Friday, April 6, 2012

Light My Fire!

6 April 2012

With the weather warming up, I start looking at my grill and my smoker. We love BBQ. Weather permitting I would prefer to have something going on the grill every day and I have already been busy scanning my recipes for possible choices of what to fire up first! BBQing has come a long way since the days when our fathers and grandfathers were keepers of the spatulas and their efforts were typically crunchy “burnt-to-a-crisp” chicken legs. It is a full blown art and it takes some effort and finesse to master the many techniques that fall under the realm of outdoor cookery.

The first thing to be an excellent pit master is knowing what kind of BBQing is out there. Basically there are three types, barbequing, grilling and smoking. I’m going to go over some very basic fundamentals for you to consider if you want to get serious about your “grillin’”.

When you barbeque you infer that you are cooking something via the in-direct heat method. Meaning your heat source is not directly under the food you are cooking. Air flow within the cooking temperatures allows for the heat to disperse in the direction of your food and cooking occurs generally at a lower temperature and thus at a slower rate. In order for this to be effective, your heat source must be in a lower position than your food and ventilation must able to adequately circulate throughout the cooking chamber. When you see grills with a smaller “firebox” offset from the actual cooking chamber or grill area, that is an example of a proper barbeque grill.

Grilling is simply cooking your food over the coals either directly on them or slightly above the coals with a grill rack. It is called the direct heat method and usually cooks your food faster and at a higher temperature. It is this method that most backyard chefs employ and also how they burn the food should they not know how to properly manipulate the heat.

Above all else in BBQ I prefer the smoking method. It is a time consuming technique that requires the right equipment and a lot of preparation and patience on the chef’s part. You have to master the ability to maintain a heat source at a low temperature and proper air flow to produce good results.   Smoking can be done via in-direct or direct methods but the important thing to remember is that the temperature must remain low. Ideally the best temperatures to properly smoke meats range from 200 -225 degrees. To be safe and not poison anybody you want to ensure your final internal temperatures for most adequately cooked meats is at least 145 while poultry is considered “done” at 165. So when you consider smoking a rack of baby back ribs or brisket you can readily determine that the ribs should take no more than 4 – 5 hours while your brisket should take, at a minimum 15-16 hours.

Once you are familiar with the cooking methods, you want to think about your heat source. Gas, wood, charcoal or a mix of charcoal and wood. I prefer to use a mix of charcoal and wood as I don’t think using gas delivers a true “smoked meat” result. If you use gas and you want the taste that wood imparts, you have to use either wood planks or chips. If you use planks, they must be soaked in water then your meat is placed on top of the wood. If you use chips, they too must be soaked in water and placed in some type of bowl with water, whereupon they would simmer and the resulting steam would impart the wood flavor to the meat. I don’t think that using either planks or chips with gas cooking gives a good taste of the wood to the meat. The exception here is barbequing salmon or other fish and using the planks. That works very well with fish.

It’s the wood that helps give the meat its distinctive flavor and different woods give different flavors. Also, some woods produce better results when used in certain methods. In particular, mesquite wood is best for grilling. It gives that good “Texas” flavor to foods like sausages, burgers and grilled chicken. Whereas mesquite gives an overly smoky and bitter flavor to smoked meats. The same can be said with other nut woods like pecan for example. So for me, mesquite and nut woods are used for grilling and barbequing. For smoking I tend to use hickory and if available, oak. I add charcoal as that helps in lighting and as most charcoal is made from oak, adds excellent flavor to anything. Hickory and oak provide excellent smooth flavors that do not overpower the food. I haven’t used many fruit woods enough to say much about them. I have used cherry and its flavor was very nice.

I could probably write a book on this subject but instead I think I’ll just open a series on this subject. So today is the opening article and I‘ll get into some other basic bits of outdoor cookery as well as some basic recipes and tips. This bit today should give you something to start with and it should demonstrate that being a good pit master requires a lot more than lighting a fire and throwing some meat on the grill. Anybody can do that and do it well. It’s another thing altogether to develop the technique fully and become an even better pit master or outdoor chef. Hopefully I can help you get started!

Have a Blessed Day!

Today’s “Did Ya Know?” Not only is it Easter weekend but it is also “Caramel Popcorn Day’’!!! It’s the stuff of fund raisers and carnivals and it comes in bags and balls! It is good stuff and it goes great with BBQ!!! Of course, anything goes great with BBQ. Cracker Jack is made with caramel popcorn and that is one of my all-time favorite childhood snacks! You don’t need a carnival or a good cause to enjoy caramel popcorn. It’s easy enough to make at home! Just a little sugar cooked up with butter and voila you have caramel, now add your cooked popcorn and you are ready for some good snackin’!!

Related Links:’s “Barbeques and Grilling” Blog:


  1. Excellent post and quite informative. I am guilty of the direct heat method whereby chicken is burnt crispy on the outside and raw or at least undercooked on the inside. Frustrating to say the least. To avoid this, I tend to use my gas grill in favor of the charcoal pit. But perhaps what I should be doing is slowing things down a bit and moving the charcoal to one side of the grill so the chicken is not dripping grease onto the charcoal causing the huge flames!

    Thankfully, I have no issues with cooking steak. I marinate it well enough that cooking on the gas grill does not result in a lack of flavor.

    I'll be looking forward to more of your tips - perhaps I'll smoke something one of these days.

  2. Thanks Dave! I LUV firing up the grill or smoker!!!