My Favorite Barbecue
by the other theo
I’m on a barbecue quest of sorts. It’s not an obsessive thing, though I have my moments. I first caught the bug in the 1990’s when I began to wonder “what is barbecue and how is it different than cooking on a grill?” I had grad school on my mind in those days, and didn’t actively pursue the answer. That changed a bit in 2000 with graduation and a full time job. I lived in a top floor apartment, however, and there was only so much I could really do. Finally, after living in my own home with a patio for better part of year, I got my first column-type smoker in August 2008. It was a cheap unit that I modified heavily using ideas from the Internet. By practicing and making the modifications, I learned a lot from that smoker. When I changed jobs nearly three years ago, I decided it was time to graduate to a real Weber Smokey Mountain cooker. It’s the WSM smoking a 3.5-4 pound bone-in pork shoulder overnight for pulled pork for a Fourth of July pre-party (on 3-Jul) tomorrow.
About a year ago, I discovered something slightly odd about my quest. Of the barbecue I make, the barbecue that I like the best is the stuff I make on the spur of the moment. The first time this happened was early on a Saturday afternoon. I believe I decided on the spur of the moment that morning that I would make some ribs, simply because I hadn’t used the smoker in a couple months. So, they were on the smoker by 9am and done some time around 1:30 or 2pm… somewhat earlier than I expected. The Missus took a picture of me just as I was finishing a rack, with a big silly grin on my face.
Why is it the best? It’s probably because I don’t worry about it. I don’t set expectations. It’s just there. It feels easy. Making good barbecue still feels a bit more like an art than a science at the moment, and still fret about it. Take this pork shoulder I’m cooking right now, for example. I’m allowing myself plenty of time for it to finish, and I know enough tricks to get it done for the party. Yet part of me still worries a little… will the smoker hold temperature until tomorrow morning? Will it be done too soon? Barbecue is something that does not happen as much as unfold.
Then there is this rack of ribs I made a few weeks ago. Yeah, the smoker ran a little hot and so the meat fell off the bone a little too much. Yeah, the recipe followed my basic formula but I improvised a couple substitutions using what I had on hand. But look at that color and the way the bones stick out at the end! They were in the grocery store meat counter at 1:30pm and spare rib dinner by 6:30pm. How can you not love it when that happens?
Perhaps I will one day have enough confidence to always feel carefree about my barbecue. Right now, I can tell myself that I logically have little to worry about… but I don’t feel it in my marrow yet, not yet.