Barbecuing–and by that I mean the low-and-slow cooking of meats employing live fire and smoke–is more art than science. Not that there isn’t plenty of chemistry and physics going on, too, but I’m certainly not the guy to try to explain that stuff! What I mean to say is that the people who do it best has already been gotten there by years of practise, trial and error, patience, and perseverance. Either that, or they grew up alongside someone who did so before them. Books and YouTube videos are helpful, but the best way to learn and perfect this art is to get out and try and fail and try again.
True barbecue is as much about building and maintaining flames as it is about sourcing, seasoning, and cooking meat. Which means that barbecue is also about buying, storing, and chopping timber, which is why so many home cooks opt for easier solutions like charcoal-fueled water smokers or gas- or electric-powered vertical smokers. But without live fire and real wood smoking, food will never reach its true potential to become that intoxicatingly flavorful, complex, and deeply aromatic food of the gods.
Pitmasters obsess over smoke: good smoke, bad smoke, black smoking, blue smoking. The aim is to create and maintain a steady flowing of pale gray smoking that is so illumination, it nearly seems blue. You should wait to place the food into the smoker until it reaches the proper temperature and” the smoking is operating clear .” This is the type of smoke I am referring to. Good smoke is produced by a properly built and tended fire burning at optimal temperature. Once that flame is going great, maintaining ideal cooking temperatures is as easy as adding an occasional log and regulating the airflow by adjusting the dampers.
To achieve that” good smoking ,” it’s crucial to start with properly seasoned timber. Seasoned timber is wood that has been cut to length, split, stacked, and allowed to dry over months and months. Seasoned wood burns easier and faster and produces the kind of smoke that pitmasters necessitate. You’ll often hear barbecue pros go on and on about specific types of wood and how they are the best for this or that particular style or application of barbecue. But the one thing they all have in common is that they utilize species native to their location, because using what you readily have available only induces sense economically. In Texas, they burn post oak. In Kansas City, they burn hickory. In Cleveland, we burn apple- and cherry wood because northeast Ohio has tons of fruit orchards. Barbecue is regional because it developed around the use of local wood, livestock, and equipment.
When it comes to cooking and eating, there are few things in this world that I love more than pork belly. This affordable cut of meat is so versatile. Most of us know that pork belly becomes bacon when it’s cured and smoked. But when you simply season and smoke it, like we do at Mabel’s, you end up with something completely different in texture. Our popular pork belly is smoky, meaty, and deliciously rich. Some might even say it’s unctuous. How’s that for a $10 term!