Meat, We Salute You

At the 2018 Salute to Meat, we had 71 guests, served 130 pounds of meat — some of which we wrapped and sent home with people — lovely music and a great time.

We also had the help of more than a half-dozen wonderful friends who helped serve food, set up and move things around the yard and sacrificed some of their own good time.

Paul, Steve and Dan

My friends Paul Caluori, Steve Kaplan and Dan Day, entertaining our crowd.

The kitchen work went the way things go every year, me running out to the smoker and cutting things in the kitchen, and I didn’t get to join the party until all the food had been served.

I remember a lot of meat, but also a lot of smiling faces and lovely compliments. The sky cleared during the afternoon after a long, dreary week of rain, and the weather was perfect.

It was a little tense, running out one course after another. But Janet and our friends Becky, Madonna, Sue, Donna and Sally ran assembly lines putting all the ingredients together for service on trays they carried. Everything except the brisket went out in finger-food portions, just a bite or two. I cut the brisket as people came into the kitchen for it, to keep it from drying out.

Kitchen food

These are the mini pastrami Reubens and the crostinis with steak and caramelized onions and blue cheese, back in the kitchen for people to pick at. Also on the table are Janet’s potato salad, beans and coleslaw.

I was least happy with the brisket, which was still pretty good. Both briskets came to a very thin end at the flat section, and I should have trimmed it off, perhaps grinding it for hamburger or sausage. After its long smoke that portion was overcooked and dry; possibly OK for hash, but maybe not much else.

It was like dust on a diamond, though. People stayed long after dark, talking and drinking, and the guests made the party. They mingled, talked to people they didn’t know, made friends. Every single guest was lovely, helpful and appreciative, and good company for everyone around them.

It was the kind of party for which every host dreams, an Everest achieved not for its food but for its totality, the good time people all seemed to have.

This afternoon the house is pretty much cleaned, except for the rented tables and chairs that the company will collect Tuesday. I need to return a couple of borrowed coolers and when the trash and recycling get hauled away there will be little evidence that we had a party.

But we’ll have plenty of wonderful memories.

AND NOW, THE RECIPE FOR HOMEMADE PASTRAMI, PROBABLY THE BEST THING I SERVED

Pastrami for the 2018 Salute

Janet made mini, open-faced Reubens from the pastrami. The Russian dressing is beneath the meat, then they got topped with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese before going under the broiler and then out to the guests.

I think everyone liked the pastrami the best. I had smoked it last Sunday and it took a long time to steam it from cold — about four hours — but it turned out really well. The recipe is from Serious Eats, and you can find it here: https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/10/barbecue-pastrami-recipe.html.

If you make it, do remember that the author has omitted the last and absolutely necessary step of steaming the meat to a temperature of 195-203 degrees. If you don’t, you’re going to get tough, dry meat. You can do as I did, smoke it several days in advance and then steam it when you serve. If you do that, it could take anywhere between two and four hours to steam, depending on its weight and shape.

Even if you’re going to serve it cold, I say you have to steam it first, and then wrap and chill it when it comes down to 140 or so.

If you’re going to serve it the same day you smoke it, when the internal temperature hits 165 you could wrap it tightly in heavy duty foil, maybe with a little water or beer, and then let it steam that way until it got to 200-203.  Let it rest, still wrapped — an hour isn’t too long —  and then you’re ready to cut it and serve to your grateful guests, or keep for yourself!

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Closing in on it

There was an orphan rack of ribs that I cooked on the Egg — the Pit Barrel Cooker will do only eight at a time, and the ribs come in packages of three.

I cooked them at 250 indirect, for 3 1/2 hours, and I think that rack is overcooked. It’s not bad, and they taste good; I just don’t like ribs that fall off the bone. This strikes me as odd, because normally I cook ribs standing up in a rib rack and they take at least six hours, although at 225.

Something to research later.

Now the two boneless lamb legs are on, fat-side down to start.

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I like to cook them slowly until done, which for me will be 130 degrees, and then I’ll torch them to give them crust without cooking them further when I’m ready to serve.

The other reason I’m not running up the temperature is because I’m putting the steaks on right after the lamb comes off. They’ll get the same treatment.

Meanwhile, the remaining eight racks of ribs are in the Pit Barrel Cooker.

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I put them in at 1 p.m. and they are coming out at 4, or as soon as a skewer goes through without the rib complaining about it.

It’s 1:35 now. The pastrami goes in to steam at 2. Then the steaks and the kielbasa and I’m done with everything but bringing anything back up to temp that needs it, and final assembly of everything.

I’m feeling pretty good, but I’m trying to stay on my toes.

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This one’s for Mike

David Mike and Raoul

The guy on the right is my friend, Michael Schroeder, who lives three states away and who nine years ago suggested that I throw the party that became The Salute to Meat.

Mike and his wife, Janet, have been at every Salute since then but is unable to make today’s and so I thought this would be a good time to tell you, and remember myself, the source of the idea that has given me such extraordinary enjoyment for all these years.

“You enjoy cooking meat so much you should make a party around it,” he said one day. “Cook a course of everything you like to smoke.” It started out with just four or five courses for 20 people, and now it’s just about everything I can think of that will go on the smoker, for maybe 80 people today.

Just not Mike and Janet.

There are friends you see every day, and there are those you see only once or twice a year. But their physical absence doesn’t make them any less one’s friend, nor does it diminish the everlasting impact of their friendship.

Whoever comes to today’s party and enjoys himself can thank my wife, Janet, and me, but they should also thank my friend, Mike Schroeder.

 

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It’s Always Something

The fire under my briskets almost went out last night; total operator error. I went to bed thinking that I had plenty of fresh lump charcoal under them. This turned out to be not exactly true, as I discovered at 3:30 this morning.

The fire, which was supposed to be at 225 degrees, was down to 129. The briskets had cooled a little, too.

My BBQ Guru had raged against the dying of the light, but it can’t reload a smoker, so that’s what I did and then, thinking that I’d missed at least a couple of hours of prime smoking time, I ran up the temperature on the fresh load to 275 degrees and went back to bed. It took me a while to get back to sleep.

When I awoke at 6:30 the briskets were done, about five hours early. So I quickly liberated them from the Egg and wrapped them in two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil and then in bath towels and put them in a picnic cooler, where they will spend the day. They will be safe, since proper food handling says they can stay four hours under 140 degrees, but I’ll reheat them in a low oven to 165 before serving.

They look pretty good, though, and seem tender enough. I didn’t have the presence of mind to either taste or photograph them, so that’ll have to wait until showtime.

Now my wife is prepping the beans and after that I’ll butterfly and marinate the lamb, which can now go on the Egg pretty much anytime. Then I’ll prep the ribs and cut the steaks and then hit the grocery store for the last items, including ice for the drinks coolers.

Reinforcements come to start helping at about noon. We’ll be very glad to see them.

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This is Good Night

I remember when I was young, the wire editor at the Cape Cod Times, an afternoon newspaper at the time, and it subscribed to the New York Times News Service. I’d rip the copy off the printer when I’d come in at 5 a.m. and read back, and several hours earlier there would be a note: “This is good night from the New York Times News Service.”

It meant that there was nothing more to come that night, that if you were putting your newspaper to bed, you could stand down as far as they were concerned. They had seen, and told you, all there was to tell — for today.

Tomorrow there would be more, but nothing more tonight, a comforting thing. This was before the 24-hour news cycle, before the cable and TV networks needed to get everyone wound up all the time. Thirty years ago we spent fewer of our hours on red alert, I think. Today we are all tense nearly all the time with the immediate and insurmountable problems of our world and our work.

Today my wife and I have have exchanged some of that anxiety to get wound up in a pretty pleasant way about our party tomorrow. It’s a big one for us, the biggest we’ve ever held, an event for which we enjoy planning almost an entire year. The problems it presents are more or less minor and generally logistical. It takes some planning to run 10 courses of slow-cooked barbecue on basically one Big Green Egg smoker, and for my wife to create the party she loves for our friends.

This year, in addition, there is the complication of the tree that collapsed in our front yard today and will have to be dealt with tomorrow, even as 80 or so guests arrive. And there was the freezer in the basement that gave up the ghost while we were on vacation with perhaps 100 pounds of meat inside, whose corpse we discovered upon returning home just three weeks ago. It was disgusting, believe me; a crime scene so obnoxious that the stout and wonderful men who took it to the curb gagged and struggled as they hauled it up the stairs.

There are the 30 pounds of brisket that smoke slowly now, overnight, that I hope our guests will enjoy tomorrow evening. I’ve never cooked that much at once, and even as I hope to sleep our chance for beef calamity is high because those briskets are fatty and if they drip beyond the pan underneath onto the hot coals, the flames that ensue will turn them acrid and inedible.

But these are small things. Tomorrow we will awaken and be busy — frantic at times, and “Never again!” I will probably swear to my lovely, understanding wife sometime in the early afternoon, forgetting it completely by early evening.

But now we have done as much as we can until morning.

And so, this is good night.

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Well, that was interesting…

2018-07-27-16-59-42

Shortly after the briskets went on the Egg we caught a pretty big thunderstorm. Lots of thunder and lightning, and what we thought was a thunderclap actually was most of the big tree in our front yard falling across the sidewalk, grazing my car. The car is usually in the garage but for the last couple of days has been on the street as we’ve used the garage to stage the tables and chairs for The Salute.

Our lovely neighbor, Suzanne, called her landscaper, who says he’ll be by tomorrow early afternoon to at least cut up and haul away the part of the tree that fell. We’ll have to deal with the stump later.

I pulled the car away; no visible damage. Lucky.

Meanwhile, the brisket soldiers on; no flareups yet. I’m hoping for good luck through the night.

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This could end badly

I’m thinking. What is it that goes before the fall? Oh, yes. Pride.

Exhibit A as to my current discomfort, may it please the Court:

Briskets on the Egg

That’s two, 15-pounder briskets that I’ve trimmed as well as I can, at the beginning of our cook at 3 p.m. The top one is still a little cold; not quite defrosted in the point. They don’t need to come off for 22 hours, but still…

I’d frozen them and took them out to defrost last Sunday. But here it is Friday and the top one was still very cold in the point. More worrisome than anything is the possibility that they’ll drip beyond the drip pan and flame up, which will turn them acrid. They went on at 3 p.m. and don’t have to come off until 1 p.m. tomorrow, and I could arrange things so they could even go longer.

A few years ago I tried to cook two 18-pounders that I hadn’t trimmed very much or very well. They went up in a beefy blaze of humiliation in the middle of the night and I couldn’t serve them.

I’m hoping these guys do better for me.

On the other hand, the pork belly seems to have turned out well.

Finished pork belly

Three of the four pieces of a 10-pound pork belly I roasted on the Egg for tomorrow’s Salute to Meat — one more was still on the smoker. It rendered down to about 7 pounds. We’re going to cut them into bite-sized chunks after warming them tomorrow, and serve them in Scoops corn chips with a dab of barbecue sauce at the bottom.

The bacon, pastrami, pork belly and pulled pork are done and in the fridge, waiting for their final prep tomorrow.

Still ahead, after the briskets, are the spare ribs, lamb, steak and kielbasa.

Yikes.

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Salute to Meat 2018: Cooking Without A Net

When we last left our pork shoulders they were resting comfortably on the Big Green Egg, having gone on at 5:30 at 225. They were up to 171 at bedtime, but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t go through their stall overnight.

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The two pork butts, just off the smoker. They rendered down to just over 16 pounds, from 18.

Sure enough, at 6 a.m. they were still at 179, and didn’t hit 190 until almost 9 a.m. They pulled beautifully.

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Both butts pulled, ready for Elder Ward’s North Carolina-style vinegar sauce.

The sauce is simple, and the recipe is readily available, but here it is:

  • 1 C white vinegar
  • 1 C cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. sugar (raw sugar, if you have it)
  • 1 Tbs. cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbs. Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. cracked black pepper

Makes 2 Cups

The recipe and Elder Ward’s entire treatise on smoking pork butt is entertaining to read. It’s here: http://www.nakedwhiz.com/elder.htm.

Anyway, the pulled pork shoulder is now sauced and in the fridge. We’ll warm it in the crock pot tomorrow so it’s ready by 4 p.m.

I’ve decided to do the roast pork belly on the Egg, since I have a little grill time and we have things to do in the kitchen this afternoon.

Pork belly, rubbed and ready to rest, then roast

This is 10 pounds of pork belly, rubbed with a mix of garlic powder, cayenne, raw sugar, paprika, salt and cumin. It’ll rest in the fridge for an hour, then into a hot oven for 15 minutes to start melting the top fat, and finally onto a 325-degree grill for about 3 hours.

It’ll start at 500 degrees in the oven, which will melt a little of the top fat, and then I’ll take it out to the Egg. It’ll go at 325 for its entire cook. After 90 minutes I’ll throw a beer into the drip pan underneath, even though I don’t think it’ll need that in the Egg.

This will be my first time cooking it outdoors; all the other times it’s been just in the oven.

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Salute to Meat 2018: The Cooking Starts

It always starts with the pulled pork.

Saturday's pulled pork

Two, 9-pound boneless pork shoulders from Costco, rubbed and ready to go on the Big Green Egg. I will shape them properly when they go on, for even cooking.

There’s 18 pounds of boneless shoulder on the Egg, with a full load of Rockwood lump and a chunk of hickory the size of a small child’s arm. There are two of them, on top of each other on what’s called an adjustable rig, a contraption that allows tiered cooking on the BGE.

There is a book, and a movie from it, called “God is My Copilot,” but this weekend my copilot is the BBQ Guru CyberQ, a device that allows me to keep the Egg’s temperature, and my sanity, constant.

It is a little computer with a web server that plugs in outside and runs a small fan that attaches to the draft door at the bottom of the Egg. With the help of a temperature probe that attaches to the grill inside the Egg, it will adjust the draft so as to keep a constant 225 degrees. Additional probes go in the meat to tell me how they’re doing. The web server lets me monitor the temperatures on my computer or my phone.

This thing alone has given me the ability to have fun at my parties when I’m smoking something on the Egg, and to sleep when I’m cooking something overnight. It even has a ramp feature that lowers the temperature when the meat temp gets close to done.

Of course, it’s cheating. I don’t care. I want my party, and I want to sleep. I have enough stress in my life.

I put the shoulders on the Egg at 5:30, not quite two hours ago. The temp on them is already over 100 degrees, but I know they have at least 10 hours left in them, and probably close to 14. I never wrap them, or brisket either, to get them through the stall, and it can be several hours long.

Time to think of something else for a while.

 

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Salute to Meat

It’s our summer party, something that started nine years ago when my friend, Mike, suggested I host a barbecue and serve some of the things I like to cook on my Big Green Egg.

It was just ribs and pulled pork and some dry-aged steak then for 20 or so people, who seemed to have a good time. I did, too, and so my wife and I made it an annual event. This Saturday, July 28, will be our ninth time, and we have 84 RSVPs.

God help us.

It’s Tuesday, and I’m almost as ready as I can be before the final cook, which starts Thursday night. The pastrami is smoked and ready to be steamed on Saturday. All the meat has been in the freezer and is now defrosting.

Here’s how the cook will go, everything running at 225 unless I need to ratchet something up in the interest of time:

Thursday:

The two pork shoulders for pulled pork go on the smoker at 6 p.m. Thursday and will run about 20 hours, more or less.

Friday:

Briskets go on when the pork comes off, with a little break for moving out the ash and refueling and they’ll go for 14-18 hours, but they’ve been known to go 20. I’m doing two, indirect and over a drip pan, one on top of the other in the Egg, I hope to trim them right so they don’t flare up overnight, which will make them acrid, which happened the last time I did two. These are smaller, and I didn’t trim very much the last time, so I’m hopeful.

My wife will make potato salad Friday, in the middle of everything else she needs to do to set up. She is a whirlwind.

Saturday:

8 a.m. The pulled pork goes in the slow cooker to reheat. It’s been sauced with a North Carolina vinegar sauce and will be served on King’s Hawaiian rolls as sliders, with homemade coleslaw.

9 a.m. We roast 10 pounds of pork belly in the oven, rubbed with a mix of garlic powder, brown sugar, cumin, cayenne and salt. It takes about three hours. The belly will be served in those corn-chip Scoops with a dab of barbecue sauce on the bottom.

Barbeque beans with my homemade bacon go in the oven then, too, after I’ve lowered the heat on the pork belly to 325.

Noon: Two boneless lamb legs, seasoned with garlic, rosemary, lemon and olive oil, go on the Egg.

The pastrami goes in the steamer at about noon, it’ll take a couple of hours to get to 203 degrees. It will be the featured performer in small, open-faced Reubens on toasted rye.

12:30: About five pounds of thick-cut homemade bacon goes in the oven to cook; it’ll take about 40 minutes in several shifts. It’ll be served as deconstructed BLTs, with a half grape tomato and an arugula leaf.

1 p.m. Then the St. Louis cut spare ribs go on the Pit Barrel Cooker. It seems impossible that ribs take 6 ½ hours on the Egg and only 3 ½ on the PBC, but it’s true. The PBC will take only eight racks, so I’ll try to cook one on the Egg, maybe starting it when the briskets are close to coming off on Saturday morning.

2 p.m. I reverse-sear the three-inch thick ribeye steaks, cooking them to done at 225 and then torching them with my MAPP when I’m ready to serve to crust them up. This saves time and also preserves the gasket on the Egg. I used to put the steaks on to char after running the Egg up to 750 or so, but would always fry my gasket.

3:30 p.m. The kielbasa, which we buy at the local farmer’s market, goes on the grill. It’ll be our first appetizer for people who show up when the party starts at 4.

The weather is forecast to be rainy in the afternoon, which would be bad luck, but we’ll have to deal. My stepson has a good-sized tent that we’ll have on the driveway, very close to the garage. Between the garage and the tent we can probably hold 45 or so, and the rest can probably (barely) fit in the house.

So I’m serving:

*   16 pounds of boneless pork shoulder

*   30 pounds of brisket

*   31 pounds of St. Louis cut spareribs

*   15 pounds of pastrami

*   10 pounds of boneless lamb leg

*   10 pounds of ribeye

*   3 pounds of kielbasa

*   10 pounds of pork belly

*   5 pounds of bacon

That’s 130 pounds of meat, and I hope it’s good enough that I don’t have leftovers.

Fortunately, our guests are not huge drinkers. I have a case of white wine and a little red, and I’ll make drinks for people who ask and the bar is open and visible, even though I don’t invite guests to help themselves. I don’t want people getting sloshed, so I don’t make pitchers of anything.

Beer is tricky; I’ll have a couple of cases on ice, but people often bring their own and I always have a lot left over. If it’s hot, as it’s supposed to be, we’ll go through a lot of water; I get 96 of those 8-ounce bottles, which are just right. Plus soda, and you never can tell what’s going to move and what isn’t.

The garage gets cleaned out Thursday, and we’ve rented 40 chairs and some tables, which will arrive Thursday afternoon. A couple of our friends are coming early Saturday to help us set up; we’re also trying to land a paid server and our twice-a-month housekeeper is also coming from 4:30 to 8:30 to make sure we stay ahead of the cleaning.

It will still be pretty brutal on Sunday morning, though.

The way it always happens is that at 2 p.m. Saturday I’m swearing at myself for doing this, and at 8 p.m. I feel like it’s Christmas and I’m both the kid and Santa Claus.

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