No matter how you spell it, it means one thing: long cook time involving meat, heat and smoke. Anything hot and quick to get a sear like hot dogs, hamburgers and steaks is grilling, not barbecue. Got it? Good.
So I noticed a do a lot of smoking in my recipe blogs, but never really talked about my smoking habits and just a general idea of what barbecuing is like for me. So I thought I’d give a 101 class on my take on barbecue.
Believe me, there’s tons of resources out there that are better suited to explain it. But you’re on my blog and I like chatting, so there’s that.
So, for me, barbeque is low and slow. There’s only two types of smoking I do, cold smoke & barbecue. I haven’t tried hot and fast on a brisket or chicken, but I’m happy with my methods right now.
Cold smoke is when you just use the smoke and little or no temperature to infuse the smoke flavor into foods. Things like cheeses, lox, butter, fruits and vegetables are good candidates for this. The key here is to have little or no temperature when cold smoking, so cooler temps like in the 70s or lower are preferred times. Not during the summer (especially in Texas).
Now, with a pellet grill, this means you cannot ignite it and set it on its lowest setting. Even then the smoker’s temperature can reach 180 degrees and ruin whatever you’re smoking (I learned this the hard way, first time smoking cheese – clean up was a gooey mess)
You need a smoke tube or maze. A device you can load with pellets or sawdust, light it and let it smolder for hours as it produces smoke for the foods. The nice thing is, on cold, winter nights, you can start it in the evening and just let it go overnight and collect your bounty the next morning. The cold weather keeps it from spoiling and the infused smoke is just added insurance to preserve it.
Ah…smoking foods. Here is where you use a low temperature cook, set your meat in the smoker, close the lid and sit back for hours as it does its magic.
Unfortunately, it’s a little more complex then that, or Aaron Franklin would have a lot more competition then he has now.
How long until it’s cooked?
I see this all the time on BBQ forums I frequent. And almost always the answer is, when it’s done. Yea, it’s a smart-assed reply, but there’s some truth to it. For a long cook, there’s so many variables involved you can’t set a time to it. If you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
You cook until you either reach a desired internal temperature (like chicken or pork loin) or the product is probe-tender (like brisket and pulled pork).
Yea, that’s all good, but how long? I get it. You still need a ballpark figure to prepare, right? I mean, if you think it’ll be just a couple of hours for an 18 lbs packer brisket – again, you’ll be sorely disappointed and will need to order take-out for the family for dinner.
So…I’m going to give you a secret I use to plan – as long as you take this as a guidance and not gospel, okay?
Oh, you want more? Okay. This site is great. You can select your cut of meat, if you use a rub, inject, brine, wrap, post cook, rest, everything and it will give you a rough idea what to do and when to do it.
I’ll give you an example, say I’m doing the above mentioned 18 lbs brisket. I plan to use a rub (salt, pepper & garlic), wrap in butcher’s paper ~50% through the cook, rest for two hours and have ready to slice at 5:00 pm so we can eat at 5:30. I set everything in the calculator and…36 hours total cooking time.
- Apply rub the day before at 5:30am
- Set the smoker to 225 degrees at 4:30pm that same day
- Add the brisket to the smoker at 5:30pm
- Wrap at 4:30am day-of
- Complete at 3pm
- Rest for 2 hours and slice at 5pm
Now, don’t let this discourage you having such a long cook time. I added the rub for a 12-hour (overnight) to mingle with the brisket, and rarely I cook with an 18 lbs brisket (that is, it’s hardly that size if I trim something that big to start) and there’s definitely smaller packer briskets. But I think you get the idea.
THIS is probably the biggest factor in screwing up dinner time with long smokes. The ever dreaded stall. This is when a meat, like brisket or pork butt, gets to an internal temperature of about 165 and then just sits there. Sometimes for hours, before it continues its journey to the needed 200+ degrees.
So, what’s happening? In simplest terms, the juices from the meat and rendered fat are starting to turn into steam and escaping the meat. When this happens, it cools the meat, so there’s a conflict of an external heat source trying to raise the temperature and the steam trying to cool the meat. This is common. This happens. Don’t panic. This is where an 8 hour cook can turn to 12 (which has happened to me many times) Usually at this time I wrap the meat and raise the smoker’s temp to about 275 to get over the hump. (More about the wrap below)
And don’t worry, there’s plenty of juices still trapped in the meat to make it juicy after the stall.
That’s a Wrap
The wrap is optional. I’ve seen people do it, and others not. I’ve seen people use aluminum foil, referred to at the Texas Crutch (It hate that term) and I’ve seen (and use) peach butcher paper to wrap. Aaron Franklin even compared the three types:
I do a wrap when it hits the stall/165 degrees internal temperature with the peach butcher paper. Why? Admittedly, Aaron Franklin does this, so I tried it this way and liked it. I don’t use aluminum foil. For me, it has this sort of ‘tinny’ hint of flavor cooked this way. My first brisket was unwrapped the entire cook, and it was glorious, but I think this was a fluke and won’t risk it again.
So, after wrapping and placing it back on the smoker, I wait to get past the stall and let it rise to ~205 degrees.
And I know what you’re thinking, pork is cooked at 165, and well-done for beef is 160. Yes, this is true, but raising the temperature to above 195 causes a chemical reaction in the meat. The connective tissue, or collagen break down at this temperature. This makes the difference between chewy well-done steak, and fall-apart brisket and pulled pork.
Then, once the internal temperature reaches about 200, start poking the meat with either a probe or skewer. There should be little to no resistance when poking and goes in like buttuh. Once you got that, it’s ready to pull and rest.
Resting the meat
Just like any piece of meat, you need to let it rest so the juices will redistribute throughout the meat. And here is where you have some breathing time when planning around a specific meal time to eat.
If you place the meat (still wrapped) in a towel lined ice cooler, with the insulation, you can keep the meat still warm and not needing to reheat for up to 6 hours! I’ve done four hours once and I still had to pull it out of the cooler to let it cool even more before slicing. So, sometimes I helps starting the cook early just for this leeway.
You want to get to an internal temperature of about 140 before slicing/pulling.
After that, marvel at your accomplishment. Serve with whatever dishes you want with it and have the family & friends revel you in your smoking accomplishments.
And while not every barbecue I’ve done is perfect, I have yet to ruin one so bad we can’t eat it.