Planning The Last Waltz

2016-07-16 17.28.32
The steaks from 2016. The two in front were about to go back onto the grill for their final sear.

It’s only late February but it’s time to get serious about planning our 10th and last Salute to Meat, our annual summer party, which this year we’ll hold in early June. By the time we’re done we will have served considerably more than a half-ton of beef, lamb and especially pork at these parties, to an increasing number of guests each year.

Last year we had 84 RSVPs and 71 people showed. This year my wife, Janet, and I expect more, since we’re combining it with the retirement party for my colleague, Sally Hale.

The save-the-date email is going out tonight, and I’m going to start dry-aging a Prime sirloin strip roast. It’s going to go 45 days or so, then I’ll trim it and cut it into steaks about 2 1/2 pounds each and freeze them. It’s about 14 pounds now; after aging and trimming I expect to get about 10 usable pounds.

We are big fans of the reverse-sear method of cooking large steaks and roasts, and we’ll do that with the steaks and lamb. Reverse sear is when you cook the meat in a low oven, smoker or closed grill at a low temperature and then sear it when it’s almost done.

This makes a more tender steak, I believe, and it also eliminates almost all of that nasty grey band that you get at the margins when you sear first.

So I like to cook the steaks at about 225 degrees until they get close to the internal temperature you want — I usually look for 128 or so, aiming for medium-rare. Then you take them out to rest while you run the grill to about 450 degrees, or heat the broiler. Then the steaks go back for just a couple of minutes to get the char you want, then you pull them off and let them rest again, maybe for 15 minutes or so, depending on how long they were off the heat the first time.

You can also use a butane torch to crust them inside, handy in bad weather.

Janet, who actually does more for this party than I do, will cook a pile of onions very slowly and when they’re very brown and almost a single mass she’ll hit it with some Bourbon to deglaze the pan and run up the heat to burn off most of the alcohol. Then she’ll add blue cheese to the mix and we’ll put slices of the steak on crostini made from baguettes and the blue cheese-onion jam on that, and out they’ll go.

It’s always the last course, but the one I can start first, now.

I’m getting excited.

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Syrup, The Cowboy Way

There is the right way, the wrong way, and sometimes the cowboy way — a shortcut that one uses for expedience or necessity.

I like to have simple syrup in the refrigerator for cold drinks, and especially for Old Fashioneds and mint juleps. But making it the right way tries my patience.

know that to make either drink properly you’re supposed to muddle the sugar with the flavoring — bitters for the Old Fashioned, mint for the julep — but the sugar never dissolves completely. Or maybe I just don’t have the patience to do it right, it could be that, too.

Either way, I use syrup. A teaspoon of syrup into the Bourbon and bitters and your Old Fashioned just needs ice and garnish.

And I even make the syrup wrong, probably, but it works perfectly, I like it and it’s easy and so I’m going to tell you how to make it in case you don’t already know.

The way you’re supposed to make simple syrup is to heat the sugar in the water until it dissolves. Then you have to wait for it to cool and then you can put it in your container and into the fridge.

I don’t have the patience for this.

I just throw two parts sugar — I like raw, but you can use white — and one part water into the blender and let ‘er rip at the highest speed. Let it go for a good minute and then check to make sure everything’s dissolved. If it needs another 30 seconds in the blender, go ahead.

Then you pour it into a squeeze bottle or whatever you’re going to use, and you’re done.  I always use two parts sugar to one of water, because I like the viscosity that even a little of it gives to a drink. But one-to-one is fine, too, if that’s how you like it.

And if you don’t have a blender, you can even make syrup by putting your sugar and water into a covered container and shaking it really hard for two minutes, letting it sit for a minute, and then shaking it again for 30 seconds. This is too much trouble for me, but I’ve done it.

The blender trick also works for mint syrup, but here especially any purists who might come across this post will scoff, and I will scoff with them — it’s not the Right Way.

Still, it works and it tastes really good.

You just take a fistful of mint leaves, throw them in the blender with your two parts sugar and one part water and let it rip for a minute or two, maybe less in a Vitamix, until it looks like you couldn’t strain anything out of it in even the finest cheesecloth. Put it in your squeeze bottle or whatever and you have mint syrup.

It looks like cloudy green sludge, I warn you. But it tastes great — fresh mint and sugar. It keeps for a long time in the refrigerator and it’s good in tea, too.

I realize that aside from the proportions of  two parts sugar to one part water, which makes a product that’s twice as concentrated as true simple syrup, I haven’t told you how much mint to use. The answer is that I haven’t found that it matters too much. I’ve used maybe a cup of leaves to two cups of sugar, and twice that much, and they were both sweet and minty.

So try it, and even if you live in Bucharest or New York City, you’ll still be making something very useful and tasty the cowboy way.

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The Meat is Gone, But the Memories Linger On

The house is clean, I’m back to focusing on the company’s work, which I love to do. The rented chairs are gone, the tree that got hit by lightning on Friday is gone, the stump to be ground tomorrow.

There is at least one more night’s worth of leftover barbecue, and a good amount of potato salad.

And tonight I’m here to tell you that when the last bite of it has been eaten, the memory of the way people ate and laughed and enjoyed themselves Saturday in the sunlight and twilight of our back yard will warm our winter.

And today I found a surprise on YouTube that will make me happy for years: a video taken by our friend, Roseann Treloar, of Paul Caluori and Steve Kaplan playing “If I Only Had a Brain,” their first song at the party.

It’s here:, and it makes me smile.

Roseann took my favorite photo of me, at the Salute to Meat a few years ago.

Headless David 2

My favorite photo of myself, taken by Roseann Treloar.

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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.


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:

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.


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.


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…


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.


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