Many have said that cooking is an art. I believe there is a lot of truth in that, (albeit I hardly consider myself an artist), however like any other form of self expression there is a line that can easily be crossed making whatever you are doing a failure rather than a success. In my opinion this is more easily accomplished in cooking than pretty much any other medium. Add just a bit too much garlic or salt or any other ingredient and the flavor can quickly go from desirable to disgusting.
Being that my wife is a wonderful artist and an amazing teacher, if there is one thing that I have learned from her is that you have to understand the medium of choice before you can master it. Watercolors will not flow like oils, pastels will not give the same contrast as charcoal, etc. so it is important to know what is expected beforehand. Another important lesson learned; you must begin with a good base.
Taking this to heart I began using this mindset to finally hone in on what it was I wanted to end up with in my cooking. By settling with nothing but oak wood for cooking, (mainly for the reasons stated in an earlier post), was the beginning of base and foundation of where I was heading. It was important to me to make sure that whatever I did was easily repeatable and to find flavors that were highly complementary to each other. This was not as easy as it sounds simply because I was slightly limited by supply. In our area, there is no such thing as a high end grocer or the like so I was stuck with what I could find. Although there are places that carry fairly high quality ingredients, they could be troublesome to find at any given time. Thus, the philosophy of K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid), had to be employed.
With limited sources of ingredients locally I turned of course to my old and dear friend the internet. A search of “bulk spices”, etc., brings up several sources of quality ingredients, however, I did not feel it was worth it to buy large quantities of something that I may not be able or want to use in the future and would end up letting it go to waste. So, back to keeping it simple and finding a good base.
The sauce was my first chore to tackle. My thought was that by having a good sauce, the other flavors could be more easily manipulated to complement what I was doing. Many months of trying different recipes, adding a little more of this or a little less of that started to look promising. As things progressed though, there was always something missing or more often than not, standing out too much. Time to back up I guess. I spent some time looking over the many iterations the sauce had gone through and realized that there were only a few ingredients that seemed to remain constant. An epiphany was reached; here was my base. Using the short list of these items I spent some time making a good base that I was satisfied with and once that came to pass, it was a simple process to improve it. It took about 2 ½ years but as it stands, I am very pleased with what I ended up with for a basic “original” sauce and it is easily repeatable and doesn’t require anything really special as far as ingredients.
Next came the rubs. I already had a good base for a rub that worked very well for just about any type of meat. But, with different forms of meat I felt there should be different flavors to go along with them. The only real trick with the rubs was making sure that what was added would complement the meat as well as any sauces, etc., that may be used with them. In an effort once again to keep things simple I was able to start with another base of ingredients and adjust the quantities to make them either more sweet or more savory. It was not a real simple task but once the initial ingredients were adopted, the rest kinda fell into place. I have settled on three different rubs that can be used on just about any cut of meat, however I do use them myself on specific types. I have a sweet rub that I normally use on pork and pork ribs, a more earthy version that works really well with beef and another one that has a bit of a citrus feel that is exceptional on chicken.
Finally, on to the methods of cooking. Since I had spent a lot of blood, sweat and beers slaving over a hot pit, it was easy to see what would and would not work. Most of which was time and good temperature control. Every pit has a certain sweet spot that it likes to run at and I doubt if you could find too many that are the same from pit to pit. This is where patience and simplicity were very important. Patience had to be exercised with the temperatures since it doesn’t do any good to keep messing with the controls or opening the lid. Simplicity in that you don’t need to get overly creative. Heat and time are better friends with each other than you ever will be with either of them. Best to let them decide when things are done. I tried several different methods and even now am still learning little things that seem to help, but the thing I learned the most is don’t rush it. It’s done when it’s done.