BBQ & Grilling….a Primer

I came across this blog post by Colonel Jim Knepper on his Great Q4U blog.  There is a lot of good information contained in this post. The information and methods described might be a little different than what you might do but that's what makes outdoor cooking so much fun.  There isn't one right way to do.  Jim, a real life Kentucky Colonel, is a professional BBQ caterer and produces some great looking BBQ.  Check out his website. --LG

Ok, so if you’re a seasoned ‘BBQ’ Pro…this may be redundant information and you can feel free to browse around the rest of the Blog for an article that you might enjoy a bit more.  If not, then this is merely one guy’s primer on the significant differences between what is typically referred to as ‘Barbeque’ and the more common practice of ‘Grilling’.  I feel it’s a relevant topic given that this is the time of year when the department and home improvement stores market the heck out of their ‘BBQ at Home’ products and accessories. There actually is an important difference, and to be honest, I enjoy both of the techniques.  As far as the meals we eat at our dinner table during the Spring, Summer and Fall months… the majority of them are grilled as it can be done quicker and I ‘BBQ’ a LOT of meat for other folks during these months…so it’s a nice departure from the ‘usual’ for me!

BBQ (Barbecue) is a method for ‘char grilling’ food over a flame.  In much of the world it is synonymous with ‘Grilling’, however in the United States it has a long and storied history going back to our earliest days.  It was both a way to preserve meats and a method of cooking tougher, less expensive cuts of meat that were available to both settlers looking to use the whole animal following a kill and to the slaves in the South which is why that region is most often considered the home of ‘American BBQ’.

In the US, “BBQ” typically refers to the now common (thanks to Food TV) term & cooking method of ‘Low & Slow’…although there is a movement in the Competition BBQ Circuit and among many folks (lots of them in Texas) to cook “High & Hot” BBQ.  For the purpose of this post and because it’s the way that WE do it…we’ll stick to ‘Low & Slow’ for our definition of BBQ.  How low?  Great question, most folks will tell you 225ºF which is what many of them cook at, but we cook even lower than that…how much we will keep to ourselves, but I will say that water boils (and therefore converts to steam and leaves the meat) at 212ºF…so we cook below that!

Fire from some source that originates as wood is the common denominator in traditional American-Style BBQ.  Whether it’s whole logs, charcoal, a combination of wood chunks and charcoal or solid wood (food grade) pellets, the choice of your fuel is a subject worthy of its own blog post.  We cook primarily with wood pellets for heat control and consistency of smoke, but all are effective methods given the right equipment, knowledge and experience.  So, if you’re thinking about getting into the world of ‘Low & Slow’ BBQ…find a good shop, do your homework online and educate yourself about what will work best for your situation.

Which cuts of meat are most often associated with BBQ?  Well, as I mentioned earlier the technique lends itself to the tougher ‘Primal Cuts’ of meats that in years past were either scrapped, cut up for stew or ground into sausage or burgers.  Most commonly, these include; Pork Shoulder (Front shoulder which can be bought whole or separated into the Top: Boston Butt and Bottom: Picnic Roast), Beef Brisket (The lower part of a cow’s chest that runs just in front of the leg along the side and onto the bottom), Spare Ribs (Most Commonly Pork, but can also be Beef…especially in Texas)  and the Dark Meat cuts of Chicken (Usually the Thigh with the ‘Oyster’ still attached)…chicken’s tricky though as it can, dry out easily on a smoker.

By using the ‘Low & Slow’ method to cook these cuts of meat, you are not only imparting a pleasant ‘Smoke’ flavor to the profile of the meat, you are combining it with whatever other flavors you bring to the table by the application of ‘Rubs’, Mop Sauces and BBQ Sauce if you so choose. We typically opt for the ‘less is more’ approach and keep it simple, but our Pulled Pork (for example) does get a liberal rub of our own spice blend before it hits the smoke and then about every 2 hours, it gets a ‘Mop’ from a primarily Vinegar based and thin ‘sauce’ which helps to build up a crust or ‘Bark’ on the outside of the meat.  When this ‘Bark’ is pulled into the final product, it adds incredible flavor and texture that makes it a bit more special.  Every meat is different and each requires lots of practice (tasty, tasty practice) to perfect, so it’s easy to learn, but hard to master!  You can use the same spices on all your BBQ meats, or you can do some homework and find combinations that work the best for various cuts and come up with a variety of spice blends that you like!

The key to cooking Low & Slow is that you cook the meat long enough to break down the connective tissues in these tougher muscles and allow them to soften up.  Additionally, you will melt the collagen that is contained in these cuts and allow it to blend into the meat adding an incredible amount of flavor.  This is best achieved by cooking with a Asian-Brat-Burger2thermometer and not a clock!  I can’t tell you how much I cringe when I see ’12 Hour Pulled Pork’…it’s just not possible to cook by a clock and deliver a consistent product!  Every animal is different and all cuts take different lengths of time to be done ‘just right’…again, getting to know where your meat comes from and how long it takes to reach just the right temperature are all parts of the ‘BBQ Learning Curve’ and something you’ve got to master in order to consistently crank out great BBQ.  Fortunately there are tons of resources out there to give you a starting point!  I would suggest investing in a GOOD meat thermometer…we use Thermapens (~$90…but worth it!) to make sure that our meats are done just right.  We also use ‘wrapping’ in foil for several cuts, including Ribs and Brisket, but that’s a whole ‘nuther Blog post too!

OK…now for ‘Grilling’…not too much about it though, as we are a ‘BBQ Caterer and Competition Team’ – This is most commonly done in the US on Propane, Natural Gas or Charcoal grills.  As it is typically done in the US, ‘Grilling’ is cooking over a much higher heat and lends itself to a variety of applications.  This is how you should do your steaks!  The heat helps to caramelize the outside of the meat and create what is known as the Maillard Reaction which is a form of non-enzymatic browning that creates flavor, seals the ‘outside’ of the meat and keeps the moisture and flavor locked in.  Typically associated with Beef, this reaction occurs with any meat that you cook on a grill and is worth some research if you cook this way a lot.  In addition to the ‘usual’ proteins, the high heat method of grilling is a great way to do all kinds of seafood, from fish fillets to cedar planked Salmon or even Oysters and Clams…Grilling is the way to go!  Veggies lend themselves to grilling pretty well too!  Some of my favorites are Squash of all kinds, Eggplant, Onions and Asparagus!  They should be coated with a mix of spices and just a bit of oil (we use olive oil) before hitting the heat and then cooked just enough to get a nice char and keep a firm texture.

As always if we can help in ANY way, just let us know!  We ARE running a whole series of ‘BBQ Classes’ this year which are on the website: http://www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html or you can give us a call at 717-254-1937 or e-mail: Info@GreatQ4U.com and we’ll be happy to help!  SO…Spring is in the AIR…get out and ‘Do Some Que’!

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