P.J.'s Barbecue Tips

Before giving tips on technique, here are step-by-step instructions for my favorite homemade barbecue meal:

"P.J.'s Perfect Pulled Pork Feast" (13-14 hours cook time)
  1. Saturday: Buy pork shoulders and baby back ribs from Costco. It's hard to tell, but there are actually 2 shoulders and 3 racks of ribs per pack.
  2. Sat 10:00pm: Start the smoker using a chimeny starter and the "Minion method" (see below).
  3. Sat 10:30pm: Pat all the meat dry and apply a generous amount of Jake's Boss rub to the pork shoulders (see recipe below). Leave the ribs in the fridge.
  4. Sat 11:00pm: Put the pork shoulders in the smoker, insert your wireless probe thermometer into the thickest part of the bigger shoulder, and add 5 or 6 chunks of hickory smoke to the fire.
  5. Sat 11:10pm: Adjust air vents until the smoker holds a fairly constant temperature of around 250F.
  6. Sat 11:45pm: Go to bed. Set your probe thermometer to wake you if the smoker temperature drops below 210F. If it does, gently stir the fire and/or add more coal. Usually the alarm never goes off, though.
  7. Sun 08:00am: Add some fresh coals to the smoker and get its temperature back up to 250F.
  8. Sun 09:00am: Pat dry the rib racks and apply Jake's Boss rub.
  9. Sun 09:30am: Stick the ribs in the smoker and add 3-4 chunks of apple or hickory wood to the fire.
  10. Sun 12:30pm: When the pork shoulders hit an internal temperature of 190F, pull them out. Stick an open can of beans in the smoker to cook and absorb smoke flavor. Wrap the hot pork shoulders in aluminum foil and let them rest for one hour.
  11. Sun 01:30pm: Pull the ribs out of the cooker. The meat should have shrank, revealing the ends of the rib bones. Wrap in aluminum foil to rest for 30 minutes.
  12. Sun 01:40pm: Stick a pot of collared greens on the stove or in the smoker.
  13. Sun 01:45pm: Pull the pork by hand into a large serving bowl. Using a fork will shred it too much. The pork will be uncomfortably hot to handle, so invest in some food-safe gloves to make this easier. But don't wait until it cools; cold meat becomes too hard to pull. Also make sure to get lots of the "bark" from the outside of the pork mixed in with the meat. Mix in a few tablespoons of Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce (your choice of flavor) to coat lightly.
  14. Sun 02:00pm: Time To Eat! Prepare a buffet of pulled pork sandwiches (with cheap, seedless hamburger buns), smoked beans, and collared greens. Serve the ribs on a large cutting board and have guests cut their own portion from the slab. Let them decide whether or not to add BBQ sauce to their ribs.
  15. Sun 04:00pm: Store leftover pulled pork in gallon bags in the fridge, squeezing out excess air. Vacuum pack and deep freeze if storing for more than few days. Microwave reheating works fine once thawed; just add a bit more BBQ sauce. Leftover ribs get rubbery, so vacuum pack and deep freeze leftover ribs—still uncut from the rack—immediately. Reheat thawed ribs in the oven at 250F.

"Jake's Boss Rub"
From Steven Raichlen's book "Barbecue Bible: Sauces, Rubs & Marinades"
This is my favorite rub. I use it on pretty much everything. Sometimes I even eat it straight.
(Makes about 3 cups.)

The Wikipedia page on smoking provides a pretty good overview of barbecuing methods. My page is focused more on giving specific advice to a beginner.

I list some recipes at the bottom.

First, some quick definitions:
My pointers for a beginner:
  1. There are basically three kinds of smokers: vertical, horizontal ("offset"), and propane/electric. I have the Weber Smokey Mountain, which is vertical. The fire goes in the bottom, the food goes in the top, and a big water pan goes in the middle. The water absorbs a lot of the direct heat so your food only gets indirect heat and smoke. Horizontal/offset smokers have fireboxes on the side of the cooking chamber that let smoke and indirect heat into the cooking chamber. The big rigs you see at competitions are horizontal. Electric and propane cookers are super-simple; they just act like an electric oven that burns (or singes) wood pellets to generate smoke. It's almost like cheating. In my view, the Weber Smokey Mountain is only slightly more complex to operate than an electric or propane cooker, and it gives you noticeably better results because you use real charcoal and real chunks of smoke wood.
  2. Check out http://www.virtualweberbullet.com. It covers everything you need to know. It's for the Weber Smokey Mountain specifically, but most of what they say would apply to other smokers (especially vertical ones).
  3. Make sure you have a good thermometer. One might be in the lid of the smoker already, though they're not always 100% reliable. Pretty much everything you cook will be between 225 and 250 degrees, and you may have to adjust your air vents or your fire to keep it in that range. The better smokers require less fidgeting to keep the temperature constant. Cheap smokers require more attention and work, but should be fine as long as you keep your cooking temperature around the 225-250 range. I bought a wireless probe thermometer so I can take it inside and it'll warn me if my temperatures get too low or high. I can even cook overnight and put the thermometer next to my bed and it'll wake me up if the smoker needs adjusting. My thermometer is the Maverick ET-73 (here), and for the Weber Smokey Mountain you can get an eyelet (here) that allows you to run the probe wires through the wall of the smoker.
  4. Use a "chimney starter" to start your charcoal. Amazingly easy to use. Get a hot charcoal fire burning in 10 minutes with no lighter fluid; just charcoal, one piece of newspaper, and one match. Buy a chimney starter here.
  5. Kingsford charcoal is just fine. You can buy their "Competition" brand, but I don't think it's noticeably better. Avoid charcoal made with lighter fluid, such as Kingsford's "Match Light" brand. It may add a chemical taste and with a chimney starter is totally unnecessary.
  6. For your smoke wood, use fruit trees or hickory. Avoid mesquite unless you're doing brisket; it's too strong. I find that 5 or 6 fist-sized chunks of wood are plenty. Most of the smoke flavor is absorbed in the beginning of the cook, so just put the chunks on top of the coals right at the beginning. After a couple of hours I usually don't see any more smoke coming out of my smoker, and that's fine. The meat is still plenty smokey.
  7. The Minion Method: If cooking for more than 8 hours, use the Minion method. Fill the charcoal ring of your smoker nearly full. Add a few chunks of smoke wood on top. Start a full chimney of coals. When the chimney coals are fully aflame (10-15 minutes), pour the hot coals over the pile of coals in the smoker. The unlit coals underneath will slowly light as they become exposed. As long as your charcoal contains no lighter fluid, no off flavors will result. This method usually keeps the smoker sufficiently hot without any supervision for 8-10 hours. When the temperature finally drops, add fresh coals as needed.
  8. Be careful about stirring your fire. If you kick up any ash, it will stick to your food. More chimney flavor. If I need to add coals or stir the fire, I actually remove the middle section of the smoker (the section containing the meat) and set it aside so the meat is far from the fire while I'm messing with it.
  9. There are four main types of BBQ meat: We also cook turkey breasts, and you can do other stuff. Usually tough, fattier meats do better. In our area, Costco has the best ribs, pork shoulder and brisket. The problem with grocery stores is they tend to inject a brine into the meat which, when smoked, makes it taste like a salty ham. Not good. They have to say on the label if they inject any sort of fluid, so just read the label before you buy. Costco's meat cases never have injected meat and their stuff is really high quality, so just go there. For chicken and turkey breasts you can just get grocery store stuff, but still try to avoid injected brine if possible.
  10. Do chicken for your first attempt. It doesn't take long (3-4 hours) and it's really hard to screw up. Don't waste a rack of ribs or a whole pork should on your first cook, just in case you have problems.
  11. Apply dry rubs and/or marinades to meats before you put them in the smoker, but DO NOT APPLY BBQ SAUCE. BBQ sauce has sugars which will burn. If you apply BBQ sauce, only do so in the last 15 minutes of the cook. I just use dry rubs and then give people a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's so they can add sauce as they eat. I rarely marinade.
  12. There is always a top vent to let the smoke out. Never shut this. The smoke should flow through the cooking chamber freely. It should not build up. If you close that vent, you food will taste like a chimney.
  13. You will always cook more than you can possibly eat. Invest in a vacuum sealer and a chest freezer. Or invite lots of friends over. I have this one and it works great.
  14. Beef brisket is by far the hardest meat to BBQ. It's hard to keep moist. Don't even bother trying until you get decent at the other stuff.
Easy 4-hour Recipes:
  1. BBQ chicken recipe. If you want, use Jake's Boss rub instead of the one they suggest.
  2. Beer can chicken.
  3. Pork ribs recipe. Again, use their rub or use Jake's Boss. I get the ribs at Costco, usually in a pack of 3. I prefer back ribs, not spare ribs.


Back to PJ's Homepage