Cook Like The Pros With These Barbecue Tips. 

This page is all about barbecue tips...

But it's so much more than that! After all, what is a tip? It's a piece of confidential advice or inside information. A helpful hint.

But I want you to get so much more out of this than just a bunch of barbecue tips. My goal is for you to become a top notch pitmaster! This page is designed to do just that! Everything you need to know to become a barbecue pit master will be contained within this page and the pages that link to it.

With these great barbecue tips you will discover;

  • The correct equipment needed and how to select and use it
  • The correct woods to use and the flavors they impart.
  • All about barbecue ingredients; Meats, herbs, spices, seasonings and how to make great barbecue with them!
  • The barbecue cooking method or "technique".

So let's get started with the barbecue tips...

Equipment - The Pitmasters Toolbox

The basic concept of barbecue is simple; Take a tough cut of meat. Season it so it's nice and spicy and cook it over hardwood smoke, at a low temperature, somewhere between 200°F-250°F, until it becomes tender and delicious.

The challenge comes in maintaining that low temperature. Difficult to do with most outdoor cooking equipment like grills, because they are designed to grill, which is a high heat cooking method. This is where a good, reliable smoker or barbecue pit becomes essential.

Types of Smokers and Barbecue Pits.

A barbecue pit and a smoker are basically the same thing, with one exception; cold smokers. These maintain a temperature between 68°F-86°F. Too cold for barbecue. These are used for drying while imparting a smoke flavor. You would use these for preparing items like cold smoked salmon, or gravlax, and beef jerky for example, or for giving food a smoke flavor before cooking it. Since this page is all about barbecue tips, we will not be talking about cold smokers in great detail.

Now back to maintaining the correct temperature for barbecue...

The temperature inside your barbecue pit is maintained by keeping the food far away from the heat source. While a fire burns very hot, if you keep it far enough away from the food, by the time the heat reaches the food, it has cooled down enough to give you the correct temperature.

This is done by two different designs; You either put your fire far below the food or off to the side.

Barbecue Tip - A smoker that has the heat source off to the side, instead of below the food, is known as an "offset smoker".

Critical Barbecue Tip! - How do you know if the cooking chamber of your smoker is at the ideal temperature to make lipsmackin' barbecue? You need a good, reliable, accurate thermometer. Most smokers come with one built into them. Make sure yours has numbers on it. Don't use one that has readings like; cold, warm, ideal, hot, etcetera. If it does...replace it with a good, reliable, accurate thermometer with numerical temperature readings. You can also use an oven thermometer inside your smoker. Unfortunately, when you lift the lid, you lose precious heat which lengthens your cook time.

Vertical Smokers

A vertical smoker, simply put, is a smoker that is higher than it is wide.

They usually have racks inside of them, like your oven, and the food to be cooked is placed on these racks. In fact, a lot of these look like ovens. Some are even referred to as "wood burning ovens". Usually these racks are stationary, but some models have racks that rotate the food to help it cook more evenly.

They can be as simple as a barrel or two, with racks to hold the food and a water pan to add moisture and shield the food from the heat, to very high tech boxes with high grade steel and digital controls. Sizes range from very small, about 15 inches across, to huge barbecue pits used in restaurants that are large enough to cook several small hogs at the same time. They can range in price from about $70.00 to many thousands of dollars.

Horizontal Smokers

Horizontal smokers are merely smokers, or barbecue pits, that are wider than they are high.

Most backyard models have one large rack and a smaller rack. Larger models may have several racks to place your barbecue on.

Great Barbecue Tip Regarding Cooking Surface Area - Horizontal smokers can be very simple and relatively small, though even the smallest models have more cooking area than your average grill. Of course you can get very large horizontal smokers big enough to smoke several hogs at a time.

These smokers can be of a very simple design; two barrels fastened at the ends, with a cutout where they meet, to take the smoke and heat from the fire box to the cooking chamber. More sophisticated and high tech models are available as well, with automated controls and state of the art materials.

They range in price from about $150.00 and up.

What to Consider When Purchasing a Smoker or Barbecue Pit

Great Barbecue Tip: When you are purchasing a tool, which is what a barbecue pit or smoker really is, you need to have your end results in mind. This will insure that you have the right piece of equipment to get the job done the way you want it done, and the way you want to do it.

  • There are several factors to keep in mind:
  • What you will be cooking.
  • How many people you will be cooking for.
  • Ease of use.
  • Fuel that you will be using.
  • Price.

What Size Barbecue Pit Do You Need?

This is a great barbecue tip that many people overlook; The size of your barbecue pit is one of the most important aspects to consider and this depends on two things; what you want to cook and how many people you are cooking for.

First, what are you cooking?

If you want to cook whole hogs, a small vertical smoker is not going to work for you. Say you're a rib fanatic. A small vertical smoker may not work for you either, because a rack of ribs will not fit into the smoker without being wrapped around a rib rack or being cut to fit.

On the other hand, if you live in an area with limited space, a small vertical smoker may be perfect for you.

Next thing to consider is; how many people are you cooking for?

If you're cooking for just a few people, then your barbecue pit doesn't need to be huge. However, if you like to host parties or you have a large family, you need a bigger smoker.

Barbecue Tip - Does Size Matter?- It's usually better to have a bigger pit, than a smaller one. Barbecue takes a long time. It takes just as long to cook one pork butt, as it does to load up your pit and cook a few more. This also uses your fuel more efficiently. For example; if you're using an offset smoker that burns charcoal, you're going to use a bag or two, maybe more, during your cook. Using 15-20 pounds of charcoal to barbecue one chicken makes for an expensive meal!

I think it's best to load up your barbecue pit, invite your friends and family over and have a great time. You can always save the leftovers, if there is any...

What Barbecue Pit Fits Your Personality?

You may be saying to yourself...Self...What is this guy talking about?!?

This is where ease of use comes in.

Important Barbecue Tip! - You want to select the pit that matches your cooking style or personality. This makes your life so much easier and your cooking experience much more enjoyable and satisfying.

So you should ask yourself a few questions.

  • Are you a "hands on" kind of person? Do you like to be involved in the cooking process, or do you like to "set it and forget it"? You can choose a unit that is manual and burns logs or charcoal. This requires that the fire be tended periodically. Depending on the model you have, this will have to be done every several hours to every hour, especially when you are first learning how to use your new toy. If you'd like to spend your time doing something other than tending your fire, an automated unit might be more to your liking.
  • Are you a "high tech" kind of person? Do you like gadgets and devices or are you more of a "traditionalist"? Barbecue pits come in all shapes and sizes, colors and costs. But there's really only two types; Automatic pits that burn wood "pellets" or "biscuits" and manual pits that burn wood or charcoal. The manual barbecue pits and the pitmasters who use them are referred to as "stick burners". Again this has to do a lot with your personality and personal preference. It's kind of like people who grill; some prefer charcoal and some prefer gas. If you like high tech equipment, then you'll love an automated unit. These smokers are fully automated to control temperature and smoke. Many have digital readouts, so you can monitor everything precisely, and all the other bells and whistles that you would ever need. Now, if you don't like bells and whistles, and you don't think anything digital or high tech should be within 50 feet of a barbecue pit, then this type of rig would not be for you.

Great Barbecue Tip! - There are devices called "Barbecue Temperature Controllers". They monitor the temperature inside your pit and regulate it to whatever you set it at, within the device's range. These controllers work by using a sensor, inside your smoker, that is attached to a fan. The fan is mounted to the inlet of your smoker. This fan blows air into the pit to help regulate the temperature. Essentially, it monitors the temperature and stokes the fire for you. It's not fully automated, because you still have to add fuel to keep your fire going, (fully automated units add fuel for you.) but it does make temperature control much easier. So if you like the idea of a wood burning pit and digital temperature controls, then you definitely want to take a look at them.

For a full rundown on smokers, check out my barbecue smokers page.

This leads us into our next subject of interest...

What Fuel Should You Use In Your Smoker?

Here's a great barbecue tip that many people overlook. What fuel does the smoker that you're about to purchase use?

What you should consider is:

  • How much does it cost?
  • How readily available is it?

By fuel I mean, what you are going to use to cook and flavor your food.

One of the main ingredients in barbecue flavor is smoke. This smoke comes from wood. But not just any wood, it must be hardwood. Soft woods, like pine and cedar, contain resin, which makes your barbecue bitter and foul tasting.

Barbecue Tip - You can use nearly any hardwood when you barbecue. Below is a list of the most commonly used wood in barbecue.

Wood Used for Barbecue

Different types of wood, of course, impart different flavors to the food that you're cooking. Below is a list of the types of wood commonly used in barbecue.

  • Alder - Imparts a mild flavor. Most commonly used for smoked salmon. Works wonders with most fish.
  • Apple - Mild, sweet and fruity flavor. Good for blending with other woods. Great for chicken, turkey and ribs.
  • Cherry - Mild, sweet and fruity flavor. Good for blending with other woods. Great for chicken, turkey and ribs.
  • Hickory - This is the quintessential barbecue wood. It has a strong, sweet flavor that goes great with any kind of barbecue. Fantastic for pork.
  • Maple - Sweet with a mild smoke flavor. Great for poultry, ham and vegetables.
  • Oak - Mildly assertive with a nutty aroma. Can be used for any kind of barbecue. Excellent for beef brisket.
  • Pecan - Pecan is actually a species of hickory. That's why the flavor it imparts is similar to, but milder than hickory. Good all purpose wood, that goes well with just about any type of barbecue. Pecan burns cooler than most other barbecue woods and is the preferred wood of many professional chefs and pitmasters.

Forms of Wood

Critical Barbecue Tip! - You can purchase the wood for your barbecue in a variety of forms and this may influence the type of smoker that you ultimately purchase, so pay attention, this is important!

Barbecue wood comes in a variety of forms, most commonly;

A Barbecue Tip to Consider When Purchasing Your Smoker - Some smokers can only use one type of wood and that is the wood that was designed specifically for it by the manufacturer. For example; Traeger wood pellet grills can only use smoker pellets and Bradley smokers can only use smoker bisquettes. Now you don' have to buy these items from the companies that make that particular smoker, (Although, they strongly suggest you do! See note below.) but you do have to buy the equivalent product somewhere, from somebody. That's not a bad thing (You can get just about anything these days with a little research, a credit card and an internet connection) I just want to make you aware of this.

Important Barbecue Tip! - Note: Traeger states that if you don't use their wood pellets, you void your warranty!

Other smokers can use just about anything; whole logs, wood chunks and wood chips.

Having said that, here's something else to think about...

A great barbecue tip indeed!

What's in that wood that you're about to cook your food with?!?

Well...

We know that whole logs, wood chunks and wood chips are made out of wood, because you can look at them and see that at one time, that used to be part of a tree, and trees, as we all know, is where wood comes from.

But what about those other things? The pellets and the bisquettes?

Traeger grills say that their pellets are made from ground wood, in other words, sawdust. The main wood that makes the pellets, let's say hickory for example, is mixed with either alder or oak, depending on the region where the pellets are being manufactured. This mixture is then sprayed with canola oil, for lubrication purposes, and then passed through a die at an extremely high pressure. When this sawdust mixture passes through the other side of the die, pellets are formed.

Here's a video that shows you how they do it.

Bradley smokers state that the way their bisquettes are made is a secret. They do say something about using all natural products and clean wood.

There used to be a page on Bradley's website describing the bisquettes and how they're made, but it has been removed... 

Another barbecue tip; Sometimes when burning these pellets or bisquettes, people have complained about the smell of "green wood". You never want to cook with green wood. When you cook with logs, chunks or chips, it's much easier to tell if your wood has been properly seasoned or not.

Barbecue Tips for Buying Wood

The pellets and bisquettes are cheaper to use than wood, unless you purchase wood from a firewood supplier. I can purchase 6 cubic feet of oak wood for $35.00 from my wood supplier. This gives me about 50 or so split logs. I use about four or five for a 6 hour cook. That works out to about $3.50 per cook! Much cheaper than wood chunks or charcoal and you get better results as well!

If you'd like to use the pellets and bisquettes, they can be purchased online, at hardware stores, some club stores and at shops that sell barbecue supplies.

Wood chunks and chips can be purchased online, at hardware stores and at shops that sell barbecue supplies.

Money Saving Barbecue Tip! - Remember...Wood is heavy and if you buy it online you will incur significant shipping costs.

The best way to buy wood is to look for somebody that sells firewood. Many of these sellers have a variety of wood you can choose from and will deliver it right to your door. The cost depends on the type of wood you purchase and the area you live in.The more you buy, the cheaper it is.

Great Barbecue Tip: Buying wood that was locally harvested is far cheaper than buying wood that has to be trucked in from someplace else. Where I live, oak is plentiful. It works great for barbecue and is very cost effective when purchased by the cord. Even purchasing a small amount is cheaper than going to the hardware store;

The hardware store in my town sells 1 cubic foot of wood for $25.00. My local wood supplier will sell me 6 cubic feet of wood for only $35.00! A significant savings. If I buy more, it's even cheaper.

Charcoal

Some barbecue pits burn wood, others do not. If your pit uses electricity or gas as the heat source, then this part of the discussion doesn't apply to you.

Barbecue Tip - If your pit burns wood, then you should use wood. You can use charcoal as well. Other pits can only use charcoal as the heat source, so it's important that you know something about it.

Types of Charcoal

There are really only two forms of charcoal; lump charcoal and everything else. Let me explain...

Charcoal is made by burning wood at a very high temperature, between 840°F-950°F, in an environment, with very little oxygen. It is then cooled. This process removes moisture and volatile gases from the wood. The result is carbonized wood.

This carbonized wood, or charcoal, burns much hotter than wood with very little smoke. The charcoal is also much lighter, 1/5 to 1/3 of it's original weight, due to the removal of moisture during the burning process.

Because of these properties, charcoal is an excellent fuel source for cooking.

Lump Charcoal - Lump charcoal is made by burning whole pieces of wood at a very high temperature with very little oxygen. The resulting product resembles...well...how should I put it...burnt wood! This charcoal is supposed to be made from untreated hardwoods, which is what makes it so appealing to many cooks; it's natural and additive free.

Because of the irregular shape of the wood, lump charcoal may not all be evenly carbonized.

Insightful Barbecue Tip - There is a general consensus that lump charcoal burns hotter than briquettes. I don't think this is necessarily true...

My experience has taught me that lump charcoal burns very hot in the beginning. This may be due to the irregular shape of the charcoal which allows more oxygen to reach the fire.

Once the charcoal starts to collapse on itself, the fire becomes cooler. This does make temperature control more challenging than if you were using briquettes, which produce a more consistent heat.

Great Barbecue Tip! - Ash buildup under your fire can starve the fire of oxygen. Lump charcoal tends to produce less ash. If you are getting excessive ash buildup, raise the grate that the charcoal sits on to keep oxygen flowing to your fire.

Charcoal Briquettes - Charcoal briquettes are made by burning wood at a very high temperature with very little oxygen. This wood could be anything from whole logs to sawdust, or anything in between. Some manufacturers use other organic materials as well, like fruit pits and the shells from nuts.

This wood is then ground, if sawdust was not used, and mixed with coal. The coal is used to produce a hot, long lasting fire. These are the two main ingredients in charcoal briquettes.

Other ingredients include a binding agent, typically some kind of vegetable starch, like cornstarch. Sodium nitrate is used as an accelerant and lime is added so the briquettes will turn white, letting you know when they are ready for cooking.

Once everything is mixed together, it is fed into a press and formed into briquettes. They are then fed into a dryer set at 275°F and dried for several hours until the moisture content is reduced to 5%.

Barbecue Tip - Charcoal briquettes cost less than lump charcoal and give a more consistent, even heat. They certainly contain more than just wood, which may make them undesirable to some people.

Natural Charcoal Briquettes - What about "natural" charcoal briquettes? Natural briquettes are made, pretty much, the same way as the conventional ones. The main difference is that there are only two ingredients; hardwood charcoal and a natural binder like cornstarch.

These briquettes do not burn like their unnatural cousins because they don't contain coal, which makes regular briquettes burn hotter. They also do not ignite as rapidly because there isn't an accelerant to help them light quicker. They are not hard to light, they just don't ignite as rapidly. They do have a nice, consistent heat once they are lit.

Great Barbecue Tip! - When purchasing any type of charcoal, get as much information as you can about it; how it's made and what's in it. You can do this by visiting the company website, reading reviews about the product and by coming to Barbecue-Know-How.com.

Barbecue Ingredients

Below is a list of the most commonly used ingredients in barbecue.

It is by no means a complete list, because you can put anything in your barbecue that you want.

It is a list of ingredients that are traditionally used to produce the classic, authentic barbecue flavor that you and I love.

If you follow the links, you can discover how the ingredients are implemented into different lipsmackin' barbecue recipes that will delight your taste buds!

Spices

You already know that one of the key components to the classic barbecue flavor is smoke. The other main factor is spice. Some of the spices commonly used in barbecue are listed below.

Barbecue Tip - To discover how to use these spices to make your own lipsmackin' rub, click here!

Black pepper - Adds heat without a dried chili taste. Fantastic for rubs, mops and sauces.

Ground pepper loses flavor quickly. Don't buy it!

Always buy whole black peppercorns and grind them yourself in a spice grinder.

Chili powder - Comes in a large variety. Most common is premixed chili powder. These contain ground chili peppers, and other ingredients like cumin, oregano, garlic, onion and salt.

These chili powder blends can be mild or hot.

Pure ground chili powder from specific chili peppers are also available including...

  • Ancho, which have a rich, earthy, sweet flavor, 
  • Pasilla, which have a sharper flavor 
  • Chipotle peppers, which are smoked and dried jalapenos.
  • Ground cayenne pepper, used primarily for heat, is also widely used.

Dried chilies are a major component of the classic barbecue flavor. Smoke and spice are a match made in heaven! That's why dried chilies are phenomenal in rubs, mops and sauces.

Great Barbecue Tip - Chipotles will add smoke and spice to your barbecue!

Paprika - Also a chili powder. Comes in a variety of heat levels and colors. Paprika can range from mild and sweet to very spicy and pungent. You can also get it smoked! A must have for rubs.

Vinegar - What would barbecue be without a little tang? That's where vinegar comes in. All barbecue sauces start with vinegar and other ingredients may be added. Some barbecue sauces are little more than vinegar.

Barbecue Tip - For more on barbecue sauces, click here!

Vinegar is acetic acid mixed with water. It's produced by acetic acid bacteria, which has the unique ability to ferment ethanol, which is the alcohol in your favorite adult beverage.

Not just any vinegar will do though...

Important Barbecue Tip! - Never use distilled white vinegar for cooking! Substitute white wine vinegar for recipes calling for white or distilled white vinegar.

Cider Vinegar - Made from apple cider. It packs quite a punch and is often the preferred vinegar for barbecue. Excellent for mops, sauces and marinades. Also gives potato salad just the right amount of zing.

Distilled White Vinegar - This is made from distilled spirits. It is not distilled vinegar. It can be harsh and doesn't have much flavor. It's ok to use for pickling. I wouldn't cook with it though. The only thing I ever used it for in a professional kitchen was to clean the flat top! It works great as a cleaner.

Red Wine Vinegar - This vinegar is made from red wine. High quality red wine vinegar can be complex and quite mellow in flavor. Delicious in salads and works wonders in marinades.

Rice Vinegar - Made from rice wine. Very mild. You can purchase this vinegar clear, red or black. The clear or white rice vinegar comes plain or seasoned. We will be using the white unseasoned rice vinegar for barbecue. Perfect for Asian sauces and marinades.

White Wine Vinegar - This vinegar comes from white wine and Champagne. The vinegar made from Champagne is aptly named Champagne vinegar. We will be using white wine vinegar. Works great for salad dressings and anything else calling for white or white distilled vinegar.

Herbs and Seasonings

Herbs and seasonings enhance and add flavor to your whatever you're cooking. Part of what makes barbecue so lipsmackin' delicious is that the meat is usually well seasoned. Here's what's commonly used in barbecue circles.

Herbs

  • Mexican Oregano - Not actually oregano, which is part of the mint family, Mexican oregano is part of the verbena family. It has a similar flavor to oregano, but is less sweet and more pungent. Excellent in rubs and marinades.
  • Oregano - An herb that is part of the mint family. Very aromatic. It has a warm, slightly bitter flavor. Can taste a bit metallic or medicinal. Pairs great with spicy foods, that's why it goes so well with barbecue. Great in rubs and marinades.
  • Thyme - Thyme is of it's own genus, thymus. The flavor of thyme is hard to describe and there are many varieties. The most common being thymus vulgaris. This is what you find the most at your grocery store. It can be a bit medicinal in flavor and can have slight citrus undertones. It is absolutely delicious and makes chicken and beef spectacular! Great in rubs and marinades.

Seasonings

  • Garlic - What can you say about garlic? It is absolutely delicious and loved by people all over the world. Over 38,000,000 pounds of garlic is grown every year! Garlic is of the genus allium. It is related to onions, shallots, leeks and chives and originally came from Asia. It has a very pungent, savory flavor. Adding it to recipes often gives your dish a "meaty" taste, even if there's no meat in the recipe. When using garlic, often you're best results will come from using fresh garlic instead of powdered or granulated. There is one exception; when making rubs. For rubs and spice mixes you should use granulated garlic. Granulated garlic has a better flavor than garlic powder and the coarseness of it helps develop a nice crust on the finished product.

Important Barbecue Tip! - Granulated garlic is used for rubs because fresh garlic burns easily.

When using fresh garlic, select heads that have firm cloves and have not sprouted yet. Always peel the fresh cloves and crush or chop them yourself. Never buy chopped garlic that is in a jar or garlic paste in a tube. It is tasteless and contains additives to keep it "fresh" and preserve its color.

Great Barbecue Tip! - Garlic has a high sugar content and burns easily. In most recipes it should be added at the very end of sautéing and cooked briefly, about 30 to 90 seconds, until it becomes aromatic. Then the cooking should be stopped or a liquid should be added to keep your beautiful garlic from burning.

  • Onion - Onions are of the genus allium and are closely related to garlic, shallots, leeks and chives.

Onions are enjoyed the world over because of their delicious flavor. They are easily cultivated, travel quite well and can be stored for months in a cool, dry environment.

Onions come in a variety if colors and sizes. The most common colors are red, yellow and white.

Red onions are usually sweet and are great for eating raw. Some yellow onions are sweet, like Vidalia onions.

Most yellow and white onions are not sweet and taste better when cooked. They add an aromatic quality to dishes that they are cooked in. When cooked they can have a sweet flavor.

Raw onions can be sharp and have a slight burn. Rinsing the onions with cold water removes a lot of the sulfur compounds in the onions. This helps mellow out the sharp bite that most raw onions have.

Using fresh onions will usually get you the best results.

When making a rub you should use granulated onion. It has more flavor than onion powder and helps create a nice, crispy crust because of the bigger size of the granules.

  • Salt - The king of seasonings. This is what makes everything that's savory taste so darn good!

Important Barbecue Tip! - Use only kosher salt! Kosher salt has a milder taste than table salt. It's less salty and has a "softer" flavor. The softer flavor, or lack of harshness, is because true kosher salt is additive free. Some salt that's labeled kosher may still contain additives so read the ingredients list.

Diamond Crystal Kosher salt is used in many professional kitchens because it tastes great and is additive free.

Iodine and anti caking-agents like sodium ferrocyanide, usually labeled as yellow prussiate of soda (Probably because it looks better on the label than a word that contains cyanide in it!) makes your salt harsh and bitter. Unless you live in a third world country, you get enough iodine in your diet from eating enriched grain products like bread, pasta and some cereals. Fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products also contain naturally occurring iodine.

The anti-caking agents are not necessary and could be potentially harmful to your health.

Salt does several things in barbecue;

  • At first it draws moisture out of the meat.
  • Then as the salt breaks down the proteins in the meat, which makes the cut more tender, it reabsorbs much of this moisture back into the meat though osmosis. This makes your meat juicier.
  • As it draws the moisture back in, it also draws in some of the flavor of the herbs, spices and seasonings that you've added along with the salt.
  • When the salt pulls moisture from the surface of the meat, it dries the surface a bit. This helps the meat form a nice, crispy crust.

The most important thing salt does is add flavor. It naturally enhances the flavor of whatever you put it on, bringing the flavor of your dish to its full potential. Truly indispensable in cooking!

Important Barbecue Tip! - Wet meat will not brown! The surface of the meat must be dry before caramelization will occur.

If you put wet meat on your barbecue it will just steam until the surface dries, and then the browning process will begin. By that time it could be too late. Put yourself ahead of the game by insuring the surface of the meat is dry before cooking.

Meats that have had a rub applied will not be dry. Let the rub stand on the meat for at least an hour, preferably overnight, until the surface or the meat becomes tacky. This will dry the surface of the meat enough to promote nice browning.

  • Sugar - Sugar is what makes everything sweet taste so delicious. Barbecue usually has some sweetness to it. That's where sugar comes in.

Sugar does several things in barbecue;

  • At first it draws moisture out of the meat. Then as the sugar breaks down the proteins in the meat, which makes the cut more tender, it reabsorbs much of this moisture back into the meat though osmosis. This makes your meat juicier.
  • As it draws the moisture back in, it also draws in some of the flavor of the herbs, spices and seasonings that you've added along with the sugar.
  • When the sugar pulls moisture from the surface of the meat, it dries the surface a bit. This helps the meat form a nice, crispy crust.
  • Sugar also helps in the browning process. This adds a tremendous amount of flavor to what you're cooking.

Meat - The main ingredient in barbecue. I mean, what's the use of having a great rub, the tastiest barbecue sauce and a shiny new smoker if you don't have any meat to barbecue?


In barbecue competitions there are four main categories you can compete in;

This website is dedicated to teaching you how to cook these four categories, plus a whole lot more. But we need to get the basics right first. That why we'll be discussing the "big four" as I like to call them.

Critical Barbecue Tip! - Your finished product will never be better than the ingredients you start with. No amount of smoke, spice, sauce and fancy cooking will turn a bad piece of meat into a good one. Always select the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find and your results will be much better.

General Buying Tips - Whether you're buying beef, chicken, pork or any other kind of animal protein, follow these guidelines for best results;

  • Fresh is Better Than Frozen - You and I both know this, but why is this true? Because when you freeze food, the water in it forms into ice crystals. As these ice crystals form, they rupture cell walls of whatever you are freezing. When the food is defrosted, precious moisture drains out of your lovely cut of meat and the flesh becomes mushy due to the rupturing of these cell walls. If the food is improperly wrapped before freezing, freezer burn may occur and the item may pick up off flavors from whatever else is in the freezer with it.
  • Avoid Proteins That Are Sitting in Liquid - When you purchase that nice piece of meat, you want to make sure there is no liquid running around in the bottom of that Styrofoam container it's sitting in. This is usually a sign that the product has been frozen or partially frozen, then thawed. If you're paying for fresh, it should be fresh! Cryovac meats will generally contain a small amount of liquid known as "purge". This is normal.
  • Meats, Poultry and Seafood Should Have a Bright Natural Color to Them- Make sure the meat you buy has a bright color to it. I'll go into detail below about the proper color for the meat and poultry we'll be talking about. Do not purchase proteins that have dull colors to them. Brown and gray colors are indications of freezer burn, poor handling and spoilage. You should know that for this you'll have to use your senses and your better judgment. If you think something doesn't look right about what you're about to purchase...you're right!
  • Meats, Poultry and Seafood Should Have Little to No Odor - Most meat and poultry comes wrapped tightly in plastic or sealed in bags. If it is not, give it the "sniff test". Even if it is wrapped, give it the sniff test before you start preparing it. This is one of your best senses when it comes to determining whether something tastes good or is safe to eat. Use it! The product should smell "clean", meaning it has little to no odor. This is where you will have to use your nose and your better judgment. If something smells bad to you, it is! Don't risk your palette or your health. Food poisoning is not fun and can kill you!
  • Check the Expiration Date - This is such an obvious barbecue tip, yet I'm amazed at how many people don't do this. Just because something hasn't "expired" yet doesn't necessarily mean it won't taste bad or send you to the hospital, or worse. (Use your senses to make that determination.) But it's a safe bet to say that if it has expired, you shouldn't eat it!

The "Big Four" Barbecue Meats

Beef - Beef brisket is what is cooked in competitions and served at your favorite barbecue joint. This piece of meat is very intimidating to some people. Especially those that are new to barbecue. Give yourself the best chance at success by selecting a brisket that has a nice fat cap. Also, choose a brisket that has a bright red color and plenty of marbling. The fat should be nice and white in grain fed beef. The intramuscular fat in grass fed beef should have a yellow tinge to it.

Tasty Barbecue Tip! - Larger briskets are usually tastier and have more flavor because of the extended cooking time it takes to cook such a large piece of meat. But you can also get great results with a smaller cut, just don't get one smaller than 4 pounds.

Great Barbecue Tip! - Many grocery stores carry select beef. Do yourself a favor and avoid these tough, poorly graded meats. Shop at a store that offers U.S.D.A. Choice beef. It is much juicier and more tender because the meat contains much more marbling than beef graded select.

Merchants that carry U.S.D.A. Choice meats are...

  • Some select grocery stores
  • Most high end grocery stores
  • Whole foods markets
  • Club stores like Costco
  • And your local butcher.

If you have access to a butcher or you know somebody that can order meat from a restaurant supplier, you may be able to get U.S.D.A. Prime. Most meat graded U.S.D.A. Prime is reserved for restaurants and not available to the general public. Some stores, including Costco, do carry beef that is graded U.S.D.A. Prime.

Chicken - Chicken can be found in what seems to be an endless variety; Natural, organic, free range, etc...When purchasing chicken, select chicken that has a bright, yellow color to the skin. The flesh should be a yellow color with a bit of a pink hue to it. When the colors begin to dull, oxidation is occurring, and our beloved yard bird is starting to spoil.

If the chicken is in a Styrofoam container, make sure there is no blood in the container. Cryovac poultry will contain a small amount of liquid in the bag.

Tasty Barbecue Tip! - Don't buy "enhanced" chicken, or chicken that has had a brine solution injected into it. It is too salty for barbecue because of the rub you'll be using. How do you know if your chicken is enhanced? It will state it on the label. Something like; Juiciness and tenderness enhanced by injection with approximately 8℅ solution.

Barbecue Tip - For a fantastic barbecue chicken recipe click here!

Pork - The glorious, beautiful pig. The focal point of much barbecue. Pork and barbecue are a match made in heaven. Like peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, cookies and milk, strawberries and cream...Pork and barbecue go together!

You can purchase pork in a huge variety of cuts and weights; from a single pigs foot to the whole hog, and everything in between. Usually what's cooked in competition is pork shoulder, also known as pork butt. This is what you use to make pork barbecue. From this, you can make the best sandwich on earth; the pulled pork sandwich.

Barbecue Tip - For a great pulled pork sandwich recipe click here!

Barbecue Tip - For a fantastic barbecue pork recipe go here!

When purchasing a pork butt look for one that has lots of marbling. The flesh should have a pink, fleshy color. Avoid pork that is dark or gray.

Ribs - The ribs served to judges at barbecue competitions are usually pork ribs. Sometimes beef ribs are included as an extra category, but the points you get from beef ribs do not count towards the cumulative points for Grand Champion. You may be saying..."I don't want to be Grand Champion. I just wanna cook some ribs!" I can certainly understand that. For this lesson we'll be discussing pork ribs.

When selecting pork ribs, much of the same applies as when selecting pork butt; look for ribs that contain plenty of marbling. The meat should have a pink, fleshy color. If buying ribs that are in a Styrofoam container wrapped with plastic wrap, make sure there is no liquid in the bottom of the container. Cryovac ribs will contain a small amount of liquid in the bag. Cryovac ribs will usually have an odor to them that will dissipate after a few minutes.

Barbecue Tip - For an out of this world barbecue ribs recipe click here!

Barbecue Technique

Now that you know about barbecue equipment and ingredients, let's talk about what to do with this knowledge that you're now armed with.

The barbecue theory is very simple; Take a tough, fatty cut of meat. Add some spice and cook it slowly over hardwood smoke until it becomes tender, juicy and delicious. That's it!

The key to this method is to cook it low and slow. This renders the fat slowly, making the meat exceptionally moist. This also breaks down the connective tissue in the meat, turning it into a tender, delicious culinary delight.

A critical factor, when cooking something slowly for an extended period of time, leads us into our next subject of discussion.

Temperature Control

Temperature control is a subject that is highly debated in barbecue circles. Most pit masters work with a temperature around 225°F. I have seen some barbecue cooks, at sanctioned competitions, working with temperature in the 300°F-325°F range. The recipes on this site are made for the ideal barbecue temperature of 200°F-250°F. Why? Because this is where barbecue happens.

When you cook something at 225°F, you lose less moisture and you have a much more tender product. Especially if it is a tough, fatty cut of meat. Higher cooking temperatures are used to cook more tender cuts.

Higher temperatures also promote browning. Which is a problem when you barbecue because of the high sugar content in the rubs and sauces.

You see, caramelization of fructose occurs at 230°F, all other sugars caramelize at 320°F. When you cook at higher temperatures you run the risk of burning that beautiful cut of meat. Even though you barbecue at a lower temperature than roasting, the meat will still brown because of the Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar that happens when heat is applied.

Feel Good Barbecue Tip - You don't have to worry about all the science behind it, just like you don't have to know how a combustion engine works to drive a car, or know how a microprocessor works to surf the internet. Just rest assured that when you barbecue something you get the best of both worlds; meat that is moist and tender inside with a deliciously sweet, smoky and spicy crust on the outside.

How To Maintain The Correct Temperature

There are many ways to maintain the correct temperature and it really doesn't matter which way you choose, the most important thing is to steadily maintain that temperature. When the temperature falls below 200°F, your meat stops cooking. If it gets too cold, it will take a while to raise the internal temperature of the meat. In essence you will have to start over again which adds a lot of extra time to your cook and also makes the meat tough and dry.

Important Barbecue Tip - Every time you lift the lid to look inside your barbecue, you lose precious heat. If the temperature drops and it takes 15 minutes to get it back up, you've just added 15 minutes to your cook time and your guests are on their way! That why I love the saying; "If you're looking, you ain't cooking!" Now you do have to lift the lid if you using a mop or applying sauce, just keep the lid lifting to a minimum, please!

The easiest way to maintain the correct temperature is to use a piece of equipment that is made to do this, that's why a good quality, well insulated smoker is so helpful in making your barbecue life much easier and more satisfying. See the beginning of this page for barbecue tips on equipment.

Great Barbecue Tip - Some instructions for the use of your smoker may not be clear on how to actually maintain the temperature in your new piece of equipment. Here's a great tip; unless otherwise stated in the instructions of your barbecue pit, always keep the exhaust damper fully open and use the intake damper to control the temperature. Closing the exhaust damper will give your barbecue a burnt, sooty taste because of creosote in the smoke. You want a little, because that's where the smoky flavor comes from, but too much will result in a burnt, bitter tasting piece of meat.

Well there you have it. A collection of fantastic barbecue tips

I hope this page has been extremely helpful in your quest for delicious, lipsmackin barbecue.

Critical Barbecue Tip! - The only way to get good at something is to do it. If you want to be a barbecue pit master, you gotta barbecue! So check out the links on this page and discover how to create some of your favorite barbecue recipes.

Check out the navigation links at the top of each page for more great recipes, information and tips. You can also use the search feature, under the headline of each page, to find what you're looking for.

Now go have some fun and barbecue something!!!

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