SMOKY DELIGHT AND COVERED PITS,
GRILLING IS SLOW AND DUCK JUST MAKES IT BETTER
Barbecue: Noun, verb and adjective? All three. It is considered an outdoor cooking event, as in “going to a barbecue”. It is the covered grill/pit we cook on/in, as in hole in the ground, grate over coals, Brinkman, Weber or Big Green Egg. It is the food itself as in bbq pork, beef, lamb, duck, quail, pheasant, chicken and of course any shell fish and fish.
There are several kinds of wood used for barbecue where each has a specific purpose for seasoning the meat with smoke and heat. Bbq is cooking with heat and smoke, not fire. If you are cooking over fire then it is grilling, and even then you really only want the heat, not the flames. If any pork or beef states that it is “flame kissed” it means that the flesh is scorched, which leads us to understand that burned is not barbecue, no, no, no, burn and scorch ruins the meat. Any discussion of barbecue will bring out regional arguments as to which it is that has the best method, and what constitutes barbecue meat. Anything can be barbecued, but for Georgians a barbecue is pork. We use beef and chicken only under duress to satisfy Texas and Midwestern cattlemen, and to use the bird for something other than grilling or frying. Heat and smoke only, no flame.
The debate about which wood is best for any particular kind of barbecued meat depends a lot on personal choice, but there are ideals or forms of charcoal wood to which we appeal and they are:
Alder very nice for fish, pork and poultry.
Apple, great with pork and poultry, and I almost always use this for pork. I don’t use it with beef but some do.
Cherry is a good general wood for anything you’re smoking.
Coconut burns very hot with little ash and a nice clean taste. I have always been happy with coconut charcoal.
Hickory simply is what makes beef taste more like good pork and is THE wood for most barbecues.
Maple, good with pork and poultry.
Mesquite, strong smoke/high heat, used a lot but for some the taste is too strong. I rarely use mesquite.
Oak, great with red meat, game and firm fish.
Jack Daniels Oak Barrel, now this lump charcoal is the guilty pleasure in that it imparts the sour mash flavor in addition to the power of oak.
Pecan, a good general wood that imparts a special nutty but not overpowering smokes to the food. The smoke matters a lot in barbecue, as it is what keeps the sauce from overpowering the meat. Wood chunks is best for slow smoke, the chips are best for adding smoke and flavor during the last quarter of cooking time. When you are doing a slow smoke keep the temperature under 190 degrees. If you are baking breads or pies then have the temperature at 450 to 500 degrees.
I use Red Oak or Big Green Egg Lump to get the wood chunks going strong. Red Oak and BGE lump is the same. Wicked Charcoal and Cowboy Charcoal are both top of the line lump charcoal. Do not use seasoned briquettes in a Big Green Egg, Primo or Komodo ceramic as the lighter fuel in the products ruins the ceramic and imparts a near eternal nasty gasoline flavor. Stay away from the matchless briquettes or lump precisely for this reason of bad flavor. Electric inserts work the best for guaranteed fire.
One of the little recognized American masters of barbeque is Bobby Seale, of the Civil Rights movement, Black Panthers and Chicago 8 infamy. Somehow he found a way to relate the American struggle to barbecue! Barbecue is what he talked about most during the time between trials. Food is culture and we know our culture by our food. Why bring a 1960’s radical and intellectual into a conversation about BBQ? I mention him because we all come together at the barbecue. He even wrote a cookbook called “Barbeque’n With Bobby”, and it’s actually very good. There are millions of Barbecue books, speaking of “Bobby” even Bobby Flay has a great bbq book. Is there such a thing as a bad BBQ book? All people are equal over the pits and smoke of a well seasoned and rubbed rump, shoulder or back rib. We are one by the fire.
Barbecue speaks to the power of marinades and searing, of hickory and oak, of basting, and of keeping sugar off the meat. For some there is no barbecue without hickory, but then again, there’s this need to seek out other flavors, other smokes and heat that are available today.
Pit masters demand hickory because hickory is what is the overall best for slow smoke and heat. Mesquite is too hot and too much for pork and beef, but is perfect for oily fish. In Georgia we grow up with pecan, peach, apple, plum, poplar, oak and hickory. We use more hickory, oak, pecan and maple because that is what has always been around in the Georgia woods.
We know barbecue when we go out to eat because there is that unmistakable taste of real smoke throughout the meat. Smoke and heat. Anywhere in the world where there is slow cooked meat over seasoned charcoal smoke you know that something good is waiting. You have to be able to taste the meat all the way to the bone, throughout the meat, it must be tender, otherwise it was either not smoked in a covered state or worse, an imitation with smoke seasoning. Liquid smoke products should be outlawed.
Purity of the pit is what makes barbecue philosophers such great thinkers, whether radical to the left or radical to the right, barbecue philosophy is about one thing, and that thing is heat, smoke, meat and togetherness at the pit, the barbecue pit, togetherness. But there is something about barbecue that brings out the extremist in many of us. Why is that? Think of it as maintaining the integrity of something, something dear to the red hot center of a passionate heart.
Now a pit can be a hole in the ground, a kettle, a bullet shaped tube, a pile of bricks and stones, and even an egg shaped ceramic beast. What makes the pit important beyond the smoke is the baste. Barbecue baste is not barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce is something done after the fact of being barbecued. Basting is what we do to the meat during the marinade and during the cooking. No sugars during the cooking process. None. Chinese bbq is done with smoke and heat, marinades and rubs, and then of course the sauce that comes after it has cooked, if a sauce is needed at all. Hawaiian pit barbecue is right on the target, bury the pig over hot coconut coals, and then cover it with banana leaves and wait. I highly recommend banana leaves over the meat for slow cookers. I really don’t know what they do in the North and Northeast.
Tomato, hoisin and soy, mustard or vinegar does not have an emotional context to me, but to some it is sign of a possible fight. I like all types of smoke and baste, and even sauce. My Mother and my Aunt both refused to eat a slow smoked pig because it had vinegar baste and not a dry rub hence the smoke was hidden. I didn’t hear much of the reasoning; I was buried ear deep into a side of delicious smoky and vinegary country leg. Does it mean I’ll eat any barbeque? Yes. Just that some true barbecue is better than others because that is what we are familiar with. I prefer Georgia tomato and Chinese soy based sauces for my barbecue. I will never turn down a pig because of vinegar or mustard, though I will refuse based on being too full.
Prejudice aside, lamb, beef, chicken, pork, duck, salmon, game, tofu, bread and all beans can be cooked on a high quality smoker. Baste/marinade, heat/smoke type and sauce are what characterize barbecue. Any of the listed woods will give you a good smoke, a sacred pit of fire.
Smoked Duck is always welcome. It is one of my favorites. Thaw in the refrigerator. Marinade for 24 hours. Smoke for 6 hours at 175 degrees. Once it is in the smoker do not lift the lid until after 3 hours. White Pekin or Long Island Duck (spelling is correct as the name of the duck breed is PEKIN) is the one we use the most for smoking. The other kinds of duck farmed in America are Muscovy (cross of pekin and moulard), Moulard and Mallard (the original farmed duck in America. All domestic descend from Mallard except muscovy). Use hickory, apple and Jack Daniels wood for the grill.
1 White Pekin Duck, rinse cold water
10 ounces Blueberry-Pomegranate juice
4 ounces Dark soy sauce
6 ounces Sorghum or Sugar Vinegar
2 ounces Ginger, thin sliced
4 cloves Garlic, mashed
1 teaspoon Allspice
1 teaspoon Black Pepper, coarse grind
10 ounces Marinade
2 ounces Black Strap Molasses
1 ounce Dark Brown Sugar
½ ounce Mint, stems and leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon Roasted Thai Chili peppers
3 ounces Sour Mash Whiskey
1 tablespoon Cornstarch
3 ounces Cold Water
Combine all except cornstarch and water. Bring to boil, turn down to simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Combine cornstarch and water. Stir into sauce. Heat for 10 more minutes.
Combine. Using a tea pitcher or a deep container submerge the duck in the marinade. After minimum 24 hours, maximum 3 days, prepare your smoker/grill with hickory and apple wood. Adjust baffles so that the temperature is 175 degrees. Place the duck back side down. Smoke 3 hours. Turn it over. Baste. Smoke 3 hours. Paint with sauce. Cook 1 hour.
At service you can slice it up and garnish with sliced green onions, mint and chopped pineapple and pear. Chinese pancakes/crepes are wonderful for wrapping the sliced duck and garnishes. Merry Christmas and may all your loves and friendships be blessed with purity of intention, unconditional heart and full of conversation, understanding and warmth.
We gather around the fire
And tell stories of life
As it was, now and yet to be,
Feel the chill evening
Warm up rich with smoke
And the smell of spice,
A handful of water soaked
Pecan shells ready
To be nestled under the grates,
A book full of loves gone
And treasured, a love now
Held high into the stars,
Trailing along in wisps
Of steam, like a happy comet
Sailing into the December sky,
Christmas songs and prayers
Offered and shared,
Smiles and hugs,
Our eyes sparkling
Reflections of Yule lights.
Our hearts pure
Our passions real
From Advent to New Years
Every day is sacred
Every night together
Is like the first,
All wish is for Peace
For a world that learns
To love and to cherish
Learns to love all Life,
Just like this,
This moment here
When we touch and are alive.