Wood that really burns. Okay, so your dad has mastered oak, hickory, mesquite and apple woods. Spice up his repertoire with Tabasco Wood Chips, made from white-oak barrels used to age the famous pepper sauce. Two-pound bags sell for about $6 each, plus shipping, and are available via Amazon.
A chunka burning love. Barbecue wood is like Goldilocks’s search for the perfect bed. Chips can be too weak. Split logs can be too strong. But chunks are juuust right. They burn evenly and for a long time, making them easy to monitor over prolonged periods. They also give barbecue a deep, smoky flavor without overwhelming the meat. So give pops a selection of chunks. Bags of different types are available at hardware stores and supermarkets, but for one-stop shopping — not just for the usual suspects like hickory and mesquite but also for maple, nectarine and coffee – go to barbecuewood.com. Prices vary from about $5.99 for a two-pound bag of cherry wood to $66 for a 24-pound bag of coffee wood.
Dirty chicken and fish. Does dad like playing in dirt? No, not gardening. Dry rubs. Todd’s Dirt is a small seasoning company in Severna Park. What it lacks in a mouthwatering name, it makes up for in a terrific product. The Original boasts a beautiful balance of dried herbs, including oregano, thyme, sage, cilantro and rosemary, which goes wonderfully on grilled or smoked chicken. Todd’s Bayou Dirt smacks of good backwater Louisiana flavorings; we liked the way it livened up grilled skirt-steak and vegetables. And Crabby Dirt, obviously intended for seafood, is a welcome variant of Old Bay. Bottles sell for about $5 each and are available at Whole Foods and at toddsdirt.com.
Cook local, think global. Have you ever spooned something hot — a barbecue sauce or a salsa — directly from the jar and liked it so much that you kept doing it until your mouth glowed like embers? Then you blamed the fire in your mouth on the product?
That’s what I did with Steven “The Barbecue Bible” Raichlen’s fabulous Jamaican spice paste, one of his new line of Planet Barbecue condiments. He doesn’t call it a jerk, but for all intents and purposes, it is. Its natural pairing is with chicken and pork, but it was also yummy in some egg salad I made.
With its allspice/nutmeg flavorings and slow, Scotch bonnet burn, the paste, better than most commercial products, mimics the complex concoctions I tasted at the Jerk Festival in Portland parish, Jamaica, the birthplace of jerk. His Moroccan spice paste, redolent of cardamom, ginger and cinnamon, is nearly its equal and pairs well with lamb. There is a Colombian spice paste, too, but it is bland, especially compared to the others. Each sells for about $10 and are available at grilling4all.com.
Tong is a funny word. If Smoke Signals had to pick just one tool, it would be tongs, not a knife (we got teeth, don’t we?) and not a thermometer (an open palm, a pair of eyes and a good nose can measure the heat just fine).
Tongs, not a fork (which punctures the food, releasing juices), turn the meat over and move it from the hot side to the cold side. In a pinch, they even pull up a removable grate. Any pair of tongs long enough to keep your arm hairs from singing will work. But a good pair is one of those quiet pleasures. I like the 16-inch Oxo Good Grips. It’s sturdy, locks easily and has cushioned handles. But dad would appreciate any similar tongs, I’m sure, because he’s that kind of guy. They run about $15 at cooking stores and at amazon.com.
Don’t burn the hand that feeds. If dad is grilling or smoking without a protective glove, he is an accident — or at least an air-bluing series of cusswords — waiting to happen. Years ago, Smoke Signals received a silicone mitt from a brother-in-law. At the time, I didn’t realize how much I wanted it. Lifting foods, moving them, working above a live fire, all of it became exponentially easier. After a couple of months, it finally gave out. I promptly went out and bought a new one, this one a glove (with fingers, as opposed to a mitt) called a Pit Mitt. But there are several good mitts and gloves on the market. They range from about $8 for the Weber 6401 Barbecue Mitt to about $25 for the Orka 17-inch Silicone Barbecue Mitt. Try them on and ask questions. You want something that will withstand high heat and is flexible enough for you — I mean, dad — to easily hold, move and carry things. Available in stores, hardware shops, specialty outlets and online.
The Braggingest Man in Barbecue cookbook. Okay, so TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters” judge Myron Mixon is the self-described “Winningest” man in competitive ‘cue. Still, that’s the same thing as “braggingest man,” ain’t it? Guess not, if you can prove it. And good ol’ boy Myron can.
That, by the way, is how the book is written. Lots of downhome Georgia “just a simple country boy” this and “What I do best is beat everybody else’s [butt]” that. But, dang, if his recently published cookbook, “Smokin’ with Myron Mixon” (Ballantine Books, 2011) ain’t the cow that ate the cabbage.
Mixon shares lots of useful insider knowledge from his nearly two decades on the competition circuit. And while a little can go a long way in the recipes (he never met a meat he didn’t like to inject or sauce, often both), a lot of it is worthwhile in its explanation of techniques.
The foods themselves, well, they’re barbecue and, by now, this is well-trod territory. Somehow, though, Mixon makes it seem new (“A Word on Cooking Hog Loins”) and sometimes even vital: Who wouldn’t want to try their hand at replicating the winningest man in barbecue’s smoked pork shoulder? The cookbook is available in stores and online for about $22.