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For John Lewis and his father, John Lewis, Sr., barbecue is a family affair. The pair have been working for years to perfect the wood-fired barbecue pits that Lewis uses at his restaurants. Here, Lewis shares seven secrets for pulling off a perfect summer barbecue at home.
For John Lewis and his father, John Lewis, Sr., barbecue is a family affair. The pair have been working for years to perfect the wood-fired barbecue pits that Lewis uses at his restaurants, including the forthcoming Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, slated for later this year. Their company, Austin Smoke Works, now sells the hand-built smoker to barbecue-obsessed home cooks. Here, Lewis shares seven secrets for pulling off a perfect summer barbecue at home.
1. Pick pork. Start barbecuing with pork butt, the most forgiving cut of meat, for slow cooking. The meat almost always turns out juicy and is a lower price per pound than other cuts, so it’s perfect for honing your barbecue skills and feeding a crowd inexpensively.
2. Invest in a good thermometer. Keeping a steady temperature is paramount for meats that take hours to cook, but unfortunately, the typical store-bought offset smoker is equipped with a cheap and unreliable temperature gauge. To ensure a controlled temperature, replace the gauge with a heavy-duty pit thermometer (I prefer Tel-Tru) and place it on the cooking grate level so you can read the temperature where the meat is actually located. (Remember: heat rises to the top of the cooker, so the gauge will read 25-50 degrees hotter than where the meat is.)
3. Be choosy about your meat. The quality of meat is key to a succulent finished product. Seek out highly marbled cuts instead of just picking brisket on top of the butcher’s case. Try to find USDA grade prime beef and heritage breeds of pork.
4. Hold off on the sauce. If applied too soon, sauces and glazes with a high sugar content will burn. Save them for the final 15-20 minutes of cooking, especially with direct heat cooking/grilling.
5. Keep the heat steady. With backyard smokers, it is very difficult to maintain a small enough live, all-wood fire to keep your pit at the low temperature required for slow cooking. Using charcoal and adding a few hardwood chunks every hour will ensure that the heat remains consistent.
6. Rest your meat. My rule of thumb for testing meat after it comes out of the smoker is to use your hand: If you can hold your hand on it for a couple seconds, then it’s ready to cut. If you start slicing your barbecue too soon after it comes off the grill, you will notice a lot of steam evaporating – that’s the juice in the meat floating into the air!
7. Go naked. Try serving barbecue sauce on the side (instead of on your meat) so your guests can taste the long hours you put into smoking.