People who live in Arizona, unlike most of the rest America, do the majority of their outdoor cooking AFTER Labor Day. Currently it is near mid September, and The Valley of the Sun is under a heat advisory for the next four days, with temperatures expected to be near or over 110 degrees each day. This is not 'gather-round-the-barbie-and toss-a-few-cool-ones'-back type weather. No, this is the kind of heat that takes lives of hikers and pets, so I like to stay cool inside and let my Weber Smokey Mountain take the heat.
Beef brisket and pork shoulder are the favored cuts for my twelve hour, light it and leave it recipe, using what is commonly known in barbecue circles as the 'Minion-method'.
It is traditional and customary in slow food and barbecue to use local ingredients in your cooking, and this includes the fuel. Here in Arizona, the hardwood of choice for smoking is Mesquite...it fits the three most important criteria: It is local, abundant and cheap.
Mesquite has a very pungent flavor, some can find it a strong for their liking. For this reason, I choose to use natural mesquite charcoal for smoking. As the name would suggest, this is simply small pieces of mesquite tree and branches that have been charred. This charring removes much of the green, strong and at times acrid smoke that can come off raw mesquite, even that raw mesquite with "season", or wood that has been aged after cutting.
When buying my mesquite charcoal, I get the 40 lb. bags which have large pieces of rounds and chunks not found in the dainty 8 lb. bags designed for those with Smoky Joes' on condominium balconies.
I place the largest of these chunks, unlit, in the bottom of my smoker. I then place a full lit chimney starter of hot coals on top of the unlit ones, allowing them to slowly ignite, and smolder all night. A full pan of water on top of the water regulates the heat, catches the fat eliminating flare-ups, and keeps the meat nice and moist.
After stabilizing the heat at 200 to 225 degrees, I go to to bed. Eight hours later when I awaken, I temp the pork shoulder or brisket, looking for an optimum temp of 190 Fahrenheit for the beef, and 200 for the pork. Further heat can be applied if necessary, or wrap and allow to rest in a room temperature drinks cooler until ready to serve.
Throughout the the United States and elsewhere in the world that American low-and slow barbecue has caught on, it is customary to smoke with local hardwood, for obvious reasons. In Montreal they smoke with maple, in Georgia peach, Tennessee they like hickory, oak is popular in upper midwest, and in South Dakota they use corn cobs!
Here in Arizona and other parts of the desert southwest, we generally use mesquite as it is inexpensive and plentiful. Mesquite wood, however can be an overpowering flavor, and it is easy to oversmoke with it, making the food taste like little but campfire.
When smoking with mesquite wood, it is best to use wood with some 'season' on it. That is, some wood that has been aged for a few months, up to a year, and is not' green', or freshly cut. The fresher the wood, the stronger the smoke flavor, so the less wood you need.
Often, I find myself smoking with simply mesquite charcoal, which is little more than partly burnt pieces of mesquite wood. Being partly charred already tends to remove some of the overpowering mesquite flavor from the wood that many find objectionable, and its much harder to oversmoke with it.
Should I crave a different smoke flavor, I will use a neutral charcoal briquette as opposed to hardwood charcoal, and than add the apple, cherry, oak, etc....after the coals are glowing.
Mesquite is a truly authentic flavor of the desert Southwest, just don't overdo it!