Things I've Learned

Tim O

TVWBB Member
So I’ve cooked on the WSM close to a dozen times now and I’ve learned a ton about the smoking process and the smoker itself. Figured I'd share what I've learned as a beginner in hopes others may find these thoughts helpful:

1. Good BBQ takes time and practice. This probably should come as no surprise because like any other hobby, it takes practice to become good at perfecting your cooks. At first I found myself wishing away the cook just to get to the end product. Now, I’ve realized some of my best cooks were when I enjoyed the process and stopped worrying. As the famous Michelangelo once stated “I am still learning” – BBQ is a lifelong learning experience.

2. Don't be your own worst enemy. That means no peeking under the lid or checking the temperature every 10 minutes like I did. Relax and enjoy a beer. What if something does go wrong? Adjust. Relax and crack another beer. It’s really hard to mess up BBQ and if you do, chances are it will still turn out delicious.

3. Patience does matter. I’ve learned early that BBQ isn't just throwing a slab of meat onto the WSM and then eating it. From the selection of the meat all the way to properly cleaning up your smoker after the cook, creating authentic BBQ is a process. Learn how to identify quality cuts of meat. Learn how your smoker operates. Have all your ingredients and rubs and sauces ready to go. Befriend a butcher and you’ll learn a lot.

4. Make sure your charcoal is hot and ready. It may sound stupid but If the charcoal in your chimney starter isn’t bright red and ashing, it’s not ready to be dumped into the charcoal ring. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten too excited to wait and just dumped half unlit charcoal into the ring only to have to re-light the bowl.

5. You rule the sauce, don’t let the sauce rule you! I've read and heard from many that you should be able to taste the meat above anything else. They are right. Sauce is important but it shouldn’t be the defining taste of your BBQ. Often times I found myself ruining an entirely good rack of ribs because I dosed it in BBQ sauce. My suggestion? Serve it on the side.

6. Learn how to make your own rub. You'd be surprised how easy and how much it adds to your meat.

7. Invest in a good knife. Preparing the meat is just as important as the cook itself. Get yourself a good knife, keep it sharpened, and take care of it. It makes trimming a pork butt or a brisket that much easier.

8. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people who BBQ are their own worst enemies. Some of your cooks will end up excellent, some may not turned out as you had hoped. It’s OK to be critical but learn from the mistakes. I keep a BBQ log to keep track of my cooks.

9. Experiment with different types smoke wood. My first cook I used 6 chunks of hickory for ONE chicken! Needless to say the chicken was moist but I tasted hickory in the back of my mouth for the next four days. I thought I’d never use it again but realized my mistake and now I know how to adjust the amount of wood properly. I’ve had awesome results with fruit wood, particularly apple, but I also love to do a combo of hickory/apple for ribs. You’ll be surprised at how much smoke wood influences the taste of your meat. You are using a smoker, after all.

10. Utilize the resources available to you. I have learned so much in just under a year using websites such as this one. Everyone is in the same boat as you – on a quest to make awesome BBQ – and are more than willing to help and answer your questions.

Thanks for looking, guys.
 
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Frank H

TVWBB Gold Member
brother , i wish i had had this to read before i started bbq'in! very good advice , well stated. hey , mr moderator. put this on the front page for all newbies to read !

:wsm:
 

Geir Widar

TVWBB Wizard
Lots of good advice here, I think, but rule #2? It has been tested, and proven that this is a myth. "If you're lookin' you aint cookin'" sounds right, and sorta rhymes, but it is wrong.
Peek as much as you want, it does not really matter.
 

Dave Russell

TVWBB Honor Circle
Lots of good advice here, I think, but rule #2? It has been tested, and proven that this is a myth. "If you're lookin' you aint cookin'" sounds right, and sorta rhymes, but it is wrong.
Peek as much as you want, it does not really matter.
I have an idea of the bbq myth you think is "busted", and you're right to some extent. One look under the lid might not add 15 minutes as some say. However, the OP said not to be looking "every 10 minutes" and not to "stare". Keep on doing that, and yes, you'll make the cook take longer, risk messing up your smoke and temps, and you let moisture out every time you peek. If I don't have a reason to lift the dome, I don't, since it's purpose is to hold the heat IN. :confused:
 

JimK

TVWBB Olympian
Well said, Tim.

If I may add one thing: don't try to time your Q. It's done when its done.
 

Dave Russell

TVWBB Honor Circle
Well said, Tim.

If I may add one thing: don't try to time your Q. It's done when its done.
Ha! Great advice for beginners, but if I still told the Missus that, long cooks on my patio would only be an annual occurrence. Now I don't mean to pull early. I mean that if I'm behind, I'll raise the temp and/or foil. I'd rather be a little ahead of the game, though, and then drop the temp a lot toward the end of the cook. Nailing cook timing is half the challenge! :wsm:
 
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Mark P

TVWBB Member
The OP was very good information, the sometimes overlooked basic rules of BBQ, The peeking advise is very important, why take a chance of messing up your meat, get a meat thermo and watch it get done from your couch.
 

Jerry N.

TVWBB Emerald Member
4. Make sure your charcoal is hot and ready. It may sound stupid but If the charcoal in your chimney starter isn’t bright red and ashing, it’s not ready to be dumped into the charcoal ring. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten too excited to wait and just dumped half-ready charcoal into the ring only to have to re-light the bowl.
I don't find this one to be true. Once I get a few coals lit, I dump my chimney. Usually the top coals are just starting to light. Many are still black. I use the minion method and as long as I get a few coals going, I can get my charcoal pile going. I will say that if you're only lighting a small amount of coals, having them really going makes things easier. I'm wondering how excited you are to have them be going out. Calm down man! :D
 
When cooking for company, start early.

If it gets ready early, it will stay good and hot in an ice chest or even wrapped in foil and towels in the oven.

If the doorbell is ringing and the meat isn't done yet, it sucks a lot of fun out of the event.
 

Tim O

TVWBB Member
I don't find this one to be true. Once I get a few coals lit, I dump my chimney. Usually the top coals are just starting to light. Many are still black. I use the minion method and as long as I get a few coals going, I can get my charcoal pile going. I will say that if you're only lighting a small amount of coals, having them really going makes things easier. I'm wondering how excited you are to have them be going out. Calm down man! :D
This happened to me twice - I don't use the minion method but the one as described in Wiviott's Low & Slow. It may not need to be a cardinal rule for everyone or necessarily true, but with the times I've dumped the charcoal on too early, the coals take a long while to get up to temp. I also found that sometimes I even smothered them because of the water pan! Oops!
 

Kevin L (NKY)

TVWBB Wizard
This my next purchase a smoker and I only know what i have read but I want to learn how to make a good smoked turkey,chicken,pork butt, & do it right and slow. this would be interesting to do. Now just need to find the right deal.
 

Ken S

New member
Just curious what kind of coal you guys are using that is going out? Never had that issue with small amounts of Kingsford Original or Stubbs...

... and great advice
 

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