Family traditions are important to me. It’s not really the family part that is important to me, but traditions, those are important. As I sit here and write, it is the Fourth of July, 2016. (Happy 240th America!) For several years we have had a family tradition that sadly, has now been thrown under the bus of time by none other than my Uncle Mike. (You may remember him from the famous canceled Thanksgiving of 2015.)
Mike – my father’s younger brother and destined to be known as “Jerry’s Brother” for his life – is a well-meaning soul. If all of us are born with one superhero power, Mike’s is the ability to cancel family holidays and therefore end family traditions. So it is with the Evans Family Fourth of July.
For the past several years the lovely and talented Kathy and I have enjoyed the tradition of traveling to my hometown, Mobile, AL, to celebrate the 4th of July.
The celebration usually involved Kathy, my wonderful Aunt Glenda, and I traveling 20 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico to dive “The Mighty O“. (The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Orinisky) After diving, we would repair back to the Evans Family homestead where there was an endless supply of Mojitos. We would all sit around their pool and … well … drink. There were some epic times sitting around that pool.
The celebration culminated on the 4th. Mike & Glenda would invite all the family still local to the area over for a BBQ. Preparations for the BBQ started several days before as Mike started preparing the burgers, planning the sides, and – I am not kidding here – brining hotdogs. Yes, Mike would soak tube steaks in a brine preparation for several days. Yes, I explained to him that encased meats would not absorb any of the brine. No, it did not make a difference to him.
On the Fourth, as friends and family floated in the pool slowly pickling our brains with mint-flavored rum, Uncle Mike would fire up the grill. Uncle Mike is a firm believer in the cooking method of “low and slow.” His brisket is nothing short of amazing. That having been said, every Fourth he would take this cooking method to the extreme.
Uncle Mike’s method for low & slow started early as he mentally prepared himself for the task at hand by staring at the grill for ~30 minutes. Many who did not know him would say that old-age had kicked in and he was trying to remember what the crap he was out on the porch for. Those of us who know and love him know the truth. he was mentally becoming one with the grill. Getting his head in the game for the task at hand. It would be him against the grill and he wanted the grill to know who was boss.
When the moment came (and he remember where the lighter was…another story) Uncle Mike would put match to gas, and thus start the journey that would end with a feast. Not to be in a hurry, the gas was always set as low as possible. It was possible, if you waited long enough, to actually see the flame. Uncle Mike did not need to see it, he knew when it was lit and he would shut the lid to contain the heat in preparation for the next step.
Next came his famous brined hotdogs. These were carefully placed on the upper rack of the grill so as to not expose them to the direct heat of the flame. With the lid closed, that portion of the grill soared to a mind-boggling temperature of 100 degrees fahrenheit. Such was the temperature that if you placed your hand on the cover of the grill, you were unable to keep it there for more than ten minutes at a time without getting bored and wandering off. The low and slow method was brought to new heights.
He would turn the temperature up when the burgers hit the grill, meat would sizzle, fat would drip, the smells of a BBQ would eventually overwhelm the senses. That time, however, was a few hours hence. If you did not know this small fact, and you assumed that since the hot dogs were on the grill, the rest would soon follow, you would be fooled – like I was – into thinking that the meal soon to come. The hot dogs were the first step, but the next step wasn’t for another three hours. The hotdogs had to greet the heat, get to know it, get comfortable with it before the temperature could be raised. This was not a meal, this was performance art.
At one point, somewhere near the two-hour point, my brother-in-law Kirk – who was not yet familiar with this particular performance, and assumed we would be eating soon – looked at Uncle Mike and said, “You cooking those hot dogs with a hair dryer?” It was a seminal moment in our family tradition and as the label stuck, became part of the tradition of the Evan family fourth of July tradition, “Uncle Mike’s Hair Dryer Hot Dogs”.
Just another wonderful moment that Uncle Mike killed when he canceled the annual Evans Family Fourth of July Tradition this year.