Feeding the Masses, Again

I’m not sure what gave me the idea for a deep Southern barbecue for Memorial Weekend. I think it may have been the pile of paper plates and plastic cups I had left over from an event — no dishes to clean! (And you can’t exactly serve Tuscan grill on paper plates.) Maybe it was Brownie McGhee popping up on the iTunes playlist. Whatever the motivation, the invitations went out and preparations began.

Brisket & pork shoulders on the smoker

Brisket & pork shoulders on the smoker

“Good god,” my friend Katy emailed when she got the invitation, “This is almost like catering the auction all over again. You’re obviously a glutton for punishment.”

We like to mix up our guest lists, so this time we included a bunch of people we’d never invited over before. I had also assembled more or less the same kitchen crew I had helping me at that recent auction dinner, except this time they were all guests. With the exception of some very generous friends offering to handle food for the kids and a few kind souls stirring and tossing, I would be a one man show.

Katy stirring the cheese for the mac

Katy stirring the cheese for the mac (while deftly managing her Sculpin ale)

My friend over on her blog, Attempts in Domesticity, was just bragging about the brisket she got at Franklin’s BBQ in Austin. Though it was not issued as such, I took it as something of a challenge — come on, how hard can it be to make a good Texas-style brisket — meat, smoke and fire.

There would also be pork — lots of pork. Pork in the form of two long-smoked North Carolina-style shoulders pulled from the bone and topped with crumbled cracklins, pork in the form of Kansas City-style spare ribs, pork in the form of bacon cooked into the braised collard greens. I started the party with classic New Orleans muffaleta sandwiches which friend-and-Big Easy-native Charles complimented me were the “real deal.” And as a nod to our own California Chrome winning the Kentucky Derby and closing in on a potential Triple Crown, I served some sweet, refreshing mint juleps. Deferring on dessert, I acquiesced to various friends bringing pralines, butterscotch blondies and peach pies.

Guests and their mint juleps, dogs and kids out on the deck

Guests and their mint juleps, dogs and kids out on the deck

The kids made signs for the doors to try to dirty-canyon-kids-with-chicken-poop-on-their-feet out of our bedroom, we scrambled madly to straighten up and finish food pre-prep, the first mint julep was poured and the festivities commenced.

My pal Nat from Virginia (“Capital of the Old South,” he twanged proudly) sang the praises of the pulled pork, piled high on his plate atop a small mountain of spicy pickle slaw. But the star of the evening, as it turned out, was the buttermilk fried chicken — recipient of several “best chicken ever” compliments, which was heartening given the amount of blood, sweat and tears I’ve expended over the years trying to perfect fried chicken. Many were confounded as to what part of the chicken they were eating, since to keep portion sizes smaller I cut each breast into three sections and each leg/thigh into three sections.

“Dad,” my daughter Immy came running to me, “There’s kids in the bedroom.” I shooed the offenders back outside to where there were rope swings and bales of straw and chickens and a pig! (Why would they want to be inside, in our bedroom, anyway!??)

A little while later, my friend Curtis pointed to my bedroom and said, “Sean, how’s that keeping-kids-out-of-the-bedroom thing working out???”

I opened the bedroom door, and saw this:


With all the leftover wing tips and backs and miscellaneous bones from the four chickens I’d carved up, I had made a very rich stock the day before. The plan was to make a restorative congee for what was certain to be a hungover morning after. But busy as I was making food and socializing, I had forgotten to drink to excess. So I felt just fine in the morning.

Still, a nice hot bowl of congee didn’t hurt. (Followed up nicely by a little leftover pulled pork and collard greens…)


Congee the next morning


*    *    *

Texas-style smoked brisket with mint juleps
serves a whole bunch,
and takes about 10 hours

1 brisket, 8-12 lbs.
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup ground dried pasilla chile
3 tbsp. paprika
3 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 bottle lager beer

hardwood charcoal
chunks of hardwood like cherry, hickory or oak

The night before, mix together all ingredients except brisket and beer to create a rub. Sprinkle the rub all over the brisket until it is well covered, and brush it lightly with your hands to evenly distribute. Place in a large dish, cover with foil and set overnight in the fridge.

In the morning, place the chunks of hardwood in water and heat hardwood coals in a smoker or a deep barbecue. (You can also smoke your brisket in a gas grill at a very low temperature, but you will need to add wood chips frequently to get smoke flavor.) You want a temperature of about 200-250.

When coals are hot, place the brisket on the grill, place a chunk of soaked hardwood on the coals, and cover. You want the brisket far enough from coals that it is not getting direct heat — if you are using a barbecue and not a smoker, push the coals to one side and cook the brisket on the other. You will continue to monitor, adding coal and hardwood (or wood chips for a gas grill), for the next 8-9 hours, keeping a constant temperature between 200-250, until the brisket is fork tender.

For the last hour, place the brisket on a large sheet of heavy duty foil, and pour a bottle (or can) of lager beer over and around it. Wrap the foil up around the sides (use a second sheet if you need it) and tuck over, enclosing the brisket with the beer inside as a marinade. Smoke for another hour and remove, catching beer/brisket juices in a bowl as you remove the brisket.

With a very sharp knife, thinly cut the brisket across the grain into slices. Place slices on a large platter, drizzle beer juices over the top, and serve with sliced white bread and cole slaw.

*   *   *

Mint julep
makes about 12-15 drinks

3 cups bourbon
1 cup simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved into 1 part water)
1 bunch mint, plus extra for garnish
shaved ice
powdered sugar (optional)

Place 1 cup bourbon in a bowl, and add mint, pressing down to ensure mint is covered by bourbon. Let sit for 30 – 40 minutes. Remove mint, and wring bourbon from mint back into bowl. Return mint to bowl, and let sit 5 minutes. Remove and wrap in paper towels, and wring into bowl again. Repeat 2-3 times.

Place mint infused bourbon into a large pitcher. Add simple syrup and remaining bourbon. Place in fridge to chill for an hour or more.

Serve over shaved ice in glasses or — even better — mason jars, frosted around the rim with powdered sugar, if you choose. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. vordo
    May 30, 2014 @ 04:14:29

    we’ve never met but i got to be invited to one of your dings… you had me at your pork laden list of tasty animal parts…


  2. vordo
    May 30, 2014 @ 23:03:50

    leftovers! even beter.


  3. Noel Kleinman
    May 30, 2014 @ 23:18:47

    I need to make sure I am on your next invitee list!!!


  4. Jessamine in PDX
    May 31, 2014 @ 17:54:16

    Oh man, everything looks sooo good! And you served muffaleta sandwiches too?? Best sandwich ever. And the words “drizzle beer juices over the top” could be the most awesome instruction ever in a recipe. I may have bragged last week but this week you win, hands down!

    Also that picture of SO MANY KIDS totally cracked me up. At that point, you’re way out-numbered — you just have to let them do what they want.


    • scolgin
      Jun 01, 2014 @ 23:12:08

      “Drizzle beer juices over the top” may just be my new motto. I can’t think of a single situation where it doesn’t make things better.


  5. Michelle
    Jun 01, 2014 @ 12:56:12

    So that’s what the juleps were for! I’d have skipped those, but otherwise approve. 😉


  6. pal-O
    Jun 02, 2014 @ 22:29:14

    The 2 piece chicken back is my favorite cut when severed from the rest of the bird correctly. So much more flavorful than the rest of the bird.


    • scolgin
      Jun 02, 2014 @ 22:38:29

      Oh, hmmm. I don’t know that cut! I’ll have to research! (The back usually winds up in stock at our kitchen.)


      • pal-O
        Jun 03, 2014 @ 18:49:53

        It’s exactly what you think it is, just the back as one piece from Pope’s nose to the coup de grâce at the neck. I think it is a Southern thing or at least it is with me. Lori teases me and thinks it’s a bit unsophisticated and pedestrian and shows my barefoot low country ways but man is it a tasty bit of bird. We are who we are! 8^)

  7. dahlmissesyou
    Jun 05, 2014 @ 18:10:17

    This looks amazing!


  8. Jen @ Honeychick Homestead
    Jun 09, 2014 @ 13:51:47

    Thanks for sharing the brisket recipe. Did your friend say it was comparable to Franklin’s? I had their BBQ for the first time & the brisket was the best!


    • scolgin
      Jun 09, 2014 @ 15:10:44

      I believe I was the one who said it was comparable to Franklin’s, even though I’ve never been there! LOL But it did turn out pretty spectacular, so you might give it a try!


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