fig. a: invitation to a social
From the time we received our invitation, we couldn't wait to make our way down to the Catskills for this year's summer social. Actually, even before we received our invitation we were pretty giddy with anticipation. Just the thought of smoking those Fleisher's pork shoulders was enough to get us excited. When we factored in the summer cordials, the musical entertainment, the swims in nearby creeks, rivers, falls, and swimming holes, and (especially) the company, we found ourselves prone to sudden bursts of uncontrolled and enthusiastic exclamation.
"I can't wait!"
"Slow & low, baby!"
fig. b: the list
We knew this wasn't going to be a cake walk, though. There going to be dozens upon dozens of guests--discerning ones, too--so we knew we had to be on the ball. That's why we came armed with lists, and schedules, and hard-to-find ingredients, and tools.
When we arrived, things were pretty mellow, though.
fig. c: afternoon shadows
We put our things down and took a look around.
fig. d: turkey coop
Coolers had yet to be filled with ice.
fig. e: mud room
Lanterns had yet to be filled with fuel.
fig. f: photo studio/bandstand
And the outdoor photo studio/bandstand was vacant.
fig. g: welcome to Smokey Mountain!
I was especially excited because I had a new toy to play with. Instead of the battery of Weber One-Touch grills I'd used in the past, I had a brand-new Weber Smokey Mountain smoker at my disposal.
By the day of the party, though, we were totally prepared. We'd done all the necessary shopping. We'd prepped all the food we could. We'd tidied up and decorated. I'd run a smoker test to season that Smokey Mountain. It was showtime.
fig. h: me & Willie
So I got up at the break of day, put on my lucky barbecue t-shirt, fired up the smoker, and made some coffee.
fig. i: red sandals diaries
Meanwhile, Michelle put on her dancing shoes, and then we started finalizing this year's menu.
Hours later, this was what we served:
3 x 12-lb Fleisher's pork shoulders, applewood-smoked and pulled
8x racks of MO-style ribs
Martin's potato rolls
AJ's Down East baked beans
Smokehouse potato salad
Poor man's caviar
Baked cheese grits
Michelle's peach and raspberry cobbler with Graeter's vanilla ice creamThis may very well have been the best version of the bbq social we've yet to orchestrate (the 7-hour ribs were pure candy; the 14-hour shoulder was a deeply lacquered work of art, and it made the smokiest and most tender pulled pork we'd yet to achieve). It certainly was the craziest. Guests arrived in unprecedented numbers, and they arrived hongry. When we started serving, food was disappearing at such a rate that we could barely keep up, prompting a flurry of GoogaMooga jokes. But then things began settle down again, as they do, and people began to mellow out again as their focus shifted from just FOOD, to a combination of FOOD, DRINK, MUSIC, SOCIALIZING, and so on.
fig. j: as the band began to play
And then a stripped-down, two-man version of Golden Bones began to play.
fig. k: bravo!
And they played with passion and conviction. And the crowd was appreciative.
fig. l: engagement ring*
And then a couple of lovebirds got engaged, right there in the outdoor photo booth, and the crowd went wild.
fig. m: bonfire
And when night fell, the bonfire was lit up, and that's when things turned appropriately bacchanalian. And the fireflies sparkled all around us, and the music throbbed, and the party lasted deep into a warm summer's night.
One major new addition to this year's menu was the batch of cheese grits. We considered making mac & cheese instead, but ultimately settled on the cheese grits. People go crazy when they have cheese grits. Those who've had them know to load up on 'em. Those who haven't experience something quasi-religious. There's something pretty exotic about them for a lot of Northerners, and we had several people who said the grits were the best thing they'd ever tasted (!).
Baked Cheese Grits
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup grated sharp hickory-smoked cheddar cheese (just use sharp cheddar cheese if you can't find a premium hickory-smoked cheddar)
4 tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 cups cooked grits, still warm (purists will likely scoff, but we recommend using quick grits for a recipe such as this)
Preheat your oven to 350º. Butter a 4-6 cup casserole dish.
Mix the eggs, cheese, butter, mustard, salt, and garlic. Stir this mixture into the warm grits and then pour it into the prepared casserole dish.
Bake uncovered for 50 minutes. Serve immediately direct from the casserole.
Serves 4-6 (we obviously made a much, much larger batch for our group of 100+ guests)
[based very closely on a recipe that appeared in Jane & Michael Stern's Popular Plates: BBQ in 2010]Remember: it's summer, people. 2012. Don't let it slip you by.
p.s. Sincerest congratulations to Paige and Thomas. True love!
p.s. 2 And extra-special thanks to our host, Stephen!
* I wish I could take credit for this one, but this amazing ring/s/Coke/nails photograph comes courtesy of Travis Blue Photo.