August 15, 2022
Author: Joe Mozeika
To me, nothing represents American cuisine quite like BBQ. It can be found from coast to coast with each region putting their own flavor spin on it. In North Carolina they slow-smoke a whole hog on an open-pit cooker, while across the border in South Carolina, a mustard-based sauce covers everything. Memphis does dry rub ribs while Alabama’s got smoked chicken with white sauce. Across Texas, you can find Mesquite wood BBQ out west, brisket in Central Texas, and beef ribs in the north. In Kansas City, they mix it all together with sweeter, thicker sauces!
In addition to the variety of flavors, I find the culture of BBQ to be fascinating. There are no set rules for how you cook your food, what spices—if any—you use, or what you cook your food with. It’s all about patience and the love of meat. Most smoked meats take a while to cook, often up to 14 hours for the larger cuts. Most pitmasters choose to spend that time socializing with friends, family, and even passersby drawn in by the smell of your smoker. You’ve got 14 hours ahead of you so you might as well spend them with some fun people! The majority of pitmasters choose to not keep secrets, rather they share their experience and methods of cooking with anyone that asks. They’ll tell you how they prep their meat, how they make their fire, what type of wood they use, what temperatures they cook at, how to know when the meat is done, and really anything else you want to know. The culture of BBQ is all about sharing, both knowledge and food, which I think is one of its best attributes.
Once you’re ready to try your hand at BBQ you’ve got a few things to figure out first, like what you’re going to cook and what you’re going to cook it in, however, with the rising popularity of backyard BBQ there are many ways option for you to jump in.
Let’s start with what you’re going to cook. If it’s your first go at slow-cooked BBQ, I would suggest Pork Butt. Despite its name, the pork butt comes from the front shoulder of the pig so there’s no need to worry about what you’re cooking, even if the name is a little gross. The pork butt has a high fat content which helps prevent it from drying out during the cook. Additionally, the high fat content and tender muscles of the pork butt make it best suited for shredding. Once shredded, it becomes what is commonly known as pulled pork. Pulled pork can be used in several dishes, from sandwiches to tacos and anything in between! As for what spices to put on your meat, there are some great premade rubs (a rub is the seasoning you cover the meat with prior to putting it on the smoker) that you can find at any supermarket. Read the description or the list of spices on the container to see if it is near the flavor profile you’re hoping for. They can be sweet, smokey, spicy, etc. so be sure to check that it’s going to be right for you before you buy.
Once you have your ingredients you will need to figure out what you’re going to cook your meat in. Here’s where things might take a little more thought. You’re going to have to figure out the smoker that is right for you based on ease of use and cost. There are some inexpensive models that require very little understanding of fire management, such as electric or propane smokers. These will cost less than $200 and all you need to do to start cooking is add wood chips and set them to the temperature you want. From there the next step up would be a Pellet Smoker/grill. These are a little bit more expensive but often they aren’t just smokers, and most will double as grills as well. Like the electric or propane smoker, all you have to do is set the smoker to your desired temperature and fill the hopper with fuel, in this case pellets, from there you’re ready to start smoking your meat. This type of smoker will likely cost anywhere between $500 and $2000 depending on the size and how many features you want. Finally, if you’re like me and like to play with fire something like a Big Green Egg (ceramic smoker) or a UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker) is a fun and challenging way to get you started. These require a little bit more work, as you have to find just the right amount of charcoal and wood chips to get the temperature and flavor profile you want but they offer much more consistent temperatures and smoke once you dial it in versus an electronically controlled smoker. Something like the two I mentioned above will have a price tag from $500 to $1200 depending on size. Ultimately there is no wrong smoker, just the one that works best for you!
In the true spirit of BBQ culture, I’ve chosen to share my own method of cooking pork butt. Always buy your pork butt bone in. Personally, I feel it adds extra flavor to the final product. To start rinse and dry your meat. After that, I rub the meat with a very light coating of Siracha sauce. This will give the slightest amount of heat on the back end and function as a binder for the rub too. Once the meat is covered with siracha I rub it with spices (Included below is my personal spice mix). Wrap in cling wrap and put it in your refrigerator overnight. Once you’re ready to start cooking, start your smoker and set it to your desired temperature. I always target 225°-250° for my cooking and I prefer a of lump charcoal with oak chunks in my drum smoker. Make sure to let it stabilize for about 30 min or so once it has reached the temperature you’ve chosen. While your smoker is heating up, take the meat out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature. After your smoker’s temperature has stabilized quickly place the meat into the smoker and close it up. From there once every hour you will spray the pork with a 50/50 mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. This keeps the outer layers of the meat from drying out as well as adds a little bit of sweet flavor. Do this for anywhere between 4-6 hours, just until the internal temperature of the meat is 165°. It may reach this a little sooner or a little later than anticipated depending on many factors, but in any case, we are looking to cook for a target temperature, not a time. Once your meat has reached 165°, pull it out of the smoker and wrap it tightly in tin foil. Then place it back in the smoker, keeping the temperature of the smoker between 225°-250°, and wait for the internal temperature of the meat to reach 205°. This should take about 3-4 hours, but again it’s all about cooking until the meat has reached the correct temperature, not a time. Once the meat’s internal temperature is at 205°, remove it from the smoker and allow it to sit for an hour or so. After it’s done sitting, grab some large forks and start shredding. If you’ve done it right, you likely can shred with just your hands. Once shredded, it’s time to indulge any way you like! There is no wrong way to enjoy your BBQ!
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 TBSP kosher Salt
- 2 TBSP black pepper
- 2 tsp Smoked Paprika
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp cinnamon