Below is a list of the 14 most important things to watch when slow smoking BBQ. All of these tips assume you have already purchased and are using the barbeque techniques in “Competition BBQ Secrets” of course. That’s the best tip out of all my tips, but the advice in this list are things that BBQers seem to have the most problems with. I have learned what these problems are directly from your emails to me asking for advice…
14. Proper ventilation. Make sure your firebox has enough ventilation. This helps to keep your fire burning properly and not smoldering. You want a light blue smoke – not a billowing white smoke. If you can, open the vents on your firebox all the way and try to maintain your cooking chamber heat with the fire alone. Always leave the smokestack vent open all the way. I have noticed lately that some smokers have bad designs where the fire is well below the firebox vents. The air has to come in and then down to the fire and then up into the cooking chamber. This makes it very hard to get proper airflow. The only way to fix this is to get your drill out and drill a few 1 inch holes in the side of your firebox.
13. Indirect heat. Make sure you set up your grill or smoker for indirect heat. Some of you are using gas grills or Weber charcoal grills – make sure you set them up properly for indirect heat.
12. Know your smoker. There are hot spots and cold spots on every smoker. After it gets up to temperature, check the temperature at different spots on your grate. Place your meat accordingly. For instance, chicken is better if cooked at a slightly higher temperature.
11. Buy a quality smoker if you can afford it. You get what you pay for when it comes to smokers. You can cook some good ribs on things like a charcoal grill, but it is much easier to do on a well built smoker. Insulation is key to maintaining a consistent temperature and producing quality BBQ. Look for thick steel on traditional offset smokers. The thick steel will hold in the heat. Insulated vertical smokers like the Stumps and Big Green Egg are nice too.
10. Use a water pan. Using a water pan will help regulate the heat in your smoking chamber and will also maintain a moist environment. Put some beer in the pan for some extra flavor!
9 . Let your meat come to room temperature before cooking. You can really get some strange results if the inside of your meat is cold when you put it on the smoker. Never put frozen meats on a smoker without thawing to room temperature first. Don’t let your meat sit out at room temperature too long though or you’ll run the risk of bacteria contamination.
8. Don’t poke holes in your meat. What happens when you poke a hole in a piece of meat that has been on the smoker a while? You can literally see the juices gushing out! Do your injections before cooking and maybe insert one temperature probe. After that, try not to poke it any more. Don’t use a fork to pick up your meat. Wear gloves and use your hands or tongs. Of course, let your meat rest properly before cutting or pulling. If you don’t, all the juices will pour out and your meat will be dry.
7. Buy quality meat to start with.
6. Keep your lid shut. If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’. Consistent temperatures are the key to great barbeque. Needless to say, opening the lid lets all the heat out. Open only when necessary – not when you are curious or just to take a look.
5. Learn what good BBQ is. This may be the best tip out of all of them. Most people have no idea what good, quality ribs, brisket, pork, and chicken tastes like. Sure… everybody has tasted good BBQ before, but how are you going to know that there is a whole another level if you have never tried it? I have actually had people have me try their brisket that they thought was the best in the world and it was literally as tough as shoe leather! The question is… how do you try great BBQ? One way is to go to a BBQ contest and get friendly with one of the teams and see if they will throw you a bone or two. Don’t be surprised if they don’t because most teams cook just enough for themselves and the judges. And they are not allowed to sell it without paying a vendors fee. Another thing you can do is participate in the “people’s choice” competition. You will sample several small portions of BBQ from the teams and pick which one you like the best. But the very best way to learn what real competition BBQ tastes like is to become a certified judge. Check with your local BBQ society and get certified and then volunteer to be a judge in the next contest. All the BBQ Associations are looking for good BBQ judges and you’ll be doing them a favor and yourself too. You will be trained as to what to look for in good BBQ and you will be able to taste a whole lot of great BBQ on competition day.
4. Fixing the rubbery chicken skin problem. Just prepare yourself a hot bed of coals on a standard grill and then grill your smoked chicken over high heat for about 5 minutes per side to crisp the skin.
3. Don’t be afraid to experiment. There are a million different ways to barbecue. Think of all the different combinations of spices, rubs, injections, marinades, smoke flavors, times and temperatures that you can have. If you do try something else, maybe just change one thing at a time. In any kind of testing, you always have a “control” to measure against. If your new test is better, then it becomes your new control and your old control does not get used anymore. If you change more than one thing at a time, you will not know which of the two things made the improvement. Keep good notes too.
2. Give yourself plenty of time. Finishing early is no problem at all. Not finishing on time is a big problem – ever heard of somebody finishing their barbecue in the oven? If you finish early, just wrap it in foil and place it in a warm ice chest. It will stay hot and actually continue to cook in the ice chest. Some big name BBQ teams do this on purpose… they remove their briskets early and let them finish cooking in the ice chest.
1. Measure temperature AT THE GRATE. So many people use the thermometer in the lid of their smoker. This is a big mistake. Always use a digital remote thermometer with a dual probe and measure your cooking chamber temperatures at the grate right next to your meat.