Battle Red Bag, Vol. 10: In Case We Have To Eat Toro

Brisket_medium
The Bag took last week off so that we could all focus on the madness that was FREE-AGENTDOME 2011.  No need to let my weekly inanity clutter up the blog when there are actual posts about football to be written, ya know?

Because we are all in get-ready-for-the-season mode, this week's bag is going to be a little different.  It's only one question (which makes it odd that I would need a bag to carry it), but the answer is going to help some of you as you prepare to watch your Houston Juggernaut this season.

Specifically, the question as posed by WhiskeyR, is this: 

Could you please repost your BBQ treatise (from the DGDBD days) on the Battle Red Blog before training camp to help prepare for the impending season? I found it very helpful and would find it helpful again. As would others. Feel free to update if need be.

The short answer is, "yes, I can do that." The much, much longer answer awaits you below.

BBQ Basics

Before we start talking about specific meats, I figured I'd give a rundown of some basic aspects of Q and some terminology that will pop up time and time again throughout the primer. Some of it will be stuff you already know, but I am trying to be comprehensive.

First things first, barbeque is a verb, not a noun. It refers to a "low-and-slow" way of cooking meats --- generally cheaper cuts --- that causes the fat and connective tissues to render. This makes the cheap cuts like brisket and pork shoulder tender and moist. Because it is low and slow, nearly all BBQ cooks (a) over indirect heat and (b) between the temps of 200 and 250. There are a few exceptions to the temps --- for example, I do my chicken at 325, but still over indirect heat --- but they are rare. To my mind, 225 is the sweet spot, in that it will work for just about anything you want to smoke. Now, I play with the numbers a bit (for example, I do my ribs at 215 if they are the only things on the pit), but, if you have a lot of different meats on the smoker at the same time, 225 will never do you wrong.

Well, what do I mean by indirect heat? Simply, it means that the meat is not over the coals. In a grill such as a traditional kettle or your box grill, the coals are loaded to one side and the meat is on the other. This is done for a number of reasons: it allows the meat to cook at lower temps without charring, it prevents the flame-ups that you get from cooking over coals, and it allows the smoke to circulate around the meat before it exits the smoker (because the meat is generally between the coals and the exhaust). As an aside, Carolina-style BBQ and most traditional "pit" BBQ cooks directly over coals that have cooked down to the 225-250 range. The old-timers claim that the flame-ups caused by dripping grease give the meat extra flavor. Or course, it is also causes pit fires and makes it more likely that your meat will char, so what do they know? Obviously, if you are using an offset smoker, indirect heat will not be a problem for you.

I mentioned smoke in that last paragraph. Smoke is your friend in this whole process, but there are several misconceptions when it comes to it. Many people, when they first begin to Q, think that they need to have heavy smoke billowing out of the chimney to get that good smoked taste. This couldn't be further from the truth. The ideal exhaust from your pit is thin, nearly invisible bluish smoke. Even though it looks like you aren't getting much smoke, you have to keep in mind that the smoke circulates and builds up in the pit before it leaves, so there is much more in there than is leaving at any given moment, AND you are cooking this meat for several hours, so there is plenty of time to give smoke flavor.

Many people seem to misunderstand that last point as well. You will hear things like "after 4 (or 5 or whatever) hours, the meat doesn't take any more smoke." Incorrect. As long as the meat is in the pit, it will take on smoke flavor. These people are confusing the smoke ring with the absorption of smoke flavor. The former is a chemical reaction (more on it shortly) and the latter has to do with total cook time versus total smoke applied. Long story short, the meat will continue to absorb smoke flavor long after the smoke ring is set. This is why it is possible to over-smoke ribs and other delicate chunks of meat, making them taste like the inside of a fireplace. If there was a cutoff time for smoke flavor intake, this wouldn't be possible except in situations where there was thick white smoke billowing throughout the cook.

So, what is the smoke ring then? Visibly, it is that dark pink part of the meat extending 1/4 to 2/3 of an inch from the surface. Chemically, it is the interaction of the myoglobin in the meat with the nitrates and nitrites that are given off by burning wood. The chemicals from the wood can only penetrate so far into the meat (and this distance is much less than how far the smoke flavor can penetrate), thus the smoke ring is limited to this distance. It will vary from meat to meat, even within the same cook, as it depends on a number of things --- the temp of the cook, the temp of the meat when it went on the smoker, the amount of moisture in the barrier between the smoke and the meat. Thing is, the smoke ring is a novelty that has very little to do with the quality of the meat it resides upon. Once the meat reaches 140 degrees in the area where the ring is forming, the myoglobin reaction is exhausted and the ring is formed. Nothing you can do at this point will change it.

Speaking of internal meat temperatures, there are a certain number of important points during the cook. The primary number to remember is that most pork fat renders at 180 degrees and most beef fat renders between 175 and 185. These numbers are important because (a) they give you a good illustration as to why you need to cook BBQ low and slow --- if you cook too hot, the meat will dry out before the fat has sufficiently melted --- and (b) they explain why sliced pork, which is pulled when the internal temp of the meat is about 160, is so inferior to pulled pork.

Another temperature-related phenomenon you will notice when you Q is the plateau. At some point while you are cooking butts or brisket, the temperature of the meat will stop climbing and will remain at a specific temp (or even drop a few degrees) for a long time. During this time, the connective tissue in the meat as well as much of the softer fat is breaking down. This reaction uses up all of the energy that is being applied by the heat and doesn't leave any extra energy to raise the internal temp. Now, annoyingly, this can take anywhere from an hour to six hours, but it is important to the overall quality of the finished piece. If you try to blast through the plateau by applying a lot more heat, you risk drying out the outer portion of the meat before you are able to get the temp moving again. Not good. This is doubly true when it comes to briskets, which are a notoriously difficult piece of meat. You will also notice during the plateau that your pit needs wood or coals more frequently than it does when the internal temp is climbing. This just shows you how much energy goes into making a tough, cheap piece of meat into quality product. Just keep adding coals or wood as necessary to keep your pit temp around 225. Look at the plateau as an invitation from your meat to drink more beer. Your meat loves you like that.

As long as we are on the topic of temperature, we should probably discuss fire. With a kettle, a Weber Smoky Mountain, or a small offset smoker, the best bet is going to be natural lump charcoal for heat and wood chunks (not chips) for smoke. Technically, you can use chips, but they require pre-soaking as well as much more opening and closing of the firebox, which is less energy-efficient. Take your chimney starter and fill it with natural lump charcoal. Using two sheets of newspaper, overlap them and roll them into a long snake. Wrap that snake around your hand --- which sounds dirty, but isn’t --- forming a donut shape out of the paper. Put this donut under your chimney starter, then tip the whole unit slightly and try to light the INSIDE of the donut. The air draft this causes will make the fire burn hot and will light your coals quickly. Allow them to burn until the top coals are at least half-covered with white ash. This should happen more quickly than it would with charcoal in a stack with lighter fluid. Oh, speaking of lighter fluid, DON'T USE LIGHTER FLUID. EVER. No matter how hard you try, it will ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS leave a gas taste to the meat. Always. Seriously. Once the coals are ashed over, add them to the firebox with all vents (both intake and chimney damper) wide open.

Also related to temperature is the reason why I stopped spritzing my meat with juice during the cook. Many people do this, claiming that it keeps the meat from drying out. Thinking about it for a second, though, you can see why this is wrong. You have meat that has been rubbed with a mixture that includes a decent amount of salt, thus, if anything, it is going to pull moisture out of the meat. Then, once the meat begins to cook, the outside cooks first, and cooked meat does not absorb much liquid. Spritzing will arguably add a little flavor to the surface of the meat, but this is outweighed by the loss of humidity in the pit caused by opening the doors, the temperature fluctuations due to opening the doors, and the added cook time due to opening the doors. On top of this, spritzing meat cools the surface of the meat, meaning the fire has to heat that surface back up before it can efficiently resume raising the meat's internal temp. Just not worth it.

Finally, with respect to the preliminary stuff, it is worth noting again that no two pieces of meat will ever react the same way. You could take two identical butts (same size, same weight), inject them with the same amount of liquid, cook them at the same time at the same temp, and odds are very good that one will be done at least an hour before the other. That is one of the more irritating things about this hobby, but also one that makes you realize that there is an "art" to good Q.

All of that said, and with no further ado, let’s tackle the meats. I am going to limit this discussion to ribs, pork butts, chicken, and brisket--the four KCBS competition categories. We'll start with ribs.

Ribs

It seems like most recipes/tips you find for cooking ribs are focused on loin back ribs. Now, while I do like them, I have to say that I have come around to spare ribs for a number of reasons. First, they are meatier. Second, they are cheaper per pound. Third, and perhaps most importantly, they are more forgiving and don't dry out as readily as loin backs do. So I will proceed with the discussion based on the idea that you are using spares.

Trimming: Both loin backs and spares have a tough membrane on the bottom "bone side" of the rack. Take a butter knife and work it under the membrane near the middle of the slab. Then grab this membrane with a paper towel and pull it off by working your fingers underneath and pulling. With luck, it will come off in one piece. Removing this membrane is important because it is thick enough that it will prevent smoke absorption on the bottom of the ribs. Next, you will want to trim off the large flap of boneless meat on the side of the slab. I like to get as close to the bones as I can. You can keep this meat and throw it on the smoker for some tasty mid-cook sandwiches if you want, but it is not important. Finally, trim off excess fat, paying attention to remove all hard lumps. (Hard pork fat does not render at less than 250 degrees.) There is a thin layer of meat at the thick end of the slab with a lot of fat under it. I take that thin layer of meat off so I can get all that excess fat off.

Now, brush your slab with either plain yellow mustard or canola (or vegetable) oil. The mustard gives a nice taste to the meat, but I prefer oil for chemistry-related reasons: most of the spices in a traditional BBQ rub are fat soluble, so putting down a layer of oil under the rub extracts more flavor from the rub. It's up to you, though. After brushing both sides, apply your rub liberally to both sides, BUT DON'T RUB IT IN. Rubbing it in clogs the meat's pores and prevents it from absorbing rub flavors during the cook. Just apply liberally and pat gently so the rub stays in place. Allow the ribs to rest while you make your fire.

Now, one thing you will notice, especially on a small pit, is that the temp drops as soon as you pit a large hunk of meat on. This is for two reasons: one, you just opened the lid, and, two, the meat adds to the overall mass in the smoke chamber, meaning more energy is needed to get back to that same temp. For this reason, I like to let the pit get above my target temp --- say up to 275 --- before I put the meat on. This way, when the meat goes on, I am right at my sweet spot and don't have to adjust the intake as much.

Oh, I should have mentioned in the prelim stuff, but you never want to close the chimney damper to adjust heat. The only adjustments should be made to the air intake. If you want it cooler, close the intake so less air is getting in; for hotter, open it more. You want to leave the chimney open so all "old" smoke is pushed out by new smoke, lessening the chance that you will get creosote buildup on the meat. Also, note that temp adjustments, even on a small pit, are not immediate. If you see the temp climbing and shut down the air intake, the temp might still rise slightly as the air already in the box burns off. For this reason, you want to try to anticipate when it will need more or less air and adjust ahead of time to prevent high or low spikes.

Anyway, back to the ribs. Put your ribs in the smoker, bone side down, and close the door.

Two points about moisture. First, ribs more than any other meat save for brisket are very sensitive to the humidity in the pit. Every time you open the smoke chamber doors, you allow all your moisture to escape, and the ribs respond by releasing more of their own moisture to compensate. You can see why this is not desirable. Second, you can combat this a bit by adding a water pan to the bottom of the chamber. However, unlike what many people will tell you, the water pan doesn't prevent the meat from drying out --- it merely adds ambient humidity. At the same time, it also acts as a thermal sink, meaning it takes more energy to get the pit to temp, but also preventing the temps from spiking as rapidly. (Fire bricks placed in the bottom of the cook chamber have the same effect.)

OK, so the ribs are on, bone side down, and the doors are shut. Ideally, you will not open the smoke chamber doors for the next three hours. If you are using a small offset smoker, you will have to add lit coals to the smoker about every 60 to 90 minutes. When you add coals, also add three to five wood chunks for smoke. Another approach is to add two or three lumps of unlit charcoal and one or two lumps of wood to the fire every 30 to 45 minutes. Given the choice, I prefer to do it this way, but that requires you to have a fire that is running hot and efficient so that the air intake is wide open. Otherwise the coals and wood will smolder and give you nasty grey smoke.

As you near the three hour mark, prepare some foil by taking two layers of heavy duty foil long and wide enough to cover the slab. When you hit three hours, put the slab on the foil, fold up the sides, add about 1/4 c. of beer or apple juice, and close the foil tightly. Place the ribs back on the smoker. Let them cook this way for about 45 minutes. Then remove the ribs from the foil packet and place them back on the smoker.

At this point, you are cooking to doneness. The best way to determine if your slabs are done is to grab the end of a bone near the middle of the slab and twist. If it turns and feels like it is tearing away from the meat, you are done. If not, you're not.

Some people will tell you that your ribs are done when the meat has pulled back from the ends of the bones a certain amount. This is wrong for a number of reasons. First, the shrinkage is due to heat, not doneness, so it really doesn't tell you much. Second, that shrinkage is accompanied by moisture loss, so it is to be avoided whenever possible. Finally, the meat will begin to pull back well before the internal connective tissue has broken down (180 degrees internal), so it's not reliable.

Now, I’ve ranted for years to anyone who will listen that ribs should not fall off the bone. What people seem to have a hard time wrapping their heads around is how the meat should react on the bone. The easiest way to explain it is this: it shouldn't fall off under its own power, but it should come off cleanly under your power. By which I mean that ribs that are cooked properly will look like the meat has fallen off the bone when you are done eating them, but will have required you to bite the meat off the bone to achieve this.

When your ribs are done, immediately after taking them off the pit, brush them with a rib glaze or, alternatively, brush them with sauce about 5 minutes before they come off. Slice and enjoy.

Butts

Here's some good news for you: butts are, by far, the easiest and most forgiving piece of meat that you will ever BBQ. They don't oversmoke without you really messing up, they don't dry out without you REALLY messing up, and they are nearly impossible to overcook as long as you are paying even the slightest attention. The bad news, however, is that they plateau like nobody's business and are, therefore, a real mofo to cook and have done at a specific time, especially when guests are arriving.

When you get your butt, you'll notice that one side has a half-inch (or so) layer of fat. This is the fat cap, and it is your friend. You should trim it down so that it is even all over, roughly a 1/4 inch. Then flip the butt over and remove all hard lumps of fat as well as any fat that seems excessive. (You'll often get a couple spots where there is hard fat under some thin, marbley fat. Remove that.

Oh, yeah, about pork fat. There are three kinds of pork fat you'll find in ribs and butts. There is the aforementioned hard fat. It is usually off-white or yellow and does not give when you push on it. This should always be removed. There is the soft fat, which is generally white and, while solid, is very squishy. This will render at 180 and, as long as you remove the excess, will melt into the meat. Finally, there is a weird fat that is like stretchy soft fat. This is connective tissue with fat deposits in it. Now, while this will render, I go ahead and remove any of it that is on the surface, simply because it melts weird and jacks up your bark (the hard outer layer of smoked rub).

OK, fat removed, you need to turn your attention to the bone in the meat. Poke around it until you find the blood vein, an artery that will generally have congealed blood in it. Using a small knife, try to remove as much of the blood vein as you can because it will leave the meat around it an odd color. No biggie if you can't get to it --- it won't make anyone sick and won't affect flavor much, but I like to get it out whenever possible.

Fat and vein removed, you are ready to season. If you are going to inject, you'd do that here. That is a whole other primer, however. For now, assuming you aren't injecting, turn the meat back over so the fat cap is up. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal lines in the fat that are just deep enough to not cut the meat, space them about an inch apart, then cut similar lines going the other way, so you create a cross-hatch effect in the fat. This gives you added surface area to absorb heat and rub flavor, and it helps with rendering. Apply your rub liberally to the fat cap and rub it in as good as you can.

Now flip the meat over so the fat cap is down. Brush all visible meat surfaces with yellow mustard or oil and apply your rub all over. Make sure to pat it on the sides as well. Also, lift up the flap on top of the butt and get some rub down in that space.

Just like with the ribs, you can rub the day of the cook and allow the meat to rest while you build the fire, but I prefer to wrap it up in saran wrap and leave it in the fridge overnight so the pork can start to soak up those good rub flavors. There’s a trade-off here, though: if you inject the meat, putting it back in the fridge causes the meat to constrict, forcing much of the injected liquid back out. Regardless, when you take it out in the morning, reapply rub if it looks like too much came off. Much of the rub will have liquified overnight as it mingled with the mustard/oil and pulled juices out of the pork. This is a yummy, good thing.

[Tangent: You’ll want to pull the meat out of the fridge well before you build the fire so it can rest and get close to room temperature. All other things being equal, a warmer piece of meat going in a hot smoker is going to contract less and squeeze out less of its own juices than a colder piece of meat will. This is especially important with briskets, but butts can benefit from the practice as well.]

Build your fire just as before and place the butt on the smoker. Make sure you place it fat cap up, as that fat will melt and render down into the meat, giving everything the glorious flavor of pork fat. Because butts are so forgiving, you can easily cook them in the 250 range without them drying out, which is nice because it shortens your cook time by about 10 %. Also, because they are forgiving, you can open the smoke chamber doors without drying the meat out, but you still don't want to. (On a small pit, every time you open the chamber doors, you increase cook time by 10 to 20 minutes --- if you're lookin', you ain't cookin'! /trite cliche)

Tend your fire as usual, adding coals and wood as needed to maintain temp and thin blue smoke. After about 8 hours on the smoker, I like to foil my butts with about 8 oz of apple or peach juice in the foil. When I put it in the foil, I put it fat cap down so the juice doesn't wash the bark off of the meat side. I generally take the meat's temp around this time, too, and see how we are doing. If it is still sub-165 internally at this point, I ramp the temp up to 275 and let it cook in the foil for about three hours.

Remove from the foil and take its temp again. With luck, you'll have cracked the plateau and be in the 180 range. Without luck, you are still staring at 165. Either way, place it back on the smoker, fat cap up, and reapply some rub to the fat cap. Drop your temp back to 250.

A note on taking the temperature of a butt. The key is to take the temp so you are in the thickest part of the meat but are not touching bone. I generally run my probe into the end of the butt opposite the bone, so the point of the probe ends right in the middle of the thickest part. Good lord, this primer sounds sexual.

You will continue to cook the butt as you've been doing, adding coals and wood as needed, until the butt reaches at least 195 internally. That is a very important number. If you pull it off at 190, you'll be able to pull the meat, but you will notice a lot of internal fat as you do it. If you let it get to 195 or, even better, 200, you'll notice WAY less fat. This is because almost all of the internal fat and connective tissue has to render to allow the internal temp to hit 195. Basically, no part of the butt will be under 180 (the magic number) if the thermometer is reading 195.

In theory, you could pull the meat now. Except you'll burn the crap out of yourself. So I take the butt and wrap it in two or three layers of heavy duty aluminum foil and place it in a cooler. After it is wrapped, stick your thermometer in the meat so you can monitor the temp. Allow it to rest until it gets back around 170, then unwrap and pull.

Note: If you don't have a ton of time, you can wrap it and let it rest on the counter instead of in a cooler. You'll still want to let it get to 170, though.

One another note: It is possible, though not advisable, to fast-track butts. The trick is to keep adding moisture, both by injecting heavily ahead of time and by foiling a lot longer. This works and I can crank out an 8 or 10 lb putt in under ten hours this way (the cook temps are 280ish), but there is a definite drop in meat quality. I don't recommend it.

Brisket

I'm not going to lie to you or sugar-coat it --- brisket is, hands down, the hardest traditional piece of BBQ to prepare well. This is because it is incredibly tough when it is undercooked and ridiculously dry when it is overcooked. You have a small window where it is both moist and tender, and you can even screw this up if the temp or technique is wrong. That said, when brisket is done well, it is proof of a higher power.

I've tried many different ways of cooking brisket, from simple rub to Dr. Pepper marinade to injection, and really the best has consistently been the simple rubs. Looking at the grain structure of the brisket, this makes sense. You see, the brisket is made up of many long, thick muscle fibers. Because of this, it isn't likely to hold much excess liquid from injections; it is too dense and will just force the liquid out of the injection holes (as well as some of its own liquid). Likewise, it doesn't take to marinades very well because it is so dense and it has no desire (or space) to soak up additional liquid. In theory, you could brine one, using the osmotic action to force liquid/flavor into the beef, but I am guessing even that will be more trouble than it is worth.

Also --- and here’s where I commit a bit of BBQ blasphemy --- because of the grain structure and the density of the brisket, there is no need to cook it fat side up. All the fat that renders off the fat cap is going to run off the outside of the meat rather than soaking in like a pork butt's fat will. Conversely, by cooking it fat-side down, you have a barrier on the bottom to prevent some of the brisket’s own juices from escaping. So, by cooking it fat side down, you aren't sacrificing moisture, and you are preventing the brisket from leaking its internal moisture. That’s a win-win, baby.

Trimming: OK, so you've got your brisket and you realize that it is a gigantic, dense piece of meat. Just like the butt, one side of the brisket has a thick fat cap. Turn the meat over, so this cap is facing up, and try to trim it down to an even 1/4 inch all over. Note, though, that the meat underneath this fat layer is not parallel to the line of the fat cap. It dips and dives and rises and falls under that cap, you need to remove a little at a time to avoid cutting exposing a big area of underlying meat.

Now flip the brisket over and trim it like you did with the butt, removing all hard lumps and any excess soft pockets. Toward one side, there will be a deep, oval-shaped pocket of fat that you need to remove. Likewise, there will be a long fat pocket running along one side of the meat that you should remove if you have a sharp enough knife to make it easy.

Dang, another tangent. If you have a full brisket (the label will say "brisket" or "packer brisket"), there are actually two pieces of meat --- the flat, which you cut traditional slices from, and the point, which is the fist-sized lump near one end, just behind that oval pocket of fat you cut out. Between these meats, there is a thick layer of fat. While you can trim out some of this from the surface, you can't get all of it without removing the point, nor do you want to. This fat renders very well and, because it is internal and because you have your fat cap down preventing liquid escape, it will soak into the flat, giving it great flavor. On the other hand, if you have a flat only (the label will say "brisket flat" or "trimmed brisket," and the total weight will be around 8 lbs), that fat will have been removed. Whole briskets are cheaper per pound, but flats cook faster and have less waste. I mainly cook the latter these days, just for time-based reasons, but I still think you get better flavor from the full brisket.

OK, the meat is trimmed. Brisket is the one meat of the four where it seems like mustard is better than canola oil for a slather. Spread a thin layer--thin enough that you can see the meat in most places--and apply your brisket rub liberally. I like to use a slightly different rub for my brisket, mainly because I don't like the blackness you get from sugar in that rub after a 16-hour cook, and I don't like the redness that paprika leaves on the meat when it comes to beef. Any rub will work, however. So, apply the rub, wrap tightly in saran wrap and let the meat rest in the fridge overnight (or over two nights, if possible).

Just like with anything else, remove the meat from the fridge well in advance of when you plan to start cooking, and re-apply rub where necessary. Once your fire is ready, place the brisket near the cool end of the smoker, fat side DOWN, and close the doors.

Two way people screw up briskets: First, just like with ribs, opening the cook chamber doors needlessly will dry your brisket out with a quickness. For this reason, I almost always use a water pan with about three cups of apple juice underneath the grate in the chamber while I cook. Second, briskets are really sensitive to temperature fluctuations during the cook, especially during the first six hours. You want to get the thermometer between 200 and 230 and keep it there. Briskets are an exercise in anticipating your fire. The last thing you want is to see that thermometer shoot up to 270 and be fighting your fire for thirty minutes; your brisket will give off a ton of liquid if it gets a sudden temperature change. Let this happen more than once or twice and you can forget moist brisket. Maintaining a constant temp is another reason that lining your cook chamber with firebricks is a good idea --- additional thermal mass makes temp swings in either direction much more mild.

If you want to foil your brisket, you will do so like you did with the butt, after it has smoked for eight hours or so. I like to add a mix of apple juice, Jack Daniels, and Worcestershire sauce (in a 3:2:1 ratio) to the foil packet. Let it cook this way for about three or four hours, but DON'T ramp the temp up like you did with the butt. Let it stay at the same cooking temperature that you’ve been using.

After three to four hours, remove the brisket from the foil and take its temp in the thickest part of the flat (not the point). You are going to cook it until it hits 190 internal at this thickest part. Assuming you have a 10 or 12 lb brisket, you can figure it is going to cook for a very absolute minimum of 14 hours (more likely it will be closer to 18-20). Anyway, after this first temp reading, you are going to have to play a guessing game. You obviously don't want to open the doors any more than is necessary, so you need to take the temp you just got and divide by the hours it has cooked. This will give you a general idea of how quickly the temp is rising. Using this general idea, ideally you won't check the temp again until the meat is getting close to done.

Once you hit 190, remove the brisket, wrap it tightly in foil, and allow it to rest for at least two hours before slicing. (If you put it in a cooler and wrap the foil in heavy towels, you can let it rest overnight with no concerns.) Then, taking a long knife --- preferably one with a granato edge --- slice under the point, separating it from the flat. If you want to make KC-style burnt ends, chop up the point into big chunks, put them in a foil pan with BBQ sauce, and place them back on the smoker (or in the oven) for a few hours. As for the flat, you want to slice perpendicular to the grain of the meat. If you cut with the grain, the meat will be tough no matter how well you cooked it. Slice into ¼ to ½-inch slices and serve. (I like to save the liquid in the bottom of the foil you wrapped the brisket in and drizzle that over the sliced brisket for extra flavor/moisture.)

Chicken

Like I said at the beginning, if I am only cooking chicken, I like to cook it much hotter than other Q. This is because chicken will hold its moisture much better once the outside is cooked and 325 cooks the outer 1/2 inch in less than 20 minutes.

Anyway, I like to work with chicken halves. Trim off any flappy skin around the edges, then brush with canola oil and season heavily with your dry rub. (You can also season with kosher salt, black pepper, and granulated garlic if you are using a sauce with a lot of flavor.) There is no need to do this ahead of time, so you can trim and season while you are waiting for you pit to reach 325.

Place the chicken bone side down with the fat end pointing at the fire box. Cook for about 90 minutes, maintaining your smoke and temp as described throughout this primer.

At the 90-minute mark, brush again with canola oil and re-season lightly with your rub. Close the doors and let the chicken cook. Chicken is done when the internal temp hits 165 in the thigh. At this temp, you are probably looking at 3 total hours of cook time, though it could be anywhere from 2 to 3.5. Remember, cook to temp, not to time.

If you are using a white sauce, you will remove the finished chicken, dunk it in the sauce, then let it rest for about 20 minutes before eating. If you are using regular BBQ sauce, brush the chicken with your sauce (you might need to thin it with some oil or apple juice to make it more brushable) about 10 minutes before it is done. Let the sauce cook on the chicken at 325 for 10 minutes. Remove, let it rest for 20 minutes, and eat.

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