I had traffic this morning until 0315 so I am still trying to cut through the sleep fog. We are easin’ in to the Rhythm of the Gate yet again. Me and Vela Von – Hound of the Puckerbrush – just finished our morning walk and I am supping the last of the coffee on the porch while she busies herself with things only important to a dog. The sky is cloudless cerulean, 70’s with a light breeze, we are doing laundry while the doin’ is good. The San Antone weather man says cold front tomorrow and while the temps are not supposed to plunge we got an expected wind blow of 40mph sustained. Ya, you know it well, I love South Texas. Yes, I do.
Back in the day, Little Blondie styled herself as an exceptional cook. Early on, we acquired a Masterbuilt Electric Digital Smoker and that rascal turned out some good grub with little effort. I miss it sometimes because it was just so damn easy to use. At some point, it disappeared down south and became part of Little Blondie’s personal cache – never saw it again. I suspect it ended up on CraigsList as a panic-gotta-have-the-money-NOW-dammit sale item for pennies on the dollar. It was replaced with a Gas Smoker which is still available for service. I honed my smokin’ skills with that simple little box and finally got to the point I was turning out product with some degree of increased desirability.
Little Blondie’s culinary efforts always always involved kitschy accoutrements. Slathers and rubs and injections; marinades and brines and herb exotica. Not exactly my M.O. since I was raised up in the Church of the Pure Barbecue but sometimes ya just gotta go along to get along. To wit – this from back in early 2015:
Little Blondie was a big believer in injecting and swabbing and coating meat in myriad ways when we fired up the smoker. Granted, we turned out some tasty product but sometimes I think an appendectomy was the simpler operation. Christ on a cracker! It lasted for a full day or better from start to finish and by the time all was said and done I was just about too pooped to enjoy it. Y’all know I was raised up in the flat Mississippi Delta of Western Tennessee and pork barbecue just was. Memphis style piggy. Nada mas. I can’t ever remember anybody in the family doin’ up a pork shoulder — no, you just went to your fave BBQ place and bought a pound or two, some red slaw and some sauce. Maybe you picked up a pint of two of beans if you were splurging. Otherwise, some buns, fresh onion slices and dill pickle was all you needed. We never ate off butcher paper with our fingers. Hell, the first time I heard of that kinda goings on over toward Lockhart TX, I thought it was heathenistic. The most lasting impression of BBQ I have was the 4th of July fundraiser the Finley, TN VFD did every year. They would get out underneath one of the big trailer sheds at the cotton gin and dig a long, long trench maybe 5 foot wide and a hundred feet long. On the eve of the 4th, they would build up a big fire of hickory logs close to the action and when it started burning down toward coals, they would shovel them in that ground pit. Along about dark, they would bring out big steel racks loaded with whole pork shoulders and lay them side by side across that pit. There wasn’t no injecting or slathering or rubbing or basting.The next morning word would go out the shoulders were done and farm trucks would start lining up to pick up the finished shoulders that had been pre-ordered. Cash money. No credit cards or swipin’ your iPhone across a dongle or whatever. That BBQ was as simple made and as good as I have ever had; the memory sticking even after 50 years. The reason being those fellas knew their craft. They were Masters at it. I reckon they are all gone now. I figure you can’t cook pig in the open air dirt no more without some health food inspector closing you right down anyhow. All the sadder for that fact.
“The reason being those fellas knew their craft.”
That quote is from almost 2 years ago. Every time I did a cook on the propane smoker the embellishments decreased and the knowin’ grew. I read technical meat science books about how fat renders, muscle fibers break down and smoke particles adhere to meat surfaces. I watched TV shows like BBQ Pitmasters and bought Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto and read it more than once. All the time applying the growing knowledge as a means to re-discover the old ways; all of it being necessary to find my way back to The Church of Pure Barbecue. You best remember back then we didn’t cook it, we just ate it. It just was.
Old men have been known to set off on silly quests, tiltin’ at windmills and such. I do know this for hard fact: The kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews knew nothing except stories told about how it used to be and they never would know more. It was gone, lost and to think it different was about as likely to happen as wings on a spider. So if not me, then who?
Musta been a couple years back that my buddy Clay sent me some pics of a smoker he built for his BIL. I pressed for more info and come to find out he had been building smokers on the side for years. I told him right then and there that at some point, I was gonna have him build me a smoker. Officially, in proper parlance, what he was building me was a modified offset stick burner.
It was not until May 2016 that I sent him a build order and a wad of cash to get things started. I sweated bullets over every single feature and this is where it ended up:
- Grate height 36″
- 2 doors with 2 removable cooking grates for cleaning purposes
- Small lip on bottom of cooking chamber to keep grease from running into firebox
- Slant cooker slightly toward firebox to allow grease to run down to a drain hole and fix me a hook to hang a bucket on to catch grease
- Smokestack and full length collector at grate level with damper on stack. 6″stack 4′ tall
- Top of firebox and grate at same height. down baffle on firebox going into cooker. Leave enough space between grate and bottom of cooker to get a good draw. I just want to direct the heat and smoke, not shut it down.
- Insulated firebox – pipe in a pipe.
- Firebox door opening covers firebox only – not the outer pipe. I like your round door setup with draft control that swings out and away.
- Skid mounted – no wheels. tow eye on firebox end of skid
- Lift eye at balance point on top
- On the right half of the cooker next to the smokestack, could you build a second cooking grate above the main one on a swing out hinge that would be removable? Just make it high enough so I can cook on both grates. I am thinking the top grate would be good for little things like sausage or chicken parts.
- I do not think I want the shelf that runs the length of the smoker. Instead I would like a fold up work surface attached at the smokestack end. When in use, it would fold out maybe 30″ -36″?? and be like a side table to work on and then fold up against the smokestack and be secured by a pin when not in use.
I will never forget Clay the Smokerman’s response ‘Ooook!!! That’s a pretty tall order. I’m thinking I can do that easy enough.’ (snort!)
Pshaw! Did ya think it was gonna be easy?? My idea was to build a smoker that cooked like a bastard and pass it down to my kids and then their kids. That is what my money was gonna buy.
To be continued………
End Note: For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield from The Best of Buffalo Springfield
‘”For What It’s Worth” is a song written by Stephen Stills. It was performed by Buffalo Springfield, recorded on December 5, 1966, and released as a single in January 1967; it was later added to the re-release of their first album, Buffalo Springfield.‘
What? Were you expecting political commentary in the blog today? This song was first up on the ZUNE; two generations gone past and what was old is new again. Apropos.