Low and Slow
US Style BBQ
Often confused with smoking because of the tendency to call US slow cooked BBQ “Smoked Meat”. This process takes tough cuts and cooks them slowly to create a tender intense flavoured smoky result. Technically this is a process of slow Roasting with smoke.
US style “Smoked Meat” BBQ like Pork shoulder, Ribs, Brisket etc. are Hot smoked at a low temperature around 107C for long periods of time. The smoke required for this process is a feint wisp (The Thin Blue Smoke people talk about) of smoke over a 7 to 24 hour cook. Too much smoke or the wrong smoke will turn the food bitter as the Creosote in “White Smoke” or soot in “Black Smoke” deposits on the food. The method has a clean smoke travelling over the food continuously, ventilation is the key to true US style BBQ, allowing the air to enter the BBQ “Pit” and flow freely through, feeding the fire and picking up feint smoke on the way through.
The Maillard reaction or Browning of the meat surface, changes the colour of food and builds complex flavour. Maillard reactions begin above 140 degrees C (285 degrees F), if you are cooking under this temperature there is no Maillard reaction or Browning, the food may dry on the surface and form what the Low and Slow BBQers call Bark, the flavour of dried meat “Bark” is different to that provided by the Maillard reaction. Bark is black and crusty and can be mistaken for burnt by the uninitiated.
Traditionally US BBQ is done on an Offset BBQ Pit, the fuel source is wood and the users skill is in maintaining just the right amount of heat and smoke for the duration of the cooking time. A water smoker, like the ProQ is a great cheap option, they use charcoal or briquettes and can be setup to be relatively maintenance free for the duration of the cook.
Recent advances have brought us the digitally controlled wood pellet BBQ Pit. These use wood pellets as fuel to create that Thin Blue Smoke, the digital control means you set a temperature and the unit lights and maintains a wood fire by forcing air into the fire crucible kind of like a blacksmiths forge, this air passes over the food and out of the BBQ pit. The idea is to burn the fire as efficiently as possible and produce the “Perfect” smoke/heat mix, without intervention from the user. The new generation of these include WiFi control so you can set a program for the cooking: Run the BBQ pit at X degrees till the meat gets to Y degrees then lower the BBQ temperature to Z degrees till the meat gets to X degrees then just keep warm till the user gets home. Digitally controlled wood pellet BBQs make the cooking process completely automatic and completely repeatable. They can Grill, Roast or Smoke and have a temperature range from 60°C to 270°C so will cook everything!
Cooking US BBQ is a bit of an artform, there is a bit of food science to understand, but the rewards are enormous.
BBQs for Low and Slow: