Like a drunkard who believes the next drink will be his last, Tim doesn’t realize the depth of his addiction.
A few years ago, my buddy took to barbecue in a big way. After sampling smoked meats throughout the area, he broke down and bought a cheap barrel smoker and went from enthusiast to maniac.
Starting in the wee hours, he babies the wood fire all night and day to transform a big ol’ ornery slab of beef brisket into a thing of luscious, smoky beauty. His ribs are so moist they practically make their own sauce, a kind of jus that puddles atop the meat. When he can get his hands on the fabled Meyer’s sausage from the small central Texas town of Elgin, he smokes it up till the slightest slit from a knife releases clear juices.
The gentle curls of smoke wafting heavenward, the aroma of the smoking meats perfuming the air, the sumptuousness of the moist, flavorful meats, not to mention that special barbecue camaraderie of friends hanging around the smoker…Tim seems to think he can just walk away from all that.
I feel for the guy. He’s got it bad.
In an e-mail last week, Tim invited friends to a weekend barbecue at his home. The note said that he and his wife, and I quote, ”will be hosting the final barbecue feast of the season.”
I’ll admit that, initially, I bought it.
I slumped in my chair, and I began silently singing a sad song:
Never can say good-bye. No, no, no, no. Never can say good-bye...
Then you try to say you’re leaving me
And I always have to say no...
Tell me why
Is it soooooo
Don’t wanna let you go
At first, it was unclear if I was singing about Tim or his brisket. I realized I was singing about both, which is to say, Tim’s brisket.
That’s when I changed my tune. Literally. Out with the self-pity. In with the defiance. My pick-me-up was Robert Earl Keen’s country classic, “The Road Goes on Forever,” as amped-up into a stomper by country-rocker Joe Ely :
The road goes on forever and the party never ends…
The song answers that naive proclamation to stop doing one’s passion: not gonna happen. I know that because I’ve been there.
Remember Washington’s Snowpocalyse? Snow up to here? Government shutdown? A guy I know told me he barbecued in his Silver Spring backyard through it all. “Electricity was out for a week,” he said. “But my smoker is my oven. Snow doesn’t bother me.”
Situational, you might say. But then there’s my pal in upstate New York. Lives in the country. Chops his own wood, cords of it. He told me one day over beers that he needed to get going to start his barbecue. “Really?” I responded and nodded toward the falling snow outside the tavern windows and the 20-something temperature. “You’re going to barbecue today?”
“I barbecue every day,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“In this?” I asked.
“Well, not every day,” he said. “About five times a week.”
Contests on the barbecue competition circuit happen all year long, with one in California symbolically straddling New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. A 2010 survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association found that 56 percent of grill owners use their grills year-round. True, most are likely in the South. But some live in upstate New York. And Michigan. And here in the nation’s capital, where, actually, the daily temperatures for barbecuing are friendly enough, often enough, to scratch the smoker’s itch.
And so, no more sad songs. I love that Tim thinks he can put his feet up, maybe make some nice stews on the stove for the next six months.
But not barbecuing? I’d say it will be a cold day in Houston when that happens. But, even then, I suspect there’s a chance that Tim, like all the other barbecue maniacs out there, will be out at the smoker.
The ‘cue goes on forever and the smokin’ never ends...