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Barbecue Follies - Uno

At the Secret Hideout – 2016

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:

Briskets on the propane smoker

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.

The beginnings of the Church Smoker – nekkid 20″ pipe

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:

Interior heat baffle

    • 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

The collector takes shape

    • 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.

Door detail

  • 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.


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Gate Guarding in South Texas - The Finer Points

My lonely neighborhood

Next month will mark the start of my seventh year as an oil field gate guard in the Texas oilfields.  From The Barnett Shale north of DFW to the Wolfcamp of West Texas to the puckerbrush of the Eagle Ford;  I guess I been there and done that.  Some people got the grit to be here and some don’t.  I have known more than one RVer who fell off down here and expected to be riding a biscuit train with gravy wheels. If you won’t come out of your RV because there is a buzztail under the steps or if you think sleeping,  a shower or takin’ a crap is more important than hitting the gate to log traffic;  you best keep looking for the ‘perfect’  workcamping job.  You know the one I am talking about  – where they pay you simply because –  you being such an exceptional human and all.  I have said it before;  This is a JOB.  It is not for everybody.  No snivelin’ in the oil patch!

One of my concerns being out here solo has always been my proximity to The Border.  I am not the toughest guy that ever wore shoes; not even close but I will tell you folks who live north of the I-10 that The Border areas are getting to be  more Wild West than not.  The Mexican Drug Cartels; especially in the Mexican states that border the U.S.; run the show.  They are the biggest business and they own the local government and law enforcement.  They control the Mexican side of The Border and their incursion into the United States has done nothing but grow over the past two years.  All Border Patrol and ICE fellas do is put an occasional band-aid on it.  So I worry and I am concerned.  You would be a damned fool were it otherwise.

My work area and my work partner

After you been at this for awhile,  you tend to learn the ins and outs of the biz.  In most cases,  you are an oasis of light at night and you are close up to a road of some sort.  The more lights you display out toward the road side end of things,  the more traffic you invite.   I used to think lighting up a good five acres was the only way to go. Now – not so much.   I want the area right around the No Princess Palace lit up like Times Square.  If there is a buzztail lurkin’ under the steps or a Border Pirate hidin’ behind my water tank,  I want to put an eye on them.   What I don’t want is the driveway out all the way to the road lit up like a car lot.  That just invites every lost truck driver, overheated engine looking for water, flat tire looking for an air compressor and cell phone lookin’ for a signal to stop in and say ‘howdy’  at oh dark thirty.  That ain’t healthy business folks.

This is the first automatic gate I ever worked that is keypad entry and I thought I was going to hate it at first.  The opposite is true!   A closed gate is a buffer and needing a code to open it gives me some assurance that traffic has legitimate business here.  I cannot tell you how many times a vehicle has pulled up to the gate and they get out and push on it  – like it is gonna open!  I guarantee you they would open it and drive right in if they could!   These days when somebody pulls up to the gate, I will walk up there and ask them to state their business.  I never open the gate and let them drive in until they are properly vetted.  Never!

Couple of years back when I went solo I was forced to upgrade my driveway alarms because of my profound hearing loss.  I went with the Dakota Alert Kit which has very loud alarms and I have been generally satisfied.   I have upgraded and added to the Dakota Alert System and just last week bought their Dakota Alert 2500 Wireless Receiver which is about the size of a small matchbox and it vibrates!  I carry it with me all the time now when I am out and about.  The standard wall receiver is mounted in the bedroom for night time duty.

1/2 of the Dakota Alert break beam – the transmitter is on the other side of the driveway

My biggest concern is sneakers – somebody that walks up to the gate in the middle of the night.  My first week back  the 2 driveway alarms on the inbound side rolled me out at 0415.  When I peaked out the window I knew I had a sneaker.  There was a pickup truck parked out on the shoulder and parking out on the edge of the highway does NOT trigger my alarms.  Somebody was walking up to the gate and they had triggered both the IR alarm and the Dakota Alert Break Beam Alert The IR alert is about 95% accurate but the break beam never misses!  Somethin’ wasn’t right. Why would you park on the shoulder when you had a driveway 75′ wide right there?  I knew there was somebody out there but the other side of that gate is as dark as the inside of a cow.  Good thing I got a Plan B.

Solar motion detector light

Vela Von is 15 months old now and this puckerbrush life is all she knows.  Nothing riles her up as much as somebody walking because that is  but rarely encountered.  It just ain’t dog world normal.   In sneaker scenarios, she precedes me out the door.  Sometimes I don’t even go past sticking my head out the door.  She knows what to do and she is gettin’ damn good at it – let’s leave it at that.

I got to thinkin’ the next day that this Border deal is not going to get better anytime soon and having that black void just across my gate is no bueno for sure.  At the same time,  lighting up that area all night long was not a legit plan either.   I discussed it with BFF Cait that very day and she told me I needed a motion detector light. She said they had one to light up the backyard when they let the dog out at night and they loved it.   My last experience with a motion detector light was pre-LED and pre-solar.  I remember them as miserable affairs – big ol’ spotlight lamps to replace and sometimes they would not fire off if you did jumping jacks right in front of them and other times they would light up the whole country if a lizard crossed the driveway 50′ away.   As a curmudgeon,  I have a difficult time embracing new technology that has made the world an easier place to live in.  The solution was an 80 LED Outdoor Solar Motion Light and it wasn’t but just a bit before one was on it’s way to South Texas.

Wind sock pole fixin’ to be re-purposed

The next problem was how to mount it since I didn’t have a convenient house eave anywhere in sight.  I caught one of the pumpers on his next trip in and asked him to check his junkpile for a 10 or 12′ pole that would support that little light.   He showed up in a few hours with an old wind sock pole they had retired that was 12′ long.  Perfect!  I took some JB Weld and snugged that twirly part down tight and mounted that light and the detector on it easy peasy.  The solar panel has a 16′ extension cord on it and the plan was to stand the pole up against a big fat wooden corner post and put the solar panel on top of the wood post.

My light just beamin’ down on the gate

I gotta say it worked out way better than I expected.  The LED is considerably brighter than I figured and while it doesn’t light up my whole driveway like 12 Noon it is more than tolerable.  Me and Vela Von have been settin’ out on these warm evenings fine tuning the detector. ( 87 degrees in Cotulla,TX -right down the road- on Friday. Warmest city in the country! )    At first it would light up every time a big truck went by on the highway and we tweaked it a bit.  Then it would light up when two trucks passed nose to tail and we moved it a skoosh.   We just about got it now and I think Vela Von is going to miss our ventures ‘outside the wire’ testing the detection range.  She really imagines she is gettin’ away with somethin’ when she gets to go over on the other side of the gate.

a note:  The Dakota Alert products are PRICEY and I would like to say this is a case of  you get what you pay for.  I can almost say that – but not quite.  They are the LOUDEST alarms I can buy so that overrules everything else in my case.  Both the wall mounted receiver and the portable wireless receiver are flawless.  The little green IR transmitters are pretty trouble free – I am still using one I bought almost 3 years ago- and as I mentioned they are probably 90-95% accurate.  Very few false alarms but they will occasionally miss a vehicle.  The break beams are really expensive and I have had to return both sets of mine for repair.  The first was replaced under warranty and the last one was almost 2 years old and could not be repaired.  I opted for a refurb unit when I talked to Dakota Alert as a replacement and it cost $135.00.  I cannot wholeheartedly recommend them with that kind of service record.  I can also tell you they NEVER EVER miss a vehicle or a sneaker.  I guess that is why I keep a set in reserve.


End Note: Safe Side by James McMurtry from the Candyland cd.

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A thousand miles done

An vacant gate guard slot is occupied.

A thousand miles and almost 30 days gone by and I am back in the puckerbrush of South Texas picking up exactly where me and this little blackface dog left off.  It is nice getting back to a known routine and a regular paycheck.

You might recall me and Vela Von left under a cloud of uncertainty;  not knowing if we would be back or not.  One of my honest pleasures in living this mostly reclusive lifestyle is the (near) absence of human drama, gossip and office politics.  I detest such things and simply

Continue reading A thousand miles done

Christmas Day 2016

BFF Cait – a quarter century has passed and it seems as it was only yesterday…..

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