A couple of months ago, I was inspired by Maggie Mason‘s Mighty Life List (a Bucket List for the young, healthy and positive-minded) to make my own (though I’m not so young and some might argue the other two points). As you probably could guess, quite a few cooking-related items are on there, despite their relative unimportance to the bigger stuff. But I’d argue that perfecting my smoker technique or turning out a sublime focaccia could add more value to my daily existence than seeing the Northern Lights, becoming fluent in French or going on an Auntie Mame-style journey around the world. (OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.)

Not one to dawdle when I have a goal in mind, I took my first steps to making the Weber Smokey Mountain my bitch this weekend. I’ve selected Gary Wiviott as my mentor/guru/pitmaster for this journey, based on Jason Perlow’s review of his program at Off the Broiler. I used my smoker a few times last year with imperfect results, so I consider myself enough of a novice to follow Wiviott’s program to the letter (begging forgiveness for changing the marinade to something more of my liking). The entire thrust of this book is that everything you know about BBQ is dead wrong and what you really need to do is learn to build a proper fire, arrange the meat correctly, leave it the hell alone and trust your instincts. No futzing with a fancy thermometer or different fire-building techniques for different meats for him; because I run from complicated grilling/smoking setups, this works wonderfully for me too. He gives explicit instructions in the book, so I’m confident that someday I’ll be able to get all Jedi on that BBQ.

Anyway. I marinated chicken halves in harissa with some olive oil, sautéed onion and the juice of a small (and old and somewhat withered-but-still-going-strong) lemon. Building the fire proved a bit, um, challenging with the windy day I chose, but I eventually got the whole thing built to spec, assembled the smoker, and let it go. An hour and a half later, I opened the lid to find The Most Gorgeous Chicken I’ve ever seen (at least at my house):

Daaaaamn…

After the chicken came off at the perfect temperature and at the exact moment Wiviott said to start checking for doneness, I threw a few hard boiled eggs on the top grate for smoked deviled eggs. As a mini experiment, I peeled three of them and heavily cracked the shells of the other three before smoking, hoping to get a Chinese tea egg effect on the whites. (It didn’t work; the eggs were much less smoky-tasting even with the cracks in the shells, so live and learn.) Because the fire was so low after 90 minutes with the chicken, I smoked the eggs for about 45 minutes, until the shelled ones turned a gorgeous amber color.

Homemade mayo has been vexing me lately, separating at the drop of a hat just to mock me. For these eggs, I wanted to give it one more try, and used the milk mayonnaise recipe from Food52 (which I’ve just joined – yay!). It came out thick, creamy, thoroughly delicious and was much, much easier for me to make than egg-based mayos (but also much, much messier).

I made a couple of fillings for the eggs and was pretty happy with both (though I lean more toward pickle flavor in my deviled eggs – personal preference).


with sun-dried tomatoes, up front


also, chives

So all told, it was a pretty good weekend for the Life List (which I’ll have to rename for myself sometime). Changes I’ll make for next time:

  • Marinate chicken for 8-12 hours — it was a pretty powerful marinade, but didn’t come through as strongly as I wanted, which was also the fault of…
  • Use pecan wood instead of hickory for chicken — hickory was delicious, but overpowered the marinade
  • Peel all eggs before smoking (and make the deviled eggs right away — a night in the fridge didn’t do them any favors in the looks department)

Recipes after the jump

Smoked Deviled Eggs — Sun-dried Tomato Version

12 smoked hard-boiled eggs
1/2 cup mayo
2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes packed in oil, or to taste
4 teaspoons Dijon
4 teaspoons capers, plus a splash of brine
1 medium shallot, minced
salt & pepper to taste
smoked paprika, for dusting

Cut smoked eggs in half lengthwise, scoop the yolks into a small bowl and mash with a fork. Mix in the rest of the ingredients until thoroughly combined and creamy, then fill the egg whites with the mixture. Dust with smoked paprika.

Smoked Deviled Eggs — Chive and Hot Pickle Version

12 smoked hard-boiled eggs
1/2 cup mayo
1 medium shallot, minced
4 teaspoons Dijon
2 tablespoons chives
4-8 hot pickle slices, minced (amount to taste), plus a splash of pickle juice

Cut smoked eggs in half lengthwise, scoop the yolks into a small bowl and mash with a fork. Mix in the rest of the ingredients until thoroughly combined and creamy, then fill the egg whites with the mixture.

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