It may not really be spring yet, but it's never too early to start thinking about the barbecue season. When you do it right, grilled meat is soft, juicy, smoky and ridiculously delicious. The good news is that you do not need to own a goodor an expensive to fulfill these demands at home. All you really need is a basic charcoal grill, some knowledge and some practice.
So if you ever wanted the chops to cook really smoked barbecue and make it on a budget, this guide is for you. Here I will put out how you can smoke meat low and slow on your garden stove. It is true that mastering BBQ is a lifelong endeavor, but achieving satisfactory results is much easier than you think.
Barbecue: What is it that is very good?
When you taste good barbecue it can only blow you. That is what happened to me, and now it has become a powerful need that often consumes me. Why? Simple. When you cook a tough piece of meat at low temperatures (225 F, 107.2 C) for long enough, something magical happens.
Binding muscle tissue, usually chewy and unpleasant, breaks down. This process, in combination with ultraviolet wood smoke, otherwise raises inedible foods to the fantastic kingdom. Baby pork bones that "fall off the bone", soft-pulled pork or juicy slices of beef are all great examples of this type of cooking.
A slow burn
Cooking with coal is not like turning on a gas grill or stove. You can't just spin a torch and turn the heat up or down. Instead, the amount of fuel, volume and weight of your coal is the biggest factor affecting heat. Too much coal and your grill temperatures will skyrocket.
However, there is a popular way, which reliably keeps the heat in the grill low and stable. The technique is known as the coal worm method. The snake also lets your grill burn for several hours. It is easiest to use the coal snake in pans, like the Weber Classic, because of its round shape. It also works in other grills of similar size.
Start by placing two standard carbon briquettes in your grill. Arrange them side by side on the charcoal grate, right where it meets the inner grill wall. One briquette should be closer to the wall than the other.
Now put two to the right of the first pair. Repeat until you have a series of briquettes (in pairs) that go halfway around the curved wall of your kettle. Then place another length of paired briquettes directly on top of those already in the grill. You should now have a semi-circular row of coal two briquettes deep and two wide.
To add a little extra oomph to the smoke flavor, drop a few pieces of smoke wood on top of the snake. Place them near the front of the chain, the nearest place where you light the snake. Meat absorbs the best smoke when it is cold, at the beginning of the cook.
Also consider adding a drip tray, filled with warm water, inside the charcoal tray. It works to catch drops of meat on the grill above. The boiler helps to stabilize the grill temperatures as well.
The Minion method is not for me
I know many people swear by another coal burning strategy, called the minion method. This slow and low technology requires you to add lit coal over a larger amount of unlit briquettes. I've tried it and haven't had much success, personally.
Maybe I need more exercise or I should adjust my fuel amounts. Whatever the reason, my mini-coal fires tend to escape from me. They either get too hot, or wobble and burn out. Anyway, I think the snake method is more reliable, although it requires more work ahead.
Light the fuse
When it is time to cook, confirm that your air vents are open halfway (both top and bottom). Next place between 5 to 12 lit coal in front of the snake. You can use a chimney starter to fire these coals. Another way to go is to light your starter charcoal with a paraffin or tumbleweed starter, directly inside the grill.
No matter how you start your snake, never use lighter fluid. It will give your meat unpleasant chemical flavors. The same goes for fast light briquettes.
Monitor the pit
If your grill came with a hood thermometer, ignore it. In my experience, they are all worthless, usually about 25 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside the mark. For accurate readings, invest in a fast-read digital thermometer, the type with a wired probe. Such a gadget allows you to see barbecue temperatures at food level.
I recommend that you attach your probe with a practical metal clip made for the purpose. In a pinch, you can also attach the probe through a ball of aluminum foil and then drop it directly onto the grill.
The ideal temperature for smoking meat is 225 F, although occasional nails of up to 250 F do not cause panic. Long stretches of anything above that can result in meat that is drier and tougher than usual.
If you find the grill heat values are too hot, you may want to try closing your air vents slightly. Give the fire at least 15 minutes to respond. Do the opposite to raise the grill temperature. Also try to dial in heat levels by adjusting either the top or bottom hatches. This way you can nail down all the effects that the top or bottom valve causes.
Harvesting Your Benefits
A snake with semicircle coal usually burns for at least 5 hours, and possibly as long as 8 hours. Of course, your exact experience depends on other factors. These include ambient outdoor temperature in the forest's throat and the design of your special grill.
Snake with the snake method is that you can always add more charcoal if you need more cooking time. So whether you smoke a rack with backrest (5 hours), St, Louis-cut pork ribs or a hearty whole beef brisket (15 hours), your reliable charcoal cooker has you covered. Hungry for a barbecue party yet? I know I am.