My childhood is filled with images of lazy summer afternoons, with my dad hunched over a smoker and barbecuing any cut of meat he could get his hands on. His barbecues were always the best- juicy, savory, and tender, with the meat falling off the bone in just the right way. I don’t care if you’re Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver- my Dad’s simply the best pitmaster in my world, hands down.
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But… What is a Pitmaster Exactly?
A pitmaster is someone who knows his or her way round a smoker or a grill. This person is a barbecue master; ribs, steaks, seafood, poultry- as long as it can be grilled or smoked, a pitmaster can do it.
A year ago, I finally decided to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and become a pitmaster in my own right. I bought my own smoker and all, but in reality, the equipment doesn’t make the pitmaster- it’s the skills which you can only develop through years of barbecuing experience.
Here are a few tidbits of pitmaster wisdom that my Dad helpfully shared to me:
Patience is the Key
Barbecue isn’t something that you can just rush through. There are no shortcuts. It takes a long time, so if you’re planning on barbecuing, be prepared to devote a huge chunk of your day to it.
The Wood Matters
Stay away from sap woods like pine– they give out toxic fumes and will mess up your food real bad. Mesquite is also bad because it imparts a very pungent aroma to your meats that can drastically alter their taste.
So, what’s a great wood for smoking or grilling? Well, hickory chunks are the best because they don’t flare up like chips do and has a nice smoky aroma. But if you can’t find hickory wood in chunks, you can use chips soaked for about an hour in water instead. Other excellent wood that you can use for smoking include oak, apple, and cherry.
No Raw Coals
Always have a constant supply of lit coals at your disposal (you can fill another smaller grill with coals and keep constantly burning). Also, avoid using lighter fluid or charcoal that has been doused with lighter fluid, just use lump charcoal or high quality briquettes instead.
There’s The Rub
You really don’t need to brine anything. Barbecuing means cooking as slow as you possibly could; the slow cooking allows more time for the collagen to break down and make the meat tender, soft, and “fall off the bone.” And if you’re going to brine the meat, you run the risk of it making it too salty when you use it with a rub.
The rub provides much of the flavor and saltiness on its own. Here’s an easy rub recipe: mix half cup of brown sugar with half cup of kosher salt, along with the juice of one lemon, one tablespoon of black pepper, and one tablespoon of chili flakes.
Remember, the equipment does not make the pitmaster. You really need to learn how to handle your smoker on your own, and this can only be done through hours and hours of personal hands-on experience. So get out there and start smoking!