Last Friday/Saturday I cooked a whole hog for the family of a friend’s Christmas party. Fortunately the site of the party is pretty close to my house so I didn’t have to spend the whole time sitting in their driveway babysitting the cook. As I was commuting back and forth in the wee hours of Saturday morning…around O’Dark 30…I was thinking that I should be alert so as to not run over a paper boy. Then the reality set in…there are no paper boys…and darned few papers!

In my last writing I made some suggestions of gifts for the smokers and grillers on your list. Knowing the tendencies of the bulk of the readers I made the assumption that procrastination may still persist among some and that I’d be on fairly safe ground by adding a few more suggestions…that your gift purchasing might have room for one or two more.

The first thing I’d like to suggest is a good digital, instant-read thermometer. They’re like anything else…you get what you pay for (Black Friday bargains notwithstanding). The more basic ones are a single probe that you insert into the thickest part of the meat and it gives you the temperature at that moment. The more sophisticated ones have multiple probes on lead wires that can be left in the meat for the duration of the cook and for keeping track of several items being cooked simultaneously as well as the surface temperature of the cooker…all of it being sent to your phone via Bluetooth. Some of the newer grills and smokers have the digital thermometers with probes built into the machine along with timers (remember: you’re cooking to temperature…not time) and Bluetooth connectivity. You could conceivably put your entrée in the smoker in the wee hours of the morning, drive to DIA and fly to San Francisco, have lunch and check on the temps of your smoker, make adjustments AND whatever you put in it from your phone. The most recent (that I know of) is called “Meatrix”. It has a probe that measures the energy impulse (I have no idea what kinds of impulses are emitted by a hunk of dead meat) but it was obviously conceived and created by a mind far surpassing my own. The Meatrix can be had for the small nominal fee of $124.95 and can be ordered from Supposedly the way it works is that you tell it what kind of meat you’re cooking and what level of “doneness” you desire. When the meat hits that level of “doneness” the Meatrix notifies you via your smartphone. All these technological advancements are taking the intrigue and challenge out of barbecue while simultaneously reducing the possibility of burning the house down. Side note: We did fry turkeys for Thanksgiving and the garage is still standing although I think I hear the coyotes outside licking the spilled and splattered oil off the rocks…or as my wife likes to call it “Ground Zero”.

Speaking of frying turkeys, how about a turkey fryer as a gift. One of the great things about my turkey fryer is its versatility. There are several styles…mine happened to come with a large metal basket with a handle for lowering and raising the bird. It can also be used for boiling crabs, lobsters, mostly anything else you might want to boil. Additionally, they have a faucet on the side for draining the oil or water out of the pot. A couple of years ago Sean and I cooked for an engagement party and used it to cook a couple of bushels of corn. Just sayin’.

Unlike all the new gizmos one thing that hasn’t changed much is cast iron cookware. Not sure how many pots, pans and skillets I destroyed on the grill and in the smoker and had to replace before settling on the cast iron. What’s really ridiculous is that I inherited my grandmother’s…all of which was cast before the turn of the century…the 20th century…not the more recent one.  So I had this stuff on hand but, for reasons unknown, chose to use the newer, non-stick stuff. Then came the revelation!

One of the things about cast iron is that it has to be seasoned before being used for cooking. I’m here to tell you…Grandma’s cast iron is well-seasoned. This stuff makes the new non-stick cookware like cooking on concrete. And you can’t hurt it, stain it, burn it, damage it and it makes a great weapon if someone tries to encroach on your cooker. Just remember to use a hot pad or an UvGlove. The worst thing that can happen is that if you’re a little slow in cleaning it, it might develop a little (or a lot) of rust. Some steel wool, a few drops of cooking oil and presto, change…good as new…or old as the case may be.

I have used the skillet(s) for baking pies; the Dutch oven(s) for stews and for braising. Somewhere I have a picture of me stirring a pot of beans with a boat oar…the Dutch oven was that big. After that experience I thought I might need something like that (once again…for reasons unknown) until I realized I’d need help lifting it…and that’s before I put anything in it. I swear that thing could’ve served as a hot tub for little people. A friend had one that was considerably smaller than the humongo bean pot just mentioned and his wife insisted he get it out of their garage so she could park her car in the stall previously occupied by the aforementioned pot. That same pot miraculously ended up in my garage but I’ve used it twice so that justifies its existence and the space it occupies…which is what I tell my spousal unit when she tells me its time to start clearing some of that stuff out of our garage. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

On that note I’m going to pull the plug on this episode and on this year. I did get selected to judge the barbecue contest at the Stock Show again this year so my next writing will likely follow that event. And I’ll take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, belated Happy Hanukkah or whatever is appropriate to you. And a joyous, prosperous and healthy New Year.

See you next year at Uncle Tom’s Corner.