BARBECUE COOKER OPERATION & PROCESSES
The cooking directions provided in this section assume a Weber bullet cooker (model #2820) is being used, but the principles apply to other wood smokers as well.
I use Weber Smoky Mountain bullet style water cookers for the chicken and brisket categories. I drilled a hole in the lid for a thermometer probe. Brinkman makes a comparable cooker for less cost. I also use a Weber kettle cooker -- it can be used to cook barbecue or to grill. My cooking partner uses Backwoods (box style) water smokers and a digital meat thermometer probe with a sound alarm. The Backwoods smoker is especially useful for the pork butt category which cooks 14 to 16 hours. All of these cookers use the “indirect” heat method along with water to help stabilize the cooking temperature. The “indirect” method does not allow grease to drip in the fire.
To cook barbecue, the outdoor temperature must be above 40F or the meat won’t get done. Royal Oak charcoal or Kingsford charcoal both work for fuel. We do not use any of the cheap charcoals made from sawdust, pine wood or other evergreen wood because they contain a lot of creosote (tar) and have a low heat value.
Before you begin cooking, level-up the cooker first. Make sure the meat is completely thawed out and holding steady at about 40F. Partially frozen meat causes big problems. Start the charcoal in a charcoal chimney (no lighter fluid or match start charcoal please!). Lowes and Home Depot both carry starter chimneys. When the charcoal is burning nicely, pour it in the charcoal reservoir and add charcoal out of the bag until the charcoal ring is full and just about to overflow. Throw in the bag string for good luck. Leave the cooker uncovered and burn-off the charcoal for about 45 to 60 minutes until it is all gray in color and burning cleanly. Once you get started, never add unseasoned (i.e. unburned) charcoal to the fire.
For smoke wood we use mostly choke-cherry wood, and some white oak. The wood must be dry (not green) and free of bark. Age the wood at least 3 months to get it dry. The wood should be in chunks about 3”x2”x2” or about the size of a nice lemon. Place about 5 chunks on top of the cleanly burning charcoal and let them burn for about 5 minutes.
Bullet style cookers must be assembled while the fire is going. Season the meat and spread it out on the lower grid. Be sure the water bowl will protect the meat from the fire. Place the cooker body over the burning charcoal with water bowl, grids, meat, and lid in place. Be sure to have some water already in the bowl. Don’t spill water over the charcoal. Add more water to the bowl if needed; the smoke will be strong so watch your eyes. Put meat on the top grid and cover with the lid. Make certain the meat does not come in contact with the thermometer probe on the lid.
Close down the air intakes but leave open the exhaust damper. The temperature should hold at about 240F and gradually start to drop to 230F to 225F. This should only take about 15 to 20 minutes. If it takes longer then make sure the lid is down tight. If that doesn’t work then the cooker is leaky or the thermometer could be broke: fix it or get a new one because it won’t hold a steady temperature.
Crack open the air intakes when the temperature drops to about 225F. Don’t open the intakes too far. Hold the cooker temperature steady between 215F and 225F. The smoke should be almost clear and really smelling good. Very little smoke should be visible, but don’t worry about that because you’ll get plenty of smoke flavor. Don’t open the lid very often because the meat will blacken due to oxygen in the air especially when the weather is cool. The cooker should hold a steady temperature for up to 4 hours without adjustments.
If the temperature drops too low there are several ways to correct the problem. First try opening the air intakes further. If that doesn’t work then try moving the lid off-center so it hangs slightly over the edge of the cooker. Leave it there for about 5 minutes. The cooker will draw more air and the temperature should start to climb again. Watch closely because the temperature can run away. As a last resort add more charcoal after burning it off clean in a chimney.
After several hours of cooking the water bowl will get low. Add water as needed, but do not overfill. The water is there to stabilize the temperature. It is not used to steam the meat. Condensate can cause some cooking problems and it reduces smoke penetration.
Temperature measurements should be made with a meat thermometer probe inserted deep inside the meat. Take care that the probe does not contact any bones as this can produce a false low temperature reading. Cook the barbecue at about 215F to 220F until done:
Chicken Light Meat: Smoke 2-1/2 to 3 hrs until internal temperature reaches 155F
Chicken Dark Meat: Smoke 4-1/2 hr until internal temperature reaches 175-180F
Pork Ribs: Smoke 5-1/2 hr until internal temperature reaches 190-195F
Pork Butt: Smoke14-16 hr until internal temperature reaches 185F
Beef Brisket: Smoke 8 hr until internal temperature reaches 165F then wrap in foil and cook to 200-205F internal temperature.
Warm up the barbecue sauce and brush it on to help soften the crust.