Typically, when I do these posts, I come up with a theme or dish to focus on and then find a beer to pair with whatever I grill. Today, though, I'm doing it the other way around. Today, I'm starting with the beer.
Last year, we were lucky enough to see the arrival of Terrapin beer, in Virginia anyway. As the South's craft beer culture continues to develop, a few bright stars have emerged, including the Athens, Ga., brewery. It may not be as big as Abita, the granddaddy of Southern craft beer, but Terrapin is a brewery to be considered.
(Quick aside; Terrapin is brewed locally by Flying Dog in Frederick, Md., yet you can't buy Terrapin in the state of Maryland. Kinda funny when you consider that the mascot for the state university is a Terrapin. Does this mean that Maryland fears the turtle? I think it does.)
I first came across Terrapin a few years ago while living in North Carolina. At the time, the brewery's flagship beer, Rye Pale Ale, was one of the few rye beers available, at least in Chapel Hill. As a beer, it's fantastic. The malt and hops balance out that signature tart rye bite, resulting in a rather crisp ale.
It's also somewhat remarkable to have a rye ale as your signature beer. The style isn't for everyone. While challenging beers, such as Saisons, barley wines and double IPAs, are increasingly common styles for craft breweries these days, back in 2002, relying on a rye ale to be your bill-payer beer was ballsy. Sam Calagione may be known for making unique beers, but he keeps Dogfish Head's lights on with his easy drinking Shelter Pale Ale and the 60 Minute IPA.
Fortunately, Terrapin's gamble paid off when founders Brian Buckowski and John Cochran picked up a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival just six months after putting their Rye Pale Ale on draft.
Since then, Buckowski and Cochran have rolled out an impressive line of craft beers, including Gamma Ray, a barley wine made with wheat; Hopsecutioner, their big, bitter, hop-stinky IPA; and a coffee oatmeal imperial stout called Wake 'N' Bake (I have no idea what the name refers to, but I feel compelled to point out that the brilliant artwork on Terrapin's labels is done by Richard Biffle, who did cover art for such bands as the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, and Jerry Garcia. Again, I don't know why this is relevant.).
The only bummer here is that if you live in the District or Maryland, you're going to need to head into Virginia to find any of these beers (I bought the ones for this post at Total Wine in Alexandria). I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a Georgia beer can't cross the invisible borders of D.C. and Maryland, while I can get a beer from Denmark (WinterCoat) on draft at Birreria Paradiso in Georgetown. To think otherwise could mean liquor laws are arbitrary, contradictory and antiquated.
So all this is to say, Terrapin makes some fantastic beer. In honor of that -- and to have an excuse to talk up the brewery -- I decided a tribute to Georgia was in order. And you can't think about Georgia without thinking of peaches and pork. (Well, you probably can. I certainly can. But bear with me.)
Now, it would be fair to point out that we are not in peach season. That's why I'd wait until peach season to try this recipe, or use canned peaches. What you don't want to do, is use the "fresh" peaches from Chile like I did. They're completely flavorless. I should've gone with canned peaches as I initially planned. Like canned tomatoes, canned peaches can be just as flavorful as truly fresh peaches. And because the peaches are roasted and added to barbecue sauce, it doesn't matter that they're skinned.
I also used sweet yellow onions. Ideally, I would've used Vidalia onions (grown in southern Georgia), but we're a couple months away from their short season. In the meantime, sweet yellow onions, or red onions, are a decent substitute.
Basically, this is a post I should do in June, but have done in March. What can I tell you? I lack patience.
Setting aside my poor peach pick (ah, alliteration), the menu of grilled, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops, grilled sweet potato fries and cornbread works really well with Terrapin's Rye Pale Ale (not to mention the India Brown Ale, Big Hoppy Monster imperial red ale, and the Hopsecutioner).
The beer wasn't the only thing I headed into Virginia for. I picked up the chops at Let's Meat on the Avenue. Steve Gatward runs a great little butcher shop in Del Ray. While you can buy bone-in pork chops at any grocery store in the area, Steve will cut them as thick as you want (I chose "very") and french the rib bones so they'll look good when photographed. Good butchers like Steve are too rare a commodity.
Making a run to Virginia for pork chops and beer might seem like a bit much, but a couple pints of rye ale and a two-inch thick chop glazed with peach barbecue sauce will make the excursion seem well worth it.
And who knows, maybe one day Terrapin will make its way into D.C. and Maryland, saving me a little gas and time. With any luck, peaches will actually be in season.
Grilled bone-in pork chops with bourbon peach barbecue sauce
(Makes four servings)
4 bone-in pork chops, thick cut
3 sweet potatoes
1 large Vidalia onion or sweet yellow onion
2 peaches, in-season fresh or canned without syrup
1 1/2 cups ketchup
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
3 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke
3 tsp. of garlic powder
1 stick of salted butter
Honey, optional to drizzle on the cornbread
Salt and black pepper to taste
Barbecue seasoning, optional
I made corn bread to go with the pork chops and sweet potatoes (naturally). I always follow the recipe for sweet cornbread on the side of the corn meal package. It has never failed me. The cornbread takes about 20 minutes to prepare and bake, so feel free to take care of it while you're waiting for your grill to come up to temperature.
If you're going to make the barbecue sauce, do so the night before. Halve the peaches, coat them lightly with canola or vegetable oil and roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. In the meantime, combine the ketchup, bourbon, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and garlic powder in a pot and bring to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
After 30 minutes in the oven, the peaches should be incredibly soft. Carefully remove from the tray and place in a bowl or, preferably, a food processor. Puree the peaches or crush in the bowl. Add the rest of the barbecue sauce, combine and taste. If the peaches aren't sweet enough, you may have to add a bit more brown sugar. Adjust the seasonings until the barbecue sauce is to your liking. Once you're happy, cover the sauce and stick it in the refrigerator until you need it.
The morning of the barbecue, season the pork chops with a barbecue rub. Steve Raichlen has a great recipe for an all-purpose barbecue rub. If you don't have a rub of your own, I highly recommend his. If you don't want to use a barbecue rub, make sure to season the chops with salt and black pepper before putting them on the grill.
An hour before you're ready to grill, pull the pork chops out of the refrigerator so they can loose some of the chill. If the rib bones were frenched, wrap them with aluminum foil so they don't blacken. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. This will be for your sweet potatoes. Either quarter the potatoes by cutting them from end to end, or break them down even further by halving the quarters. Place the sweet potato slices on a baking sheet, cover with a little olive oil or canola oil, salt lightly and pop them in the oven for 45 minutes. This will fully cook the potatoes. Their time on the grill will allow them to pick up some additional color and flavor.
As for the grill, set it up for off-heat cooking. That means you need to have a hot spot, where the coals or burners are concentrated, and a cool spot where you can move the food after it has seared. When the grill is ready, place the pork chop on the hot spot and cook for about 5 minutes, or until grill marks form on the meat. Flip and sear the other side for about five minutes. Move the chops to the cool spot and glaze with the bourbon peach barbecue sauce. Close the lid and allow the chops to cook for about three to five minutes, depending on how thick they are (the thicker the chop, the longer the cook time).
Open the grill, flip the chops and glaze the other side. Now, place the sweet potatoes directly over the heat and close the lid for three minutes. Lift the lid and check the sweet potatoes pieces. When char marks form, turn the pieces. Also, flip the chops and glaze again. Close the lid and cook for another three minutes.
When the sweet potatoes are ready, the pork will be ready. Remove, plate and eat. Just make sure you do so with a Terrapin.