The smoker wasn’t anything special. In Texas, however, a side box smoker is the one thing every back porch needs. Without it the porch is just a concrete slab. It looks like a big barrel with a smaller one attached to the side. You put the wood in the little barrel and fire it, and as it burns down the smoke it generates drifts into the larger barrel, and across the meat, never exposing the meat to an open flame. It takes hours to cook anything that way. If you have a brisket it takes all night, and that’s a good thing because the men nurse the fire and the women folk watch the kids, make the extras, and talk about the men. There is always a grill in the small barrel so you can grill sausages as the main course matures. Of course you must have enough beer to get you through the night, even though the get together never goes much past two in the morning. The last man standing throws more wood on the fire and retires for the night. The next morning, usually Sunday, everyone gets up. The fire has dwindled, and the meat is slightly charred. The ladies take it to the kitchen. If you do it right there is a red ring around the inside of the brisket signifying it has been cooked to perfection. You can pluck a piece off with a plastic fork. Custom has it the oldest lady gets first bite. Then the kids, then the adults.
What is left goes into a chili, or a pot of beans. Dogs get the fat. Brisket is just about as sorry a piece of meat you can legally feed to a human being, but a side box smoker will turn it into prime rib. You never clean the smoker. That would be an abomination. Every brisket leaves a bit of itself in the metal. You just “burn it off.” You take a stiff wire brush and scrape the lid to remove the “char” so it won’t fall down onto the meat as you open the smoker to check it. Always cook a brisket with the fat side up so it self seasons. Bar B Que sauce is a no no. Use hickory wood and pour Italian dressing all over it. You don’t need a meat thermometer. If you can pull a piece off with a fork then it’s done. First bite!
There is a spiritual side to a smoker. As it gains age, people come and go. Some die. If you live in Texas you tend to think the departed come back on special days and they, too, sit around the smoker, and commune with family and friends. If you are not a believer then you at least remember the happy times, and great briskets of the past. The children grow up remembering all the times family and friends gathered, the smoke filled the air, and for a little while all was well. And the old, black smoker was always there.
When a smoker is gone you can buy another one, but everyone will always talk about the old one as if it were a family member. Even bitter fights would cease on special days because it took so much to attend to the smoker. Here’s to all the smokers out there. Here’s to all the families, and friends who ate the brisket, drank the beer, and wished the smoker would never go out. Happy Labor day everyone.