BBQ Pit

This page provides basic grilling and smoking instructions, as well as recipes, for some of my favorite BBQ-style eats. If you have any recipes or advice you'd like to add, please email them to me.

The following is taken from a previous post.


I love eating BBQ and smoked meats. The depth of flavor and succulent texture are a wonder to behold. Recently, I've learned that cooking your own BBQ and smoked meats is easier than I thought, and you don't need to go buy a designated smoker if you have a charcoal grill. Below are some basic instructions for setting up your charcoal grill. If you only have a propane grill, many manufacturers also sell a "smoker box" attachment or grill addition that can be used to impart the smoke flavors from smoldering hardwood chips in a safe, efficient manner. However, I am not personally familiar with this method. A simple barrel grill can be easily found for under $100, though some smokers are that cheap as well. I'm guessing the more expensive ones are more durable and may have other features.


Necessary Materials:

Whether your charcoal grill is a barrel- or kettle-shaped, you can easily use it as a smoker. I recommend that you have the following items on-hand before getting started:
  • Charcoal - I avoid the self-lighting briquettes because I don't want my meats to taste like butane. I use a chimney to get them started and will add additional briquettes as needed to maintain the grill temperature. If you are willing to spend a bit more money, some people prefer lump charcoal (or "charwood") to briquettes because it burns hotter and creates a bit more smoke on its own. However, briquettes will burn more slowly, requiring fewer additions of charcoal. Advanced grillers often swear by pure hardwood, or "all-natural" charcoal that burn at high temperatures without any filler, though I'm sure these are even more expensive (and harder to find).
  • Chimney starter - In case you don't have one, this is a metal cylinder with a handle attached. There is a metal grate inside that gives you room to put wadded newspaper below the charcoal, and once the paper is lit, it allows the hot air to circulate through the coals. Be sure you have an oven/grill mitt, as the handle can get quite hot, even if it's made of wood or some other material.
  • Charcoal shovel or long-handled BBQ tongs - You can use one of these instruments to safely move hot coals to get the proper charcoal arrangement for the type of preparation you are using.
  • Wood chunks - Make sure they're hardwood (mesquite, oak, fruitwood, etc.), as soft woods like pine will burn too quickly and give you harsh flavors. You can find medium or large bags in the grilling section of a decent hardware store (or supermarket/big-box store if necessary). You may also use wood chips, though they need to be soaked prior to use and burn more quickly. They are best suited for smaller meats, fish, poultry pieces, and veggies.
  • Disposable metal pan - This will be partly filled with water to ensure consistent temperatures and indirect heat, so the size will depend on the size charcoal grate. You don't want it to take up much more than half of the space used for the charcoal, if avoidable. While they can be re-used, I usually buy several in case one gets punctured.
  • Meat thermometer - In order to ensure your meat is safe to eat yet still moist inside, you will need to know the internal temperature. I use a meat thermometer with a metal probe on the end of a three-foot lead, attached to a digital display. I can set this up so I can see it from the window, and it also has an alarm function to warn me when my meat hits the target temperature. I spent under $15 for it at the supermarket, and you can use it in your oven too.

Transforming Your Charcoal Grill Into A Smoker

"Low and slow" is the mantra of BBQ and smoked meats, and indirect heat is often necessary to coax the best flavors out of meat without drying it out or burning the outside. Sometimes, you will want to use direct heat (the food cooking directly above the heat source) for all or a portion of the time, but I've had the best success cooking larger meats (ribs, whole chickens, brisket, and roasts) over indirect heat, where the heat source is off to the side of the meat and heating the entire grill chamber like an oven. You can control the amount of smoke flavor in your final dish by more or less of the wood chunks (or chips) and how frequently you add more wood components. First, let's get set up:
  1. Always follow your grill manufacturer's instructions, particularly when it comes to safety. Set up your grill on flat ground, and be sure you have the ability to put out smoldering embers that may fall out of the grill, if necessary.
  2. Safely start your coals. I prefer using the chimney starter because it safely, quickly, and easily allows me to heat my coals and deposit them in the part of the grill I want them. Depending on my grilling temperature, I will start with different amounts of charcoal:
    • Low heat - fill the chimney about a third full with charcoal (approximately 25-30 briquettes)
    • Medium heat - fill the chimney about two-thirds full with charcoal (approximately 50-60 briquettes
    • High heat (more likely for direct heating than smoking) - fill chimney completely (approximately 80-100 briquettes)
  3. Place bunched newspaper in bottom of chimney, and set the chimney on a flat, non-flammable surface. Light the paper. Once the briquettes are covered with a grey dust, they are ready for the grill.
  4. There are many different charcoal arrangements you may use depending on the shape of your grill and what you're cooking, but I'm going to assume we're smoking some larger meats for now. Before pouring the coals into the grill, place the disposable metal pan to one side and fill it about half way with water. Then pour the coals beside the pan and use the shovel or tongs to arrange them, and place the cooking grate in place. If possible, leave a way to access the coals easily and safely. This is particularly important if your cooking time is over an hour or so, as you will need to add additional charcoal.
  5. Close the lid and allow the grill chamber and cooking grate to warm up, about 10-15 minutes. Test the heat of the grill. If you have a thermometer built into your grill, this is simple. If not, place your open hand about five inches above the cooking grate (about the height of a soda or beer can), and see how long it takes for the heat to make your palm uncomfortable.
    • 2-4 seconds is high heat (450°-550°F)
    • 5-7 seconds is medium heat (350-450°F)
    • 8-10 seconds is low heat (250°-350°F)
  6. Once you are in your desired cooking range, add one or two chunks of wood on top or just beside the coals (make sure they're touching). Wood chunks will take about an hour to burn on low or medium heat, and if you like strong smokey flavor you may add additional chunks for longer cook times. 
  7. You will also need to add coals to maintain the temperature of the grill. If you must remove the cooking grate to do so, be sure you have someone to help you and each person has oven mitts or thick hot pads. You may need to place the meat aside (or hold it in place) during this process, so be exceptionally careful. No matter how delicious the meat is, it's not worth a trip to the burn unit! My grill is barrel-shaped, with two cooking grates, so it is easy to remove one side for ease of access to the coals. If you have a kettle grill, you may consider investing in another cooking grate and modifying it to access the coals.
Now we're ready to smoke some meat!! I'm still a beginner, but I've been happy with the results from using a dry rub to season my meats. I've seen many recipes for BBQ rubs (they're easy to come by), but they usually have a significant portion (up to a quarter) of brown sugar, several types of pepper (white, black, cayenne, paprika, ancho, chipotle, etc.), a generous portion of garlic and/or onion powder, and a savory herb (oregano, thyme, etc.). Spanish paprika is new (and wonderful!) to me, as the peppers are smoked before they are ground to a powder. This is a quick and easy way to add a little smoke flavor if you're not using the method above. I leave the salt out, as I sometimes use my rubs to season meats overnight. Salt extracts moisture when left on the meat for more than a half-hour or so, and it's easy enough to sprinkle an addition onto the meat shortly before cooking.

Here's an example (from Elizabeth Karmel's Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned - a gift from my sister!). You can easily modify it to suit your palate and spice cabinet, and it will still be delicious.

Grilling Guru Rub
Makes 1.25 cups, good for poultry, pork, ribs, steaks, burgers, potatoes, etc.
  • 3 tbsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika
  • 3 tbsp kosher salt (leave out if seasoning meat ahead of time to avoid trying it out, in which case add salt just ahead of cooking)
  • 3 tbsp sugar in the raw
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tbsp granulated onion
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire powder (optional)
  • 1 tbsp celery salt
  • 2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
Mix thoroughly (or use spice grinder - or clean coffee grinder - for a finer grind), and keep sealed for use over as much as 6 months. Sprinkle on chicken, other meats, potatoes, eggs, whatever!!


BBQ Beer Can Chicken

A good place to begin smoking meat is with beer-can chicken. Here's a simple recipe you can do on your grill or in your oven (though my mother says it's a bit messy for her oven!), and it leaves the chicken magnificently moist and tender!
  • Rinse whole, thawed roasting chicken (~5-7 lbs.) and discard liver, gizzards, etc. Pat dry with paper towels
  • Lightly coat with 1/4 cup of salt all over (including cavity), wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 90-120 minutes.
  • Rinse off salt, pat dry and coat outside with rub (add some salt if you left it out originally, and let the bird stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.
  • Prepare grill to for indirect medium heat (or preheat oven to 400°F). Add two hardwood chunks to coals just before the bird goes on the grill.
  • Open beer can, pour out half (into a glass and drink, of course!). Use a can opener to puncture the top of the can twice more. Slide the bird cavity over the top of the beer can, and use the legs to prop the bird upright like a tripod in a pan. Tuck the bird's wing tips behind its neck (as much as possible) to keep them from burning while cooking.
  • Cook over indirect medium heat on your smoker/grill (or bake at 400°F) for 75-90 minutes (or until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170°F).
  • Remove bird from the oven/grill. Have someone help you, it really takes at least three arms. Use a spatula under the beer can, and use an oven mitt or meat fork to place chicken with beer can still inside on a pan or plate. Allow the bird to cool for about 10 minutes before removing and discarding the beer can. Carve bird and serve while warm. (I also like to sprinkle some unsalted rub on top of the chicken on the platter for a bit of extra flavor.)
  • I will refrigerate the carcass and any bones/skin to later use in making my own tasty chicken stock. 
Voila!! Enjoy, and let me know how you like the recipe. If people want more or have their own recipe to share, please leave a comment or drop me an email.

Slow-Cooked Collard Greens With Mustard-Vinegar Sauce

It's easy to cook collards perfectly in a cast iron skillet, all it takes is a bit of patience.

  1. Start out by frying up 3-4 strips of bacon in a skillet. If you've got the time to cook the collards slowly, you can leave the stem attached and just cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces (after washing, of course).
  2. Once the bacon is nice and crispy, take it out and discard any excess fat from the skillet. It's helpful to have some for a good sauté base, but never pour it directly down the drain unless you want a visit from your favorite plumber. Add one thinly-sliced small onion and 2-3 cloves of rough-chopped garlic, as well as crushed red pepper to taste. Chop the crispy bacon into small pieces and add them back to the skillet. Cook until the onions are transparent.
  3. Now it's time to mix up about a third of a cup of sauce.Lately I've just eyeball a fair amount of apple cider vinegar, quite a bit of yellow mustard, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a generous amount of brown sugar, and several big pinches of the rub (or a mix of ground peppers - black, smoked paprika, ancho, etc. - I have on hand). Mix it all together (in some alligator wine). 
  4. Throw the sliced collards into the skillet with the onions, etc., and stir until the greens have all started to cook. Then add the sauce and cover. Turn down the heat to low (low and slow, remember?), and just let it for at least 20 minutes, stirring periodically.

Smoked Pork Spareribs

My alternate topic today is brief and to-the-point: a recipe for smoked pork spare ribs. This recipe was originally for St. Louis style ribs, but I've done them with the whole spare rib before and they turned out delicious. You can do them either way. (You could use a similar approach to baby back ribs, as well, though they cook about 2 hours less than the spareribs. They can also benefit from some direct heat towards the end to give them a crispy, caramelized surface.)

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Grilling Method: Indirect low heat (225°- 250°F)
Grilling Time: 5-6 hours

5-6 fist-size hardwood chunks, not soaked (mesquite, hickory, apple, etc.)
2 racks pork spareribs
  1. First, prepare your smoker for indirect low heat. 
  2. Next, we're going to prep the ribs with a nice rub. You can use anything you have handy (or the recipe from the BBQ Pit page of this blog). Or, if you want to mix up something different try this one:
  3. Just on the grill!
    • 1.5 tablespoons kosher salt
    • 1 tablespoon chile powder
    • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
    • 1 tablespoon paprika
    • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
    • 2 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 2 teaspoons celery seed
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  4. Season the ribs all over with the rub, putting more on the meat side than the bone side of the rack of ribs. Allow the ribs to rest at room temperature while you prepare a zesty mop. Try this simple recipe or use a vinegar-based BBQ sauce.
    • .5 cup apple juice
    • .25 cup apple cider vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  5. Start with two wood chunks on the smoker, and put the seasoned ribs on the grill for indirect heat. Add an additional chunk of wood to the side of the coals every hour or so, and regulate the smoker temperature (target: 225°-250°F) by adjusting the vents.
  6. Baste the ribs on both sides with the mop every couple hours. Cook the ribs until the meat has shrunk back from the bone at least a half-inch. Before removing the ribs, brush the ribs again, this time with a sweet, ketchup based sauce. 
    • Quick tip: if you don't have sauce handy, just make a bit extra rub and mop. While the ribs are smoking, combine them with a cup or two of ketchup and simmer them for 5-10 minutes.
  7. Cook the ribs for an additional 30-60 minutes. Remove the meat, and cut the rack into individual ribs. Serve with BBQ sauce on the side.
If you can keep the temperature down and take your time these ribs will be tender and fall right off the bone. One rack may cook more quickly than the other, so keep an eye on them so they don't dry out from being on the grill too long. 

No comments:

Post a Comment