Ironically, though, summers tend to be my busiest time of year, with work following me around like a hungry (but sooo cute!) dog six or even seven days a week. So I particularly cherish the days that I get to live in my own landscape; and today I'm looking forward to enjoying one of my outdoor kitchen's custom features: my built-in Big Green Egg smoker.
My BGE sits in a well I designed into the island. (Hey, at over 250 lbs the thing isn't going anywhere anyhow, right?) This gave my granite fabricator fits, but it's a great look and complements the fast-but-clinical cooking of my gas grill with the Egg's slow-n-soulful flavors.
Today's project: a couple of racks of St. Louis pork ribs snagged on sale from Whole Paycheck a few days ago, cooked in the "3-2-1" method that's popular among Big Green Egg enthusiasts ("Eggheads"). Last night I rubbed each rack down with a different rub: one with Bruce Aidells' "Spice Rub for Pork or Beef" from The Complete Meat Cookbook:
I like this mix because it's low in sugar. The second rub isn't: this is the "Fullback BBQ Ribs" recipe I tore out of a "special advertising section" in an issue of Food and Wine (I think — I managed to leave behind all the credits, and can't find it online):
After their little spice massage and an overnight nap in the fridge, the ribs came up to room temperature this morning while I fired up the BGE. For some reason, today that became a Thing: the lump charcoal got too hot when I wasn't paying attention, and I just couldn't get it back down even with the Egg's vents closed up tight; ultimately I had to kill the fire with wet paper towels and relight it.
The second time, now an hour behind schedule, I watched the temp the way the toy store owner watches my kids, and pinned it solid at 225°F, where it would hold for the next three hours with each vent open just a sliver.
The Egg uses a ceramic "platesetter" to create indirect heat, and I put the ribs bone-side-down on the cooking grate on top of the platesetter and said au revoir for a few hours. In the meantime, I prepared a little braising liquid for the next phase of the cook: a few unripe Pink Lady apples fallen out of my mini-grove, mashed up and macerated in bourbon.
Since the ribs had such a slow start, I left them on the grill naked for an extra hour (making this a "4-2-1" cook). Then I took them out, put them on a pan atop the macerated apples, wrapped the whole mess up in a foil tent, and put it back on the grill for two more hours to steam the ribs to a fall-off-the-bone consistency.
At this point the chef may be receiving queries from the other diners in the household, underscoring why we must plan ahead for these sorts of projects: no one actually enjoys waiting for dinner, no matter how promising the results or how lovely the evening.
However, a glass of wine or two later I unwrap this beautiful scene: The meat is pulling back from the ends of the bones, and the racks are getting floppy, so I goose the BGE temp up to 250°F and put the ribs back directly on the grate for the last hour of cooking. This, I'm told, will create a lovely crust or "bark" on the ribs. In the meantime, I return to my wine and compose a little blog post.
By the way, here's my office today. My soundtrack is the mockingbird next door along with the occasional whirr of hummingbird wings as they sneak sips from the Galvezia blooms behind me. My view is my apple grove, golden yarrow mingling with purple heliotrope, the setting sun washing the treetops around me in gold. The scent of those ribs wafts over on the evening breeze. And with another sip of wine I feel… joy.
And this is the heart of what I do: I create joy. Not only for me, and for the family and friends who get to spend time out here too and get to dine on the meats of my labors, but also for that hummingbird; for the honeybees hard at work on my lavender; for the squirrels waiting for more apples to fall; even for the oak tree that gets to grow in a naturalistic ecosystem rather than being drowned in a sea of lawn. This joy, this life is what landscapes facilitate that no other design discipline does.
Not bad for a day's work.