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Pounds of Experience

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POP, I hear as I unlatch the door and swing it open, releasing the pressure that has built up from the eleven hours of smoking the night before. A cloud of smoke seeps out the open door. I see the pounds of pork that lay atop their solid steel racks. Each rack holds at least three, six and a quarter pounds of pork butts, each of them juicy and tender. They are mixture of pale pink meat and greasy fat all held together by thick brown skin that was coated in a chalky, reddish dry rub. I reach my hand in, and grab one pork butt at a time and toss it from the greasy rack to the steel table next to the smokers.

I tear the pork butt into two sections and start ripping the tender meat off the bone. With each jerk of my hand I come up with a new juicy hunk. I squeeze it into my palms, and with the force of my four fingers the hidden fat seems to fall off. I labor through the mindless task until all the meat has been scraped off the bone, and I complete a job I’ve done countless times before.

Over the years I’ve become quite good at pulling pork, but when I started at The Top of the Hill Grill when I was only fifteen years old, it would take me a lot longer than it does now. I entered the world of cooking wide eyed, and so every task seemed to take forever. I started out small, pulling pork and chicken and washing mountains of dishes, but as the days went by, Jon, the owner, filled me in on more of his secrets.


He showed me how to hold a knife, and when I picked it up for the first time I felt the weight of the blade in my hand and the crispness of its chop. In this moment I fell in love with cooking. I worked on my knife skills by chopping peppers, onions, and celery, to prepare Cajan trinities for our Louisiana Gumbo or our Jambalya. Jon would flutter about the kitchen as he made his own dish, and each time he passed by me he would vigilantly examine my tiny bits of vegetables, and critique my technique. “That’s too big. Do it like this!” he exclaimed as he showed me again. So I would nod in understanding and continue to chop my vegetables.

Jon wasn’t my only teacher at The Grill; the night manager, Ashley, gradually became my mentor simply because of how much we worked together. She taught me everything I now know about Kitchen, the station that is usually learned last at The Grill, as one ascends the ranks. Although the cooking is very simple, it is an extremely stressful place to work, especially on Friday night in July when there is a line to the road, full of hungry Grill enthusiasts. The kitchen person dances around the seven by three foot rectangular kitchen, whipping up different sandwiches, wraps and other entrees. All the stress falls on the cook in kitchen to facilitate the synchronization of cooking hamburgers, chicken fajitas and other foods. Shader taught me the basics of kitchen and helped me practice as we worked together in the kitchen most nights.

Now almost years later, it’s me in the kitchen running around, instead of Ashley, pumping out orders, trying not to get too backed up. Yet there are still the nights when the line at the window never seems to end, and with every new yellow order slip I sink lower, as the exhaustion falls over me. Yet no matter how weary I feel, when the craziness simmers down I recognize the cue to go rub pork before we close. Indicating I’m going next door, I inform my co-workers, “I’m going to rub butts.”

Finally a second to breath, as I cross the deck full of satisfied customers scraping the last shreds of meet off their plate. When I enter the red building I instinctively grab the metal cart and bring it to The Walk In and load up three cases of pork butts, and wheel them to the sink. Sighting my favorite green handled knife, I use it to carve the top off the boxes. I dump each fifty pound box of pork into the sink and use the long blade to slice the plastic wrap on each set of two butts. When all the butts are opened in the sink and have been rinsed by the cold water falling over them, I toss each one individually into the large white rectangular bucket. Coating the bright white layer of fat on top first, I work my way around the pork butt leaving no spot bare. One hundred pounds later, I bring the pork into the smoke room and load them on the rack. I shut the smoker door after setting the temperature to 205 degrees and the cook time to ten and a half hours. As I walk out and flip the light switch off, I think about who will be the unlucky one to have to pull this batch of pork.





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