I list TIMING as the # 1 item that you as a competition or backyard BBQ’er must understand. TIMING encompasses many aspects of the BBQ process that you as the BBQ’er must master as it is the core skill in BBQing. Regardless, of backyard or competition BBQing, you have to have the food ready for a particular time. The time can be your competition turn in times or the time your family will be ready to eat on a Saturday afternoon! I believe TIMING includes these sub -topics that you must understand and master.
KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR TOOLS
This should be common sense to know that you should master your tool and if it isn’t, I am here to tell you that it is!! Whether it is a BBQ Off-set or Upright smoker, standard or Kamado style grill or any combination or contraption that allows you BBQ. The only way to really know your tool is to cook on it.
My off-set smoker specs:
40″ length cook chamber
20″OD PIPE , 19.5 ID PIPE, Full 1/2 inch wall thickness Cook Chamber
1. Preheat times
Knowing how long it takes you to get your pit to temperature is important. Just because you started the fire doesn’t mean you can put the meat on. Just like an oven you want to preheat your pit before you start cooking. Understand how long it takes for you to get the fire where you want it and temperatures where you want it. This includes how long to get charcoal to proper cooking or wood to crackling or wood burned down to coals to feed firebox. On my pit, it takes ~1 hour to get my pit to cooking temperatures once I put the coals in that I want to start at. To get the coals/wood ready is another 15 minutes! This time is included in the total length of time for you to cook your meat.
2. Re-fuel times
You should know how often you must refuel. On those long slow and low overnight cooks understanding when to refuel can enhance your ability to get some sleep/rest or do other things like preparing spices and sides during the competition or your backyard cook. This also let’s you know how many bags of coal or hardwood you will need. You don’t want to be begging for fuel because you didn’t bring enough to cook 12 + hours on a brisket, ribs, butt, or chicken!! On my pit, it took usually ~1 hour before I had to refuel with charcoal and logs. Since December 2017, I have insulated my pit I extended the refuel to 3 hours!! This is covered in #5 below. Definitely more time for sleep, drinking, and other activities in the middle of the night cook..wink..wink.. 🙂
3. Temp probe accuracy
This is probably the only mechanical device on your pit. With any mechanical device that has moving parts or disposable parts in the instance of digital probes, regular wear and tear can render the device inaccurate and useless. This is very important to know that your temp probe is accurate. Is the temp on the gauge the same temperature within the cook chamber. I find that after sometime the stationary pit probe or wired probe can lose its accuracy. Be aware of this and I would recommend at least once a year testing your equipment out especially the temperature probes used for cooking for accuracy. 1 way I confirmed temperature gauge accuracy was to have another temp probe and compare the pit stationary probe vs mobile wired probe. I also test my probe ondefined temperatures like boiling water which 212º.
In an off-set pit the grill closest to the firebox is always hotter. In a reverse flow pit the hot spot is in a different area. Know the distance you should cook at from the firebox or the hot spots. You don’t want to overcook or burn your meat because you had not mastered the hot-spots on your pit.
5. How does your pit perform in cold ambient temperature & windy conditions?
Understand heat dissipation if you can. Understand that cold and/or windy weather can and will affect your cook process. Wind and cold ambient temperatures will make your cook chamber dissipate heat much faster. Where I was normally every hour to re-fuel, I encountered 30-34 degree temperatures during a BBQ competition which required me to refuel every 15-30 minutes!!! This was a surprise and required me stay up all night with the brisket and ribs. This was one of my most miserable and most difficult cooks as I could never get rest nor negate the the fluctuating cook chamber temps. Needless to say, my brisket was not cooked to tenderness. Since then I have insulated my pit. See the results here : Insulating Your BBQ Pit
KNOW YOUR MEAT
I am sure you have heard this before but it is worth repeating. KNOW YOUR MEAT!! You should understand what recommended temperature your meat must be at to be considered cooked and the desired temperature that it is considered delicious especially for brisket and pork butt! Nothing will disqualify you or get you low placement or receive the “eww” faster with the judges and dinner guests then blood or the appearance of rawness appearing in your chicken or or a tough to bite piece of meat!!
1. USDA Recommended Meat Temperature
I have included a link to the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA and their recommended temperatures for various meats. You should know this like the back of your hand.
2. Desired Meat Temperature
The desired meat temp of course is much different than the recommended cook temp especially in the case of brisket and pork butt. The desired cook temp can vary depending on your practice and what you want to achieve. I have seen different temps that different cooks have done. As a general rule of thumb Brisket achieves its best meat state after 195º-200º. However a different cook that believes and cooks brisket to 180º but he had a different cook process with different meat rest times, different desired taste/expectation, and different cook temperature intervals. I have another friend that likes to cook to 205º and again with a different process for completion. You will have to practice this on your own to get the desired meat temperature. For me, I like to cook brisket to 196º and pulled pork butt to 203º.
3. Meat rest times
If you decide that resting your meat is beneficial then you should include that in your cook time. I am a proponent of resting the meats before turn in however I have encountered others that do not rest meat before turn in. This will have to be decision you come to based on your PRACTICE.
In case you didn’t know, the process of resting your meat is removing the meat from the heat and put into a separate container. I like to use an empty ice chest, where I wrap the meat in towels with aluminum/buthcer paper on (Texas Crutch style) and place wrapped meat in the empty ice chest and let it rest. An ice chest is ideal when at the BBQ competition site which, in my opinion, easy to tote and affordable. If at home I use the oven to let it rest.
I can provide you what my practice to date has resulted in. These are my results and may vary greatly from what you discover in your PRACTICE.
Brisket – 2 hour rest after I reach my desired cook temperature. There are different opinions here varying from 2 to 4 hours. I recommend that you practice so you can determine what is best for you on your pit to determine this. In my opinion, it results in a more tender and juicy piece of meat.
Chicken – I believe 15-30 minute rest period once the temps hit 164F and during the rest period it hits 165F. I believe anything beyond 165F is just drying the chicken out! However there are many instances I go higher temps to assure that blood doesnt scare away the taste testers from eating your chicken. Last thing you want is to be disqualified and chicken tossed out because taste tester is scared to eat your chicken!! Only practice can get perfection in your chicken.
Pork Ribs – 30 min rest on my ribs after my cook. I believe it makes the meat juicer.
TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT TIMING IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.