Hints for beginners

  • Do not open your smoker to see how it’s going or show off to your arriving guests.  BBQ takes time, lots of time and it takes the smoker a long time to recover from an opening. Get a remote meat thermometer and use that to check on things without opening the smoker. During a 6 hour cook, I might open my smoker once before the last 30 mins when I’m applying apple cider to keep it moist or BBQ sauce on ribs.
  • Get a spray bottle and fill it with apple cider.  Use it towards the end of cooking a boston butt to keep it moist.
  • Buy spices in bulk from Penzeys.  
  • Make your own rubs and sauces.  It’s not that hard and you will quickly find tastes you like.
  • Go to a BBQ contest and ask questions.
  • Be patient with BBQ.  While I am normally an immediate gratification type of person, I have learned Zen like patients with BBQ and it pays off.
  • Use a chimney to light your charcoal.  
  • Not at first but, soon after you master some of the skills start using lump charcoal instead of briquets.  Lump burns hotter and creates less ash than briquets.  However, lump requires more attention as it burns to keep the fire burning stably.
  • Do not use smoking wood with bark on it.  Knock the bark off with a hammer or hatchet.
  • The only time you should consider chips for smoking wood is if you are using a grill instead of a proper smoker.  
  • There is no need to soak your smoking wood unless you are using chips.  See above.
  • When adjusting vents, wait 30 minutes before looking for results on the thermometer.  The smoker thermometer, not the meat thermometer.
  • Put a layer of charcoal in the fire tray of your smoker.  Light a chimney of charcoal and let it burn until it’s ready.  Then spread the lit charcoal over the fire tray, depending on how much your fire tray holds this could be enough for a complete cook of a boston butt.  This is often refereed to as the Minion Method.  
  • Stick with Baby Back Ribs when cooking ribs.
  • Remove the membrane from ribs.  Use a knife to get it started then use a dry paper towel to hold onto it while you pull it off.
  • Cook ribs meat side down.
  • Boston Butts and Ribs do not need to be turned over when smoking.
  • Add smoking wood right after putting your meat in the smoker.
  • On a Smokey Mountain, use the bottom vents to adjust the temperature, leave the top vent fully opened.
  • The safe temperature for pork is 165f.  If you cook a boston butt to 165 it makes a fine chopped pork.  If you want pulled pork, you must cook it to 190 or 195f.
  • Pulled pork is much better than chopped pork.
  • Let your meat rest before serving.  When a boston butt is done, wrap in aluminum foil and sit it in a cooler (no ice) for an hour.  For ribs, wrap in aluminum foil and let rest at least 30 minutes.  This is actually something you should do with all meats no matter how you cook them.
  • When making BBQ Sauces, heat until they boil then let simmer for some time.  The tastes blend so much better when heated.  There is real chemistry in cooking.
  • Wear shoes whenever around the smoker.  Hot coals can end up anywhere.  In a related hint, never cook with a smoker on a wooden deck.
  • Keep a water hose or fire extinguisher close by when cooking.
  • Always wash your hands after handling proteins (meat).
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