|The Q Shack
- BBQ Restaurant in Raleigh
4120-135 Main at North Hills Street
Raleigh, NC 27609
The Art of Cooking BBQ at Home
I am often asked by my customers at The Q Shack (Raleigh, NC) about the best ways to cook meats on their home smokers, grills or outdoor pits. Seems like everyone wants to cook the perfect brisket at home, and you can absolutely do it! Here's what I tell them.
#1: Find a local meat market that believes in fresh LOCAL meats and talk to the butcher. Most major cities will have a Whole Foods, Fresh Market or some other natural foods store dedicated to local produce and meats. The cook can only do so much- the deliciousness of your meal depends on the quality of the meat.
Why are Local meats better?- simply, they are fresher and more likely to come from top quality animals chosen for their flavor potential. Larger meat processors do a great job of making large quantities of meat available to a large group of consumers at a reasonable quality level and for a reasonable price, but nothing compares to cooking a fresh cut of meat from a farmer who stakes his or her reputation and livelihood on the quality and flavor of the meat he or she produces. Good butchers get this and can “steer” you in the right direction (pun intended)
#2: Have the right equipment. I didn't say the most expensive or the one with the most features-just the right equipment. What does this mean? The right equipment matches your level of comfort with cooking and the amount of time you want to devote to cooking. Gas grills are great for quick cooking and daily grilling at home and can be converted into smokers for weekend chefs. Charcoal smokers and grills aren't so good for the quick weekday dinner, but are the best for weekend chefs. Lowe's, Home Depot or your local TrueValue or ACE Store will have tons of options to choose from at reasonable prices. Unless you really want, you need not spend more than $500 to get a great quality, good sized grill/smoker.
#3: Be a good cook. Seems obvious, right? What I mean is, plan out your cooking in advance so that you make good decisions up front. If you start with great meats, have the right smoker/grill you will have 90% of the battle won already. To push it over the line to greatness, take the time to consider what flavors you want from your bbq'd meats.
a) To marinate or not? Marinades are great for meats that have a neutral flavor by themselves- shrimp, chicken and pork loin are great examples. Marinades should tenderize the meats before cooking and impart some flavor to the meat in the process. When I marinate red meats, I do so for only 30-45 min to open up the pores of the meat and allow for great smoke/spice rub penetration. Marinades needs acids (vinegar, citrus, etc), salt (soy, worcestershire, sea salts/flavored salts) and flavor (fresh spices, wine, bbq sauces, etc) to be effective. Usually I mix these ingredients in a 1:1 ratio, thicken it a bit with olive oil so that it clings better to the outside of the meat.
b) To dry rub or not? Dry rubs are great tools for imparting flavor to the meat without having to marinade or mess with the natural flavor of the meat you are cooking. My basic rub for red meats starts with 1 part brown sugar, half parts black pepper and garlic powder and quarter parts of sea salt, cayenne powder (or chili powder) and a large pinch of cumin and coriander. Add almost any other flavoring you'd like in quarter part increments to create your own blends.
For poultry/seafood, blend more equal amounts of brown sugar, salt, black pepper, chili powder, garlic, paprika and oregano.
c) To smoke or not? Smoking meats certainly adds flavor, but it also adds more time to the cooking process. Mesquite, Hickory, Oak and fruit woods (apple or peach) are the most common woods and each produces a distinct aroma and flavor. This is purely a chef's choice, but for daily fool proof smoking, I suggest Hickory. It is sweet and mellow, smokes quickly and is readily available at a fair price.
As I mentioned above, you can easily turn your gas grill into a weekend smoker. Take wood chips and soak them in water for 30-45 minutes. Use a large handful for each hour of smoking time. Remove from the water, shake them of excess water and place them in heavy duty aluminum foil, laying chips in a 1/2” thick layer. Wrap well and cut numerous slits throughout to allow the smoke to escape. Place these “chip pods” directly on the cover coils to your gas flame and set the grill to a low/medium setting. If you have a grill thermometer, you'll want to hit 225-275 degrees. If using a charcoal grill, simply add these wood chips to the charcoal briquets. I suggest you soak them first so as to discourage flare ups in your smoker.
The final step in being a good cook is to take your time cooking your meats and use a good meat thermometer to gauge the internal temperature of the meats as you go, taking care not to over cook the meats. Remember that meats need to “rest” at room temperature after you are done cooking. During this time, the juices go back through the meat and the meat will rise in temperature approximately 10 degrees. So if you want a medium rare beef, pull the meat at 130 degrees- and let it come to rest to a perfect 140 degrees. Invest in a good digital thermometer and err to the side of undercooking vs. overcooking- you can always put it back on for more cooking time!
Cooking is a fun, relaxing and social event. Enjoy yourself and give yourself the room to experiment with different combinations, techniques and “theories”. I have often found that the best bbq I have ever made is the one I just finished eating! May it be so for you!