"Friends don't let friends cook with hydrocarbons." - from a bumper sticker seen at a barbecue contest.
"Life is too short for cheap beer." - from a T-shirt seen at that same barbecue contest.
"Smoke gets in your eyes." - The Platters.
"The waiting is the hardest part." - Tom Petty
What do the above have in common? One interpretation could be that someone seems to find great wisdom in T-shirts, pop songs and bumper stickers. Another explanation could be that a certain somebody really likes smoking.
There is simply something primal and delightful about food that has been cooked low and slow over a smoky fire. Our DNA holds codes that causes us to crave smokiness. Licking the inside of a chimney would not be out of the question for those extremely afflicted.
I wonder how the whole concept of cooking was born. Perhaps one day in the far distant past a couple of cavemen were sitting by the fire. They were discussing manly caveman issues, such as whether or not a growly, furry, foul-breathed beast would run them from the cave. They agree that this might be avoided if they quit "borrowing" their neighbor's cave without his permission.
As they talk, one of the cave guys absentmindedly picks up a hunk of something that had been left near the fire. He sniffs the roasted morsel, then gives it an experimental nibble. It's delicious! The cave guy joyously shares this discovery with his pal, who agrees that it's truly a breakthrough. Their elation is much diminished when they realize that one of their moccasins has suddenly gone missing.
This initial experience eventually evolved into the science of cooking, which gave rise to fast food. Fast food technically qualifies as chow in that it provides nourishment. But much of it is as appealing as roast moccasin.
Give me old-fashioned victuals prepared with old-fashioned methods from the old country. I mean such things as hams that are cured and lovingly smoked for months and months. A ham that's fussed over and cherished to the point where it's given a name.
My wife and I once made a journey that took us through Amarillo, Texas. Seeing as how we were in the heart of barbecue country, it seemed a shame if we didn't sample the local cuisine. We assumed that no matter where we ate, we couldn't go wrong.
We stopped at a reputable-looking barbecue joint. They had a large collection of barbecue trophies on display, which we assumed was a good omen.
Boy, did we assume wrong! The meat was tough and lacked smokiness and the beans were, well, full of beans.
Second-rate food is like bad art. I can't describe it to you, but I know it when I see it.
It felt as if the restaurant was just mailing it in. Or maybe it wasn't all that good to begin with. As for the awards, perhaps the owner had a brother-in-law who had a business called Tom's Tiptop Trophies.
We live in an "instant everything" society; we chafe if the bag of burgers isn't waiting when we arrive at the drive-through window. It troubles me deeply to admit that I, too, have been thusly afflicted.
As a way to push back against the low quality of modern chow, I decided to get a smoker. Being inherently lazy, I opted for an automated model that burns wood pellets. This means better temperature control and also opens the door to the theoretical possibility of smoking in the dead of winter.
We were lately blessed with a spate of outstandingly pleasant early-winter weather, so I fired up the smoker. I tossed on some chicken and some ribs and set my machine's thermostat to "delicious."
It's axiomatic that if you're looking, you're not cooking. But I LIKE to look! I'm a barbecue Peeping Tom.
One of the biggest problems with barbecuing your own food is that it doesn't take long for the victuals to become enrobed in a gown of lusciousness. You take a peek and your pulse races as your mind fills with mouth-watering daydreams. You want to snatch the food from its resting place and spirit it off and revel in your imagined decadence. But no! You have to wait!
Being a frequent peeker means high exposure to wood smoke. My hair, skin, and even my eyeballs were soon perfumed with a pleasantly smoky fragrance. This aroma should be bottled and sold as cologne. I would call it Eau de Campfire.
Halfway through my smoking session, I came into the house and my wife asked, "How is it going?"
"Smoking!" I replied.
"I know that one! Jim Carrey in 'The Mask'!"