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8 Tips for Making Excellent BBQ

Nick was born and raised in the epicenter of great BBQ: Kansas City, Missouri.

I smoked this brisket for the Chiefs vs. Patriots game that ended the 2018-19 season.

I smoked this brisket for the Chiefs vs. Patriots game that ended the 2018-19 season.

I'm from Kansas City. There were three world-class barbecue restaurants within walking distance of my childhood home. So I've had some great BBQ. When I was in my early twenties, I started learning to make it myself. That was many years ago, and I’ve smoked a lot of BBQ since.

Although I have more than a decade of experience smoking meat, I never really knew what I was doing until recently. I've learned more about making good BBQ in the last year than in all of the previous years combined. Why? Because I’ve been cooking with friends.

I’ve learned so much from my fellow BBQ chefs. Because we talk about everything from proper smoking temperatures to getting good bark on brisket, I’ve been able to hone my techniques and correct errors I’d been making for years. I know why I wasn’t getting a dark, crispy bark on my pork butts and brisket. The perfect texture for pork ribs is no longer a mystery. I've learned some important lessons, and I'd like to share them here.

8 Tips for Making Excellent Barbecue

  1. It’s best to focus on perfecting one thing at a time. You can concentrate on managing smoker temperature or on producing delicious food.
  2. The ideal approach is to focus on the food, first. This requires a low-maintenance smoker. Electric, gas, pellet, or drum smokers are best for beginners.
  3. A probe lets you understand what’s happening while the meat cooks. Always cook with at least one probe in the meat. Use another probe to monitor the smoker temperature until you know how hot your cooker tends to get, how long it will stay that way, and how weather changes things.
  4. Try to get thin blue smoke, not billowing white smoke.
  5. Brisket should jiggle like Jell-O when it’s ready to take out of the smoker.
  6. When you bite into a pork rib, it should come away from the bone completely.
  7. For a good bark, cover the entire surface of a piece of meat with any rub that contains salt, sugar, and black pepper.
  8. When you know what good BBQ is and can produce it reliably on a “set-it-and-forget-it” smoker, you can upgrade to an offset smoker.

I'm mostly a lone wolf, a do-it-yourselfer. So I try to learn things on my own. But there's a lot of trial and error in that approach. Everybody needs guidance at some point, and I’ve cooked a bunch of terrible BBQ because I didn’t seek help from somebody with experience.

Now I’m part of a group of people who cook BBQ often, chat about it at work, and discuss it online when we’re not at the office. We share pictures of our food at various stages in the cooking process: prepping, smoking, wrapping, slicing. We talk about what we did well and what we messed up whenever we cook. Best of all, we share food. When someone cooks a brisket over the weekend, the rest of us get samples on Monday.