Author Topic: BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1  (Read 1392 times)

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Online Elderberry

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BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1
« on: May 11, 2019, 07:19:17 PM »
Thermoblog by Martin Earl

Barbecue is perhaps the iconic American form of cooking. We borrowed everything else, but the various regional styles of BBQ in America are ours. Today, the interest in BBQ is growing like never before, with local competitions springing up all over and slow-cooked, smoked meats making their from hard-to-find back-woods shacks into manicured suburban neighborhoods. Americans love barbecue and are expressing that love by learning how to do it. If you’ve decided to learn the craft, or even if you have cooked a few butts in your day, you’ve probably come across the million blogs, forums, books, and magazines that are available to those that want to perform carnivorous alchemy, and you’ve likely been overwhelmed by it all. I know I was.

That is why we’re bringing you this BBQ 101 guide. In this series, we’ll distill the basics of what you need to know about smoking meat, from smoker to sauce. In Part 1, we’ll go over the history and origins of barbecue as well as some of the major thermal processes, from smoke and combustion to collagen dissolution and smoke rings. So strap in, there’s a lot to cover!


    BBQ history
    BBQ thermal principles
        Collagen in BBQ
        The stall
        BBQ temperatures
        Kinds of smoke
        What is the “smoke ring?”
    BBQ thermometers
    Smoker fuel types
        Stick burners
        Charcoal smokers
        Pellet smokers

What is BBQ?

First, there’s one thing we need to clear up: Grilling and barbecuing are two different things. I remember talking to a pit master from Tenessee who had moved to Utah and hearing about how his new neighbors had invited him over for a barbecue, for which he was very excited. On arrival, he and his wife looked at each other with disappointed chagrin as they surveyed the stacks of burgers and hotdogs and realized that the well-meaning neighbors meant a grilling party, not a barbecue. We’ve written a whole post on the topic of the distinction between the two cooking methods, but for the sake of brevity, we can boil it down to one key difference: the cooking temperature. Grilling is a high-heat cooking method, while BBQ is a lower heat method. You’ve heard people talking about “low and slow” cooking, and that is the heart of barbecue.

Where did BBQ come from, though? There is no straightforward answer to the question, and entire books on that history have been and still could be written on the subject because there are many cultural influences and historical twists in the origin and regionalization of American barbecue. The name “barbecue” comes through Spanish from the native Arawak barbacoa, meaning “a wooden frame on posts,” a reference to the drying and cooking fo meats on a raised bed over hot charcoal. American barbecue most likely started with slaves brought from the Carribean. As the cooking method spread, it changed—morphing with the availability of local ingredients and flavors. In regions across the American South and Midwest, sauces were created, regional favorites for cooking-wood choice emerged, favorite meats became local standards, and rubs evolved as they moved not just from state to state but even city to city and kitchen to kitchen.

Today, slow-smoked barbecue is a staple of American regional cuisines. From sticky St. Louis ribs to vinegary North Carolina pulled pork, the long, slow application of heat and smoke to meat is perhaps the most celebrated of America’s home-grown culinary traditions.
Low and Slow: BBQ Temperatures and Smoke

If you have listened to anyone talking about barbecue cooking, you have certainly heard the term “low and slow” being thrown around as if it were an article of faith. If you’ve ever wondered why that is, then your answer has arrived!

Collagen in BBQ

Classic BBQ meats are chock full of collagen—a tough connective tissue that is plentiful in animal muscles that undergo heavy use. (Beef tenderloin is tender because it is a muscle that is almost never used, while brisket is used all day, every day by the cow, meaning that it will have a lot of tough collagen.) The long, tightly wound strands of proteins that compose collagen’s makeup make provide strength and endurance for the animal but make things difficult for eating. If you were to cook the classic BBQ meats at a high temperature for a short time, serving them medium rare like a steak, they would be inedibly chewy and tough.

Collagen, then, seems like a terrible thing to work with, but it is not! In fact, collagen is responsible for barbecue’s delicious meat alchemy. When collagen is cooked slowly at lower temperatures, its long, tightly bound fibers unwind, releasing water and melting into soft gelatin. With the collagen melted an replaced by hydrated gelatin, the meat becomes bite-through tender, juicy, and delicious. The process begins at about 160°F (71°C) but really picks up at 170°F (77°C), with the collagen melting faster at higher temperatures.
The stall

There is one more thing to know about how proteins react in BBQ cooking, and that’s the stall. The stall happens when the protein fibers in the meat contract (when the meat is going through and passing “well done”), expelling water from within. That water makes its way to the surface and evaporates in the heat of the smoker, causing evaporative cooling. In essence, the meat sweats. That evaporative cooling keeps the temperature of the meat from rising for a long, long time. (The stall on a large brisket can last over 6 hours!) The stall starts at about 150°F (66°C) and runs up through about 180°F (82°C) on all the beef and pork cuts. If you are monitoring the temperature (as you can with the Smoke Gateway and its accompanying free app) you’ll see the temperature plateau off, staying maddeningly flat for hours and hours.

If you want to speed through the stall, you need to create an environment where the water can’t evaporate and this is done by wrapping your smoking meat in either foil or butcher paper. Wrapping your cooking meats creates a micro-climate around the surface of the meat that rapidly reaches 100% relative humidity, meaning that no more evaporation can happen. The meat will continue to expel water from its tightening muscle fibers, but it will not be venting that water to the air and cooling itself down. This can shave hours off of your cook, and that is its greatest merit. However, it can, if improperly done, make for lousy bark. To avoid bad bark, make sure your bark has set well before wrapping. If it hasn’t you won’t get it back.


Online Elderberry

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Re: BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2019, 08:34:47 PM »
I just finished putting together the Pit Boss Austin XL pellet grill(mostly smoker) that my son was given by the last co he worked for. It arrived after they laid him off. (Such is working in the oil patch) I just pulled a brisket outta the freezer and I'm gunna put that Austin thru its paces tomorrow. I've only been a stick burner. Pellets are sumptin totally new to me.

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Re: BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2019, 08:51:10 PM »
That's a funny coincident. I was just walking by a neighbor which I know and yelled, 'Hey man, whatcha cooking?' He answered, 'I'm just grilling some meat. Do you want some?'

Since the term 'grilling some meat' is kind of suspicious, it could be anything. I respectfully declined. Saying I'm cooking 'meat' thanks. No missing cats in the neighborhood that I know of, yet.

You cannot "COEXIST" with people who want to kill you.
If they kill their own with no conscience, there is nothing to stop them from killing you.
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Online Elderberry

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Re: BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2019, 08:54:25 PM »
Loosen up some and be more adventurous. Who knows you may like it.

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Re: BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2019, 09:29:03 PM »
That's a funny coincident. I was just walking by a neighbor which I know and yelled, 'Hey man, whatcha cooking?' He answered, 'I'm just grilling some meat. Do you want some?'

Since the term 'grilling some meat' is kind of suspicious, it could be anything. I respectfully declined. Saying I'm cooking 'meat' thanks. No missing cats in the neighborhood that I know of, yet. funny!  What kind of neighbors do you have to think of cats?  lol

Online Elderberry

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Re: BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2019, 10:14:15 AM »
BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 2
Author: Martin Earl

As we continue a look at the basics of barbecue, we come to the important choices of what kind of smoker to use and what kind of meat to cook. With the profusion of smokers on the market today, the choice can be daunting, so we’ll talk you through the major types, as well as the major BBQ meats so that you can either get going on your first BBQ cook or plan your next block-buster smoke-out.


    Guide to BBQ smokers
        Kettle grill smokers
        Bullet smokers
        Barrel smokers
        Kamado-style/ceramic egg cookers
        Offset smokers
        Cabinet smokers
        Drum smokers
        Open-pit BBQ
        Gas grill smokers
    Guide to BBQ meats
            Pork butt
            Pork Ribs
            Whole hog BBQ
            Beef short ribs for BBQ

Guide to Smoker Types

Once you’ve decided what fuel you want your smoker to run on, you still need to choose the kind of smoker you want to get. Smokers come in many strange and interesting shapes, from home-built rigs to highly automated fireboxes, and the many geometries and materials affect the way you use them. They each do different things well, so take a look and decide what you want in your smoker.


BBQ meats and how to treat them

To be clear, you can smoke any meat you want to. Fresh trout filet? Go for it. Did you get a beef tenderloin and you want to jazz it up a bit? Smoke it to a perfect medium rare! Smoking any meat is a great way to impart flavor and a certain something to your dinner. But BBQ has its own pantheon of traditional meats, and they are the tried-and-true stars of the BBQ world. Here we’ll take a look at the classic meats, what they are, and how they cook.

First, let’s look at what all these cuts have in common: They are (or at least used to be) cheap cuts, and they were cheap because they were tough—remember the collagen! But that collagen-y toughness means that these meats not only can stand but need higher doneness temperatures. For most of the pork and beef cuts that rule the BBQ world, the finished temperature is about 203°F (95°C), though there are exceptions. For all meats, you should be cooking according to temperature, not time. Any instruction you read that says “cook the brisket for X-hours before wrapping” should be done away with. Recipe authors don’t know how big your piece of meat is, how cold your refrigerator is, or how your smoker’s temperature fluctuates. Cooking meat to a certain temperature, however, gives you an actual benchmark that has connections with real physio-chemical processes. Collagen melts starting at about 170°F (77°C), not after 50-75 minutes.



Not every smoker is right for every BBQ enthusiast. Not only are there vast discrepancies in cost, but also in the skill level needed to wield the cookers themselves. The same thing goes for the meats that you cook on your BBQ: some are cheap, some are easy. Some are expensive and some are very difficult to perfect. But whatever smoker you decide on and whatever cut of meat you choose to cook, temperature matters. Good BBQ thermometers like Smoke and DOT help people win competitions all summer long. They use them for every cook. And just see how it goes for you if you try to take the Thermapen Mk4 from a pitmaster that is 5 minutes from turn-in time! BBQ champions rely on thermometers to get winning scores. You can use them to win every cookout this year.

More at link.

Online Elderberry

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Re: BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1
« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2019, 04:33:25 PM »
BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 3

Having covered smoker types, fuel types, meats, and the essence of what BBQ is, we are left with a few remaining questions. In Part 3 of our BBQ 101 series, we’ll address bark, rubs, sauces, competitions, and a few other odds and ends that have come up in some comments. To begin with, we’ll cover the one-two- punch of rubs and bark.


    BBQ Bark and BBQ rubs
        BBQ Bark
        BBQ Rub

    BBQ sauces

    Spritzing and mopping BBQ

    Notes on other BBQ meats

    Notes on competition BBQ


BBQ Bark, BBQ Rubs

While temperature control is the key to perfect BBQ doneness, the key to delicious flavor often lies in the bark. Bark is the tasty, savory-spicy crust on the exterior of barbecue-cooked meats and is made by the interaction of proteins, heat, and rubs. For this reason, rubs are an essential part of barbecue cookery. They season the meat, form the bark, and provide another opportunity for pitmasters to differentiate themselves from each other—competition teams often keep their rub formulations secret, and it’s understandable that they do! Bark quality can make or break a barbecue, and having the best bark can really set your ribs (or butt, or brisket…) apart. Let’s take a look at bark and rubs.

What is bark?

The first several times I ever applied rub to a meat’s surface, I wondered to myself how on earth it was going to stick. Wouldn’t it slide off as the juices run out of the meat? It barely seemed stuck on at all. I didn’t understand then how bark forms or what it is.

Bark forms when the juices from the meat are drawn out by osmosis into the salty/sugary rub. The uncooked juices that then lie on the surface of the meat mingle with the rub and cook in place, forming a solid protein network infused with spices, sugars, and salt. If allowed to set properly, this protein “glue” holds the spices in place throughout the cook, while a bark that hasn’t solidified will melt away once you wrap the meat for the stall.

So how can you know if the bark is formed? Scratch it! Many ‘Q pros simply check the bark by scratching it with a fingernail. If it adheres to the meat, it’s safe to wrap. If it comes off easily and leaves a bare spot behind, it needs to cook longer before crutching. It’s a simple test for readiness that will result in excellent bark.

The bark on your brisket is going to look wonderful once it sets, and it’s going to be tempting to take the meat off the smoker right then, but make sure you cook it all the way to 203°F (95°C) as measured on your ThermaQ® or other leave-in probe BBQ thermometer.

BBQ Rubs

The bark is made of the rub and protein, but the rub itself can be made of many things. A rub usually has an element of saltiness, sweetness, spice, and heat, but the basic proportions for a rub, according to Aaron Franklin, start with equal parts kosher salt and 16-mesh black pepper:

       Every rub I make starts with a base of salt and pepper. Then I add other spices to complement the meat that I am cooking. The goal of any rub is to complement a nice piece of meat, not to obscure a crappy piece of meat. All spices should react well with one another. No one spice should stand out or be too recognizable, so add just enough to taste. It would be a shame to buy a nice piece of meat, spend a ton of time prepping and cooking it, and have it taste like an overzealous mixture of flavors. Restraint is the name of the game when using seasonings other than just salt and pepper.”

    —Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue

When designing your own rub, you can experiment with using different amounts of paprika, chili powder, granulated (not powdered) onion and/or garlic, or sugar (Franklin recommends against sugar for long cooks as he doesn’t like the finished flavor). For an easy rub, substitute a portion of seasoning salt for your kosher salt in the salt/pepper mix and call it a day, but really the sky is the limit for your creativity. Other coarse or finely ground spices can be great additions if used judiciously. Crushed mustard seeds, ground cumin, powdered bay leaf…go for it. Be creative but cautious and you’ll come up with an amazing secret rub recipe of your own.

There are two more points regarding rubs that we should address before we move on. One is rub binders, and the other is wet rubs. Though the proteins will glue the rub to the meat, sometimes you want even more rub to stick from the get-go. In that case, you can use something to act as an adhesive, and the best thing for that is mustard. Pale yellow or dijon mustards have great binding properties already, and they taste great with pretty much every meat. They bring no extra sugar to the party and the vinegar they contain is essential for most barbecue anyhow. If you don’t much like the flavor of mustard (especially the hot stuff), don’t worry about that. The sharp, nose-burning mustardy taste actually breaks down in the heat, leaving only a faint mustard ghost in the flavor profile. The bark you get from using mustard as a binder for your dry rubs is fantastic and I highly recommend trying it out. Just slather all sides of the meat with mustard before applying your rub.

And that leaves us with wet rubs. Wet rubs are any rub that is made into a paste or liquid for application. They can be syrup, oil, or vinegar-based and often include fresh ingredients like fresh herbs or minced garlic. While they are great for relatively shorter cooks like chicken or smoked beef tenderloin, they usually aren’t great for long cooks like brisket, butt, or even ribs. The herbs and garlic can dry out and burn and the sugars can caramelize and burn. In general, use wet rubs for faster cooks and dry rubs for slower cooks. If you want a wet-rub type element for your long cook, you should look to sauces.

Barbecue Sauce

Most Americans seem to think that if something is slathered in sticky-sweet barbecues sauce, then it’s “barbecue.” Of course, the truth couldn’t be more different. Lots of kinds of BBQ don’t even have any sauce at all, and it sure isn’t the saucing that makes something BBQ. That being said, there is a long and storied tradition of BBQ sauces in American barbecue. But what they are, how they’re used, and when to apply them differs from region to region and from meat to meat. Let’s take a look.

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Re: BBQ 101: An Introduction to Smoked Meat, part 1
« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2019, 05:17:15 PM »
December 11, 2020:  "Government of the people, by the people and for the people has finally perished from the Earth."
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