Sunday was quite a day. It started at 4:30am as I was getting ready to smoke 100 pounds of pork for the Community Market Earth Day Celebration. It was an exhausting day, and only moderately successful as far as slider sales went. But, it was majorly successful on another front. Our family used to have huge celebrations on all the major holidays. Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, that no longer happens. So, now we have smaller celebrations with my immediate family, my mom and Aunt Terry. They’re actually a lot more enjoyable, as we decide what we want to do based on what we actually want to do, not a preconceived notion of what we should do, or have always done. This usually means a very relaxing day, like when we took a limo to John Ash & Co. for Thanksgiving. Not so relaxing on this day.
On this particular Easter Sunday, we had the opportunity to run our first prepared food booth at the aforementioned Earth Day Celebration. I decided to do sliders: Pulled Pork, Fresh Smoked Ham and Hamburger. This was a major lesson in running a food booth. Never run a smoker unless you have a reasonable idea of the number of people you are going to serve. I dug my heels in on using the smoker because, even though the event was to celebrate Earth Day, it was still Easter Sunday, and I figured Fresh Smoked Ham would be a hit. While it, along with the pulled pork, was very popular (maybe because of my House-made Jack Daniel’s BBQ Sauce), there were just not as many people to serve as we prepared for.
Don’t get me wrong, the event was a great success. The problem is that smoking anything large is a minimum of an 7-8 hour process to do it right. There is no opportunity to add or subtract based on demand or attendance. So I went big and threw four 25lb pork legs on at 5 am and away we went!
I am just learning how to properly use a large smoker. I have only flown solo once, and it was with a 70lb whole hog. Using a grill plate in the smoker was new to me. It almost meant we would only have hamburgers. I got the charcoal lit at 5am sharp. It was a little awkward, as I had neglected to ask for a key to the 100′ cable that secured the smoker along with all the patio furniture CM has. I drug the smoker as far from the bone-dry wooden tables and chairs as I could and went to work. While the coals were settling, I got the legs lubed up with olive oil and seasoned with S&P and my house dry rub. It’s now about 5:20 and on go the legs. The smoke box on the side of the smoker is doing its thing and I can smell the apple wood chips already creating their magic. And so, with everything working as planned and the thermometer reading a perfect 325′, I hopped in the cab of my truck to close my eyes. . . just for a minute.
That was a mistake. I was only out for about 20 minutes (OK maybe 35). That was enough time for the smoker to do the one thing that Pete said would really screw up my day. It dropped below 200′. This basically means you have to start over. This is not the end of the world if you’re doing a whole hog because it’s easy to add coals. But the grill in this case covers the coal rails. So I found someone to help me lift the 125lb grill and pork off the smoker, and went about resetting the fire.
I wasn’t going to let that happen again so I loaded the rails as full as possible. I was in a serious time crunch now, so I used the better part of a bottle of lighter fluid to get things heated up quickly. I dropped the lid and waited for the inferno to subside enough to put the perfectly browned- and totally raw- pork legs that were currently sitting on the asphalt parking lot back in their soothing 325′ sauna. The thermometer at this point is at 450′ and rising. So I wait. . . and wait. . . and wait. Finally, after 45 minutes, it settles at 375′. . . close enough. I go get another strong back, get the grill plate back in place and shut the lid. At this point I could use a stiff drink to calm the panic but, as it was only 7:30am, I went in and got another cup of coffee.
10 minutes later I walked out and noticed the smoker was doing exactly what it was supposed to do, namely smoking. However, this was a little more smoke than looked right. It looked like Cheech & Chong were having an End of Days party inside (gratuitous 4/20 reference. . . check!). So I sprinted over, checked the temp and was crushed to see it over 475′! Crap!
Apparently, all that killer pork fat we covet melts and drips on very hot coals, flares up and creates all these neat little fires. I can see two legs are already approaching charcoal black skin. This is bad. So I sprint into the store and grab a pitcher of water to calm the savage flames. As I race up to the smoker, I find the largest blaze and douse it with water. Everything turns to slow motion and, as the water has covered half the two foot distance from pitcher to pork, I realize the mistake. While water will put out a flare-up on hot coals, it also creates a dust storm of ash that will neatly and completely cover whatever it’s supposed to be cooking.
This was the last straw. Never again smoking meat unless it is for a specific audience of known quantity. . . and I have done some more studying under someone who knows what the heck they are doing. The meat eventually got cooked and served, and the response was mostly positive. Except for the lady who was bitter because we had no vegetarian offerings. We ended up serving about 250 sliders. You would think in Sebastopol, CA, at an Earth Day Celebration, ON NATIONAL MARIJUANA DAY, we would have had a line around the block. But it was a good learning experience. . . whatever.
What made it worth it was doing it together with my wife and kids. While everyone pitches in from time to time, it’s rare for us all to be together at an event. But on this Sunday, Molly ran the cash box, Laura took orders and expedited, and Jackson ran the burger grill. It was cool to see it all in motion. I think that we will do a food booth at the Thursday Night Farmers Market coming to the Barlow this Summer, but it will be grilled sausages only.
In the meantime, we’ll be having a sale this week on 2 lb. packs of pulled pork in our House-made Jack Daniel’s BBQ Sauce. Stock up, as it will be a while before I smoke anything other than a nice cigar.