Smoking and Barbecuing: The ultimate guide for outdoor cooking
Smoking and Barbecuing
Smoking and barbecuing are the only ways to cook meat, in my opinion. I have grilled, barbecued and/or smoked almost everything over the years.
With very few exceptions, anything cooked on the barbecue tastes better than the same dish cooked in the oven. I say “very few exceptions” just assuming there is something I have forgotten. To be honest, I really doubt there are any exceptions to this.
The barbecue isn’t just for steak and chicken folks. I’ll get more into ideas of what to cook on the barbecue later, but first lets talk about other things.
Grilling, Smoking and Barbecuing
So what is the difference between smoking, barbecuing and grilling?
Smoking is typically a long, slow process where you flavor the food you are cooking with the smoke from burning wood. Typical woods used in smoking are from fruit or nut trees. Apple, cherry and pecan are the types I will typically use. Mesquite and hickory are also used a lot. I like mesquite for beef brisket sometimes and beef ribs.
Barbecuing is also a long, slow type of cook by using indirect heat. Barbecuing is done with the lid of your barbecue grill closed and the airflow controlled in order to surround the meat with hot air.
Grilling is done with the lid of your barbecue or grill open and a hot fire directly under the meat, or other dish. Steaks, hamburgers and chicken are quite often grilled. Grilling is a pretty fast cooking process where smoking and barbecuing are much slower methods.
Gas or Charcoal BBQ
The purists will tell you not to use anything but charcoal. Well, guess what, I am a purist. In fact, I will take it one step further than that. If you aren’t grilling with restaurant grade, lumpwood charcoal, you might as well just microwave that prime rib you just brought home.
The difference between charcoal briquettes is the processing. Lumpwood charcoal is just pieces of charred wood. Could you get any more pure than that? The restaurant grade just means you get larger pieces and less useless dust and sliver size pieces. It usually comes in larger bags as well.
Lumpwood charcoal burns cleaner and much more evenly in my experience; therefore it is ideal for smoking and barbecuing everything from burgers to that prime rib you just put in the microwave. Check it out on Ebay
Charcoal is more associated with grilling and barbecuing than it is smoking. One way to smoke on your grill is to use those wood chips that you soak in water. You have to soak them in water because they are tiny little chips and need to be saturated with water in order to burn a little slower.
The problem I have with them is that you are covering your hot coals with cold, wet wood chips. So at the same time you are producing smoke, you are cooling the fire down. For the best results at the end of the cook, you really want as steady and controlled a temperature as possible. Lowering the temp by adding wet wood to it and then having it raise again as the wood chips burn off. As a result, when you finish cooking, your temperature has been up and down too much. This can effect the tenderness and quality of the finished dish.
I have found that using larger chunks or wood or logs will eliminate the fluctuating heat issue. Therefore it produces a better dish at the end of the day. And I do mean day, since you are usually looking at 6 to 8 hours for beef brisket and 8 to 12 for pork belly or pork butt. After putting that much time and effort into it, you owe it to yourself to end up with the best possible dish in the end.
To elaborate a little, what I have found is to have a good base of charcoal fire. Once that is established, introduce the wood chunks or logs to it. They will burn much longer, produce a lot more smoke and help regulate the temperature. This will result in a much better finished dish.
Grill or Smoker
The simple answer to that is, both. I suggest a large barrel style grill with an offset smoker box. These give you the most versatility and flexibility. The offset smoker box allows you to smoke with indirect heat, which allows you to keep the temperature lower. I typically smoke around 200 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are grilling steaks or chicken or something needing higher heat and a much shorted cook time, you build your fire inside the main chamber of the grill. With a large barrel style, you still can have effective indirect heat source if needed due to the length of the grill. Build the fire on one side and place the meat on the other side.
I would definitely say that all meat is better grilled, smoked or barbecued. But given that, not all meats are created equal. These are my favorites:
This is the king of all delicious meats. If you have not had pork belly, or cooked pork belly, stop what you are doing and go get one. Seriously. Go. Now! If you don’t know, pork belly is a bacon roast with the skin on. Pork belly is best smoked for 8 to 12 hours. The longer the better. I always shoot for a 12 hour cook.
Prime rib is definitely a barbecue meat in my opinion. I will sometimes let it smoke for about half an hour, but I don’t think it needs more than that. But like pork belly, the longer and slower you can cook it, the better. I like to barbecue my prime rib at about 225 to 250 for about 8 hours. Smaller piece for 6 to 8 and larger even as long as 10 or 12.
Laura introduced me to lamb very soon after we met. My folks never cooked it and never ordered it, so I had no idea that it was as good as it is. Until Laura came along. Small cuts of lamb are excellent grilled just barely beyond rare. If you haven’t had it, give it a try. It has a very creamy flavor and is incredibly tender and succulent. Larger pieces like shoulder or shank are great for a long, slow barbecue cook. Keep the temperature below 250, I prefer about 200. It is a bit delicate in flavor so can be overpowered by too much smoke so be careful.
Having grown up in Texas, you know this guy likes his beef brisket. Brisket is very forgiving in my opinion. Season it well and cook it long and slow. Smoke it with any good wood you have at around 225. Try seasoning it the night before you smoke it. Doing that will give you those burnt ends you would happily kill someone you love for.
The pork shoulder is a great one, and very versatile. Smoking and barbecuing a nice pork shoulder gives you amazing, juicy and tender sliced pork as well as pulled pork. Both of these are a must for any backyard barbecue. The smoke gives the pork that great, pink smoke ring around the outside.
Oh yeah! Ribs! Ribs are hard for some people. There is so little meat on them that people seem hesitant to cook them as long as you need to. First of all, smoke your ribs for around 4 hours at about 200. Then take them off the smoker and wrap them in foil. Finally, put them back on the smoker and cook them for another 4 hours. At this point you can just feed the fire with charcoal and save your smoking wood since they are wrapped. Wrapping prevents them from getting overpowered by smoke flavor as well as holds in the juices that will start dripping about this time.
Meat is not the only thing you should be cooking on the barbecue grill. Vegetables, fruit, deserts and other dishes are great on the grill. Smoking and barbecuing is ideal for large cuts of meat, but grilling is perfect for everything else. These are my favorite grilled dishes:
Lamb chops are a recent favorite of mine. As I mentioned above, Laura introduced me to lamb. For these, try marinading the lamb chops in mint sauce and a small amount of vinegar for a couple hours. To cook, first of all, get the charcoal good and hot and raise the coals to just under the grill rack. Place each chop on the grill, directly above the hot coals, for about 2 minutes per side. They should be charred on the outside and very pink on the inside. These are flippin amazing.
I love chicken wings. They are typically deep fried, but throw them on the grill with a coating of dried seasoning and then sauce them after you take them off. Amazing. Yeah I know, not a real stretch though.
If you haven’t done this yet, thickly slice pineapple and grill for 5 minutes on each side. You want the coals very hot for this and drop the coals to the second or third position below the grill rack. Serve these hot off the grill. Grilled pineapple if particularly good with pork or chicken. For a great desert try covering the top with brown sugar after you flip it. Honestly pineapple is so sweet naturally I prefer it without the added brown sugar.
Another great fruit on the grill is figs. Laura came up with this one just a couple of weeks ago. Neither of us have had figs that we can remember, other than Fig Newtons of course. Laura made a syrup with sugar, water and rum (oh hell yeah). First of all, slice the gigs in half. Next, bring the syrup to a boil and then dip the flat (cut) side of the figs in the syrup. Finally, drop them face down on the grill. Char the flat side and then flip them on their backs for about 2 minutes. Eat. Yum.
If you do not have a pizza stone yet, do yourself a favor and get one. It will fit very nicely on most grills, especially those Weber kettle grills. Laura and I actually cook our pizza on our fire pit, but the grill would be the same. Get your coals really hot. I mean REALLY hot. Here’s more detailed instructions for our firepit pizza, just follow the instructions and use your grill instead if you don’t have a firepit.
This is one of my all time favorite dishes I have ever cooked and/or eaten. Paella is a Spanish rice dish with some vegetables and usually chicken or seafood or both. Here is my recipe and instructions for my paella on the grill.
Try any cornbread recipe, just cook on the grill instead. If you have a cast iron Dutch Oven, you can use that, but I like using a stoneware pan with an open top, close the lid of the grill so that the smoke from the fire can help flavor the cornbread.