When earliest man discovered fire, he quickly learned that animal flesh was much tastier, cleaner, and easier to eat when cooked over a wood fire. In addition, he learned to add spices, salt and other flavorings to the flame roasted meat while he cooked it over an open fire. As with any endeavor pursued by the male of the species, you can easily see the inevitable competition growing over whose roasted meat would be adjudged the tastiest morsel. Hence, we see the evolution of grilling steaks in the back yard, competitive cook-offs, and tailgate parties.
Cooking outdoors was never a popular thing down on the Pore Farm in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The only time I saw it done was when we would get together with neighbors and go down to the river to fish, swim, and cook supper over an open fire. The ladies did the cooking. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever saw my dad cook anything — ever. During that timeframe, about the only outdoor cooking I recall was pit barbecue. Dale Roark, Brock School Principal, was quite renowned for his expertise in pit barbecuing chickens and such. The meat would be wrapped in brown paper, wet toe sacks, packed in wet clay, and buried in a pit of glowing coals — as best I remember.
It was in the ‘60s before I tried my hand at grilling steaks and other such manly outdoor activities. I began with a cheap open grill made of sheet metal in which I burned charcoal briquettes. It was an OK starter, but it quickly rusted away. Finally by the mid-70s, I stepped up to a single burner Char-Broil gas grill — a Kmart special for $89.95 plus tax, American money. I replaced everything on it at least twice except the cast aluminum case, and if not for vanity, I’d probably still have it.
One thing missing in my life has been a man-sized wood burning smoker. I’m talking about one of those behemoths onto which you could throw a buffalo yearling. Traveling around extensively in the Navy, I was forced to forego such bulky toys. Since retiring, I’ve found that buffalo are in short supply so I have recently opted for a scaled-down gas smoker from Cabela’s. Rather than sitting around tending a wood-fired smoker most of the day and into the night with friends consuming large quantities of cold adult beverages, I prefer the convenience of a gas smoker. I can set the temperature and forget it, yet I can add wet wood chips in the pan above the burner to impart as much smoke flavor as desired.
Before I ruined my first piece of meat in my new Cabela’s smoker I consulted a few experts. I hemmed up two old friends, David Gilbert and Don “Duck” Shirley, one morning and gleaned two lifetimes worth of smoker expertise. From there I have an excellent basis from which to make my own mistakes.
I’ve had lots of fun trying various woods for distinctive smoke flavors, as well as a myriad of spices, rubs and seasonings. I strongly prefer to smoke briskets, ribs, and sausages, some of the unhealthiest cuts of meat possible, but as long as I take my cholesterol pill each morning, I’ll keep smoking that politically incorrect red meat.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to email@example.com.