In a recent post, I described my first experience smoking a brisket as a test run in advance of my daughter’s high school graduation party. I passed that test and believed I was ready to smoke another brisket along with a pork shoulder and a turkey for the party. That’s right: three major proteins, each of which requiring many hours of cooking. I was feeling confident, which is, of course, a bad sign. To mix Judeo-Christian metaphors, I suffered four plagues as punishment for my sin of pride.
The First Plague – Thy Grill Shall Die
The test brisket proved to be the too much for Abigail, my big Brinkmann grill. The next time I used her to cook a meal, the charcoal basket that had been slowly rusting away lost all structural integrity and collapsed despite my efforts to reinforce it with chicken wire. It was a bittersweet moment. While I was I was excited at the prospect of buying a new grill, I felt a real sadness at saying goodbye to Abigail. She was a real beauty and kept my family and friends happily fed with grilled comestibles for seven years. She will be missed and remembered fondly.
The new grill is, by all appearances, a sturdy machine. I’m still trying to decide on a name, but I’m certain this brawny grill is a boy. I broke him in with six racks of pork spareribs, and it was perhaps the finest batch of ribs I’ve ever produced. That’s a good thing since I had to feed eight visiting relatives along with my own family. The diners included my grilling sensei – my brother-in-law – who was quite complimentary of the finished product. Yay for me.
The Second Plague – Rain Will Fall and Wind Will Blow
On the day chosen to smoke the pork shoulder and brisket, the weather turned from glorious sunshine and warmth to overcast, windy, and threatening to rain. To prevent disaster, I borrowed my neighbor Bill’s large backyard umbrella to – in conjunction with my own backyard umbrella – shield the grills by deflecting any rain that might fall and cause heat loss. While necessary, the umbrellas increased the degree of grilling difficulty, as I had to dodge the posts and constantly duck to avoid head injuries. I was not entirely successful in my dodging efforts.
Of course, the vertically oriented umbrellas didn’t do much to deflect the horizontal breeze that buffeted the grills and lowered the temperature. As a result, I was forced to add more coals to the fire every hour throughout the cooking process.
The rain stayed away until late in the day. The pork shoulder was done before the first drops fell. I was just beginning to consider moving the brisket from the grill to the oven when the clouds unleashed their wet fury. It was then I learned that Bill’s umbrella is designed to shield from sunlight more than rain. It was a mesh fabric that allowed the drops to pass through smaller but intact. It was a soggy transition from grill to oven.
The Third Plague – The Chest of the Cow Shall Not Yield
Before the rains came, the brisket had stalled at about 160°, which is very typical and no reason to panic. I waited it out and, eventually, the temperature began to rise. When it hit 170°, which coincided with the arrival of the torrent, I wrapped the brisket in foil and moved it to a 250° oven. The meat steadily continued it’s journey up the thermal mountain until it hit 192°, at which point it decided to sit down to take a break. A two-hour break. Then it decided to head back down the mountain, dropping to 190°. I panicked ever so slightly and bumped up the heat to 275°, which was enough to spur the meat on, and it slowly climbed again to reach the 203° summit of Mount Delicious after 14 hours in the wilderness. (Again, sorry for the sloppy religious references).
The Fourth Plague – Fires Shall Burn…Unevenly
Did you ever get sunburn on one side of your face because you were driving long distance in sunny weather? Apparently that can happen in your grill. The day after I smoked the pork and brisket, I had to smoke the turkey. I knew it would be a much faster process than either of the hoofed animals, but I was surprised to see the thermometer indicating the bird was done a good hour before expected. I repeatedly poked it with my instant read thermometer and got inconsistent readings. I really hate taking a bird’s temperature. I can never figure out which part is the thigh with the legs folded up so tightly. Based on the inconsistent readings, I forced myself to let it set on the grill for another half hour in a feat of Job-like patience. When I did finally carve it, I found that one side of the bird wasn’t quite done. Apparently, I had a rather uneven fire in the grill. Seriously? That’s a new one for me. I was forced to commit the sin of microwaving. I ask forgiveness based on my desire to prevent my guests from ingesting lightly smoked salmonella.
I endured the plagues by remaining calm and steadfast, just like Pharaoh (though it wasn’t really a happy ending for him). I think if there had been fire hail, I would have cracked, but, instead, I was able to read a book, write a book (well, I edited a short one), and enjoy a few beverages during my trials. In the end, I learned humility and was rewarded with a delectable selection of smoked meats for the grad party. The guests were satisfied and my graduating daughter smiled. The clouds parted and there was sun upon our faces. It may not have been Canaan, but it was a great party.