As Part 1 of our series on authentic barbecue, we present a short buying guide to grills, smokers and meat thermometers.
HOW TO BEGIN
The optimal devices to cook barbecue are smokers fueled with hardwood, charcoal grills modified for indirect heating, and smoker/grill hybrids. Gas grills might be easier to operate, but they don’t produce the same level of quality.
Jeffrey Souther, a retail specialist at Yankee Fireplace Grill & Patio in Middleton, has entered barbecue contests as far away as Arkansas. He owns and uses a Big Green Egg, a kamado-style grill. Kamados are inspired by Japanese clay stoves, and the design is thousands of years old. Talk about traditional.
BGEs are sold in multiple sizes, including the massive XXL, a 424-pound grill that looks more appropriate for space travel than Kansas City burnt ends. The company website claims it can cook up to 16 whole chickens at a time. Once you have your skills down, it will give you enough room to barbecue a suckling pig.
The BGEs aren’t sold online. To buy one, you’ll have to find an authorized dealer such as Yankee Fireplace.
I asked Souther what accessory he recommends most for new buyers looking to make authentic barbecue, and he suggests the convEGGtor, a ceramic plate that fits inside the BGE and turns direct heat into indirect heat. It also prevents flare-ups and allows for precise temperature control.
Souther offers a few tricks, including soaking applewood chips in apple juice the night before cooking. The chips are added to the lump charcoal used in the Big Green Egg and impart tanginess.
For Souther, the Big Green Egg has considerable advantages. The ceramic egg holds heat and moisture well. It lets users cook large cuts of meat for 10 to 12 hours at stable, ideal temperatures of 225 to 230 F.
Kamado-style grills are pricey. The smallest BGE, one suitable for camping trips, sells for $598. There are less expensive options. Yankee Fireplace also sells the Weber Smokey Mountain. It uses a water pan and the most popular model costs $299. As with the BGE, it is available in multiple sizes. It doesn’t give you the same amount of temperature control and it won’t incite the same level of awe among guests, but it will allow you to produce restaurant-quality barbecue.
For the beginner, Souther recommends starting with a pork butt. “Pork is a forgiving meat,” he says. “Learning to barbecue requires a lot of practice and patience. Better start with that than an expensive brisket.” His method of preparation is simple. He doesn’t brine the meat and he applies his rub 30 minutes before cooking. He inserts a digital thermometer about 90 minutes before he suspects the meat will be done.
A thermometer is an indispensable tool, and this is an area where recent technological innovation serves the backyard chef well. Bluetooth devices such as the ThermoWorks BlueTherm probe let users track the temperature on a smartphone. ThermoWorks also makes an instant-read digital thermometer called the Thermapen that is widely used in barbecue competitions for its speed, durability and accuracy.
Yankee Fireplace Grill & Patio