Make sure you have a really good thermometer, thet way you can closely monitor your temp, this is a vital thing. I learned a massive amount through trial and error, my grill sweet spot seems to be about 225-235 degrees F. Also, try soaking your wood ships in cheap whiskey, it really adds a nice subtle flavor. I’l try and scare up some links for you when I get home tonight. :)
Alton Brown’s book has a very interesting barbecue fact.
The word itself comes from the native Caribbean word “barbacoa” which referred to roasting meat over a fire pit on sticks. A wooden frame used to hold the meat was called a “buccan.” And, no shit, the infamous pirates of the Caribbean were known to seek refuge and provisions from the islands, killing and roasting pigs and turtles and earning themselves the name “buccaneers.”
So a buccaneer actually just refers to someone who barbecues. Ahoy matey!
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I’m an avid smoker/bbq-er but by no means expert. Keep in mind that if you cook indirectly on a low and slow heat, it is hard to screw up a good pork butt. What sauces and rubs you use is completely up to you and is a matter of taste, but if you use a rub, apply it the night before. I actually use a modification of Alton Brown’s rub recipe and then make up my own sauce or two.
With a beef brisket, temperature is a lot more important because if you overcook it, it will get tough and while the flavor will still be good, it won’t be melt-in-your-mouth tender. Also, make sure they don’t trim your beef brisket when you buy it, you will want a thick layer of fat (placed in the smoker face up) to melt into your meat. 170 degrees inside of the beef is the perfect time to take it off.
And of course if you have the room, there is no reason not to make a bunch of different meats all at once and have a party. Hell, it is pretty much expected on the smoker’s second use.
Yeah, just read the quoted reviews for that book. Beyond being written by Ruhlman himself (Thomas Keller’s cookbook author), he got quotes from Eric Ripert, Batali, and Bourdain. Plus, the recipes work. It’s not about american BBQ, though.
Oh man, this is a huge subject. I could go on for hours. I’ll start with some basics:
You’re going to need something to make fire with. Get yourself a charcoal chimney; it’s the best 10 bucks you’ll spend. As far as making the fire - there’s all sorts of fancy hardwood charcoals available now. They’re good, but they tend to burn hot and fast so be prepared. A typical 20lb bag of Kingsford briquettes won’t have the fancy flavor, but the coals burn nice and steadily. So just get one of those.
You’re going to need something to make smoke. There’s tons of options available, and they’re going to overwhelm you. Hickory, Oak, and Apple are good standbys that go with almost everything. Mesquite is popular on store shelves, but it’s actually a really specific wood IMO that only works with certain things (the smoke lends meat a rather bitter flavor).
More about wood: They sell this stuff in so many freaking formats. Everything from logs to chunks to chips to shredded (???) to pill form (?!?!). Try to get chunks about the size of your fist - the smaller stuff burns really quickly and you won’t get steady smoke out of it.
Rubs, slathers, etc: Lots of stuff to be done here; don’t worry about it yet.
Temperature: Get some thermometers and put them inside your smoker. Get at least two. The chamber will have different temperatures throughout it, and that’s a good thing to know when you’re figuring out why the ribs are overcooked but the wings are raw. Ideal smoking temperature is at about 230 degrees for most things. You control temperature by controlling airflow to the fire (there’s probably a vent on the side of your firebox). Remember that when you add fuel the temperature is going to spike, and when you open the lid the temperature is going to drop.
Make sure you have a drip pan. Take some aluminum baking pans, fill with water, put them in the bottom of the smoker. They’ll catch the drippings, and the water will evaporate to help keep your environment moist.
As far as what to smoke - pork shoulder is an easy one to start on; even if you overcook it it’s still good. Whole chickens are tasty as well. So are chicken wings if you want something that can be done in a couple of hours. Ribs are fun but have some preparation tricks you’ll want to be aware of; and you want to probably cook them in a rib rack. Whatever you do don’t try a brisket right away; it’s a hard cut of meat to cook (there’s a reason lots of bbq championships are decided with brisket).
The general technique: Prepare the meat. Sprinkle a rub on the meat and let it set for a half hour or forty five minutes. Prepare the fire. Get the smoke chamber up to 250-270 degrees and put the meat on (you’ll lose lots of heat when you put the meat on). Let it cook for a while, then start mopping it with something to keep it moist (apple juice is easy). Add fuel as necessary; be sure to start the fuel in your charcoal chimney so it’s already hot when you put it in the firebox.
i’ve got a weber smokey mountain cooker and it works like a champ. This is a great forum that has good general advice and recipes (and links) even if you do not have that particular smoker… you didn’t give specifics so don’t know what equipment you have.
RE: smoke wood, I have developed a real affinity for cherry and apple woods - they are very smooth tasting and go with just about everything… i do salmon, brisket, pork butts, ribs, all with those woods, and they turn out great… give it a try and see what you think…
I agree with the earlier post as well, it is CRITICAL that you are aware of both the lid temperature and the meat temperature you are cooking. I always keep a log every 30-60 minutes…
If you want to see how the pros do it, there is a BBQ rib cook-off in Reno over Labor Day weekend that brings in the top BBQers nationwide every year…
My wife got me one of these last month, and I love it. Virtual Weber Bullet is also a great site – way more useful than the crappy manual that came with the smoker.
Also, yeah, keeping an eye on the temperature is key, especially if you’re using hardwood charcoal or something else that doesn’t burn super-evenly. If you keep a probe thermometer in the smoker monitoring the temperature at the cooking grate, you’ll be a lot happier. I tend to use two, one resting on the grate next to the meat, and one stuck in the deepest part of the meat I’m cooking with a temperature alarm on it.
I meant to show this off. For some reason there are exactly zero photos of this on the net. I picked it up at BBQ Galore last year and is a combination smoker/pizza oven. They didn’t sell so I got this for $400 on clearance, which is a steal:
The top chamber is for smoking the meat. The only downside to this is there is not enough room for it for entertaining for parties, so I have a green egg knockoff that I use as well. The 2nd chamber is the pizza oven with brick bottom. Below that is the actual cooking chamber for your wood and smoke. This results in some direct heat on the meat, but the brick dissipates a lot of it, resulting in it relying mostly on the smoke. The bottom chamber is your wood storage for your mesquite or cherry.
Just a brick and then the fairly long distance between the two chambers. There is no model number that I could find, although even if I could, BBQ Galore had discontinued the item so finding one would be challenging at best (it was an exclusive to that chain if I recall correctly).