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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Barbecue!!! (!!!!!!!!)

This summer, my family made several trips to Virginia. Usually, while we're there, we'll manage to get at least one meal of barbecue, often at The Smokey Pig in Ashland. For some reason, this year's travels managed to be barbecue free.

A week or so ago, my son mentioned that he would really like some barbecue, so I've had the thought banging around in my brain ever since. Yesterday was the day to do something about it. I rolled out of bed, ready to make diner.

By 9:00, I had the grill lit. I've always been a traditionalist when it comes to grilling, choosing charcoal over gas any day. I love my 22.5" Weber Kettle! When I was a kid, I remember watching my father grilling. he would pile up the briquettes in the middle of his Weber, douse them with lighter fluid, toss in a match and then stand back as a column of flam whooshed into the sky. When I started grilling on my own, though, I discarded the lighter fluid in favor of a chimney. I put two pieces of newspaper in the bottom, fill the top with charcoal (hardwood lump charcoal, please, not briquettes), and light it. Before long, the coals are ashed over and ready to go and there's no lighter fluid flavor to taint what I'm cooking.

Once the grill was lit, I went back inside and filled a stockpot with hickory chunks, which I covered in water and left to soak until later. Then, it was time to start putting together the dry rub for the meat: minced garlic, cayenne, paprika, dry mustard, salt, pepper and brown sugar went into a bowl together and then got slathered all over the two pork shoulders (7lbs each) that were going to provide the day's entertainment.

By 10:00, the coals were completely ready to go, so I poured them into the grill and banked them all on one side, directly over the bottom vent so that they would have unobstructed airflow. I placed an aluminum drip pan on the other side to catch the grease that would come off of the pork as it cooked. Then, I shook the water off of a big handful of the hickory chunks and placed them on the coals so that they would smolder. The grate went on the grill, with the hinged section over the fire, the cover went on for a minute or two, then I cleaned and oiled the grate and put the meat on, skin side up. Finally, the lid went on the grill, with the vent positioned above the meat to draw the smoke over (and into!) the pork.

Every hour or so, I would check the fire, adding coals and hickory chunks as needed. The UPS delivery guy came by the house and complained that it wasn't even lunch time and the smell of the barbecue had already made him hungry. My son had a friend come over and they spent several hours hanging out, then they went pumpkin picking with the friend's family. Still, I kept tending the fire and the smell of cooking pork filled the neighborhood.

Before barbecue is done, the meat needs to reach 190° F or it won't shred properly. The outside gets all crispy and turns a color that I affectionately call "golden black." When the meat was approaching that point, I set to work back in the kitchen, making the sauce. I started with a recipe from Steven Raichlen's book, so Apple cider vinegar, ketchup, cayenne, brown sugar, dry mustard and pepper went into a bowl together, but the tast and consistency just weren't what I wanted, so I started improvising. I put about half a head of garlic and two small onions went into the blender with a bit of olive oil and pureed them, then sauteed the paste. Then, I added the sauce from Raichlen's recipe to the pot, along with some tomato paste and a bit more brown sugar and cooked it all down until it was thickened up nicely.

By 5:00, the meat had reached 190° F was ready to come off of the grill. The next step was pulling the pork off of the bone and shredding it into bite-sized bits. Some restaurants chop their barbecue, and I guess that makes sense if you're making it on an industrial scale, but I much prefer the texture of hand-pulled pork. It took a half hour or so to pull the pork off both of the pork shoulders I had cooked and the process yielded a big bowl full of meat, to which I added the sauce that I had been simmering.

Finally, after having smelled the barbecue cooking all day, it was time to eat, so the family sat down to a dinner of pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw and sweet tea, with rice pudding for dessert. Of course, we had plenty of leftovers, so I've already packaged up two quarts of barbecue for one of my Yankee friends who doesn't know anything about barbecue. We had leftovers for dinner and committed the rest of the barbecue to the freezer for later, though I doubt that it will be very long before its siren song calls to us.