Smoking & Barbecue 101: The Fundamentals
Fantastic meat is the result of understanding and controlling the cooking environment. I highly recommend you prepare your cooker for indirect cooking. Essentially, the meat is not cooked directly over the heat source when using the indirect cooking method. This might seem counter-intuitive but a closed cooking chamber setup for indirect cooking provides a more even oven-like environment without the harshness of direct heat on your meat. This allows for slower cooking, generally at lower temperatures, which offers a number of advantages. First, slowly cooked meats tend to retain tenderness better although final temperature is also very important as well. Slower cooking allows for more even distribution of heat throughout the meat, resulting in more even cooking. It also provides more reaction time to prevent overcooking. The latter not only saves flavor and meals, but preventing overcooking is also significantly healthier.
Basic Charcoal Cooker:
Pour a fully lit chimney of charcoal on one side of the cooker, not in the middle. If using a Weber Charcoal Grill, consider a side-mounted charcoal basket. Replace your cooking grate. Check your cooking grates for cleanliness, then place a water pan directly above the coals. I use aluminum loaf pans. because they hold a good amount of water and don’t take up much surface area on the cooking grate. Once you have established the correct cooking temperature in your grill, place your meat on the cooking grate opposite the coals.
One of the advantages of an offset smoker is that the side firebox creates an indirect cooking environment by design. However, cheap offset smokers usually suffer from highly variable temperatures within the cooking chamber unless modifications are made to “tune” the cooker. In the absence of modifications, avoid placing your meat near the connection between the side firebox and cooker. The temperature at this location will be significantly higher. Ignoring this can result in overcooked, flavorless, and even burned meat containing high levels of toxins. For more info about cheap offset smokers, read my article here. Finish preparing your cooking chamber by cleaning the grates and placing a water pan above the firebox connection to the cooking chamber, then proceed to establish the correct cooking temperature.
After warming and brushing the cooking grates, turn off the burners where the meat will be placed. Place a water pan on the cooking grate directly above the lit burner(s). Your meat will be placed and cooked over the unlit burner, away from the direct heat of the lit burner(s). But first, finish preparing your grill & proceed to establish the correct cooking temperature.