Wed 22 May 2019
Read other related stories: Charcoal Grilling , General Smoking Information , Grilling , Outdoor Cooking , Recipes , Smoking with chips , Smoking with chunks , Two-Zone Cooking Method
It should come as no surprise that majority of grill owners invest in a gas grill for their outdoor cooking with over 80% of these owners investing in multiple accessories for that grill. Often, many of these grill owners will venture to make an additional purchase of a second type of grill like a charcoal or pellet grill/smoker, in order to be able to cook more barbecue or smoked food options.
My intent is to demonstrate to you that you can produce authentic flavors, colors, textures, and aromas of favorite barbecue proteins with a variety of equipment, all outfitted with hardwood for the authentic wood flavoring.
I’ll be taking Boston butt to a traditional gas grill, a kettle charcoal grill, and a convection-style grill to demonstrate just how easy it is to cook this popular animal protein while giving you a bit of education on how these units are different when hardwood is incorporated.
Set Up Similarities and Differences
When it comes to setting up the grills for smoking, there are some obvious differences. First, let me name the equipment brands I’ve included and the intended set up of each for cooking and smoking the Boston Butt cuts, all of which approximate 8 lbs.
The Stôk Quattro 4-Burner Grill:
If you are not familiar with this grill, it is equipped with an insert system to allow you to use a standard grilling grate, a griddle, grill basket, vegetable tray, pizza stone, Dutch oven, Wok, and other inserts that easily pop in and out of the cast iron grates. Despite this feature, you can do traditional smoking using wood chunks without the need for the smoker/infuser insert.
Whenever I smoke on a traditional gas grill, I always set up a two-zone cooking method. This means, on my 4-burner Stôk, I will ignite just two of the burners on one side. You can either place wood chunks directly on the heat shields of the unit or use a metal smoker box. My Boston butt will cook on the unlit side of the grill with a metal smoker box containing 3 wood chunks on the hot side. I’ve also included a second smoker box to make it easier to swap out the first when the wood becomes completed charred. My temperature is 225°F for the actual cooking.
This is an outdoor convection unit that uses briquets for the heat and Minuto® Wood Chips placed around the drip/water pan for the wood flavoring. This unit will be the fastest to cook the Boston Butt, with an anticipated timing of 4-1/2 hours total. This is a direct cooking method that uses the radiated heat of the stainless-steel body to trap and circulate the heat for faster cooking time.
There is no ability to replenish the wood chips with this unit due to the high heat level. About 15 lbs. of briquet and 4 ounces of Orion Custom Wood Chips is all that is needed to smoke, plus some water in the water/drip pan for a moist outcome.
Weber® Kettle 22” Charcoal Grill:
Likely one of the most popular charcoal grills, the Weber® kettle provides for the opportunity to cook with charcoal and hardwood. I’ll be setting up my grill using a two-zone method; charcoal/wood on half the fire area and the meat placed on the indirect side.
Due to the length of time Boston butt takes to cook, you likely will need to replenish the charcoal for maintenance of heat level. I prefer to maintain a temperature around 250° F.
For similarities: both the Weber® and the Stôk grill were set up with a two-zone cooking method. Both included use of the SmokinLicious® double filet wood chunk. The length of cooking time between the charcoal unit and the gas unit are very similar, taking close to 10 hours.
For differences: temperature maintenance is easier with the gas and convection units. The charcoal unit requires much more supervision to ensure that the fuel (charcoal) is replenished prior to the temperature of the grill decreasing significantly. You are also able to check on the meat’s coloring and evenness of cooking with the charcoal and gas units while the convection unit is generally left alone until closer to the recommended cooking times. Though you can check on the doneness of the meat at any point with the convection unit, generally there is no need to do anything but wait.
Regarding cooking variations, let’s discuss color, bark formation, moisture of the meat.
Barbecue By All Methods
With all four of the Boston Butt (s) prepared in the same manner – excess fat trimmed to ¼-inch or less, a dry rub applied on all sides, and marinated for 24 hours – this is a fair comparison of how each grilling and smoking method produces the barbecue results commonly looked for.
Without question, bark or the outer crust that develops from exposure to a lower temperature, long cook time, and smoke vapor infusion was greatest on the Boston butt cooked on the Weber® Kettle 22” Charcoal Grill. The gas grill produces the least amount of bark which is dominate on the outer edges and top surface.
The darkest coloring to the bark and the most obvious smoke ring was on the meat cooked on the charcoal grill. The Orion Cooker produced a brown hue to the meat’s exterior while the meat cooked on the gas grill retained a red hue that was indicative of the dry rub color. Charcoal grills will produce a black hued coloring due to two combustible materials: charcoal or charred wood and hardwood.
The meat that produced the greatest amount of rendered juice was from the charcoal cooking method. Second, the convection grill method followed by the gas grill. However, the greatest internal moisture level was obtained from the indirect cooking method on the gas grill, followed by the charcoal method and lastly the convection method.
What we’ve set out to accomplish with this multi cook segment is to prove that no matter what equipment you have, you can produce authentic flavor, aroma and texture to Boston butt. This can be invaluable for those times when you may not have a lot of time to supervise the smoker or grill but still want authentic barbecue. Or, when you must make a lot of meat meaning you must use all the equipment options you have available.
From a taste perspective, our sampling group indicated that the strongest smoked flavor was from the charcoal unit, followed by the convection grill and lastly, the gas grill. Keep this information in mind when you’re cooking for others, as boldness of the smoke flavor can be controlled not only by the amount of time exposed to the smoke vapor, but also with the equipment used for the cooking and the amount and type of hardwood used in the process.
This certainly is a clear example of how anyone can produce authentic barbecue on the equipment they have even if it’s not a traditional smoker.
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