Posts Tagged ‘BBQ’

What Can You Do With 800 Watts?

August 1st, 2012 No comments

If you’re wondering what someone could possibly run with only 800 Watts from my new little Harbor Freight generator, let me just point out the following little facts.

On a Bradley Digital Smoker, the main heating element is 500 Watts. The smoker element is 150 Watts. Hmmmm. Since 650 W < 800 W, well, I’ll let you figure it out. While I’m eating slow smoked spareribs while camping at the Mid Ohio Sports Course this weekend.

Categories: Tools Tags: , , , ,

First Brisket in my Bradley Smoker

March 30th, 2012 6 comments
This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

I’ve been working on perfecting my bar-b-que for almost 20 years. During all my trials, tests, and experiments, I’ve worked almost exclusively on pork. Perhaps a little bit of chicken here and there, but mostly pork shoulder and ribs. This weekend I decided it was time that I tackled a brisket. In the most basic sense, brisket is just like any other bar-b-que. A cut of meat is rubbed with a flavorful rub and is slowly cooked over indirect heat for many hours, in the presence of smoke. The main difference from something like a pork shoulder? The kind of wood used for he smoke (mesquite instead of hickory) and perhaps the seasoning in the rub (usually more of spices like black pepper and cumin).

But for some reason, my casual research shows that brisket is more perplexing than pork bar-b-que. Perhaps it’s because brisket is a Texas specialty and there are fewer people who practice the art. So there may be fewer “experts” spreading the advice and knowledge that would make people more comfortable cooking brisket. Who knows… But I certainly see quite a few message board postings where people are asking for help after a brisket disaster of some sort.

I decided to start simple, with no long marinades or overnight rubs or odd smoking sequences. And I decided to use my Bradley Electric Smoker, both because my big pit is way too large for a single brisket, and because it was 40 degrees and raining this weekend. I searched for recipes for brisket specifically done in a Bradley smoker and every one that I found used some form of “crutch.” The crutch is a technique where whatever meat you’re smoking is wrapped in foil and then left either on the smoker at bar-b-que temperature, or finished in an oven or left in a cooler for some amount of time so that the carryover heat finishes breaking down the connective tissue without overcooking the meat. The term “crutch” is usually used disparagingly, juxtaposed with whatever state or regional style of bar-b-que that you don’t like. As in the “Texas Crutch” or the “Carolina Crutch.” I wasn’t going to use the crutch either.

What I have learned over the years is that the main base upon which good bar-b-que is built is the meat. Specifically, meat with a good amount of fat and connective tissue. If you start with a piece that is too lean it will never survive the long hours that bar-b-que requires, crutch or no crutch. And in this category, brisket is a particular problem. In the United States most brisket becomes corned beef or its smoked cousin, pastrami. Or, in my adopted part of the country, some god-awful usually inedible and under seasoned concoction called New England Boiled Dinner. What these dishes all have in common is that the meat is braised (or boiled) for a long time, which lends itself to tenderizing. But when all the cooking liquid is reserved, fat becomes a problem – it just messes up the gravy. So most brisket is sold ready for the braising pot and is trimmed of its fat cap. This is where I think most bar-b-que brisket cooks go wrong  they start with a cut that is too lean and then dry it out on the smoker for far too long.

I didn’t make that mistake. I had to ask the butcher specially for it, but he managed to find me an untrimmed 6 1/2 lb. brisket flat (as opposed to a point cut or “deckle” cut) with a nice thick, maybe 1/2″, fat cap. This I knew would survive the smoker without use of a crutch.



So all I did was set up the Bradley smoker at 11:00 pm and let it heat for 30 minutes at to 220 degrees. I rubbed the brisket with a basic rub of 1 part salt, 1 part turbinado sugar, 1/2 part paprika, 1/2 part black pepper, and a 1/2 part combined cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder. Then I set the smoker for 9 hours and 40 minutes (the maximum time), plopped the brisket on a rack in the middle, and loaded up 2 hours of mesquite bisquette, followed by alternating hickory, alder, and more mesquite for a total of 6 hours of smoke. Then I went to bed.

The next morning I increased the time and kept an eye on my Thermoworks thermometers. No basting, mopping, spritzing, or anything. 11 1/2 hours later the internal temperature hit 180 degree and I took the brisket off and let it rest for 30 minutes. It had a great bark and carved easily across the grain. And man was it good. It was fork tender from end to end and the bark had a great flavor. If anything it could have taken even more smoke, so next time I might go with 5 or 6 hours of all mesquite. But it was definitely a success and something I will make again.

Here’s the final product:

The Final Product

The Final Brisket


Categories: Food, Grilling/BBQ Tags: , ,

A Matter of Debate

July 8th, 2011 No comments

In the world of Bar-B-Que there are a lot of debates. Beef or pork? Ribs, shoulder, or whole hog? Memphis or Carolina? North or South? On which side of these questions you fall ultimately determines your own personal style. But for someone new to Bar-B-Que, these questions can be quite daunting. And distracting. So much time is spent arguing and discussing the merits of one or another style, technique, or trick that people often lose sight of what’s important. No matter how you look at it, the essence of Bar-B-Que is the control of heat and the application of smoke. These are the techniques which must be mastered. The rest you can play with for the rest of your life quite happily.

In case there are people new to Bar-B-Que who find there way to this blog, welcome. I thought I’d take some time to outline the areas of debate, and the pros and cons as I see them, of the classic debates. Then you can decide for yourself. To set some boundaries though, understand that I am talking about pork Bar-B-Que for now.

Ribs or Shoulder or Whole Hog

Each of these requires a different technique and each is tricky and rewarding in its own right. I assume you’re reading this because you want to cook some tasty food for family and friends. If you have competitive aspirations, then follow what the rules and customs of your competition circuit dictate. But for your own fun and pleasure, read on.

As one moves from ribs to shoulder to whole hog, things get harder. But not because of changes in technique. The difficulty is purely a matter pf practicality and logistics. A whole hog is big. It requires a big pit to smoke it, a big cold place to store it, and a lot of people to eat it. Ribs are small and manageable. Fundamentally, they are cooked the same way: low heat and smoke is maintained for long enough to bring the internal temperature of the meat to completion. The hard part for a whole hog is that one needs to maintain the right temperature in a big pit for many hours. Baby back ribs on the other hand can be made very well in a regular kitchen range in an afternoon.

So ultimately the answer to this is: do what you have the room for and the ability to perfect over time. Sure, you might be able to convince your buddies to build a temporary pit and do a whole hog with you, but you’ll probably get one chance to get it right and then never do it again for a decade. Ribs on the other hand you can make 10 times a year in a small kettle grill, so in a couple of years you’ll get really good and be the envy of your friends.

For me, ribs and shoulder fit well in the space and time I have. Maybe when I’m retired I can do a couple of hogs a year, but for now, ribs and shoulder are my main focus.

RibsShoulderWhole Hog
Can be made in a small space.Can be expensive in a supermarket.Not everyone can do this, so the star factor is high.Requires a decent-sized smoker (at least a Weber Kettle).Very impressive if you can pull it off.Requires a dedicated pit.
Takes only 4 to 6 hoursFits in a cooler for storage.Requires 12 - 16 hours to cook.Requires 16 - 24 hours to cook.
Can be consumed by one or two people in a single meal.Can usually find shoulders in a good supermarket.One shoulder requires 4 to 6 people to eat.Requires many people to eat.
Usually fits in a refrigerator.Needs a very large refrigerator or other way to keep cool prior to cooking.

To Mop or Not to Mop

This is a debate as old as Bar-B-Que. Should your meat be mopped during cooking? The advocates say that mopping is critical to the flavor of the meat. The detractors say that it is an unnecessary waste of time that destroys the formation of a good “bark” on the outside of smoked meat. I fall somewhere in the middle. But there is an important warning that is often left out of the equation: mopping lengthens the cooking time. Each time you want to mop the meat you have to open the pit and heat escapes. It takes some time to come back up to temperature. Not to mention that the evaporating mop cools the meat itself.

For me this is a matter of time. Mopping ribs in the first couple of hours of cooking can easily add 1 to 2 hours to the total cooking time. So whether I mop or not is usually dictated more by the time I have than anything else.

Membrane On or Off (ribs)

Most people take the membrane off the back of a slab of ribs. This makes them easier to separate and more tender. But some people actually like it, especially when it cooks up crunchy. As Bar-B-Que has become popular in recent years, more people are being exposed to it. And most of these people don’t like the membrane. So it has become the custom pretty much everywhere to remove the membrane.

The site probably has the best paragraph on this subject I’ve ever read:

The membrane can also get very tough and chewy, especially if you cook hot, and if you cook low and slow, it can sometimes get rubbery. You can just make slits in it and some fat will drain, but you still have the texture issue. In competitions, if you leave it on, you lose. In some subcultures it is common to leave it on, especially if it is cooked to crunchy. A lot of restaurants just can’t be bothered to remove it. But more and more people expect you to yank it and if you don’t they think your a rube or impolite. It’s like de-veining a shrimp. Skip it at the risk of deprecation.

What Sauce?

This is a never-ending debate. In my opinion it doesn’t matter. People love a good sauce so I usually give my guests a couple of choices ranging from a simple North Carolina ketchup, vinegar, and hot pepper flake sauce to a couple of bottles from Sweet Baby Ray’s or Bulls Eye. I occasionally even make a South Carolina mustard sauce. But at the end of the day your ribs should stand on their own.

2011 – A Pork Odyssey

July 4th, 2011 1 comment
This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series 2011 A Pork Odyssey
Public Domain photo by Joshua Lutz. See


Ring … ring.


“You wanna’ buy a pig?”

“I’m in.”

Clearly the start of a great summer.

About a month ago my best friend calls me one night and the exchange above takes place. Seems that another friend of his raises pigs and happened to have one that wasn’t yet accounted for by a customer. And when my friend thinks of meat he thinks of me. So, sometime in the next few weeks I will find myself in possession of half a hog. Mmmmm … the possibilities.

We’re approaching slaughter time so the first round of decisions has to be made … what cuts do we want? Smoked or not?

With a little help from one of my favorite sites on the web,, I’ve thought through the possibilities. Knowing that there are five major primal cuts typical in American Pork, I figured on the following for my half of the pig:

  • Shoulder Butt – I’ll take it bone-in. Pulled pork heaven here I come!
  • Picnic Shoulder – I’d prefer this boned; I’ll ultimately use it for stews, including my favorite Hungarian Pörkölt (a simple recipe can be found here).
  • Loin – There are three cuts typically derived from the loin
    • Tenderloin – delicious and tender
    • Baby Back Ribs – I actually prefer these braised rather than smoked. A nice Chicago-style like Alton Brown made in his “Who Loves Ya’ Baby Back” recipe on the “A Rib for All Seasons” episode of Good Eats.
    • Loin/Chops – This can be cut into several smaller cuts. I’m opting for a sirloin roast, a blade roast, and ¾” chops. I’ll probably lightly smoke the chops.
  • Side – the ribs and belly come from this. Ribs I will smoke – belly is destined for bacon!
  • Ham – what the hell are we going to do with two giant hams. Cure ’em and smoke ’em of course! I will probably follow this recipe from the Dizzy Pig BBQ Company. I will probably NOT follow this insanely complicated but probably delicious Virginia Ham recipe.

Throughout all of this, I am reminded of a quote that Perry P. Perkins (cookbook author and writer behind the Burnin’ Love BBQ blog) had in his book La Caja China Cooking:

Always warn your wife, in advance, that she’s going to find a large dead animal in her bathtub. . .

As someone who remembers my mother’s face when my dad and I put a pig in our own bathtub prior to a pig roast as a kid, I agree that more important words have never been spoken. Thanks Perry.

I’ll keep posting about my progress.

Categories: Grilling/BBQ Tags: ,

Six BBQ Lessons I’ve Learned

August 27th, 2010 1 comment

I just finished hosting the 8th annual Carnivore’s Carnival, the annual summer BBQ party that I throw at my house. I’ve been perfecting my BBQ for far longer, but eight years ago my wife and I decided that we should take this love of mine to a new level. It’s one thing to cook great BBQ in manageable portions for you and your family and close friends. It’s another level of undertaking to do it for 50 or 60 people on a tight schedule. As a first step towards competition, I think this endeavor teaches valuable skills. Like timing different types of food which cook at different temperatures, and handling industrial-size quantities of meat, rubs, and sauce.

This year everything turned out better than ever, judging buy the comments from the guests. The timing for just about everything worked out perfectly, except or some uncooperative chicken that took longer than expected. I used every tool in my BBQ arsenal – my Bradley electric smoker, my New Braunfels Black Diamond smoker, and even my grill.

Anyway, after eight years, I have developed some solid rules about BBQ that I will pass on here. I hope they will be of value to anyone just starting out.

  1. The timing and the technique matter most. The rub, sauce, and type of wood are secondary flavors. You can put the world’s best rub on a shoulder; if you over cook it, under cook it, or over smoke it, it will still taste horrible. Practice the timing again and again. Worry about the rub later (or try my recipe).
  2. Nothing beats a real wood or at least charcoal (hardwood charcoal) fire. I love my Bradley electric smoker, and my gas grill turns out some good BBQ, but the bark and smoke ring formed on a shoulder smoked over wood for 15 to 18 hours cannot be duplicated any other way.
  3. For regular, normal, everyday people (particularly northerners) the sauce matters. It may be heresy to those of us who appreciate smoke flavor and the chew of a memphis-stye dry-rubbed rib, but if pleasing your guests is important, give them some good tasting sauce.
  4. Buy a thermometer for the pit and one for the meat. Use them. Trust your instruments. Until you get really, really good, they will also help you understand what the bones are telling you about doneness when they start to loosen up.
  5. Get some shelter. BBQ requires time. Neither you or your pit will benefit from being stuck out in inclement weather. Moving from sun to shade can change the temp of my New Braunfels pit by 50 degrees. That matters. Consistent shelter will make for consistent BBQ. I use a 10′ x 10′ EZ-Up Express II shelter with walls I can zip closed as needed.
  6. You can never have too many real towels to clean and cook with. Forget paper towels – they rip too easily. A stack of heavy duty towels will clean anything and you can use them to grab hot pans too.

There you have it. Six simple rules I’ve learned the hard way so you don’t have to. Good luck.

Updated BBQ Rub (Again)

August 19th, 2010 1 comment

I’ve been preparing for my upcoming annual summer BBQ party, the Carnivore’s Carnival. According to e-Vite, we can expect about 35 to 40 grown-ups and another 20 kids.

21 lbs. of rubbed butt!

I typically prepare 21 lbs. of pulled pork and four racks of ribs, along with a couple dozen burgers and dogs and some assorted chicken and sausage. There are sides of course (I make a bacon-infused, cracklin’ cornbread for example). My wife is in charge of vegetables and salads …

Anyway, over the last year I’ve fine-tuned my recipes, among them my rub. As I mentioned in my BBQ guide post, most people won’t tell you their “secret” rub recipe. I’m not most people. So here is my updated and current favorit rub for shoulder, ribs, and chicken.

  • 8 parts Turbinado sugar
  • 3 parts kosher salt
  • 2 parts dark chili powder
  • 1 part sweet paprika
  • 1 part cumin
  • 1 part coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/2 part garlic powder
  • 1/2 part onion powder

I prefer the turbinado sugar over processed brown sugar for one main reason: it comes in crystal form and doesn’t clump and form a brick like fine ground brown sugar. So it’s much easier to use outside in the humid weather where I typically barbeque. I usually mix up my rub a few cups at a time and apply with a dredge with large holes that I picked up on eBay.

I apply the rub after giving the meat a light coat of maple syrup (grade B) and a dusting of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. I feel that the Lawry’s dissolves very quickly due to the fine grain and along with the maple suryp, penetrates the meat to season it. The coarser rub sits on the outside and does a little seasoning of the meat, but mostly forms the basis of the beautiful bark on the outside of the shoulder after smoking.

I start smoking the shoulder tomorrow.

Updated BBQ Rub and Seasoning

May 30th, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

I’ve written before about how most bar-b-que cooks are secretive about their rub and sauce recipes. I’m not. Even if I were cooking competitively I’d tell you 99.9% of what I do. But I’m not cooking competitively (yet – I need something to save for retirement 20 years from now) so I’ll tell you 100% of how I do things and you can use my recipes as a base from which to experiment.

My wife recently had her Aunt and Uncle here in the US from Germany. For the first of several dinners I thought I’d introduce them to something uniquely American. And what’s more American then bar-b-que? I’d argue that even the Hamburger has been exported so much that it’s lost its unique American-ness. You can get a hamburger in any country in the world now. But bar-b-que? That hasn’t been exported yet.

So I decided to make real spare ribs – using a rub I’ve been working on for several months. I also did these in my Bradley smoker since I wanted to actually be able to sit and talk to my guests rather than spend my time tending a fire.

Here’s how I did it:

Smoked Pork Ribs in a Bradley Smoker


  • 2 racks of St. Louis cut Spare Ribs. (I buy whole cryo-vac ribs and trim them myself. See my BBQ guide for a good video link and explanation, including how to remove the membrane from the back of the slab.
  • ¼ cup molasses or Grade B maple syrup
  • ¼ cup BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce)
  • 1 T Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 T Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Rib Rub (see recipe in this post, about half way down the page. Basically 6 parts Brown Sugar, 3 parts salt, 1 part other spices.)

Preparation (12 to 24 hours before smoking)

  1. Pat the ribs dry.
  2. Mix molasses, BBQ sauce, and 2 T vinegar together until blended. Use the brown sugar to sweeten to your taste if using molasses. Probably not needed if using maple syrup. Brush the mixture over the slabs until completely covered.
  3. Sprinkle rib rub liberally over the surface of the ribs.
  4. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 24.


I used the 3-2-1 method on these ribs. Especially because I had people eating who have never had ribs before and might not appreciate the chew and pull of regular smoked ribs. I use hickory smoke as always.

  1. Remove ribs from refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to smoking and let them come t room temperature.
  2. Set Bradley Smoker oven temp to 220° F. Timer set for 6 hours and 40 minutes.
  3. Let smoker warm up for 40 minutes.
  4. Place ribs on Bradley racks.
  5. Set smoke generator for 3 hours of smoke and start. (You’ll need 11 bisquettes in the tube for this).
  6. After 3 hours, remove ribs from smoker and wrap in aluminum foil. I add a splash of cider vinegar to each foil pouch at this point.
  7. Put foil covered ribs back in smoker for 2 hours. No smoke during this time.
  8. After 2 hours, remove foil packs from smoker. Unwrap ribs and place back on Bradley racks. Be careful to reserve the liquid from the foil pouches – collect it in a small saucepan.
  9. Start the smoke again for one hour (5 bisquettes).
  10. While smoking, reduce the collected liquid to a glaze by heating until reduced by half. Mix this with any additional sauce or spices that you prefer. It will be the final finishing sauce.
  11. After the final hour, remove the ribs from the smoker (they may fall apart at this point, so handle carefully). Brush on your reduced glaze and serve.

They were a hit! I think I may have started a German BBQ cult. Hope this recipe works for you too.

Pulled Pork From My Bradley Smoker

January 3rd, 2010 3 comments
This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

The first week that I got my Bradley smoker, I made two racks of spare ribs, which turned out really good, if a bit salty. The experience was enough to help me start learning some of the Bradley’s quirks. So this week, I thought I’d attempt some pulled pork.

Things turned out reasonably well, but there were definitely some bumps in the road.

The Plan

Since I was going to be up on New Year’s Eve anyway, I figured I’d throw the shoulder into the smoker around midnight, and let it go for 12 or 14 or 16 hours — whatever it took. That way I could have a later New Year’s lunch of fresh smoked shoulder.

The Meat

Of course, since I wasn’t going to smoke a bunch of shoulder, I wasn’t going to buy the giant pack at my local wholesale club, and I didn’t have time to get to Fairway Beef either. So I had to take what my local supermarket had on New Year’s Eve, which was bone-in picnic ham. I’ve used this cut of meat before, and while it’s not my preference, when smoked slowly, it works very well. So I took what I could get.

The Prep

Based on the saltiness of my first ribs, I changed my rub a bit, cutting the salt in the the first part and increasing the brown sugar. Unfortunately, because of the timing, I was unable to let the rub sit for at least the twelve hours I like. It only got about eight hours in the refrigerator — but this was a learning experience about smoke and timing, so I was OK with it.

The Error

Around 11:15 PM on New Year’s Eve I plugged in the smoker and let it heat up to 260° F (it was about 20° F outside so I knew the oven would drop when I opened it again). Just after midnight, I stacked fifteen hickory bisquettes in the snoke generator tube and powered it on. The feeder cycled a couple of times moving bisquettes forward, and then just kept going. After a couple of cycles I was greeted with a loud beeping and an “E” on the smoker generator display. Crap. I unplugged everything, then plugged it all back in again. I restarted the smoke generator and got the same problem. It just kept cycling over and over again. What the hell was I going to do at midnight with a picnic ham ready to go?

I quickly went to the Internet and looked up the error. Thankfully, the Bradley Smoker has a huge and hugely helpful following on several message boards, including the official Bradley forums. Between the Bradley boards and a site run by one of the active members (with some helpful FAQs) I learned that the “E” error is generated when the bisquette feed motor can’t locate itself at startup. (And is different than the “E1″ error which is caused by a broken temperature sensor or a bad connection on the sensor wire). The FAQ on the E error had a helpful picture, and so I found myself with screwdriver in hand, disassembling the smoke generator and taking my ohm meter to the microswitch which signals the travel limit of the feeder arm. I quickly determined that there were no loose connections and that the switch was working. So, figuring that I must have a fried control board, I blew everything clean with compressed air and put it back together again. I gave it one shot and I guess I got lucky — it worked. So my take away is that cleaning the bisquette dust out of the smoke generator is pretty important, because stray parts can jam the feed mechanism.

Anyway, after a 35 minute detour I had the generator assembled again. But my bigger problem was that the smoker box was already down to 45° F. So I was going to be well behind schedule.

The Cook

But I gave it a shot anyway. I loaded the fifteen bisquettes back into the smoker, put the meat on the lower shelf, added my remote thermometer, and fired it up. I set the smoker for four hours and twenty minutes of smoke and the temperature to 220° F. I waited 30 minutes to make sure that the smoke started, set the top vent 1/2 way open, and then went to sleep.

When I woke up about five hours later, the smoker was holding a 210° F temperature, and  the meat had risen to about 130° F. But anyone who has cooked shoulder before knows that the first few hours are the easy part. Somewhere north of 140° F (often in the 160° F range) the internal temperature “stalls.” After climbing steadily for five or six hours, it just stops for five to six more. It’s really disconcerting the first few times it happens because you’re sure that you’re doing something wrong, and many inexperienced cooks take the meat off too early assuming that it won’t get any warmer. But it will — with pork shoulder, patience is truly rewarded.

I let the temperature climb slowly for the next few hours, and it did indeed stall at 165° F. It hit this plateau around 10:30 AM, and then stayed there until well past noon. Then it slowly started creeping up again. By 3 PM it finally crossed 185° F and I started the oven for my cornbread. At just before 4 PM it finally hit 190° F and I pulled it out and let it rest in foil for 30 minutes.

The Results

I’ll put it this way — the results were good enough that after waiting close to 16 hours I didn’t stop to take pictures. I pulled it with two forks (it was tender enough to fall right off the bone), grabbed my cornbread, and dove right in.

As expected, without a full twelve hours to sit with the rub, the overall seasoning was light. But that wasn’t the fault of the smoker. The smoke flavor though, was also light and this surprised me. Most of the information I read said that people were happy with four hours of smoke — I think it needed much more. The next round I will go for at least six hours.

There was also no smoke ring, which is the result of the electric heat versus heat generated by the combustion of either gas or wood. Essentially, the combustion creates various nitrogen oxides (abbreviated collectively as NOx) which react with the myoglobin proteins in meat to form a red layer.This layer is akin to meat cured with nitrite salts. (See for a good explanation.) So this is something that I think I will need to get used to:  in an electric smoker — without the combustion of fuel, the “cured” layer that forms right under the bark just won’t be the same, so the texture and taste won’t be as intense as it gets in a real smoker.

Otherwise, this cook turned out well … the meat was tender, there was a light smoke flavor, and again, I didn’t have to watch the damn thing for 16 hours. So I’m still happy …  and after I finish off a few more pounds of pulled pork I’ll be experimenting with longer smoke and maybe some different rub treatments to try and improve the bark.

A Yankee’s Guide to Bar-B-Que – Part 2 (The Tools)

December 31st, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Yankee's Guide to BBQ

So, you’ve read my core-dump on the basics of bar-b-que, right? Or maybe you got here after reading about my Bradley Digital Smoker. Maybe you’ve even decided the type of pit you’re going to use. Now it’s time to really get started.

One of the questions I get asked a lot is what other stuff do you need to create bar-b-que? Mostly, I get this question around Father’s Day or at the beginning of Summer, when people are looking for gifts. So I thought I’d take a look in my grilling and bar-b-que toolbox. (Yes, I’m including grilling in this.) And for what it’s worth, mine really is a toolbox. I keep everything I commonly use in a Stanley Fat Max toolbox which lives during the summer in a storage cart on my patio.

The good news is that you don’t need much. Like everything else in the bar-b-que world, things can be done well with little expense.

So here’s my list, in rough order of importance:

  1. ThermaPenInstant-read meat thermometer. I currently use a splash-proof Thermapen by ThermoWorks, which I must admit is a fantastic thermometer. It’s faster than any other I’ve used, and the thin tip really allows an accurate temperature in cuts of meat that are thin (like spare ribs). But at $96 list price, you have to really like cool gadgets to want it. Don’t get me wrong, the NIST traceable calibration certificate you get with the thermometer really appeals to the chemist in me, but you can get more than satisfactory results with a less expensive thermometer. Prior to the Thermapen, I used a cheap Polder instant-read, which they don’t make anymore. But the next generation replacement is only $19.95.
  2. Remote thermometer. You don’t really need both kinds of thermometers, but a remote thermometer is nice to have, especially for shoulder. I use a RediCheck Remote when I want to monitor the pit from a distance. With this kind of thermometer you can monitor the temperature of your food without disturbing the temperature of the pit by constantly opening and closing the door.
  3. Silicone Gloves. Bar-b-que involves holding a lot of hot greasy stuff. For my money, nothing beats a nice pair of silicone gloves. Not only do they protect you from heat, but they clean up in the dishwasher so all that grease and sauce isn’t a problem. I use a set of two like these for ~$20.
  4. Basting brush. Most people are going to want to mop their meat at some point. And I find that a silicone basting brush works best for this. It can handle the heat of a grill  and is easy to clean in the dishwasher. I’m currently using a couple of different ones I picked up at the hardware store or supermarket.
  5. Towels. Speaking of messy … there will be a lot of mess to clean no matter what you’re making. So rather than using roll after roll of paper towels, I simply bought a bag of utility towels at BJs (I think I paid $45 for a bag of 50 towels 5 years ago) and I’ve been using them ever since. I still have 35 of them. They clean up in the washer and are way more useful than paper towels. Not only do they absorb more, but they can also be used to grab hot things. Absolutely indispensable.
  6. Cooking spray oil (like PAM). Useful mostly for keeping things from sticking on the grill or smoker. I buy the bulk size at BJ’s.
  7. Spatulas & Tongs. Not much to say here. There are millions of different brands. Buy something strong and cheap.
  8. Radio. I keep a Sirius satellite radio receiver in the box because bar-b-que is a slow process. And there is always a need for tunes while waiting 14 hours for a shoulder to cook.

Bonus tool: an infrared thermometer. I have a cheap Harbor Freight infrared thermometer that I keep around. It’s useful for judging whether there are hotspots on the grill or in the pit.

So there you go … you really don’t need any of this stuff, but it’s all helpful and relatively inexpensive and it can make your life easier.


Categories: Grilling/BBQ Tags: ,

New Bradley Digital Smoker – A Summary

December 28th, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker

I’ve brought my new smoker home and smoked my first ribs. And I’ve learned a few things about the smoker. Here’s the quick summary for anyone looking for just some basic thoughts.

  1. The smoker needs handles! I didn’t notice this until I was cleaning up, but handles would be welcome since most people will be moving this cabinet around a lot.
  2. Speaking of cleaning, everything cleans up in the dishwasher. This is a first for me … with the drip pan in place, there’s no more scraping congealed pig jelly out of the bottom of the smoker. Excellent!
  3. The shelves in the smoker will each fit one full rack of St. Louis cut ribs.
  4. The temperature controller held the temperature I set +/- 15° F.
  5. I used hickory bisquettes and the smoke generator worked great. It takes between five and ten minutes for the first bisquette to start smoking. The all seem to burn completely with no waste.

Basically, the smoker worked just as advertised. I can’t wait to try something cold smoked — bacon, here I come!

Categories: Grilling/BBQ Tags: ,