If you’re a beginner in the world of smoking meats, there are several things to know to positively impact your dishes and make your friends and family think you’re a pro! Here are some of my best tips.
1. Remember this is culinary ART! Art is, at its best, when we get creative and express how we’re feeling! Allow your personality, your approach, your ideas and your imagination to shine through in whatever you’re smoking. Do you like spicy, sweet, savory, smoky or charred? Whatever your answer is, let that shine through in your cooking.
2. Have fun! Food tastes better when whomever is cooking it is having fun and enjoying the experience. Most of the best meals we’ve all had were probably cooked by someone who was really looking forward to cooking for us. Having fun allows you to loosen up and connect to whatever it is that you’re doing. Barbecue is a very laid-back vibe. It’s tending a fire, charcoal or whatever you’re cooking, sometimes for hours. If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right, and that will definitely show up in how amazing your barbecue tastes.
3. Start with low-hanging fruit. If you’re a beginner, my goal with these tips is for you to develop confidence as a barbecue cook. A great way to start is by slow cooking a very forgiving cut of meat like St. Louis-style pork spareribs. In general, pork ribs have a great amount of intramuscular fat (aka marbling). This fat lends itself really well to the low-and-slow style of cooking. As the ribs cook, the muscle fibers containing fat, protein, water and elastin (a type of protein that gives muscles their flexibility) start to relax and begin to transform into juicy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth barbecue! I developed my confidence in barbecue using this same approach with ribs.
4. Find inspiration! Great art is fueled by great inspiration. Find some people in the world of barbecue on social media that you can look up to. Check out their barbecue pics and videos. Check out the types of grills and/or smokers they’re cooking on. Check out their cooking fuel (wood, charcoal, briquettes, pellets, etc.). I call this learning from the images. There’s an old saying that claims, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” When my love for everything barbecue first began, I was like a sponge, soaking up as much content as possible. When I was first bitten by the barbecue bug, I was (and still am) so eager to learn how smoke plus low heat, time and proper seasoning could transform a huge, tough cut of meat into some of the best, if not the best, bite of meat ever. The answers to my inquiries were so elusive. But the inspiration led me to self-education.
My barbecue hero is my wife’s Uncle Leon, aka Big Lee! I had his food for the first time on November 24, 2011. It was Thanksgiving Day with my wife’s family in the Delta — Greenwood, Mississippi to be exact. Uncle Leon cooked up an amazing Thanksgiving dinner! But he also cooked barbecue. Barbecue was his passion. I helped him unload some beautifully smoked ribs and chicken from his custom-built smoker. Back then I wasn’t serious about cooking, and barbecue didn’t mean anything more to me than a hot dog or hamburger. But little did I know that the subsequent moments after he pulled the meat from the smoker were going to change my life. Literally. I took one bite of the ribs and chicken, and something special happened to me … beyond the party of amazing flavors and textures dancing around on my taste buds. The food touched my heart just as all amazing, from-the-heart cooking can. To say I was blown away is an understatement. That bite of food completely inspired me, and the flames of that inspiration have lived and burned inside of me, pushing me to heights in this culinary world that I could never have imagined. Find your inspiration!
5. Take your time and use it wisely! In many ways, barbecue is more of a marathon than a sprint. It’s my all-time favorite style of cooking for this very reason. Typically, cooking on a smoker takes hours. So once your meat (or whatever else you’re cooking) hits the grill grates, you’ll have hours on your hands until your food is finished. When I first started out, this was the time I’d use to document my process. During this leg of the marathon, I’d write down the starting weight of the meat, the weather conditions, the smoker temp, the cook time, etc. And I’d note whether the smoke was thick or thin, what type of wood was being used, etc. Documenting the process like that gives you a tremendous edge when your ‘cue starts coming out amazing. You’ll have those notes on hand so you can try your best to replicate and tweak your process.
Watch the latest episodes of Master of ‘Cue with Rashad Jones.