Grill sales in the U.S. are expected to top $4 billion in the next five years according to QYR Research, and pellet grills are one of the fastest growing segments of that market. Lately, we’ve been inundated with questions about this popular method of live-fire cooking. Maybe you, too, have considered adding a pellet grill to your family of cookers. If you don’t see your question answered here, feel free to contact us through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Reddit.
Are they grills or smokers?
Pellet grill manufacturers (and there are now more than 20 in the business) will tell you they are both. But they have more in common with convection ovens than the offset wood-burning smokers they resemble when viewed in profile. A fan circulates heat and smoke through the cook chamber, which exit via vents or a chimney. The heat generated by the combustion of wood pellets is of the indirect variety, meaning the food is not directly exposed to the fire. Smoke is produced by the smoldering pellets in the burn pot and is most prolific at “low and slow” temperatures (225 and under).
If it’s really smoky flavors that you love, you might be disappointed by the subtlety of food barbecued on a pellet grill. There are ways around this, though. You can add foil pouches of wood chips or pellets to the cook chamber, invest in a smoking tube, or even put chunks of hardwood directly on the diffuser plate.
Can you sear on pellet grills?
Food is seared when it is exposed to direct intense heat—think of the sizzle a burger makes when it hits a hot frying pan or grill grate positioned over a charcoal or wood fire. There is no sudden, violent encounter with heat. Higher-end manufacturers have responded to customers’ suggestions by producing grills capable of higher temperatures (up to 650 degrees) that allow searing directly over the burn pot on a perforated plate.
Alternatively, you can preheat a cast iron skillet, griddle, or plancha directly on the grill grate and sear on them. GrillGrates or Steven’s cast-iron Tuscan grill grate can also deliver killer grill marks when laid on top of the pellet grill grate.
Are pellet grills portable?
Some manufacturers have added “portable” models to their lines, but these sometimes weigh 50 pounds or more. Definitely not for backpackers. More importantly, all pellet grills rely on electricity to power their digital controller, ignition system, and the augur that delivers pellets to the burn pot. They can be powered with car or boat batteries, battery packs, or gas-powered generators. They are great for car camping, tailgating, festivals, or lakeside living.
Are pellet grills expensive?
Generally speaking, the initial cost often rivals or exceeds that of gas grills. And they are almost always more expensive at time of purchase than charcoal grills. They range in price from $400 to $4000 or more. You will pay premium prices for better construction, longer and stronger warranties, and top-notch customer service.
As far as operation costs go, pellets often retail for about a dollar a pound. Pellet usage will depend on a number of factors, but as a rule-of-thumb, plan on using about 1.5 pounds of pellets per hour. (This includes low and slow cooks as well as grill sessions at higher temperatures.) You might see a modest increase in your utility bill if you cook often on your pellet grill.
What foods can you cook on a pellet grill?
One of the advantages of a pellet grill is its versatility. Anything that can be smoked or baked can also be cooked on a pellet grill. (Recipes that call for direct grilling sometimes need adjustment.) We’ve smoked eggs, grilled steaks and burgers, smoked salmon, barbecued countless pork shoulders and ribs, baked cornbread and pizza, smoked beef jerky, roasted wings and whole chickens, charred carrots, braised beef shanks…and much more.
Is cold-smoking on a pellet grill an option?
Target cold-smoking temperatures for foods like cheese are usually below 100 degrees while the lowest sustainable temperature on a pellet grill is about 180 degrees. But a few pellet grill brands offer after-market cold-smoking attachments. (Truthfully speaking, even they get too hot on a warm summer’s day.) Smoking tubes are also an option as are foil smoking pouches filled with pellets or wood chips. If using any of these methods, the grill itself needn’t be lit or the cook chamber will get too hot.
Can pellet grills be used in barbecue competitions?
Yes, they are sanctioned in contests sponsored by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) and have been winning big in recent years. They are also popular among competition cooks as ideal places to hold smoked meats until turn-in time. If entering a contest, be sure to review local rules and find out if electricity is provided or if you’ll need to supply your own power.
What are wood pellets, exactly, and can I use the same pellets that fuel pellet furnaces?
Wood pellets are simply sawdust that have been compressed under high pressure and extruded in a cylindrical shape. (Some people compare them in looks to No. 2 pencil erasers.) They come in many different flavors, from hickory to mesquite, and can be custom-blended in the pellet hopper. Buy food-grade pellets only as the pellets sold for furnaces can contain contaminants. Also, take care to keep your pellets (like your powder!) dry, as any moisture will render them useless. Lidded 5-gallon buckets make good storage containers.
What kind of maintenance do pellet grills require?
Some pellet grills, such as Traeger, recommend covering the heat diffuser plate with heavy-duty aluminum foil before cooking to minimize clean-up. Many come with a grease bucket, which we also line with foil.
Though pellets burn cleanly, ash will eventually accumulate in the bottom of the fire box and affect performance. Periodically vacuum the inside of the fire box with a shop-type vac, but make certain the grill is completely cool. Wait at least 24 hours after a cook.
Also, gently wipe down the temperature probe so communication between your controller and the firebox isn’t interrupted. Keep the grill grate clean using a good grill brush. Wipe the outside with a damp cloth. Or if your grill is constructed of stainless steel, use a special cleaner.
The newer pellet grills rely much more on technology than conventional wood-burning or gas grills. Many feature state-of-the-art digital PID (proportional integral derivative) controllers, Wi-fi connectivity, as well as moving parts. So more can go wrong. If out of warranty, repairs can be expensive. We’ve had very few problems. Most of them, with the exception of a failed hot rod (the part that initially ignites the pellets), were cosmetic. In our experience, the grills maintain their temperatures well, a helpful trait when we test recipes for Steven’s books, shows, or classes.
Here is a short list of pellet grill manufacturers to check out:
Hamburgers are America’s favorite food for grilling, reports the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, consistently beating out steak, hot dogs, brats, and chicken. We eat about 50 billion burgers per year, an average of three per week.
So what constitutes the perfect burger? There’s no right answer. But you’ll know it the moment you bite into it.
When grilling a hamburger, it’s not about the time on grill, it’s about the internal temperature reached—read this to find out how to measure temperature to determine doneness and tricks to keep it juicy.
For me, it’s usually a burger grilled over a wood fire with a perfectly charred, deftly seasoned crust and a juicy interior that contrasts perfectly with a soft but sturdy bun and a few well-chosen condiments—lettuce, tomatoes, tart pickles, etc. (Click here for my recipe for the simple but sublime Ur-Burger.)
But in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked our fave food to several outbreaks of E. coli, an especially nasty food-borne illness, the most recent in April when more than 100 people in six states were reported ill. Gone are the days when you could blithely order a medium-rare burger. Many restaurants, in fact, post disclaimers stating you can no longer have it “your way” as they only cook burgers medium, medium-well, or well-done.
How long to cook hamburgers on the grill?
It’s not about the time on the grill, it’s about the internal temperature reached. The FDA recommends that all ground meats be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Well-done, in other words. They further recommend that you use a meat thermometer to determine temperature. Insert the probe through the side of the burger toward the center. Color is not a reliable indicator of temperature.
Unfortunately, burgers cooked to this temperature can be insufferably dry. Is it possible to serve a safe but juicy burger? Absolutely.
Here are the tricks I use when grilling burgers at home:
Stuff the burger with a pat of butter. The butter will melt as the burger cooks, the fat making it more succulent. (Be sure to seal the edges well.)
Combine the ground meat with grated cheese before forming the patties. Parmesan, cheddar, blue cheese, or mozzarella are all good choices.
Top the burgers with cheese and/or cooked bacon during the last few minutes of grilling. Invert a deep pan lid or large metal bowl over the burgers to concentrate heat and encourage melting.
Because they exude liquid as they cook, chopped fresh mushrooms make a good addition to the burger meat.
Avoid lean ground meat blends. More fat equals more juice. An ideal mixture, one often used by professional chefs, is 80/20. (If buying ground chicken or turkey, try to buy dark meat.) Or add fresh chorizo, ground brisket, ground pork, or other fattier meats to the mixture.
Though burgers are usually grilled directly, thicker burgers can be seared, then moved to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking indirectly (with the grill lid down).
When shaping burgers, try to handle the meat (well-chilled, please) as little as possible. Using your thumbs or the back of a spoon, make an indentation in the top of the burger. This creates a pool for the juices and prevents the burger from puffing in the middle.
I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again: Brisket is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult meat there is to barbecue. Easy, because all you do is season it with salt and pepper and smoke it low and slow until it’s tender enough to cut with the side of a fork. Difficult, because every brisket is different and there are dozens of variables—and if you don’t get them right, your rich, luscious, meltingly tender slab of meat may come out more like beefy shoe leather. But you can break the process of making barbecued brisket into easy, manageable steps, which will help you achieve barbecued brisket nirvana every time.
Step 1: The Meat
Brisket comes in a wide range of grades from a variety of cattle breeds—each with its own flavor, texture, and cooking properties. Grass-fed brisket cooks and tastes different than grain- fed; Wagyu has a remarkably different fat structure and content than Angus. I’m not saying one is better than the other—just different.
A whole brisket (also known as a packer brisket) is comprised of two separate muscles: the fatty point and the lean flat. Most professionals cook them together as one. Your supermarket may sell them in sections or as separate cuts—especially the brisket flat.
Regardless of cut, brisket comes with a thick cap of fat and a hard waxy stratum of fat between the point and flat, both of which you’ll need to trim. The purpose of trimming is to remove excess fat, which takes time, fuel, and energy to cook (only to be discarded before serving). But you have to leave enough fat to melt and baste the brisket as it cooks, keeping it rich-tasting and moist.
Step 2: The Seasoning
Pit masters are divided on how simple or complex to make the seasonings. I like a “newspaper rub”: black (pepper), white (sea salt), and “read” (red—hot pepper flakes) all over. Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, seasons solely with salt and pepper (often called a “Dalmatian rub” on account of being white with black speckles). Conversely, Joe Carroll of Fette Sau in Brooklyn and Philadelphia uses a complex blend of coffee, brown sugar, cumin, and other spices. John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue in Charleston slathers his brisket with mustard before applying the seasonings.
Other techniques—often practiced on the competition barbecue circuit—add additional layers of flavor. Some pit masters inject their briskets with a mixture of beef broth, melted butter, and spices. Others swab their briskets with a mop sauce or spray the meat with vinegar, wine, or apple cider.
But remember: The purpose of the seasoning is to flavor the barbecued brisket without camouflaging its primal smoky beef taste.
You can barbecue an excellent brisket in a stick burner (offset smoker), water smoker, barrel cooker, ceramic cooker, electric or gas smoker, pellet grill, and, of course, in a charcoal kettle grill. What’s important is to use a cooker that runs at a consistent temperature and provides a steady stream of wood smoke during the cook. Remember: The smoker both smokes and cooks your brisket. Every model operates differently and has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Step 4: The Fuel
To barbecue your brisket, you’ll need fuel, and that means wood, or a combination of wood and charcoal. (Electric and gas smokers use those heat sources respectively for igniting the wood or wood pellets.) Wood comes in several forms, starting with the most elemental— hardwood logs.
The fuel of choice for professional pit masters. Texans burn oak; Kansas Citians burn hickory and apple. Other popular woods for brisket include pecan, cherry, and mesquite. (I suspect that regional preferences have less to do with flavor profile than with what wood traditionally grew abundantly in a particular area.) The variety matters less than using logs that are split and seasoned (dried). Twelve to 16 inches in length is ideal. Avoid green wood: The smoke will be bitter and it takes a ton of BTUs just to evaporate the water.
Most home cooks use a combination of charcoal and hardwood chunks or chips. The charcoal provides the heat; the wood generates the smoke. Look for wood chunks at hardware stores and supermarkets. See above for common varieties. Soaking is optional (see below). Add fresh wood chunks every hour (or as needed) to generate a continuous stream of smoke.
The most common form of smoking wood is the wood chips available in supermarkets and hardware stores everywhere. I like to soak chips in water to cover for 30 minutes, then drain them before adding them to the coals.
Soaking slows the rate of combustion, giving you a longer, steadier smoke. Add soaked wood chips every 30 to 45 minutes (or as needed).
Pellet grills use tiny cylinders of compressed hardwood sawdust to generate heat and smoke; the pellets come in a variety of flavors. Look for food-safe pellets made without fillers. Avoid pellets held together with cheap vegetable oil, plus bags with a lot of dust in the bottom, or pellets that have been stored outside. Moisture compromises their integrity.
Bisquettes and Other Sawdust Disks
Made of compressed hardwood sawdust, these disks generate smoke in Bradley electric smokers.
Supplies the heat in water smokers, kamado cookers, drum cookers, kettle grills, and other charcoal-fueled cookers. I prefer lump charcoal, which contains only wood. But charcoal briquettes (a composite of wood, coal dust, borax, and petroleum or starch binders) are the fuel used at the big barbecue competitions, like the Jack Daniel’s and the American Royal. Just make sure the briquettes are lit completely (glowing red with a light dusting of gray ash) before you put the brisket in the smoker.
Step 5: The Smoke
Wood smoke is an incredibly complex substance comprised of solids (such as soot), liquids (in the form of water and tars), and gases (of which there are hundreds, ranging from aldehydes to phenyls). Each contributes to the appearance, aroma, and ultimate flavor of your barbecued brisket.
Just as important as what’s in smoke is how you produce and deliver it. Add too much smoke too fast
and your brisket will taste bitter. Add too little smoke (a chronic problem with gas grills) and your brisket will taste like cooked beef—but not barbecue. Dose the smoke slowly and steadily for half a day and you’ll experience that quasi-religious state I like to call brisket nirvana.
Slow and steady means a clean-burning fire to which you add a couple of logs every hour. Or if you’re cooking on a charcoal smoker, add the wood chunks or chips gradually. Two handfuls of wood chips every hour is good. Too much wood at the start of the smoke will make your brisket taste like an ashtray.
The color of your smoke tells you whether you’re doing it right. Black smoke indicates a dirty fire full of the bitter creosote. White smoke indicates a fire that’s starved for oxygen. You’re looking for what pit masters call “blue smoke”—a pale wispy smoke with a faint bluish tinge. Or in the words of one Texas pit master, “You want the smoke to kiss the brisket, not overpower it.”
Step 6: The First Cook
The first cook takes your brisket to an internal temperature of 165° to 170°F. It browns the exterior, forming a salty, smoky crust known as the bark. It perfumes the meat with wood smoke, renders out some of the fat, and starts to convert the tough collagen into tender gelatin. The first cook of a packer brisket normally takes 8 to 10 hours. Protect the end of the flat with an aluminum foil cap and the bottom with a cardboard platform to keep them from drying out.
At some point during the cooking process, the internal temperature rise will slow down, stop, or even drop. This is called the stall and although it causes anxiety, it’s a normal part of cooking a brisket. The stall typically takes place around 6 to 8 hours into the cooking process, when the internal temperature of the brisket is in the range of 150° to 170°F.
What’s actually happening is simple: As the brisket cooks, moisture pools on its surface. As that moisture evaporates, it cools off the brisket, much as perspiration cools you off— even on a hot day.
The stall normally lasts for 2 to 3 hours. Once all the moisture has evaporated, the internal temperature will start to rise again.
So what should you do when your brisket stalls? Don’t panic. Don’t add more fuel to the fire. Be patient and power through it. Sure as night turns into day, the temperature will rise and finish cooking your brisket.
Step 7: The Wrap
You’ve stoked your smoker and powered through the stall. The meat’s exterior has darkened to a handsome, espresso-hued crust, and the internal temperature has reached 165°F.
It’s time for one of the most essential, if paradoxical, steps in barbecuing a perfect brisket: the wrap.
Paradoxical, because in effect, you’re segregating the brisket from the one ingredient that defines it as barbecue: wood smoke.
Essential, because it seals in moistness and keeps your brisket from drying out. And every serious pit master does it, although debate rages as to whether you should wrap in butcher paper, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, a bath towel, or some combination of the four.
Aaron Franklin of Austin’s Franklin Barbecue wraps in butcher paper. Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas, wraps in foil. Quinn Hatfield of Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque (with locations around New York, New Jersey, and abroad) wraps in plastic. Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, takes a one-two approach, wrapping first in plastic, then in butcher paper, and rewrapping each piece after slicing off a serving.
Wrapping serves several purposes. It seals in moisture during the final stage of the cook. It makes it easier to handle the cooked brisket. And it swaddles the brisket during the all-important resting period, allowing the juices to redistribute and the meat to relax.
I used to wrap brisket in aluminum foil—a practice that led me into a Twitter war with the late Anthony Bourdain. It’s true that foil delivers a fork-tender barbecued brisket every time. It does so by converting the moisture to steam, which tenderizes the brisket (much the way you steam pastrami to finish cooking it). The problem is that with supernatural tenderness comes a pot roast–like consistency. So eventually, I switched to wrapping in butcher paper, and I’ve never looked back. The advantage of butcher paper is that it “breathes,” releasing the steam while keeping the moisture in the meat.
Step 8: The Second Cook
During the second cook, you’ll take the brisket to an internal temperature of around 205°F. The purpose of the second cook is to finish rendering the fat and converting the tough collagen into tender gelatin. This will require an additional 2 to 5 hours, bringing your total cooking time to 10 to 14 hours, depending on the
size of your brisket.
Step 9: The Doneness Test
You’ve spent $50 to $100 buying your brisket, plus up to 14 hours cooking it to smoky perfection. The last thing you want to do is over- or undercook it. So how do you know it’s done? Internal temperature is a useful indicator. So are visual tests, such as the jiggle, bend, and chopstick tests. Good pit masters use several tests at once. Here are the ones I use:
Internal Temperature Test:
The temperature to which Kansas City pit masters cook their brisket flats. At this stage the brisket is still firm enough to slice on an electric meat slicer.
203° to 208°F
The temperature to which Texas pit masters cook packer briskets. At this stage the collagen is fully gelatinized and the fat fully rendered. The brisket will be so tender that you need to hand-carve it with a knife. All the following tests apply to a well-done brisket cooked to this stage.
Grab the brisket from the fat end and poke/ shake it. The meat will seem to jiggle a bit like Jell-O.
Grab the brisket at both ends and lift. It should bend easily in the middle. Alternatively, slide your hand under the brisket in the center. The ends will droop like a forlorn mustache.
Insert the slender end of a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon through the top. It should pierce the meat easily.
Your barbecued brisket is done when the meat is crusty and darkly browned on the outside, and smoky and tender (but not mushy) on the inside. Each bite should be meaty, fatty, and rich, and each slice should pull apart, not fall apart.
Step 10: The Rest
You can certainly eat the brisket following the second cook, and after 10 to 14 hours of cooking, I won’t blame you if you want to do so. But there’s one more step that will take your barbecued brisket from excellent to sublime: the rest. In a nutshell, you rest the wrapped barbecued brisket in an insulated cooler for 1 to 2 hours. This allows the meat to “relax” and the juices to redistribute. This makes your brisket juicier and more tender. It also allows you to control the precise moment when you serve it.
This post is brought to you by Shun Cutlery which provided advertising support.
There is beauty in the simplicity of smoking a brisket with only a “dalmatian” rub (salt and pepper). Eliminating the more overpowering flavors of complex rubs leaves you with the perfection of the beef, the truly important flavor profile.
We urge you to carry that through the planning and execution of your cook—following the Kanso principle. The Kanso design principle is based on Zen philosophy, meaning “simplicity,” but simplicity that is achieved by eliminating the non-essential.
The company that inspires us today is Shun Cutlery, whose Kanso knives are gorgeous, precise, effective, and have eliminated the unnecessary. As you’ve heard us say before, knives are an essential component of your grilling arsenal, especially when trying to thinly slice or precisely cut the 17-pound brisket you’ve just spent all day smoking. And you can’t go wrong choosing Shun Cutlery for your arsenal.
We recommend starting with the Kanso BBQ Set. Following the principles of Kanso design, this kit features three key knives you’ll need to handle your grilled foods: the Shun Kanso Asian Multi-Prep Knife, the Shun Kanso Boning/Fillet Knife, and the Shun Kanso Brisket Knife. All of your BBQ needs will be covered–from the Multi-Prep,which is perfect for boning poultry and medium to small-sized tasks (like slicing shallots or other ingredients) to the Brisket Knife, which is ideal for trimming and slicing all larger cuts of meat including ham, roasts, and turkey. The entire set comes with a knife roll that will have you feeling like a professional BBQ pitmaster.
And when you’re prepping your side dishes, sauces and other items in the kitchen, Shun Cutlery’s Kanso Chef’s Knife is indispensable. With 8 inches of high-performance steel, a razor-sharp edge, perfect balance, and precision cutting control, you’ll wonder how you ever managed to cook without it.
Watch the Chef’s Knife in action:
3 ways to slice scallions using a Shun Kanso 8" Chef's Knife - YouTube
One of the biggest gift-giving challenges of the year is coming up on June 16. Yes, Father’s Day is here again. And the pressure’s on to give the Old Man a gift he’d really like to get. (Please, no socks or ties.) For the dads who love to grill and barbecue, we’ve assembled a dozen of our favorite suggestions culled from Steven’s extensive product line and others. To you and yours, Happy Father’s Day!
Steven’s latest book, The Brisket Chronicles, is a must-have for dads who want to up their grilling and smoking game. From whole packer briskets to brisket flats, Steven shares his 50 best recipes for brisket as well as step-by-step techniques for prepping, seasoning, and barbecuing this popular meat. Includes full-color photographs throughout; complete tips for choosing the right cuts; handling, prepping, and storing a brisket; and recipes for accompaniments, too, including slaws, salads, sauces, and more.
This elegant, superbly crafted knife glides through large hunks of protein (brisket, turkey, and ham) like butter without tearing the meat or fatiguing the designated meat carver—usually Dad himself! Perhaps you’ve seen it on the set of Project Smoke or Project Fire. It’s one of Steven’s favorite blades. Made in Japan of high-carbon vanadium stainless steel (the durable handle is polished pakkawood), this knife is destined to become a family heirloom. It comes in a very cool wooden sheath called a saya.
Buy Dad a six-pack for Father’s Day! No, not that kind of six-pack, but a collection of six unique spice rubs Steven developed to bring new and exciting flavors to the table. They include Malabar Steak Rub, Carolina Pit Powder, Kansas City Smoke Rub, Santa Fe Coffee Rub, Fennel Pepper Rub, and Greek Island Herb Rub. Family dinners just got a lot more global, and interesting.
If Dad enjoys cooking breakfast or brunch for a crowd, he’ll love this addition to his outdoor kitchen. Features push-button ignition, stainless steel construction, and four independent burners/cooking zones. Runs on propane. The removeable griddle and fold-up legs make it easy to transport to a tailgating event, campsite, or cabin.
Enroll your father in BBQU, and he’ll not only have a year to anticipate the experience, but have bragging rights for a lifetime after attending what’s been called “one of the best food lover’s events in the nation.” It’s an action-packed whirlwind of food and fire (not to mention golf, fly-fishing, zip-lining, and other fun pursuits) at one of the most luxurious resorts in the country. This exclusive class, taught personally by Steven, is very hands-on and covers all the methods of live-fire cooking. Dad (and you, if you join him) will come home with mad skills. Dates for the 2020 program will be announced soon.
The Maverick long-range wireless dual-probe thermometer set includes a receiver, a transmitter, two hybrid probes and two grill clips, and a BBQ Grill Mat. This system allows you to monitor two things at once: one food item and one grill/smoker, or two food items, or two grills/smokers. There are six preset temperatures for beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, and turkey, plus nine bonus preset temperatures for game meats.
Introduce Dad to the convenience and versatility of pellet grilling with this well-designed tabletop model by Green Mountain Grills, one of the most respected manufacturers in the industry. Wifi-equipped with a meat probe and a Sense-Mate, which continually monitors and maintains consistent grill temperatures. Runs on 120AC or 12V, making it perfect for backyards, fishing camp, or car camping. The high dome accommodates whole chickens or a rib rack.
Steven Raichlen wrote the book on beer can chicken, literally. This ingenious device makes the process easier and virtually foolproof. Square construction gives you greater stability. Bird won’t tip and beer won’t spill. This beer can chicken holder is all stainless steel, so it won’t react with food or rust. It adapts to both beer cans and our unique stainless steel canister, which you can fill with wine, fruit juice, or other flavorful liquid. Metal drip pan collects meat juices for sauces and prevents dripping fat from erupting into flare-ups.
Among the the best sellers in my Best of Barbecue line are distinctive black and rust-colored suede grilling gloves, recently named “Best BBQ Gloves” by Business Insider. Long enough to protect Dad’s forearms from the heat of the grill, these manly-looking gloves are soft and pliable. Better yet, combine them with Insulated Food Gloves, rubberized gloves that help grillers maneuver beer can chicken off the grill, shred pork, or handle other hot foods without discomfort.
This Bristle-Free BBQ Brush By GRILLART allows you to effortlessly clean anywhere on your grill grates. Its hard-wired stainless steel mesh cuts through the toughest residue, its sharpest scraper easily scrub out any stubborn residue without scratching your grill. This grill brush provides a cleaner, healthier grill surface than other brushes and eliminates the risk of bristles ending up in your food.
In honor of American barbecue, Steven created a line of electrifying sauces that honors distinct regional differences. They include nuanced Chipotle Molasses, Smoky Mustard (a nod to the Carolinas), Kansas City-inspired Lemon Brown Sugar, Cabernet Rosemary from California’s wine country, Cherry Beer, and Spicy Apple. They’re great with pork or beef ribs, chicken, pork shoulder, even duck. Can’t choose your favorite? That’s why they come in a six pack.
This dual purpose Tuscan Grill (14″ x 14″) has 196 square inches of cooking surface. Lay it on your conventional chrome-plated or enamel grate to produce tack-sharp, well defined grill marks on steaks, chops, chicken breasts, vegetables, etc. Screw on the legs and use it for grilling over a campfire or in your fireplace. Either way, the heavy, heat conducting cast-iron gives you killer grill marks.
What are your plans for Father’s Day? Tell us about it in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit.
We’re sure the best cook-outs of the summer will be in your own backyard. But via social media, many of you shared with us your favorite organized barbecue festivals and competitions, from the Carolinas to California, from Texas to Tennessee. Check out the list we compiled of the best barbecue festivals of 2019 from your suggestions and our experience. And if we missed an important event, please let us know!
Timing: June 15-16, 22-23 and 29-30, 2019 Location: California’s Great America in Santa Clara, California
Red, White & Brews is a hometown celebration of Americana food and fun. Weekends, June 15-30, California’s Great America’s Hometown Square comes to life with live entertainment, gourmet food and locally-sourced beer, and games and activities for the whole family. More than a beer and barbecue festival, this is summer fun as it was intended: an amusement park event with larger than life games and activities for kids, plus great live music and a firework-finale! Those 21 and older can climb aboard the San Jose Beer Bike for a pedal-powered tour around Hometown Square that allows you to sip during the trip (purchase required).
In 2019, Red, White & Brews is proud to welcome five rockin’ bands from 2018 back to the stage. Whiskey Pass, Fast Times, California Cowboys, Country Cougars, and Jewls Hanson and Company all deliver bold, energetic music that will have you jammin’ and jumpin’!
The nation’s top barbeque pit masters are returning to the Town of Frisco this Father’s Day weekend, June 13-15, for the 26th annual Colorado BBQ Challenge. The state’s longest running barbeque competition takes place on Frisco’s picturesque Main Street and features top-notch barbeque, live music, pig races, chef demos, a firefighter cook-off, a Breckenridge Distillery Whiskey Tour and the Bacon Burner 6k.
Admission to the Colorado BBQ Challenge is free. The event helps to raise more than $50,000 annually for its non-profit partners, including Advocates for Victims of Assault, High Country Conservation Center, Mountain Mentors, the Summit County Restaurant Association, the Summit County Chamber of Commerce and Women of The Summit.
Learn about the local craft beer scene and connect with fellow craft beer aficionados at our intimate Flights & Bites Event. Hosted by a Sycamore Brewing brewmaster, you’ll enjoy a flight of four types of Sycamore Brewing craft beer, expertly paired with samples of Carowinds’ delicious barbecue.
Timing: June 20-23, 2019 Location: Cedar Rapids, IA
Hosted at the riverside McGrath Amphitheater, the Cedar Rapids BBQ Roundup brings together teams from around the country to dish up BBQ and compete in categories of ‘Best BBQ Ribs,’ ‘Best Pork BBQ,’ ‘People’s Choice,’ and more. The festival also features live music from local artists and bands and other entertainments that are perfect for the whole family.
Timing: July 18-21, 2019 Location: Vaughan, Ontario
Canada’s Wonderland’s Third Annual Brew & BBQ Festival will feature 70+ craft beers and ciders from the province’s best small batch craft breweries and cideries. Enjoy an afternoon sampling world class beverages by Ontario’s brightest and most innovative brewers while reveling in the perfectly paired exquisite cuisine by Canada’s Wonderland’s Executive Chef, Dilup Attygalla.
Timing: June 22-23, 2019 Location: Washington, D.C.
What better place to enjoy classic American barbecue than in the country’s capitol?! For the past 26 years, tens of thousands of people have flocked to our nation’s capital to celebrate the “Official Start of Summer” at the Giant® National Capital Barbecue Battle, one of the largest and most unique food and music festivals in the country. For two days, amazing sights, sounds, and the hickory sweet aroma of mouth-watering barbecue replace the usual hustle & bustle of city life.
Funds raised from this year’s event will benefit USO-Metro and the Capital Area Food Bank.
Celebrate an all-American holiday like the Fourth of July with some all-American barbecue. The Lake Placid, NY I Love Barbecue Festival’s main event showcases a KCBS sanctioned barbecue competition, although guests can also be entertained by live bands and a motorcycle parade.
Voted Wausau’s Favorite Event five years in a row, the Balloon & Rib Fest has something for everyone—animals, bounce houses, hot air balloons, rib vendors and other fantastic foods, kites, and the largest fireworks show in the region.
Windy City Smokeout is the Midwest’s best summer festival with world-class BBQ and award-winning country music. In its seventh year, the Windy City Smokeout offers the best BBQ and craft beers from around the nation plus live performances from country music’s biggest names and up-and-coming talent. This year, country stars Chris Young, Old Dominion and Cole Swindell will headline and the BBQ lineup features the world’s best pit masters including returning favorites like The Salt Lick (Driftwood, TX), Pappy’s Smokehouse (St. Louis), LeRoy & Lewis BBQ (Austin, TX) and many others.
Started in 2001 as a blues concert and barbecue cook-off for only a handful of amateur grillers, Pigs & Peaches is now a two-day festival of non-stop music, good eats by competitive cook teams, cold beer, and interactive family-fun.
Timing: August 24, 2019
Location: Independence, IA
This one-day festival and charity fundraiser is making its twelfth year the biggest and best yet with a morning bike ride, BBQ vendors who bring delicious new flavors to the menu selection, a Craft Brew Zone featuring over 100 craft brews, and live music you can enjoy from the comfort of your lawn chair or blanket.
Timing: August 28 – September 2, 2019
Location: Sparks, NV
One of America’s biggest and best free-entry barbecue festivals, The Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off hosts two dozen of the world’s top barbecue competitors to serve up more than 240,000 pounds of ribs for thousands of event attendees.
Timing: August 30 – September 1, 2019
Location: Bedford, TX
Everything is bigger in Texas, including barbecue competitions, which will be exemplified during Labor Day weekend at the 11th Annual Bedford Blues & BBQ Festival. The three-day event combines the Lone Star State’s love of music and grilling with performers and pitmasters from across the country.
Timing: September 6-8, 2019 Location: Danville, KY
Whether you spell it BBQ, Barbeque or Barbecue, it’s the taste of America. The 8th Ever Kentucky State BBQ Festival will be coming back to Danville, Kentucky. Held at the historic Wilderness Trail Distillery, this year’s KY State BBQ Festival features celebrity pitmasters and great music, food, beer, and bourbon—promising fun for the entire family.
The 10th annual Pig Island NYC event is back Saturday, September 7, 2019, at the Red Hook, Brooklyn waterfront in New York. Join 20+ chefs cooking half or whole pigs from Flying Pigs Farm. Plus a special ribs challenge! The tickets are all inclusive, food, drinks, craft beer, hard cider, whiskeys, and live music.
Timing: September 12-15, 2019 Location: Kansas City, KS
The American Royal World Series of Barbecue® is a longstanding tradition in Kansas City. 2019 will mark the 40th year of fire and smoke! Competitors from around the world join in the world’s largest barbecue competition. This signature Kansas City event includes incredible live music, delicious BBQ and local food, a full line up of kids activities, and a vendor fair authentic to Kansas City and BBQ enthusiasts.
For more than 50 years, Beef-a-Rama has been held on the last Saturday of September, with roasters cooking their signature beefs before dawn and more than 12,000 people filling the streets to enjoy it. This creative festival gives you many choices as a visitor—join the crowd and dress up in a cow-themed costume, participate in the 5K and 10K Rump Roast Run and Walk along Lake Minocqua, shop around the Prime Choice Craft show’s 70+ vendors, watch the Beef Eating Contest and the Cow Pie Plop and and the famous Roaster Parade—all culminating in a one-of-a kind fun you can only find in the Northwoods.
Timing: October 18-19, 2019 Location: Duncanville, TX
The Smokin’ Blues & BBQ Festival is a KCBS sanctioned BBQ competition & live blues music festival hosted by the Duncanville Lions Club and the City of Duncanville. Mouthwatering BBQ, delicious food vendors and some amazing blues bands are just a few of the things you can expect for this weekend event. Shop the arts and crafts vendors, let the kids participate in their very own Kids Cook-Off, and listen to some wonderful music. Event net proceeds will benefit local, state, and international Lions Club Charities!
Under the supervision of rabbinical experts and the world-renowned Kansas City Barbeque Society, teams from around Texas and beyond will compete in the delectable and family-friendly, fifth annual Dallas Kosher BBQ. The celebrity judging panel includes Joe Riscky, John Tesar, Daniel Vaughn, Jody Dean, Gabriel Boxer, and others. Admission is free and food is available for purchase. Proceeds of the event will benefit the Congregation Beth Torah Men’s Club and Community Homes for Adults, Inc.
I know. You’ll read this, and think, “Is this guy insane? Brisket in every dish?” Well, yes. But no apologies. Brisket is an amazing hunk of meat, one that has the potential to elevate you to “Pit Master” status. And wouldn’t you like that? See some of my favorite recipes from the book, The Brisket Chronicles below.
I am currently at the Broadmoor, the luxurious host of Barbecue University in Colorado Springs. Excuse me, while I make a cup of coffee and enjoy it with brisket-laced cookies. Simply incredible. And that’s just one of the ground-breaking recipes I’m sharing with you today.
When I met Steven in 2002, I hadn’t even achieved the rank of Beginner Griller. As old-fashioned as it sounds, the role of griller in my family (though I loved to cook) had always been played by a male. After promising Workman Publishing I’d act as Mr. Raichlen’s chauffeur and food stylist for several scheduled appearances—the first one being at 7 a.m. the following morning— I had just hours to shop and get up to speed. On the menu? Beer can chicken, grilled sweet corn, and cinnamon-grilled peaches with all the necessary swap-outs. Talk about baptism by fire! Point being, I feel qualified to write about rookie mistakes because I’ve made (or at least observed) nearly all of them. And National Barbecue Month seemed like the right time to do it.
Mistake #1: Underestimating the amount of fuel required for a cook
It’s just plain embarrassing to run out of fuel during a grill session, as many propane gas grillers know. (Of course, it can happen with charcoal or pellets, too.) Not to mention inconvenient. To avoid that walk of shame—toting the food to the kitchen to finish cooking—always have an extra tank (or canister) of propane at the ready, or a spare bag of charcoal or pellets.
Confession: I once forgot to turn off the propane tank at its source. It leaked out, of course—and I lost what had been nearly a full tank.
Mistake #2: Relying on lighter fluid to start a fire
My father loved his lighter fluid, as did most of our friends and neighbors. My aunt and uncle were the only people I knew who didn’t use petroleum-based products to get the party started: They had an electric fire starter. Early on, I figured out that’s why their barbecued chicken always tasted so much better. In those days, the “Automatic Dump Type Charcoal Lighter,” invented in the 1960s and the precursor of today’s chimney starters, was not widely available.
Unless your charcoal grill comes with a gas ignition system (like the Weber Performer Deluxe) we highly recommend you acquire one of these useful devices. You’ll never look back. To use, you position the chimney starter over a wad of newsprint, fat wood, or a fire starter, fill the chimney with briquettes or natural lump charcoal, and ignite the tinder. In 15 to 20 minutes, you’ll have coals that are perfectly ashed over and ready to use.
Mistake #3: Being disorganized
Take your cues from people who cook professionally. Plan your cook before you do anything else. Organize what you’ll need grill-side, everything from food to seasonings to essential tools to clean sheet pans or platters for finished food. Hopefully, you have a clean and uncluttered flat space near your grill—even a sturdy folding table is a help.
Resist the temptation to put things on the ground or balance them on the railing of your patio. Also, don’t underestimate the amount of heat that reaches the attached side tables of gas grills. I was present when a friend left a can of cooking spray on a closed side burner while preheating the grill. The can shot into the air like a rocket!
Mistake #4: Failing to let your grill preheat sufficiently
A lack of patience can cause a lot of problems for a rookie griller (or even an experienced one!). If direct grilling—that is, cooking your food directly over the flames or hot coals—your food won’t sear properly if the grill isn’t sufficiently hot. And when that happens, the food has a maddening tendency to stick to the grill grate.
If you have removed the grate in order to dump coals into the fire box, be sure to replace the grate so it has a chance to heat up before you start grilling. This is crucial if you want those grill marks Steven always talks about. (This will not be an option if you own a pellet grill as they function more like convection ovens.)
Mistake #5: Building a “one-dimensional” fire
Many beginning charcoal grillers distribute hot coals evenly over the bottom of the firebox, meaning the heat below the grill grate will be of the same intensity. (Gas grillers do the same thing when they turn all the burners to “high” for the duration of the cook.) You will have much more control if you build a multi-zone fire. It should include a safety zone, under which there are no coals, and a pile of coals that is deeper on one side than the other.
The safety zone is especially valuable as it can be used to protect fattier foods (like the soon-to-be-incinerated burgers in the photo above) from flare-ups. Gas grillers can preheat their grills as usual, and if they have multiple burners (at least 2), can turn one burner off or lower the temperatures of the others.
Mistake #6: Not practicing good grill hygiene
Steven is well-known for this mantra: “Keep it hot. Keep it clean. Keep it lubricated.” Great advice. Not to pick on those burgers above, but notice how the one in the foreground shows signs of grill grate crud—remnants from a previous cook. Grill grates that are not routinely cleaned are not “well-seasoned.” They’re just dirty. Do you really want last week’s salmon on today’s chicken breasts? Of course not.
Heat is your friend when it comes to cleaning grill grates. Immediately after a cook while the grill is still screaming hot, brush or scrape the bars with a wooden scraper or a high-quality grill brush with twisted wires. Sometimes, I spritz the grate with water before brushing—the process is similar to deglazing a pan on the stovetop. If the grate really needs work, I go after it with a brick of pumice specifically for that purpose. Before using the grill the next time, scrape or brush it again and oil it well with vegetable oil.
Mistake #7: Saucing too early
Most American barbecue sauces (especially Kansas City-style) contain sugar, meaning they’re very susceptible to scorching when subjected to live fire. For this reason, Steven and I always sauce food—ribs, brisket, and chicken, for example—the last 10 to 15 minutes of grilling. You want to expose it to the heat just long enough for the sauce to caramelize and “set,” but not so long that it burns. Or you can simply serve sauce on the side, which is what many of the country’s most popular barbecue restaurants now do.
Mistake #8: Not learning the idiosyncrasies of your grill
The sooner you learn grills often have their own quirks, the more consistent your results will be. Perhaps your gas or pellet grill has hot spots. You can identify them by laying slices of cheap white bread shoulder to shoulder on the preheated grill grate, covering it entirely. Flip the slices in their places—it’s easier if another person helps—then take a photo.
Next time, you’ll have an accurate map of the grill’s temperature zones. Or maybe your grill has trouble maintaining heat in cold temperatures or wind. You may need to adjust your cooking times to compensate. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to maintain a grilling log to chart your experiences. Don’t forget to record any recipes you and your family or friends really enjoyed, especially original ones for rubs and sauces—recipes you’ll want to recreate.
Mistake #9: Misjudging when food is done
Overcooking or undercooking food will do nothing for your reputation. And while many successful pit masters rely on their senses and instincts to determine when food is done (we’re talking about people who have been grilling and barbecuing for years), most of us would be well-advised to use a reliable instant-read or remote thermometer.
Steven and I use both. The former is great for foods that cook quickly over direct heat—fish fillets, boneless chicken breast, thinner steaks or pork chops—and the latter is useful when cooking low and slow—ribs, pork shoulder, whole chickens, prime rib, etc. Also, acquaint yourself with the safe minimum cooking temperatures recommended by the FDA. This is especially important for meats, poultry, and seafood.
Mistake #10: Allowing cross-contamination to occur.
At the grill, potentially dangerous cross-contamination usually occurs when an oblivious griller uses tools (such as tongs or basting brushes) on raw meat without thoroughly washing or replacing them when touching cooked meat. But it can also occur when the same platter that was used to transport raw food (poultry is especially notorious for spreading food-borne illnesses) is used to ferry the cooked food back to the kitchen. If you use cutting boards at any stage of the food preparation process, make sure they are thoroughly washed as well.
Note: The USDA recently withdrew its recommendation that all poultry be washed before cooking. Studies have determined that practice increases the likelihood of cross-contamination as sinks and countertops can inadvertently get splashed.
Pit masters are divided on how simple or complex to make the rubs they apply to beef brisket for smoking. Personally, I like a “newspaper rub” so called because it contains black (pepper), white (salt), and “read” (hot red pepper flakes) all over.
Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, and other Texas pit masters often season solely with salt and pepper (a mixture often called a “Dalmatian rub” on account of being white with black speckles). Elegant in its simplicity, it’s in no way simpleminded, because depending on the salt (kosher or sea, coarse or fine) and the pepper grind (cracked, coarsely ground, 16 mesh, or finer), the resulting brisket will have a very different bark and taste. And that’s before you add other flavorings, such as paprika or the aforementioned hot red pepper flakes.
The purpose of the seasoning, of course, is to flavor the brisket without camouflaging its primal, smoky beef taste.
Some people slather their briskets with yellow mustard before seasoning with the rub; I don’t bother. I find I can achieve a nice bark by applying the rub directly to the brisket.
Another brisket-related controversy is when to apply the rub. I like to season the brisket while my smoker heats up. Others season it anywhere from 12 to 24 hours before cooking. The latter method results in well-seasoned meat (the rub acts like a dry brine). The downside is that it draws juices out of the meat—juices you don’t want to lose.
How to Make An Easy Brisket Rub Recipe for Smoking
1. To make a Dalmatian rub, combine equal parts coarse salt and pepper in a bowl.
2. Mix the seasonings with your fingers.
3. To make a newspaper rub, mix in hot red pepper flakes.
4. Season the top of the brisket, working several inches above the meat so the spices are distributed evenly.
5. Don’t forget to season the sides and underside of the brisket.
In a process as idiosyncratic as cooking a brisket, there are lots of theories on the best way to carve it. Over the years, I’ve come to adopt the Aaron Franklin method (Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas) in which you cut the brisket in half widthwise (roughly where the bulge of the point starts), then slice the flat section on the diagonal across the grain, and the point section perpendicular to the edge—again, so you wind up slicing the meat across the grain. See the photos below.
An alternative method was proposed by Ohio pit master and restaurateur Jim Budros: separating the point and the flat (removing the fat between them) and realigning them, giving the point a 60-degree turn, so the meat fibers all run the same way. That way, you can slice the meat from top to bottom across the grain.
So what’s the best way to serve barbecued brisket? To my mind, as simply as possible. Texas tradition calls for slices of factory white bread. In Brooklyn, you might get brisket with brioche rolls. In Tex-Mex circles, you serve it on tortillas or with torta rolls. In Los Angeles, you might eat it banh mi-style, with Vietnamese condiments on a crusty baguette.
Sauce? If you’ve smoked your brisket correctly, you won’t need it. (For more than half a century, the historic Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, didn’t even serve it.) If you insist on sauce, serve it on the side; first taste the brisket without it. That way, you can enjoy the smoky awesomeness of the meat before you add what for some people (me among them) are the dissonant notes of sugar, molasses, or tomatoes. Remember, the accompaniments should support—not camouflage—the meat.
How to Slice Brisket: A Step-by-Step Guide
A pitch-perfect barbecued brisket after it’s gotten its beauty rest:
1. Cut the brisket crosswise into 2 sections.
After the barbecued brisket has gotten its beauty rest, cut the brisket crosswise into 2 sections: the flat and the point. A brisket knife is a wonderful tool to have.
2. Trim any excess fat off the top of the brisket.
3. Cut off the tip.
Cut off the hard, dry tip (often somewhat overcooked) and dice it to serve as burnt ends.
4. Slice the brisket flat.
5. Cut the brisket point section in half widthwise.
6. Slice the brisket point pieces against the grain.
7. A proper slice of Texas-style barbecued brisket will be about the thickness of a No. 2 pencil.