BBQ FAQs, Glossary, and Quick Tips

Here are some frequently asked questions, definitions, and quick tips that commonly crop up when barbequing.

Barbecue Pit

This is a hole in the ground with wood coals, over which a grill or rack to hold meat is placed for barbecuing. It is often made of brick or masonry for containing the coals over which meat is cooked on a grate or rack.

Baste, Basting Sauce

Along with cooking at low temperatures, the correct basting sauces are the real secret of great barbecue. Proper basting sauces flavor and tenderize the meat, while also keeping the exterior moist as the inside cooks. It is important to be aware of the fact that good basting sauces should fit the meat you are cooking. Meat without fat interspersed will require oil in the basting sauce. Meats like fat pork, etc., don’t need any additional oil in the sauce.

Broil

Broiling is used to cook tender cuts of meat over hot coals at temperatures varying from 350° F for chicken breasts to 700° F for thick steaks. Hamburgers, hotdogs, chops, shish kabob, etc. are all broiled. It is the high heat that seals in the flavor and juices, which are retained if the meat is not over cooked.

Charcoal

Charcoal is in reality, the remains of wood which has had the moisture and volatile gasses driven off by being burned in an oxygen deficient atmosphere. Since charcoal can be no better than the wood from which it was made, the best charcoal for outdoor cooking is made exclusively from hardwoods bound together by pressure and a starch binder. Some big name brands use anthracite coal and some use clay as the binder.

Dry Rub

A dry rub is a mixture of salt and seasonings that is rubbed into the surface of meat – usually pork spare ribs, before the meat is placed on the grill. Dry rubs are reputed to have first come from the Memphis, TN – Kansas City, MO areas. Rubs are not suitable for meat requiring long cooking periods, because the exterior of the meat will dry out unless it is very fatty. Dry rubs may be placed on the meat minutes or hours before cooking.

Electric Grill 

An appliance containing a meat rack or grill over an electric heating element that basically works the same as the broiler in an electric stove.

Gas Grill

An appliance containing a gas-fired burner under a grill or grate for food. Clean, convenient gas grills are excellent for broiling hamburgers, hot dogs and even steaks if they produce enough heat (minimum of 30M BTUs). Gas grills that have separately controllable right and left burners and enough volume under the lid can be used to roast.

With the lid closed, a gas grill works just like a gas home oven. With the lid open, it works just like the broiler in a gas stove.

Grill 

To grill is to cook food on a grill, or grate, over a heat source. Grilling may include broiling, roasting, barbecuing, smoking, drying, baking or steaming. In normal usage, it means to broil items such as burgers, hot dogs, steaks, shish kabobs, shrimp, etc.

Heat – Basically, heat will move from areas or objects of higher temperature to regions or objects of lower temperature, until a state of equilibrium is reached. Heat will move in only three ways: conduction, convection or radiation.

Conduction is the transfer of heat through direct contact, i.e., it moves from molecule to molecule. For example, the grate or grill upon which the meat rests, having a higher specific heat than the meat, conducts heat to the meat. That is how those beautiful brown stripes come to appear on the surface of a steak. Next, the exterior of the meat (on the grill) conducts heat to the interior, molecule by molecule. Conduction is extremely important in barbecuing because heat must be conducted from the exterior to the center slowly and gently so as not to dry out the exterior. Using lower temperatures over longer periods of time is the primary distinction of barbecue from roasting or broiling. It also allows for more flavoring and more fun time.

Convection is the transfer of heat by movement of heated masses, i.e. air, water, oil. In an oven, an enclosed grill or in the path of heated air, convection is at work. Convection allows us to remove the meat from directly over the coals and, therefore, tend the coals without disturbing the meat.

Radiation is the transmission of heat in waves of energy resulting from vibration of agitated molecules. In a closed grill, meat receives radiated heat from the coals, if it is over them, and from the heated mass of metal in which it is enclosed.

In an enclosed grill, unless meat is suspended from or resting upon a non-conducting surface, it is, at all times, receiving heat by all three heat-transfer methods. Though all of this probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to the average barbecuer the griller (or to the meat), what is essential in barbecuing is that the exterior of the meat does not over cook, dry out, burn, blacken or char – before the interior reaches an acceptable temperature. This requires that meat receive a constant flow of heat, in any form or forms, at a temperature low enough to permit conduction, within the meat, time to work.

For a barbecuer, the most effective grill is one that will allow its operator to present heat by all three forms in a controlled fashion over long periods of time, and still have ready access to the meat and to the coals. The greater the size of the cooker and of the coal bed, the more consistent the transfer of heat will be.

Smoked Flavor

It is not recommended that you use raw wood – i.e. any whole wood that may contain resins because the resins can easily taint the flavor of your meat. Charcoal, on the other hand has much of the wood resins cooked out. In many cases, the smoky flavor you want will come as much from the fats and juices that drip onto the coals and then rise up in the form of smoky flavor.

If you really want to use wood to help flavor your food, try to find small raw pieces of wood, wood shavings or even sawdust from a person or company doing woodworking. Sprinkle or place these on the coals for additional wood flavoring.

Wood Chips

There are many different types of wood chips that can be used in a wood-burning pit, wood-burning grill or even a gas grill. Some of the more popular types include chips of apple, oak, mesquite, hickory, cherry, pecan, alder, maple, elm, pear, peach, beech, birch and many others. The best way to use them is to place them in a cast-iron smoker box (or heavy-duty aluminum foil) to keep them from burning up. Soak them in water or apple juice for at least one hour prior to use. Don’t be afraid to try several different types of wood to determine which best suit your tastes.

Smoker

An appliance or structure for smoking meat as opposed to cooking it.

Keeping Everything Sanitary

It is important that you clean your grill regularly. Not only grill surface needs to be cleaned, but also the inside lid and body cavity. Use a wire brush on the grates and a scraper on the solid parts of the equipment. Remove all coals along with any liquids which either accumulated or were placed in the grill.

Rainy Day Cooking 

Always cook more than you plan on eating the day you cook. Barbecued foods freeze quite well and taste great on those cold and rainy days when the weather really is too bad to barbecue.

How to Keep Meat from Getting Stuck on the Grill – Have you ever placed meat on a hot grill only to have it stick and pull apart while trying to turn it over? To remedy this problem, simply use a bristle brush to coat the surface of the meat lightly with a little cooking oil. This procedure should reduce or eliminate most sticking to the cooking surface.

Cutting Spare Ribs

Place the cooked ribs with the bone side up, so they are easier to see, then carefully slice between the bones, so as not to remove the meat. It helps greatly if your knife is sharp!

How to Tell When Ribs Are Done

Try tearing or pinching the meat from the bones – it should come off quite easily. If it doesn’t, you might want to cook them a bit longer, though this is more a matter of personal preference. The internal temperature of the ribs on the thick end should be between 155-165° F.

Country Style Ribs

Country Style Ribs are not ribs at all, but bone-in loin that comes from the end of the loin closest to the shoulder of a hog. The meat is very lean, more so than from the spare rib. There is, however bone and fat portions present. Season like spare ribs and cook until the internal temperature is approximately 155-165° F – do not over cook!

Baby Back Ribs (Loin Ribs)

Baby backs are more expensive than spare ribs and actually have less meat on them. Their flavor is excellent and the smaller ones are great for grilling. They typically average 1¼-2½ pounds each. Again, do not over cook!

Marinating the Meat

Place the meat with the marinade in the refrigerator in a plastic container with a tight lid, then periodically turn the container over to expose the other side of the meat to the marinade. The same results may be accomplished by placing the meat and marinade in a sealable plastic bag, though use caution here, as anything with sharp edges could puncture the bag and you’ll have marinade leaking all over your refrigerator.

Remove the Ashes

Always remove as many of the ashes from your grill as possible. While the ashes themselves pose no particular problem, when moisture or water gets in the ashes, it will create a very corrosive compound capable of eating through most metals. Your equipment will last much longer when properly taken care of.