Aeschylus warned that danger lurks behind an excess of good fortune, and years of easy success in making barbecue precede this tale of terror. I previously have provided detailed, illustrated, step-by-step instructions on how to make perfect barbecue. See here. I now have an update based on my harrowing experience on Memorial Day this year. It was soul-searing, but worry not, my gentle readers. There was a happy ending.
By way of background, I cook pork butts over direct heat (that’s way to make perfect pork barbecue) on a Weber grill using charcoal and hickory chips and chunks. It’s pretty straightforward at bottom: just control the air flow by adjusting the top and bottom vents, to make sure the coals don’t get too hot.
Memorial Day — more precisely, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend — I had two butts, about 18 pounds in all, on the grill, and it was blowing a gale. Well, not quite a gale, but the wind was ferocious — more than enough to over-heat the coals. I closed the top vents. Still too hot. I closed the bottom vents. Still too hot. I was fresh out of vents to close, and I realized that wind was flowing through the supposedly non-existent gap between the bowl of the grill and the lid.
I am not a mechanically inclined guy. I was 17 before I could operate a wheelbarrow. I can now operate a car, if it behaves, pump gas, use an ATM, and, in a pinch, change a light bulb. For the rest of life’s problems, I resort to duct tape, a hammer, and/or a beer run. Given sufficient time, I can persuade Nancy to find someone who will solve the problem in return for money. But this was an emergency. The butts were overheating and there was no one to pay. These are the times that try mens’ souls.
These are the times that call for concrete blocks.
I was able to rest one on block the vent side of the grill top, but that just widened the tiny aperture on the temperature gauge side. I didn’t want to smash the temperature gauge with a concrete block to weigh that side down down as well, so I balanced the second block on the first and the handle.
It worked. I was able to get the temperature to stay down at 275 or lower. Those concrete blocks really saved my butts.
Not my best work, but delicious nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Michael was cooking a big brisket on a Big Green Egg. If you want to cook brisket, get a Big Green Egg — I’m sure someone will loan you the money — and get instructions from Michael. His Memorial Day brisket was just fantastic. Even the lean end was tender and just bursting with flavor. Amazing. And he didn’t even need one concrete block. I pretty much won the son-in-law lottery.
(I’d get a Big Green Egg if I were from Texas or Kansas City, but I grew up in the South and to me, barbecue is pork cooked over direct heat with the rendered pork fat dripping down on the coals and perfuming the meat. That’s the only way to get that great bark on the meat.)
The top photo, by the way, shows the brisket, one of the pork butts, and Nancy Tanner’s Potato Salad. Oh, and Ella and Lily in their “America dresses.” Also on the table were Nancy’s coleslaw, Julie Rokala’s baked beans and salad with bacon grease dressing (excellent!), a near-sinful blueberry and strawberry tart from Eric and Kim Zabielgaski, and Liza Tanner Boyd’s Coconut Cake. And probably some things I forgot.
It was quite a dinner and, despite the stress, I gained
four several pounds.
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