BBQ Basics

Well you would not surf without a surfboard or sky-drive without a parachute so it is going to be hard to Barbecue without the right equipment. Many start off with a cheap grill from Walmart (nothing against Walmart, I shop there weekly) and then wonder why their food comes out either raw, burnt to a crisp or both. Some of my first chicken thighs I cooked had skin that was so burnt it was black as charcoal and the meat by the bone was raw. After that when I told the family I was going to Barbecue they told they had all become vegans. I knew for the sake of my families health and for my own self esteem I had to do my best to master this wonderful art of cooking called Barbecue.

The first step was learning the basics and that starts with making sure you have good equipment. Now you do not need to spend a lot of money but this is not an area you want to buy cheap. Here we go.

The Grill or Smoker

Weber GrillSo you know I have both grills and smokers. From little take to the beach ones and I need three people just to move it ones. What I have found besides size and weight that each one has it own unique strengths and weaknesses.

For steaks, chops, skewers and seafood I prefer the grill. These meats are usually tender (no slow cooking needed) and can cook fast at higher temperatures. You are also cooking with direct radiant heat. A steak is a good example of meat that is cooked best using a grill for it is cooked well on the outside (you want the char) but needs to be less cooked in the inside (you want it medium). Ahi tuna is also another meat that you want the inside less cooked than the outside.

Now this is not the same for poultry. There you want the meat to be cooked the same all the way through.

If you start with a grill you can buy a decent charcoal or gas grill for around $200 and that will let you feed the family. If you are going to feed the neighborhood or entertain all your friends you need to look at something not just bigger but also better. Better grills do a better job of evenly heating the food and allow you to visit more with family and guests and not have to be constantly watching that you do not burn down the house.

traeger grillNow on to the smoker. This might be the most misunderstood outdoor kitchen device. Most people will say I don't want a smoker cause I don't want all my food tasting like smoke. Well there are electric smokers that unless you add wood don't produce any smoke but can still cook food. A smoker is really just a indirect heat oven. There is no direct radiant heat like a grill. Like an oven the air is heated and then moved around to heat the food from all sides. Many wood pellet smokers actually cook like a convection oven for they use a fan to help burn the pellets but also distribute the heated air all through the cooker.

There are many types of smokers. There are wood, wood pellet and electric. I prefer wood pellet but each have their advantages. If you are starting off I would go electric (plug in, add water, wood chips, food and wait) or pellet (plug in, add pellets, food and wait). Wood is for purest and requires a whole lot of work but most of the more celebrated BBQ restaurants (Franklin's in Austin) only smoke with wood smokers.

Now What?

So you got this great Grill or Smoker and you just cannot wait to burn, I mean cook something. Well if you plan the event chances of success are high. If you "Wing It" failure is just around the corner. Let start with what you need to succeed.

Gloves

disposable glovesYou actually need two pair. One for handling raw food and the other for handling cooked food. The links are to show you what I use but as long as they are of good quality any will work.

Disposable food handling gloves keep you, family and friends from getting sick. When handling raw poultry you need to treat it like is radioactive. Here are the facts, one in four pieces of raw chicken carry salmonella, and salmonella from poultry sickens 200,000 Americans a year, according to government data. Good news is when you cook it it all dies and then is safe to eat. I prefer the gloves that you need to order by size for they fit tight and give you more control with what you are handling.

So you just finished that twenty pound brisket and you need to move it to the kitchen so you can wrap it up. Well it is going to be HOT and HEAVY. Also don't even think about using a big fork. It will most likely fall a part if you try. I went three years before I realized how stupid I was not having gloves. If you want to be macho and start handling food without these gloves I promise you will not only risk you and your families health you will end up burning the hell out of yourself. You need really good BBQ grill gloves. Do not go cheap.

bbq glovesYou are not going to find these gloves at Walmart, Home Depot or Lowes. I know for I tried. 

'Having the right gloves will make your BBQ life a happy and wonderful one.' - Wiley 

Foil and Foil Pans

heavy duty foilWhen I had my first big BBQ at the house I found that keeping things warm and moist were just as important as cooking the food. One thing  about BBQ is nothing finishes on time. The chicken is always going to finish to soon and the brisket might take an hour longer. So you have all this food coming off the grill or smoker and you got to keep it warm. The solution is Large Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil and Disposable Aluminum Foil Pans.

Whatever finishes too soon can be put in a pan to stay warm and if the ribs are a little under done then into the pan to finish in the oven or the brisket goes into a stall and you need to wrap in foil (Texas Crutch) to finish it off.

aluminum pansYou would never see a top competitor at a BBQ contest with out foil and aluminum pans.

Now when I plan for an event where I know I will be cooking many meats for lots of people I always make sure I have plenty of foil and pans. One other nice side benefit is that the pans and foil make it easy for your guests to take home left overs.

One more thing. You are NOT going to find the Heavy duty Foil at your local grocery store so please find a place that has it and stock up. Regular foil is not thick enough to do you any good.

Instant Thermometer

Thermapen Mk4 Red 300Made by Hand in England, the Thermapen is faster and more accurate than any other cooking thermometer on the market. Competitors have tried to copy the Thermapen with mass-produced products made in China and have flooded the housewares market with slower, less-accurate knock-offs. However, when compared to true competing commercial thermocouple thermometers, the Thermapen is not only faster and more accurate, it's also less expensive!

If you could only buy one thing to help you cook great BBQ this would be it. Cooking food to the correct temperature makes sure your food is prepared to not be over cooked but even more important under cooked that can make it unsafe to eat.

male chef tasting the foodI always cook BBQ with a shirt that has a breast pocket and guess where I keep my Thermapen? In that breast pocket. You ever see a chef that runs around with his special spoon so he can taste everything well in BBQ your instant thermometer is your spoon.