Food on Fire

(Nearly) 101 Tips from the BBQ pros

Expert advice on getting the best barbecue experience

Author carves loin of whole smoked hog
Author carves loin of whole smoked hog. — Photo courtesy Timothy Fowler

What is barbeque?

First let me clarify: real barbecue is low heat slow cooking with gentle billows of smoke. Whether the heat source is charcoal lumps, wood chunks, pellets or pucks, professional competition barbeque involves lots of smoke.

Recently, at the Edmonton Porkapalooza, a Kansas City barbecue Society endorsed event, I had the easy pleasure of chatting with the pros. Here is the advice they gave:

Danielle Bennett of said, “Life's Too Short for Bad Barbeque.”

She offers these tips:

  • It's all about temperature not time. Use a digital thermometer to ensure your food is cooked to the right temperature. This provides consistent results ensuring a juicy protein every time.
  • Use two sets of tongs and trays each time you grill or BBQ. One set for raw foods and another set for hot cooked food. Never put cooked food on a tray that had raw food on it. Handle your meats with clean tongs every time. Cross contamination can be a serious issue so BBQ safe.
  • Location is everything. Make sure you read your owner’s manual to ensure that your grill is in a safe level clean location far enough away from your home. There should be no debris or other hazards around the grill.
  • Never ever, ever, throw water on a grease fire. Keep large boxes of baking soda handy and a kitchen rated fire extinguisher in your grill area. Make sure to inspect the extinguisher annually.
  • Learn your proteins and get to know your butcher. Ribeye steaks have lots of great marbling and don't need to marinate overnight. Leaner cuts like flank steak require a marinade to help break down the fibers and help tenderize the meat. Inexpensive cuts of leaner meat can be amazing when marinated overnight. Ask your butcher for help in selecting the right cut to fit your budget.

Scott Chomos, Pitmaster of Arrowhead North BBQ Team from White City Saskatchewan, Twitter: @AN_BBQ, and three time Porkapalooza Grand Champion (and others) gives this advice:

  • Burn a clean fire – if using charcoal, let it burn for at least 30 min before putting any meat on the smoker.
  • Balance the flavours in your rubs – especially if you’re cooking for a crowd. A nice blend between sweet, savoury, salt and spice will ensure a flavour profile that will be a hit with everyone.
  • Befriend your local butcher – if you’re going to spend 12 hours smoking a brisket, you might as well use the best quality of meat you can afford. A good butcher might even introduce you to new cuts of meat you’ve never really tried (tri-tip, skirt steak, etc.) that also pair great with charcoal.
  • Don’t rush the meat. If supper was originally scheduled for 5:00 but your brisket isn’t ready, supper is now at 6:00 or 7:00…whenever the brisket decides it’s ready.
  • Good BBQ is more than just the food; it’s the atmosphere around you while the meat’s been on the smoker. Some of the best I’ve ever had has been done in conjunction with a backyard full of friends and family, a football game on TV and a cooler full of your favourite beverages. BBQ is meant to be shared.

Janice and Russell Smella make team SmellaQue, recent Porkapalooza reserve grand champion­––three years running. The Smellas and their two children travel in their vintage 1969 Airstream renovated to meet the demand of family travel for barbeque competition.

This is what Team SmellaQue has to say:

  • Buy and use an instant read thermometer
  • Wood chips and wood does not need to be wet to create smoke flavour, so don't soak wood chips overnight.  Your cook will have to steam off the water before extracting the smoke flavour.
  • A little smoke goes a long way. There is no need to pile on a ton of wood to create smoke flavour
  • A smoke ring on meat is created by a chemical reaction so don't fret if your meat doesn't have a smoke ring.
  • Cook, cook, cook. You will learn to cook better if you do it more often smile

Russell Bird of and Team You Need a BBQ says:

  • Start with the best product available… if you are going to cook pork use Alberta Pork.  If you skimp on the product you are limiting how amazing it will be in the end.
  • Get a good smoker like a Louisiana Grill or Pitboss, they will last for years and can accommodate family meals right up to crowds that will undoubtedly form as you get better
  • Use a thermometer.  All our hands are different, so the pressing on your hand to tell the done-ness of your meat doesn’t work, use a thermometer to make sure your meat is done.
  • Use more seasoning than you think you need
  • Watch youtube. If you are unsure of how to prepare a cut of meat or want to see how the pros really do it just get on youtube, there are tonnes of great resources out there to learn from

Rob Reinhardt of teaches competition barbeque skills from his base in Saskatchewan and said:

  • A good quality digital instant read thermometer makes you a better cook!  Trust the internal temperature of your meat.
  • We have some of the world’s best hardwood lump charcoal, sourced from right here in Canada - look for brands from Quebec available in big box hardware stores.
  • Spice rubs are the most efficient flavour delivery system out there - look for them at specialty retailers or make your own.
  • Keep your grills clean - nothing ruins a good meal like biting into a charred chunk of mystery food from last week’s cook.

Do you get the sense we need to use a thermometer when we barbeque? There is no substitute for a good quality instant read thermometer to let pitmasters know exactly where the ribs or brisket is in the process of cooking. Now get out there and cook up some barbeque!

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