Summer is all about being outdoors, fun, and adventure. By anyone’s measure, the July 4th weekend is the most popular barbequing weekend of the year, according to a recent Statista survey, even above Memorial Day!
This year, in the quest to ‘Live Your Best Life,’ we challenge you to step up your barbeque game and move from the normal grilling hotdogs and hamburgers or ‘BBQ’ing’ steaks to smoking a big piece of meat like a pork shoulder, brisket, or even those ribs that you would normally sear-and-serve! We’ll be the first to admit that smoking isn’t exactly a quick, easy process. It can take a few hours (all day or even all night) to get it done just right, and a lot of babysitting can go into it, especially when you’re just learning. You may think you need a big expensive pellet smoker or a wood-burning smoker with a pile of exotic fruitwood or oak - You don’t!
“Most people think of smoking meat and believe that it’s something handled by Professional or Backyard Pitmasters with these giant or high-tech rigs; that’s the stereotypical image,” says David Betz (Owner of the pop-up Smoking Soul BBQ in Horizon West).” “The result of perfect BBQ is from the ‘chef’ and not the equipment; you can use the grill you already have to produce some pretty awesome BBQ.” Betz continues, “The real secret to epic BBQ is clean smoke, time, attention, and quality ingredients.”
Mike Mullen (General Manager at The Local Butcher and Market in Winter Garden) agrees, “Really good BBQ starts with really good ingredients and the meat your Butcher helps you pick out (helped along with spices, rubs, etcetera), is the star of the show. You should always buy the highest-grade protein in your budget. In simplest terms, the USDA grades are based on fat marbling and range Select, Choice, and Prime.” Mullen adds, “One of the most affordable beef cuts to smoke right now is USDA Prime beef brisket, but we also have some pretty amazing pork shoulders and ribs that would smoke up pretty well.”
“At Smoking Soul, we use ‘Big Sexy,’ our 13-foot trailer base smoker with a 250-gallon cooking chamber; but at home when I’m smoking for family and friends, I use the Webber kettle grill I started with!” says Betz. “To set the grill up; I typically go with the ‘Snake Method’ where you make a wall of charcoal briskets, about as wide as your hand and two or three tall in a snake from, let’s say 12-O’clock to 6-o’clock on one side of the grill. About every four to five inches or so on the snake, I lay on a chunk of the wood I’m using to smoke.” Betz added, “for brisket, I like to use oak; for pork butt, a cherry or applewood is great; for chicken or ribs, I like to use hickory or mesquite to get that smokehouse flavor – you can pick up various kinds of wood chunks from your local BBQ supply shop, like Megabyte BBQ Supply in Winter Garden (https://MegaByteBBQ.com / 855-965-2160) and have even seen some options at our local hardware and grocery stores.”
The last step to set up your grill as a smoker is to ensure moisture and convection in the cooking space. I use an old loaf pan, right in the middle of the grilling area, filled with water to act as a barrier between the heat source and whatever I’m smoking,” Betz described. “then ditch the lighter fluid and use fire starters to get the charcoal snake lit and let the grill get 225-degree to 250-degree cooking range. You can add charcoal and wood chunks to maintain that temperature during your smoke.”
Mullen adds, “now’s a good time to chat about preparing your protein. For brisket, you will want to trim off most of the fat on The Point and spot trim around the brisket. For pork shoulder/butt, you don’t have to really do anything other than don’t ever trim the fat cap; if the shoulder/butt is missing the fat cap, don’t buy it – fat is flavor! For ribs, just remove the silver skin or ask your butcher to do it for you as it can be tricky.”
Both Mullen and Betz agree that keeping it simple regarding rubs and seasoning is key when starting out. Betz explains, “I really like Texas Style BBQ where you let the flavor of the smoke and meat shine. For example, I’d suggest a super simple rub of equal parts kosher salt and ground black pepper for brisket. For pork shoulder/butt, chicken, or ribs, you can pick from any number of rubs at your BBQ supply shop or local grocery store; or something fun to do with where you can have some bragging rights is to Google ‘BBQ rub recipe’ and make your own! One thing to remember,” Betz adds “because pork shoulders/butts and ribs take longer to smoke, try to find a rub for those that have a lower sugar content, so you don’t get a burnt flavor.” Mullen’s adds, “now that we’re ready for the protein to meet the grill, remember fat is flavor and is always top! For brisket, there is a clear top; for pork shoulder/butts, the fat cap is top; for ribs, I start them out with the meat side up.”
During the smoke, you will want to maintain the grill’s temperature around 250-degrees by adding charcoal briskets and woodchucks; also, remember to keep water in your water pan. Depending on weight, it can take 1-hour to 2-hours for chicken, 2-hours to 8-hours for ribs, and 12-hours plus for brisket, you will want to keep a close eye on the meat temperature. Betz adds, “I pull the brisket and pork shoulders/butts off the smoker at about 165-degree and wrap them tightly in pink butcher paper (your Butcher can give you extra) as at this point the meat won’t take any more smoke flavors, AND to protect that beautiful bark that formed.” Betz continues, “then I put them in a disposable aluminum pan and back on the grill until their done; 165-degrees for chicken and 195-degrees for brisket and pork shoulder/butt.”
“Now it’s time for The Rest,” adds Mullen. “You’ve heard that letting the meat rest before you cut into it allows time for the juices to reconstitute, that’s correct, but it also gives more time for the fat and collagen in the meat to break down, adding more flavor and texture.” Mullen and Betz both agree that about 15-minutes for chicken and an hour for beef and pork is a good bet.
“Now it’s time to cut, serve and enjoy the fruits of your labor!” Betz says. “For brisket, my best tip is to use a sharp knife (or you’ll destroy the bark that formed, and your beautiful brisket will look like day-old pot roast), cut the point off of the flat and cube it, cut the flat in even one-half inch slices against/across the grain. For pulled pork, pull apart with a fork or your fingers but don’t work the meat too much; I like to see chunks and shreds in my pulled pork.”
And there you have it from our pro’s; how to teach the grill you already have new tricks and claim that all-important title of Master Backyard Pitmaster!