“Drawn to the Fire”

I’ve always been drawn to the fire.

Maybe that’s why I was drawn to the Burch Barrel?  I loved it so much that I included it on my 2020 Holiday Gear Guide. I discovered them this past summer at the Total Archery Challenge. Everyone was gathered around it as Andy Moeckel (@theflipflipguy on Instagram) cut off slices of a mule deer leg basted with his family recipe – Flip Flop Sauce, a wild game marinade created by his grandfather Al Giddings, a WWII Navy veteran, a California Fish and Game warden, and a newspaper columnist.

As a species, we have an affinity for fire.  Even with the conveniences of the modern world, we continue to be drawn to the flame for warmth and sustenance which is why the kitchen is often the central gathering place in our homes.

If you have read THE TERMINAL LIST, TRUE BELIEVER, and SAVAGE SON you will remember that in each story, characters are drawn toward fire.

Research in Africa, 2019

As the protagonist of THE TERMINAL LIST, Navy SEAL sniper James Reece, prepares to take out first target, he takes a moment to reflect:

The night before his planned hit, he built a small fire.  There was something primal about fires. Since the early Stone Age fires had quite literally sustained human life.  They offered warmth and allowed the heat-treating of hard woods and eventually metals, turning them into weapons for hunting and war.  They permitted cooking and early pottery, were natural gathering places, could signal, and were almost always part of ceremonial tradition.  Fires were sacred, but more than anything else, fires offered hope. 

Fire, more specifically controlling fire, allowed us to develop as a species and eventually build the societies of today. Without learning to control fire and thereby use it to evolve, the world as we know it would not exist.

Our kids had broken-in the Burch Barrel by roasting marshmallows and I’d made one breakfast on it using a cast iron skillet, but Thanksgiving dinner was its first significant test.  We had planned to have our Thanksgiving on Friday instead of Thursday but Friday morning I received a call from the Tucker Carlson Tonight show on Fox News asking me to come on that evening to discuss the recent desecration of a veteran’s memorial in Portland, Oregon, so we adapted and pushed our Thanksgiving another day to the right.  That move to Saturday also gave the turkey another full day in a brine of apple cider, water, salt, brown sugar, rosemary, minced garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, oranges and orange peels.

> READ “HISTORY HAS STOPPED”: Notes on Tucker Carlson Segment

I used lump hardwood charcoal for fuel.  I could have used mesquite or hickory or apple wood but I went with Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal for this first attempt.  I remember my dad dumping charcoal briquettes into our old-school rusted-out Weber at our cabin in Northern California in the late 70s and 80s, so that probably plays into my affinity for charcoal and wood grills.  I remember him working to get those coals just right as we huddled around watching and learning.

I like that the Burch Barrel is not connected to WiFi and that I can’t set an exact temperature.  Sometimes it’s nice to disconnect for a bit.

I like that the Burch Barrel is not connected to WiFi and that I can’t set an exact temperature.  Sometimes it’s nice to disconnect for a bit.

When it comes to grilling and smoking, I tend to be drawn to the art of the grill rather than the science of it. I often feel overconnected which is why I don’t have a watch that’s linked to my phone or to WiFi, buzzing away with messages and alerts throughout the day, measuring my steps in the backcountry, or telling me I’ve been writing at my desk for over an hour and that it’s time to stand up to stretch. The craftmanship behind timers with history like Rolex and Panerai and the new watchmakers, particularly built by those with a passion for watchmaking who are transitioning from service to the nation like ARES, RESCO, Sangin, and Winfield appeal to me.  The same goes with grilling; there is something about cooking meat over fire…

There was a lot on the line in cooking our Thanksgiving turkey on the Burch Barrel for its inaugural dinner mission.  The pressure was on, especially after the amazing turkeys we’d had from fryers and smokers over the past few years.

I used a charcoal chimney to get the hardwood lump charcoal going – I LOVE the charcoal chimney –  then I lowered the pan to the bottom of the Burch Barrel and added a few more pieces.  I kept the vents open to let the cold mountain air circulate and feed the glowing embers.

I prepared the turkey a little differently this year, doing something called Spatchcocking, which means you remove the backbone to flatten it out.  I split the turkey with my cleaver from New West Knife Works.  They restore antique cleavers made with steel from the “golden age of steel” and honestly, I don’t know how I’ve survived this long on planet earth without one.  Mine was made in the 1800s by WM Beatty & Sons of Chester, Pennsylvania.  Its 9” blade made short work of the task as I hacked out the backbone, a surprisingly satisfying experience.

I then transferred the bird to the Burch Barrel.

I thought it would take about two hours and had a probe thermometer at the ready as I stood a vigilant watch.  At our altitude and outside temperature, it took an hour and 45 minutes.

I removed it from the Burch Barrel, and let it sit on my custom grill board from A Rough Cut Woodworks while I finished off the gravy.  About ten minutes later I used my Chef Knife  to take the first slice.

I really couldn’t believe it.  It was EPIC! I totally thought I was going to over cook it and it would be dried out in a scene reminiscent of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  The exact opposite was true.  This was hands down the best turkey we’ve ever done: better than smoked, better than oven-roasted, better than fried.  And, that was the consensus of everyone at the table!

As an added bonus, you can unhook the barrel from the tripod and throw it in your vehicle to use as a fire pit at the beach or wherever your adventures take you.  For us, the remaining coals were perfect to gather around after dinner to roast marshmallows for s’mores!

> Click here for more on how to make a Smoked Spatchcocked Turkey on the Burch Barrel

And, visit burchbarrel.com  to learn more about the Burch Barrel!


Burch Barrel

Charcoal Chimney

Lump Charcoal

probe thermometer

cast iron skillet

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