I just got back tonight from our annual family reunion...weather was pretty decent...not too hot, a bit humid, but liveable, with only one brief thunderstorm early Saturday morning (3:45am early). My immediate family traveled together, both ways and we arrived Thursday around 6:30 pm after making a stop for the purchase of the last of the bulky and fresh foods, unloaded some basics (camped on-site), fired-up the 18.5 OTG with RO lump and grilled 5lbs of beef patties and a couple packs of dogs, while I smoked a 10lb batch of my version of wicked beans (no ketchup or brown sugar...rotel chiles/tomatoes, pineapple and bacon in a 7lb-5oz can of bush's regular...quick & easy for a just after the road-trip, we're beat but hungry, type of meal...and my immediate family snarfed it up like it was our last day together on this earth...OK, now I'm back in the groove and ready for the main event.
I rolled out early Friday to get started cooking for the gathering and smoked up some tri-tips and butterflied rump roasts (couldn't find enough tri-tips here locally and wanted most all of my meats in hand before the trip...no surprises that way) (rested the beef @ *138-140* I/T and hand sliced/shaved) along with red, yellow, orange and green bell peppers and vidalia onions and mushrooms for fajitas for brunch...all peppers combined, and onions kept separated and as a garnish for the beef fajitas...they loved it that way. I planned for reverse sear on the beef, but the 3,500ft elevation drop between my home and the location of our gathering kicked my butt and the beef was done too early for a sear...no big deal, just didn't have to fire up the chimney of RO yet.
For Friday dinner I smoked 10 slabs of baby backs (3hrs), piled them high into 2 mated full-sized steam table pans (had to wrap the sides with foil because the ribs were 2-3" too high to close it all up)...at this point I was getting apprehensive, trying to smoke this much at one time in the Vault...thought I was screwed for the finish. I put that heap of ribs up high in the SV24, then added a full sized pan with 10lbs of chunked red potatoes with 3 med fine chopped vidalias and minced garlic, seasoned with the pork rub (apple, blueberry, cherry and red bells...haven't named it yet, but it's just an addition to the blueberry, cherry rbp) at mid-low level and turned the temp up to around 275*...per my Maverick pit probe under the grate. The potato pan baffled the heat to the ribs and slowed them down a lot, as I knew it would...let this ride for about 4 hours, but foiled over the potatoes after 2.5hrs to let them steam to finish...came out fork tender...wouldn't split, but no crunchy or mushy spots...perfect. Oh, smoke for the ribs was hickory, cherry apple and pecan @ 225*, then for the potatoes I added only apple and pecan chips for a heavy 30-40 minutes to along with with thin wisps of the original smoke still coming through from chunks.
Now, for my first hurdle: I planned on using my wet to dry smoke chamber method for the ribs...but forgot my freshly washed pea-gravel at home, 350 miles away, and no time to run to town to buy some...so, I have to run wet (humid) only. I wanted to finish them covered for no more than 20-30 minutes just to soften the bark slightly, but need smoker grate space for the taters.
Here's my saving moment for the ribs: I pondered what to do to get these ribs out and firmed back up, along with possibly needing more cooking time if not tender...DING-DING-DING!!! The Weber kettle and RO lump!!! I could fit 2 slabs per batch, which was perfect for serving, as in the time it took to sear the ribs and give them a finishing blast of heat, the serving pan would almost be empty...so I just kept bringing freshly grilled and sliced ribs until the pan was piling up a bit. No complaints and lots of compliments from everyone...just goes to show, even when plans don't work out or need to be changed due to some some unforeseen road block or mis-planning and you have to change things up a bit, just look around for resources to bring it to the finish. So, with one full load of RO lump in my new Weber chimney, I seared 10 slabs of BB, plus ran 2 packs of hot dogs for any kids who wanted them on the outer edges of the grates next to the ribs...and I still had ~1/4 chimney after choking it out when the last slabs came off to slice...couldn't have came out better if I planned it!!! (well, maybe) I wasn't sure how everyone here would like a dry rib (no sauce), but they made a valiant effort to relieve me of any leftovers...ha-ha-ha!!! That was a first for me, finishing ribs on the grill...wasn't my first choice, but would I do it again? You can count on it!!! And to think I served over 30 people with an 18.5" Weber kettle??? Don't say it can't be done...the total cooking time? No way, but for the final 6-8 minutes to sear, it was the perfect tool for the job.
My Saturday contributions were (brunch) sauteed 5lb boneless maple smoked ham cut into 1" chunks, sauteed chopped onion, diced and smoked red, yellow orange and green peppers, sliced and smoked button mushrooms, with the ham then scrambled into 5 dozen eggs in pans over flame...onion, peppers and 'shrooms on the side as garnish. Of course this went fast from the serving line. Dinner was Pork picnic shoulders totaling 21.5lbs, rubbed with the above mentioned pork rub, smoked with cherry, hickory and apple...I pulled on demand after resting, keeping about 1/3 of a half-sized steam pan ready for serving...this helped to minimize drying of the pulled pork by keeping it's exposure time to open air very low...worked perfectly and just as I expected. To back up the pulled pork, I added 3 med/lg heads of roughly/large chopped cabbage to a full-sized steam table pan, under the picnics, for a 2.5hr smoke with apple and hickory @ 275*, turning the cabbage over 3 times, then, covering for another 1.5 hrs to steam. This finished with most of it aldente and some of it being either side of that texture, but reasonably tender. Another hit with anyone who likes cabbage...I highly recommend smoked cabbage, btw. I did get most of my visiting time during the cooking of our last meal together.
I didn't take pics of the weekend fun to share here, as I wanted to visit my family and get to know my new nieces and nephews, which required some planning on my part to make my meal contributions with as little labor as possible, within reason...I have my personal standards to follow, of course...but I did make time for visiting and that's what this gathering was about. I just wanted everyone to have a little better idea just what you can pull of with a 3-cooker kitchen for a gathering...smoker, char-grill and 2-burner outdoor cooker (used for water heating for clean-up as well).
We had a good turnout of family, and lots of happy and healthy new babies in the clan. Everyone seemed to be having a great weekend together and the food was fantastic as always, with lots of sides, garnishes, snacks and entrees for both meals each day. The kids, young and old, were playing games in the massive yard while the adults conversed, joked and relaxed after doing their food preparation for the potluck meals...there was a game of chess going on Saturday between a couple of kids that looked like a good match as well...food and fun with good people you care most about...it just doesn't get much better.
Gotta finish putting up some gear and take care of those 2 huge coolers out on the deck...lots of work to pull it off, but I don't see it as work...it's a passion for creating good food and being able to share it with family. So, another gathering here has come to a close, and we can all look forward to the next time we meet again in 2015.
BTW, if you haven't yet started doing your own family reunions, you should...don't wait until someone in your extended or immediate family has passed away...that's time that could have been spent with someone that is lost forever. If in doubt about getting your family to want to travel for such a gathering, tempt them with good BBQ...it worked for us in 2010 and we're still doing it every year!!!
Great smokes to all, and to all a good night!!!