Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Making better barbecue part 4

Having covered some of the essentials in cookers and cooking (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), I thought I’d cover some outdoor cooking accessories that, while not necessarily essential, make outdoor cooking easier.

You have a cooker. You have meat, rub, sauces, etc. You’re ready to get your barbecue on! And, well, that’s pretty much true. But what I’m about to list are some items some pitmasters consider indispensible while some are just nice to have.

Chimney Starter

While I’ve spent many years using that demon juice – lighter fluid – I’ve repented and come back from the dark side. There is no more important an item outside of cooker, meat and fuel, than a chimney. You should buy this along with your cooker and if you already have a grill or smoker, you should go out and buy one now and give up that lighter fluid right now! It’s amazing the difference you’ll realize in the taste of your meat. If you’ve been using lighter fluid for some time, the best thing to do would be to get yourself some Greased Lightning or Simple Green and clean out your grill. Coat it lightly with some vegetable or canola oil and get a good, high-heat fire going and burn it out. It’ll be like starting over and you’ll get most if not all of that old lighter-fluid buildup out before starting anew with your chimney.

Barbecue tongs

The next thing I think of when I think of a “must have” barbecue tool is my set of tongs. This seems like a no-brainer – how else are you going to tend to your smoked products? – but you need to think about some things when buying your tongs. You don’t want to just buy the first set you see on sale at Target or whatever. If you’re cooking pork butts and briskets, you’re dealing with big hunks o’ meat between 8 and 16 pounds. You need to make sure that 1) Your tongs can support that kind of weight, 2) They can open wide enough and get a good enough grip on that Boston Butt you’re spending 12-plus hours preparing.

Heavy-duty foil

Foil is the duct tape of outdoor cooking. I use heavy-duty foil for so many things. I wrap ribs, butts and briskets to help capture moisture and increase tenderness after the meat’s cooked for a few hours. I wrap meat to rest it after a cook (which, by the way, you should always do). I use foil to help dampen air flow in my grill. I use it to wrap my water pan in high-heat smokes. If you can think of something you want to add to your cooker, chances are you can kludge it with foil until you figure out a better way.

Chef's knife

A good chef's knife is an invaluable tool for preparing your products for the grill. From removing the membrane from your ribs or slicing up your veggies, one really good knife will quickly earn its keep. I'm not knife expert, but we have a couple of five-inch Pampered Chef utility knives that are priceless. I've read that you can't go wrong with Wusthof or Henckels. What I do know is that you certainly get what you pay for in a good knife.

Instant-read thermometer

There are tons of quick-read standard or digital thermometers out there. Some are good, some are bad, but the absolute best product – according to its users FWTW – is the Thermapen. You will pay a motha-flipping premium for it though. While your Kitchenaid or similar portable therm may set you back $20 or so, that Thermapen is going to cost your $100 or better. Do you really need a three-second read time (or better)? That’s up to you. I will say, for long cooks, the longer you take that lid off, the more time you add to your cook. But I don’t own a Thermapen; my $20 digital thermometer works just fine.

Remote thermometer

Remote thermometers are awesome. For a really long cook (anything longer than 5 or 6 hours in my book) they’re a Godsend. They allow you to monitor the temps of your meat or cooker (or both) while you’re inside relaxing. When I ordered my WSM, I ordered this Weber remote thermometer at the same time because the site I ordered from had a good sale on it. Had I done a little more research before hand, though, I would have ordered the Maverick ET-73. The Weber only allows me to monitor one meat and it has presets – it is similar to another Maverick’s product – their ET-7. The Maverick ET-73 allows you to monitor a meat and cooker temps or two meats and is fully programmable. The remote therm is not a necessity, but, man, it sure is nice.

Welding gloves

You can go spend a premium price for a set of specialized barbecue mitts that are cumbersome and make it very difficult to manipulate your tools or cooker, OR you can spend far less money and get a pair of welding gloves that do the same job and give you the full mobility of a five-fingered glove. My barbecue mitt predates my getting this sage advice, so I hope I preempt some of y’all.

Meat injector

I mentioned in an earlier post about marinades and injections. For big cuts like Boston butts or briskets, a marinade is only going to do some good if you inject it. You can go and spend five bucks at Wallyworld and get one of those cheap, plastic injectors with the flimsy needle. Chances are you’ll use it once and decide it’s not worth it to try again, or you might wind up buying one every Thanksgiving to help out with your turkey. If you really want to get into flavoring your meats and want to inject, you need to consider a higher-quality injector. A four-ounce all-metal injector will run you $20-$25, but you can shoot the moon. There are pump models that have external reservoir tanks and vacuum models that shoot the injection in for you.

Have fun looking at and playing with your toys, but the most important thing is to practice!

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