If you haven’t read part 1, check it out here!
It’s imperative that you do, so you don’t screw up your BBQ. Everyone intuitively knows how to do that already. This article is about how to do it right, so read the first part, well, first. After you have, come back here and I’ll tell give you the practical steps on how to BBQ. Plus, I said some really witty crap in the part 1, and do you really wanna miss THAT? Hell no, of course you don’t.
Stuff you need:
• A pork shoulder, bone still in it. The bone is important, trust me. I’ve BBQ’d boneless shoulders before and they take forever. I think it’s because the bone, which protrudes from the end of the meat, acts as a conductor of heat, radiating it into the middle of the shoulder. I prefer to get something that has been raised ethically, and on natural grains, or allowed to wander and eat grasses, not a bunch of GMO corn. I despise GMOs and the companies that engineer them. Natural pork is so much better tasting that it’s just worth any extra money it costs. Plus, you won’t get pork pre-marinated in RoundUp. If you want to know more about GMOs and why they suck, and what we can do about it, read my upcoming book, Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth.
• Fuel: Use natural lump charcoal, or a bunch of hardwood. Don’t use briquets; they have chemicals in them that are not good for you, and taste like crap. Also they are full of fillers, like sand, to make them heavier, I reckon. That’s why you have so much ‘ash’ in your grill after burning them. It’s not ash, it’s sand from a beach somewhere, and should have been left there so some rich chic in a bikini can twiddle her toes in it while sipping a pina colada. Lump charcoal can be found in most hardware stores these days. It’s just charred hard wood. Or just get some hardwood to burn in a separate fire pit, and transfer some of it when you need more in the firebox, unless you’re using a Green Egg, then you need lump.
• Smoker wood: For pork, I like apple wood. If you can find it sold in bulk, then get it that way, but usually it comes in a bag from the hardware store. Don’t get those little chips. Get a big bag of chunks. They are usually about 3-4 inches ‘square’, and will burn and smoke longer.
• The Grill: You need a grill with indirect heat: a Smoker grill (I have a Brinkmann), BBQ pit, Green Egg Grill, or some other way of creating indirect heat. I’ve been told that you can do it on an old school Weber, but I don’t believe it. They just burn too fast, no matter how you stack your charcoal, and then you’re gonna have to remove the pork, and the grill to put more coals in. This will lengthen the cooking time beyond reason. Invest in a smoker, or rent one! Check tool supply places, or find a friend that has one and work together!
• Heat/ignition: Do not use lighter fluid. It sucks. Do you really want to eat fossil fuels in your meat? The gasoline odor in the morning might “smell like victory,” but it tastes like shit. There are a couple of ways to get your coals going. One, you can buy an electric charcoal starter—which I do not use, but which work. Two, you can use a charcoal chimney. These are made of steel, have a big handle on one side of a cylinder, in which goes the charcoal. Newspaper is stuffed in the bottom, and lit. The draft of the flames pulls air in through the bottom and lights the charcoal above. This is my favorite method. Otherwise, if you have a fire pit, you can keep a little campfire going to shovel hot coals from.
• Meat Thermometer: I highly suggest—if you cherish your sanity—that you get a remote meat thermometer. Yeah, you can lift the lid of the grill every time you want to check the temp with your basic kitchen thermometer, but you will lose an enormous amount of heat every time, and your pork will never be done, while your mom, or mother-in-law will be standing over you telling you, “Well. I would just finish it off in the OVEN.” Then you’re gonna have to say, “Well maybe YOU would, but I WON’T.” And things will get all nasty, unless you say it with a smile, which always helps with moms and mother-in-laws. So save yourself the aggravation and get a remote thermometer. You can find them in good cooking stores. They aren’t cheap: anywhere from $50-100. But they will save you time and headache. Buy a good one. They come with a unit that sits outside of the grill, and a probe that is attached to a cord that plugs into the external unit. It will usually display the meat temp and the grill temp so you can track both. Some even come with a wireless unit you can sit next to you on a bedside table—that way you can pretend to get some sleep—and will beep if the grill temp gets below what you set as the minimum. Be prepared for beeping if you go to sleep.
• Various and sundry grill tools: You’ll need the regular stuff: tongs, spatulas, gloves, and beer. A shovel for coals, if you’re using a campfire to supply coals.
• Smoker wood. Make sure that hours before you start, like 24 hours would be best, you put a bunch of the apple wood in a bucket—5 gallon size—and cover with water to soak. That way it will be very wet when you get ready to start the fire.
• Clean out your grill of excess ash. I don’t really ‘clean’ grill grates. Yeah, I’m that dirty redneck friend of yours who says, “Ya don’ really need ta cleeeen it! Hell, it’s gonna be far’d up soon’nuf! (Translation, ‘It’s going to be fired up soon enough)” Which is true, and why we say it. There ain’t a damned germ, that can stand the heat of hot coals. None. “Yeah, but what about all that ‘char-y’ stuff! Won’t it get on my food?!” your mother-in-law will say. Uh yeah, it will! And it will taste like VICTORY! Blackened carbon tastes great on meat, hell that’s why we’re makin’ BBQ! So shut the hell up and far’ up the coals!
• Rub the pork down with a dry rub, not sauce.
⁃ (I use salt-lots of it, chili powder, black pepper, pinch cayenne, red pepper flakes (Aleppo if you can find it))
⁃ I would say it takes about a couple tablespoons of each, but not the cayenne, unless you like it spicy as hell, which I do, but most people don’t so I don’t put that much on it.
• Let that sit while you get the fire going.
⁃ You’re going to be starting coals a lot during the process, so be prepared for a lot of fire-sitting. It’s like a baby, without the crying, ok, you might be crying before the process is over, but the fire will not.
⁃ If you’re starting up coals in a smoker grill, which is the optimum situation, or in a Big Green Egg, then get a good bit of it going and put them in your burn box on the end (if a smoker grill), or the normal procedure for the Egg. If you’re using an Egg, you’ll have to put all your charcoal in first, because there’s no way to add more later.
⁃ After the fire is going, you want to regulate the air flow, using the vents in your grill/smoker/Egg to set the temp for about 215-225 degrees. That is optimum temp for BBQing. It should stay there, as much as possible, the entire time, which might be as much as 24 hours, or as little as 12-14, but plan on 24.
⁃ Now add your smoker wood. If you’re using an Egg, you’ll have to do it now, so add a lot because again, you can’t add more later. If you have a smoker grill, add some smoker wood to the coals in the side box, and close it down.
• Put the meat on.
⁃ If you have a Green Egg, you’ll want to put in your heavy clay diffuser thing before replacing grill grate and the meat. This will force the heat up and around the meat so that it will cook indirectly. Indirect heat is another key thing in BBQing. If you’re using a smoker grill, place the meat in the middle of the grill area (that’s the big section, not over the coals in the side box).
⁃ Put your thermometer probe into the center of the shoulder—not touching the bone— and close the lid. The remote thermometer will allow you to keep an eye on the meat temp, and the grill temp simultaneously, without constantly opening the grill to check it, which will seriously lengthen the time it takes to cook. I’ve seen advice that says every time you open it, you add about 20-30 minutes to your time. So KEEP IT SHUT! Don’t be peeking at it. Not if you ever want to eat it, and keep the in-laws at bay, that is.
• Babysitting BBQ coals
⁃ Then the long wait begins. This is where the ‘simple’ part of BBQing meets the ‘hard’ part. The idea is simple; the execution can be excruciating. Forget about sleep, unless you have a Green Egg, which is amazing at keeping temp. If you have an old school smoker, like me—I have a Brinkmann— you have to watch it, or you will lose temp and slow the process down too much. That’s better than too hot though, which is also a problem. It’s best if you have a partner to take turns watching the temp, adding coals, etc. The reason is, that it can take 24 hours to be done, which means that your sleep schedule is going to fall in there somewhere. Unless you’re some kind of automaton, or Chuck Norris of course. You don’t have to light the new coals, as long as you have hot coals still in the smoker; just place the cold ones on top of the others, but only a few at a time. Don’t just dump half a bag in there. If it lights, then the temp will be too hot.
• How to tell when it’s DONE
⁃ The pork is done when the internal temperature reaches between 180-190 degrees. I like 190, but somewhere in there is good. This is because of the collagen in the meat. Collagen is a tough mother. But to make real BBQ, you must slowly bring the temp up, so that it will start to break down. If the temp comes up too quickly, it will just tighten up, like your muscles after a workout, and you don’t wanna eat that!
⁃ You will see the internal temp hit plateaus as it slowly rises during the process. It may hang in the 150s or 160s for hours and hours. Don’t worry, it’s still cooking. Eventually it will ‘break’ and start to rise again, only to level out in the 170s before finally reaching 180. Once it gets there, it usually hits 190 within an hour, if not less. All this is, of course, if you keep the smoker temp at 225ish. If it drops too much, it will add time to the process.
⁃ When it’s finally done, you can open the lid, look at it, and test the probe in several places to check the temp. It should slip into the meat easily at this point, and if you mess with it too much it will start to fall apart.
⁃ It’s not burnt! The pork may look like it’s burnt. Good. That’s how It’s supposed to look. It should have an outer crust of black goodness that we call the ‘bark.’ This is yummy assed stuff man.
• Pull that thang already!
⁃ Gently remove the shoulder from the grill, close up your grill vents (this saves charcoal for next time), and then you can pull the pork!
⁃ First off: DO NOT CHOP IT! Hell no. This is the 2nd biggest mistake made by amateurs and so-called ‘pros’ in the bbq industry. They do it for one of two reasons, or maybe both: it’s faster (not if you BBQ’d it properly), and/or their meat is tough, because they didn’t BBQ it, they bbq’d it, i.e. they steamed it. Chopping drys out pork, and if it was steamed to begin with, you’re really gonna have some dry crap after chopping it. It frays the end grain of the meat, like the split-ends in your least favorite aunt’s hair, you know, the one who looks like the Bride of Frankenstein. Yuck! If you steam it, and don’t fully break down the collagen, then yeah, you’re gonna probably have to chop it to get it to come apart. If however, you BBQ’d it, then it will practically pull itself.
⁃ To pull it: I use two table forks to do it, though you can get big BBQ claw things designed just for the job. I personally don’t like to over-pull it into tiny strands, as this tends to dry it out a bit. You’re not trying to sever the natural grains of the meat—that’s what happens when you chop it (remember your aunt’s hair?). What you want to do is to pull those strands apart, ALONG the grain, kind of like peeling apart bamboo. If you leave it kind of chunky, and not too stringy, then you will have very moist (and I mean fatty) pork.
⁃ ANOTHER DON’T! Do not trim away fat! If you don’t like fat, don’t eat BBQ. Eat tofu. I rhymes with BBQ, but it is not the same thing. Eat wheatgrass, or some such other nasty crap, but don’t mess with the Q. It’s supposed to be fatty. Also, don’t trim off the bark! I’ve seen people do this, and it drives me nuts! That’s where half of the FLAVOR comes from! Just pull it and mix it in with the rest of the meat and fat. If you do, your BBQ will be legendary, if not, it will suck ass. Also, do not put foil over it to keep it warm! That will create steam, and steam is bad, remember! If you want it kept warm, then put it in a large pan, piled up high, and slip it into the oven on it’s lowest temp setting, like 170. But don’t leave it in there for hours.
• Serve it up!
⁃ Personally, I don’t need much with my BBQ. Maybe a biscuit or two on the side, or a cob o corn with lots of butter. Cole slaw is traditional, but I’m a fairly anti-veggie/cabbage kind of guy, so I just abstain. I don’t like my pork on a bun. It’s just empty carbs to fill me up when I could save the room for more pork. If you have to have sauce, then you want a NC style vinegar/pepper style (my favorite). Pour yourself a beer, or some South Farthing Sweet Tea, and pig out!
Also, great with pulled pork, is pork RIBS! I show ya how to do those the right way, too!