Barbecue. Few things smell sweeter in the summer than fruity wood chips slowing giving up their flavor in plumes of smoke over low heat. The act of slow smoking renders rather unappealing and tough cuts of meat into tender, smokey nirvana. For those who have had ribs at a chain restaurant where you don’t smell smoke when you walk up to it, realize you have been cheated.
I bought my husband his first smoker as a birthday present one year. A Weber Smokey Mountain smoker, or “bullet”. This is a vertical water type smoker. Very budget friendly (compared to the thousands people can spend on other rigs), as well as beginner friendly. The concept is simple: heat on the bottom, water in the middle as a shield, meat on the top. Smoke from the heat rises to the top to flavor the meat and the meat is slow cooked over low temperatures (225-300 degrees fahrenheit depending on the meat) for a long time.
We smoked briskets, chicken, ribs, pork shoulder or Boston Butt. After our first homemade smoked ribs, we swore we would never eat barbecue out again. Tender with an authentic smoke flavor. You could actually see a smoke ring! The ribs weren’t drowning in sauce or desert dry. The brisket wasn’t rubbery and, well, dry. And the chicken wasn’t, you guessed it, dry. Everything was just amazing.
There’s no one recipe for barbecue. There are no lists of ingredients that make or break a rub or sauce. It’s about the cooking process and letting the meat shine. These are really tough pieces of meat. They are from the hardest working areas of their respective animals. If you can conquer brisket and make it tender and moist, you can cook anything!
Some things I can pass along: if you are making ribs, take off the silverskin. It’s the tough membrane on the underside of the ribs. There are books that say that the low and slow cooking method will “dissolve” the membrane. You can try that approach, but if you’ve ever had ribs that are tough to pull off the bone, chances are the silver skin was left intact.
Watch your temperature. Just because it’s been sitting beautifully at 250 for 4 hours, doesn’t mean it will stay there. If you run out of water in a vertical water smoker, your temperature can skyrocket without warning. You don’t have to stare at it for hours, and you can buy fancy equipment that will email you when there’s a deviation. I just prefer to keep a watchful eye on it.
Make your own rub and sauce. It’s fun. For Kansas City style sauce, it’s just ketchup (mostly), molasses (or brown sugar), mustard, vinegar, chili powder, cayenne (if you like heat), salt and pepper. Like more cumin flavor? Add it. Like it spicer? Change it. Smokier? Add smoked paprika. Really fun and if you mess up, add more ketchup. That almost always fixes anything. Plus, you won’t have MSG or high fructose corn syrup in your sauce, unless you want them there, of course.
If you ruin your meat, there’s no amount of sauce or rub that will make up for it. Fortunately, it’s fairly difficult to completely mess it up.
We are doing our first competition in August, so we are practicing. Our neighbors are getting lots of barbecue and will be getting more. We have to practice Boston Butt, ribs, brisket and chicken.
Yesterday was ribs and chicken. I’m partial to the chicken. Smoked chicken is really good and something very different than the usual baked/roasted/braised chicken I usually do. I do like ribs as well, but everyone has a favorite of something, right?
So, if you want to join the really slow food movement, invest in a smoker. We’ve had a ton of fun with it and the neighbors definitely know when you are cooking!! I’ll update everyone as we get closer to the competition!!