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Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Tasty Legacy

During summer holidays or long weekends, my father would put a brisket, or rack of ribs on our family barbeque pit. Dad’s barbeque pit is a thing of beauty, even by Texas standards, the meat compartment of our pit must be six feet long, has a separate firebox to provide, dry, indirect heat, and is mounted on a double-axle trailer. The trailer itself is large enough to carry the wood to smoke a side of beef, several pigs’ worth of baby back ribs, and a partridge in a pear tree.

The meat for a family get-together was chosen carefully at the store, and Dad was not above going to as many stores and butcher shops as it took to find quality meat. He was equally picky about the wood he used. He always had a supply of mesquite, pecan, and a variety of hard and fruit tree woods to impart the right nuances of flavors he wanted. He was always collecting, and making his own, rubs, marinades, and sauces. He even was an award-winning cook on a barbeque team that competed in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Hours around the pit were spent adjusting the airflow and adding wood, sometimes deep into the night, to keep a constant, low heat. That time was also spent talking with my Dad about politics, religion, ethics, morality, movies, girls, family, scouting, school, and a million other important and not so important topics. Because as a teenager, my stomach often over ruled my brain, I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but as I write this, I have come to know that those hours and the sleep deprived nights, were one of the myriad of ways he showed our family his love for us.

So of course, now that it has become my turn to cook for such occasions, my first phone call was to my Dad. He reminded me of a few things I would need to know, and even gave me a few of his special secrets. I found a good brisket that had a nice layer of fat, put a flavorful rub all over in a thick layer and wrapped it in aluminum foil, just as I had seen him do it a hundred times.

I had the pleasure of both my sons’ company during the process; they were able to help and learn a bit, just as I did over the years. We talked about politics, movies, girls, family, scouting, and school, leaving the heavier topics for another time. I woke up every few hours to make sure the temperature stayed constant while the boys slept, each of us knowing there will come a day when they will be the ones missing a little sleep.

Ten hours or so in a smaller version my Dad’s pit, eight of that sealed in the foil and the balance open so the smoke flavor would infuse into the meat, and the masterpiece was finished. My family and in-laws were very appreciative of the results, and I think Dad would have been impressed. However, I’m positive he is pleased to see his legacy in action.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

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