spread the dough out accordingly. Season with olive oil, oregano and garlic. Earlier, whilst still the recipients of a sunlit encampment, we baked the crust first. Call this instincts, but not all cooking over a camp fire is a sure thing. With uneven heating, and scant equipment at your disposal, as is commonplace in a campsite, we figured we best see to it the crust got the best shot it could towards a delicious end game. So we cooked it separately, for to keep an eye on it and make sure it complied to our highest bidding. First, we placed it on the fire grate, over direct heat and cooked the bottom. Then tipped it on edge, indirect of the fire, to finish it off by reflection. Now the crust is done all the way through. Because we have no oven, and are just winging this cave man style, this seemed good strategy. Next we assembled the yum!

I believe we had about two layers of pepperonis on that thing. A can of olives. A can of mushrooms. A pile of red and green peppers. And enough cheese to block up an elephant. Man! Whence the creation was built, it was then laid indirect of a good blaze, and tipped towards the fire as much as possible without dumping everything into the ash. Oh it’s a dicey game we play when we dare to dance the flames of camp fire cooking. A better technique would have been to put a lid over the pan of pizza, and scatter some coals atop of it. To cook it like that intensely from above. But we didn’t have a lid. We didn’t have much of anything really. We were camping, you see, and didn’t wanted to be bothered by the clutter. Which is another way of saying, I wish we had a lid! But we didn’t. Turns out if your patient type, you don’t need a lid after all, to bake your camp fire pizza. You just need time and heat. And we had both.

So we let the pizza ride indirect for 20 minutes or so, and rotated it 180 degrees for even cooking. It was the slowest pizza we have ever baked, but it was getting there alright. By about 40 minutes into it, you could just start to identify the aromas of fresh-baked pepperoni pizza wafting through camp. Say what you will, but out yonder in the hither regions where no man goes, with a frozen ground below your freezing toes, and the stars shimmering above, and no running water nor electrical outlet for your vain amusement, and an eternal December night stretched out in front of you – well, to smell hot pizza in your vicinity, let’s just say there is no reward so sweet!

Low and slow pizza is what this turned out to be. Such are the antics of the campfire chef. But good is good, and pizza is always good! And under the soft LED glow of a head lamp, we sliced into it, making first tracks on the dark side of the moon. Amen.

 

 


How BBQ Saved Christmas

You were born to loiter. And especially so on Christmas christmas-ballmorn. I remember as a pup, waking up at the break of day a most energetic individual, and dashing down the hall in my footie pajamas, out to the fake tree all gussied up in little red balls and dazzling lights, and quietly arrange my plunder there, so I could keep a child’s eye on them.  And I would pace the living room floor hither and yon, waiting for the rest of my family to get their Christmas butts in gear. Boy they liked to sleep late. Didn’t they know I had presents to open up! Toys to play with! Worlds to conquer! In short, I always had to wait on Christmas morning. I had to loiter.

Patience comes to those who wait…” -Elder Brother

Now loitering, as you know, is a key component to successful BBQ. And who knew my training for prolonged barbecue endeavors would start so young. Like a good brisket deckle smoking indirect over a nice bed of coals, nary can you rush things any more in the BBQ Arts, than you would with the festivities of Christmas. Like the old BBQ adage laments, “It’s done when it’s done“. Well, I’m here to say, likewise with the pleasantries of Christmas, and possibly the same with the cultivation of patience.

Patience is a fickle friend. Thing is, with advancing years, a soul tends to notice such things like Christmas are getting done with quicker and quicker. Leastwise that’s how it seems over here, and I’m not so sure that that’s fair. What once stretched eternal is now over in the flip of a heart beat. Before you can sing one round of Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer, our Savior’s birthday is done already, and your filling out your tax forms before April 15th rolls around again. What’s a bloke to do…

Well, what you can do, of course,  is loiter! Perhaps over the years, you have gotten a distorted view of loitering. It’s not a bad thing if applied correctly. In point of fact, it’s good. Loitering is just deliberate living in the face of advancing time. Loitering is soaking in the metaphoric hot tub of the present moment. To absorb what is, and nary be bothered by any thing else. Loitering proper is simply to extend the moment for the moment’ s sake. Which is also what we love to do in BBQ. And with any thing that we love, really. To make it last.

And so it may sound far-fetched, I’m sure, but as a student of the BBQ Arts, you cannot help but to notice the same patience required, nay cultivated, to smoke a 14 hour pork butt, is invaluable just the same in properly prolonging the best day of the year. Patience is an interchangeable commodity this way. Consider your family gathered about the tree here in a few days. Indeed it’s all a pup can do to keep from ripping into his gift larder, this we know, but the old, wise grand parents, if you notice, tarry back on the parameter with cup of coffee, letting the day come to them as it will. They’re in no hurry. They have a lot of Christmas’s logged under their muffin tops, you see, and know precisely what they’re doing. They are elite in the mastery of stretching a moment. For they know how fanciful and swift the ever-ebbing passage of time can be, and they for one are in no hurry to speed it up. So they wait. They purposefully loiter in the warm wake of Christmas Day. Like an ode to Carpe Diem in bifocals.

So next time you’re in a hurry to speed Christmas along, take pause and reconsider. Think like a pit jockey instead. Or your grandma. It’ll be done when it’s done.  And usually done quicker than you’d like. Would you rush a good rack of pork ribs? Of course not! For a pit master’s highest quality may be his patience, and it’s this same patience you may in turn wield at your discretion, to parlay the day unto greater and more appropriate effectiveness. To make it last. Indeed, to make it last. And I suppose that we all cultivate our patience in a great many of ways, it’s just that If I have any these days, it likely was forged pit-side, waiting for succulence. And in a round about way, very round, I guess that’s how BBQ saved Christmas. Or something like that. Now I just need some footie pajamas again. Amen.

Merry Christmas

PotP


Taking it Slowly: Hickory Smoked Pulled Venison

By the softened light of a gray, December afternoon, two humble venison shoulders sizzled amid a cloud of hickory smoke in the old Weber Smokey Mountain. I sidled out the patio door to see the smoke in curl, and several black capped chickadees swoop off into the thickets yonder. Smiling, I tilted the lid up on the pit, and took a gander under there. The venison was taking on some color now, and smelling point blank, out-of-this-world. But we were only an hour into it, and had four more hours to go. So I shut the lid, content to wait. Because I knew in the back of my mind, back in those quiet places where men know such things, that these were the days you reach for, by and far, as a BBQ junkie. The sort of day where the wood smoke puffs away in marathon fashion, hour after hour, and you have nothing else in the world to do save for to tarry quietly in it’s gentle presence. That being said, I took a seat in the patio chair, left leg crossed over right, and further mused to myself. Need more time in a day? Then smoke yourself some meat. And do it slowly.  Oh how the hours drag ever onward in a slow parade of salivating moments, with umpteen pleasant memories forged pit-side, under beautiful skies, and tinted in smokey goodness.

Our spice rub today is a keeper, leastwise for wild meats. Copy and paste it in your archives and thank us later! 

Field & Stream’s Ultimate Wild Game Rub

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup ground black pepper

¼ cup sweet paprika

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons dried thyme

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed and minced

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Yeah, we had no juniper berries either. What can you do. Anyways, after three hours on the pit, the meat has received all the smoke it needs. In point of fact, it looked edible enough to eat right there iffin you had a mind to. But we didn’t. We sought the hallowed shores of succulence instead. We wanted this ornery cut of meat dropping off the bone like your mama’s pot roast. To accomplish such high bidding, we wrapped each leg/shoulder gently in foil, along with a half-cup of apple juice for to service as a steaming agent. Put it all back on the pit for two more hours, at 240 degrees, to wallow there in an apple scented steam bath. Oh man! And that was all it took. The bones came out as clean as hammer handles, and the meat pulled like a pork butt.

There is a great privilege in taking the better things in this life, slowly. From a date with your sweetheart, to Christmas morning with family, to simply preparing supper, if that’s what you love to do. If not for anything else, but to just extend the moment for the moment’s sake, and then to revel in it. So do it well, then, and with a heart of thanksgiving, and by all means, take your time with it, and enjoy the journey. For life sweeps by fast enough as it is, seems like. And every day is another reason, it stands to reason, for taking it slowly. Amen.

5-Hour Low and Slow, Hickory Smoked Pulled Venison Shoulder, Patron to the Pit. Yum people!


A Tale of Two Smokes: A Pit Keeper’s Feast/Blackberry Glazed Ham & Pecan Smoked Turkey

It was the best of times…And it was still the best of times…They called me Mr. Two Smokes, cause that’s what I did last weekend. I smoked twice. Once on Thanksgiving day, like any man ought to. And once more the day after, on Black Friday, because, well, why wouldn’t you. And let it be said, because its true, a finer way to pass the holiday respite, than with good, smokey-tinted meat and warm fellowship I do not know. It will gratify the belly and appease the soul. And thus here it is, a tale of two smokes. Of a turkey and a ham, and the seasons first snow fall, patron to the pit.

DAY ONE

Thanksgiving morn found me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before even the rising sun. All the house was silent, as I padded about in my favorite pajamas with the all-important business of turkey on my mind. The turkey, a free-range, never frozen, sixteen pound specimen of a gobbler, resided the night long in my cooler, in a bath of salty and sweet brine for to coax the oft borderline tolerable meat unto better days I suppose. The brine we used was the same formula we’ve been using frequently this fall, and if you want the recipe, you can grab it in this brine post we did a while back. Anyways, I pulled the bird from the brine, pampered it a bit with paper towel and the like, and set in motion a herb/butter paste, that which was rubbed under the skin and over the top of it too, smeared all about with a quasi-reckless abandoned. Cavity piled full of apples and onions and the timeless aromatics better known as rosemary and thyme. Does it get any better folks! And under the dark of night, in an abnormally quiet neighborhood, I lit the coals in the old Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, put the bird on, and with very little fan fare, promptly did what any pit keeper still in his pajamas before sunrise would…I watched a John Wayne movie.

Okay, I admit, “watch” is probably not the operative word to use here,the duke unless, that is,  you wager such still a fashionable verb when your eye lids have sunk like a couple of flat tires, and your head is tilted eighty seven degrees to the starboard, with a rivulet of drool seeping from one’s right lip pit. Classic pit master posture to be sure. But it was one of those delightful naps where part of you was still alert to your surroundings, appreciative of it, whilst the other part of you wallowed at the foot of unconscious rapture. I could still hear The Duke bellowing on the television. Could hear his many fist fights and heady blasts from a shot-gun. And also, off-hand, I could hear myself snoring there, listing comfortably on the couch. Not sure how that happens, but when your smoking a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, you have to put up with such inalienable rigors. I know I did.

The Pandiculation 

Long about when The Duke was engaged in his final bar room brawl, I stirred momentarily under my blanket, stretching there like a fat, spoiled house cat. All was right in the world, or at least my world. I scratched my head, my hair tossed like a bad salad, then unashamedly pandiculated right there on the davenport. Pandiculate. That means to stretch and yawn simultaneously, people.  And every body does it. Men, women, children, elderly folk, donkeys. And especially so pit jockeys early to their game! Anyways, I glanced out the patio door, there to gaze upon the smokey pillars of pecan wood gently curling aloft into a gray, November sky. A sky of which that was all a’flutter with sloppy white snow flakes. It was lovely, and a fine touch towards the ambiance of the day. What a pleasure to awaken from your nap to such a glories anew.

At any rate, we monitored the turkey’s breast temperature until it hit 165 degrees internal, and brought it into the house to rest. And here is how it came out, by and by. The aromas of pecan smoked turkey filled the house at once, and heads turned. I felt like hoisting it high for all the world to see. To lay eyes upon its golden brown carcass and supple leg quarters. It turned out real good. If you’ve never had turkey off the pit for Thanksgiving, you have put off a good thing far too long. Be encouraged, people, and smoke likewise…

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Day Two

The festivities of Thanksgiving lingered into the night, and I slept long the next morning. The season’s first real snow fall had accumulated a few inches in that time, and such seemed poetically right to me. It is good to have snow on Thanksgiving vacation. It just works. And even better still to have ham! You see, this day marked our 3rd Annual Black Friday Ham Smoke. A little tradition we have fashioned out of the swift-ebbing river of time. My but this living. Is there a finer way to bypass the heady throngs of mass consumerism, than with a single wisp of wood smoke off your patent enameled cooker? Nay, this is the course of a wiser man, to hold stalwart at the pit this day, and ply his craft to great effect there, whilst the snowflakes conspire on the lawn and the chickadees flirt amid the patron spruce. Indeed, let the heady throngs of consumerism all jockey for position on the commercial battlefield, we will be just fine here with our elbow room, a good recliner, and a tall glass of something cold to drink. This is our Black Friday Annual Ham smoke, and I nary can wait to get after it once again.

Firstly, after a proper slurp off a manly beverage, we built a good minion bed in the fire bowl of the WSM. It was comprised with plenty of unlit briquettes, lots of lit ones, some hickory wood, and to add a little sport to the day, some unlit chunks of mesquite lump charcoal. It was a nice pile of coal and wood, aptly fit for the day’s initiative, and did us proper for what we wanted to do. Smoke a ham.

Glory be, but what a sight on the old smoker grate, this lovely precooked ham, oh about ten pounds I should wager, and all matter of sexy. We greased it down in a mustard rub first, and then dusted it liberally with Maynard’s Memphis BBQ Rub from our friends over at Miners Mix.  If you haven’t had occasion to try their spice rubs yet,  here is another thing you’ve put off too long. They truly are delicious. Anyways, on with the lid. And on with the smoke. The 2nd smoke in as many days. This is the life!

The Posture of a Pit Keeper

Here then is our privilege as pit keepers; to tarry in our favorite chair, hat tipped up ever so slightly, manly beverage in hand, and simply observe the world gather and spin. This sort of enforced leisure, you might say, to mind the meat, sort of frees up a gent to a great many other important activities in life. Such as: watching clouds form in the sky, admiring tweety birds, catching up on naps, reading more magazines on the toilet, postponing annoying chores, watching football, observing bunny tracks in the snow, and if time allows, to take another nap. All things starkly absent to the consumeristic herds filing through the motorized double doors of Best Buy. Anyways.

Now a ham, or most hams people buy are already cooked, as you know. In point of fact, most are already smoked too. So some of you may be asking a very sincere question here, namely, what in the heck are we doing? Well trust us when we tell you that your average ham can stand to soak up a lot more smokey goodness. It can handle it, and will up the flavor of said ham by about ten fold. Apple wood works great here. Maple is fantastic. Pecan is no slouch either. But we used hickory as mentioned early. Hickory might be the most popular smoke wood in the entire country, probably over used by the BBQ populous, but even so, with good reason. It just works. Works with nearly everything. A little hickory smoked ham coming right up! Well in about three or four hours, anyhow.

Stalking The Black Berry Glaze

Eventually I had to get up. Every pit jockey does eventually. I was kind of in the mood for a glaze this time around, but I wasn’t sure what I had on hand. I thus rummaged through the pantry and fridge, looking for anything to concoct a simple glaze out of. Found some apricot preserves dated back I think, to the last time the Vikings made the playoffs. So its been a while. I cracked the lid, and looked in the jar like any man would. Not sure if that was fuzz I saw down in there, or just peanut butter leftover from some bygone midnight sandwich.  Hmm, onto the next jar. That’s when I came upon a brand new jar of blackberry preserves, and I knew my sweet destiny had just been met.

Into a small sauce pan I compiled:

  • 1/2 cup Blackberry Preserves
  • 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Apple juice
  • 1 Clove of garlic (smashed and minced)

Out at the pit stove, I brought the ingredients to a light boil, stirring gently, and whence the instincts of my inner Julia Child motioned me, I took the pot off the heat, and let it cool back down. Let it thicken up a tad, before I lovingly varnished my dear ham in this sporty nectar! And I cannot express the wondrous aromas floating about the pit right then. Like smokey pork in a candy factory. Man! Glory!

Such is the plight of pit keepers near and far. Just when we think our quarry is done, and the wait is over, we must wait yet again. This time to rest the meat. To let the juices back track unto their most favorable coordinates, and then, and only then, make the beastly pilgrimage into our awaiting gullets. And so concludes today’s culinary essay. And a weekend well spent. And well fed.  And the Tale of Two Smokes, patron to the pit. Amen.

Hickory Smoked Blackberry Glazed Ham sided with home made scallop potatoes and green beans. In a word – YUM!


A Brief Veteran’s Day Tribute

This has nothing to do with BBQ. Not a single thing. But then again, maybe it does.

I was standing in line at the post office a while back, with a small box under my arm, making the best of my appointed downloaderrands there. The line was long, and the people in it were restless, wanting to get things moving, no doubt, so that they could get to the next line some place else. And I guess I was one of them. I’ve never been one for lines, but come to think of it, who is. Anyways, standing behind me was as elder man, sporting a red flannel shirt, gray hair and mustache, still of good form, and in his 80’s I should wager. I liked him right off. There was just something about how he held himself, and the patience he had there standing in line, that made him different I guess. Plus I liked his flannel. And patron to a quick glance at his ball cap, I deduced he was also a veteran of the Korean War.

My Pa was a Korean war veteran too. Flew in the big C-119 flying box car, which rumbled over the sea of Japan with tremendous regularity, bringing important supplies to our troops. Every body had a job or two out there, and that was his. I’ve heard some stories around the supper table in my day, let me tell you. But’s that’s all I know. The stories. Not being a veteran myself, I know I will never fully appreciate what it is really like to serve your country. To be on the battle field. I know this because of what happened next at the post office.

There was another old man standing in line, and he too caught a glimpse of the aforementioned Veteran, noted his ball cap, which plainly said “Korean War Veteran“, and promptly engaged him in penetrating conversation.

He asked the Veteran where he was assigned to, which squadron, and so on. I do not remember his answers. I didn’t need to. And neither do you. I just watched like a fly on the post office wall. Turns out they were both veterans of the Korean war. Both assigned to similar things. And within 30 seconds, nay, maybe even shorter than that, all the talking was done, and the old men simply embraced one another. Some heads turned in the post office, but they didn’t care. Brother’s of the trench, you might say. Clearly there was more going on here today, than postage exchange.

Moments like that sorta compel man to take pause, don’t they. Suddenly standing in line isn’t such an imposition. Nay, it’s our privilege. So may the Lord bless our veterans today, and every day, for their services selflessly rendered, so that you and I can even partake in something as mundane as standing in line at the post office. Our privilege indeed, And we thank you! We thank you one and all. Amen.


A Turkey’s Day Off: Apple Cider Brined Hickory Smoked Turkey Breast

As I repair here in my den, with a bit of stereophonic music in play, and a hot cup of tea at hand, I listen also to the rain which drums withrain on window great exuberance over the brown-shingled roof above. The rain. A cold, autumn kind of rain. The sort that callously knocks the last of the colored leaves from their mama trees to the cold, dampened earth below. Leaves that which cling only by tender stems, quaking in the autumn wind, where their inherent will to hold on, and their remaining chlorophyll count, rank about as equal, I should say. Yup, it’s a tough day as days go, to be a leaf in Minnesota.  Indeed, it’s the kind of all day rain that renders a chap a distinct chill in his bones, and moves a body hence for his or her patented grandma-knitted afghan. To curl up on the Davenport, with a good narrative, fire-place crackling, and while away the hours there, whilst the rain drops collect hither on the window pane.

I might just do that. But before I do, let me tell you about another sort of day. One just a few sunrises ago, in point of fact. One of blue skies, and darting tweeting birds, and gently curling plumes of hickory smoke. One of heightened leisure, and good eating. It’s about a turkey, don’t you know, and his day off, patron to the pit.

Turkey brine

It started early on with this brine, you see. The day prior, to be exact. We’ve been on a brine kick here lately at the pit, and for this turkey, a good, cider-based brine seemed like the logical road to wander down. And so we did. Amid the morning sunbeams off the pond, so golden and resplendent, we stirred up a good pot of it over the pit stove, bringing it to a gentle boil, letting the flavors all meld together there in a harmonious liquid opus suitable for the fairest of fowl. Our brine consisted roughly of the following kitchen tatter:

Apple Cider Turkey Brine

1/2 Gallon apple cider

1 Cup Kosher Salt

1 Cup Brown Sugar

2 Oranges, quartered and squeezed

1 Lemon quartered and squeezed

6 Cloves Garlic

6 Slices of Ginger Root

Splash or two of apple cider vinegar

A few dashes of Miners Mix Poultry Perfection Rub

*Pretty much the same brine we used in our wild duck post last time around. 

So we let the bird wallow in the brine for about twenty and fours hours, that, and give or take an episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Rinsed it thoroughly under cold tap water, to get as much salt off as we could, then transferred it to the Weber Smokey Mountain, which off-hand, was already up and running at 225 degrees. We were very efficient here at the pit today. We had a couple of fist-sized pieces of hickory wood on the coals too, the smokey plumes of which had already taken on that light-blue tint that every good pit jockey aspires for.  Things were in place, and the day spun as it ought to. Nothing to do now save for to draw a lovely beverage and make the speedy acquaintanceship of your favorite lawn chair. And by golly, we certainly did that!

With my old reliable, the ET-73 Maverick Redi Chek digital probe at my side, well lets just say that such technology at the pit grants a man the boyish freedom to dally about his fancies with relative impunity towards over-cooking his meat. Because every schmuck knows, or ought to know anyways, never to over cook a turkey. Thus the Redi Chek, if properly set, will bleep and belch at you when your target temperature is reached. We set it to croak at 163 internal, because it was a small bird, half a bird really, weighing only 7 pounds. So 163 internal, I wagered, would garner enough thermal inertia to coast up to the 165 finish line even after the bird is removed from the heat, and tented in tinfoil to rest. Oh yes, we were on our game here at the pit today. In the zone you might say.

So it was, with an undeniable pleasure that I kicked my feet up on some low flying patio furniture, tipped my hat just so, and placed my chin on my chest, thus assuming the proper pit master posture for a quiet spot of turkey smoking. Oh how I do revel in these moments. These pit-side sorties by myself. They are like a mini vacation to me, by and by. The manly equivalent of a trip to the spa. For to tarry there in the good light of an afternoon sun, whilst the clouds idle against a blue sky, and the chickadees cavort in the spruce, hark, ’tis medicine for a haggard soul. It is. To feel the sun, warm still against my flannel, knowing full well that the first snow fall of the season is maybe only weeks away, well a man learns to take pause in his day to days, and to loiter long on such occasions, where the wood smoke also rises.

Now I know what some of you might be thinking…What did we use for rub? Well we didn’t. Don’t much recommend it either, where this brine is concerned. For there are plenty enough potent flavors to keep a taste bud busy here. Just the brine and the smoke itself, are fully capable of doing all the talking here, kind of like that one couple at a dinner party who never shut up. If you do want to season the turkey with something, go lightly, and by all means stay clear of using something salty. It doesn’t need any help in that department, courtesy of the brine.

“BELCH”

Three days later…and back in the Den

Well, the sun has set, and the night scatters through-out the land. The rain it seems has let up a tad now, tho my music still plays softly. The tea is mostly gone too, save for that cold, amber-colored puddle residing at the bottom of the enameled cup. And you might be keen to know, that for a while at least, I don’t know, but a few minutes to be sure, the rains tapered to the first snow flurries of the season here in Minnesota. And it was beautiful. I rushed outside like a school boy. Tiny white flakes descending on a cold breeze from an ashen gray sky, melting against my face whilst I grinned into the tempest. Lovely. The first snow flurry also stirs something elemental in both critter and man alike. Our chilly queue perhaps, albeit sans subtle, that a shift in season is upon us on the 45th parallel. Indeed, winter’s first tendrils grapple for purchase. And I cannot help but to reminisce fondly because of it now, to just a few days ago, pit side, with wood smoke in curl, and how good it felt just to tarry there, and sit stalwart in the sun. Amen.

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24 hour apple cider brined, hickory smoked turkey breast, moist as turkey can get, sided with homemade dressing and REAL garlic mashed potatoes. Man! Who can wait for Thanksgiving anyways!


Foul Weather BBQ: Beef Ribs In The Rain

It was a smoke of many rains. Some times it fell from the ashen sky like pitch forks and hammer handles. Other times like puppies and anvils. And if it weren’t doing that, it generally sailed side-ways on a tempest’s fist, for to kiss you kindly on the face. Oh yes, it was a sporty day on the BBQ front. The storms drummed FullSizeRender (6)with great frequency over the land, washing the infinite contours there, and rushing the sodden gullies. For some this equates to borrowing indoors to stare glumly out the window, our plans awash, whilst the watery, wind-driven pellets tamp over the glassy pane. But I for one have always fancied a good rain. There is just something contenting about it. Something eternally right in its rhythmic splatters. About the way it sounds on the roof of a good home, whilst dozing under your favorite grandma blanket. Or the way it dapples over the surface of a pond, water-on-water. It’s beautiful. And like-wise, what a privilege to emerge from our cozy dens after the storms have tapered. To pad about a world renewed, and wet.  To boyishly stroll a land so freshly cleansed.

When the rain lightened up a tad, I did just that, sidling out the patio door to inspect the day, and lo, to check up on my beloved Weber Smokey Mountain. There it stood as it should, stalwart, with faint-blue tendrils of hickory smoke puffing from its top vent. I had to smile. Oh how I adore the aromas of damp earth and gently rising wood smoke. There’s nothing like it, patron to the pit.  It stirs me.  An ambiance of quietude and well-being to aptly lift the wrinkles of a harried soul. The very occasional waft of beef ribs coming to perfection, doesn’t hurt none either.  Man! This is good eating today! It truly is. So grab yourself a lovely beverage and pull up your poncho, and we’ll tell you how it went and came to be.

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Taking a peak under the bonnet for you is a pit master no-no, but I don’t care and I’ll tell you why. They say, and this is old pit jockey lore, but every time you raise the lid on your smoker, things cool off in there tremendously. Your thermal inertia, as it were, takes a firm whack to the private parts. End result is you add 20 minutes to your cook time. To which we proudly bellow – bravo! Those long-standing in the readership know full well how we feel about taking our time around here. About the pleasure of the wait. Hark, we are the Lieutenants of Leisure! The Lords of Loitermanship! This is what we do. This is what we love. And if for any reason we can extend the joy another 20 minutes, well,  let it be said, we will! So take a gander folks, as this portly rack of hickory smoked beef ribs, sporting a mahogany bark upon its fatty flanks. The meat has pulled back some now, about three hours in, and it’s time to transfer them to the foil. And there they’ll tarry in a splash of BBQ sauce for another hour or maybe even two. This, of course,  at the discretion of the pit master’s instincts.

THE RUB

We’re not so much about recipes around here. No, you can find plenty of those elsewhere. There are many fantastic sites out there that do a better job of it anyways. Nay, we’re more about ideas and having fun. About crafting some quality time in a hurried day. Once you get the basics of spice rubs down, they’re generally the same anyways. So for our seasoning today, we just tossed a fewIMG_6784 odds and ends together from the old spice rack. Things like, but not limited to: garlic powder, onion powder, salt, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. We opted to steer clear of sugars, as beef seems to do better with out them. If these were pork ribs, however, you might want to add a little sweet to the flavor list. But that is the inherent joy of cooking, and spice rubs in general, and that is the freedom to experiment. To come up with brain thrusts, try them out, and see what happens. This beef rub turned out pretty tasty, by and far. Some garlic goodness in the front, with a little heat in the backdrop to keep things interesting.

THE ORNERY MULE!

About the membrane on beef ribs. Reminiscent of a tick on a hound dog. I don’t know about you guys, but I find them to be a son-of-a-gun to remove. I’m talking about the membranes on beef ribs, people, not ticks on your hound dog. Unlike pork ribs, of which the membranes are generally an agreeable entity, the beef rib is a different customer. And whoa be it to the pit jockey engaged in a tangle with a stubborn beef rib membrane. Usually we tell you to peel that thing off, but in this case, if it’s as ornery as your uncle’s senile mule, well, it ain’t worth losing your mojo over. So we employed the age-old pit keeper’s trick of scoring a cross-hatch all over the membrane. When it cooks, it usually breaks up reasonably well. Some times beef membranes come off easy, but this one had, shall we say,  undeniable resolve. So we let it win. Where not here to “rough it” people. We get it rough enough away from the pit.

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So about three hours into it, like I said, we wrapped the ribs in foil. Before you wrap, you’re looking for some meat pull back, and the general color pleasing to your eye, what ever that might be. Three hours , at 250 degrees, usually gets you there. We wrapped them good with a shot of BBQ sauce for a little moisture and added IMG_6781flavor, and then placed the rack tenderly back in the smoker for another hour or so. Long about this time, the rains moved in again, tho it never really stopped I guess. It was one of those forever, soggy days, patron to the pit. And I loved it. Not one to cower from our appointed patio time just because of a little inclement weather,  we patrons of the pit instead find a way. So I rigged up a little blue tarp over the patio, pulled my chair under it, and simply sat there, and listened to the rain. Content not to do anything, or go anywhere. Oh how I do fancy a rainy day. The semi-enforced respite of it all. Listening to a million and one falling drops of rain gently pattering like Beethoven over a well-strung tarpaulin, glory be,  I had found my rainy day paradise. And as the wood smoke curled into a gray, Minnesota sky, and a damp breeze mingled through the spruce unto which tender rain drops clung, I knew as surely as I had known anything that day, that I was precisely where I wished to be, doing exactly that which was well with my soul.

I tarried beneath the old tarp for a while, soothed by the rain, and the slow-curling tendrils of hickory smoke. The ribs, pampered in foil, would come to a tender, and most succulent end game after around 90 minutes or so. Of course this can vary dependent on your cut. So from time to time, check in on them, and when they are tender enough to your liking, nod to the heavens, cast your worldly inhibitions aside, and dive henceforth and face-first into your smokey spoils. And care not what your people may think.  You’ve earned these ribs, today. You’ve held their hand through a long and dampened campaign. You’ve sat in the rain, pit keepers, and you’ve reveled there. Amen.

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I don’t care what you say, this is delicious! Four and one-half hours, low & slow beef ribs. Yum people! Kissed in hickory, nurtured to succulence, and every minute of it, patron to the pit.


Peach Baked Beans on the Craycort Cast Iron Pan

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  • 1 Can of your favorite baked beans
  • 1 Can on Peach Pie Filling
  • 8 Strips of Bacon
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup favorite BBQ sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons favorite BBQ rub

As I repair here pit-side, at ease in my patio chair, whilst listening to the song birds evening serenade, I think about this recipe for peach baked beans. Who would have ever thought this unlikely pairing would bandy so well. If you haven’t tried peaches in your baked beans yet, you need to get after it people. Leastwise if you fancy peaches that is. And I suppose beans too.  It’s one of those gastronomic anomalies in the human condition that doesn’t make much sense at first, but after trying it, you wonder why you haven’t been doing this all along. It was invented, as far as we know, by Myron Mixon, as seen on the hit TV series, BBQ Pitmasters. Whether you take to Myron’s personality or not, one cannot deny that the man knows BBQ. He just wins. In point of fact, he’s won more on the competitive circuit more than any person alive. Least wise at the time of this writing he has. He’s good, people. And so are his beans. So to pay homage to these glory beans, tonight we deploy our latest toy from http://www.cast-iron-grate.com. The cast iron pan insert.

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It was pretty much love at first sight when this came in the mail. Many thanks to Rolf, of Craycort Cast Iron Grates, for taking good care of we patrons of the pit. His products are excellent, and stand the test of time. If you have a kettle grill, and don’t have one of these grates yet, you’re missing out people. Your grand kids will inherit this stuff, and pass it on down to their kids. That’s the beauty of cast iron. And this pan is just plain slick too, and the perfect cooking vessel for our peach baked beans. Let’s get to cooking, and we’ll show you how it went and came to be.

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Under the blue skies of a summer’s eve, whilst the cottonwood leaves gently fluttered in the breeze, we started up affairs tonight by doing a few slices of bacon in the Craycort pan. The recipe calls for 8 slices, but lo, we’ve been eating a lot of bacon lately it seems, so I felt it a might prudent to maybe tone it down a touch. You know how it goes. So I think we put in only 4 slices. They sizzled to life on the hot cast iron, which was opposite a hot bed of coals, and their wonderful aroma mingled in the late, evening air. A pleasant way to start the supper-time festivities. And it only gets better.

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Then came the onion and bell pepper, chopped to suit, and tossed headlong into the pan. A little bacon grease left over to lubricate the ensemble, and this medley came to maturity in no time flat. Cook it just long enough to get the raw out, but not so much your onions get translucent. Chop the bacon in to appropriate man-sized bites. Man…Can you smell it yet!

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Lastly, we added in the rest of the ingredients, stirring gently,  and cooked up two picturesque pork chops for good measure, lightly dashed in Lawry’s seasoned salt.  The chops were done over the Craycort griddle insert, yet another wonder of cast iron technology. That’s the great fun of these Craycort grates. You can swap out various inserts to accommodate your culinary inclination of the day. Quick and effective. And nothing cooks as evenly as old fashion cast iron.

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I settled back into my chair, momentarily, just to watch my beans bubble. It’s one of those simple pleasures, you see, patron to the pit. If you are in a hurry in this life, well,  you wouldn’t understand. I adjusted in the chair, listing a bit more to the starboard now, left leg over right, and I find I am soothed by the gentle sounds of stewing beans. Vittles on the fire. They say to let it bubble for an hour or so, and I might have, had not they looked so delightful. But I tried. I dallied as long as I could beneath a waxing, pastel-blue sky, adorned in soft, billowy clouds, which caught the evening sun. I tried to linger in the last choruses of bird song,  and the caressing summer breeze which melted through the alders and the spruce. I tried to tarry there, and do what I do best, but the chops were done, my tummy was hungry, and the beans beckoned to me.

Game over. And amen.

If you are so inclined, which you ought to be, do check out http://www.cast-iron-grate.com

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There you go, peach baked beans on the kettle grill, sided with a set of succulent pork chops! Delicious! One of those things you gotta try first, before you knock it. As you will come to learn, it’s all good, patron to the pit…


How To Yield For Flowers: Honey Tinted Pork Chops

I’m not sure why, but I like flowers. I know this is not the most manly thing for a meat blog to disclose, but it’s true. I like flowers. I IMG_6527like rolling fields of them, turning abreast in the morning sun. And I like the little one’s too, that roost on a single stem, all by themselves. I like the flowers men get for their sweethearts in February. And I fancy the lanky lilies down by the pond. I even like dandelions, for what they’re worth. Weeds to some, but pretty even so. But what I really like are petunias.

I have some petunias which lavish the flanks of the pond-side pit, delicate and dainty, and they are my daily reminder of what is lovely in this world.  In the misguided haste of youth, I remember using my mother’s petunia garden for traction in many a game of backyard tag. Today, however, with advanced years,  I’m more inclined to pull up a chair and tarry a spell, and wonder why I hadn’t been doing this all along.

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I like flowers. And as these chops sizzle over a beautiful bed of hickory-accented coals, I hope you don’t mind none if I ruminate a touch more on the softer things. You see we get it rough enough in this life just having a pulse. Your kinda of born by default into your share of the unsavory, and just when you think maybe the world is a whole lot of unfair, you come across a purple petunia to direct you otherwise. There they be, fragrant and fragile, beautiful but bold. Bold in their soft, but showy arrangements, which thus flirt in proud contrast amid the many sprawling weeds of life. Maybe that’s what I like about flowers. I like what they stand for. Of unmerited goodness in a world fallen. They’re just plain wonderful is what they are. And they put up with you too. These Petunias are good to me, even when I forget to water them. There is much grace in their little purple petals. Much patience, kindness and forgiveness. They didn’t have to be this way, you see, but they are. And that’s what makes them great. Kind of like they were created just for you, seems like. And as the season ebbs on, some how, through the grace that be above, they seem only to get better and better. Yeah, I like flowers.

I smiled as I reached for a manly beverage, whilst summer clouds idled overhead. And just then, rather unexpectedly, my lovely bride pokes her head out the patio door just to say hi, and boy howdy, if I don’t get them same gooey petunia feelings all over again. Golly… Blessed is the man with both pit and petunias and a sweetheart there to share them with.

Speaking of the pit, about these chops. They are your simple bone-in affair, delicious, and highly pleasant to do. They started a couple of hours ago with a swim in a tasty homemade honey & garlic marinade.

Honey Garlic Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons sugar IMG_6525
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cracked pepper

After the marinade, we placed them semi-ceremoniously upon the hot cast iron grate, opposite the hot coals. The cold protein sizzled to life there, as a light shroud of hickory smoke curled into the air. A portly bumble bee buzzed by, as I plunked on the old, enameled lid. The draft soon engaged, and I settled back into my patio chair again, feet up, icy beverage in hand, taking up the resident pit master posture that might otherwise be mistaken for a fellow doing nothing. These are the high rigors of BBQ, people. Somebody has to do it!

Watching the wood smoke curl there, and listening to the song birds trill in the evening light, one can’t help but to appreciate all these little things which abound. From the frogs sounding like so many rubber bands, warming up down by the pond. To the way the summer breeze flutters the cottonwood leaves, clacking gently there, under an endless, blue sky. Then to the aroma of perfectly executed pork wafting through the tomato plants. The way the crescent moon peeks around the darkened spruce tops, and how at day’s end, sunlight washes over the freshly clipped grass in a scenic flood of amber and gold. All of these “flowers” , if you will, and many more simple wonders, are always there, I’ve noted, iffin we have a mind to see them. They tarry in life’s quiet eddies,  tingling to be noticed. That’s how flowers work, don’t you know. They’re only as useful as the soul who embraces them. You gotta slow down for them tho. It’s Okay to yield for flowers. Nay, it’s our privilege. Amen. IMG_6531Hickory Smoked, Honey Tinted Pork Chops hot off the Pit. Man! Grill on comrades! Go forth and grill likewise, and do so with great exuberance!


Easy Pork Ribs On The Weber Kettle: Featuring 14-Spice Dry Rub

Well it was a good 4th of July weekend. Good as can be, really, and surely better than most. Full to the brim with good food, and good fellowship, and good times. Sadly, it’s come and gone now, like all holidays do, FullSizeRender (3)with a soft, pastel sun ebbing into a western sky. And as I watch it sink beyond yonder tree tops, with an icy beverage at hand, left leg crossed over right, I pause to rejoice for these long summer days that which are upon us. We are not worthy. As the temperatures rose to almost 88 degrees today, at last we see again what you good folk down in Ecuador and Texas and Florida experience on a daily basis. Sweat. Inconceivable tributaries of it, dribbling down spine and brow with no remorse nor good will for common man. It’s rather wretched, and that’s a polite metaphor. But after a while you learn to accept it. Because deep down you know the sweat means winter is displaced. And a winter gone means things can grow again. There is life in the good tidings of summer’s bosom. Things like the deliciousness found growing in the pit side garden. Spires of green onions proudly pitched. Pole beans reaching for more lattice. Lush, plump tomatoes and deep-red strawberries dangling in the evening sun. Glory! I must say, what a privilege it is to tarry in the garden here, whilst  blue-tinted pillars of hickory smoke catch in a summer’s breeze. That’s about how supper went tonight. Pleasant. And man it was good too! And after I refill my cup, I’ll be back and tell you more about it and how it went and came be.

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I was given this spice gift a while back, and thought well enough of it to pass it along to you. It’s a homemade affair, and makes a great gift for your resident pit master. If you go to their site, http://www.theyummylife.com, you can print up the label thing in the photo. And from your local grocer, you buy yourself the jar and all the spices and what not, and kabam! A very tasty spice rub to give to family and friends. Anyways, if you want the recipe, you’ll find the link to their site below. We tried it on pork ribs tonight, and I don’t need tell you, but will anyways, that victory was at hand!

http://www.theyummylife.com/dry_rub_mix

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Setting up for Low & Slow

Now my elder brother, who sometimes is the focus of our grilling tome here, well let’s just say he’s come a long ways in the smokey arts. He’s got frozen hamburger patties and beef franks down pretty good. He’s not using green treated wood for smoke, and I don’t think he’s burned the chicken in some three months. He’s feeling rather endowed. So he mentioned the other day that the time had come, that he wished to try smoking pork ribs, and he wanted to know if it would be possible even, on his humble kettle grill. We occasionally get queried this – how to smoke ribs on a regular, old, back yard grill. Well, the Weber kettle is about as regular and back yard as it gets, and it’s also real easy to smoke a rack of ribs with. People have been doing it for ages. Many folk hold for some reason to the misguided belief that they need a fancy off set, or expensive water smoker to smoke ribs at home. Horse hockey! Here then is how to make restaurant quality smoked pork ribs on your old Weber kettle grill. And it’s as easy as taking out the trash!

As seen in the photo above, we set up the grill for indirect cooking. Light up about a half chimney of briquettes and deploy them equally on both sides of the pit. Then mix in a few unlit briquettes on each side as well. Two little minion fires of which to do your bidding. Lastly, add a chunk of your preferred smoke wood to each pile, and that’s all there is to it. We favored hickory today, the old pit master fall back and all-around great smoke wood.

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Bone-side down over indirect heat

After removing the membrane on the back, the ribs were dusted liberally with the 14-Spice Dry Rub, and placed bone-side down, and centered in the grate. The damper on the bottom was adjusted to maybe 50%. The vent on top, open full. Plunk the lid on and let the Weber magic do it’s thing. The little pit came up to 250-something degrees and then stayed there, as the wonderful tendrils of hickory smoke curled into the air.

Now when you put the lid on, be sure to position the top vent over the ribs, thus to draw the smoke where it ought to go, over your spoils. You can stick a thermometer in through the top vent if you want, and it should read somewhere around 250 -275, which is perfect. If it’s hotter than that, reach below and close off the damper there a little more. Close the top vent even, if necessary. The more you close the vents, the less oxygen runs through the pit, and thus the cooler it gets. Simple pit physics people. A pan of water placed between the coal beds can also act as a heat sink for you, helping to keep the pit temperature down. This old faithful kettle grill settled in at 250 however, with remarkable ease. And yours will too. All you have to do is ask nicely.

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Smoke at 250 F for 3 Hours

Let the ribs and the pit do their thing now, for the next three hours. Your only job is to stay out of the way. This age-old discipline usually involves frequent sorties to the fridge where upon you may wish to draw a glass of something cold to drink.  Then it is usually good form to go take up roost some place comfortable and while away the hours there, and enjoy the natural patterns of wood smoke curling against a beautiful, blue sky. If you’re in a rush, BBQ is probably not the thing for you. But if you are one with a proclivity for loitering, at ease with long, protracted hours of peace and tranquility patron to the pit, well then, you can go far in the smokey arts my friend. And rest assured that the path there smells amazing.

On the Fourth Hour

After three hours, we foiled the ribs. Foiling the ribs isn’t necessary I suppose, but we like to do it that way. It almost guarantees a tender, IMG_6502succulent end game every time. The meat is steamed when in the foil, and let it be said, oh how it pampers it so. When you wrap the ribs, add some sort of steaming agent: BBQ sauce, honey, juice, cola, beer.  What ever you like. Just a splash or two. This time around we foiled our ribs with butter and brown sugar, and boy let me tell you, that was a round trip ticket straight to my happy place! The butter and brown sugar marry together for a wonderful caramel effect, those flavors then merging with the dry rub and the wood smoke, mercy,  the results are off-the-charts concerning pork ribs.

Also at this time, add more unlit coals to the fire if you think you need it.

Anyways, let the ribs dot their thing in the foil now for an hour at least, maybe even two. Check in on them after the first hour, and if they bend easy, or a tooth pick passes through the meat with little resistance, they’re ready. If bones are falling out of your plunder like teeth from an old man, it’s passed ready, tho still delicious. But before you jump the BBQ gun here, and dive head first into your ribs with the reckless abandoned that grips you , take them out of the foil and put them pack on the pit for a while longer. This engagement in patience will first off tighten the meat mass back up a little, and lastly caramelize the butter/brown sugar glaze it has been foiled with the last hour or so. And when we say caramelize, we mean caramel! For what, after all,  is caramel made from? Butter and brown sugar for starters. So mind the meat carefully over the coals for a few minutes at the end here, and watch that sweet pit master magic take your ribs to yet again the next level of yum! Man, can you smell it people!

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Back to the grill to tighten up

Let’s slice one off, shall we, and take a gander! Ps…No sauce necessary here!

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Please refrain from drooling on your keyboard, as it is very difficult to clean later.

IMG_6492Hickory smoked pork ribs off the Weber kettle grill, seasoned with 14 -Spice Dry Rub, sided with cold noodle salad  and a scoop of beans! Man! Good BBQ. Good times.

 


Dodging Tempests: The Voyage of the Cheesy Brat

The first rain drops splattered over the land, and over the shallow waters from whence the White Egrets hunt. In the West, brat5brooding storm clouds have gathered now, sweeping eastward, and strafing the southern tip of the lake from which my bride and I tarry, cradled in our plastic kayaks. We were afloat this local fishery, that, by and far, was a peaceful enough locale, and beautiful too – it’s calm waters reflecting the gray cloud massif advancing slowly over head. As I held my ultra lite fishing rod in hand, gently jigging into the watery abyss, mine eyes could not help but to mind the heavens above, darting to and fro, keen for bright flashes of illumination. For as much as this angler respects a bulging creel, and that is a fine thing indeed, I respect even more so, the zipper-melting mojo of a single bolt of lightning. And I might have thought it my only foe this eve, if it were not for this cheesy discord bloating forth in my belly. Indeed, seems supper, however tasty it might have been, wasn’t to loiter long down in the old plumbing. You’ve all been there. You know from what I mean. Aw well, and even so, good is good, and no less than that was this cheesy brat I tell you. Yum.

Hearken back with me won’t you, and I’ll tell you a little more about it, and how it went and came to be.

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Well they look innocent enough. Quick to cook. Easy to perfect. We even toasted the buns in our never-ending quest to be semi-outstanding. But then you all know how to cook a bratwurst. What you might notice different here however, is a wee bit of spiral goofiness going on, of which we can explain.  The working notion, if your up for it, is to take your knife and slice almost, but not quite halfway into the brat, and then kind of twist the meat and guide your knife along, creating a meat slinky of sorts. Anyways, you’ll want to leave about 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch of core so the beast has something to marry itself together with. But the idea here, and the reason for this surgery in the first place is that opening it up as such, will foster more smokey goodness into its fatty bosom. Simple as that. More flavor. More of anything really that you may wish to add. Such as seasonings, or in our case, obscene amounts of melted, cheddar cheese. Oh blimey that cheese!!

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Now I love cheese, but every once in a moldy wheel, it is the heady bane of my intestinal existence. And with a tummy in recoil, whilst afloat over populated urban waters, well I don’t mind telling you that I had a favorable gaze fixed on one of them portable plastic outhouses at the boat launch. Specifically the blue and white one, half-draped in the wispy arms of an old willow tree. If I had to, I would lower myself to such means. Oh yes indeed. But just as the storm cloud I had been monitoring so carefully finally slipped out of danger, in that same wonderful moment, likewise did the cheesy turmoil go with it. I don’t know why. And I didn’t analyze it either. Instead an elegant rainbow took stage, sudden like, classic in arc, and pouring brilliantly out of the clouds, as if out of a fountain from heaven itself. Man. When are rainbows not fabulous to behold! Then of course it got even better, as my fishing rod in turn formed a rather nice hoop in it, courtesy of a wiling, large mouth bass. Line tightened, slicing sweetly through the opaque water, the serenade of loon song in the still air, lo, for a while at least, and maybe even longer than that, all my small world was right again. The tempests had passed.

That’s how it works sometimes with storms and belly aches. One minute you think you’ve surely had it, and the next minute you’re pulling fish from the end of a rainbow. Say what ever you will, but there is grace for us all. Amen.

IMG_6368Behold the cheesy bratwurst on toasted bun. Quick and Easy. And may the roll of the lactose dice be ever in your favor.


One For The Birds: Italian BBQ Chicken Breasts

I like birds. From the pretty tweety birds that sing from the tree tops come evening sunbeams, to the bald eagles who soar with FullSizeRender (5)magnificent ease high on the thermals. From the mama Cardinal roosting in the alders, to the Black Capped Chickadee flirting in the spruce. And unto the eerie wail of the common loons on camping trips into the far northern places. I like birds. I fancy the ducks – those marvelous mallards and dashing drakes who court the shores of Pond Side Pit, who seem always in a good mood, even when it rains. There is just something about bird life that has fascinated me for many years. Something in the way they go about business, that has contented me. Then I ran into this feathered bloke on one of my strolls through a local river hamlet. I called him Ed.

Ed wasn’t the best looking of birds. But then when you’re a Blue Heron, you don’t exactly get invited to beauty contests. No, you make your living in kinder, gentler circles, usually at the water’s edge, and usually with a keen eye for supper on the fin. Ed and I must have sat together for a half hour at least there, river-side, just watching the world go by. It’s odd to see a creature with so much patience, or maybe it was laziness, I’m not sure. That must have been what he thought of me also.  But I didn’t care. I just admired his innate ability to loiter. If only birds could BBQ, this chap would be one of the best. Speaking of BBQ birds, do let me tell you about our last cook out. Grab yourself a lovely beverage and we’ll meet back at the pit, and tell you more about it, and how it went and came to be.

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No, these are not the breasts of a Blue Heron. These are the boneless versions of a nameless yard bird, or two, that I have never met. Sometimes I wonder if the previous owners of these once knew each other back in the day. Perhaps they were buddies who’d bandy together for a good morning’s cackle. Or maybe even enemies who would eat each others poop, cause that’s what chickens do, according to a Grandma I know. Regardless, they sure looked fine sizzling over the hot cast iron grate of my Weber kettle grill. Glory be, they smelled good enough to eat raw. I suspect that was because of the marinade.

The World’s Easiest Best Marinade

One part Italian dressing. 

One part your favorite BBQ sauce.

Like I said, simple. And nary have I ever seen it fail. Quite possibly the simplest one you’ll ever use. And the most fool-proof. It’s a rather popular one on the interweb right now, so we thought we’d give it a go. Anyways the notion is it let the meat marinate over night. Twenty and four hours is even better. Now I’ve heard places not to exceed four hours iffin your marinade has a high vinegar content, lest it morphs your chicken slightly rubbery as a result. But I guess the vinegar content of Italian dressing and Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce is not enough to awaken this anomaly. All I know is it works. And it works exceedingly well. No rubber chickens here.

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We chunked on the old, enameled lid, its handle soiled in the grease and smoke of a thousand cookouts. The draft soon engaged, and sweet tendrils of wood smoke curled freely into a pure, Minnesota sky. I sat back in my patio chair, left leg over right, and admired how nice the smoke looked, puffing against the green back drop of a summer’s day. The pleasantries of the pit were at full speed, people. The ambiance meter pegged out. Manly beverage within reach, soft tunes on the pit sound system, song birds aloft, hark, I could want for nothing more save for the sun to pause in its arc, if but to extend the moment here for the moment’s sake. This is where the pit keeper cultivates his patience, you see. That hallowed span of clock from whence the meat hits the grate with an anointing sizzle, to when the meat at long last enters your slobber-strewn mouth. The magic hour. Or hours if need be. Indeed, it is good for us to wait for something once in a while. In an instant download, drive-thru, microwave kind of society, who has got to have their wares delivered at once by the hands of haste, such an act of patience will encourage some, and down right astonish the rest. But a pit master proper can pull this feat off with aplomb. It’s in our blood to tarry where  meat is concerned. Just like that old, blue heron on the river bank. He could have been running all over the place that day, flying from one locale to another, but nay, he knew the value in waiting. The precious gold in a single strand of patience. And I admired him for it. There is much you can learn from those with wings. Yeah, I like birds. I like them quite a bit. And with that said, as the evening shadows creep over yonder fields, I think it’s time to finally eat this one!

Cheerio and Amen.

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Twenty four hours, people, marinated in one-half Italian Dressing and one-half BBQ sauce, grilled over hickory, and kissed with sweet time. Man! Good eating, and good times, patron to the pit.

 


Pit Keepers Choice: Spare Ribs and Shrimp Kebabs

 

Under gray skies of pending rain, and the reserved hush of tweety birds unseen, the first plumes of smoke pillared out of the old charcoal 20131101_173818_edit0chimney. There was a stillness in the morning air, and a humidity which draped like a soft blanket over the land. The Mallards milled about quietly on the pond, and the streets of the neighborhood at large we’re tranquil and fairly depleted of activity. Every one was up north I guess, or out-of-town somewhere, for the extended Memorial Day Weekend. And I don’t blame them. An extended weekend to get away is not a commodity in which to handle lightly. It is one to savor and relish. One to seize with great exuberance.  So I stayed home.

What a pleasant respite it is to stay home when the rest of the resident populous have piled their vehicles heap full of their dearest belongings and kickshaws, and then flee the township of which they are so intimately acquainted. And at once the bustling hamlet in which you live is transformed into a sparsely populated outpost on the crusty edge of society. I like that for some reason. I like it a lot. Probably due to my proclivity for the quieter places I’m sure. But I digress unto the matter ribs. Here then is how they went and came to be.

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On the pit today, shrouded in a cloud of pecan and hickory smoke, like long peninsulas of pork in a foggy fjord, reside a couple of racks of spare ribs, trimmed St Louis style, placed bone side down, with their membranes freshly peeled. We patted them down in Worcestershire sauce first, then in brown sugar, and finally seasoned them liberally with some Bone Suckin Sauce Seasoning Rub.  And that’s all there is to it. Let them then reside in manly fashion within the smokey confines of your cooker for the next two and a half hours or so. This is where you also go draw a lovely beverage from your refrigerated units, and find someplace soft to sit. Glory! I love smoking ribs!

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Long about hour three into the smokey campaign, we foiled the ribs with a shot of bbq sauce and honey. Let them tarry in the foil for an hour or two, or at the discretion of your pit master instinct. You’ll notice some shrimp have also made their way onto the pit at this time. Indeed. A little appetizer for the people! This is a great little gig of pork and surf, and is all too easy to do. You gotta try it. In this case we found a bag of precooked jumbo shrimp residing in the freezer, thawed them out, and into their natural cradle-like curvature, we inserted a slice of tasty kielbasa, and held the two species together with a well-placed tooth pick. A little kebab of sorts, and nary short on flavor. We hit them with a bit more smoke, and seasoned them with the same rub we used for the ribs. They cook fast, people. You don’t need much time, which makes them great for taming the hungry bellies which wait on your ribs. After 15 minutes or so, we varnished the kebabs in an Asian Orange Ginger Sauce, which sent them over the top.

We’ll put some links down below for the seasonings and stuff we used today.

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Oh man, pure rib smoking satisfaction. After a stint in the foil, of which is like a trip to the spa for your meat, it will be pampered and loose, and mighty delightful to the tongue. But resist, and let it loiter on the pit a little longer whilst you paint its mahogany flanks with your favorite sauce. Or not. Good ribs do not need sauce. But it’s all up to the pit keeper. Good is good, after all. And every day a high blessing, patron to the pit. Amen.

Stuff we used:

Archer Farms Ginger Orange

Bone Suckin’ Sauce Seasoning

Famous Dave’s Sweet and Zesty

 

 

 

 

 


Two Swans, Two Blokes, and a Pie Iron: Smoked Sausage Campfire Sandwiches

The slow-ebbing curtains of night draped down from the heavens, as the salmon-colored sun waned in the western sky. Coyotes chortledIMG_5764 from distant fields, whilst Venus peaked out in the fading light, and portly bull frogs warmed up their singing voices in the shoreline reeds. An owl yonder takes his chair also in the wilderness orchestra, hooting it up like owls do, it’s otherworldly hoots piercing the forest hollows, and the tender skin upon your soul.

I wiggled into my down sleeping bag, like a snake putting back on his skin, and listened to the night. What a delight it was. Doing a little camping the weekend last, my cronie and I, out way of the hither lands, and far removed from the ever-bustling hubbadee hub of the city mire. It’s not that we don’t like the city most days, it does have a lot going for it. But it’s rather that we like the bush veld a whole lot more. Oh to pitch a tent where the earth meets the sky, and for a good while there, tarry in quiet eddies of wilderness sublimity. This is what we do from time to time. This is who we are.

Long about sunrise, I stirred violently in my sleeping bag, awoken by our resident alarm clocks – the Trumpeter Swans. These large-winged goof balls have no moral fiber, let me tell you, when it comes to being courteous around sleeping campers. But then again, this pond was their home, and we were visitors there. And lo, if they wanted to strut their trumpet-like name sake at the crack of day, well who were we to tell them otherwise. So they honked out some tremendous notes that would have sent a high school music teacher straight for his ear plugs. I’m sure they sounded beautiful in their mother tongue of Swanese or what ever, but early in the morning, through the foggy window pane of your dreams, hark, they sound akin rather to a Wookie who just got his favorite parts snipped off.

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One of our favorite things to do whilst camping is to eat. And eat often. Turns out our feathered room mates were on the same wave length. And you just got to admire how they go about their business: nonchalantly sticking their head into the water, and flipping their big white butts up in the air – humbly exposed to predators and shutter bugs alike. Their black bills rummaging through the aquatic muck with the refined deftness of a salty French chef’s ladle. Plucking out what wondrous morsels of goo that one might find sunk in the mud. I dunno. But they were making us hungry. Powerful hungry. And here then is what we did about it, and how it came to be.

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I’m sure you all have seen these things before. The venerable cast iron pie iron. Their usual publicity caters to images of molten apple pie filling between two carbonized, and very black pieces of white bread. But that’s only if you screw it up. In the hands of pie iron Jedi, it is quite a different story. Pie irons are not just for apple pies, they are for sandwiches also. And maybe some of the best sandwiches you’ll ever sink your teeth into. They’re real easy to do too! Simply butter both halves of your pie iron in a rather liberal fashion, and assemble thus your culinary brain thrust of the hour. Today, we favored the smoked summer sausage with an obscene about of Munster cheese. Oh man! Pop your cholesterol pills people, this one is out of the park!

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Over a quaint bed of embers we placed the assembled pie iron, sandwich and all, for to roast a spell there, beneath a gorgeous, blue Minnesota sky . We kicked back in our chairs, doing what comes naturally to a patron of the pit, even way out in the boonie lands. With a manly beverage in hand, and left leg crossed over right, we loitered with great effect. We thought about the bumper-to-bumper traffic back in the city, the sirens, and the honking horns of rush hour. We thought about it only for a little bit tho, and then we let it go. The heady magic of sandwich cooking seemed more important now, and so did the tweety birds which darted headlong across the sky.

The secret to pie iron cooking is to routinely monitor your plunder. To pull it from the fire and check in on it every two minutes or so, is not nearly as annoying as finding that your beautiful sandwich has morphed into a square-shaped blackened meteorite fit for the trash pile. So check in on the booty often, and flip at your pit master instincts. You can do this!

Oh man. Pulling that sandwich clear of the heat, and taking a gander at the Munster cheese oozing forth from its molten lair of sausage and crust, mercy, this was a sandwich fit to satisfy. A few of which, between the two of us, were thus consumed in a semi-savage sort of way, gobbling them down like two, unshaven, cave men, whilst the puffy white clouds idled over head. I wiped my chin and belched accordingly. All was right with the world. And the two swans sang of its glories. Amen.

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Camp Fire Cooking: Smoked summer sausage and Munster cheese sandwiches hot off the coals, courtesy of pie iron immortality.

 

 


The Posture of a Pit Keeper: Pecan Smoked Honey Maple Ham

Pit Date: Easter Morning

Pit Weather: Cool. Light breeze out of the northwest. 

Two cute Chickadees lit on the feeder outside the patio door, chirping their song for the morning at large. Yapping it up, like tweety birds chickadeesdo, and poised to flirt, if not for the nearest shrubbery, then with each other. Classic signs of spring time in Minnesota. You see it everywhere. Squirrels, ducks, bar tenders, you name it. The males of the species putting on a bit of a show, or a rather over-the-top exhibition, if you will. On my morning commute last week, in point of fact, I came upon two wild turkeys, strutting up the sidewalk. One of them, the male I presume, was proudly puffed up, it’s tail fanned out, bold and beautiful, as it did a little disco dance right there along side the road. Stomping around, flaunting his tail feathers and such. Goofy creatures I thought, as I drove past with an air of smugness and superiority and general awe. I was sure glad that my species at least, had come far enough along in life to not have to resort to such humbling, petty measures. Well, leastwise, not all of us males would do such things. Certainly not this male. That is until I smoked the Easter ham. Indeed, I may have had a small relapse then, to my more primitive side. I digress.

You see, I was milling about the house Easter morn, getting the Weber Smokey Mountain ready for the day’s culinary sortie, and I was coming in from the garage with a brand new bag of charcoal perched on my shoulder, when I caught sight of myself in the mirror.

Shoot” I bellowed, “Now there’s a ruddy looking bloke!”

Ruddy. In my words, it means manly, and rather pleasant on the eyes. A condition usually spawned from a life out-of-doors.

I paused momentarily, to fully grasp the sight. I sported a light-weight red flannel smoking jacket, clashing with a pair of blue and green flannel pajama bottoms, brown leather boots with tongues that which hung forth like the fleshy namesakes of two over-heated bull dogs, and an old black ball cap that has seen the sweat of a thousand days. Not exactly a Sears and Roebuck model, but if flannel had a poster child this day, well, it was me!

The sound of my bride coming down the stairs snapped my attention clear of my evident self lust, but not enough so, turns out, to resist striking a manly pose for her, just the same. As her foot steps grew closer, I adjusted the 20 pound bag of charcoal on my shoulder, so she could better glimpse my bulging biceps, and taut mid section. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but listen, it’s my blog, and if I want a taut mid section, well then so be it. Anyways, my chiseled Norwegian jaw line took rather well in the morning light, and my gray steely eyes were trained on the metaphoric mountain tops whence she made her landing at the foot of the stairs.

Wow, you’re wearing a lot of flannel!” She croaked, looking right at me, “Have you started the ham yet?”

Well,  yes, I’m getting there in due time“, I said, whilst nonchalantly adjusting my pose . “Must not rush the pit processes you know.

Excellent“, she said, as she began to sort through the morning paper.

I waited a few moments for a comment on my ruddiness… Nothing.  I strutted past her with my bag of charcoal aloft, considering something relevant from the disco era to engage in, but I couldn’t think of anything, and soon gave up and headed for the patio. She was right tho, I best get the ham started, I guess. And I reckoned not even a turkey gets it right the first time. Anyway, here is how I lit up the pit.

IMG_0256 Known in the BBQ sciences as the Minion Method. It is the choicest of techniques for operating the Weber Smoke Mountain. It’s simple to do too. Simply dump a chimney of fiery hot coals into a donut of unlit coals. Done. The hot coals will slowly light the unlit coals next to them. And those coals in turn will light up the coals next to them. And so on. We did an article a long while back that goes more in-depth on this technique, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion, and if you ever want to delve deeper into the smokey arts, it would be a good read for you. Anyways, once the pit was up to speed, 225 degrees, with a few chunks of pecan wood smoldering away, and after we scored the ham for better smoke penetration, we slathered the it in our finest cheap mustard first, then hit it over with a homemade ham rub consisting roughly of the following:


Home Made Patron Ham Rub

  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Turbinado Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon Paprika

The mustard slather is only to act as an adhesive agent. For reasons that are beyond my mere grasp, you do not taste the mustard whence the cook is complete. But the rub remains in all it’s glory. IMG_0259

Now here is where the pit does its magic. And where a pit master proper is to simply stay out-of-the-way. And that’s what I did. Doing such in a semi-reclined Roman banquet sort-of-way on the couch, which just barely allowed me to consume thy lovely beverage without the hassle of sitting up straight. But this tactic soon faltered, of course, and with the shrewd hands of gravity, I soon found my self “belly up”, with not a care in the world. Eye lids growing heavy, something educational played on the television, tho I couldn’t tell you what. I didn’t care. I was smoking meat, and for a while at least, that was all the entertainment I needed. I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing precisely that which was well with my soul. And I may or may not have dozed off during the high rigors of BBQ here, whilst those wonderful, pecan-scented tendrils of wood smoke pillared into beautiful, April sky.

Long about 135 degrees internal temp, about 4 hours, I stirred up enough motivation to concoct a simple maple honey glaze for the ham, and varnished it on in turn. Here is the recipe we used for the glaze. It weren’t too bad!


Honey Maple Glaze

  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Butter

At this point, we opened all the vents on the smoker to full throttle. The hotter it gets, the better things caramelize. But it turns out the smoker was low on fuel, and didn’t want to go much higher than it already was. But we muddled through it anyways, glaze and all, for poetic reasons alone. It is not shameful to use the oven tho, not to worry. Do what you gotta do. I just felt like ending the cook where it started- on the pit. Like I said, for the poetry. But keep an eye on it during the glazing process, less your sugars conspire against thee in a siege of burnt tidings upon your dear ham. It’s too late in the game to lose it all now. When your ham reaches 145 degrees internal, it’s ready for your people. Go any higher than that, and you risk drying it out.

And that is how a turkey smokes a ham on Easter day. Amen.

IMG_02674 Hour Pecan Smoked Ham with a Honey Maple Glaze. Man! If you’ve never done your ham on the pit yet, you’re missing out people!


Anything Worth Doing: Pecan Smoked Back Ribs

The north wind whispered among the fields and streams, and along the water’s edge down by the pond. With mallards quietly afloat there, watching as I was, the tiny white flakes of snow begin to twirl down from an ashen-gray sky. It was fairly cool out still, for the first day of spring, FullSizeRender (2)cool enough that is, to heighten the simple pleasures found in close bandy to a beautiful chimney of coals. One of which I had one going just then, as a matter of fact, with my hands hovering over the flames. I tossed a small piece of pecan wood into the chimney, and watched silently as it took flame.

I have always enjoyed the lighting of the coals. The process of it. The initial pungent blast of sulfur from a match, the first plumes of wood smoke curling aloft, and of course, the sweet time it takes to do such things, inherent to wood fired cooking. Oh yes indeed, there is a veritable gamut of quicker ways to procure supper for your self, this we know, from: the venerable stove top, to the drive through window of a fast food place, or hark, even behind the spattered plastic door of your personal microwave oven. Yuck. But it all works I guess. It all gets you there. Let it be said tho, because it is true, nothing so raises the bar of edible succulence, quite like a lovely rack of pork ribs riding the low and slow train all the afternoon long.

Cooking with wood and charcoal is at once an exercise in patience. Many folk have not the muster to do this anymore, or even want to do it, it seems,  courtesy perhaps of our on-demand society. We are contented in large part, with what we can get quickly, and have forgotten at times, the pleasure of the wait. That’s what I love about BBQ proper. The essence of it, right down to its smokey core, is something of jaunt on the scenic path. It makes you wait for it. You have to respect the journey. And it is within the time span of this enforced leisure where the magic keenly unfolds. Lets take a peak under the lid, and I’ll tell you a little more about it, and what we have going on for supper at the pit today.

Baby Backs sizzling in a shroud of pecan smoke

Baby backs sizzling in a shroud of pecan smoke. Oh man!

 

Oh sweet rendering collagen, how I darling thee! You work best at your own speed, and no one can tell you otherwise. Indeed, one should not rush the natural processes of rendering pork. It is a snail’s progression in Pig Picasso,  right before our eyes. Just let it go,  people, low and slow, and do your very best to just stay out-of-the-way. They say every time you lift the lid on your smoker that you add maybe 20 more minutes to the cook. And I suppose it’s true. But I had to show you, you see,  if not for to glimpse the savory baby backs, but I suppose also to add 20 more wonderful minutes to my cook. Oh yes, I like the sound of that. It is well with my soul. For here is an activity of which I sincerely do love, to tarry pit side neath wild skies and darting tweety birds, just watching the wood smoke spiral and world gently spin round and round. I could do this for the better part of the day. And I do mean the better part. So why then would any misguided soul seek to hurry through it. Never!

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I fancy the process of BBQ. And I like that it takes a long time. Because I suppose it gives me an excuse to loiter in my man chair and do nothing at all. It is a common secret among men, you see, and the women seem to let us get away with it, that we are hard at work out here manning our pits! That wood smoke would not curl right without our wise and manly influence. Nor would the protein cook proper like with out our steadfast sorties to the refrigerator for something cold to drink. Indeed, it is simply a man’s duty to tarry by his puffing pit and assure quality control there. And for some reason the women accept this, and the men are just wise enough not to fight it. Blessed be the pit jockey, in fact, who’s pork butt spans half the day, and the evening shadows grow long before his feet. The longer BBQ takes, the more content we are.

I reckon I ought to digress for the moment’s sake, and tell you a bit about the ribs, since your here and all. Easy enough. Firstly, we whipped up a homemade dry rub consisting roughly of what ever we had lying around, which included the following:


Basic Dry Rub of Whatever We Had Lying Around

  • Brown sugar
  • Smoked paprika
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Ground mustard
  • Cayenne pepper

*Amounts are left up to the pit master’s instincts. 


After the membrane was removed, we thus slathered the rack in Worcestershire sauce, and promptly patted the spice rub all over, to and fro, and tip to tip. Whilst we were getting friendly with the ribs, the Weber Smokey Mountain was coming up to speed, to 251 degrees,  with a good charcoal/pecan fire burning in its steel bowl. After a suitable pause to slurp the top off a manly beverage, we placed the rack bone-side down on the pit grate for to come to edible maturity there, amid the softly rising plumes of pecan smoke. Glory!

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And now is when we wait for it. A pit keeper’s pleasure, if you will. And darn near our highest privilege in the smokey realm. Time to settle in somewhere fair, splay our feet upon gentle inclines, and relish for once the noble feeling of not being in a rush. To let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and just be… To commune with the aromas of perfectly executed pork, that which we usher by the hand unto the enchanted land of succulence.

In closing, I am reminded of the late Colin Fletcher, of backpacking immortality, who once coined, and brilliantly so, “Anything that is worth doing, is worth doing slowly”.  

So it is, Mr. Fletcher. And so it is with BBQ also. Amen.

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Pecan Smoked Back Ribs with a smoke ring to touch the center of the earth. Varnished in sauce, tinted with honey, sided with smoked baked beans and home-made tater salad. Man oh sweet buddy. Get your bibs on people! This is BBQ at it’s best. This is what you can do when you’re not in a hurry.


A Simple Fare: Grilled Pork Chops and Tin Foil Potatoes

 

The traffic was thick, but moving. Umpteen thousands upon thousands of automotive transports, motoring to and fro, and remarkably, if you ever think about it,  all making their way, FullSizeRenderliving their lives, and doing so in a unified, harmonious manner for the most part, save for those scattered but beleaguered souls, who’s middle fingers keenly ache from strident and resolved over-use. But that’s city driving for you. You come to expect the restless motorist or two. Anyways, upon a Sunday drive, we came upon the southern flanks of Minneapolis, which I think is a pretty city, as far as cities go. And I’m not much a city person, by and far. But I liked how this one looked, has always looked, in the beautiful evening slants of light, with its mighty steel and glass massifs sparkling down over the villages and alleyways.  If you’re lot in life is to be a big stinky mess, you might as well look sexy then, in the right light at least. And this one always has. But I could never live there. It is the sort of land I must keep driving through, for my own sake, and for more open spaces. For venues of precious elbow room. For environs devoid of the blaring horn, and the well-timed, upward raised middle finger. Indeed, a place where the wood smoke so sweetly curls with the lullaby of bird song and whispering pine, that for moment, you know as surely as you’ve ever known anything, that you are exactly where we wish to be, doing precisely that which is well with your soul.

Let’s head there now, shall we, and I’ll show you what’s for supper, and how it went and came to be.

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On the pit today, a simple fare. As simple as you please, really. A couple of thick cut pork chops, and a small bandy of diced potatoes swaddled in foil. Roasted with love. That was all we needed. Give a man meat and potatoes, and you have just given him the world. We are content with this. We long for this. Regardless, the chops were lightly dashed with a bit of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, each side. I seldom use this stuff, but mercy, when dusted over a good chop and merged with the heady scent of smoldering hickory, well, I can see why they sell it in the bulk, economy size. And why it has been around and going strong since the German tanks rumbled across the Austrian border in 1938. Lawry’s Seasoning has been around a good, long while.

The foiled potatoes were a bit more involved. But you all know how to do that. We added a few dollops of butter in there, along with a portion of a Lipton Onion Soup Mix packet, for a little extra flavor. Foiled them and placed them over direct heat for the entire cook, which takes about 20 – 25 minutes. Half way through, or at your pit master instincts, flip the taters with but a single, twisting wield of the tongs, and hear the meat sizzle on the hot cast iron grate, smile quietly to yourself, and consider your day well spent.

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Somewhere in there, about the time I was to settle into a wee spot of loitering, I tossed forth onto the coals, a chunk of crooked hickory wood, roughly about the size of Laurie from down under’s big toe. If you haven’t had occasion yet to peruse his blog, Laurie27wsmith, you might find it quite the treat if you were ever at all curious about Australia and the pretty things that abound there. A wonderful bloke, always in good humor, and I do rather enjoy rummaging through his photos whilst pit-side, waiting on my plunder to mature. Nothing is quite so lovely as a male kangaroo posing unashamed on your portable device whilst the aromas of fresh meat bellow forth from your pit damper. Mercy!

I flipped the chops one last time, and stood abreast the steely bosom of the old kettle grill, savoring the heat on my hands. The smell of the Lawry-tinted pork about sent me straight to church, people, dripping there over a blazing rubble of orange coals. The sizzle and the hickory smoke, the breeze amid the Spruce, even the feel of the tongs in my hand, it all felt right and meant to be. Far removed from the bustling, ever-flowing ribbon of traffic that which flanks the city yonder; this meat, and this fire, and this endless sky above, it is for the moment all that I need. A simple fare where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.

 

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Hickory Tinted Thick Cut Pork Chops & Lipton Tin Foiled Potatoes. Yum!

 


Only In Minnesota: The Fire On Ice BBQ Competition

As your personal roving field reporter, and benefactor to the smokey community at large, I was off and about the weekend last, IMG_0035doing thy bidding for the betterment of BBQ, and my own good mood in general. It was brought to my attention by one of our finest subscribers, Bill, at Three Dogs BBQ, that a rather unique BBQ competition was being held not far from PotP headquarters. It was so unique, in point of fact, that I just had to go check it out. You see,  The Fire on Ice Competition was in its third year, and claimed to be doing so in true Minnesota fashion – out on a wind-swept, frozen-over, 207 square mile lake just east and trifle south of no where. The last time they did this, it was rumored to be 30 below there, not including the wind chill. And now this year, they’ve cast common logic aside, and seem to be back for more. A hardy lot these cats, I thought, as I sipped my morning brew. Why not. Could be fun!  So I hired a driver, also known as,  Elder Brother, and we were off for the northern muskegs, trucking up the highway at semi-appropriate speeds, with bountiful apple fritters in hand, until we reached the frozen flanks of one, Millacs Lake.

The ice was about three feet thick still, here at Minnesota’s second largest inland lake. Which is a good thing for ice fishermen and pit masters alike. Not to mention the trucks zipping to and fro the scattered ice shanties and the Appledoorn Resort, who once again, has graciously hosted this slightly crazed, but favorable BBQ event. And an event it truly is, in every sense of the word. Over 50 teams were competing this weekend on the ice, in categories ranging from ribs and butts to chicken and beef tri-tip. The number of entries steadily increasing over the last 3 years. Teams from as far as the plains of Texas even, have made the polar pilgrimage for but to smoke their pork over the ice fields of Mille Lacs. It is probably the only BBQ competition in the world where you can pull a 14 inch walleye up through a hole in the ice right next to your smoker. Say what you will, but this is living!

Shuffling like two pregnant penguins over the glazed ice, elder brother and I took a pedestrian tour of BBQ Alley.

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What they do is line up various ice houses and fish shanties to fashion a “main street” if you will. Affectionately referred to as BBQ Alley. And to each fish house you will find a designated smoker or two, or three, along with a band of cheerful folks milling about there, usually with a manly beverage in hand, musing at length over such lofty things as fire and ice. They seemed a happy lot indeed, despite the winter climes. And I could see why. What a glorious stroll it is, I must say, with boots shuffling over thick, crystalline ice, that which shimmers like diamond booty at the terminus kiss of a sunbeam’s golden slant. And the blue-tinted pillars of smoke, patron to good BBQ, curling serenely into a beautiful, blue, Minnesota sky. And the aromas people. Mercy! Every twenty feet your nasal orifices would spread again, as receptors to an aromatic parade of perfectly executed pork.

Here are just a few of the cool pits and pit keepers we came across in our time at the Fire On Ice Competition.

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Some contestants had it all. Even brought their own ambulance, they did. I talked to the owner of this rig, and he just shrugged his shoulders.

“Had to do it!” he said. And he did. He also said he hopes to go full-time into the competitive BBQ circuit.

Can you really do that?” I croaked.

Well, I’m sure gonna try“, he said. “I just love it“. And I think he meant it too. Bless you good sir, and I hope you make Harry’s Bar proud.

You can check out their facebook page if you wish at https://www.facebook.com/HarrysAllSaucedUpAndSmokin

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Shuffling onward, elder brother and I came upon one of my favorite rigs there. A custom-built monument to the BBQ sciences if there ever was one. Complete with its own barber chair! Shoot, I’d get a shave here!

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This one was elder brother’s favorite. I think he just liked the pretty colors, but I try not to over think it any. Anyways…

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Shiggin & Grinnin from Delano, Minnesota sure had a nice pit. I may or may not have lingered a particularly long and protracted time here, enjoying the free aromas and what not. I visited their web site later, and let’s just say, they know how to win! You can check our their site too, at http://www.shigginandgrinnin.com/

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We reluctantly left the premises right around turn in time. People were zipping across the ice on their ATV’s and pick-up trucks, cradling their Styrofoam Cartons O’Plunder close to their downy bosoms, in humble attempts to outfox for a time, the wind and the cold. The contestants all piled into the Appledoorn Chalet for to warm up a bit and see how they had done, patron to the pit. Their labors, their dreams, their meat, in the hands of the judges now. And that’s when we saddled up in elder brother’s old truck, poured a spot of tea from a slender thermos, and made our way south from whence we came, content, and smelling akin of two hickory-tinted pork butts, who if only just for a couple of hours, had a very good and memorable day on the ice, where the wood smoke also rises. Amen.

PS.. Let’s see you do this in Ecuador!

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So if you’re game for a unique, cold weather BBQ competition, one of which is growing bigger every year, then check out Fire On Ice. Maybe we’ll see you out there!

-PotP


Sub-Zero Pork Ribs and Ecuador

It was seven below the zero mark, iffin it weren’t colder. And I think it was. Nobody was outside anyways, to tell me otherwise, not even the tweety birds. No one save forIMG_5228 me, that is. And it was cold alright. The keen wind cut through the pond-side spruce with all the compassion and loveliness of a pit bull getting his favorite parts snipped off. The snow on the patio squeaked underfoot. And your breath, if you had any, spiraled like exhaust from an old diesel truck, and carried in the breeze a fathom and half over snow encrusted fields. Indeed, the day was cold against your face.  My fellow patron and I were to discuss it, and we surmised that the odds were high, and probably accurate even,  that I likely was the only humanoid within a hundred mile radius, out of warm doors right then, putting meat to flame on the BBQ. Oh how the neighbors must all roll their eyes every time they see my smoke rise, whilst the wind-driven ice crystals tap over their window pane. No matter, we Patrons of the Pit are a curious group by default. Not one for common thinking and none such. Forsaking oven and stove to cook instead over charcoal and wood, outside, and under random skies, we stand stalwart and proud at our pits, with our collars up and trimmed towards the tempest. BBQing in the cold is just what we do. What we have to do. Unless, I suppose you live, say, in Ecuador.

We have a reader amongst us, a long-time subscriber if you will, and an all-around good guy. Formerly of Minnesota, now roosting in the tropical climes of Ecuador. We have watched his blog, John and Mary Living it up in Ecuador, over the years, and admired their strange adventures, and knack for good living. If the winter draws long for you, do yourself a favor and check out their wonderful blog. It will warm you up, both inside and out. But the old boy there has a sense of humor, I must say, one that I often ponder in vain whilst I’m manning the smoker on sub-zero days like these. You see, he likes to chime in, and reminisce of what Minnesota in the winter was like. To nonchalantly act like he is in your corner. To recall fondly snowstorms in April, of  football on the frozen ground, and of course, the cold. And then all too often, he likes to end his comments with some thing like this, and I quote “ I have to admit that I now usher in winter with a nice dip in the pool or the warm Pacific Ocean and a nap on the beach covered in SPF-30” John from Ecuador likes to rub it in that way. And we’re not just talking about his sunscreen. So it’s 7 Below. Lets smoke some ribs! IMG_5197   We did this rack fairly simple. First rubbing it down with a little brown sugar, then hit it with a spicy rub I had sitting about. A little something to usher in the heat, if you can call it that. We placed the rack “bone-side” down on the pit, over a steely bosom crackling with orange glowing coals and two fist-sized chunks of hickory. Because it was so cold, no water was added to the water pan of the WSM. It didn’t need any help keeping them temps low today. Lid on. Damper tweaked. A nice pillar of blue-tinted smoke was soon in curl. And as nice as it was out there, I don’t mind admitting none, I sidled it back inside to my easy chair, and pulled a Grandma blanket up to my chin. Glory be! Feet propped up towards the fireplace, my socks hanging off my toes like Stan Laurel in his prime, oh what sheer pleasure it is to bandy with one’s favorite blanket and fire whilst smoking pork ribs on a frosty winter’s day. And as per most rib smokes this side of perfection, I may or may not have dozed off in turn. IMG_5201 At hour three, we went ahead and foiled the ribs with another patting of brown sugar, a few dollops of butter and a shot or two of honey, just because. It smelled good enough to tear into right here, but like a good pit boy, I resisted. My elder brother says patience comes to those who wait. I think ribs probably aren’t far behind. A good hour or so in the foil, smoker running at roughly 257 degrees higher than the outside ambient temperature = 1 rack of authentically procured BBQ ribs. The real thing, people. Oh buddy! Varnish with your favorite sauce if you please, and ingest accordingly and at your will or whimsy. SPF-30 optional, at least for some of us. Amen. IMG_5204 Four and a Half Hour Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs . Yum! A touch of heat and bunch of sweet. Another way to pass a northern cold snap with a wee bit of class, and patron to the pit. Grill on!


Superbowl Appetizers: BBQ Wings and Jalapeno Poppers

Well, the Superbowl has come and gone again, and we Americans are a little fatter because of it. Regardless of who won, and who lost, or even if you care nothing at all for football, I have come to realize one unbreakable truth concerning Superbowl Sunday – people will eat a lot! And I mean a lot. The latest math, of which you may have heard circulating about your sphere of influence, was something in the neighborhood of 6000 calories per person. Crikies! Them numbers are like three times what most folk ought to consume in day, and more likely than that to send your doctor’s eyes clear to the back of their head. Still, and even so, who are we to tamper with the annual football feast, let alone tug on tradition’s most unruly cape. Here then are a couple of appetizer recipes to get your calorie count up.

Jalapeno Popper (AKA – Atomic Buffalo Turds – ABT)

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We love these things. And love is an appropriate word, I think. There is a process in making these. A relationship almost. But it is a sad fact for all the pampering that go into making them, that your guests will in turn only suck them down like so many chicken nuggets and nary seem to appreciate the effort nor the ensemble of flavors conspired there upon their palate. You can never make too many poppers, I’ve learned. They will always be consumed. Every last one of them. They are delicious, people, and I’m sure way too high in calories. Which makes them perfect for Super Bowl Sunday. Here is how to make them Patron of the Pit Style.

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Whilst the pit comes up to speed, in a lovely bowl, mix together the following:

  • 1 Cup Onion Chive Cream Cheese ( or what ever flavor inspires you)
  • 1 Cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • pinch or two of salt

This amount is good for around 20 poppers. By slicing your jalapeno in half down their length, you only need 10 of them. So halve them length-wise, and remove the pithy core. Void the pepper with adept strokes of a grapefruit spoon, and if you are a sally-tongued Swede like myself, you would do well to remove all the seeds. That and the cooking process seems to be the trick to taming these peppers down. The signature burn of the jalapeno will be a distant fantasy with these poppers. You need not fear. Assemble as seen in the photo above, lastly swaddling them in a tender bacon wrap held stalwart with toothpicks. The toothpicks are key, lest your poppers “pop” apart during the smoke.

Now before we plop them on the pit, let’s get the chicken wings out of fridge and prep them too. They’re simple to do.

Italian BBQ Chicken Wings

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We had a bag of these dudes marinating for about four hours with a bottle of zesty Italian dressing. If you haven’t tried Italian dressing for your marinating needs yet, well you’re missing out. It smells good enough to eat right out of the bag – but don’t, or you’ll be running to the little pit boys room with stunning frequency. You gotta cook em first, sorry. Anyways, then we dusted them over with some home-made all-purpose BBQ rub, and that was that. Time for the pit!

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Oh the heady aromas of chicken and bacon and jalapeno and cheese, roasting dignified over a beautiful bed of coals. We used hickory for our smoke wood, and that was a fine choice, but apple would do well here also. Oak or pecan would too. Shoot, it’s all good at the pit. Most folks never think to cook their jalapeno poppers on the BBQ, and let me tell you, they are missing something out of their lives. They are good out of the oven, and that’s all well and fine, but off the pit, kissed by smoke under a beautiful blue-tinted sky, a popper is point-blank out of this world amazing. You will not regret it. And there after, you’ll never do them in the oven again.

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Shortly after securing the big lid of the WSM, the smoke tendrils began to curl, signifying that glorious time in a pit jockey’s day where he is at once, and undeniably, in his true splendor. That wonderful slot-of-clock where he has nothing in the world to do, save for drawing a manly beverage from the ice box, and finding someplace appropriate to repair. And with our feet propped up, and our gaze not far from the wafting plumes of aromatic hickory or apple wood, there is little question in our minds, nor upon our tongue, that this is exactly where we wish to be, doing precisely that which is well with our soul. We just love it, and there’s no explaining it past that. We just do. We revel, if you will, in a metaphoric Grandma blanket of contentment, where the wood smoke also rises.

We let everything smoke for an hour or so, nay maybe longer than that, and then dabbed on a generous varnish of Sweet Baby Rays Sweet and Spicy. We just hit the wings with it, but you could do the poppers too, if you pleased. Then we let it smoke some more., just because. After a fashionable exchange of time, and prompted by your pit master instincts, plate up your spoils and serve them unto your guests of honor. They will marvel at the hickory scented feast before them, with a chin dampened by anticipatory drool. It ain’t quite 6000 calories, I don’t reckon, but you will have done your part in the journey, at least. And with the potluck help of other like-mined folks amid your Super Bowl Get-Together, disturbingly, you’ll probably get there. We’ll pray for you. Amen.

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A Superior Respite: Tasty Licks Pecan Smoked Turkey

Way up north where the sun is barely felt, we made our way, my bride and I. A little get-away from the cliché urban rat race, and the ever-whirling societal cog. A time together and alone, along the Lake Superior coast, in which to unwind, listen to the waves gently lap, and muse at length over what ever else struck our fancy that day. It was good to get out. We strolled along the arctic-like shoreline, in one of the shore’s little fishing hamlets, jackets zipped up tight, admiring the many ice formations there, and yet, courtesy of the lake’s massive thermal inertia, how it’s waters remained fluid and resplendent.

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I am no Ansel Adams, not by any means, but I rather fancied how this photo turned out. It was by all accounts and stature, a cloudy, over-cast, cold-to-the-bone sort of day. But in a flip of shutter, lo, the sunbeams did fall from a gray sky, glittered across the bay, and illuminated the ice before my feet. It was beautiful people. Sights patron to a great lakes winter. And for a while at least, you didn’t even notice the cold, and furthermore, you felt sort of privileged just to be there. Seized in the moment. This is nice, I thought. We should eat!

I had brought along on the trip some smoked turkey I had done up the weekend last, and we had been nibbling on it through out our journey in the north. There is something about smoked meat on the shore of a cold lake, with icebergs drifting by, that just feels right. Something partial and abiding with the soul. And as we tarried there snacking on the turkey, eyes drawn to narrow slits in the bright, sparkling light, I was reminiscent of how it went and came to be, this bird back home. It was kind of a fun cook, tho all endeavors at the grill are. Let’s go back in a time just a little, shall we, and I’ll tell you more about it.


 

One Week Prior

Whilst the pit was coming up to speed, I first rubbed a 13 pound turkey with a little soy sauce. I find soy sauce tends to add a most agreeable turkey4flavor to the end game, least wise with poultry. Then I hit the bird over with a good smattering of Tasty Licks Traditional Turkey Rub.  I’ve used it before over the years, and it’s fairly good stuff, designed specifically for turkey. Not sure how they do that, but they do.

So it was with a great, and unbridled enthusiasm I placed the gobbler breast-side up, on a roasting pan for to catch the drippings of course, and further, to elevate the turkey up higher into the path of the smoke. A nice little system should you have the appropriate roasting pan that you don’t mind donating to the smokey sciences. Or, simply do not tell your wife.

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The enormous dome was thus plunked onto the Weber Smokey Mountain, and things were set in motion. I admired how the golden rays of the afternoon soon dropped slantwise from a cold, January sky, and the wood smoke gently spiraled aloft. The wood we used this time around was pecan. A wonderful, slightly nutty wood that which compliments dead birds with aplomb. If you are lucky enough to have a pecan tree in your back yard, and favor the BBQ arts,  you already know this. For us mere mortals however, you might be lucky to find some pecan wood in the grilling section of your local hardware store. Or you could order some online, I suppose. Pecan wood is good mojo tho. Very good!

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We let the turkey smoke approximately 4 hours, at 250 degrees. This is of no hardship, either, to a patron of the pit. 4 hours is just right, in point of fact. 4 hours gives you just enough time to watch one NFL playoff football game. Consume two or three lovely beverages, and partake in one glorious, hour-long nap in your man chair. It was perfect. And so was the turkey! You’re supposed to bring the bird to an average of 165 internal, and that’s what every one will tell you I guess. But we brought ours to 160 degrees in spite of it all, and then foiled it, and then put it in a cooler for another hour to rest. During the rest is where the magic happens, where the turkey continues to cook, and the juices redistribute at the same time. The end game – lets just say, is a pecan-scented, walk-off, culinary home run. Man! Get your bibs out people. Consume it accordingly, and wipe thy bidding’s clear of your chin! Even take some with you on your next excursion to the prettier places. It’s all good, and worth every minute, patron to the pit. Amen.

 

 


Patrons Gone Wild: Cherry Smoked BBQ Pulled Beaver Sandwiches

Once upon a time, way up North in the hither regions of the Canadian shield, I found myself encamped upon the tranquil shores of a beaver0wilderness lake. It was night, and all the stars were scattered like diamonds across the blackened canvas above. A chorus of frog song belched from the ether as I wafted off to sleep in my tent, ensconced in nylon and downy feathers. Intermediate loons gently wailed. Let it be said, that nothing is quite so fine as a good night’s slumber in the wilder places, lulled to rest amid the gentle sounds of the forest veld. Truly pleasant. And this would have been the case too, iffin it weren’t for them darn cantaloupes.

I didn’t know cantaloupe trees grew in Canada. And I never saw any there, but that night I swear they were ripening off the branches and plunking into the lake just outside my tent door. “Kerploosh!!” One would go, followed closely by a span of quietude and then another well-meaning, and well-placed “Kerploosh!” I poked my head out the tent flap, moonbeams sparkling off the surface of the lake. And there he was, a lone, but handsome beaver, trolling stoically through his environs.

Could you keep it down“, I croaked, “A feller needs his winks!”

The beaver responded rather rudely, and dove under, with a final last gesture of slapping his tail on the water. And go figure, it sounded just like a cantaloupe landing in the lake. The beaver equivalent, I thus deduced, of flipping me the finger.

Well I never…” I muttered, as I curled back up in the tent, where eventually I dawdled off to sleep. A sleep in vain tho, ravaged by dreams. I drempt of a 500 pound, monster beaver, waddling up out of the lake, and in turn laying waste to my humble encampment. It’s saber like teeth slashing my tent apart, and felling young trees with aplomb. With frying pan in hand, we dueled like man and beast would, grunting and groaning, with occasional wind sprints for higher ground. It was a stalemate. A backwoods stand-off. And mercifully I awoke at dawn. Relieved. Sunlight filled the tent. Tweety birds sang from the tree tops, and the lake sweetly lapped upon the rocky shore, whilst the summer breeze whispered through the pine. I stretched there like a spoiled house cat, scratching my belly, content again, and just glad to be alive. My relationship with the almighty beaver was forged. Not to mention a Pavlovian thing with cantaloupes.

Fast forward a great many years later, to just last week in point of fact. I, through good fortune acquired myself the hind quarters of a beaver. Don’t ask me how. When you’re known in your community as a grill junkie, strange meats have a way of finding you. And thus I found myself, perusing the vast cyber sphere for beaver recipes. I’m not going to lie to you, I hadn’t the first clue how to BBQ a beaver. Turns out the inter-web was of little value too. Only like four people eat beavers out there. Least wise those who wanted to write about it. Well, make that five now, and here is how it went, and came to be.

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I decided to treat the meat like any other I would prepare for the pit. Firstly marinating the beaver legs for a couple of hours in a mixture of olive oil, soy sauce and garlic. Then, dusting them over with a suitable rub. We used Sweet & Smoky Rub, by the good folks at McCormick. That seemed to appeal correctly to my pit jockey instincts. Then for good measure, I hit them over with a Cajun Blast, for to add some heat to the mix. I shrugged my shoulders, and took the plunder out to the pit.

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I’m sure the keen-eyed readership will note a rack of ribs in the back, and I can explain that. Think of it rather as an insurance policy! You know, a little something to fall back on should this foray into beaver go asunder. Like Clint Eastwood used to bellow, a man has got to know his limitations. And I wasn’t sure yet if I was limited in beaver craft. (The scraps of meat up front, are back straps from the beaver). Anyways, two hours we let it go on the pit, running roughly at 275 degrees. Bathed in glorious hickory and cherry wood smoke. And it smelled point-blank amazing. At the genesis of the third hour, we foiled the beaver.

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Foiled the beaver legs with a long squirt or two of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce, and a good tendril of honey. Foiling the meat like this, is a good old trick known in BBQ circles as the Texas Crutch. Many a pitmaster proper does it with ribs or brisket, for to sort of steam the meat for a spell, loosen it up, and make it tender. I figured a beaver might like a trip to the spa as well, so I foiled him, almost out of habit. Returned him to the pit, and went way of most men who BBQ for long hours – to the man chair, belly up with a lovely beverage in hand.

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From my chair, let’s just say all the world was right. I could see out the patio door to the pit, first off, to admire it puffing contentedly away there. There is just something about wood smoke rising on a cold day that which sings straight to my soul. It soothes thee. Likewise, just past my toes, and over a field of soft carpeting, the NFL playoffs adorn the big screen TV, and the fireplace crackles off to the side. What more could a man want! I sigh as I pull an old grandma blanket up over me, and sink further into the recliner. A slight droopiness washes over me. This is the high rigors of competent BBQ, people! You gotta know how to deal with the pace!

I dosed off amid the banter on the TV, and once again, a beaver had made it full circle into my dreams. This time however, I was the victor, and convincingly so, whilst its unruly meat came to succulence swaddled in tin foil. I awoke hungry, and sidled out to the pit. Here is what I found…

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Around three hours, maybe a little more, it was falling off the bone. Good enough for my likes. Pulling it, I had to admire its smoke ring, and bark. The texture and appearance of beef. It’s savory succulence! It was thus piled high onto a toasted hoagie roll and consumed. Scarfed like it’s namesake to a Poplar tree! Tasted akin to beef, but with a faint tang of wild game. Very good. And once again, patron to the pit!

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Cherry Smoked BBQ Pulled Beaver on a toasted Hoagie Roll. For an aquatic rodent, it weren’t half bad. In fact it was good!


The Magic of Winter Grilling: Hickory Tinted Pork Shoulder Steaks

Whilst the thin tendrils of hickory smoke gently ascend into a darkened sky, I tug up the zipper of my old smoking jacket, and cast a glance out over the frozen pond. The world is so still now, as if time itself had faimages (1)llen from the star-scattered sky; with not a whisper of wind – and the earth pauses in orbit, holding its collective breath. It is cold tonight, but not desperately cold I guess, least wise not by Minnesota standards. It’s just cold. Single digits I would say, but maybe more than that. Regardless, it is easily enough, it appears, to drive the hearty grilling populace that once was back into their thermostatically controlled environs for to while away the winter months there. They will moan the weather man’s name in vain, and abhor the ice that dare forms upon their tightly manicured driveways. They will crank up the furnace and prance about the house in their finest tropical beach wear, little umbrella drinks in hand, whilst listening to Jamaica Farewell on the steel drums for to sooth the chronic frost that which builds on the seedy fabric of their soul.

There are a few of us, however, who haven’t cracked yet. Who haven’t conceded to winter’s impersonal knack of leverage. Hockey players for instance. Down hill skiers I suppose. Snow plow drivers, mail carriers, and of course, Patrons of the Pit.coals2 For the latter I speak now, and in good behalf I believe. We are but a hearty bunch indeed, who refuse to hang up our tongs when ice so rudely compiles upon them. Nay, we raise the goblet of BBQ instead, and bandy only tighter to our craft. Thus here we are tonight, pit-side, wood smoke curling, with the subtle blue hue of moonbeams peaking over the spruce tops. What a privilege to not have disregarded this most rewarding of seasons. The sky is so cold and so clear, with nary a ripple of heat, my but how it reaches for the heavens, tapering into the stars. I love it. Yes, it’s cold, and you will have moments of life considerations, but in truth, the hardships of grilling in the cold is nothing a good smoking jacket and a hot bed of coals can’t get you through. Besides, you need to eat.

On the pit tonight, a little honey garlic pork shoulder steak with a hickory tint. It’s real easy to do too. Let’s dash inside, shall we, and I’ll show you the marinade.

Honey Garlic Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked pepper

Mix up a batch of this goodness and marinate your meat as long as you see fit. And the longer the better. Works great with any pork dish.

When marinated to your satisfaction, go ahead and plop thy spoils over indirect heat, toss a small piece of hickory wood smokewoodsinto the coals, and plunk on the lid. The draft should engage, and you ought to see plumes of hickory smoke soon in curl. Remember the old BBQ adage here, smoke is not an ingredient, it is a seasoning. We’re looking just to tint the meat here, with the woodsy, slightly nutty aroma of hickory. Hickory has a fairly strong flavor, so don’t over do it here. If you want to learn more about smoke woods, a while back we assembled a list of the better woods to use, which you can find at the very top of the page, entitled, go figure, Smoke Woods. Or just click on the photo! We want you to take it easy around here.

Flip the pork at the prompting of your pit master instincts. The USDA recommended minimum for pork is 145 degrees internal. Bring it there at your leisure, whether it’s 9 degrees outside or 90 degrees, it is your privilege to tarry in the good ambiance of wood and coal and sizzling meat. What joy it is to chum up next to a radiant kettle grill on a cold winter’s eve, and relish the BTU’s bellowing forth from it’s steely bosom. To smell the succulence of roasting pork, and wafting wood smoke. To feel the heat against your face, whilst moonbeams swing on ethereal tethers over spruce trees, and puffing chimney stacks. To hear wood fires snap, whilst starlight sprinkles over fields of white. Glory! Our privilege indeed, and the magic of the winter time pit. Amen.

A tip of the tongs to our cold weather pit keepers out there. You are the faithful covenant, you know, and the Brethren of BBQ most hearty. Grill on!

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Garlic & Honey, Hickory-Tinted Pork Shoulder Steaks hot off the pit. Sided with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed green beans.


For You Are Mine: A Love Letter to a Rack of Ribs (unabridged)

 

I held aloft your mahogany-tinted rack for all the world to see. For you are mine, and I have fairly loved you so. I slaved over you, from membrane to rub, and from foil to dinner plate. You were no small task, let me say. And aside this quaint fire, with embers glowing, and a lovely beverage at hand, I am moved to reminisce but for the heady days of yore. To hearken back to our time together, which goes way back today indeed, about five hours I should say. Nay, maybe six. Oh who am I kidding, I loved you at first sight, you know. When it was I saw you laying there, with all the other pork racks just like you, sprawled in one accord, in the cold, artificially lit compartments of the grocery aisle. Your fat cap was pronounced, and unashamed, illuminated in the soft fluorescent light, and your meatiness struck me just right. And you won me over there, like good ribs do, wrought from the hands of a balding butcher named Sam.

So with a courtship anew,I brought you home, and henceforth, like any pit crooner would, I made you my own. It didn’t go well at first. Nay, you were reluctant if you recall. Stripping thee of your gnarly membrane, which peeled in a fashion like that of industrial adhesive off an old tennis shoe. But we muddled through it alright. We made it there together. And then I trimmed you of your ill-flattering flaps, and squared you up a bit, a la the immortal St Louis cut, fashioning you at once presentable to thee. You looked svelte in the morning light, and eager with purpose. Indeed, you were destined for the smokey fires yet to come.

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Now whilst the smoker came up to speed, I bathed thee. Flushing your bone fragments clear under the cool streams of the kitchen sink. I think you kind of liked that, tho I’m not sure. Next I slathered you with a cheap, embarrassing mustard. It was cold, but you didn’t complain. Nary said a word, humbled in that yellow smear. For you and I both knew of the adhesive properties of a mustard base, and we were OK with it, by and far. And then, with delicate hands, I pampered your flanks with a litany of spice and rub, conceived the night prior, just for you. Patting you down, and around, and everywhere else, for to fortify the flavors most becoming of your shapely rack. It was good times, and the outlook was high. Stomachs rumbled on cue.

Ushering you to the smoker, it was my privilege to place you gently upon the oiled grate, bone-side down of course. There but to bathe you now, for three hours in the heady plumes of aromatic hickory and apple wood smoke. Ever stalwart, ever by your side, I tarried long in my reclining man chair, chin upon my chest. You were never far from my sight, beloved. Well sort of. That is until I fell asleep, I suppose, lulled to nap amid the succulent images of your forthcoming, which flirted asunder about the flickering emulsion of my mind. I awoke as if by instinct, eyes snapping open, prompted from above. I scampered pit side, your bones were showing now, and your meat had pulled back just right. And hence I swaddled you tenderly in aluminum foil, in the mild acquaintance of apple juice and a wee shot of honey, for to while away the next hour and a half, at 250 degrees. A sweet steam bath for the unruly likes concerning you. And never since had a set of ribs been so pampered. The swine who grew you would even nod in approval.

Lastly, with foil removed, I saw you there, tender, and falling apart. You wouldn’t win any awards, but for the one which took my stomach straight to church. For a good rack of ribs is much more than just supper in the belly. It is a relationship, you see. A journey. And every rack is a little different trip. Every trip takes time. And oh but to taste that first glorious bite, the venerable pit master privilege. Succulent and savory – the edible opus of spice and smoke and sweet time. And there in the slanting rays of the evening sun, you were declared worthy, and for a moment at least, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. So I held aloft your mahogany-tinted rack for all the world to see. For you are mine, and I have fairly loved you so…

And then of course I ate you. Amen.