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.

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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.

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