Saturday, June 14, 2008

To Smoke, or Not to Smoke

That question in the title of this post became moot as soon as I tasted my buddy's ribs which he had smoked on his Big Green Egg. As soon as I got home and ordered the cookbook, I started my search for smokers here where we live. It didn't take long. I found the Green Egg and looked the multiple styles and sizes over; then I went home and let that information slosh around in my head for a week or two. Once it began to settle like so much sediment in a dirty, slow moving, river, I asked my wife if she would like to go look at them.

So here we are, checking out the Green Eggs. These smokers originated in China. They have thick porcelain walls that act as perfect insulators so that temperatures can be held at almost perfect settings for hours and hours, by utilizing small amounts of charcoal. They are expensive, but now that I have tasted the milk and honey, I am convinced they would be worth that price and more. I have a model picked out, my wife likes it too.

"Are you guys going to buy a Green Egg?" the tall man said as he approached us.

I looked at him and replied, "Certainly thinking about it."

"Have you seen the Traegers?"

And that's where our plan went askew; and to make a long story short, this guy, who was a customer like ourselves, "sold" us a Traeger smoker. Though I have lamented in earlier posting that I was interested in going back to charcoal, the thing that fascinated me about the Traeger is that it uses no charcoal. It uses wood pellets: pellets made of apple, maple, cherry, hickory, mesquite, etc., trees - all the smoke, none of the potentially harmful chemicals found in briquets.

I have fired it up four and five times now and we have had some delightful ribs, steaks, and chicken.

In future posts I'll be telling you about some of them!!

Grillin', Barbecuein', and Smokin'

Way back when we were first married, we started purchasing the cheapest barbecue sets we could find. Back then we couldn't afford much; but even before that, in college I once set up a barbecue using the lid off an aluminum garbage can, some briquets, and a rack out of the oven. The chicken I burned on that set-up was delicious!

My dad started barbecueing in probably 1955/56. I was in the second, maybe, third grade. He was a plumber-pipefitter and had access to more than anyone's share of 55 gallon drums. He laid one on its side, cut it in half, put a couple hinges on the backside, added some flattened iron around the edges, put in a couple of shelf holders to hold the rack, inserted an exhaust pipe (about 2 1/2 inch diameter that was elbowed about the same distance from the edge of the barrel and pointing upward to a point just above the top of the barrel), put a small hinged door on the side so he could add and remove charcoal as needed, put the whole thing on a stainless steel stand with two wheels and brought it home. We ate off that ol' boy until I was well past college and married. In fact, not long after the unit finally gave up the ghost, so did my dad.

One year for Christmas, my sister and her husband and my wife and I all went together and bought him a gas grille. He never put it together. I remember checking his face for some degree of acceptance of the gift when he learned what it was. All I remember is a look that said, "What the hell is this for?" It was almost like we had offended him and his old black barbecue. I guess it was just that gas grilles had become all the rage and we thought he would want to be up with the times, like we were. Ha.

So, now, my wife and I have purchased the cheapest units we could find, for over thirty years. Back before gas grilles we had a few charcoal burners. The one I remember most was the small one. It had probably a 20 inch diameter and was about 3 inches deep. I had one of those funky electric starters that you put in the bowl, poured the briquets over and hoped for the best. Our front porch had a long overhand and I would set the unit up out there and run a cord out the front door and burn the hell outa chickens, steaks, and hamburgers. Man, it was good.

But a couple years ago I began hungerin' for the old charcoal briquet way of cooking food. So last year I spent a couple hundred bucks on a nice unit. It had a large bowl and I did some research and learned about indirect grilling and how to put hickory, maple, and mesquite chips into the embers. Something my dad had done 50 years ago. We began eating some pretty good food. I learned it is quite difficult to burn meat when it is cooked indirectly. I watched the food network, read a couple books and began to get excited about this type of cooking; then I went to visit an old high school buddy that I hadn't seen in 24 years.

He taught me the difference between grilling and true barbecueing (smoking). He showed me his Big Green Egg and he smoked up some of the finest ribs I had ever eaten; and he showed me the cookbook he uses. When I got home, I bought the cookbook off Amazon for an amazingy low price (check out the "new and used" section); then I started looking at smokers.