In celebration of National BBQ Month in May, I’m going to share some tips for better barbecue. We’ve gotten by the April showers and with the longer and warmer days on the horizon, May is the ideal time to get out and cook! After being cooped up indoors for many cold months, the smell of hardwood smoked meats coming from my smoker is almost hypnotizing. For me, it is relaxing to put a brisket or ribs on the cooker and hang out on the deck with some good music, a cold beer and a couple of friends, talking about baseball, summer vacations or the good food we’re smelling. Before you start your smoker, be sure to brush up on your barbecue knowledge so you’re putting out meats that knock the socks off your friends and family! We all have our favorite little tricks we use. Here are some of my favorites …
If you’re cooking white meat, brining is almost a necessity. Barbecue is low and slow, often being on a smoker for many hours. Chicken, while not requiring as long a cook, will tend to dry out, especially if it’s white meat. To combat the drying effects of heat, white meat should take a bath in brine for several hours prior to smoking. It’s sort of complicated but the salt pulls the liquids into the meat and helps it retain those liquids during cooking. Your meat will not be too salty due to brining. There are many recipes out there but there’s really no need to get too carried away. A simple salt brine with sugar mixed in to offset the saltiness is really all you need. For every gallon of water, add 3/4 cup of salt (I prefer to use Kosher salt) and 1/4 cup of sugar (you can use any but I like turbinado sugar – a brand name you might recognize is Sugar in the Raw). Some people add rosemary, garlic, onion and other seasonings to add to the flavor. I find that these are often hidden by the flavors of your rub and sauces, along with the smoked meat and are a waste. To brine, add salt and sugar to warm water in a container that will hold at least two gallons and stir until dissolved. Refrigerate it until cool. Add your chicken and keep in the refrigerator for two hours for skinless breasts, four hours for bone-in pieces, and four hours to overnight for whole chickens. Drain and pat the chicken dry before cooking. One gallon of brine is enough for approximately six pounds of whole chicken or bone-in chicken pieces, and up to ten pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts.
I have to start out with the fact that ribs were not meant to be boiled! Any true barbecue expert will cringe at the thought of boiling ribs prior to cooking them on the smoker. Boiling ribs comes from people who thought they were difficult to cook and could not get them tender! A purist will come unglued over boiling ribs! Ribs are simple really. One thing that will make your ribs more tender is to be sure to pull off the membrane on the back of the slab. There are many ways to do this but a table knife to start the removal and a paper towel to grasp it to pull it off are good starts. Do a Google search to find other ways. Left on, this membrane makes any bite tough to chew through. With it gone, not only do you get an easier, more tender bite, but you also get more smoke flavor as the smoke cannot penetrate the membrane from the back. And to make the ribs really tender, I use the 3-2-1 method at home: Three hours in the smoke, two hours wrapped in foil in the smoke and one hour resting in a warm cooler before serving.
Brisket may be the most difficult barbecue meat to smoke correctly and get right. Once we achieve perfect brisket, many of us refer to it as achieving “brisket nirvana”. The key, in my opinion, to a good brisket is to focus on not drying it out. I like a lot of garlic and black pepper as well as a little cayenne but reduce the amount of salt I use. And when I season a brisket, I don’t have the rubs on it any longer than three hours before cooking so that it doesn’t dry out. Beef takes smoke really well when room temperature and it will quickly get TOO much smoke. After it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees, it stops taking most of the smoke. Therefore, letting the brisket come up to almost room temperature prior to placing in the smoker will prevent it from becoming over smoked.
These tips will help you out this spring as you fire up the cooker. For complete details on how to turn your grill into a smoker, read more here. For a list of meat and wood combinations that work well, see this. If I can be of any help, look me up on our Facebook page or email me here through our blog. And be sure to watch our Facebook page and Twitter for more barbecue tips all May during National Barbecue Month! Happy cooking to you!