Well hell, tonight we’re sharing a Bud and pork rinds tonight with my old pal, Robb Grindstaff. Robb is an author, a legendary editor whose name ‘round these parts is spoken with reverence, a newspaperman ex- Washington DC, a BBQ man and a man in possession of calm good sense. I’ve read both his books, love ‘em and recommend them to y’all.
What are your memories of your mother’s cooking as a child?
Mom was a stay-at-home, full-time mom most of my wonder years. She had grown up on farms in the Midwest U.S., so I grew up on home cooking. Bacon, eggs and pancakes for breakfast on weekends, a bowl of cereal or something fast on school days. Fried chicken or hamburgers or meatloaf—or something else made with hamburger—and other similar meals for dinner. Mashed potatoes and gravy, and green vegetables that I would never eat (and still don’t). Sundays were often pot roast, cooked slow in the oven with potatoes and carrots all morning long while we were at church.
What was your favourite dish as a child?
Probably spaghetti or lasagna. Or macaroni and cheese from a box mix.
Do you like to cook?
I like to use the grill—charcoal and wood, not gas. Steaks, burgers, fish, chicken. I’m still a die-hard carnivore.
Who do you enjoy cooking for?
Most of the time, it’s just my wife and me. But I enjoy grilling for family and friends. Something special about watching the people you love enjoy a meal you’ve prepared for them.
Is the food in your stories important?
I like to use food as a backdrop, part of the setting, for stories. In my most recent novel, Carry Me Away, the main character is a child of a U.S. military family that moves around the world. Carrie’s father is a U.S. Marine of Cajun descent (French-Canadian ancestors who settled in Louisiana and south Texas, and developed a cooking style of their own that blended with Creole), and her mother is Japanese. So meals frequently help set the scene and the surroundings for whatever country Carrie was in at the moment. There’s a scene set in a restaurant in Naples, Italy. Another scene has Carrie learning to cook with her Japanese grandmother in Okinawa. Her Cajun grandmother in Texas cooks gumbo and blackberry cobbler for dessert.
And here, Carrie’s compares her mom’s attempts at learning to cook American food with her best friend’s mother:
“Cin’s mother was cooking dinner, maybe pasta, since that was my favorite dish. She made lasagna or spaghetti or baked ziti every other Friday night, just for me. At my house on alternating Fridays, Mom would warm up corn dogs and tater tots in the toaster oven, or we’d order pizza delivery, which was just as special for Cin as the lasagna was for me.”
Your favourite snack?
Chocolate. Preferably the gooey chocolate chip cookies or the really awful and awful for you chocolate snack cakes. That or tortilla chips with a really spicy salsa.
What’s your latest book? (answered above)
What foods do the characters eat? (answered above)
What do you love most about this book?
That I finished it, considering it took ten years from the time I started writing it until it was finally published. It was inspired by the years I spent in Japan, and my then-teenage daughter’s many friends from the military base—the military brats. What a special and intriguing group of kids, often called ‘Third Culture Kids’ or ‘Kids from Nowhere.’
Often their American military dads had fallen in love as a young man while stationed in Japan or Korea or Germany, so many of these kids grew up in bi-cultural families, mixed race, often spending most of their childhood in other countries, moving every three years to the next assignment on the other side of the world. They had seen more of the world than most kids ever do, often spoke several languages, but were still completely American. However, moving back to America, such as to attend college, was often a bit of culture shock to them.
Where can readers find it?
Here’s a link to the book’s page on the publisher’s website, which has links to every conceivable retail and online outlet. Carry Me Away is available in print and all e-book formats.
Share one of your favourite recipes – anything you like, cake, martini, Peking Duck, cheese on toast …
My favorite thing to do with the grill is to slow smoke meats, and the best of these is Texas smoked beef brisket.
Use a combination of charcoal and wood—preferably mesquite—and build a fire in the firebox side of the smoker. You want the smoker side at a nice even 225F temperature, and you’ll have to add more wood periodically and adjust the damper open or closed to maintain the steady, even temp.
A brisket is a large cut of beef, and if you cook it too hot/fast, it will be tough. A good size brisket is 10-20 lbs., and you’ll want to smoke it about an hour to an hour and a half per pound, so this is an all-day and/or all-night project.
Before you even begin that, you’ll want to marinate the meat overnight to help tenderize it. Trim off some of the fat, but leave at least an inch to an inch and a half of fat across the top. Coat the entire brisket in yellow mustard and then sprinkle a dry rub over the whole thing. Rub all that in well, wrap the brisket in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge for 12-24 hours.
Once you’ve got the smoker up to 225F, unwrap the brisket and put it on the grill (on the smoker side, not over the fire) with the fat on top. You can also inject a liquid marinade into the meat. I like a few ounces of apple juice, apple cider or cider vinegar. Helps to tenderize this monster, and the flavors go well with smoked beef.
Watch your fire for the next 8-16 hours or more, depending on the size of your brisket. The slow, low cooking breaks down all the toughness, and the fat on top melts into the meat, making for a huge, smoky chunk of tender goodness.
Resist the temptation to open the smoker every hour to check to see how it’s doing. Every time you open the lid, the heat and smoke escape, the temperature drops, the cooking slows down too far, and it takes time to get everything back on track. After a few hours, it’s good to open the lid, mop some more of your liquid (apple or cider or vinegar) across the meat and close the lid again. Be quick about it. About every 2-4 hours, you can turn the meat around so it cooks evenly on all sides, but do not flip it over. Leave the same side (the fat side) up the whole time.
When the internal temp of the meat hits about 175F, it’s time for the next step. This is getting beyond ‘well done’ for most meats, but not for the brisket. At this point, the outside of the brisket may be black, but the inside needs more time. Wrap the brisket tightly in foil and put it back on the smoker, but shut down the dampers to put out the fire. You can leave it here another hour or so until the internal temp hits 185-190F.
When you take it out and unwrap it, let it rest for a while. You’ll probably need to rest too, so this is a good time for a beer.
Slice the meat against the grain, trimming off the excess fat. Note that there is a ‘cap’ of meat on top that you’ll need to cut off separate, and that grain on this cap runs the opposite direction. Slice about 1/4” thick. If it feels too tough (you’ll have to taste it to check, so check it often), slice it thinner. If it’s falling apart, which it should be, slice a little bit thicker.
Serve with the thick red Texas-style barbecue sauce, along with potatoes, cole slaw, corn-on-the-cob, pickles and onions, kaiser rolls, or whatever standard American picnic side dishes you prefer. Or just eat the brisket and skip all the filler.
This is traditional Texas BBQ. It don’t get no better’n this.
Thanks for coming over, Robb, here’s a dozen fresh eggs to take home