This is your essential guide to getting started on your BBQ Journey. I’ve been smoking meat for a few years now and I’ve made plenty of mistakes but thankfully there’s been some epic eats along the way.
Here’s my list of things to make getting started easy, so you don’t make the same mistakes that I did.
Get the right smoker for you and spend what you can afford.
If you’ve impulse bought your first smoker, don’t fret, in fact, welcome to the club!
You’re able to cook on almost any BBQ with a smoking function but in general, you do get what you pay for. Thicker metal and control over the amount of air in your smoker gives you
more control over the temperature and helps you cook for longer.
Spending a lot is not essential though just have a go!
Think about how often you’ll use the smoker. You can smoke well on some of the better quality kettle BBQs (the round ones with legs) so if you’re likely to grill more than smoke your food then think about if you actually need a dedicated food smoker off the bat.
Check out the Weber Master touch series or the Pro Q smokers, they’re great quality and let you grill or smoke as much as you like.
BBQ tools are no gimmick, a good probe thermometer lets you enjoy your beer
Smoking is a great hobby if you like a gadget, but going full inspector gadget is not essential.
However, I would say investing in a few key pieces of equipment will make things go much more smoothly and let you relax.
These made my BBQ life easier:
Chimney starter – It lets you get your charcoal or coals red hot in no time, they’re also easy to light. I love mine because I light it at the back of the garden, let it smoke like crazy as it flames up to temperature and then move it over to my smoker once it’s done trying to suffocate me.
Probe thermometer – I bought myself a wireless probe thermometer because I’m fancy like that.
I would suggest getting a dual probe thermometer at least. In a lot of cases, the thermometer in the lid of your smoker will be a
bit pants. Look for a thermometer that lets you measure the grill temperature (where your meat sits) and the internal temperature of whatever you’re cooking (you stab it into one of the thickest parts of the meat).
The thermometer will sit near your smoker and show you what’s going on in there, so you’re not opening it up and letting the heat and smoke out. The urge to poke your meat and check if it’s done will be strong, I know I’ve been guilty of poking my meat a little too often.
The trick is to let it be, most recipes will have an internal temperature and a time you should smoke for (and there’s usually a good reason for both of those numbers), the probes help you manage that and get great results.
Poor fuel means tricky BBQ
A lot of the Fuel you can buy from the supermarket or local petrol station is fine for grilling meat, but have you ever noticed the chemical smell when you light it?
Remember with low and slow BBQ your meat will be kissed by smoke for a good few hours, so make sure that smoke is full of the good stuff. Ideally, you’ll get that by burning lump wood, logs or charcoal or briquettes.
Lump wood – It’s important to look at the size and quality of the pieces. I’ve seen some great quality bags that have been beaten half to death in transit. Those small bits will burn at different rates and you’ll find it hard to maintain a steady temp. If you look around there’s probably an excellent artisan charcoal maker relatively close to you, and it’s worth the trip to find one. If you can’t get anything local then look for natural restaurant grade charcoal. Lots of people recommend Oxford charcoal which you can get online.
Briquettes – Choose a good brand and check for chemicals that may taint your meat. Popular brands include Weber and Big K but restaurant grade briquettes are what you need (note big K do restaurant and consumer-aimed products so be careful). I have used Weber briquettes and they’ve served me well over long cooks. The main reason I like briquettes is that quality ones burn consistently over a long period of time, so as a beginner they can help you learn fire control.
Logs – I have never used them, so I would check out some of the people I’ve linked below for advice.
The chunky ones are best
This one is strictly my opinion, but I much prefer using chunks of wood on the coals rather than chips. With chunks I can chuck a few on and know they’ll slowly smoulder, giving away their flavour without me needing to open up the smoker and add more regularly.
I buy my chunks online but lots of people sell them nowadays. Remember each wood is different, some are stronger than others and some have very distinct tastes. It’s really important that you only burn dried hardwoods, without chemicals. Some softwoods have poisonous oils and no one wants a dodgy oil up inside their meat, it leads to bad joo-joo.
You may think that the more smoke the better but it’s my unfortunate duty to tell you that you’re wrong.
Thick billowing smoke is probably dirty and may leave a residue on your meat. The smoke you want is almost see-through, in the BBQ world we call it blue smoke or clean smoke. It’s just about visible and it’s consistently streaming from your smoker.
You’ll find other BBQ fanatics talk about a clean burn and this is what they mean. Trust me, if the wood is there and burning cleanly you’ll get a good flavour without overdoing it or coating the meat in carbon or particulates. Don’t get me wrong when you open up your smoker there’ll be a cloud waiting to make your eyes water, that’s normal, but from your chimney or top vent, you should aim for blue smoke.
Learn from awesome people
The best thing about BBQ is the community, there are experts and amateurs alike who will help you to make great BBQ. I started out reading books and watching youtube and now I have some great friends and become part of a community that shares their ideas, experiments, sometimes bickers but mostly helps anyone in need.
Great books include;
- The Hang Fire Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures in American BBQ
- Franklin Barbecue (A Meatsmoking Manifesto)
- Fire Food: The Ultimate BBQ Cookbook
Great youtube channels and websites include;