Jamie takes the first steps to wearing the BBQ crown.
I can pinpoint the exact moment it happened.
9am. Sat in the rain in Austin, Texas. Slightly jet lagged and ever-so-slightly more hungover, watching people join the queue for a barbecue joint. La Barbecue opened 2 hours later, the queue was around the block and we were at the front.
I was handed a plastic tray full of brisket, pork ribs, smoked sausage, potato salad, coleslaw and cheap-looking white bread… I excitedly started shovelling food into my mouth… HOLY POTATOES, THIS IS WHAT HEAVEN TASTES LIKE!
It was there and then I decided that one day I would become a BBQ Boss. To recreate the smoky, slow-cooked meats that I tasted in Austin and bring them back home to London. Fast forward a year, and all I’d done is some slow cooked meats in a normal oven… Which, whilst delicious, just weren’t the same.… So I finally decided that NOW is the time to step up and start my BBQ journey for real.
Following a lot of research I settled on a Brinkmann Smoke ’n’ Grill off of Amazon… Or as it’s more commonly known in the US, the ECB (El Cheapo Brinkmann)! It appeared to be one of the most popular home smokers in the US, and although not perfect by any means, could easily be modified at home to improve the results. And fortunately there were websites and forums galore with tips for how to improve it.
The smoker arrived just in time for the long bank holiday weekend… Perfect! I built it on Sunday, and instantly implemented 2 easy mods:
1. Built the legs on the outside of the smoker, meaning I can rest the charcoal pan on some bricks to allow ventilation (important for fire!) and provide easier access to the pan during cooking
2. Drilled some air holes in the charcoal pan for more ventilation
For my first cook I thought I’d go ‘easy’ and start with some pork ribs. I already had some leftover rub from DJ BBQ’s book… so it was a no brainer! I bought 2 racks of ribs, smothered them in American Mustard and then applied the rub… Mamma Mia, they smelt great… I wrapped them in cling film and chucked them in the fridge to rest overnight.
Monday morning… Time to get my cook on! Having ‘cured’ the smoker (bringing it up to temperature for a couple of hours with no food in it) it was time for to get the ribs in…
I lit a new batch of charcoal, let the lighter fluid burn off for 20 mins, threw on some apple-flavoured wood chips, put some water in the water pan, popped the lid on and let it come up to temperature… Then the ribs went on! Over the next 5 hours, I kept a close eye on the temperature gauge, making sure it didn’t slip out of the ‘ideal’ range… Topping up the charcoal every 90 minutes to keep it warm enough. The final hour of cooking was the hardest… The smell was so enticing, but I had to be patient.
Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer… I picked the ribs up off the grill with some tongs and the meat started to pull away from the bone… THEY WERE DONE… And they tasted… GREAT! I was so prepared for this first batch to not have worked, but they were brilliant… Succulent, smokey, well spiced… It had worked.
Thoughts instantly moved on to what should be next… Pork shoulder? Brisket? Beef ribs?
But, being sensible, I need to make some changes first… Here’s my list of improvements:
1. Temperature gauge – it’s well documented, but the whole ‘warm’, ‘ideal’, ‘hot’ gauge really doesn’t work when looking for a constant temperature… So I’ve ordered a new gauge with actual temperatures for next time!
2. Charcoal – I had ordered some premium charcoal and a Chimney Starter to arrive at the same time as the smoker, but it got held up in the post… Instead, I had to use some instant-light charcoal that doesn’t burn as hot or as long… Hopefully the new arrivals should help, but long term I’m looking into local charcoal to be more environmentally friendly!
3. Ventilation – The charcoal will also burn hotter and longer if I can get more air into the charcoal pan. To help with this, I’m going to find a grate to lift the charcoal off the bottom of the pan, and add some extra air holes around the side.
4. Insulation – It was pretty cold and windy yesterday, which definitely wouldn’t have helped keep the temperature up… I’m going to look into some insulation for the outside of the smoker to make up for the lack of a British Summer!
Now, none of these ideas are revolutionary, they’re well documented improvements online… But I can’t wait to try them and see how I can make my meat even better! Now I’ve started, I’m not going to stop on my journey to become a BBQ Boss.
If you’re already a BBQ pro and have any tips for Jamie, feel free to hit him up on Twitter (@JamieSpafford) or upload your insane BBQ recipes to your profile on SORTEDfood.
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