Ah, the Fourth of July, when fireworks conspire with hardwood smoke to proclaim our independence from the kitchen oven. God bless America and the grill.
Barbecue is in our blood, and before the checkered tablecloths are ever spread, our thoughts turn to the coals and careful preparation it takes to master the art of slow-cooked meats.
This year, we enlisted the help of three of Nashville's best pit masters: Bret Tuck of Edley's Bar-B-Que, Pat Martin of Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint and Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker, and asked them to share their best pro tips for the holy trinity of Southern barbecue: chicken, pork shoulder and ribs.
Let's fire it up.
Bret Tuck, Edley's Bar-B-Que: whole chicken and chicken wings
1. Brine! It adds depth of flavor and juiciness.
Heat water until it simmers and add sugar, salt and any flavoring you want. Make sure it's cool before you use it. You can add any herb or fruit zest you want. I tend to use ¾ cup of salt per gallon of water, with about ½ pound of brown sugar per gallon of water as a base. For whole chicken, I brine for 12-18 hours. For wings, 6-10 hours.
2. Dry, Dry, Dry.
Make sure you rinse chicken when you bring out of brine, then dry as best you can. The dryer the better color and texture you will get out of the skin. If it's wet, it tends to be rubbery.
3. DO NOT use mesquite or hickory wood. It's overpowering to poultry. Use white oak, pecan or fruit wood such as apple, peach or cherry.
4. Smoke on higher temperatures than pork or brisket. I raise the temp to 275° when smoking birds. This crisps the skin better and turns out a better product.
5. Let rest uncovered for at least 10 mins. after taking off smoker. The muscles will relax and soak up more moisture. If you cover the skin it can lose its crispiness.
6. Eat with your hands. It just tastes better and you look stupid with a fork and knife. Haha.
Carey Bringle, Peg Leg Porker: baby back ribs
There are many types of ribs, but I prefer 2¼-pound loin backs (many call baby backs).
1. Peel off the membrane on the back. The easiest way is to use a spoon to get under the corner and then take it and peel it down the rib. You may need a rag to grab a hold of it; it can be slippery.
2. You don't need to smoke ribs forever. In fact, you can easily oversmoke them. A little smoke goes a long way. I like to go 250° F. for 4 hours. You can even go 275° for 3 hours.
3. You need to salt with kosher or large flake salt. Your rub may have plenty of salt in it but if not, salt before rubbing your ribs down. We smoke with only kosher salt and add seasoning at the end of the process.
4. Are they done? Run your tongs halfway up the rib from the end. Pick them up. If they bend all the way or start to break, they are done.
5. For wet ribs, remember that tomato sauce or sugary sauces will burn. Add this at the end of the process or brush on in the last 10 minutes and watch closely. If you want to mop the ribs, use a mix of 1/3 water, 1/3 apple cider vinegar and 1/3 apple juice. It won't burn.
6. NEVER, NEVER , NEVER use liquid smoke!
Patrick Martin, Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint: Boston butt (top cut of pork shoulder)
Because most folks will be using a grill at home, such as a Weber kettle, these tips are with that in mind.
1 6-8 pound pork butt
3 large bags of lump charcoal
20 large seasoned / dry hickory chunks (prefer) or 1 bag of soaked hickory chips
Small metal or aluminum pan about the size of a large cereal bowl
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon chili powder
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until well blended. Massage into meat and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours to get cold. The colder the meat the more smoke flavor will penetrate.
1. Clean your grill really well. One hour before you want to put on your Boston butt, start a fire off to the side. You will keep this fire going the entire process, which will take a solid 10 hours. You always want to have a ready supply of hot coals.
2. Take the two bricks and line them up in the grill so that you can build a coal bed on 1/3 side of the grill. When coals are coated in a light gray ash, put about a shovel full of hot coals between the bricks and the side of your grill. Fill the pan with water, not beer, wine or any of that other mess. Place 2 or 3 large hickory chunks on the coals, place the grate on and put the oven thermometer on the opposite side of the fire. Replace the lid and open the dampers on the bottom and the top all the way. Make sure your top damper is placed directly over your meat so it draws the heat over it properly.
3. Check thermometer every 5 minutes or so, slowly closing the bottom intake damper until you get the temperature dialed in to 250° F. Once you have it “locked” in at 250, place the butt on the grill/grate, add another wood chunk or 2 and close the lid. The meat will drop the temp another 20 or 30 degrees. Your ideal cooking temp is 210° to 225°.
4. Every 30-45 minutes, or when necessary, add 4 or 5 coals at a time, but no more or you risk getting your fire too hot. Also add wood chunks if necessary. Do not adjust top damper unless absolutely necessary (such as very high temp or fire). You want your cooking chamber to “breathe." Rotate (not flip) the meat every other time you open your lid to add coals.
5. After 5 hours or so, open the lid and flip your meat over. Baste with a beer, water, Coke, whatever you like. Add coals and wood chunks and continue managing your cook. Only open the lid when necessary.
6. Continue this process another 5 hours or so, or until the internal temperature reaches 190° F. There will be a point when you think either it will never get done or you have overcooked it. Trust me! When you test your internal temp make sure the probe is not touching the blade bone, as this will give you an inaccurate reading.
7. Remove very carefully with some oven mitts (at this stage it will be prone to fall apart very, very easily) and do your best to keep it intact. Place it in a cooler and allow it to rest for a couple of hours or serve immediately.
8. Serve on a good bun or corncake, top with slaw (always) and a sweet, tangy sauce to finish.