“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace but it’s a start.”- Anthony Bourdain
Greetings from Uncle Tom’s Corner (Take 2) and welcome back. We all know that computers were created/invented to make our lives easier but due to rapidly advancing Artificial Intelligence I think they may be developing personalities and senses of humor. This thing was nearly finished and ready to submit to the editor/administrator, owner of Educated Minds when it simply disappeared. Ha! The joke’s on you, Big Boy. Do it over. Or maybe a recently installed B.S. app analyzed the content and decided “I don’t think so”. Regardless, that’s the story behind “Take 2”.
Memorial Day was the official unofficial launch of summer. Now the real thing is at hand. On Friday, June 21st at 9:54 AM MST. Suntans, sunburns, the Beach Boys, mowing and watering, waterskiing, golf, camping, mosquitoes, picnics and grilling and barbecuing. Yay! Bring it!
Now, with that as a segue, for a few tarnished pearls of wisdom in the barbecue and grilling department. Certainly not an original on my part, “Where there’s smoke there’s flavor”. While reading through Steven Raichlen’s book The Brisket Chronicles he stated that he didn’t think it made much difference what kind of wood (or pellets) you used…that they all impart roughly the same flavor profile.
Probably the first of the wood/protein (meat) pairing charts I ran across came from Ruff’s Barbecue Shoppe on Youngsfield in Applewood. Since then I’ve run across oodles of ‘em that pretty much all say the same thing. I think the one presented below came from Traeger Smokers but I wouldn’t swear to it…I just know I didn’t come up with it.
*One exception I have to both Steven Raichlen and the totally unauthorized duplication of the chart I’m attempting to recreate is that of mesquite. Realizing that any such mention is blasphemous and heretical to most Texans mesquite should be used sparingly in barbecue (low and slow) because it imparts a heavy smoke flavor that can turn acrid or bitter. It’s great for grilling steaks because the cooking method is hot and fast…just not so much in the world of low and slow. That’s my opinion. There you have it and you know the old saying “Opinions are like…”.
Also, unless it’s a matter of survival and you’re faced with the option of eating raw bear meat or cooking it over an open fire fueled by pine, fir, cedar or any of the soft coniferous woods, don’t do it. They contain too much tar and will ruin the meat. Of course, if you’re cooking in a Dutch oven or some other closed container where the smoke won’t actually touch the meat then it becomes a moot point. Heat is heat…just not all smoke is created equal.
Wood Beef Chicken/Fowl Pork Fish
Alder # # # #
Apple # #
Cherry # # #
Hickory # # #
Maple # #
Mesquite* # # #
Oak # #
Pecan # # #
Predictably, the fruit woods impart a sweeter smoke where the other hardwoods (hickory, maple and pecan) have a bit heavier smoke flavor. Oak is quite mild as is alder and, as previously mentioned, mesquite can just be nasty.
I barbecue on a pellet smoker which makes it pretty convenient for switching back and forth depending on what kind of meat I’m cooking. Some of the smoker manufacturers have taken it a step further by incorporating a trap door on pellet bin for ease of changing from one to another. For most of my cooks, I use a combination of apple/hickory or apple/maple or cherry/hickory or cherry/ maple…all with a handful or two of mesquite just to make the point that it was, in fact, barbecued and not flavored with chemicals.
Enough of that. Last weekend was the contest in Frisco. If you’ve never been you really owe to yourself to go. There were most of 70 teams represented; Main Street was blocked off with vendors selling everything from barbecue to the usual county fair fare; advocates for the re-introduction of wolves into the Colorado ecosystem and pretty much everything in between. Buskers and all kinds of street performers. Beer, soft drinks, margaritas…it’s important to hydrate at that altitude. Some were more hydrated than others. And the people. Wow! While wandering by the vendors I ran into and talked at (I say that because the guy was deaf and could only understand me through lip reading) a guy wearing a Nebraska Husker shirt. In short, it was wall-to-wall people all immersed in the barbecue smoke.
Friday evening was Kid’s Q, Everything But (anything that can be cooked on a grill besides the four sanctioned meats…chicken, ribs, pork and beef brisket), salsas and sauces. One of the kids turned is a steak that, well, I’d like to find that kid, give him/her a hug and beg ‘em to teach me how to properly cook a steak.
The Everything But was largely uneventful. The salsa at our table was pretty much what you’d expect…some hotter and some milder. The judging table directly behind mine got a bit of a surprise. The consensus was that the sample that cook submitted was pure Ghost Pepper…they were cryin’! It’s easier to laugh at another’s misfortune. We were speculating that the judges at that table couldn’t possibly judge the next day as their spit glands and taste buds had just been cauterized.
In the area of hydration, some D.A. in our hotel got a bit overly hydrated, chose to ignore the “no smoking” policy at around 3:00 AM Saturday morning. That resulted in an evacuation and a pre-dawn visit from Frisco’s First Responders…fire and police. They spoke rudely to the offender and I’m certain his fragile psyche was bruised as a result. So that was kinda exciting and added another element to the story.
Next weekend is the Leadville competition…the highest incorporated municipality in the United States.
And that will pretty much wrap it up for June. In the meantime fire up the grill and enjoy! Christmas is only a little over six months away.
See ya through the smoke.