What are the Keys to Consistently Great Tasting BBQ?
What makes consistently great BBQ? Let's face it, sometimes you cook, and after you cook you realize this BBQ is not as good as the last Barbecue you cooked.
You ask yourself... "What did I do different this time to change the flavor?" It could have been any one of several things:
- The meat selection
- Your cooking technique
- A change of wood flavoring
- Changes in spices, rubs, marinades, or sauces
- Change in your method of cooking
In order for you to prepare great tasting BBQ every time you cook, you need to have the same routine.
That is to say you need to get to know your cooker, cook the same temperature, use the same meat, use a great wood for smoke flavoring, and use the same rub. Sounds hard doesn't it? Well, it isn't hard at all if you follow these steps.
Step 1: Write down your plan and document the steps
I think this is the biggest downfall of people who are trying to learn barbecue.
Before each cook you should writes out a detailed schedule, working backward from the time you plan to serve the meal. For instance, if you want to serve brisket at 5 p.m. and anticipates a 12-hour cook with an additional hour for the brisket to rest, then you need to begin the cook at 4 a.m. If you are going to cook at 255°F for the first three hours before pushing it to 265°F, write down 7 a.m. as the time you needs to start increasing the heat. If you plan to wrap the brisket eight hours in, you make a note that you should do so at noon.
Making a game plan should be your first step whenever you’re making barbecue. It’s easy to get fatigued or forgetful during a long cook; the game plan is a way to keep you on track. It also allows you to look back and figure out where was the issue and how you can improve on your next cook.
Step 2: Select your favorite meat
Choose your favorite meat. Learn to cook it the same way every time. You may like beef or pork butts. My personal favorite is pork spareribs. I buy all my meat at Sam's Club. They have consistent good quality meat with good prices. You can pick your favorite butcher shop or whatever, but if there is a Sam's Club near you, check them out.
When you BBQ, you must add a smoke flavor to the meat.
This is one of the two most important things you can do to add flavor to your meat.
A good smoke flavor will penetrate the meat with the heat, and give your meat a real boost in flavor. Don't add a smoke flavored spice.
So what kind of wood do I use?
The answer is a wood that produces a good flavor and you can get your hands on. Many people use what is around them locally. It could be oak, pecan, hickory, or a fruit wood. These all work great.
The two most popular BBQ woods are hickory and oak. I use mesquite because of it's sweet smoky taste and availability.
Each wood gives its own distinctive flavor to the meat you are cooking. For a comparison of different woods click here. Do yourself a favor and try different woods until you find your favorite.
You can still add the smoke flavor to your meat. Simply put a metal pan with some wood chips (soak them in water for about 30 minutes first) of your favorite wood on top of the fake charcoal while you are cooking. This will give you a smoke taste. Check them periodically and keep adding them to the metal pan as needed.
You might be using some type of charcoal that has added a wood to the briquettes themselves. I would suggest using more chips of wood in a metal container placed on the briquettes for more flavoring. You can even put the wood chips directly on the briquettes if you wish.
|✏️ TIP #1: Never use pine or cedar. There are some bad things in the smoke that can ruin your meat and cooker, and possibly make everyone that eats the meat sick.
✏️ TIP #2: Never use a cheap charcoal. Many of the cheap charcoals are made with sawdust and glues. They simply just don't do anything for your flavor but make it worse. Always be sure your charcoal is made with a hardwood.
✏️ TIP #3: Don't use charcoal lighter fluid when starting your fire, as this will leave an unpleasant taste in the smoke. Also, don't use the charcoal briquettes that have added starter fluid built into them.
Step 4: Choose a marinades (optional)
A marinade is a combination of several ingredients used to tenderize and flavor the meat. There are many recipes out there for marinades with all kinds of flavors. But marinades are always a liquid and have a few common ingredients; acid, oil, and spices.
The acid is used to help break down the meat, the oil is used to keep the meat from drying out, and the spices are used to add additional flavor from your meat.
There are several different acids that are commonly used:
- Fruit Juices
- Fruit Juices
Oils can be a vegetable oil, peanut oil, olive oil, but never use any oil that will coagulate in the fridge such as butter or bacon drippings.
Spices can be a wide variety to suit your taste buds. They are used to add additional flavor (remember the smoke adds flavor) to your meat. Examples of spices include peppers, salts, paprika, cumin, cayenne, basil, mustard, etc. Of course, you will usually have onion and garlic also.
You can always experiment around with mixes of oils, acids, and spices to get the taste you prefer. This takes a lot of your valuable time up when you could have your meat already on the grill cooking.
Using marinades can cause some real serious problems if they are not handled right. Here is a list of some of the problems you could have:
I personally only use a marinade occasionally when I cook chicken or pork tenderloin. I use Italian dressing as my marinade. I just pour a little over the chicken or pork loin, let it stand for a couple of minutes, and then add rub over the meat. The Italian dressing helps hold on the rub as well as adds flavor.
Step 5: Choose your rub
Rubs are used in every part of the country to enhance the flavor of BBQ. Generally, rubs are a combination of spices which are "rubbed" or sprinkled on the outside surface of the meat before you put it on the grill.
Rubs do GREAT things to your meat...
- Rubs seal the flavor our the meat
- Rubs form a tasty crust on the BBQ
- Rubs enhance the color of the cooked meat
- Most Important - Rubs pull moisture fro the air, while drawing juices from the inside meat. This reaction is called osmosis. This literally causes the meat to marinade itself as it cooks.
Rubs are a combination of different spices mixed with salts and sugars. The salt draws moisture out of the meat, the sugar locks in the flavor of the spices by caramelizing on the surface of the meat and sealing in all the great spice flavors. The sugar also assists in osmosis.
Advantages of Rubs Over Marinades
A rub can either be wet or dry. Wet rubs have some liquid in them that gives them a consistency of a paste. Some rubs start out as a dry rub, but when it is heated, becomes a paste.
Why do I call it a rub? I prefer to rub the surface of the meat with the rub. Some prefer to shake the rub on the meat and leave it that way. Either way, the rub will enhance the natural flavor of the meat and add those special spices flavorings to the meat.
You can apply rub to a couple of days before you cook your meat, wrap it up in plastic wrap or butcher paper, and put it in the refrigerator. For larger pieces of meat, this works best. Add a generous portion of the rub at first to the meat. As it sits, you should add a little more rub before cooking.
Step 6: Let's Barbecue
For large amounts of meat, (brisket, pork butts, pork loins, beef tenderloins, and pork spareribs) I always use indirect heat and smoke to cook the meat. These pieces of meat (and most others) require time to cook thoroughly and indirect heat mixed with smoke will slowly penetrate the meat and cook it to perfection.
If you are using a gas grill with at least 2 burners, it is easy for you to cook with indirect heat. Just turn off one of the burners, and put your meat on that side of the grill.
If you only one one burner on your gas grill, you can still accomplish cooking with indirect heat and smoke by placing a pan of water on the grill, and put your meat on a rack inside of the pan. Be sure to check the water on occasion, and fill up the pan when it gets low on water.
For charcoal grills, you simply stack the charcoal to one side of the grill and cook on the opposite side of the grill.
Smokers are the easiest since they have been designed to cook with only the heat and smoke pulled over the meat.
You need to use a thermometer to make sure the heat is right to cook with. Some cookers and grills come with built in thermometers to and these will usually work just fine. If you don't have a temp gauge built in your cooker, then get one and put it where you will be cooking next to the meat.