I have been invited by Queen Kim to “guest blog” about our first venture into the world of smoking meats. So to the millions of folks tuning in expecting to read about HER cooking exploits, I beg your patience and promise to be brief. Well, as brief as I EVER am.
Where to begin? I got a smoker for Christmas. It’s a Weber Smoky Mountain model, the Bullet. And it’s the big manly 22 incher, not the piddly little 18. Naturally.
It’s been sitting in the shed through all the weekends of long work hours, snow plops, rain, shopping trips, Superbowl, Jessica’s relocation, and general lethargy. So this weekend, March 6 and 7, seemed to be the alignment of all things barbecue – The Queen’s trip to her grandmother’s was cancelled, work didn’t schedule me to come in and volunteer my time, and the weather was ordered especially for the effort – 60 degrees, sunny, dry. I was determined to smoke a butt and make some barbecue.
I was ready. Okay, I was intent, anyway. Prep was another story. I had everything ready except uncrating and assembling the smoker, buying the meat, reading the instructions, laying out a menu, and making sure I had shopped for everything I needed.
Saturday morning arrived, and I woke up early. 4 AM. Didn’t have anything to do with childhood anticipation, just my metabolism and damned intermittent insomnia. Welcome to your 50s, Mikey, please keep your arms and legs inside the car until it comes to a complete stop. Gave up and got up at 6, and checked in with work email. ISSUE. So I head for the office, deal with STUFF and return home to Kim and breakfast. Now it’s 11 AM. Kim and I decide to spend a couple of hours looking for a bed and mattress. Kim is looking for Something Specific. While we’re out we have a nice lunch and grocery shop, including a 9.9 pound pork shoulder thing for my smoker. So at last I am making progress! Yes sir, I can almost taste it. So we return home at 6 PM. Day’s getting away from me. And it occurs to me that One Of The Guys had advised me that I need to soak my hardwood for smoking overnight. I forgot to get any.
So back out I go, Lowes must have it. Lowes has everything but beer. I looked at apple wood, mesquite, pecan, and several other variations. I chose apple, only because I do not like the flavor of mesquite in anything I have tasted in restaurants. Maybe I’ll try that sometime, but not this first time. While I am there, I cleverly pick up charcoal and lighter fluid. No fool I, another trip isn’t needed. The lady at the checkout asks whether I am cooking tonight or just getting ready. When I announce my plans, she offers to show up with macaroni salad.
Returning home, I display my wares for The Queen. She looks and says “Charcoal? I thought it was a propane smoker. Look at the instructions.” Instructions……yes, instructions would be a good thing. I hope they exist. Maybe if I actually uncrate the smoker I might find some. Maybe I pulled them out at Christmas? If I did, where would I have put them? I check in on the Virtual Weber website, which assures me that the owner’s manual is safely packed in a small box inside the crate.
Success! After unpacking the various pieces parts, I find the instructions. I also find a few dozen very loose washers, screws, and nuts just rolling around in the box. It’s late, 8 PM, and I have no intention of actually assembling this thing tonight, but the loose parts already have me skeptical about finding everything I need. But tonight, I’ll READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. Not a step I am used to, but there’s a first time for everything.
By 8:30 PM, I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t going to be difficult to assemble. But there, in the back, were suggested recipes for barbecue rub and for barbecue sauce for ribs and for pulled pork and for all manner of birds and fish. This struck me like a realization that I had forgotten to pay some bill. Oh my god. I actually was going to have to manage more than Meat On A Grill. Hadn’t thought about this I guess. I show the recipes – very simple, straightforward – to The Queen. She is neither underwhelmed nor overwhelmed with the prospects. “You should look online for other recipes” was the suggestion. Good point, I love all things barbecue and there are many ways to go about this. So a quick search yields 2,140,000 hits for sauce and about half that for rubs. I was starting to feel the dread that always follows me when I start to do something new. Fear of screwing up, fear of doing something very stupid, fear of ambiguity, whatever. I know this feeling, it is a frequent guest. How I can play poker with this personality quirk, I’ll never know. But I know enough to know that the only thing to do is push through it, even if I spend the next twenty years reliving some critical action and kicking myself. Whatever, it’s just barbecue. So I review recipes and mixes. I select one of each.
The sauces ranged from Texas to St. Louis to Memphis to North Carolina brown or South Carolina yellow. I love them all. I decide to try a SC mustard type of sauce. The recipe includes yellow mustard, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, butter, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and cayenne:
Of course, I find that we are about out of mustard. Back to the store. The Queen’s eyes roll. After this finishes simmering for 30 minutes, taste tests find that this is sharp and harsh, not layered and tangy:
The Queen suggests maple syrup, and after another pass suggests tomato paste. I suggest KC Masterpiece. She encourages me to let it sit overnight and we agree that this particular balsamic (a gift from a Nonfoodie Friend) is really the culprit here. Another try another day with higher quality stuff, perhaps. But for now, into the fridge it goes for the night’s rest, with low hopes for its recovery by daylight.
Then there’s the rub. Sigh. This looked simple enough, just combine equal parts (I did one tablespoon each) salt, sugar, brown sugar, ground cumin, black pepper, chili powder, half a tablespoon cayenne, 2 tablespoons paprika:
This was very red and very hot. As a would-be ChiliHead, I like spicy. The Queen does not. And I knew immediately that this was way beyond her mainstream taste buds. What to do? Throw it out and start over? After tasting it and flashing that look at me that speaks of absolute betrayal, the one I get to see when I do things like wash her pink sweats with her white shirts, The Queen suggested I make another batch without the cayenne and blend the two batches until it’s right. Smart lady, that Queen.
Good idea, bad execution. Second batch was too bland with 2 tablespoons of batch one added. So I add 2 more. Went straight through bland right into too hot again. So batch THREE is created. Tossing batches one and two and their offspring into the trash, and again with The Queen’s guidance, I make this batch without any cayenne and then add ¼ teaspoon at a time in. At ½ a teaspoon, we looked at each other, shrugged, and declared victory. Or maybe we just declared fatigue. Either way, it’s 11:30, time to clean up and go to bed.