The Critical Mass

Smokin’ Dopes working with the Feds

The most-important number of the week: 145. Right on cue for the Smokin’ Dopes, who are competing this weekend in the Roc City Rib Fest, the Federal government has announced that the internal serving temperature required for pork has been lowered to 145 degrees.

This is official debunking of my 83-year-old mother’s lifelong contention, brought to this country from Europe in the early 20th century by her Eastern European immigrant relatives, that children are still dying of trichinosis. That pork can only be served vulcanized. She won’t accept eating pink meat any more than she would accept eating a dog, but the rest of civilization is moving forward.

Yes, we have an official logo.

Yes, we have an official logo.

At Ontario Beach Park, the Smokin’ Dopes (2010 champions in the hamburger category) have been assigned a spot waaaaaaaaaay out on the edge of the competition, perhaps in the hope of shielding innocent children from whatever it is that a team named the Smokin’ Dopes might be up to. But judge not, lest ye be summoned Heavenward in the next Rapture. While the rest of Christianity was standing in its driveways last weekend, waiting to be taken (after having arranged for pet sitters) the heathens who are the Smokin’ Dopes were holding a rehearsal for the Memorial Day competition.

In what looks like a strategy to break up the Dopes, there is no hamburger category this year. We are undaunted. As we broke training camp Sunday evening, Chris’ tri-tip steak was in mid-season form, as tender as Newt Gingrich’s ass after the paddling he took last week. And the Cornish game hens – triple teamed by Rick and Monica and free-agent acquisition Karen – were throwing heat. Joe assumed the role of pit boss (I was dealing with a well-earned hangover following the previous night’s Bob Dylan Birthday Party) and delivered well-reviewed ribs. I think we’ve got the scallops, beef brisket, chicken and pork shoulder figured out.

Pork belly. That’s my assignment. I had seen pork belly only once before in my life. And no surfing of the Internet prepares you to cook that unpredictable hunk of stomach muscle, surging with uneven dunes of fat. It’s basically a pork brisket, a sprawling meat blanket of unsliced bacon. To get it to that point of delightfully crispy exterior and tender interior will require some pink peeking out of that pork. It is my mother’s worst nightmare, but now perfectly legal. Turn your back, Ma. I’m gonna beat that pork belly like a railroad hobo.