The Smokiness of the Long Distance Runner


It’s been a month since I last posted, and I feel bad about it. Then again, as I didn’t hear any outcry from my adoring fans, it’s possible you haven’t noticed. I don’t follow Twitter, so let me know if news of my disappearance has been trending under some clever hash tag.

Ignoring the possibility I don’t have devoted followers hanging on my every word, I feel compelled to blog again. It’s a form of therapy that allows me an opportunity to think out loud. I spend far too much time in my own head, and writing exorcises some of those thoughtful demons. Despite the dearth of blog posts, I did a significant amount of writing during the past month. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was on a “writing to learn” exercise and did, in fact, learn a lot. I’m not inclined to share those lessons, but, apparently, neither are you desperate to hear them.

I also spent a lot of time not writing, including a week of “stay-cation” during which I tried to minimize my cerebral activity. I wanted desperately to stop overthinking and, instead, focused on more physical and sensual activities, like running and grilling.

To honor our country’s recent birthday, I smoked a brisket. I selected an absurdly complex recipe – by grilling’s evil genius Adam Perry Lang – that involved a paste, seasoning blend, wrapping mixture, and finishing sauce, not to mention the use of a beverage cooler and beach towels. Because I knew the cooking process would require at least ten hours of grill time, I chose to cook the brisket on July 3rd so it could be served before bedtime on the 4th. This required researching the best way to re-heat a smoked brisket. The central question was whether to slice first and re-heat later or leave it whole and slice after. I searched online and found the non-barbecue cooks – the ones who braise their briskets in an oven – suggested slicing and reheating. The barbecue people seemed to reject the question entirely. The only option is to eat it when it comes off the grill, and if it comes off at midnight, you have brisket at midnight. This was not a viable option for my family, and, finally, I found a statement from Steven Raichlen – one of my barbecue cookbook mentors – who said to keep it whole and reheat the slab in the oven. If Steven says to keep it whole, that’s good enough for me, and it worked. The brisket was a success, the family was pleased and well-fed long before midnight, and America was duly honored with smoked beef brisket.

In running terms, brisket is the marathon of barbecue, the pinnacle event that signifies you have achieved expert status. The marathon requires lots of preparation, long hours of training runs, and emotional highs and lows that will make you question your mental health in choosing such an endeavor. Smoking a brisket may not be as physically demanding, but it is equally emotionally taxing. When you wrap a brisket in foil – with carefully prepared wrapping mixture included – and put it in a drink cooler, cover with towels for insulation, and rest it for an hour before returning it to the grill to finish cooking, you begin to question your sanity as much as when you put band-aids on your nipples – to avoid third degree chafing – and grab handfuls of protein goo packets to snack on during your marathon training run. There is genuine craziness in both undertakings.

Despite the significance of both accomplishments, the marathon is not my favorite running event, and the brisket is not my favorite barbecue dish. I prefer half-marathons and smoked pork spareribs.

My love for half-marathons is not solely based on the fact they take half as long to finish, though that is a bonus. You still have to work hard to get a good result, but you can play a bit more. I have been able to adjust my pace and set goals for establishing new PRs in half-marathons, while my marathon experience has been focused entirely on surviving and getting to the end. Similarly, I can play a bit more when smoking spareribs and not just hope the cooking is done before breakfast.

This year, I’ve been focused on dialing in the perfect cooking time for my ribs. Four and a half hours seems to be ideal for my grill to get the meat to a state in which it doesn’t quite fall of the bone, but requires minimal chewing. Eating good barbecue shouldn’t demand a lot from your jaws.

The rewards of running a half-marathon can be just as sweet as the full if you’ve put in the effort and got the result you were hoping for. The reward of spareribs is the tender sweetness of perfectly spiced and smoked pork. Mmm, pork. I can’t get enough.

To extend the running-grilling analogy perhaps a bit too far, I took on two 10K fun run-style pork grilling challenges last weekend. First, I got a tip from my brother-in-law – my original barbecue mentor – that Costco was selling pork bellies, and it was too intriguing to pass up. Pork belly is the uncured slab from which bacon is made, and the opportunity to exploit the porky, fatty goodness contained therein was a siren call. In truth, most of the cooking was done in the oven, but I did crisp up the four-pound slab of unctuousness on the grill before serving. The results were spectacular (as you can see in the photo at the top of this post), but I do recommend keeping a defibrillator nearby if you plan to eat pork belly on a regular basis. The next night, I grilled bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin. Yes, that’s right. Read that sentence again, and let the porcine wonderfulness sink in. Like a 10K run, cooking the pork belly and tenderloin required less effort than a half or full marathon, but it was not easy, there was a fair amount of novelty involved, and the rewards were delicious.

As you can tell, after a month of blog-silence, I’m full of smoked pork and ready to write about it, along with more tales of management and metal. I will do my best to maintain a more regular blogging habit to go along with my running and grilling. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

#wherestodd   #porkbelly10k   #anddocoolstuff


4 thoughts on “The Smokiness of the Long Distance Runner

  1. Oh mercy, that was good stuff! Band aids on your nipples? Really! See, now that why I am not a runner, so I do not have to disclose this sort of thing. I bet it works tho, come to think of it. And yeah, if Steve Raichlen says to keep it whole, who’s to argue with him. Good move. And I bet he doesn’t stick band aids to his nipples either. Then again…

    Enjoyed the write-up, Todd. I will tentatively raise my hand and say I missed you. And it is good to see you back. And I’d also be inclined to hear a writing tip you’ve learned from your recent exercises.. I dunno, I enjoy hearing what other writers have learned about the craft.


    • I will, of course, share my lessons and learnings about writing. Soon. In the meantime, thanks for the kind (if tentative) words. Raichlen is good, but I encourage you to check out Adam Perry Lang’s ‘Serious Barbecue.’ His recipes are occasionally maddening, but always delicious.

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