Barbecuing takes a long time—two hours to barbecue a chicken breast or fish and 4–12 hours for most other foods. Most of the cooking time is idle time, but there are three things you should do continuously during this process:
- Maintain the fire temperature.
- Mop the meat.
- Rotate the meat.
Maintain the Fire Temperature
You must attend to the smoker or grill at regular intervals to keep the fire within a range of 180–250°F. In smokers and charcoal grills, the fuel burns itself out over time, and the temperature starts to dip. This occurs about every 20–30 minutes, although many factors influence how often you need to feed the fire, including the temperature and windspeed of the outside air and the thickness of the walls of your grill or smoker. Above all, follow these two crucial guidelines:
- Check the temperature every 20 minutes.
- At the first sign of a dipping temperature, open the bottom vents to allow more oxygen to reach the fire. If this seems not to be working after about 15 minutes, add more lit fuel to the fire.
If you allow the temperature to fall into the lower end of the 180–250°F range, it may be too late.
Add Fuel to the Fire
If your fire is stable and strong, you can probably keep it at the right temperature by adjusting the bottom vents. If the fire temperature is falling rapidly or has already fallen toward the bottom of the acceptable range, the best way to increase the temperature is to add hot coals. You may want to keep a closed grill full of hot coals on hand in case this happens. That way you won’t have to light your chimney starter in a hurry and hope the coals will light before your fire temperature falls too low.
Mop the Meat
The mop, or mopping sauce, is a liquid mixture applied to meat as it barbecues in order to provide flavor and moisture during the long hours of smoking. Mops are made of liquids and spices. The following samples give a good sense of the various types of mops you can create.
Brisket Beer Mop
- 12 oz beer
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
- 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
Pork Shoulder Mop
- 2 cups cider vinegar
- 3 Tbsp ketchup
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp Tabasco sauce
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 Tbsp ground black pepper
Apply the Mop
Apply the mop using a mopping brush every 20–30 minutes or whenever the meat’s surface appears dry. If you’re barbecuing on a grill, apply the mop as quickly as possible so you don’t let out too much heat when you lift the grill’s lid.
Rotate the Meat
If you’re barbecuing more than one piece of meat, rotate the pieces every hour to ensure even cooking. To rotate the meat properly, follow these steps:
- Move each piece to a new spot on the grill.
- Turn each piece 180 degrees.
- Flip over all meats except brisket. Do not flip brisket, which should lie with its fatty side facing upwards.