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Fall is the perfect time to drag out the smoker and perfect that rack of ribs, pork shoulder or brisket.
thinkstock.com Pulled pork sandwich
Pulled pork sandwich, ribs
Spare ribs with vegetable salad
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Autumn always makes me crave barbecue.
Maybe it's the ember-colored foliage, the first whiffs of wood smoke from a neighbor's chimney, or the crack of distant rifle-fire in the forest. Or maybe it's just memories of a college pal's annual family barbecue, where a whole hog was smoked to perfect tenderness and served with homemade coleslaw, french fries and hushpuppies.
Whatever it is, fall is the perfect time to drag out the smoker and perfect that rack of ribs, pork shoulder or brisket. While you're enjoying the cooler temperatures and waiting for heat and smoke to work their lovely magic, study your ABCs of BBQ.
Hopefully, these tips, facts and recipes will have you craving 'cue, too.
What important BBQ wisdom did I miss? Add to this list by commenting at blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet.
A is for ash bucket
Ashes stay hot for longer than you might think. Have a shovel and a metal ash bucket in which to dump them until they cool.
B is for barbecue
There are three meanings of the word "barbecue." One basically means "grill." (Ex: "Let's throw some chicken on the barbecue.") Another is an event. (Ex: "The Jones family is having a barbecue this weekend.") The third is what I'm primarily dealing with in this column, and it is both a cooking style and a type of food. (Ex: "I'm going to barbecue a whole pig. We will be eating barbecue for days.")
C is for Carolinas
One of the main BBQ styles in the country. Carolinians generally use pork and like to smoke it with hickory or oak. They are famous for their pulled pork and whole hogs. Carolina-style sauce is typically vinegar-based in the east, tomato-based in the west, and sometimes mustard-based in parts of South Carolina venturing into Georgia.
D is for dry rubs
The blend of spices rubbed on the outside of a cut of meat before barbecuing can have a dramatic effect on flavor. Dry rubs can be used in addition to sauces or on their own. Check out a recipe for a great all-purpose dry rub on Page 3.
E is for elements
In other words, the weather, which can affect the outcome of your barbecue. If it's windy or dry, don't open the dampers on your cooker as much as normal. If it's very humid, open the dampers more than usual. If it's cold and your cooker is not well-insulated, you may need more fuel. If it's a scorcher out there, you may not burn quite as much fuel.
F is for fuel
Charcoal is partially burned wood, but some brands contain fillers. Look for packaging that says the product is 100 percent hardwood charcoal for better performance. If using a propane cooker, make sure you have plenty of fuel in the tank before you start barbecuing.
Do not use lighter fluid if at all possible. It affects the flavor of the food. If you have to use it for some reason, allow your charcoal briquettes to go 40 minutes or longer in order to burn off the fluid.
G is for grates
Grates are one of the most important factors in choosing a good cooker. Select grates that are heavyweight steel or cast-iron. Keep them clean and oiled (See O) and they'll last a long time.
H is for hash
Hash is a South Carolina specialty often served over white rice as a side dish for barbecue. It consists of (sometimes leftover) pig parts cooked with spices and vegetables until they are reduced to a thick, gravy-like substance.
I is for indirect heat
Placing food directly over the burner or coals is technically not barbecuing, it's grilling. If there is some distance or barrier between the food and the heat source (such as in an offset cooker or when the meat is placed on the opposite side of the grill from the coals), the food is cooked using hot air and smoke in a convection-like process that takes longer.
J is for jars
Mason jars (or any other kind of clean jar with a lid) make for great containers in which to mix and/or store barbecue sauces and/or spice blends.
K is for Kansas City
Kansas City is another of the main barbecue styles in the U.S. This style features a mix of different meats and wood varieties. The famous dishes are BBQ chicken and ribs, and Kansas City-style sauce is typically sweet and tomato-based with molasses.
L is for the Lone Star State
In Texas, it is customary to see beef as the meat of choice and oak for the smoke. Texas is famous for its brisket and sausages, and it is known for a spicy, tangy and sweet tomato-based sauce.
M is for Memphis
This barbecue style is typified by pork smoked with oak, pecan, apple or cherry wood. "Wet" or "dry" ribs are a popular dish, and Memphis-style sauce is generally based in tomato and vinegar.
N is for notepad
If you really want to perfect your barbecue, you should take notes on what worked and what didn't work each time you fired up the cooker. Keep a little notepad and a pen in your pocket.
O is for oil
Designate a small, clean towel as an oil towel. Soak it in vegetable or canola oil (not olive), then squeeze out the excess. Gripping the towel in a pair of tongs, use it to oil the grates before and as you cook. Add a coat of oil to your grates after cleaning them each time, too.
P is for pit
Pit cooking is an old method. Basically, you dig a big hole in the ground, line it with stones or bricks (bricks are best; they tend not to explode), build a giant fire in the hole that will reduce to a foot of hot coals, wrap the meat, put it in the hole, cover the hole and cook for a long time. If you want to pit cook, buy or check out a book for detailed instructions.
Q is for - well, really, do I have to tell you?
R is for ribs
But what kind of ribs? You can choose spare ribs, baby back ribs, St. Louis-style ribs, country-style ribs, short ribs or riblets. You can choose from pork, beef, lamb or wild game ribs. To determine what you'd like best, have a talk with your favorite butcher.
S is for safety
Wash your hands after handling raw meat. Keep a fire extinguisher near your grill or smoker just in case. Invest in some heat-proof gloves. Wash a sauce brush that's been in contact with raw meat before using it on cooked meat. Don't forget to wear sunscreen if you're outside barbecuing (and drinking beer) all day.
T is for temperature
You should always know the internal temperature of meat and the temperature inside your cooker. Invest in a meat thermometer (digital or standard) and a thermometer that tells the temperature inside your cooker or pit.
U is for utensils
The most important utensils you can have for doing barbecue are a heavy pair of tongs, a good grill brush (replace it when the bristles are smashed and blackened), a very sharp knife, a spice grinder and a meat pounder. If you do a lot of pulled pork, invest in a set of bear paws (or bear claws).
V is for vinegar
Vinegar-based barbecue sauce is popular in the eastern Carolinas, but in Northern Alabama, you'll find a white sauce that's also heavy on the vinegar. Purists say this sauce should only contain mayonnaise, vinegar, salt and black pepper, but you'll find a slightly gussied-up recipe on Page 3.
W is for wood chips
Wood chips soaked in water and placed on a hot fire will begin to smolder, creating the smoke that infuses barbecue with great flavor. They can be placed directly on hot coals or, if using a gas grill, you can buy a smoker box.
X is for XL
Some barbecue masters suggest buying the largest shoulders and ribs you can find because they tend to have more collagen, meaning they turn out moister and are harder to overcook.
X can also be for scoring. If you buy a cut of meat that has a thick layer of fat, trim the fat to about one inch, then consider scoring it (slicing an X pattern across the fat with a sharp knife). This can help the fat to render, but don't cut all the way down to the muscle.
Y is for yogurt
This yogurt sauce (recipe on page x), similar to tzatziki sauce, is great with lamb, but it also adds tangy zip and a nice cooling effect to any spicy, smoked meat.
Z is for zucchini
While the cooker is hot, you might as well be healthy and throw some vegetables on there. Cut zucchini, yellow squash, onions, eggplant, green peppers and other vegetables in thick slices, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill until just tender. Chop in chunks and toss together for a delicious side dish.
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