Since most Americans are undoubetly heating up the grill this holiday weekend, Chef Mark Hittle of Bobby Q in Phoenix has offered up his top barbecueing dos and don’ts. (That’s Chef Hittle in the pic with his very first barbecue!)
Always buy fresh meat. Fresh meat will always be juicier then any that has been pre-frozen.
Brisket: Look for large cuts with the point on. The point has more marbling then the flat part which helps keep the juices in while smoking.
Ribs: I use a 2- to 2 ½-pound rib. If you buy a larger one, it could easily come out dry.
Pork: Use a fresh bone-in pork shoulder. These are usually around seven pounds, and the bone heats first and helps cook the meat without drying it out.
Rubs are a very important part of smoking. If applied properly, they help seal in the flavor of the meat and form a tasty crust over the meat. Season pork and brisket heavily. Season ribs and chicken medium. Pre-season for up to 24 hours for a more flavorful smoked meat.
All smokers are different. Get to know your smoker by using it. Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t come out right the first time, just try it a little different. Keep your smoker clean by using real wood or pellets. It doesn’t hurt to talk to it while you are using it, and sometimes it’s better to take a nap than keep checking it.
Most smoking takes place between 200 to 250 degrees. Brisket and pork smoke more towards 200 degrees and take 12 to 18 hours, while ribs and chicken smoke higher (closer to 250 degrees) and take two to three hours to finish. Most smoke flavor comes from the first two hours of cooking, so make sure your smoker is hot, ready to go and loaded with wood at the beginning. Try to keep your smoker at whatever temperature you select to smoke at by using wood and opening or closing the air vents. (Open the vents to increase temperature; close to decrease.)
Wood flavors vary, so you need to know what is best for your taste. Pecan is a mellow-flavored wood, and it’s hard to over-smoke with it. It’s not a superhot burning wood, so if you need a little hotter, add some mesquite to the mix. Hickory is another favorite, with a heavier smoke flavor. Real wood chips work well—just remember to soak them in water so they smoke instead of burning away. Don’t ever use liquid smoke in place of wood.
Baste mopping begins when the meat is about half-way cooked. From this point on, brush a little sauce on the product every half hour for the remainder of the time it cooks.
Good luck. Barbecue timing is difficult. Sometimes a brisket takes 14 hours, sometimes 18. Plan on the most time and if your product is done early, just hold it in a cooler until you are ready to use it. This works great for pork and brisket. Try to get the ribs as close to your dinner time as possible as they will dry out if held too long.