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Last year, they tried to cold-smoke cheese, which was deemed a dismal failure, “but we’re determined to master that next year,” said Tony Korman.
Jess Ford wowed the crowd this year with his bacon-weave “fatties.” He started by weaving a lattice of bacon strips about the size of a place mat, then laid on some ground meat before rolling it up in a log. One bacon-weave was filled with ground kielbasa, homemade sauerkraut, caramelized onions and mashed potatoes.
“I’ve never done this before,” Ford said, then raised an eyebrow. “But how bad can it be?”
Ford also brought a tray of jumbo jalapeño peppers stuffed with Buffalo-seasoned chicken and blue cheese, then wrapped in bacon, which he planned on smoking for a couple of hours. Their actual name is a little, um, scatological, better referred to in polite company as ABTs. (Just Google it with “smoker” added to the search.)
One first-year experiment that’s become an annual tradition is flinging a whole octopus onto a grill for a long smoke. The consensus each year is that you can smoke that thing until Labor Day and it will never be edible. But Pupel said the eventual result, with its tentacles curlicued by the heat, makes a cool table centerpiece.
“No — it doesn’t,” deadpanned Pat McTigue.
With all the experimentation — and men — it’s maybe a little surprising how little competitiveness permeates the day. “It’s not a competition,” Pupel said, to wide agreement, although Korman noted that a particular success “makes the peacock feathers go up.”
A question about best cookbooks drew blank looks. Their chief resource is the Internet, and they can rattle off various websites such www.smoking-meat.com or www.smokingpit.com, www.amazingribs.com plus websites of various smoker manufacturers. Ford found his bacon weave tutorial at www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/87072/bacon-weave-tutorial.
“The forums are what’s great,” said Ford. “You can go on and read what worked for some guys, what they’d do differently, ask questions. They’re just a great resource.”
10 heads are better than one
By midday, smokers arranged in a great horseshoe were up and running. Some meat, like the 8-pound brisket, had gone on the night before, compelling Pupel to step out at 2 a.m. to check its progress. Someone had brought a bottle of smoked porter, which was duly tasted and critiqued.
Patricia Pupel, who doesn’t much like smoked meat, was inside making a batch of homemade pretzels for the kids. Beef and pork jerky smoked earlier was up for grabs.
Side dishes would begin arriving and, if the timing was right, the 10 families would start eating by midafternoon, as much as they wished, and still each would take home a big foil tray of leftovers that could feed them for a week.
To a passerby, Smokapalooza may look like a bunch of guys on a deck, sipping beers, watching the kids drift in and out, believing they have given their wives the day off. But behind the jawboning about the Mauer contract, real expertise is being nurtured by friends happily learning from each other’s successes and failures, and willingness to try.
Next year: smoked cheese.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185