I am not one of those people who has a million skills. Most days I feel like a barely functioning adult who will take every gold star I can get, so long as I earned them honestly. That out of the way, I know food. I considered going into the service industry for a living and decided not to because I realized it would make me hate doing something I enjoy, which would have drastically skewed my outlook on summers and what they bring. Fresh sliced watermelon that was picked at just the right time, so it’s juicy and sweet. Cold cocktails with friends in the hot dry evenings of the Southwest. Ice cream with my kids after a long day of working in the sun. All of that is so intertwined with Summer in my memories that I can almost smell them on the long days waiting for the sun to set in the western horizon, starting somewhere around the middle of May, when New Mexico starts to really warm up.
But we’re not here to talk about every food, we’re here to talk about THE food of summer. To me, the one-stop shop for summer food is smokehouse barbecue. Whether it’s pulled pork from the Carolinas, brisket from Texas, chicken from Alabama or just something that I threw together myself without a whole lot of thought as to what it most emulates, smoked meat is what I am here for in the summer time. The smell of the smoke as the pit or the smoker is being warmed up, along with the following scent of the meat changing form from raw to succulent and juicy, the sight of it glistening with moisture throughout the entire cooking process and finally, joyfully, the flavor of the first bite. From first bite to last one, smoked meat is the summer food of choice for me. But just to say that I have a category selected is not to say I do not have an ultimate: pork ribs.
Pork ribs, y’all, those perfect juicy things there is no graceful or civilized way to consume. The ideal method of eating pork ribs is with company and a few select sides-the selection of which is a debate in and of itself-and hopefully some baby wipes or moist towelettes to follow because you’re going to make a mess in the reckless abandon to follows the dinner bell. Some folks like the St. Louis cut, some folks like the baby back, and the selection of rubs and sauces is so exponential that it may as well be infinite, all of which I write to point out that I am clearly not alone in loving these self-contained meat sticks. Personally I prefer them dry, which is to say with a spice rub and no sauce for any uninitiated readers. But if you’re a member of the uninitiated, what are you still doing here? Go get some ribs for goodness’ sake!
To best illustrate this, let me talk about one summer day in particular: Independence Day. Every year a good friend of mine hosts a celebration that includes good music, fireworks, laughs, a few drinks and of course good food. It has become a habit at this point for me to spend the week leading up to the holiday purchasing, preparing, and smoking numerous racks of ribs for our entire social circle. I’ll do some wet, some dry and we will all collectively let out a little of our inner animal as we consume these sweet and smoky protein lollipops with reckless abandon. I look forward to the looks on the faces of my friends and family while they unknowingly share in this moment of private pride more than I do the explosions of the fireworks. This pinnacle of summer joy is likely the reason I have so encapsulated pork ribs and summer as complementary truths, but more than one of those friends and family members has asked me to make those same ribs again.
I’ll close by sharing one last story. There was a day I decided I was going to host a pig roast at my home. It was a very labor-intensive, expensive endeavor. Just ask anyone who has ever prepped and cooked a whole pig. The pig that I bought was sixty-six pounds dressed out, and I spent the day before the pig roast brining it. The day of I woke up before the sun, along with another very good friend who had agreed to help me pull this off, to season and inject the porcine prize. We’d constructed a Carolina brick pit, of sorts, in the dirt of my backyard, lit a small fire using kiln-dried oak and managed to get to about two hundred fifty degrees steady. Then we lowered the offering to the culinary spirits over the locally sourced food safe aluminum grates I’d picked up from a nearby metal shop. After that it was “see you in twelve hours” and a whole lot of keeping close eye on the meat probe displays/keeping the oak going. Cut to the moment of truth, the pork was perfect. It was juicy, it was tender, the skin was crunchy and chewy. Every bit of fat and connective tissue had melted and it was an ideal dark brown. To this day it is one of my favorite things I’ve put on social media. AND I STILL WOULD HAVE RATHER HAD THE RIBS.
Everyone has a food that reminds them of summer. Everyone has foods that they hold close to the heart of their memories. For me, this is but one. I thank you for looking at the menu in my brain, folks. Now if you’ll excuse me…I need to get something to eat. I’m suddenly starving.