These early days of summer are not like the ones we've known in the past, and the added stress and anxiety, coupled with not being able to have fun with our friends and family, is a lot for anyone to handle.
We’re searching for a silver lining, and of course, as we’re food-minded, we’re looking at our kitchens. Or, during the summer, our grills.
This year, since you don’t have big parties to prepare for, consider taking the time to try something new by barbecuing, or smoke roasting.
The source of the word barbecue is debatable, but the most popular theory is that it came from the West Indies where cooks were observed cooking meat over an open fire on greenwood sticks. In Spanish the lattice of greenwood branches were called barbacoa, which eventually became the word “barbecue.” Although we commonly use it, incorrectly, to refer to both grilling and the grill itself, the proper definition is the low-and-slow cooking process: cooking meat using dry heat, at a low temperature, with the application of smoke for flavor.
The technique is reserved for less tender meats with a higher fat content and the heat source for barbecue is all or partially fueled by wood or other products that will provide smoke. The product is cooked low and slow, gently infusing it with the flavor of smoke while the tenderizing process is going on. It is easy to get started with equipment you already have or by making a small investment.
Some of the most popular meats used for barbecue are pork butt or shoulder, beef brisket, pork, beef ribs, and poultry. Purchase high-quality meat with some exterior fat. If you are purchasing multiple pieces of the same cut, try to get them as close in size as possible so that they will be finished more or less at the same time.
The major difference between slow roasting and barbecue is the smoke. The product needs to be cooked slowly in the 225° to 250°F range in a contained environment with the gentle application of smoke. This can be accomplished in a gas grill, charcoal grill, pit, or smoker. It is best if the heat is maintained at a constant temperature, and the smoker opened as little as possible to keep the heat and smoke in the chamber.
Monitoring the temperature with a dual probe thermometer will help you avoid opening the smoker. The temperature of the meat should also be closely monitored. With a probe in the meat, you can monitor the slow rise in the meat’s temperature and its ultimate doneness.
Some cooks wrap aluminum foil around the meat during part of the cooking process. This holds steam inside the foil package and can lead to faster cooking and a moister product. The meat can be removed from the foil and put back into the heat to create a crispy “bark” if preferred.
Doneness can be determined by visually inspecting the meat or pulling at it to make sure it is tender. This is the case with ribs. Proper doneness can also be determined in most products with a temperature reading. The right temperature will vary between the various meats, cuts of meats, and how you plan to serve it, and is given in most of the recipes in this book.
The term “plateau” in the barbecue world refers to a point at which a barbecued or slow-roasted beef brisket or pork butt will hold at a certain temperature for a period of time. This temperature will be in the 160° to 170°F range. The meat will sit at this temperature, or may even drop a few degrees, for hours. This is an important point in the cooking process. Collagen is being dissolved and converted to liquid gelatin. This conversion creates extra moisture in the meat, and it requires more time and energy to facilitate the conversion. Be patient; the temperature will increase eventually and will continue on at a steady pace until your desired final temperature is reached, providing you with juicy, tender meat.
If you want to try barbecuing this weekend, here are a few of our favorite recipes!