Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell — Without the griller-in-chief, diners will have to take their chances

I’ve decided to take up smoking, and it’s no one’s fault except my own. I volunteered my husband’s services one too many times, and now I’m the one outside, smoking behind the garage.

I try not to offer up my husband Thad’s help without his knowledge, but there are two exceptions to this rule. If a family member needs something heavy moved, I send Thad. I also don’t hesitate to offer his cooking skills. He likes to cook, and recently, I’ve been proudly offering up his barbecue on a regular basis.

He got a new grill/smoker at Christmas, and he’s been making succulent ribs, chicken and fish ever since. He man-handles the meat, injects it with solutions, concocts delectable flavorings, then cooks it, primitive-style, over hot coals. He likes preparing it, and we all like eating it.

One family favorite is pulled pork. It’s delicious, and the kids like it because they can say they’re eating (pork) butt. It can feed a passel of hungry folks — so I didn’t hesitate to sign up to bring Thad’s pulled pork for two weekend get-togethers.

However, as the weekend approached, I started to worry. First of all, I’d failed to notify poor Thad that I’d volunteered his culinary services. And also, smoking the meat would take 14 hours, and with his work schedule, there was NO TIME.

I’d left myself no choice. I was going to have to do it myself.

I’m intimidated by the mighty grill. Charcoal seems finicky, then you have to touch the raw meat (eww), place it in the right space, keep the coals at the right temperature, cook it the right length of time — and somehow you have to do all this without catching your shirt on fire. I prefer to leave all these things up to others.

We couldn’t show up at the parties with huge hunks of raw meat, though. I informed my husband of my conundrum, modifying it a tad to fit the new situation.

“I’ve agreed to smoke pork butt for the party,” I told him.

“You?” he asked, his eyebrows wrinkled.

“Yep,” I said, trying to sound confident. “So, I’ll need your direction.” He nodded slowly.

The next morning, bless his heart, he got up early and started the coals for me. All I’d need to do was get the smoker to temperature, coat the meat with mustard and spices, put it on the grill, then keep it at temperature. Easy peasy. So I slathered and seasoned the meat, threw it on the racks, and adjusted the vents to raise the temperature a bit.

“Watch it carefully,” my husband had warned.

“I will,” I had whined, sounding just like the kids.

Come to find out, what he meant by “watch it carefully” was to monitor the temperature gauge with my eyeballs. He did not mean, “Read your emails, do laundry and use your bat senses to monitor the grill.” (Just so you know, bat-sense doesn’t work for grilling.)

My fire went out.

Thad grumbled over the phone. “I told you to watch it. Now you’re going to have to start all over.”

I removed the still raw meat, trekked it to the basement fridge, lit new coals and took apart the racks and heat deflector and waited for fire to return. I put it all back an hour later. This time, while I was doing all this, I watched the temperature. With my eyeballs.

It was an ordeal — a near fail. But it was also a learning experience. Nothing burned down, and I found out I actually like smoking and will do it again. In fact, I think I’ve found a new addiction.