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Secret Ingredient

My sister’s graduating. She’s gone through Rutgers School Of Nursing’s graduate program and, after going through more years than I can count, she is finished.

An event like this deserves a party. So it was decided to throw a BBQ for about 60 people. And her family is doing the catering. Myself included.

With that many people, it’s no sense trying to have what you might think of as a normal, post-war, North Eastern, suburban backyard cookout. You would spend hours at the grill rotating burgers. As soon as you feed one batch of people, the last has finished digesting and is getting back in line. This is not conducive to having a good time at a party.

True barbecue isn’t like that. The key to traditional ‘cue is a mountain of meat cooked with smoke at low temps until its’ falling apart tender. This is something I’ll take over burger slinging any day. When it comes to BBQ, my tastes lean towards pork shoulder with thin, vinegar based sauce. It hits all 4 taste sensations: spicy, smokey, tangy and fatty.

Even finding properly cooked pulled pork in New Jersey can be tough, so about 10 years ago I set out to try to do it myself. I started by buying some cheap contraption shaped like a barrel smoker at Home Depot. It was made of some flimsy metal and could barely fit one rack of ribs, but hey, it had an offset smoke box like the ones in the pictures, so I figured I was assured success. After some trial and error, I was able to get food that was technically edible out of that thing, but never much more.

I decided that I need to upgrade, so I bought ANOTHER ONE from Home Depot. This time it was a different brand, slightly larger, but still made of some unknown alloy, and only about an 1/8″ thickness. If the idea of BBQ is keeping a consistent low temperature, then trying to use this barrel smoker was like driving with your elbows. Your only hit the right angle by luck, and then soon the road conditions change and you’re screwed again.

Eventually I got a good quality barrel smoker. It’s 1/2 ” hand welded thick cast iron. It’s from Oklahoma Smoker Company. I would definitely recommend this company, but if you’re interested there are other companies out there that make something similar.

But lets say that you’re not as crazy as I am, and don’t want to invest in a huge rig. Water smokers are reasonably cheap and fairly useable. Even a regular Weber grill, with the coals on one side and the meat on the other would be better than some of these knock off barrel types you find at some hardware stores.

Don’t be fooled. If you’re looking to get started in BBQ, read Smoke and Spice by Bill and Cheryl Jamison. It’s a good introduction into what is traditional BBQ. It’s a great starting place, with tips on some commonly used set ups. It’ll get you pointed in the right direction. Then you can start experimenting. Come up with a style unique to your own back yard.

Update: Spelling

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  1. May 19, 2011 at 12:18 am

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