Most people who know me can say that I am not a “winter kind of guy.” I am really glad spring is arriving, even piecemeal as it may be. A day of 60-degree temperatures, sunshine, and a break from biting cold wind is just what the doctor ordered. Escaping from the kitchen, I headed onto Hawkins’ deck, with a sack of charcoal, his tabletop grill, and a nice chuck roast.
In my native land of South Texas, a beef brisket was the cut of choice for barbecuing. Though tough, a good slow smoking made it tender and flavorful, and the low price made it perfectly suited for barbecuing. I guess brisket is not so popular in Kentucky, where pork is the preferred meat. I substituted a chuck roast last summer, and found the results to be excellent.
A dear friend of my family, Ronnie Harwell, would let me watch him barbecue. His wife Nancy and my mother taught at the same school. Ronnie passed away in the late 1990’s, but I am thankful for the little bit I learned from him about grilling and barbecuing. The man was a master. I think he must have been banned from several competitions for winning every year. He always started with a good charcoal fire, never mind any of this gas business. Once the coals were glowing red around a nice even, white coat of ash, the fire would be ready for cooking.
A good barbecue sauce is critical to a meal. Last summer, I experimented with several local brands available in area markets. All of my friends to have their favorite brand, though to me, each brand stood on its own merits, for a different flavor. My editor, Vyron Mitchell used to razz me by saying, “Yankees can’t cook steak.” I had Eric Snyder testify on my behalf once, so I think he believes that I know at least the fundamentals of outdoor cooking. I asked Vyron about his favorite style of sauce. He said he had to be partial to the Kansas City style- thick and tomato based, sweetened with dark molasses.
As this was the first time I have been really able to enjoy cooking outside this year, I decided to go for a little panache, and make my own sauce. I took the few things I like from this sauce and that, and made something halfway decent, though I still count it as a work in progress. Sautee a well-chopped onion with a teaspoon of minced garlic. The sauce started as a cup of ketchup added to the onions, though the sauce for fries is a far cry from a tangy barbecue sauce. Next, I added a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar for a bit of bite. For a thick, sweet sauce, I added four tablespoons of thick, dark molasses. I added a couple of teaspoons of Tommy Skinner’s home-made hot sauce, a pinch each of cinnamon, nutmeg and dry mustard powder. Now we go with Ronnie’s secret ingredient- He always loved doctoring bottled commercial barbecue sauce by adding some sort of sweetener, and would pass it off as homemade by adding a chopped apple. I added three-quarters of a Granny Smith apple, diced into the sauce. The final ingredient added unmistakable Kentucky flavor- an ounce of bourbon and simmer for a good hour.
With a good fire and the sauce ready, put the meat on a hot grill. If possible, use indirect heat. Hawkins grill is pretty small, so the only heat we had was right over the coals. I found a way to keep the meat from getting burned, dried and tough though, but more on that in a minute. To add a smoky flavor, I soaked a half cup of mesquite and an equal amount of hickory chips in water for a half hour before tossing them directly on the coals. Put the grill’s lid on top, with the vent over the fire so the smoke will rise around it.
Cook each side of the meat for 15 minutes, and then baste well with the sauce. Cook with the basted side down over the heat for five minutes on each side. After it’s cooked on, take the meat off the fire, and wrap in foil basting each side very well. Add the apples on top of the roast to give extra sweetness. Put the meat back on the fire, and cook for a half hour on each side. Unwrap the meat after an hour to see if it is well cooked and tender. Add more sauce to keep things moist if need be. The meat should be tender, and cooked thoroughly when finished.
To serve the meat, slice across the grain to make for easier chewing. As side dishes, Hawkins and I ate baked beans and coleslaw. With good weather allowing for tasty barbecue, a good time was had by all. Good eating!