THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT BBQ!
First thing I encounter when I tell people I’m a certified BBQ judge and we start talking about all things BBQ, is that most don’t seem to know that grilling is just that, grilling. BBQ by sheer definition should be all about low and slow cooking. But those terms seems to have become interchangeable in our society. “Hey, c’mon over, we’re gonna have a BBQ.” Well, we all know that means throwing some burgers, hot dogs, chicken, maybe ribs on the grill. No smoking going on here at all.
This is why the locally famous Phil’s BBQ should NOT really be touting itself as a BBQ restaurant. I met owner Phil Pace once, very briefly at his restau and I joked with him, “Why don’t you call it Phil’s Grill…it rhymes and it’s more truthful.” He chuckled and said, “You’re right, we don’t BBQ, we grill.” You can read more about Phil’s in my blog review of this place.
Did you also know that many different kinds of wood are used in low and slow cooking to bring out different flavors in and of the proteins? Here is a small sampling of what kinds of wood might be used. Apple, Grape, Mesquite, Oak, Pecan, Pinion Pine, Apricot, Hickory, Mulberry, Peach, Persimmon, Cherry, Maple, Nectarine, Pear, Plum and Sassafras. All imbue their particular tastes into the meats. Most popular are Hickory, Mesquite and Oak.
There is also regional BBQ styles and flavors. The following notes were posted by writer, Colleen Rush, on the popular online site, Thrillist.com. She wrote Low and Slow, Master the Art of BBQ in 5 Easy Lessons and Low and Slow 2, The Art of Barbeque, Smoke-Roasting and Basic Curing, along with Gary Wiviott. Both can be purchased on Amazon and look for my interview with Colleen coming soon.
Texas: Beef, brisket, beef ribs, and more beef. Who needs sauce?
Memphis: Dry ribs (layered with dry rub) or wet ribs (mopped with sweet, tomato-based sauce throughout cooking)
Eastern North Carolina: Whole hog and peppery vinegar sauce
Western North Carolina: Pork shoulder and ketchup-based sauce
South Carolina: Pork shoulder and mustard-based sauces
Kansas City: Pork ribs and Arthur Bryant’s-style gritty, peppery sauce or Gates and Sons-style sweet, ketchup-based sauce
How to speak rib
My favorite thing in the world. Possibly better than sex. Hoping my boyfriend doesn’t see this. What is it about ribs that drive me crazy?? Dem bones have fueled my long love affair with BBQ. They barely have any meat on it! But if it’s caramelized just right. If those sugar and spices on it gives it a dark, barky outer layer and it’s tender inside, I’m gonna marry it someday. There’s no help for me. Just let me indulge.
3 & 1/2 down: The ideal weight for a rack of trimmed spare ribs — 3 1/2lbs or less
Shiners: When ribs are cut too close to the bone and the bone “shines” through
Baby backs: Loin ribs (approximately 11-13) connected to the backbone
Spare ribs: The larger section of ribs (approximately 10-13) that run from the ends of the baby back bones to the belly/breast bone area. A whole slab of spare ribs includes part of the sternum (breast bone) and a strip of cartilage and meat (aka rib tips).
Rib tips: The meaty, belly-side strip of cartilage and meat that runs along the bottom end of spare ribs
St. Louis-style ribs: Spare ribs with rib tips removed
Kansas City-style ribs: Spare ribs trimmed beyond St. Louis style, with the hard sternum bone and rib tips removed to square off the rack
How to speak brisket
This very expensive cut of meat is the bane of cooks everywhere it seems. While it is a mandatory meat to cook in a competition, it is also the toughest (sometimes too tough!) to cook to perfection. And it’s all about perfection when it comes to this used-to-be-inexpensive cut of meat. The popularity of brisket is only one of the many reasons this holy grail of meat is now the darling of BBQ enthusiasts around the world.
$70 for this cut is not unheard of these days. There is a Camp Brisket where you can learn how to smoke and cut the meat, and this fills up in 5 minutes when the 2 day class opens for attendees every January, for $495. Yikes.
Here is what you need to know about this “celebrity” of the BBQ world.
Flat and Point: The flat part has more meat and the point has more fat. But the point also has the pinnacle of brisket, the burnt ends. I had never had one of these until I became a BBQ judge, and now I’m hooked. It’s a fatty, meaty little sugar cookie!
Bark: A long smoked brisket (anywhere from 14-18 hours) should be black when you see the final product. This occurs from caramelization of sugars and spices, but purists sometimes just put salt and pepper to achieve the desired darkness.
Moisture: It’s the one thing missing from most briskets, because the second you start slicing it, it’s losing its juiciness. You’d think with all the injections it’s getting in preparation, it would be squirting out all over the place. It’s just a very tough meat to do right. I’ve rarely had a great piece, even in a competition.
Smoke Ring: You want to see that little ring of pink, but we can’t judge it in competition because it might be altered by using liquid smoke. But we sure get a gleam in our eye when it does appear. Mighty tasty too.
Taste: A very subjective thing of course, but for the first time in my life, I’ve learned not to drown a meat in BBQ sauce. If it comes this way, they might be trying to hide something. Dryness much? I’ve now learned it’s about the meat taste, not the sauce.
Tenderness: Oh boy. This is the biggest challenge in cooking a brisket. Breaking down that tough muscle so it becomes a melt-in-your-mouth piece of heaven is no easy task. In competition, we do the pull test. Does it fall apart rather easily, but not crumble at the slightest touch? That middle ground is so hard to find when you’re the one cooking it.
How to speak pulled pork
Pulled pork comes from the Boston butt, aka the shoulder. You will be happy to hear, it isn’t actually the hind quarters of a pig, but comes from the shoulder and the area above and between the shoulders. Pigs don’t really have much in the shoulder area. It’s on the top portion of the front legs. This area or cut of pork, has a higher fat content than other cuts. And of course with more fat, it makes it ideal for a slow cooking process. The fat gets rendered away and it bastes the pork a bit and then leaves us with some very delectable and tender meat.
Look for a butt that has a large money muscle on it. It’s located on the end that is farthest from the round bone. It is very tender and when cooked properly, it can be sliced with a sharp knife.
Pork butts usually get injected with a mixture of brown sugar, soy sauce, apple juice and water. This helps keep them tender and juicy on the inside. Because all the rub in the world is not going to penetrate inside this cut. If you can let this sit overnight in the fridge, it will be even better.
Then apply a dry rub and smoke it at around 225 degrees. Rule of thumb is one hour in the smoker for every pound or pound and a half of meat. A meat thermometer is a good idea and check for an internal temp of 190-195 degrees. 6 hours of smoking is standard for a good sized shoulder.
Most butts get sauce (similar to the one mentioned above) mopped onto it and then when done, gets wrapped in some tin foil and placed back on the smoker to raise internal temp again and then it can have a glaze put onto it.