I’m probably going to wake up one morning to find a briquette thrown through my bedroom window for this, but I’m going to let you all in on a little secret that most backyard chefs don’t want you to know: Making your own barbecue is easy.
While my friends chow down on a rack of my freshly smoked ribs, they assume that it is mere modesty that leads me to dismiss their compliments and tell them it wasn’t difficult. Of course, I don’t really try that hard to convince them of this, because I’m a fan of any degree of affirmation directed my way. But the fact of the matter is, as long as you follow a few simple steps, avoid shortcuts, and give your meat the love that it deserves, you will likely turn out better ‘que than most restaurants in town. And if you happen to have a bevy of famished beer drinking dinner guests hovering around your table, you will look like a hero.
I recently posted on my new favorite toy, the BGE. And while having a ceramic smoker at my disposal will surely make things easier when I properly break her in with a 10lbs hunk of pork shoulder, it is a wholly unnecessary piece of equipment for making great barbecue. Many people can’t justify spending that kind of money on a grill. Lord knows I didn’t, I had to hold out until I got mine as a gift. But if you have a charcoal grill, then you have nearly everything that you need to make blue-ribbon barbecue at home.
With the 4th of July, the biggest barbecuing day of the year, on the horizon, now seems like a good time to demystify home smoked ‘que. If you have never tried making your own BBQ, follow these steps and give it a shot. You just might surprise yourself.
For the sake of this article, I’m going to focus on how to smoke a pork butt, as the high fat content gives it the highest margin for error. But before you start doing any prep work, there are a few ground rules that we should cover for the barbecue novice:
1 – Plan ahead
The single most important ingredient in making good barbecue is TIME. You’d better have all of your supplies at least 24 hours in advance, especially if you plan to brine. Even if you aren’t brining – a step that I often skip, especially with pork butts because I think it is a waste of time – you should plan on having your rub on there for at least 12 hours. Make a day of the cooking – Get up early, have a few friends over, keep a few cocktails handy, and wait for the magic to happen.
2 – Use a rub
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Some paprika, salt, black pepper, garlic/onion powder, maybe some brown sugar, and you are good to go. Wing it a little. If you like heat, throw some cayenne in the mix if you want. And there are plenty of pre-mixed BBQ rubs on the market that work great and will save you some time. Whatever you do, don’t forget the rub, as this is what transforms into the crunchy, delicious bark.
3 – Don’t use foil (unless you absolutely have to)
Foil is cheating, and it comes with a high price. I have resorted to wrapping a pork butt in foil to expedite the cooking process before, but only because I was on pace to have dinner ready at 11 PM if I didn’t hurry things along. Wrapping in foil cooks the meat faster, but causes the bark that you have worked so hard for to lose its crunch. See rule # 1 and don’t put yourself in the position to have to resort to this. It will still be good, but it won’t be great.
4 – Cook by temperature, not by time
Once you have a little more experience under your belt, you can cook by feel without using a thermometer. Until you really know what you are doing, a probe thermometer – preferably a remote so that you aren’t stuck standing by the grill for 12 hours straight – reduces your margin for error significantly. If you pull a pork butt at 190/195 degrees, dry meat shouldn’t be a concern.
5 – If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’
While I wish I could claim responsibility for this pearl of wisdom, this rule has been around a lot longer than I have, and it should probably be rule #1. You want your smoker/grill running between 200-225 degrees for the duration of the process, and the more time that you spend opening the lid and poking at the meat, the less consistent that temperature will be. Patience, young Padawan. Good things come to those who wait.
6 – BBQ sauce plays second fiddle
Anyone that tells you that the BBQ sauce is the most important piece of the puzzle doesn’t know what they are talking about. Sorry sauce advocates, but it is the truth. The reason that cheap BBQ arrives swimming in sauce is because they are compensating for sub-par meat. A good sauce is unquestionably important, and one of the areas where you can really put your own stamp on your ‘que, but it should compliment, not overpower the meat. If the meat is properly smoked, it can stand on its own without a gallon of K.C. Masterpiece on top of it.
There are a lot of good BBQ recipes out there on the web, so feel free to poke around and find one that suits you. And don’t be afraid to make it your own – tweak the rub, use a different kind of wood, brine it in Dr. Pepper, or shoot that bad boy up with papaya juice if you want. That is half the fun of making your own BBQ. But if you actually made it this far down the post, also feel free to use my recipe that I’ll be doing on the 4th this year.
Recipe: BBQ Pulled Pork w/ Vinegar Mustard BBQ Sauce
6-10lbs bone-in Boston Butt. (I used 10lbs)
1.5-2 cups of dry rub (1 1/4 cup of John Henry’s Texas pig rub with about 1/4 cup of brown sugar added works well as a store-bought option)
Hickory wood chips
1 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
For Mustard Sauce:
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups mustard
3/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon hot sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped
You need at least 12 hours before this goes into the smoker, and you need to plan for at least 10-12 hours in the smoker after that. If you have the time, you can do this for 16-24 hours at the low end of the temperature spectrum, and it should come out wonderfully.
First order of business? Rub and inject.
Spread your dry rub all over pork, covering every nook and cranny. I’m pretty liberal with my rub, so you can probably get away with less than this recipe calls for, but I like to get as much rub on as possible to maximize the bark.
Mix the apple juice, Worcestershire, salt, sugar, and pepper in a bowl. Fill the syringe with the marinade and inject it into the meat.
Make sure to hit all of the major areas of the pork, pushing the plunger as you withdraw the syringe. Don’t just shove the syringe in, shoot it all in one spot, and create a single pocket of liquid that will quickly seep back out of the meat.
Refrigerate overnight, at least 12 hours.
30 minutes before putting into the smoker, remove from the fridge and set on the counter.
Prep your grill/smoker. You want the temperature to be between 200-225 degrees, depending on how much time you have. I hovered closer to the 225 end of things and it took 10.5 hours for a 10lbs butt. I’m not getting into an argument about which EXACT temperature is best, but the general rule of thumb is the lower and slower you can go, the better. What is most important is the internal temperature of the meat (190-195 degrees).
If you are working with a regular charcoal grill set up for indirect heat (banked coals) you will want to rotate the meat after a couple of hours. Otherwise, one side will be a little dry.
When the meat reaches at least 190 degrees, remove from the heat and place in a foil-lined cooler. Notice I didn’t say wrap it in foil, I said a foil lined cooler. Please see Rule # 3 about mushifying the precious bark.
While the meat cools, mix the ingredients for the mustard vinegar sauce and simmer in a saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. I also recommend buttering and toasting your buns.
Once the meat has rested for at least 20 minutes, pull the pork and serve. And make sure to tell everyone how hard it was to pull off.
-By Jon Watson, Food & More blog