Tip 30 – Keeping a BBQ Journal – 30 Days to Better BBQ

BBQ Journal

Learning different skills and techniques on your BBQ is all about experimentation, but if you aren’t keeping notes on each of your cooks then the results of all those experiments will be lost forever. Keeping a BBQ journal or log will, over time, give you an archive of all the cooks have done along with details on what worked and what didn’t.

How do you keep a journal?

I keep all the notes from my cooks in a notebook that will sit on the kitchen bench or beside the BBQ’s each time I cook. I will scribble notes down as I go on anything that I think may be useful later or anything that I know I may want to try next time I cook that recipe. These notes are quick scribbles. They are small, shorthand bits of information that I know I will understand when I look back on them later.

 

So what should you record in your journal?

Throughout the tips in 30 Days to Better BBQ, you will have heard me talk about keeping notes of certain things like temperatures, fuel, ingredients etc. These are all important bits of information that can go into your journal. Here are some of the things I like to record in mine.

To start with, I’ll make a note of the recipe I’m using, including the recipe book and page number. I will also make some ingredient notes if I’ve had to swap something from the recipe, or also what cut of meat I’m using. If you are using your own recipe or experimenting with your own rub or sauce, list all the ingredients and measurements here.

The next thing I will make a note on is the BBQ setup. These notes will include which BBQ I’m using, what my coal setup is (direct, 50/50 indirect, minion etc.) I’ll make a note of what time I lit the chimney and roughly how much fuel I’m using. Once the BBQ is up to temperature, I’ll note how long it took, what the target temperature was and how my vents were set to achieve it. Notes like this are great for learning how much fuel to add to your BBQ to hit a specific temp. If you add 1 full chimney of briquettes but had to close your vents down to drop the temperature, then maybe you could add less fuel next time?

Before putting my food onto the BBQ, I note which rubs or marinade I used and how long before the cook they were applied.

When the food is put onto the BBQ, I note 3 things – Time, Placement and Grill Temperature. This is usually in the following form

13.10 – chicken on, indirect @ 180C

It only takes a few seconds to make the note but it can give you so much information later. Each time I check the food or start another part of the process, I will make a note of the time, current grill temperature and the internal temperature of the food. By the time the food is ready, I will have a detailed timeline of the cook showing how steady my BBQ temperature was, how long the food took to cook and how quickly the internal temperature increased.

The last thing to note in your journal is rest times and any changes you would like to make next time you cook this recipe. This could be something as simple as ‘sauce was good, need to put potatoes on earlier’ or ‘Rub needed more heat, allow more rest time.’ My recipe books are full of little scribbled notes like this. If I like an element of a dish I’ll note it down.

 

Why are these notes important?

Think of these notes as invaluable advice for yourself in the future. If you are learning temperature control etc. then these step by step notes allow you to see how a cook went and adjust for the next time.

Christmas Dinner is my most used notes. It’s probably one of the most important meals we cook but it can be easy to forgot what worked and what didn’t from one year to the next. My notes have saved me on more than one occasion as I can look back to the following years notes and make a timeline for my cook, ensuring I don’t get an ear bashing because the turkey isn’t ready.

I want to take a moment to say thank you for all the support you have given me and my website during 30 Days to Better BBQ. I was sitting on my sofa one night when this idea popped into my head. Within a few days, I had announced it and then the real work started. There have been a great range of tips, some of them more basic than others but hopefully everyone will have found some little bits of information that they can use to take their BBQ to the next level.

The series of tips have now sadly come to an end but they will remain on the websites for anyone to look back through as they wish. I also have some other plans for them which I will talk about in due course.

If you have any questions about anything we covered in 30 Days to Better BBQ or maybe something we didn’t, please leave a message in the comments section of that tip and I will reply. That way the information is there for everyone to see.

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Tip 29 – Year round BBQ – 30 Days to Better BBQ

Frost of Weber Handle

Our weather in the UK has become one of the trademark features of UK BBQ, but maybe not for the right reasons. It has become somewhat of a national joke that as soon as you put flame to charcoal, the heavens will open and any plans for a BBQ are ruined. I’m not going to pretend that anyone likes to BBQ in the rain but hopefully with the tips below I can show that it isn’t a reason to stop using your BBQ.

I also want to talk about using your BBQ outside the traditional BBQ season. Many BBQ’s are put into hibernation at the end of the summer, destined to remain there until the next sunny bank holiday weekend. I use my BBQ’s all year round and I hope I can encourage you to do the same.

 

Rain, Hail or Shine!

Rain sucks! It seems to make every task that little bit harder (and wetter) but if we didn’t get so much of the stuff, we wouldn’t live in such a beautiful, green country so maybe we need to cut it some slack.

When most of us plan a big cook, the first thing we do is check the weather, maybe even before we decide what we are going to cook! If rain is forecast then you may be tempted to change your plans but as long as you take the horrendous weather into account there is no reason not to have your BBQ.

Rain and bad weather will have an effect on your BBQ so you will definitely need to take it into consideration. When rain hits the hood of your BBQ, it will have a cooling effect and bring down the ambient temperature inside your BBQ so you may need to add some extra charcoal to keep a steady temperature. The same can be said for cold, frosty day.

Wind can cause your coals to burn faster than usual so make sure you are set up in a sheltered spot and close your vents down a little if needed.

Remember that you don’t have to stand beside your BBQ at all times. Place it close enough to the house so that you can look out the window and check the hood temperature or use something like the iGrill to monitor the temperatures of your BBQ and food from the comfort of your house.

If a BBQ enthusiast hasn’t fired up the BBQ during torrential hurricane conditions, can they really be called a BBQ enthusiast? We all have those pictures of our BBQ’s smoking away with a garden parasol clinging on for dear life over it. The neighbours may think you have lost the plot but it is simply earning your wet weather stripes.

 

The Shack

When the garden parasol isn’t quite cutting it anymore, it may be time to look at building your own covered area for your BBQ’s. This can be as simple as a garden gazebo that will keep the worst of the rain off you as you cook to a large permanent structure for cooking and dining.

A few month’s ago, I had to take down my shelter as we were having some work done in the backyard so I have plans to rebuild it soon so I will be sure to document my plans on the website for you all to follow along with.

There are entire Facebook groups dedicated to outdoor cooking and dining areas so have a look at some different ideas and get inspired. Having somewhere to prepare and cook food in all weathers is a BBQ enthusiasts dream and it makes cooking all year round that little bit easier.

 

Having a BBQ vs Using a BBQ

When I tell people that we cook our Christmas dinner on our BBQ’s, I often think they picture our entire family sitting out in the garden with icicles hanging from the end of our nose, chasing a half frozen brussel sprout around our plates, but it really isn’t any different to cooking your Christmas dinner in the kitchen.

I fire up and preheat the BBQ’s the same way I would preheat the oven. I put the turkey and ham on to cook, the same way I would using an oven, and I get on with the rest of my day. Food cooked on your BBQ doesn’t have to be eaten outdoors. If this was the case, I’m not sure even the most hardcore BBQ veterans would want to do it.

Having a BBQ has become synonymous with getting the entire family around, setting up the garden furniture and enjoying the sunshine. The reality is, all you are doing is cooking dinner. If the weather is rubbish you can eat it in the comfort of your home.

 

If 30 days to better BBQ has help you with anything I hope it is these two things.

  • The possibilities of what you can cook on your BBQ are endless.
  • Your BBQ is a great way to cook food all year round

Tomorrow’s tip will be the last in the 30 Days to Better BBQ series. The tips will remain on the website for everyone to read back through plus I have something else special planned for them that I’ll release more details about soon.

 

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Tip 28 – Pulled Pork Recipe [Video] – 30 Days to Better BBQ

Pulled Pork

We’re at the end of Smoking week in 30 Days to Better BBQ and I want to finish off with another video. This time I’m smoking a pork butt, low and slow in my Weber Smokey Mountain to make pulled pork.

If you are new to low and slow BBQ and smoking, Pulled pork is a great cook to help you practice fire management and temperature control. It is a little more forgiving than some low and slow classics such as brisket as it can handle a slightly higher heat and the window for getting it off the smoker just right is a wider.

 

Setting up the smoker

I used my Weber Smokey Mountain for this cook but you can get equally great results on a Weber Kettle using the snake method for your coal setup.

In the WSM I fired it up using the minion method and brought it up to around 130C. I filled the water bowl to around halfway with boiling water. Using cold water in the bowl will make it difficult to get the smoker up to temperature as the water will absorb a lot of heat.

 

Preparing the Pork Butt

For this cook, I used a 3kg boneless Pork butt, which is from the shoulder of the pig. You can also use a bone in pork shoulder which will still have the blade bone. When the pork shoulder is cooked to tenderness, the blade bone will slide out clean.

To prepare the pork butt for the smoker, you don’t need to do a lot. Remove any ‘knobbly bits’ that are sticking out as they are likely to burn over the duration of the cook. If there is a heavy fat cap on top of the pork butt, this can be trimmed down to allow as much rub as possible to get into the meat. There is plenty of fat in the pork shoulder that will slowly melt, adding flavour to the meat and keeping it moist.

I seasoned the pork butt with two Angus & Oink rubs. The first layer was ‘Porky White Chick’ followed by a layer of ‘The General’. When the pork butt is evenly coated on all sides, it’s time to get it on to smoke.

 

Smoking the Pork Butt

The initial stage of the cook is simply to let the pork butt take on the smoke and to add a great colour to it. After placing the pork butt on the smoker, I added a chunk of Cherry wood and a chunk of Silver Birch, both from Smokewood Shack. I like the flavour of this blend as it is quite mild and you get a great colour from the Cherry wood.

Leave the pork butt to smoke for about 3-4 hours. You can check it from time to time to make sure the surface of the meat isn’t drying out too much and spray it with some apple juice if you need to. Once you are happy with the colour, it is time to lift it off and wrap it up.

 

Wrapping

There are lots of people who will not wrap the pork butt for the entire cook but I like to wrap. It speeds up the cook a little so can be a life saver if you’re pushed for time. You can also add some liquid into the foil which will help braise the pork butt, making it really tender and juicy.

Do your best to avoid tearing any holes in your foil or else you will end up with a puddle on the bottom of your smoker. You want to wrap the pork butt as tightly as possible as this will avoid any steam building up and ruining that bark you worked hard to create.

Once wrapped, put the pork butt back onto the smoker and leave it for another few hours.

 

When is it ready?

After you wrap the pork butt, check it from time to time with your Thermapen. It’s best to feel for tenderness rather than relying on an internal temperature to tell you when your pork butt is ready. You will know you are in the right zone when the internal temperature reaches around 93C but if the probe isn’t pushing into the meat with no resistance, leave the pork butt on the smoker of a little while longer.

When you are happy with how the pork butt is probing, it’s time to lift it off and rest it. I usually leave the pork but loosely wrapped in foil with a few towels over it for about an hour. At this point, the pork butt has cooled enough that you can hold it with your hand without burning.

When it’s time to shred the pork butt, you can use your tongs, bear claws, forks or simply your hands to pulled it apart.

 

If you are new to low and slow BBQ I highly recommend giving pulled pork a try. It’s a straightforward cook that tastes great. It keeps really well in the fridge and is great for wraps and sandwiches for a quick lunch or add it to a pizza.

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Tip 27 – Become best friends with your Butcher – 30 Days to Better BBQ

Beef Ribs from Hillstown Farm Shop

A couple of weeks ago, as I rocked up outside my local farm shop, I found myself asking a really strange question…… “When did I begin to get so excited about going to the butchers?”

It’s an affliction that most BBQ enthusiasts suffer from. Well….. I say suffer, but truth be told, it’s simply another part of BBQ. Using great quality meat on your BBQ is a match made in heaven and it’s only when you have tried better quality meat that you realise what you have been missing out on.

 

So why should you buy your meat from a butcher rather than the supermarkets?

 

Your butcher has spent years learning his craft and is passionate about producing the best quality meat he can. Sadly, not all butchers are created equal but the ones who know their trade become obvious after talking with them a few times.

As a beginner, it can be a little daunting going into your butcher and trying to order the cut of meat you want, especially if it’s not something you would traditionally find on a butcher’s counter but there really is nothing to worry about. A butcher will be more than happy to talk through different cuts and they will more than likely want to know about what you have planned for it. I’ve had some great tips from my butcher on how to cook different cuts, or simply tell your butcher what dish you had in mind and they can recommend the best cut for it.

It won’t be long before a 10 minute trip to the butchers turns into an hour long visit talking about meat and BBQ…… and that’s why I enjoy going to the butcher!

 

Sharpening up your own Butchery Skills

A big part of BBQ is preparing meat to cook on your BBQ. I highly recommend learning some basic butchery skills. There are loads of beginner butchery classes out there you can attend or if you are the ‘learn it yourself’ type of person (like me) then check out The Scott Rea Project on YouTube. I’ve picked up loads of tips from watching Scotts video’s and it is my first port of call when I need to know how to prepare a certain cut of meat.

 

Having trouble finding the meat you want?

Sometimes sourcing the right cuts for BBQ can be difficult. You may have tried all your local butchers but can’t seem to track down what you are looking for. All’s not lost! There are some great butchers out there who offer a delivery service, most nationwide.

If you live on the UK Mainland, you can check out Bob’s Family Butchers in Hatfield who are a traditional Butchers who have really made a name for themselves in the BBQ community for the quality of their meat.

If you are my side of the pond (Northern Ireland), Check out The Meat Merchant in Moira or my local butcher, Hillstown Farm Shop in Ahoghill. Both companies take tremendous pride in the meat they are producing and the end results speak for themselves.

 

These are only a few of the fantastic butchers out there, I would love you to leave a comment below and show your local butcher some BBQ love. Let others know where they can find great quality meat on their doorstep.

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Tip 26 – Varieties of Smoking Wood – 30 Days to Better BBQ

Cherry Wood

Today we are going to take a look at some of the varieties of wood used for smoking and the different flavours they can add to your food. As with any ingredient you use in your cooking, each different variety of wood works better with some meats than others and will give you a different flavour and colour.

Fruit woods such as Apple, Cherry and Pear are some of the milder flavours out there and are a great place to start. The flavour isn’t too intense and has a slight sweetness to it. For some, the flavour of strong smoke can be a little overpowering so these milder woods will give you a great flavour and colour whilst letting the meat come through.

Oak would be considered a medium strength smoking wood and ideal for those who really like to taste the smoke on their food.

 

Whilst most hardwoods are suitable for smoking, there are some woods you should avoid as they can be harmful. These woods are Redwood, Pine, Fir, Elm, Liquid Amber, Cypress, Spruce, Sycamore and Cedar. You should also avoid any wood that has been treated with any kind of preservative.

 

Blending different varieties of wood

It is a great idea to play around with blending different varieties of wood that have different flavours to achieve an overall flavour profile. Blending fruit woods like apple, cherry or pear which give a slightly sweeter smoke with something like beech, oak or hickory can give you a great flavour on your meat.

This is also a great way to intensify the smoke flavour on your food. If you like the flavour of a fruit wood but would like a slightly stronger smoke flavour then rather than adding more wood, try blending a different wood in with the fruit wood to get the best of both worlds.

I have put together a wood smoking chart with some of the more common wood varieties, their strength of flavour and what meat they work well with. This is not an exclusive list and there are other varieties that work well but these will give you a nice mix to get started with

 

Click here to download the wood smoking chart

 

Giveaway Update!

Smokewood Shack Giveaway

To help you experiment with all these different wood flavours and find the right flavours for you, James over at SmokewoodShack.com is going to allow the giveaway winner 25% off their next order so you can stock up on some of the best quality smoking wood around. Make sure to visit the Smokewood Shack website to see their range of Chunks, Chips and Dust.

A huge thank you to James for supporting 30 Days to Better BBQ and helping out with the giveaway. You can follow Smokewood Shack on Twitter and Facebook

 

This is the fourth and final prize to be added to the 30 Days to Better BBQ Giveaway, to find a list of all the prizes and how you can win them, visit http://www.barbechoo.com/giveaway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, 28th June 2017.