Low and slow cooking is using the indirect cooking method to cook your food, the only difference being that your BBQ temperature is much lower so you cook your food at a slower rate, hence the name low and slow.
This method of cooking is traditionally used for tougher cuts of meat that have a higher fat or connective tissue content. Cooking a cut of meat such as a brisket or pork shoulder at a high temperature will cause those fats and tissues to tense up making the meat tough.
By reducing the cooking temperature and bringing the internal temperature of the meat up slowly, the fats and tissues will start to break down slowly and absorb into the meat. This packs your meat full of flavour and makes it juicy and tender.
Many of the indirect cooking methods we discussed in the last article can be used for low and slow however some require more management than others. The 50/50 setup is one of the more popular methods for low and slow however you would start with fewer lit briquettes and add more as your temperature falls.
Can you cook low and slow on your gas BBQ
Absolutely! All the same principles apply when cooking low and slow on a gas BBQ and charcoal BBQ. You can keep the temperature down by only using one burner. On my 3 burner Weber, usually the first burner on high is enough to get a temperature of around 120°C. You would then place your meat as far away from that burner as possible and it will cook slowly.
The nice thing about cooking low and slow on a gas BBQ is that it is easy to maintain a constant temperature throughout your cook. A steady temperature is one of the keys to success with this style of cooking.
Setting up your Charcoal BBQ for Low and Slow
So let’s look at setting up your charcoal BBQ for low and slow cooking. Most BBQ’s are suitable for low and slow as long as they have a lid. The Weber Kettles are famous for their versatility but you can give it a go on pretty much any style of BBQ.
You should choose your fuel source wisely. Lumpwood charcoal burns hot and fast and will generally have a temperature drop off after 1 hour so most people will tend to use a briquette.
A briquette is a compacted lump of charcoal that burns for a longer period of time. By burning slowly, they maintain a steady temperature for at least 2-3 hours before you have to add more.
With this in mind, you could fuel your low and slow cooks this way. Start off with a small amount of briquettes to get up to your desired temperature. As the temperature starts to drop off, you can light some more in your chimney starter and add them to the BBQ to bring the temperature back up.
If you have a hinged cooking grate with a section you can lift to give you access to the coal, you can add the lit briquettes this way. If your cooking grate is solid, then simply lift it off, pour in your coals and place it back on as soon as possible.
While this method works OK, it requires a certain amount of babysitting as you have to anticipate when the temperature is going to fall so you can have some briquettes ready to add.
There are two other popular setups that people like to use that will extend your burn time for anything up to 10+ hours. Both of them work on the principle of adding lit briquettes and unlit briquettes to the BBQ.
The Minion Method
At the heart of it, the minion method is basically adding a small amount of lit briquettes on top of unlit briquettes. Over time the unlit briquettes will start to burn so as the original briquettes start to die out, the unlit ones will take their place.
It can be used on a regular charcoal BBQ or in a bullet style smoker but the setups for each are slightly different.
On a kettle BBQ, you can use the 50/50 setup and arrange your unlit briquettes on one side of your BBQ. Light a small amount of briquettes in your chimney starter and then tip them onto the unlit briquettes.
You can add the lit briquettes to one side of the unlit ones and allow the fire to spread across. Alternatively, create a small gap in the centre of the unlit briquettes and allow the fire to spread out from that central point. Either way, this will extend your burn time.
On a bullet smoker, the setup is slightly different but the same rules apply. As your cooking grate is set much higher with a water pan between it and the fire, you can place the briquettes over the entire charcoal grate.
When using the minion method on my Weber Smokey Mountain, I create a ring of unlit briquettes and place a small amount of lit briquettes in the centre, allowing it to spread radially.
The Snake Method
This method is more commonly used on kettle BBQ’s and whilst it is very effective, it can be a little tricky to master. You arrange your unlit briquettes in a line around the outer edge of your BBQ then add lit briquettes to one end of the line. Think of it like lighting a fuse. The unlit briquettes will light one after the other and the fire will slowly work it’s way around the BBQ.
The number of unlit briquettes and the length of your snake will ultimately depend on how long you want to cook for.
So why is this method a little tricky to master? If your briquettes are not arranged properly so that they are all making good contact with each other, the snake can go out. It has happened to me on a few occasions so take the time to place each briquette into the snake carefully.
If you are new to low and slow cooking, I would recommend starting with the minion method before moving on to this method.
Something else to take into consideration
The weather can have a dramatic effect on your burn time and temperature. On a windy day, your fuel can burn much faster than on a calm day or your minion method will light up too quickly. You can account for this by placing your BBQ in a sheltered spot and closing the vents a little.
On hot, sunny days you may not need as much fuel to get your desired temperature. I have seen the lid thermometer on my WSM at 55°C sitting unlit in my garden just from direct sunlight. On the other hand, if you have to tunnel through 3 feet of snow to get to your BBQ, you might want to add a few extra briquettes to help bump the temperature up.
A few tips to help you get started
Low and slow cooking opens up a world of possibilities for cooking on your BBQ but in the beginning you will have a few frustrating cooks. Hang in there! We have all had them and you will learn over time how to manage it and get great results.
Pulled pork is a great cook to practice with. The cook time isn’t too long and it is a little more forgiving if your temperature isn’t as constant as you would like.
Set a day aside when you have nothing else to do and there are no time pressures and fire up. If your cook takes longer than expected, that’s OK. Try not to put yourself in a situation where you have a bunch of friends coming over expecting to eat at a certain time, it will just stress you out! As Mr. Aaron Franklin says “Good BBQ just takes time!”
Keeping notes during your cooks can really help you improve each time you do it. It doesn’t have to be overly detailed, simply scribbling down grill temperatures and internal meat temperatures at different stages during the cook will help you anticipate when your temperature is likely to fall off or if your cooking temperature is too high.
Lastly, I would say that everyone in the BBQ community has been a beginner at some point in their lives and know exactly what those first few cooks are like. We have made every mistake under the sun so if you are struggling with something, we can help.
My Facebook group is a great place to chat with other BBQ enthusiasts and ask questions about what you are struggling with.
Click here to visit join the Barbechoo Facebook group