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What I Did This (Indian) Summer (Weekend) Vacation


eunny jang
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So.

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A top-of-the-line wood-fired smoker, bought capriciously, used once, and forgotten about, has been idling on Jeff's deck for two or three summers now. Last weekend, we made it our mission to fire the thing up and smoke the best damn brisket in the world, armed not-very-promisingly with zero experience, more or less nothing in the way of resources, and only our unshakeable faith in the sanctity and nobility of the cause protecting us from apocalypse.

Saturday, 9 October

8:30am

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Good morning. We woke up early on Saturday, yawned, and started planning the shopping list, sequence of events, and how much beer we'd need. We went to our (inexplicably) favorite diner in the world:

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The Tastee Diner in scenic Laurel, Maryland. The day was a little overcast and gloomy, the clouds swollen with a threat of cold drizzle. Nonetheless, we soldiered on with our plans.

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We formed a plan of attack over eggs, bacon, corned beef hash, potatoes and coffee. <A side note: the Tastee Diner is run-down and shabby, the sort of place where the waitress lights a Bronco 120, leaves it burning in the ashtray, and strolls over to take your order. The potatoes - no fancy "home fries" or "hashbrowns" business here; just "potatoes, with onions or without" - are excellent, boiled, roughed up, and crisp round the edges like a perfect frite.> Note Colonel Klink's excellent eGCI course on the table, along with lists of things to buy and maps of where we'd accumulate all our supplies.

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Please note the rubber band in the upper-right corner of the flag-trivia placemat, found lurking in the aforementioned (still) wonderful potatoes.

Filled with youthful hubris (and keeping in mind the protection given to drunks and fools), we hadn't put much thought into where to obtain the brisket. I'd posted in the DC board for suggestions but hadn't called anyone yet, thinking that it would be an easy matter of strolling into a deli or butcher and just picking one up. Unfortunately, we'd forgotten that the kosher delis would be closed on Saturdays, and every other place we called seemed to think we were nuts when we asked for a whole, untrimmed brisket. We did find one place - Wagshal's on Massachusetts Avenue in DC - but they were insistent on charging $6.99 a pound for the beast, which seemed a little ridiculous. Deflated, we started altering plans for a trimmed flat, deciding to mop with beer and mustard. It still seemed doable, but not nearly on the all-out overkill scale we'd been envisioning.

We pulled out of the diner's parking lot, a little wind taken out of our sails. Then, we saw this:

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The Laurel Meat Market. The giant fiberglass cow out front gave us hope. Our hearts thudding, we went to the meat counter, and happily took home an 11-pound baby with beautiful fat to the tune of $2.99 a pound.

Oddly, the meat market (which in a perhaps synergistic relationship is a block from the equally incongruous Outback Leather, with a giant fiberglass cowboy out font) appears dingy out front, but hides beautifully colored, fresh-smelling beef, pork and fish inside for surprisingly low prices. The tilapia was particularly enticing, snowy-white and fleshy, for $4.15 a pound. We will return.

11 am

Meat in hand, and feeling pretty good about the day, we went to get wood. A bit down Route 29 from Jeff's house, we found a farmstand that sells 'lopes and corn earlier in the summer and pumpkins and firewood at this time of year.

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After some conferring with the sweet lady who seemed to run things, we loaded an entire tree's worth of seasoned hickory into the back of Jeff's truck.

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She sold it to us for a dollar a stick. When given the opportunity to count what we'd loaded, she said, "I trust you", smiled, and waved us off. We went grocery shopping for peripheral foodstuffs, and went home.

3 pm

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Time to start cooking. I started some quick spicy pickles:

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by submerging some kirbys overnight in a boiled and cooled brine of wine vinegar, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, salt, pepper flakes, cilantro and dill.

7 pm

Jeff got home from the gym, came out of the shower, and was seized by an irresistible urge to wrestle with the brisket. As you can see, it got the better of him:

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But not of me:

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After some earnest consultation with Col. Klink's course, the web and various anecdotal sources, we decided on a cumin-spiked version of Klink's rub for the meat. We were told, variously, "just salt and pepper", "every spice you can use", and "carefully blended flavors". Our dry rub consisted of salt, brown sugar, pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes, turmeric, dry garlic, oregano, thyme and parsley.

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The second photo pretty well describes the vision in our heads at that point - meat, endless fields of meat. Taking this as a bad sign, we cleaned up for the night and went to bed.

Sunday, 10 October

8 am

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The day started like any other Sunday, though the spectre of the smoker looming outside the sliding glass door, and the tray of meat bowing the shelves in Jeff's fridge, lurked in the corners of our eyes and put courage in our hearts.

It turned out to be a beautiful day, cool and sunny buried in the woods where we were.

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It took us a long time to get the fire right. Every fire we started seemed to consume the kindling, catch the logs, flare, burn brightly for a few minutes, and then peter out quickly. Blowing; playing with the damper; opening the lids for airflow; nothing helped. Desperate, we stuffed way too many logs in the firebox and lit the whole thing with a kilogram of C4.

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Actually, we just kept adding wood until we had a big, bright self-sustaining fire going - the highly technical barbecue jargon term for the scene above is "too damn hot." The temperature reading on the closed smoker lid was going nuts - the needle was straining above 475, the maximum reading. We decided the best course of action would be to open the smoker lid, open the damper entirely for maximum airflow, and let the fire burn down to a more manageable state.

12 pm

Luckily, it was noon at this point. Aaaaaaahhhh.

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The beer we drank yesterday is a (formerly local; now it's brewed in Wisconsin) beer called National Bohemian, or Natty Bo for those in the know. It's the Baltimore beer of choice for broke UMBC and Johns Hopkins students, bums, and insufferably smug hipsters who drink PBR in NYC bars because it's, like, retro, man. Though it tastes more like sugar water than beer, we thought it was in keeping with the commando spirit of the weekend - not to mention that, at $5.10 a 12-pack, it opened up our beef budget considerably.

We finally got a handle on the fire,

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and put the meat on.

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Jeff busied himself with splitting wood,

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While I smoked meat and cigarettes.

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1 pm

Around this time, we figured out the best way to manage the fire - we soaked split sticks in water, in a pot sitting above the firebox - a hot-water soaked stick, when placed in the fire, created a lot of smoke and caught quickly without flaring the temperature too much. The inferno we'd imagined was too hot for our purposes; a steady, smoldering 225 meant just about one small, soaked stick resting on a bed of embers.

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4 pm

It was a really beautiful day, and we were sitting outside, soaking up the last of the Indian summer sun, watching the fire and drinking. Though the chimney was belching out delicious-smelling smoke, we were sitting upwind and didn't notice. Jeff's roommates emerged from the house, drawn inexorably by the pervasive odor leaching into the vents.

"Dude, what is that?"

"Dude, it's eleven pounds of meat."

"Oh."

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5 pm

This is what the meat looked like at 4 hours and 3 beers:

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7 pm

While Jeff was outside, diligently tending the fire and checking the brisket (a seriously good-looking, charred black piece of baby-bottom soft beef at this point),

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I busied myself with a scallion-y potato salad and other peripherals.

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8:30pm

Check out that smoke ring:

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We're eating the brisket - succulent, juicy, and deeply smoky, suddenly not just beef but transubstantiated into something miraculous and wholly different - along with delicious pickles, onions, potato salad, wonder bread and garlicky Texas toast while watching the Redskins-Ravens game. It's Sunday night; my clothes smell like smoke; we're curled on the couch with a fire in the fireplace and a distinct chill coming in through the open screen door. BJ Sams scores an out-of-nowhere touchdown for the Ravens; Joe Gibbs looks terrified and constipated.

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We're comfortably full and sleepy, happy with the success of our grand project, ready for bed.

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Enjoyable post. I am a college park alumn and have nothing but found memories of the area. I think i might have stopped over by the race track in laurel a few times (a week).. Those pics of Natty Bos took me back alright.

You ever see the rib king out there in Laurel.. Its a small metal truck that has this great old guy banging out ribs and briskets. We had him drive his truck to our house in college park for a party one saturday. If you see this guy, he is worth stopping by.

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gives those of us without clue some hope!

wish i could have some of that brisket too.

i also lived near college park and your photos really take me back to maryland.

a fine photo essay. thanks for putting it all together and sharing.

youll look back on this essay years from now and smile...

"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo
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Thanks for the great mini-food blog eunny jang!

The quick pickles looked great and I though they were an inspired condiment to have along with the brisket.

Also loved the detailed "back story" with photos that you gave us--definately an important aspect of bbq'ing!

The diner looks like my kind of place too. Hard to find that kind of great old diner out here in No Cal. Corned Beef Hash, yum. (maybe minus the rubber band though...)

Thanks again!

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Hmmm, let's see: Barbecue, beer, potato salad, football. Got any sisters?

Up here in PC Cascadia though, we call it a First Nations' (or, alternatively Indigenous Persons') Summer.

Just so you know . . .

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Beautiful

the photos and the meat

word of warning for next smokin weekend: in case you remember to plan in advance Kosher meat markets close early on Fridays too

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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It took you awhile, but you apparently discovered the concept of a bed of coals. I have, however, discovered in your writing the root of your problems - 4 hours and three beers? Beer consumption way too low. But then again, drinking the product of the brewery that made Billy Beer might be tough.

David from Dixon

From Dixon, Wyoming

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A treat of a mini-blog. Every word worth reading and every picture telling a story. Just delightful. Thanks.

Martial.2,500 Years ago:

If pale beans bubble for you in a red earthenware pot, you can often decline the dinners of sumptuous hosts.

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I've made a smoky shepherd's pie, a smoky chili and smoky enchiladas. I have eaten one of these three items for dinner and lunch every single day this week.

I still have, like, three pounds of *@#$ brisket left.

It's sitting in the freezer. The thought of more beef made me gag every time I opened the fridge.

HOW am I going to use it up?

Edited by eunny jang (log)
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I've made a smoky shepherd's pie, a smoky chili and smoky enchiladas.  I have eaten one of these three items for dinner and lunch every single day this week.

HOW am I going to use it up?

if you're able to shred it and add some ricotta and coriander leaf, you could make medaglioni raviolis, using egg roll wrappers. :wub: maybe served in a broth, or plated with a nice woodsy mushroom sauce?

very, very nice post, eunny jang--thank you! :smile:

gus

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean."

--Isak Dinesen

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I still have, like, three pounds of *@#$ brisket left.

It's sitting in the freezer.  The thought of more beef made me gag every time I opened the fridge.

HOW am I going to use it up?

How did you freeze it? I would have suggested breaking it up into portions (one pound each) and then using it as needed in different dishes (shredded into stews, chili, soups, etc).

Another suggestion would be to have a football party and use all of it up feeding your party guests (sloppy joes, again with the chili, etc).

Or you can mail it to me. :laugh:

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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