A few years ago I was watching television and a program* caught my eye. It was about Brian Price, a former Texas inmate chef who served last meals to men condemned to death. Interesting that I have just started an Ethics in Criminal Justice class. Weird.
From what I've read, the last meal custom goes back to 'pre-modern Europe.' Basically, it was a superstitious contract between the condemned and the living. The meal offered was a symbolic oath of truce between the condemned and the executioner. The ritual prevented the condemned from returning as a ghost. The better the food, the more secure was the oath.
I did some reading and find much to my surprise that fried chicken is near the top of the request lists with pizza, steak, and bacon cheeseburgers following in roughly that order. French-fries are the usual side and Coke is the top beverage. Strange meals from a single olive, with pit, (Iowa, 1963) to Three Burger King Whoppers, two large orders of fries, a chocolate shake, chocolate chip ice cream, and a package of grape Hubba Bubba bubble gum(Utah, 1999) have been requested and served. These are easy to find on the internet, and several books have been written covering the subject, bon appetit.
After watching this program, I decided what my own last meal would be, not before execution, I hope, and here it is:
Three fingers of Wild Turkey, served neat, a cool (not cold) pint of Guinness and Harp black and tan which I'd drink while reading a good book for about half an hour.
1 pepper mill with black pepper or a large bowl of freshly ground black pepper.
1 hickory-smoked New York Strip steak, medium. with garlic butter, grilled mushrooms and onions.
2 fingers of single malt scotch, 'Bowmore,' neat, to sip with the steak.
1 small pile of chopped barbequed brisket & pulled pork, very hot, and tossed (mixed together). no sauce
2 pieces of plain white bread to make the sandwich..
1 small bowl of fresh-green beans with pepper bacon and minced onions and garlic.
1 Large bowl of my wife's potato salad, chilled, straight from the fridge. (mayo-based w/green olives and onion)
1 small bowl of chilled cantaloupe, (not ripe) and
1 cup of Coffee, Hot. Hazelnut. Freshly ground.
About a half hour later, I'd like a Pint of very cold low-fat milk mixed with what would be considered too much Hershey's chocolate syrup. I'd Drink half of that pint and top the glass off with more milk and chocolate. (I'd mix in a little instant coffee to the chocolate milk.)
Right now, this is my perfect meal. I have memories from each and every item on this menu that are very important to me, and well, it's my last meal.
Tell me what is your perfect or last meal.
* Discovery Channel special, "Death Row: The Final 24 Hours," http://theclicker.today.com/_news/2012/04/26/11411937-death-row-chef-shares-last-meal-requests-on-final-24-hours?lite
A few days ago, I was thinking about my journey from barbeque enthusiast to Master CBJ. My best friend Herb convinced me to take the class and we were off!! The process didn't take very long as we decided to try to finish our trip "together."
We both hit a few contests our first year, having started a little late in the season. Herb judged couple more than I did. Our second season we both judged 26 or 27 contests in a whirlwind of a summer. This made it possible for both of us to finish Very early in our Third season, but only in our 15th or 16th month of judging! At the beginning of the year Herb needed to judge one contest and I needed to judge two. We both needed to cook with a team and take the test. We cooked on the same team the same night and had a blast. We took our "Master Test" at about the same time, (and HERB scored a perfect score!)
We both think back and wish that we'd have tried it in ONE SEASON!! We would have had to double (Sat/Sun) several weekends, but I'm certain we could have judged 30 in one year. Either way, we're both excited to be "Masters" and have slowed down quite a bit, especially with the economy playing tug-o-war with our resources, but we really feel like we had a great time.
To those who have welcomed Herb and me into the bbq community, I appreciate the friendliness and look forward to many more years together.
On a final note, I'd love to hear if anyone has actually finished 30 contests in just one season. Anyone?
I work for a great Computer Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The working atmosphere is awesome, they have plenty of work for me to do, they listen to my ideas, and are always trying to improve things. They also provide LUNCH every day and on occasion we have a local grocery store cater Pulled Pork. I won't say it's bad, but it is a little mushy and they mix the (watery) sauce in with it. I don't say anything negative- hey, it's free!
One of employees was commenting that the bbq was a little watery and too sweet, and another said the meat was too stringy. I asked them how they liked their barbeque and I got an earful. They asked me what I thought so I offered a few comments. I noted that sauce could be provided on the side so that the individual could add as little or as much as they wanted. A nice sweet sauce, a smokey sauce, and a hot sauce will almost always cover the bases! This got the whole place talking about barbeque and they asked me what else I thought. I said that the pork was so far past overcooked that it was literally disintegrating. Most heads nodded. We talked further and they asked where I got all of my information. I told them that I was a member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and a Certified Master BBQ Judge.
Later that week, I was asked if the Company provided all of the side dishes, could I provide the the barbequed meat at the annual Fourth of July Picnic. I told them I'd be honored, would love to help out, and asked what did they want- ribs, pork, brisket??? "You decide" was the reply! I took a poll and Ribs and Pulled Pork was the two meats most requested. As I'd provided the catering to my daughter Sara's wedding reception, I had a pretty good idea what to do: Keep the food hot and keep it coming and make it fun.
Skip forward to the party: As soon as I got home Friday afternoon I cranked my stickburner into gear and got started. I was up all night, of course, babysitting (adjusting temps etc.) and was still pulling pork at 6:00 a.m. I'd packed my trailer the night before and simply loaded the meat into the cambros when I finished. I arrived at the park just little after 7:30 a.m. and pulled the smoker out of the trailer. I got 'er fired up as I needed to get the second batch of ribs finished by lunchtime. I arranged my rather large (and heavy) home-built airtank stick-burner to the left side of my trailer, forming an upside down 'L' . To the left of that, I placed a medium length plastic folding table. To the left of that, a large wooden barrel for the BBQ sauce and paper towels, and behind that, turned back toward me I rolled my grill. This made a large 'U' shape which pretty much blocked people from entering the cooking area.
I like to be smoking something so when people ask 'how' and 'why' I can show them instead of just explaining. It's one of the things that can keep an otherwise boring cookout into an experience. I like to place a stack of firewood behind the smoker (with an axe stuck into one of the large chunks of wood.) I also have a fire extiguisher and a couple of orange traffic cones placed near the smoker to block the kids from getting too close- I even warn people not to get too close! The kids seem to love it.
The table set-up was easy. From right to left; a pan with my knives and utensils, a large cutting board, a chafing dish w/lid for the ribs, and a chafing dish w/lid for the pork. As the time for serving got close, I made room in the smoker for a couple of racks of ribs and cranked up the grill to maintain the pork temp and cook the hotdogs and brats provided by the Company for the kids, and those who wanted somthing different.
Rich was kind enough to help me serve, and he was great at it. I was running to and fro, grabbing more pork and slicing portions from the racks of ribs- managing the flow of dogs and brats. I had to turn over the serving to Rich as it got so busy! I was answering questions from the folks on line, and shouting back answers and throwing the ribs form one side of the smoker to the other... it was a blast! I suppose my fellow workers got to see a side of me that they probably didn't imagine. I spent the afternoon showing the smoker to enthusiasts, demonstrating the opening and closing of vents to adjust temperature, explaining the concepts of slow-cooking with wood, flavor profiles, meat injection, and rubs and methods-- it was an all-out BBQ assault!
The only thing better than people telling you that your barbeque is good, is when they come back for more wearing a smile. We had plenty of smiles
My love of barbeque is strangely linked to childhood memories of a photograph and an apple-mouthed pig roast display.
My brother, Bob, was caught in a photograph at the dinner table when he was ten or twelve years old. In his hand was a rib bone and on his face was a tremendous smear of barbeque sauce and an enormous grin. This is my favorite memory of my childhood. That meal. That smile. I have it captured and safeguarded in a photo album.
The other barbeque memory was around my sixteenth birthday. By this time I had decided that eggs and milk were disgusting and I’d dabbled in thoughts of a vegetarian diet. My family and I had been invited to a neighborhood pig roast and I was not thrilled at the prospect. “Pig Roast” sounded simply vulgar. The idea that one would actually dispatch a pig, roast a pig, and then ingest it was a little too… carnivorous sounding to me. When we arrived we found a celebration surrounding a table that held at its center a large pig. The pig’s back was carved out- it overflowed with meat. Yes, the pig had an apple in it’s mouth. I departed immediately, appalled and queasy.
Years later my high-school sweetheart and Iowa farm girl wife, Margaret, and I would have conversations about the farm and my “city boy” naïve understanding of where food comes from. I actually used to think that the milk from a gallon jug was from one cow and the next jug was from another cow and how refused to mix them together. I used to joke that if I went deer hunting I’d shoot a cow and proudly pose for the photo. She used to tell me about “Banty” the crazy chicken that attacked them while doing chores and of Tom the Turkey that received no Thanksgiving pardon.
The “city” in me thought about food as something to get at a restaurant or purchase at the grocery store. The disconnect between the livestock and produce was convenient because I didn’t think about the details. I understand that in the past that tougher cuts of meat were considered disposable- literally thrown to the trash or given away. This inferior “muck” has over time, developed into the best-tasting food in our country by people who where short on resources and long on perseverance. It seems to me that they respected the food- it’s all they had.
The truth is- I could never be a vegetarian- It’s as simple as a meaty slice of brisket or a hot plate of lightly smoked pulled pork. If I were to hunt, I’d kill only what I could eat and if I were a farmer, I’d eat what I raised. I have used a bone saw to cut the ribs from a half-hog given to me by a local farmer- something I could never have done in the past. Now, I can tell you that I waste as little as possible, better understand the source of our nourishment, and have a barbeque as often as possible.
The smell and taste of barbeque is one of those things that spark happy memories of celebration with family and friends and… comfort.