Whenever a gather-the-family-to-your-bosom type of holiday rolls around, I begin making grand plans for some kind of theme dinner or lunch menu. Nine times out of ten, this stab at a homemade gourmet experience is abruptly tossed out the window by my mother or sister, both of whom only want me to barbecue.
With rare exceptions, I am always ordered to make the same two proteins: burgers, hot dogs. That’s it, although I am allowed some freedom with accompanying starches, fruit and vegetables.
As trite as this bill of fare sounds to a nation that lives on McLunch, it is not considered either mundane or repetitive to the women of my family. Very little cow passes their lips, and when it does, it is required in massive quantities, medium-rare, and appropriately-seasoned. There is a shameless amount of doggy-baggying at my house.
And just forget Dodger Dogs or Nathan’s. It’s gotta be Hebrew National weiners.
However, since I bought a Kingsford drum grill/smoker some months ago, the menu dynamics have undergone a seismic shift. And that’s because the only thing my mother and sister love better than a good grilled burger or hotdog is a good pulled pork sandwich.
Making one is a skill I’ve only recently started to develop, despite the fact that I’ve logged serious time in the South and I was a wee lass when I learned to grill at the foot of my Missouri-bred father.
But he never did much indirect cooking or long-term smoking. I mastered “indirect” through skinless, succulent, sauce-slathered chicken on a Weber kettle. But for years, I’ve dreamed about recreating the slow-cooked roasts and ribs that I’ve been wolfing down my whole life in barbecue joints from Louisiana to South Los Angeles.
The Kingsford learning curve has been somewhat harrowing. Only my two canines were happy with the beef ribs that I spectacularly flamed out by using too many or too-hot briquets. But my efforts with pork shoulders and a sweet/tart/spicy sauce have brought happy tears to my red eyes at the end of a long day of 200-degree controlled smoke.
Because I will be carting our main course over to my mother’s home tomorrow, I spent the better part of today wandering in and out of my backyard with last night’s hair standing straight on end and clothed in ratty cut-offs, gaudy two-dollar sandals that I got in Chinatown, and an over-sized “BIG DOG” t-shirt. I found out three pork shoulders ago that it doesn’t pay to take a shower before the Big Smoke, because you — and your hair in particular — are only going to smell like one more large piece of ‘cue the first time you open that lid to throw in more mesquite. Better to hose down later.
When I wasn’t licking the spoon from the simmering pot of mop sauce today, I was making fresh strawberry cupcakes for dessert. I have to credit and thank my good friend Sherri Haab for fielding the cake recipe to me, but the frosting goes back to a newspaper Food Section, a recipe torn out when my son was three years old.
In my family, the end of the meal arrives in air thick with danger. The experience of presenting dessert to my 83-year-old mother is not unlike dragging an animal carcass in front of a lioness. If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up as part of the meal. For dessert is a very serious business and it better arrive on time, too. At Thanksgiving, you can literally set your watch by how long it will take it will take her to ask WHAT’S FOR DESSERT the moment after she pops the last bite of turkey into her mouth. This, while the rest of us are bloated and comatose in chairs or waddling around the dining room looking for toothpicks.
So pardon me while I go make the frosting now, because I want to make it through my own Mother’s Day.