Favorite things: cooking in steel drums

I don’t know what got into me one night a couple weeks ago but I suddenly had one of those primal caveman urges to eat Texas BBQ beef brisket. Spring fever? Some food show on television that had me yearning for something to eat? One thing led to another and I went on an obsessive hunt for how to move beyond merely cooking outside in the March rain to a whole new level of OCD cooking. In the past it was smoking bluefish or trying to make some impossible French sausage thing called a “galatine,” now I need to get back to my Houston roots and figure out barbecue.
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I kept hitting two names — Franklins of Austin and the Pit Barrel Cooker — Franklin is the savant of brisket and the PBC is like the most highly rated, recommended backyard barbecue pit on the market consisting of basically an oil drum, a couple pieces of rebar, a charcoal basket, lid and stand. Franklin has a cookbook, so that went on the Kindle. The man is into the best beef so I ordered a pair of black angus brisket flats from Creekstone Farms (forget about finding decent brisket on Cape Cod, especially around St. Patrick’s Day when everything is corned beef brisket for the odious traditional boiled cabbage dinner that makes the house smell like a diaper pail).

The barrel arrived, required zero assembly and went out behind the boat shop. Couple bags of regular Kingsford charcoal, a “chimney starter” and a pair of big cheap roaster chickens and I was ready to season the thing. Split the two birds down the middle, cut out their backbones for stock, rubbed them with the usual mixture of stuff to turn them red and hung them on hooks from the rebar, put on the lid, and went away for 90 minutes. When the digital thermometer read 165 I fished them out, brought them inside and made the house smell like the real deal. Total success. Like best chicken ever.

For Easter I sucked it up and hung a beef rib roast in the barrel — two hours later with a temp of 135 I had the best hunk of cowboy ribeyes ever. This was too easy. I mean you light the charcoal, give the coals 15 minutes to get going, hang the meat (there is a grill option, but hanging lets one cram a lot of meat into the barrel at once), slap on the lid, pay heed to the rule “if you’re lookin’ you’re not cookin'”, set a timer and walk away. There’s one adjustable vent at the bottom, you crack it about 25% if you’re at sea level, and that’s that.

Now brisket is a different deal. The things take a long time to cook. Pull too soon and they are tough as sneakers. Too long and they turn into expensive pot roast. So Franklin is the prophet and I am getting ready by reading his OCD instructions of trimming and rubbing and phenomena such as the “Texas Crutch” (wrapping with foil or butcher paper after six hours), the “Stall” (the point where the internal temperature levels off and doesn’t move while some meat science involving evaporation, cooling, collagens and the Maillard Reaction happens. This coming weekend is the test when the daughter comes home with her Austin-born boyfriend and I try to impress them.

Anyway — if you’re getting ready to drag the grill out for the spring and are thinking about yet another Weber, get the Pit Barrel cooker. So simple a caveman could do it.

Andy Grove

I was first exposed to Andy Grove in 1985 at PC Week when Intel was riding high after its 8086/8088 microprocessor was ensconced by IBM as the standard in its first PC — giving rise to the so called Wintel oligopoly that kicked off the PC Revolution that followed.

Grove had an amazing life story — surviving World War II, the Soviet occupation of his native Hungary, emigrating to New York City in the late 50s and heading straight to City College for a free education that he turned into one of the most illustrious careers in the entire PC industry.

Walter Issacson, in his book “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution” details the vital role played in the Intel “Holy Trinity” of Gordon Moore (he of Moore’s Law) and Bob Noyce. It was Grove who pushed Intel out of memory and into microprocessors,  transforming the chip maker into one of the biggest forces in tech.

Issacson wrote:

“Grove nurtured Noyce’s egalitarian approach – he worked in an exposed cubicle his entire career, and loved it – but he added an overlay of what he called ‘constructive confrontation.’ He never put on airs, but he never let down his guard. In contrast to Noyce’s sweet gentility, Grove had a blunt, no-bullshit style. It was the same approach Steve Jobs would later use: brutal honesty, clear focus, and a demanding drive for excellence. ‘Andy was the guy who made sure the trains all ran on time,’ recalled Ann Bowers. ‘He was a taskmaster. He had very strong views about what you should do and what you shouldn’t do and he was very direct about that.'”