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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

LATEST HOBBY BRINGS TEARS TO ONE’S EYES - The San Diego Union Tribune

ERNIE COWAN Outdoors

LATEST HOBBY BRINGS TEARS TO ONE’S EYES


“Are you crying?”

“No, honey, it’s just all the smoke in my eyes from my new meat smoker,” I told my understanding bride. “There’s no crying in barbecue.”

I had come to the pinnacle moment when I had assembled all of the paraphernalia necessary to produce mouth-watering creations through the economy and magic of a home
 meat smoker. It all began so innocently. I was sucked into the vortex of an irresistible Black Friday deal.

My middle son has established a family reputation for his skill as a meat smoker, often providing chicken, turkey, ribs and fish or some of our harvested game for all to enjoy. Nothing is left behind when he
 brings smoked meat. His old smoker had sadly seen better days, so the idea of getting him a new one for Christmas was rolling around in my head.

On Black Friday I visited one of our local home improvement outlets. There in stacked boxes were just a few remaining “deals” that could
 not be passed up. Less than half price for the smoker I had been considering. Heck, at that price, how could I pass up such a deal? I bought three, one for my two local sons and one for me.

It took me several hours to assemble my new smoker. My mouth was watering just thinking how economically I could now prepare ribs, brisket, burnt ends, smoked chicken, salmon and wild game that would melt in my mouth in a medley of exotic smoky flavors.

I was ready to go, but there were additional hurdles.

First, you must “cure” the smoker. Kind of a dry run, if you will, that burns off all the stuff left behind during the manufacturing process. I also needed a new propane tank.

I was now ready to go with the curing process. I loaded my smoker with wet hickory chips, ignited the flames and watched as smoke — lots of smoke— began to billow from the smoker.

I was disappointed when the firemen arrived and I didn’t have smoked meat to offer. They were very understanding.
Now, I was really ready to go, but discovered I needed a few additional things, such as insulated gloves, a hightech digital meat thermometer, an assortment of rubs to flavor the meats, and a collection of hickory, alder, pecan, mesquite, apple and oak wood chips. Of course I also needed a water spray bottle for keeping the fire under control and a pour bottle for refilling the water pan, longhandled tongs for turning hot meat, and several recommended recipe books.

The secret to delicious smoked meats is low heat and a long time in the smoker. It took me awhile to get the hang of controlling burner level, vent adjustments and the addition of more wood chips at the appropriate time, but I felt confident and ready to cook our first meat.

We decided to begin with a whole chicken. Not a huge investment in case our first attempt at smoking was less than perfect. The bird was prepared and aged with a recommended rub, wood chips were soaked and ready,
 gloves, water and tongs were laid out like a surgeon preparing instruments for a delicate procedure. This is serious business.

Hickory smoke filled the air with a wonderful aroma. It also filled the house and my clothing. People at work the next day asked me if I’d been in a fire.

“No, just smoking meat,” I said smugly.

Our test chicken was smoking nicely. It was taking a bit longer than we had planned. Our high-tech digital thermometer told us we still had 30 degrees to go after four hours of smoking.

Dinner was a bit late.

About 9 p.m. it was time to enjoy the fruits of our first smoking effort.

Beneath the beautifully crusted skin was moist meat. As I savored the delicate flavor I began to calculate the cost of our meal. I figured our home smoked chicken was costing us about $99 a pound.

The smoke was gone, but there were still tears in my eyes.