Cooking barbecue, or grilling has become a year round activity, according to HPBA more than 56% of Americans say they are cooking outdoors year round. So it’s important to follow food safety guidelines to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying and causing food borne illness. Use these simple guidelines from the USDA for cooking food safely.
From the Store: Go Home first
When shopping, buy cold food like meat and poultry last, just before your ready to checkout. Separate meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart. To prevent cross-contamination (this can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip on other food), put packages of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags.
Load meat and poultry into the coolest part of your vehicle, and take your groceries straight home. If your drive is more than 30-minutes away, bring a cooler with ice and place perishable food in it for the trip.
By Kevin Bevington
There are many types of smoker you can buy, which include many shapes and sizes. When you’re purchasing a smoker there are only a few things that you really need to keep in mind.
1. How many people do you need to feed?
2. How much money do you want to spend?
3. How much work you want to do?
Just like you see on TV you can actually build a smoker for very little money however, you’re not going to want to use a very low quality smoker to cook for many people. If you plan on cooking professionally as a caterer or as a competitor, you will want to buy a smoker that will allow you to cook a lot of food at one time. If you’re looking to cook in your backyard perhaps for just your family or a few close friends a smaller cooker would be your best bet.
By Kevin Bevington
This is probably the single biggest obstacle to many beginner bbq’rs, in fact the unfortunate thing is many start out with the cheapest smoker they can buy, and don’t understand that they have just purchased a cheap piece of equipment, loaded with design flaws. However, they are fairly easy to overcome if you understand the basics to controlling heat.
First, heat is produced by fire, whether it is wood, charcoal, or gas (we will talk about electric in a minute). A fire needs air to stay lit, right? Most of us somewhere in life have attempted the experiment of putting a candle in a jar, and watched it go out, as soon as it ran out of air. The same applies to a smoker. We can now control the size of the fire, with the amount of air. Increase the amount of air, and you can increase the intensity of the fire (assuming you have enough fuel). Decrease the amount of air, and you reduce the intensity of the fire.
Second, you need to have somewhere for the smoke, and heated air to go. If you put an air tube in the jar with the candle, pushing air in, the candle would still eventually go out, suffocating from it’s own smoke. The same applies to a smoker, you need an escape (or vent) for the smoke and heated air.
We have certainly seen high tech in BBQ the last few years.
With the Digi-Q II, the FEC 100, the Therma-pen, and the list goes on and on. Well, I received this email today from Humberto Evans with nerdkits.com regarding a DIY project that is near and dear to all of our hearts.. A DIY Meat Thermometer with Predictive Filter! uh… ok! I get it, I think.
Humberto Evans and his partner Mike Robbins, both MIT Grads create a video and web page that tells you how to do it. I will let Humberto’s own words explain this for you, and be sure to check out the web page at http://www.nerdkits.com/videos/meat_thermometer/
From Humberto Evans:
Even though cooking is an elegant art form, the at-home chef often has a number of fancy gadgets. From counter top grills to USB coolers, high end electronics have made themselves available in most aspects of modern food preparation and enjoyment. In keeping with our DIY spirit, and with Father’s Day and July 4th grilling right around the corner, we decided to build a DIY Digital Meat Thermometer using a temperature sensor, an LCD, and a microcontroller. To our delight, getting this project to work well required some interesting bits of engineering including advanced signal processing.
In this video tutorial, we outline the process for building the DIY Digital Meat Thermometer. In order to speed up the measured reading, we estimate what the transfer function of the system is and use a predictive filter to “guess” what the actual temperature is at the tip of our probe. The concepts, and the some of the intuition behind it, are presented in our video tutorial. The meat thermometer can be used with a computer to give a live temperature graph, or be used with just the LCD. Whether it’s a fathers day gift, or just a fun weekend project, this little gadget is sure to draw some attention at the next family cookout.”
My name is Dan Colmerauer – aka “Big Dan.” You may know me from my booklet on how to modify a “backyard” offset smoker to make it perform better. The majority of my articles will deal with what goes into building proper fire in your smoker and related topics – but I will diverge from that from time to time. By the way, I will accept questions and comments via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com – I try to reply to any and all e-mails but I do not use my computer on weekends and sometimes it may take a day or two before I have time to reply so please be patient.
I am a backyard cooker only — I don’t do catering or cook-offs, etc. I have, however, been barbequing in one form or another for almost 35 years. Originally from Buffalo, New York I was often seen barbequing and grilling even in middle of the biggest snow storms. I now live in Phoenix, Arizona where some days in the summer I swear all you need to do is put the meat in your smoker and wheel the smoker out into the sun. I have a Hondo offset smoker, a Weber Smoky Mountain, a Weber “kettle” grill, and a barrel smoker and I use them all.
Knowing how to build and maintain a fire is the most important part of barbequing. You can have the greatest recipe in the world – buy the best quality meat you can find – yet if you can’t build and maintain a long, steady fire, your final product will suffer.
Today, I’d like to discuss fuel. There are three basic fuels for barbeque: wood, lump charcoal and briquettes.
Typical briquettes are made from powdered charcoal mixed with binders and fillers such as coal dust. Their biggest advantage is an easily controlled, steady fire with very little temperature fluctuation. Their biggest drawback is the large volume of ash produced when burning briquettes. In an offset style smoker the ash will actually build up and snuff out your fire in about 4 hours – not enough time to barbeque much of anything. Plus, there are too many additives that can alter the flavor of the final product for my taste. But, they are inexpensive, readily available, easy to use and certainly can turn out a fairly decent final product.
There are briquettes available (but very hard to find) that are made out of 100% hardwood charcoal and all natural binders. No additives – no strange fillers – just pure 100% hardwood charcoal. I have used Rancher 100% hardwood briquettes and Royal Oak 100% hardwood briquettes and was pleasantly surprised – both at the flavor and the performance. While producing much more ash than lump charcoal, I was still able to maintain a steady 220 for over six hours. And the flavor was a huge improvement over regular briquettes. In an upright “water smoker” such at the Weber Smoky Mountain these are probably the best fuel you can use. I ran mine for over 22 hours with the Rancher briquettes without refueling and still had briquettes left in the smoker to burn. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find either Rancher or Royal Oak 100% hardwood briquettes in over a year.
Natural lump charcoal (sometimes called “charwood”) is my fuel of choice. Lump charcoal is made by burning hardwood in the absence of oxygen. The process burns off all the impurities (creosote, etc.) leaving a final product that is free of all the bad stuff that can ruin the flavor of the meat. It burns hotter than briquettes and a quality lump charcoal will leave very little ash – which means you will achieve a long, steady burning fire which will impart a wonderful “woodsy” flavor to the meat with a nice touch of smoke. There are a large number of brands of lump available – some not much better than briquettes and others darned near the “holy grail” of barbeque fuel. Hopefully, you will have a good brand available in your area.
The ability to use wood as a fuel is seen by many as the hallmark of the true pitmaster. I don’t necessarily agree.
The single most important factor in whether you can successfully use only wood as your fuel source is your smoker. The typical backyard smoker is simply too small to use wood as fuel unless you burn it down to coals first. In fact, many commercial pitmasters (especially in the barbeque belt) will burn the wood down to coals first no matter what type of smoker they have. The reason for this is simple – you want to burn off the impurities before exposing the meat to the smoke.
So — I tried this once. I used over $50 worth of wood – spent six straight hours burning wood and shoveling coals and the ribs came out tasting exactly like they did with lump charcoal. Some Internet research revealed what has since become my mantra: a glowing lump of hardwood charcoal is IDENTICAL to a glowing coal/ember burned down from logs. The only difference is how it got there.
Interestingly enough – at the more recent bbq cook-offs I’ve attended (I do love to eat good ‘que) I’ve noticed that most of the competitors were using lump charcoal in even the biggest of smokers because —- a glowing lump of hardwood charcoal is IDENTICAL to a glowing coal/ember burned down from logs.
Now, what about wood chunks or chips for added smoke flavor. They work, but you have to be very careful because there is a very fine line between a little extra smoke flavor and over-smoked, creosote-coated meat. Cross that line and you’ve ruined a nice hunk of meat (unless, of course, you like the flavor of creosote). This is more of a problem in the offset smokers than with the uprights. The man in Phoenix who sells cooking wood to all the local restaurants taught me a neat trick if you like to use chunks or chips for a stronger smoke flavor. Simply take a piece of heavy duty foil and gently place it on top of the meat – don’t “tent” it and don’t “wrap” it – just gently lay it on top. The foil will catch most of the bad stuff before it settles on the meat leaving the meat exposed to the remaining flavorful part of the smoke.
Next time I’ll discuss exactly how to build a fire using the Minion method for a long, steady fire.
Keep on cookin’!
By Kevin Bevington
Now that we have our rub, the right equipment, and we are able to control a consistent temperature, we are ready to attempt the toughest meat to cook, Beef Brisket. Lets first discuss how to select the meat you are about to cook. Beef Brisket can typically be sold in 3 different size cuts.
First, is the whole packer cut, this whole cut includes the 2 very distinctly different muscles that make up the entire cut, you have the flat which would be considered the flat long piece of meat, the point, which includes the nose end, and the meat layer underneath the flat, which is separated by a layer of fat which is also known as a deckle layer. The whole packer cut is the most desirable cut to cook in your smoker, the main reason being, the tremendous amount of fat that can be left on this cut to give it plenty of moisture to draw from while cooking.
Bought my Hondo over ten years ago and really struggled to get good ‘cue. I researched and researched and bought book after book but still struggled. I was ready to spend big bucks to purchase a fancy rig – or even get one custom made – I Was that frustrated.
But before I did, I used my research to make the following modifications, and my problems disappeared. Then I tried a fire-building technique in addition to the modifications and was finally able to maintain an absolutely steady 220 degrees for 6 to 10 hours with ease. I was thrilled!
Nearly all the “backyard” offset smokers (typically those that sell for under $750) need these modifications. The only exception that I am aware of is the new model Bar-B-Chef
sold by Barbeques Galore.
These modifications are inexpensive and easy yet they work wonders. Try them and see if they don’t work for you, too.
First the Modifications
Stuff to Get
Go to your local home improvement or building supply store and get the following:
1. One roll of aluminum flashing for the chimney.
2. One piece of unpainted, non-galvanized 22 to 16 gauge light steel for the baffle.
3. Pipe plug or metal cap to fill the thermometer hole.
4. If you don’t have one, you will need either a 3/4″ drill bit or a 3/4″ hole cutter.
Lower the Position of the Temperature Gauge!
This is critical. You want to measure the cooking temperature at the grill level, not at the top of the cooking chamber. Heat rises, and the temperature reading with the temperature gauge in its original position will give you a reading up to 80 degrees higher than the temp at which you are actually cooking. 1. Remove the existing temperature gauge. The hole is 3/4″ in diameter. Fill the hole with a pipe plug or a metal cap.
2. With an electric drill and 3/4″ drill bit or 3/4″ hole cutter, drill or cut a new hole a little to the side of the handle (if your firebox is mounted on the left side – if your firebox is mounted on the right side, you want to put the new hole to the left of the handle) and remount the temperature gauge in the new hole.
Note: Another option is to purchase a digital, remote temperature gauge. This eliminates the need for drilling a new hole. Get a small block of hardwood and drill a hole all the way through. Insert the probe of the remote temperature gauge through the hole so that 1″ to 1½ “ of the end of the probe is exposed. You can then place the probe anywhere in the cooking chamber and obtain a very accurate reading.
Improve the Chimney, by lowering it Toward the Cooking Grate
This modification will improve heat retention, helps to even out heat distribution and promotes proper heat conduction over the meat.
1. Unroll the aluminum flashing and cut a piece off about a foot to a foot and half in length.
2. Roll the cut piece of flashing into a cylinder about ½” less in diameter than the chimney.
3. Stick the cylinder up inside the chimney from the bottom leaving enough of the flashing exposed so the chimney is about an inch or so above the cooking grate.
4. Let the flashing unroll and it will unroll to the diameter of the chimney.
Insert a Steel Baffle between the Firebox and the Cooking Chamber
This modification serves two purposes. First, it directs heat downward below the grill for much improved heat circulation, which together with the chimney modification dramatically evens out the temperature in the cooking chamber. Second, it acts as a heat shield between the firebox and the meat to eliminate radiant heat so that you are cooking by heat convection only. This prevents the meat from burning before it is done.
1. Cut a piece of the steel wide enough to cover the opening between the fire box and the cooking chamber at its widest point (side-to-side). Make this piece of steel 12″ to 16″ in length (better to be slightly long than slightly short).
2. Line the piece of steel up with the upper bolts that hold the firebox to the cooking chamber and mark the spots. Drill holes to line up with the existing bolts.
3. At a height just below the cooking grate, bend the piece of steel into an “L” shape, but the angle should be less than 90 degrees. You want the end which extends into the cooking chamber to angle slightly downward toward the bottom of the cooking chamber.You want at least 6″ of the steel baffle extending into the cooking chamber (more is better than less).
4. Mount the piece of steel using the existing bolts and nuts, making sure the bottom half
of the “L” extends into the cooking chamber below the cooking grate.
Building a Fire in a Offset Style Smoker
For the longest, steadiest burn times I recommend you get the best quality hardwood lump charcoal you can find. Briquettes will work, however they produce so much ash that the fire chokes itself out within about 4 hours. High quality hardwood lump charcoal produces very little ash. If you don’t use a charcoal basket, you need to find a way to keep the charcoal away from the air intake. Here is a good way
Fill the firebox with charcoal all the way to the lip of the opening between the firebox and the cooking chamber then hollow out every so slightly — about an inch or so — just enough to make the pile slightly concave — a small area in the middle by pushing the charcoal up around the sides a little.
Fill a Weber chimney with charcoal and light it. When it is going real good (all coals glowing)
This site reviews most all available hardwood lump charcoals. The higher the quality charcoal, the longer your burn time.
It takes some time to learn the individual quirks of your smoker, but if you work with the technique and use the highest quality lump charcoal you will easily get 6-8-10 hours of steady 210-220 degrees. This really does work — I have heard back from hundreds of people who have followed these instructions and all report results just like mine.
I don’t recommend that you use wood as your primary fuel. The backyard sized off-sets have a cooking chamber that is just too small and it is very easy to over-smoke the meat making it taste very bitter and, well, gross. I have been trying for years to figure out why this is and I believe (and others tend to agree) that it is because in order to get the wood to the proper temp to burn off the foul-tasting impurities you will not be able to maintain the low temp required for proper barbequing (remember, low and slow) — the cooking chamber just gets way to hot.
Pork shoulder is really two cuts of meat, the butt portion or “boston butt” and the picnic. Typically the shoulder is used for pulled pork, and rightfully so, if cooked properly this meat will practically pull itself. If you have heard the term “low and slow” it definately applies here. This cut of meat loves time. Ok, lets get started!
Smoking The Shoulder
Description: Pork shoulder is really two cuts of meat, the butt portion or “boston butt” and the picnic.Typically the shoulder is used for pulled pork, and rightfully so, if cooked properly this meat will practically pull itself.
If you have heard the term “low and slow” it definately applies here. This cut of meat loves time.
Ok, lets get started!
If I buy a shoulder, I will try to get them to take as much of the skin off as possible, without removing the fat cap.
Its very difficult to use a rub when there is alot of skin.
I like to use my Florida Rub (listed under rub recipe’s). It does a great job on this cut of meat.
1. Thouroughly coat the shoulder with yellow mustard.
This should make you a hit at any party.
Cooking times will vary based on the type of smoker you are using. Make sure to read the manual.
Well, you have been grilling for years. But, you want to make some of that great pulled pork like your buddy does with his smoker. And, maybe a smoked turkey for the holidays would be nice.
So, what is the best smoker to buy to get started?
There is no perfect answer except, “It Depends”.
You must ask and answer the following questions to start your search for that perfect smoker for you.
- How many people to you intend to feed, both routinely and on those special occasions?
- Would you like an “easy to use” approach to smoking? Or, are you interested in the ancient art of fire tending and long nights around the smoker?
- Finally, the big question. What is your budget?
Let me take you through a brief tour of the different types of smokers on the market today. There is plenty of variety and you should find one that is best for you. For each type, I will list the most commonly discussed “Pros and Cons” for each genre.
I will be using a term throughout this discussion that needs to be defined now. A “charcoal basket” is a simple box, normally made of expanded metal or something similar. This basket holds a good supply of charcoal and wood chunks. A small amount of charcoal is lit and then spreads slowly through the supply. The burn rate is controlled by restricting the airflow.
With that out of the way, let’s proceed through the smoker types.
“OFFSET FIREBOX” SMOKERS
These are the “traditional” smokers with a separate chamber for the fire and one for the smoking area. The fire can be pure logs (sticks) or may be charcoal in a basket. Sizes and prices run the gamut from the inexpensive sheet metal ones found at the big-box stores through custom trailer rigs that cost many thousands of dollars.
Offsets are “sexy” and traditional. If you say “BBQ Smoker”, most people have a mental image of an offset firebox design.
Offsets have produced fantastic BBQ for decades. Lots of smoke flavor and the legendary “smoke ring” are common.
Offsets are dependable and relatively low maintenance. No electricity required and no real moving parts unless it is a rotisserie unit. Normally, keeping the smoker rust free, clean, and lubricated is about all the routine care required.
Offsets require the highest level of fire management skills. Many cooks consider this a badge of distinction as a “Pitmaster”. Maintaining a relatively constant cooking temp is an art form requiring frequent attention throughout the cooking cycle. This may be considered a great time to just “enjoy friends and life”, and maybe enjoy a few adult beverages.
Offsets require the highest level of fire management skills. Sound familiar? The learning curve for fire management can be steep and long, depending on the smoker used. I personally started with a “Bandera”. It is an offset with a vertical smoke chamber made of sheet metal. I had excellent guidance on fire management, but it still was a trick to learn. I loved my Bandera, but grew weary of tending the fire every 45 minutes or so. I built a basket and that helped.
Offsets, small horizontal ones in particular, have a “hot spot” by the firebox end. Temps can be 50+ degrees hotter there. Some cooks build a baffle to even out the heat. Some cooks learn to use the difference to their advantage. But, the hot end can significantly reduce the usable cooking area in many cases. As the smoke chamber grows larger, the influence of the hot area diminishes, but the purchase price goes up exponentially.
CABINET STYLE SMOKERS
These are the smokers that just look like a box with one or more doors on the front. The fire or heat source is located below the meat and is normally charcoal. However, the heat source may be propane or electric with small pieces of wood used for flavor. All heat sources work fine and produce excellent BBQ.
Cabinet Style units normally have relatively even heat distribution throughout the smoke box. Not perfect, but pretty even on most units.
Cabinet Style units normally enjoy long burn times at relatively constant temperatures. The ones that burn charcoal normally use some form of a basket or a gravity feed system to control the burn and keep the temperatures even for a few hours up to “many” hours of unattended smoking.
Cabinet Style units work best if they are insulated. This means that this style with insulation may cost more that the lowest priced Offsets and some other styles.
BULLET STYLE SMOKERS
These are the “cute” little smokers that look like R2D2 from Star Wars. They produce heat and smoke similar to Cabinet Style cookers, bur are round. Many, many cooks started with one of these. The “major player” in this genre is the Weber Smokey Mountain. I proudly owned one of these for over 2 years. I miss it sometimes.
The Pros and Cons are similar to the Cabinet style except they tend to be a single layer of steel and much more affordable. The WSM is easily the most commonly recommended smoker for a new cook.
PELLET SMOKERS and GRILLS
These can be cabinet type or resemble an offset cooker; I made them a separate genre because they use a unique fuel—compressed wood pellets. These cookers may be complex with a timing device or a computer to control the pellet feed. Also, they normally have a combustion fan to keep the pellets burning cleanly.
Rock solid heat control.
Long burn times of over 20 hours if needed with little or no attention required.
The flavors and types of wood pellets make it easy and relatively inexpensive to create the exact smoke flavor desired. I spend approximately $.50 per hour for pellets in my FEC 100.
Pellets burn very cleanly and it is considered difficult to “over smoke” the product.
Pellet smokers require electricity to operate the controller and the fans.
Pellet smokers have electrical and mechanical parts that are subject to failure. They have an excellent service history, but most owners keep a few basic repair parts like “drive pins” available.
Pellet smokers are expensive.
So, this completes my tour of the various types of smokers on the market.
Remember those three questions?
Evaluate your needs first and then start shopping.
Once you determine your needs, feel free to ask here for more information on specific brands.
Aluminum foil is a valuable tool for preparing bbq ribs, pork butts, and brisket. When used correctly, it helps improve consistency and predictability in barbecue preparation.
Some might call it a “crutch”, but for me using aluminum foil is a common sense approach to preparing good barbecue. I’m not currently aware of any bbq contest winners that do not use it in abundance. I’m not saying you can’t win without it, but I’d wager that 95% of all bbq contest champions are using it when they prepare their contest meats.
Here are some examples of how I use it:
For ribs…..I slow cook my baby backs for 2 1/2 hours at 225 degrees. Then I wrap them in a double thickness of foil with the meat side down with three ounces of apple juice or grape juice or a mixture of both, for 1 1/2 hours cooking at 250 degrees. After an hour, I remove the foil, brush on my favorite sauce, and cook for 30 or 40 minutes until the meat starts to pull away gently from the bones.
For pork butts or brisket…I slow cook the pork butts and briskets for 5 hours at 225 degrees and wrap in a double thickness of aluminum foil. I cook them until the internal meat temperature reaches 198 degrees as measured with a meat thermometer.
Using a double thickness of foil prevents the rib bones from puncturing the foil and the juice running out. When cooking bigger pieces of meat like briskets and pork butts, there is a lot of juice and aus jous that collects in the foil. A double thickness helps prevent leakage and preserves the juice for basting the meat later on, if desired.
Aluminum foil is also used as an aid to accelerate the cooking process. A pork butt or brisket cooked without using aluminum foil can take two or three hours longer to cook. It also makes a good disposable surface for preparing meats. At contests when water isn’t readily available at my cooksite, I sometimes spread a sheet of foil over my cutting board when injecting the larger cuts of meats. When finished, I simply fold up the foil and throw it away.