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Bar-B-Que Secrets of Matt Gilbert


BBQ vs Grilling

The BBQ pit


Slow Cooking

BBQ sauce

Grand Finale

No matter how you spell it, Bar-B-Que, BBQ, or Barbeque, one thing is certain, we Texans love it! The long hot summers and often mild winters makes firing up the pit a year 'round event. This page is dedicated to sharing some of my tried and true methods of making BBQ that I have discovered through experimentation over the years. Anyone can BBQ, but if you want to make BBQ that will keep 'em saying good things about you and coming back for more, read on.

BBQ vs Grilling, what's the difference?

Grilling is a cooking method well suited for steaks, fish fillets, chicken breasts, fajitas, and other cuts that are relatively even in thickness throughout the entire cut. The meat is cooked directly over very hot coals for a relatively short length of time. Barbequing, on the other hand, involves some initial searing over the flames, and then slow cooking the meat away from the flames in a sealed pit, it works very well for cuts such as beef brisket, chicken, beef spare ribs, and pork ribs, often referred to as 'country style' ribs.

The BBQ pit, let's fire it up!

Fig. 1

While it may seem very basic, nontheless I will go over where it all starts, firing up the pit. If you take your basic rectangular shaped pit, as in Fig. 1 you can see that about 1/4th to 1/3 of the right side of the pit is dedicated to charcoal. Yes, that means that there is less space for cooking, since we are going to end up cooking away from the coals, however, there is no law that says you can only use one pit at a time! In fact, I fire up 3 pits when I cook, it's really just about as easy to cook on 3 pits as it is on one, so go for it. Pile up the charcoal all along one side, and give it a good dousing with the starter fluid, wait a couple of minutes to let it soak in and fire it up. Make sure your vents on the bottom are all the way opened. Also, on your grill, if it is a wire type, you might want to cut out a piece of wire over where the coals are, if you need to add some charcoal later, it will save you the hassle of having to take off the grill loaded with half cooked food. Your dog will be just waiting for you to burn yourself and drop food all over the patio, been there, done that. Cut an opening to add charcoal, it might not be pretty, and Martha Stewart may not like it, but it will make your life considerably easier, believe me.

Searing the meat - getting started

Okay, so your coals are hot, and you're all ready to go. Bring all your meat outside on a tray and put it on a table within easy reach of your bbq pit. This is a good time to give the meat a good sprinkling with some seasonings, such as some pepper, but I prefer to use Tony Cachere's Creole seasoning. By the way, now is not the time to brush on the bbq sauce, don't worry, I'll let you know when. Take a few pieces of meat and put them directly over the coals, whatever will comfortably fit leaving you room to easily grab them with your tongs so you can turn them over. Incidently, a good pair of tongs I feel are a must, get a large pair that are serated on the end where you grab the food for a good grip. There's nothing worse than struggling with a short wimpy pair of tongs and / or a fork and burning all the hair off your arms when the coals flame up and you end up dropping food all over the place. Remember, your dog is waiting for you to slip up. Invest in a good pair of tongs, you'll be glad you did. The length of time you sear the meat over the coals will vary from 30 seconds to a minute and a half a side, depending on your pit, the distance between the grill and the coals, and the amount of coals and the heat given off. Use your own judgement, obviously you don't want to char it beyond the point of no return, flip it over a few times. The searing actually accomplishes a couple of things, first, it browns the meat and seals in the juices. Secondly, and this is especially true of chicken, particularly cuts like leg quarters, it burn off some of the pockets of fat. I don't know about you, but there's nothing worse than biting into a piece of chicken and getting a great big gob of chicken fat, yuck! So use your judement, if the coals are especially hot and flaming up, flip the pieces often, if necessary move them to the side for a second then bring them back. Also, there is one other benefit to the searing, if your coals have gotten off to a sluggish start, the burning fat will take care of that. When you are satisfied that the meat is browned enough, move the pieces to the far side of the pit. Repeat the process with the rest of the meat on your tray until the grill is all covered, except of course, over the coals. If you want to put a piece of hickory wood over the coals for smoke, this is a good time to do it. Now, put the top cover on your pit, open the top vents about halfway (vents on the underside should already be open fully) and leave it alone! ! ! !

The cooking process, patience! patience!

Now that you're off to a good start, find something to do for at least the next 45 minutes. Don't peek, leave it alone! Remember, the meat is not over the coals, it's gonna do just fine, it doesn't need you peeking at it every five minutes, just pretend it's self conscious or something, but leave it be! Now's a good time to make a beer run, or better yet, call up your buddies, tell them you're barbequing, perhaps they can pick up some beer and potato salad on the way over. No need to feel guilty, if you've done everything right, you will have worked up a pretty good sweat with all that searing and flipping over those hot coals, espcially if you got three pits going.

After about 45 minutes, take the top off your pit and flip everything over, it should be coming along pretty good. Check your fire, if you can't hold your hand above it for more than a couple of seconds, your doing fine, leave it alone. If you think it could be hotter, take a hair dryer on low speed, hold it low and to the side blowing air gently over the coals until they get glowing again. If you think it needs it, add a few briquettes right on top of the coals. Aren't you glad you listened to me and cut an opening in the grill to add those pieces? Put the top back on and politely tell your now arriving guests to leave it alone. If you think they're gonna give you any trouble, send them back to the store to fill up the ice chest with ice, and tell em they might as well pick up some more beer and some paper plates and napkins. (breakable dishes and outdoor bbq's don't mix) In case you were wondering, it's still to early for the bbq sauce, next check is in 30 to 40 minutes.

Okay, NOW you can get out the BBQ sauce

Let's recap a second. After the searing and setting the meat on the grill away from the coals, you waited at least 45 minutes, then turned the pieces over, then waited another 30 to 40 minutes. Good. Now it's time to think about the bbq sauce! My theory is that the meat should be at least 80 percent cooked before you start brushing on bbq sauce, if you add it too soon my experience has been the taste and texture just isn't as good, so humor me and try my method at least once, I think you'll agree I'm on to something. As for the types of bbq sauce, I've had some intersting results, some of my best barbeque has been with no name or cheaper generic brands, and I've made mediocre bbq with expensive name brands, so my conclusion is that it's all good. I prefer using the sauces such as honey, and honey and brown sugar with chicken, and on ribs I often use the onion bit sauces and hickory / mesquitte types. Sometimes I mix em all up and it turns out great. The sauce just doesn't seem that critical, so use whatever you prefer.

Brush on the BBQ sauce, flip the pieces over and brush sauce on the other side of the pieces. Check your fire, as discussed above and do whatever you need to do, if anything. Put the lid back on your pit, and leave it alone for at least another 20 minutes, it aint going nowhere.

The grand finale - finishing up

Now you can check the pit more frequently, because you're just about done. Take the top off your pit, if it's not quite ready, brush on a little more sauce, flip the pieces over and brush on some more sauce. Beef ribs will the first to be ready, chicken and pork ribs take a little longer, and you want to make sure they are thoroughly cooked. No need to rush, but you don't want to over cook either. If your friends are getting impatient send them on another beer run, be 90's about it and make sure there is a designated driver. Nothing ruins a good bbq like a DWI or worse yet, a serious traffic accident or fatality. Be safe!

The above cooking times I've given are a general guideline, you may want to shorten or lengthen the times as necessary. As I mentioned earlier, I've use three pits simultaneously when I bbq, and they all finish up at different times. How do you know when your bbq is ready? In my case, my neighbors dog starts carrying on and lets me know precisely when everything is done. I don't pay attention to my dogs, cause as far as they are concerned, it's ready the second I walk out the door and put the raw meat on the table outside. I guess you can buy a meat thermometer or whatever, but I found the best way is to just taste it. Experience also helps. Let me know how it goes!

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last updated by Matt Gilbert on Sept 1, 2000
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