Last Call

As we wind things down in Kansas, we’ve hit the bottom of the freezer and fired up the smoker for the last time. I get a bit misty eyed at the thought of that. My smoker and I have done some good work together. Probably burned through several trees throughout the years. We started out using Osage Orange (hedge apple to the locals) and then switched over to Pear when we lost a big limb on our old tree in the front pasture.

stove-pipeI got interested in BBQ when we moved to Kansas. Ran up to the local big box store and picked up a cheap BBQ smoker. About the second time I used it, I decided to up its game and customize the smoking capability, ’cause it really did not have any, right out of the cardboard box. I took a stove pipe and drilled a couple dozen 5/8 inch holes along the length of it. The firebox hangs off the left end ofstarting-point the thing and has a large hole into the body where the heat and smoke goes. All of it, all the time, with nothing to throttle it down. I put the pipe up to the hole and sealed any gaps with foil. It was not pretty, but worked very well. The other end of stove-lidthe pipe was closed off with an old stove lid and held tight with a brick. Now, all the heat and smoke run though the pipe and out the holes, evenly distributed. Sweet! Doin’ what you can, with what you got, where you are. Teddy would be proud. He liked his BBQ.

The first time I fired up this new configuration, I had a second beer, just to congratulate myself on what a good job it turned out to be. I could now maintain just about any temperature I wanted, for as long as the wood supply held out. We smoked everything we could get our hands on. Our favorite was pork. Something about pig bits just lends itself to a long, low smoke.

The image of BBQing something is one of sitting in the shade, with a lovely beverage, adding a piece of wood now and then and… snap out of it. This is no time to be daydreaming. Have you checked the temperature lately? Is the wind coming from the wrong direction, do you have to move the smoker? Where’s the rest of the wood?? Do you really think you are going to finish a 10 pound roast with just that little pile of sticks??? Crap, the dog just knocked over our beer!

An average session starts well in advance of the smoking day. We always brine our pork or chicken. The reason you remember chewing on a dry piece of chicken from your childhood is your Mom did not brine the bird before cooking it. Same goes for pork. Beef likes dry rubs and marinades.

So, you brine your meat. We are working with pork here, and usually brine overnight. The Mrs handles that end of the job, I just sit back and watch her magic. She likes that. The day we smoke, I have already gotten the wood gathered and stacked by the smoker. I like to use rounds of wood rather than split wood. If it has the bark on it, all the better. I check the weather forecast and point the smoker fire box in the direction of the wind. In Kansas, there is always wind, sometimes from more than one direction at once. It’s complicated.

I fire up the smoker at O’dark thirty. If it is a big chunk of meat, it’s going to take a long time. Normal start up is to put some twigs and bark in the firebox, put some corn oil on a piece of newspaper, put that under the twigs and light it up and add the rounds. A half hour before this, the Mrs had put the meat on the counter to warm it up a bit, and applied a dry rub. She will have to tell you what’s in the dry rub, I’m messing with getting the smoker going.

When the smoker is smoking good, apply the meat. Now, it’s way too early for beer, so grab a cup of Joe and make eyes at the wife. Sometimes she likes that, but don’t be obnoxious. About every 20 minutes, go check the temperature. I have 3 thermometers installed on the smoker and no, I don’t consider that to be obsessive. One by the firebox, one on the top of the hood, and one by the chimney. Depending on what we are smoking, I like to keep it around 200 to 225 degrees. You will need to add wood about every half hour, and depending on the wind and other environmental conditions, things can get too cool or too hot pretty quickly, so keep an eye on things. You will go through a good bit of barley pop, so plan accordingly.

We shoot for a finished temp of about 160 for pork, or 190 for pulled pork. This will take around 6 hours and if it is not there by then, we put it in the oven to finish it off. I know, purists are rending their clothing and making a fuss. Deal with it, whiners. I have already spent a good portion of my day making a large chunk of pork taste good. You want to babysit your pig into the night, have fun.pig-bitsIf the wind is right and the BBQ gods are pleased with you, the meat you have slaved over will be tender, juicy and have a nice smoke ring. The Mrs likes to make some zippy BBQ sauce, so lather it on and sweat like you mean it.

Last call, last call for smoking your meat. You can smoke your meat anywhere you want, but you ain’t gonna smoke it here.