Thursday, May 31, 2012

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Kent Whitaker, Author of Chow Line

The Passing of a Smoker

A sad thing happened this past week. I lost a friend in the barbecue cookbook and culinary writing business. My favorite old, rusty, tired and trusted smoker suffered a massive rust blow out and will have to be retired. The piece of cooking equipment was lovingly referred to as “Old Smoke” in my circle of barbecue and grilling buddies. Alas, Old Smoke is moving on to that great barbecue cook out in the sky.

I knew this day was coming. Ally and I spent a weekend the year before last working on Old Smoke in a revitalization effort. We sanded, patched, bolted and tightened. I even put on a new coat of black grill paint. Old Smoke looked great but deep down I knew that it was just a short term fix. I bought the barrel type smoker years ago and it has been my standard “go to” cooking unit since.

My dog Moses, or Big Mo, and I have spent countless evenings sitting in our lawn chairs watching the sun set and keeping an eye on Old Smoke during a rib session. You can solve many of life’s problems while scratching your golden retrievers head and chatting with your wife and son. At times the night air would be filled with a tantalizing mix of Braves baseball on the radio and wisps of hickory smoke. And yes, Moses has his own lawn chair.

I’m going try one more time to repair Old Smoky. I know it will be a lost cause… but I feel the need to make an effort. It’s owed to Old Smoke to at least try even though the outlook is not bright. As of this writing the decision on having a wake is still up in the air. If I have one, I know my friends will come over; if not for Old Smoke… then for the Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Ally knows this is a tough loss for me. She told me that Old Smoke could go on to help other smokers and grills hidden behind our back yard shed. Each serves a different purpose. One is for charcoal grilling, one is for tailgating, and the gas grills are used for different events. A handle from Old Smoke could go to use here, a grilling-grate could be used there. “It’s like a smoker donor program,” she said.

Old Smoke and I were together for a long time on my continuing search for barbecue wisdom.  I learned about everything from rubs to moisture control and mops to sauces. Countless recipes for several books were experimented with and tested inside Old Smokes Chamber. Some of the dishes were good, some great… and some I’m trying to forget. Old Smoke was there as my son Mace and I practiced little league baseball in the back yard. And Old Smoke was there when Ally and I held a party for Mace before upon his return home from boot camp. Old Smoke was there when my parents came into town to see the unique fixer upper home that Ally and I purchased. After a series of tornados that took out the power for a week Old Smoke was put to use as a neighborhood kitchen.

Every time I traveled for a book tour, media event or spokesperson gig a rented smoker was used. More often than not the event organizers would rent or borrow a piece of equipment that was sub-par, too small or completely wrong. Yes, there is a difference between a gas grill and a wood smoker. And yes, there is a huge difference between grilling and slow smoked barbecue. I would make due, use what I had and hope for the best product possible. I always came back to good old hickory, smoke and low temps. Old Smoke knew that I would be back with Big Mo or Macee close behind.

I know this sounds dumb to many. Why such an affection for a broken grill? I guess the only correlation I have is why would somebody have a soft spot in their hearts for grandmother’s china, mom’s wedding dress, dad’s old recliner and footstool? I always knew what I was going to get when I fired up that smoker. It was a constant, and I will miss it. It’s always nice to have something that you can depend on no matter how old, wise or independent you are.

I guess it’s time to start shopping around for the next “Old Smoke” so that I can continue serving up lasting family memories.

Slow Grilled Pork Ribs

A very easy rib recipe and a great way to get some good hickory taste on a gas grill. You can watch me cook a version of this recipe online.
2 racks pork ribs membrane removed
Salt & pepper
1/ 2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/ 2 cup ketchup
1/ 4 cup mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Lay the ribs out on a foil pan. Gently rub with some salt and pepper. You can use lemon pepper seasoning of you wish. Mix the vinegar, ketchup, mustard and lemon juice. Baste the ribs completely. Use a few good size hickory chunks & charcoal or hickory chips on your gas grill in a smoke box set up for medium high direct heat. Place the ribs on the grill and cook for about 10 minutes on both sides. Turn as needed and cook until the outside has a nice brown and golden look. This should only take about fifteen to twenty minutes. Remove the ribs from the grill and place back into the foil pan. Add a bit of water or a dash of beer for extra moisture if needed. Cover the pan tightly with foil and move to a cooler area of the grill or reduce the heat to as low as it will go. Cook for an additional 2 hours. This will keep in the hickory taste and make your ribs very, very tender. Serve hot with a good basting of your favorite barbecue sauce.

Thanks for stopping by to share some food for thought, Kent!

Kent Whitaker is a cookbook author and culinary writer with ten published books which include cookbooks, two children’s books and a World War Two culinary history book. He is the winner of the Food Network Emeril Live Barbecue Contest. The Texas Hometown Cookbook, which he co-authored with Sheila Simmons, was awarded a Gold Medal from the American Author’s Association. Kent is also a member and AUXCHEF for the United States Coast Guard Aux. Kent and his wife Ally live in East Tennessee with their son Mace and two spoiled dogs. Kent's books are available, or can be ordered, at any book store or online.

You can find Kent and his many works here:


  1. Sounds tasty.

    Lol, "smoker donation program," fabulous!

    I have never put enough miles on a BBQ to mourn its eventual demise, but I remember the feeling, putting an old recliner out front for the large item pickup, driving away, feeling like I was abandoning a friend.

    The time comes for all of us, whether it's rust, rips, or broken springs, that it's time for the big item pickup.

  2. I hope this story makes one of your cookbooks! Thanks for the recipe, but more importantly for the instructions! I am learning to grill the hard way. Last week my burgers were burnt yet raw at the same time!

  3. Well Deck Chef, I never imagined I could sentimental about a smoker, but you had me tearing up ya bum! Now I'm going to miss Ol' Smoke too. Please let us know how the repairs go and OS's ultimate fate. And thanks to Shelley for having you guest.