As cooks hone their open air skills this barbecue season, Fox News brings you tips from some of the country’s top pit masters on how to let the smoke and fire work their magic on your meat.
Cut it out
Choosing the right cut of meat gets you off to a great start. One thing to remember is that fat is flavor. Look for light streaks of the white stuff running through the meat. “That fat will caramelize on the grill and give your meat a bump of extra flavor,” says Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Ala. That being said, nobody likes too much fat on their meat so be sure to trim off any excess. Lilly also chooses meat with nice color and uniform thickness so it will cook evenly. When it comes to chicken, Lilly believes the ideal ones are young with skin “so transparent you can see the red meat through it.”
Heat it up
Indirect heat or cooking is one key to great barbecue. Tommy Houston of The Checkered Pig in Martinsville, VA explains that the same fat which keeps ribs moist and juicy, can also cause flare-ups which turn ribs black. For that reason many pit masters consider indirect heat to be crucial for turning out great meat. Lilly builds a two-zone fire with charcoal to one side and a void to cook larger cuts of meat at a low temperature away from the fire.
Adam Perry Lang of Daisy May’s BBQ in New York City keeps a heatproof pan filled with baste ingredients on the grill to cook using a “back and forth” method. He starts by searing meat on the grill then moving it to the pan at regular intervals to coat it with the mixture before returning it to the grill.
Go whole hog
Whole hog cooking may seem like a daunting task but Pat Martin of Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville, TN believes anyone can do great barbecue if they follow the fundamentals. “You cannot rush it and you have to cook at a low temperature," he says. "This gives the muscle fibers and meat time to break down and gelatinize.” Martin, whose signature recipe is West Tennessee Whole Hog says the pig’s internal temperature should be brought to around 195 to 200 degrees. Martin promises the belly meat, which has been cooking in its own fat, is so tender, “you can take out your dentures and eat it.” A fan sampling Martin’s fare at the recent Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in Manhattan, verifying that it was indeed “like butter.”
Use the right touch
Digging in tells top pit masters when it’s time to dig in. Martin says when the hog is “tender enough that you can barely hold it up without it disintegrating and falling apart, you’re ready to go.”
Joe Duncan of Baker’s Ribs in Dallas, TX recommends using a meat fork to tell when ribs are ready. “Stick it between the bones, give it a twist and if the meat pulls out and stands up, it’s ready,” Duncan adds “If it’s real springy, it needs more time.”
The best way to tell when chicken is ready? “Grab the drumstick and twist,” says Lilly, explaining that the last part of chicken to get done is the joint between the leg and the thigh. The drumstick should offer some resistance before it “gives and rolls over.” If it pulls off too easily, it may have spent too much time over the flames.
To make sure a whole chicken cooks uniformly, he also suggests pointing the drumsticks toward the fire to protect the leaner breast meat which cooks faster than dark meat.
Rub it in
To many barbecue lovers, the rub and sauce are just as important as the cooking process.
Dennis Michael Sherman, of DennyMike’s Sauces and Rubs in York, ME says rubs work best when given enough time to “get deep into the meat.” A few hours is good, overnight is even better but Sherman says he’s also sprinkled rub on five minutes before grilling with decent results.
Sherman thinks pork needs something sweet (brown or turbinado sugar, molasses or honey as well as something “to put a little snap” into it ( Cayenne pepper, garlic, paprika, or turmeric).
For red meat or rubs, Sherman believes saltier, more peppery flavors work well. Ingredients to try: Onion or garlic powder, mustard and paprika.
For seafood he likes to keep it light—lemon or lime peel, sea salt, parsley and dill weed.
And For chicken Sherman is partial to Mexican parsley, Mexican oregano, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, chili, and sea salt.
For those who want to sauce their meat while it’s cooking, Sherman’s tool of choice is a barbecue mop which he says she be used to daub the mixture on the meat.
Garry Roark of Ubon’s of Yazoo, Miss is partial to the sauce which has been in his family for at least five generations, but understands that many back yard cooks like to “make it their own creation” -- starting with a basic ingredient and playing around with flavors. There’s just one potential problem he sees with this: The next time they make it, the kids may say “Daddy you didn’t make your sauce as good as you did last time.” That’s because most people don’t remember what they did last time-- so write it down..
To whip up some homemade sauce Roark suggests going with what appeals to your tastes. Experiment with ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar (or molasses or honey), citric acid, onions and garlic. He also recommends “going easy on the salt and pepper shaker so one ingredient doesn’t overpower the others”.
Now that you’re armed with tips from some barbecue world heavy weights, it’s time fire up that grill! And don't forget to save me a piece!