P’s Meat Smokin’ Boot Camp

It was one of the first nice weekends we had in Kansas City amidst the tornadic weather and freak snowstorms. As we lounged around the house in the morning, I wondered what we might do that day. Maybe we could have a family picnic in the park. We hadn’t played tennis in a while, that might be fun. Or we could plant some flowers in the yard. We had been talking about that for a while. I’d even be up for a round of golf.

As I took a long sip from my hazlenut coffee, I hoped our marital ESP was tuned into the same wave length and posed the question to P.

Me: So, what would you like to do today?

P sat silently for a moment and I could see his mind running through the potential options. I focused my thoughts really hard on “picnic” and “tennis.” Then I saw the lightbult go on. Moment of truth.

P: I’d like to smoke some meat.

Me: Oh. Hmm. Well….

Smoking meat–the one activity that doesn’t include me. I didn’t really even consider it an “activity.” As far as I could tell, you put the meat on the smoker and then checked the temperature incessantly for four or more hours. Sprinkled throughout the waiting time was typically some frustration about temperature plateaus or not having enough alumnium foil. All the while, I’m usually left by myself to sit on the couch, clean or run errands alone. Sounds like a blast, right?

Unfortunately one tidbit I’ve learned over the past 10 months is that I don’t always get what I want. It’s strange. And is rare. But it does happen. And if I’d like some quality time with the hubs, sometimes it has to be an activity of his choosing. Please note the qualifying word “quality.” I don’t count flipping the channel between some baseball game and a Western movie as “quality.”

So, I had an idea.

Me: Well, ok. But I’m going to smoke some meat, too. And you’re going to teach me how.

P: Huh?

Me: I will have my own meat and do all of the prep work and you will just tell me what I’m supposed to do.

The look on P’s face was priceless. I couldn’t tell if he was pleased or if I was encroaching on sacred ground. Probably a combo of both.

P: Alright. Let’s go to the store.

And so began my meat smoking boot camp.

Step 1: Pick out the meat.

We arrived at the grocery store and made a beeline for the meat. Nevermind that it was sample day and a local cheese farmer had a tasty lookin’ wheel o’ somethin’ in the dairy section. I love cheese. We were on a mission. No time for cheese.

Standing in front of the rib options, P just stared intently at the various packages.

Full Loinback RibsMe: So, what are we looking for?

P: Ribs.

Me: Clearly. How do you make your selection? How do you choose which ribs you want? Is there some secret to picking the right ribs? Why does it look like they are bleeding? What am I supposed to be looking for? What do I do? They all look the same.

P: Find the least expensive.

Me: I should have guessed.

We made our picks. I selected mine based on price and the one that looked the least disgusting. P also grabbed a pork tenderloin.  And he says I’m impulsive.  Straight to the check out line we went. Still no time for cheese. We had meat smokin’ to do!

Step 2: Prep for the prep.

Back at home, we laid our racks on the counter.

P instructed me to get two baking sheets out. He also grabbed the kitchen shears.

P: Ok, now cut off the plastic wrapping.

Me: (as I am unwrapping the ribs) Gross. What is with all the juices? Can you get E. Coli by osmosis?

P: (eyes rolling) Put the plastic in the sink for now. Next we have to remove the membrane.

Me: Say what?

P: The membrane. Flip your ribs over. Good job. Now you see this film covering the ribs? That is the membrane. We need to remove it by peeling it off. Otherwise, it will block the seasoning and also won’t cook correctly. Start at a corner or find part of it you can grab hold of.

Me: It’s slimy.

P: Just do it.

rib prep, removing the membrane

P of course ripped the membrane off his ribs in all of three seconds. My ribs’ membrane put me to work. I tried to get a hold of it but apparently you need to do strength training to be able to remove it. I resorted to scissors and eventually had to humbly ask P for assistance.

Looking back, it probably would have been best to remove my wedding ring before peeling membranes off raw meat.

Step 3. Seasoning.

P arranged seven different spice and seasoning containers on the counter.

P: What seasoning would you like to use?

Me: What seasoning should I use?

P: Well, there are lots of choices.

Me: Such as?

Keep in mind that the majority of my options were spices and seasoning that were either bought at the Farmer’s Market and, therefore, in unmarked plastic baggies, or they were a Patrick Moss concoction and stored in unmarked plastic bottles. I need labels, ingredient lists, or just some indication of what the heck is in each of these.

P: Taste each of them to figure out which one you want to use.

Me: But don’t they taste different when they are on the ribs than when I just taste them plain.

P: Just try them.

After setting my mouth on fire with one mystery seasoning, I opted for one of the only two clearly labeled bottles, Oklahoma Joe’s premade seasoning.

ribs with oklahoma joe's seasoning

Me: I’ve heard of people putting brown sugar on their ribs. Can I do that, too?

P: Sure.

I love brown sugar. I love any type of sugar. Regular sugar. Brown sugar. Vanilla sugar from Penzeys. Anyway, I digress.

I poured on the brown sugar. Packed it on. Then poured on another layer. Ready, set, caramelize.

ribs coated in brown sugar

P used a Farmer’s Market grill seasoning and a little bit of brown sugar. Sometimes I do have good ideas.  He also put a little Gate’s BBQ rub and brown sugar on the pork tenderloin.

Step 4: Get the smoker ready.

Baking dish for smoking1. Cover the triangular metal thingy in aluminum foil. Then put the pan I make rolls in on top of it with water, Worcestershire, cider vinegar and mixed peppercorns.

charcoal

2. Take the bag of charcoal out of our dining room, spilling a bunch of it on the floor as you drag it outside. Place the charcoal in bottom of the smoker. Go wash your hands.

woodchips

3. Fill one of my nice mixing bowls with water and pour a bag of woodchips in it. (Later, forget to bring my nice mixing bowl back inside and leave it outside to weather out the next week of storms.)

extension cord

4. Drag out the extension cord plugged into an outlet inside and be sure not to get in the way of Quinton’s sun bathing. Plug the electric starter into the extension cord and stick it in the charcoal. Once the charcoal is heated up, pour the soaked woodchips over the hot coals. Make sure to remove the electric starter to avoid smoking your own personal ribs.

electric starter

5. Place the aluminum foil-covered triangle thingy with the roll-baking dish full of seasoned water inside the grill/smoker.

smoking rack

6. Take the metal tool that looks like something an orthodontist would use and place the metal rack covering in the grill/smoker. (Note: The terms grill, smoker and grill/smoker all refer to Esther the Green Egg. She’s multi-talented.)

Step 5: Initiate meat smoking.

The preparations were complete. P transferred the meat to the smoking rack. Even though it was my rack of ribs, P handled the transfer. I distinctly recall him saying something about how I would probably drop it and then all would be lost.

The time had come. All three pieces of meat were in position. P lowered Esther the Green Egg’s lid and the smoking began.

Esther the Green Egg

Step 6. Wait. Wait. And wait some more.

Me: What do we do now?

P: Wait.

Me: Can we go do something else?

P: No. We have to sit here and wait.

Me: Lame.

So, we waited.

Quinton on the Deck

Me: How much time left? Quinton wants to know.

P: It needs to go for about 4 hours at 225 degrees. So we have about 3 hours and 40 minutes left.

And, we waited some more. I did some laundry. Made up two new songs: “My smoked ribs bring all the boys to the yard” and ” This Grill is on Fire!” Read a book. Learned a new language.

Step 7: Halftime.

Two hours later, P announced the pork tenderloin was done. Finally!

Me: Let’s dig in!

P: No. It has to rest.

Me: Rest?!

P: Yes, it has to rest for about 15-20 minutes.

Me: For the love…

So, I stood there and watched it rest, salivating and counting down the minutes. 14 minutes and 57 seconds, 14 minutes and 58 seconds, 14 minutes and 59 seconds…

Me: It’s ready!!

P: Ok. Go ahead and cut it up.

Me: What? Really?

P: Yes. You can’t ruin it now.

He said this with the smirk that mean he’s joking. But behind every joke is a little bit of truth.  And it is a truth I accept.

Several minutes later, I finished carefully slicing the pork tenderloin. We left it on the cutting board and started to sample. And sample some more. 30 minutes later half of the pork tenderloin had disappeared. Oops.

Sliced Pork Tenderloin

In between our sampling, we momentarily removed the ribs from the smoker and covered them in saran wrap and then aluminum foil. That was intense. I couldn’t take any pictures because I had the incredibly important job of making sure the saran wrap didn’t get folded in on itself. Once the wrapping was complete, they were then returned to the smoker for the remaining two hours.

While I learned a great deal about membrane removal, wood chip soaking and patience, the most interesting discovery was that of my spatula hiding on the lower level of Esther’s wooden stand. I had been looking for said spatula for quite a while. Apparently, it had been hanging outside with my nice mixing bowl. Guess it’s time to buy a new one.

spatula

Step 8: Indulge.

After what seemed like 4 years had past, the ribs were deemed ready to eat. P handled the carving, because while I couldn’t mess up the tenderloin, there was still a possibility with the ribs. And it was messy. So, I passed.

Instead, I carefully arranged my ribs on one of my serving platters.

ribs on a platter

P wanted to arrange his own ribs. He used a regular plate.

ribs

The mouth-watering, fall-off-the bone results were definitely worth the wait. However, I can’t say that I will be fully participating in the rib smoking again any time soon. Next time, I will simply supervise and make sure my kitchen utensils find their way back inside.

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