My Journey through Fire and Smoke
by Kimberley Thompson, Tastemaker in Residence
As a Minnesotan, you would think that summer time grilling would be in my genetic code.
After all, as a youth, I joined legions of assorted children on school busses heading north for "Summer Camp." We looked remarkably like human lemmings with our eager faces, over stuffed camp bags, and aged sleeping bags with funky odors as we stepped down onto dusty parking lots in coniferous northern woods. Wood smoke could be smelled from the campfire gathering spot with a pine sap tang just under the initial smoke scent.
We ate food cooked over campfires, each of us jostling for our turn to thread dough, bacon and cheese on to hastily cut branches. We proceeded to char the dough, under cook the bacon and drop the cheese into the fire. We were taught to coat the outside of frying pans and kettles with Ivory Liquid so the smoke and creosote would wash off easily with water and sand. (No one ever talked about the creosote we ATE.) We made "stone soup," with counselors keeping careful eyes on the Smith twins and their "contributions" to the pot. (Much editing was done of their pockets before they were even allowed near the fire.)
As a Minnesotan family, when I was 8, we bought a LOT on a LAKE! Our spring, summer and fall weekends from that day forward were dedicated to "THE LAKE." All clothing, grocery shopping, sporting gear purchases and hobbies were suddenly 100% LAKE oriented.
Clothing had to endure the massive clearing of said lake lot of trees, brush and assorted debris, hauling firewood, beach raking, dock installing (and the reverse taking out), repel mosquitoes, keep us cool/warm, be easy to wash by hand and still be presentable for the long car ride home. And be limited to 6 items per person.
Grocery list were carefully written and rewritten starting on the Monday prior to the Friday journey north. How many people? Were there more little people, mid sized bottomless pit people or hardworking adult people? (No culinary likes or dislikes were allowed. Mom ran this boat.) What could be used the next day, if any was leftover? What could be transported up pre-made? Frozen? What store specials would save a bit of money? Coolers were packed with military precision as to what order the food stuffs were to be used.
Breakfast was always hot food and most times prepared on the grill or the big Griswold griddle; augmented by fresh bakery goods from the Aitkin Bakery. Lunch included already made potato salad, tuna salad, fruit salad, salami sandwiches and lemonade. Dinner was major league grill time! Burgers, hot dogs, veggies, lake fish, potato packets with mixed veggies and butter and S'Mores. Most food was quickly grilled and quite often before the charcoal really had time to settle into red hot coals.
28 years of 3 season's worth of grilling at "The Lake." And that is not even taking into account of the weekends we did not go to the lake (gasp) but yet, we still grilled. Or the family reunions where we grilled. Summer time church socials where we grilled. Summer time storm wrought power outages where we grilled.
So, you see why it could be reasoned that grilling was in my blood.
Ah...no. For 2 reasons:
1. Mom divided out the "jobs" both at home and the lake. My job NEVER included grilling. In fact none of us girls were EVER put on the chore list for grilling except to clean the utensils that the GRILLER used.
2. The stifling heat that surrounds the chore (yup...used that word.) of grilling. The sweat. The flies. The incessant smoke. The incendiary flare ups. The eye brow losses. The one-second from "perfect to charred."
Only these last couple years did I consider grilling. Driven only at first by my brother's fascination with grilling when he came home every other weekend, and the super sized Weber being the drawing card. And then by the new knowledge of how other "Professional" grill masters do it, have I started to embrace the coals.
Breakfasts are fabulous grilled. A light lunch is perfect on the grill (talking grilled salads!) And a full supper is magical over real wood charcoal. And do not even get me started on desserts.
One of my current obsessions is pork on the grill. Not those lean dry loins from the supermarket, but a real pork roast called a butt roast or shoulder roast. It is a well-marbled roast with a good amount of fat, making it juicier when cooked. Either bone in or boneless, the 4 to 6 pound size. You can buy bigger but it will up your grilling time by about 1.5 hours.