In order to get the maximum flavor from the seasonings you use, to have the flavor penetrate the meat as much as possible, they have to be applied in a time sensitive fashion based on the kind of meat you’re dealing with. So, when it comes to brisket, Kevin says he applies his rub 5 to 6 hours before the cook to give the salt time to penetrate and pull a little moisture out and replace it with flavor. Because meat is 70-75% water, you can afford to lose a little moisture in the name of flavor. When it comes to applying rub to ribs, Kevin references the methodology of barbecue great Tuffy Stone. Kevin says that Tuffy doesn’t sauce his ribs more than an hour before putting them on the grill because it begins to pull moisture out. In the same vein, Kevin says that he prefers to sauce ribs only 30 to 45 minutes before putting them on the grill. “It’s a balancing act,” says Kevin. For those that like a dry rub rib where they aren’t going to use a lot of sauce, he recommends putting a good amount of flavor inside that rub. If you like to finish your ribs with sauce, he says adding a heavy rub isn’t going to be very beneficial. While you may be attempting to layer flavors, the addition of a heavy sauce will essentially wash those flavors away. In order to strike the right balance if using sauce, then go a little lighter on all the big ingredients that go into the rub and if you’re not then you can beef up the flavors a little bit. Possibly the most controversial part of barbecue is not the cut of meat or the seasonings that are used, but rather the method of cooking. What temperature and for how long you cook your cuts of meat is always up for debate and a question that is left unsettled as there is no “right” answer, rather there are individual approaches. For spare ribs, Kevin says he uses a 3-2-1 method which boils down to 3 hours on the smoker, 2 hours in foil and 1 hour back on the pit with sauce. Baby back ribs get a different treatment, the 2-1-1 method of 2 hours on the pit, 1 in foil, 1 back on the pit and sauced. In either case, a cooking temperature of 250 to 260 degrees is where Kevin has settled after cooking thousands of racks of ribs saying that he believes they get a better bark that starts to form more quickly than if you were cooking at 225 degrees. Some like it low and slow, some like it hot and fast – there is no right answer here. Kevin says it’s all about personal methodology and ultimately, sticking to your particular method in order to improve your barbecue.
Just as important as seasoning, time and temperature, is the wood you choose. The wood you use is the basis for a good amount of the overall flavor that your food takes on, so the variety of wood should be chosen wisely. Not all wood is created equal and not all wood is suitable for barbecuing. Kevin says that he selects the woods he uses based on the food he is cooking. For brisket, being influenced by Texas style barbecue, he likes to use salt, pepper and post oak. While white oak is okay too, he cautions cookers to stay away from red oak. For pork products he uses apple or cherry wood with a combination of hickory and his poultry is treated with pecan or hickory. You can get your wood fresh or prepackaged and in chunks, chips or pellets. Chunks of wood are often kiln dried, so they can be transported across state lines and if pitmasters aren’t watchful, those chunks can ignite rapidly and that leads to a harsh barbecue flavor. If using chips, Kevin recommends soaking them in water for at least an hour in advance of cooking. Doing so will add moisture so that they don’t flash as fast. Preferably, Kevin’s choice is fresh wood chunks. Fresh wood holds moisture, so it is more forgiving and doesn’t light as quickly.
Just because you are cooking outdoors doesn’t mean you have free reign to neglect your grills and smokers completely. Grills like the Weber Kettle benefit from a good clean and ultimately operate more effectively as a result. Kevin explains that by design, when the grill is clean, air can move around quickly because there is no interference from build-up. As a result, when the air moves faster the grill gets hotter which is ideal for grilling. In contrast, a smoker goes the other way. When a smoker, like the Rocky Mountain Cooker Smoker, is cleaner it can be more difficult to keep the temperature down because the air is moving so smoothly. By doing an initial cook with a pan of meatloaf or some sausages you can create a layer on the inside of the smoker that prevents air from moving so quickly and slows down the burn, it also helps season it.
Grills aren’t just for laying down a delicious char on your meats, but you can bake on them as well. Kevin says that around the holidays in particular, he bakes with his daughters on the grill and in his humble opinion there is no better product out there for this than the Kettle Grill. The moisture from the charcoal along with the air circulation that happens naturally by way of the design of the Kettle makes it incredibly effective. Kevin says he has baked cookies, cakes and pies all with great success. The ability to bake on the Kettle shows the versatility of Weber grills – gas or charcoal. Designed to operate at low and slow temperatures, high temperatures and everywhere in between, you can do about anything. To illustrate, Kevin says when it comes to Thanksgiving, it’s an outdoor celebration and little, if any cooking, happens inside – turkey, dressing and all the sides can be cooked on Weber Grills.
One of the incredibly versatile offerings from Weber is the Summit Charcoal Grill. “The Summit Charcoal, to me, is the pinnacle of barbequing, grilling and smoking, all wrapped up into one product,” Kevin says. The air-insulated double-walled porcelain-enameled lid and bowl hold heat in an incredible way. Cooking for 27 hours straight on the Summit at one point, Kevin says he never had to add any charcoal or wood because of how well insulated it was. Furthermore, its ability to retain that heat even in cold temperatures is impressive. In a snowstorm, he explains how put ribs on and watched the snow begin to accumulate on the lid, even as the inside temperature read 225 degrees. For those that aren’t into charcoal and prefer gas instead, Weber’s Spirit II gas grills have a lot to offer. While many grills experience uneven heat and notorious hot spots, Kevin says that they take a tremendous amount of pride in having even heat across the grates. Not only are the temperatures easy to control, which means all of your food will be cooked consistently in the same amount of time, but the Spirit II also has a lot of great features like iGrill capability. Make sure you listen in and take notes, y’all!
It’s time to get your grill on :)