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
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 OrionCustom 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
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I have three
parameters to cooking that I’d like to address that should help explain my
justification for what qualifies as barbecue.
Temperature Comes First
People are often surprised that I don’t include equipment in my considerations but if you’ve followed our recipe blog“Cooking With Dr. Smoke”, you’re well aware that we include a wide array of equipment to demonstrate wood flavor infusion to all types of foods. One area we do focus on, however, is temperature when cooking.
Extremely Low Temperature (below 80° F):
If the first thing that comes to mind is a temperature under 80°F is just not cooking, you’d be right. Basically, this is a temperature that is ideal to complete cold smoking. Fish, cheese, and some meat products can be exposed to this low temperature process when a combustible plant material is used. In most cases, that is wood to smolder and produce a gas or vapor. The smoke vapor produced from the smoldering wood invokes flavor and preservative qualities to the foods without causing fragile items such as cheese, chocolate, and similar food items to have their molecular composition destroyed by heat. When meats are exposed to this low temperature environment with smoldering wood, the smoke vapor penetrates completely through the meat since there is no high heat surface hardening that occurs like with hot smoking temperatures.
Low Temperature (180° to 300°F):
We’ve all heard the term low and slow cooking. This is the low temperature reference to cooking tougher cuts of meat. However, for me, even more tender cuts can be done using low temperature cooking, especially when paired with an indirect cooking set up or two-zone cooking. Additionally, this temperature range is not just for meats and poultry, but fish, fruits, and vegetables also benefit.
High Heat Temperature (350° to 550°F or more):
Higher temperatures are generally for cooking smaller cuts of meat and poultry that don’t require a lot of cooking time. Plus, high heat temperature can develop the char crust exterior on foods that many people crave with outdoor meals. Know that you can use traditional grills for both direct, high heat cooking as well as indirect set up. The indirect will allow you to cook the food through by placing on the indirect, non-heat side and then use the direct side for adding a sear to the finished foods.
If you agree with me that barbecue is cooking with smoke then you’ll understand the need for a combustible material. Some type of plant material must be used to generate the smoke. The most popular material is wood or hardwood to be specific, since you should never cook with softwoods due to their higher sapwood content, resin, and air space in the cell walls.
First, understand smoke is a gas or vapor and can result from juices and fats that drip off foods into the fuel area of equipment, result from a fuel source like charcoal emitting smoke at it gains temperature to produce hot coals, and result from wood or other plant material (think herbs, teas, etc.) that is ignited. You’ve likely experienced the first when cooking hamburgers, hot dogs or steak on direct heat of a charcoal or gas grill and watched the flames start with each drip of the fats/juices. Just as you’ve likely experienced lighting charcoal and having a plume of smoke sit until the charcoal begins to gray over and produce high heat. Come Fall and Spring, if you are a leaf burner, you’ve experienced the thick sometimes choking smoke that results from burning leaves, certainly not a pleasant plant material to use for food cooking.
Although you’ve likely read that true barbecue is done low (temperature) and slow (length of time to cook), I will tell you that you can still produce smoked foods using temperatures considered above traditional hot smoking levels and in shorter time periods. I’ve done bone-in beef shanks on the gas grill using a two-zone cooking method with wood chunks and had these done in about 75 minutes using a temperature close to 300°F. They, to me, are a true barbecue item, right down to the wet rub, wood flavor infusion, and smoke infused color.
I agree, tougher cuts of meat and poultry benefit from longer cooking times to allow the connective tissue to dissolve. Plus, my preference is to use a temperature closer to 275°F for most of my animal protein cooking. For my vegetables and fruits, though, I turn up the heat still using wood for true smoking. I use the tenderness of the vegetable and fruit to guide me on the timing.
In short, true barbecue is cooking with smoke and for me that is cooking with suitable hardwoods known to present pleasant flavors to foods you cook. You can introduce hardwood to pretty much any type of equipment including home made smokers whether for the outdoors or on your indoor stove top.
The key is
to utilize an ideal temperature to generate quality and flavorful smoke gas
production, as well as a tempered hand in the amount of wood to use at a
time. You’ll find that you can produce
the flavors of barbecue with any equipment and any food. After all, barbecue seems to have gone beyond
just animal proteins.
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