I have no doubt whatsoever that it's this deep white winter we're, um, enjoying, that sends me right back to the longest days of last summer as I consider my local food highlights of 2008.
We never really put the grill away for the winter, but the pleasures of grilling and barbecue are surely best enjoyed on those mellow, lingering summer evenings. We've been doing our own home smoking for some time now, but I got a chance to expand my barbecue horizons last summer when Kim Ode asked me to take part in her "Edesia Cookbook Review", held each month at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Galleria in Edina.Of the several books I considered, the one that most caught my imagination--and tastebuds--was a book by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnecliffe, Peace, Love, and Barbecue. Mike Mills is something of a legend on the competitive barbecue circuit. His team from Murphysboro, Illinois stunned the barbecue world in 1990 by winning World Champion in ribs and Grand World Champion overall at the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest, held each year in Memphis. What was so stunning about the "Apple City" team's victory was not just that it came in their first appearance at the "Super Bowl of Barbecue," but that they were Yankees! No "Northerners" had ever won at Memphis before. This was a serious blow to Southern pride--never mind that Murphysboro, at the far southern tip of Illinois, lies south of Louisville, Kentucky.
If you love barbecue, buy this book. It is equal parts memoir, folklore, history, ethnography, and cookbook. And the recipe for those world champion Apple City ribs produced the best ribs I've ever tasted--and I've long been a fan of Ted Cook's 19th Hole on 38th Street in south Minneapolis.
As great as those ribs were, cooked at home, the barbecue I enjoyed most this past year came about as the result of--dare I say it?--Yankee ingenuity. We picked up a rack of pork spare ribs at the Midtown Farmers' Market from Jill Marckel of Chase Brook Natural Meats, and we took them out to our land in Wisconsin. I planned to smoke them, but all we had for cooking facilities was a fire ring and grate. We needed something to contain the smoke and heat, and that's where the Yankee ingenuity came in.
We needed some kind of box, but all we had was cardboard; that would not do so well next to the fire. We had a roll of aluminum foil, and some duct tape (you just knew that duct tape would figure in here somewhere, didn't you?). And now that I'm remembering, we didn't even have enough cardboard for the whole box, so a couple of the sides were made from foil-wrapped newspaper.
The product of those materials, and the aforementioned Yankee ingenuity, was this:
Applewood-smoked spare ribs, fire-roasted corn-on-the-cob, heirloom tomatoes from our garden.... If, like me, you're looking out today through frost-etched windows at another bitterly cold, snowy January day, well, I'm sorry. But, cheer up--summer will be here before you know it, and the best ribs you've ever eaten await.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw