It’s August, and that time of year when I walk away from the word processor, kick back, and spend quality time with my two grills and smoker.
Yo DT, shouldn’t you be adding pages to that sci-fi story you’re stuck on.
Damned muse. Always giving me shit when I’m not focused on important stuff – like finishing the book. Annoying little bastard, but easily silenced with a couple cocktails and fibbing that it’s world building research for a dystopian tale I’ve been trying to finish since last year. Or was it the year before?
Exactly when humans began to burn meat over fire remains controversial. Scientists originally believed the early meat eaters ate sushi style, fresh off the bone, and didn’t start barbequing until 800,000 years ago. Then in 2012, a South African Primatologist examined evidence from the Wonderwerk Cave, where sediments revealed presence of burned bone in a campfire over a million years old. Sure hope it wasn’t a fellow hominid.
Paleoarcheaologists are still debating whether humans were meant to eat animal protein. Pre-hominid ancestors subsisted on a vegetation diet and lacked the enzymes necessary to digest meat. A recent article by the Genetic Literary Project, BBQ or Sashimi – How and Why Did Humans Start to Eat Meat, believes climate change likely caused our hominin forbearers to start eating meat about 2.5 million years ago. Nuts and seeds high in fat may have provided the enzymatic link to bridge prehistoric vegetarians into becoming carnivores. So, if vegans start lecturing you, tell them it’s in our DNA, and don’t forget to add we Homo-Sapiens wouldn’t have evolved if it hadn’t been for a diet that included meat.
Whether it be fish, fowl, or game, every global society possessed a rich cultural heritage of grilling and smoking. Native Americans migrated with roaming animal herds to fill their need for protein. Pioneers practically lived on bacon. In just about every dystopian story you read, survival depended on critter-du-jour over a wood fire. (See Bacon – Won the West, Men’s Hearts, and maybe the Apocalypse).
I grew up in a time when charcoal was king. We’d sit on the tailgate of our old Ford Country Squire and watch my dad soak the briquettes with gasoline, toss a match, and get suntanned from the resultant heat blast. We did a lot of camping, but grilled fare was limited to pan-fried perch, wieners, and blackened marshmallow. I didn’t know what smoking was until I read the children’s book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Little House in the Big Woods”. Pa Ingall would shove the carcass of whatever he shot that day inside the hollow of a big tree and build a smoky fire at its trunk. It puzzled me as a kid why the tree didn’t fulgurate like an roadside flare.
I started out as a young adult with a classic Weber, and still do most of my serious grilling on one. A friend gifted me his Big Green Egg when he moved, and after twenty-years of use, it became a Big Soot-Gray Egg. Unfortunately, it disintegrated to dust when I accidentally bumped it with the lawn tractor. Thought of buying a new one, but I had to make a choice between that or putting my kid through college. I might have been the last person in my age group to buy a gas grill. Comes in handy for keeping stuff warm, or cooking foods that aren’t enhanced by real grilling – like vegetables. I didn’t discover the wonders of smoking until we moved to north Florida in my twenties. Already a snob when it came to the proper technique for grilling, OMG, I had found my true religion. When I want to connect to my Paleolithic forbearers, there’s nothing finer than the long drawn out process of slow cooking that doubles as mosquito repellant, prompts the neighbors to call the fire department, and attracts every canine within two miles to circle the back patio like hyenas. Dinner will be ready in about – oh – ten hours or so.
Grilling and smoking meat is the ultimate social allure. Invitations for burgers, brisket, chicken and ribs are always RSVP’d. If you advertise get-togethers with a chickpea burgers and can’t-believe-it’s-not-meat hotdogs, plan on folks arriving late and leaving early. If you’re downwind of my smoker, I strongly suggest not serving tuna fish casserole. Okay, vegetables can be downright tasty when grilled. Here’s a picture of some nice tomatoes alongside a juicy steak. And I’ll do my best not to gnaw on a rib bone and grunt while sitting near vegetarians. Who says I’m not sensitive?
I’m tempted to get a horizontal smoker outfitted with a separate wood bin, like Aaron Franklin uses at his Austin BBQ place, but I don’t think my dear wife will let me. She suggested I switch to penning a book on grilling, adding ‘maybe you might actually sell something’. What she may be trying to tell me is get a book out there, and then I can buy a fourth grill. The challenge is on. I can call them the four horseman of the smoking apocalypse.
In the meantime, I plan to shut down the word processor for a short hiatus, line up my three smoking riders of the apocalypse, and see how much of a carbon footprint I can generate.
Happy August, and keep on grilling.
Update August 14, 2016
Just got back from visiting brother-in-law, who let me play with his new, competition grade York smoker. Automatic hardwood pellet feed, we smoked up a mess of ribs, brisket, and sausage. He made corned beef hash with cheese, formed it in a tube-shape, wrapped it in breakfast sausage, wrapped it again with with a bacon weave, then smoked it for several hours for next day brunch.
Our Paleo ancestors never had it so good.