Sometime back in 1999 or thereabouts Jim Minion was participating in a regional barbeque championship in the Pacific Northwest. His cooker of choice was a Weber Smokey Mountain.
However, following the manufacturer’s instructions on building a fire in this otherwise wonderful smoker proved useless as the fire would quickly shoot up to well over 325 degrees. What to do, what to do?
Jim Minion, a fleet manager for an auto sales company, tried something different – he spread a layer of lighted briquettes over a pile of unlit briquettes and he found that he could maintain a steady fire for as long as 22 hours in his Weber Smokey Mountain. He took a first and a second in two categories that day and the Minion Method was born.
About that same time I was having incredible difficulty holding a steady temp for any decent length of time in my Hondo offset. I came across a description of the Minion Method on the Internet and decided to give it a try. I filled the firebox with Kingsford briquettes as recommended, lit a Weber chimney filled with briquettes, dumped them on top and for the very first time I held a rock steady 220 for four hours, but then the fire choked itself out from all the ash produced by the briquettes. But heck, that was a whole lot better than before.
My wife’s uncle, one of the most fun individuals I have every had the pleasure of knowing (he was one of those people who, from the moment they walk into the room you know you are about to have a great time), and a true lover of ‘que was visiting and he wanted me to fire up the barbeque. As an incentive he brought me a bag of lump charcoal. Not wanting to insult a guest, I fired up my Hondo using the Minion Method with the ump charcoal.
I fully expected a disaster as everything I read about the Minion Method said to use briquettes. Instead I was stunned – I quickly got the fire settled down to 220 and it stayed there – and held – and held – and 8 hours later the temp was still reading 220! By then I was done and removed the meat from the smoker
but it was another two hours before the temp dropped.
A convert was born!
That was several years ago and I’ve learned a lot since then. Most important is that not all lump charcoals are the same. Some will only hold a steady fire for about 4 hours. The average lump will give you about 6 hours. The best lumps will hold 220 for 10 hours or more. Other things that will affect the burn time are outdoor weather conditions, the make/model of smoker you have, and the temp at which you are cooking. I have also learned that once you learn the individual quirks of your smoker you can “dial in” any temp you want by making small adjustments to the chimney damper and/or the air intake control.
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 burns hotter produces very little ash resulting in a much longer burn time.
Fill the firebox with charcoal all the way to the lip of the opening between the firebox and the cooking chamber then hollow out ever 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) then pour it all on top of the charcoal in the firebox, keeping it centered as much as possible.
Close the lids but leave all the vents (air intake and chimney) wide open. When the temp reaches 275 – 300 degrees, begin closing the air intake. Close the air intake half way then check the temp in 15 minutes. If it is too high, close the intake half way again and check in 15 minutes. If still too high, close the air intake all the way. Check again in 15 minutes. If the temp is still too high and ALL VISIBLE SMOKE DISAPPEARS, begin closing the chimney — you guessed it – half way. Check again in 15 minutes, etc. At some point the temp will stabilize — check the vents and remember where they were as that will be your starting point next time — in other words, after the initial temp has reached 275-300, then you can close the vents down to your starting point rather than repeating the entire procedure again. The fire will slowly burn down through the pile of charcoal providing a nice, long, steady burn.
So, all of us backyard pitmasters owe Jim Minion a huge thumbs up for daring to try something different and making top notch barbeque a breeze.
Til next time, keep on cookin’!
HomeBBQ.com has released 2 DVD’s for the backyard cook. “Grilling with HomeBBQ.com” and “Backyard BBQ with HomeBBQ.com”.
In “Grilling with HomeBBQ.com”, Kevin Bevington (5 time FBA Team of the Year Champion) demonstrates cooking on gas and charcoal grills. He starts with the basics and then goes into some great food, including full recipes, and preparation. This DVD will include; Hamburgers, Steak, Chicken, Tri-Tip Roast, Pork Chops, Grilled Salmon, Shrimp, Stuffed Flank Steak, Baltimore Pit Beef, Pork Loin, and much more..
In “Backyard BBQ with HomeBBQ.com” Kevin Bevington (5 time FBA Team of the Year Champion) demonstrates cooking low and slow on a small offset cooker, and a bullet style water pan smoker. He starts with the basics on how to start your cookers, maintaining even temp, goes through full meat prep, and the process of cooking and finishing these meats. This DVD includes full recipes, and preparation. Included are the following; Boston Butt (pulled pork), Beef Brisket, St Louis Style Ribs, Baby Back Ribs, Country Style Ribs, Standing Rib Roast, Turkey, and much more.
These DVD’s can be purchased now via CreateSpace.com through the links below.
Grilling with HomeBBQ.com – http://www.createspace.com/252519
Backyard BBQ with HomeBBQ.com – http://www.createspace.com/252518
We will make these available as packages on HomeBBQ.com online store soon.
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.
First, know your equipment, each and every smoker is different; there are hot and cold spots inside the smoker. The larger the smoker, the more hot and cold spots there will be. Weather is a big factor during smoking, the pit will smoke differently in high and low humidity. Wind and temperature will also affect smoking. On a cold day, you will end up using more fuel than a hot day. On a windy day you will need to limit your airflow or your pit will most likely run hot (remember: more air = more heat, less air = less heat).
Fresh ingredients, and proper food handling guidelines are a must. Smoked meats are exposed to bacteria more so than any other cooking process. If you have questions regarding proper food handling, check the article here. It is imperative that proper food handling practices be followed.
Building The Fire
There are many out there that have great fire building techniques, and you should use what you are comfortable with. I will share mine as well:
I only use real Hardwood Lump Charcoal. This can be a little hard to find depending on where you are. If lump charcoal is difficult to find then regular briquette can be used, just make sure it is made out of hardwood, without lighter fluid.
A very popular method is to use a chimney starter. If you will be primarily using charcoal for your heat source, then I recommend using one of these to start and burn down new charcoal before adding it to your pit. There is a great tutorial on using a chimney starter on The Virtual Weber Bullet web site located here http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/chimney.html
In my large offset pit, I use lump charcoal to heat it up, and wood for cooking. In most pits you will need to use mostly charcoal, and then use some wood chunks or chips for flavor. A good rule of thumb is 95% charcoal to 5% dry wood chunks. If you are using wood chunks or chips that have been soaked in water do not add them until you are ready to cook. Also, you will only need a couple of wood chunks if you are soaking them first, or a small handful of wood chips. To light the fire I use a fire starter stick. I have also used a gel fire starter, I never use lighter fluid, and it has a tendency to flavor the meat. When using the gel I put my charcoal in and leave about a 3 to 5 inch gully in the middle where I put the gel fire starter. If you use the stick fire starter, then place pieces of the stick into the sides of the charcoal pile. Make sure you can see the edge of the stick so you can light it! At this point you need full airflow through your smoker. Both chimney vent, and the firebox air vents should be wide open. Then light the gel or stick and close the lid/door, within 15 minutes (small cookers) and up to 60 minutes (large cookers) you should be ready to cook. On most smokers the ideal cooking temperature will be between 220 – 250 degrees.
If it’s a windy day keep your air vents near closed. Remember more air, increased temperature. On some of the water smokers, you may even close the air vent completely. Typically there is more than enough air coming from the bottom and sides of the smoker. In an offset air leakage into the cooking chamber through the doors can give a convection type effect. Increasing the air draw from the firebox. In controlling your fire, there is no substitute to knowing how to control airflow in your smoker.
Another method is becoming increasingly popular to increase burn times and to bring the cooker up to temp slower and more accurately. This method is now popularly known as “The Minion Method”, so named after Jim Minion a competition cook who perfected this method on his WSM (Weber Smokey Mountain). This method starts with stacking a large quantity of un-lit charcoal in your cooker, then using chimney starter burn a relatively small amount of charcoal, then adding it on top of the pile of un-lit charcoal. The remaining charcoal will start and burn slowly throughout the cook. It will take many hours to burn through your charcoal this way. This method is extremely useful if using forced draft temp control, such as the BBQ Guru. The BBQ Guru will bring the cooker up to temp, and only burn what it needs throughout the cook.
Seasoning a New Pit
A new BBQ pit should be seasoned like a new iron skillet. It is suggested by most manufacturers to rub the inside of the pit with a vegetable cooking oil, but actually some even use lard. Then light the pit and bring the cooking chamber up to about 220 degrees. Cut the airflow in the pit to about 1/2 and let it smoke. A few hours is good, the longer the better. Another good idea is to spray or rub the oil at the joints of where the firebox meets the cooking chamber. This will help you keep the paint in those spots.
Here are a few quick guidelines on cooking times. Cooking times will be relative to the temperature you are cooking at, the physical size of the piece of meat, air flow (convection effect) through the cooker, etc. This is only a guide, start with these and adjust based on your cooker.
Pork ribs – a good starting point is 60 minutes per pound.
Pork shoulder – a good starting point is 75 to 80 minutes per pound, with the second half of the cooking time wrapped in foil.
Chicken – 45 to 60 minutes per pound.
Beef Brisket – a good starting point is 65 to 75 minutes per pound with the second half of the cook wrapped in foil. (Cook brisket until the flat portion is fork tender)
Using aluminum foil during the cooking process is a very controversial topic amongst bbq experts. Using foil on fibrous pieces of meat will have the following benefits:
Decreased Cooking Time – Using foil on fibrous cuts such as pork shoulder, or beef brisket will aid in collagen breakdown resulting in less cooking time.
Limit Smoke Absorption – Smoke should be viewed as a spice. You want to achieve the right amount of smoke flavor. Wrapping your meat half way or 3/4 of the way through cooking will limit the amount of time the meat is exposed to smoke.
Some view this as a crutch, and others (including myself) view it as a very necessary part of the cooking process.
The Water Pan Myth
The use of a water pan in upright water smokers, and in some offsets has been thought to add moisture to the air surrounding the meat. In the old smoke house days when meats were smoked for days at low temperatures, this was definitely a possibility. The reality is that at temperatures of 220+ degrees, the air will not hold the moisture. The water will actually end up on your meat, and can result in ash and soot sticking to the surface of the meat. Water used in smokers is to aid in temperature control of the cooking chamber.
Many have started using sand in place of water, which will actually help in the fuel efficiency of your smoker. Keep in mind that it is very easy to burn up a piece of meat using sand in place of water, and you should know your smoker before you try this.
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.
A recipe for Beef Short Ribs
BBQ Beef Short Ribs
1/4 cup brown mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs chopped parsley
1/2 Tsp garlic powder
4 lbs beef short ribsMix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Liberally coat ribs with the wet rub mixture. Let marinate for a minimum of 4 hours (best overnight). Place in smoker (or indirect on grill)at 240 degrees for approximately 2 hours. Wrap in aluminum foil and cook for an additional 1 hour or until ribs are tender.
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.
The secrets to juicy and tender barbecue have been closely guarded for many, many years and the art of barbecue has been handed down from father to son and treated as family heirlooms. The rising popularity of the Internet during the past decade has changed the culture of barbecue forever.
In the southeastern region of the country, barbecue usually referred to whole hogs cooked slowly over a fire of coals. Families often had their own recipes for rubs and sauces to go along with their favorite woods for smoking. Gaining access to these secrets wasn’t always easy. Good barbecue recipes were a source of family pride.
When I moved to Dickson, TN from Missouri in 1992, I was invited to help out with a family barbecue. I arrived at about 6 p.m. on Friday evening to find a hog roasting on chicken wire stretched over a metal bed frame. The cooks took turns roasting various meats including ducks, rabbits, and chickens throughout most of the night. There was a lot of conversation, some beer drinking, and a lot of work tending the fire. Periodically they would dab a vinegar marinade mixture on the hog.
After relocating to Florida in 2001, I rediscovered barbecue again. While searching the Internet for grilling tips and a recipe for pulled pork, I found Barbecuen.com and TheBBQForum.com. These websites reopened my eyes and ears to barbecue. About this same time, Food Network started airing various programs featuring barbecue restaurants, festivals, and contests.
A couple of years later, I discovered HomeBBQ.com and met up with Kevin. After a sharing a few e-mails and a couple of cell phone conversations, I drove to Kevin’s to help him break in a brand new Lang reverse flow offset smoker. I attended KCBS events with Kevin and Clara in Brooksville and Lakeland, FL and a few FBA events including the big contest in Sebring, FL. I struck out on my own at the Okeechobee, FL contest and got my first category win at the FBA event in Arcadia, FL in the chicken category. I’ve been preparing my own style of barbecue ever since.
I’ve cooked in KCBS events in Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, and Indiana since those early contest days and I’ve have competed against some of the best teams in the country holding my own with consistent top five overall finishes and several category wins. I’ve started my own web blog about barbecue to help others get started in the hobby and started selling my own spice rub on my personal web site.
Before the Internet Age, my learning curve would have been much, much steeper. However, for those seeking how-to barbecue information these days, championship recipes and techniques are only a few mouse clicks away. For $240, you can order a Weber Smokey Mountain from Amazon.com and have it delivered to your door step. You can spend some time reading the articles and forums and watching videos at VirtualWeberBullet.com or YouTube.com and learn how to use it effectively. There are numerous discussion groups and Forums that will answer any questions you have about specific cuts of meat or specific recipes you want to try out.
HomeBBQ.com is just another example of the vast amount of information provided on the World Wide Web for those that seek it out. I’m honored to have been invited to contribute to the collection of articles and discussions on this site. If you have questions about barbecue or suggestions for future articles, please let me know.