Well, you asked for it. Here, Smoky answers the most commonly asked questions. He is direct, honest and offers an insight into the time proven techniques to preparing great barbecue that is unavailable elsewhere. If you are unable to locate the exact answer you are seeking, feel free to contact him directly and ask!
He returns all questions . . . . . . .
Topic: Charcoal . . . . From: Dave,
Subject: Re: Charcoal and the Weber Kettle
I have to mention this web site, and in particular, your column and advice, are absolutely fantastic. You are indeed the Yoda of BBQ. Smoky, though I am unworthy, I have to ask your thoughts on the Weber kettle. I purchased one thinking I was a real hardcore BBQ person. Most folks in Toronto use gas grills. I much prefer the taste of the charcoal grill. The Weber is also very well built and fun to use. They also have by far the best info on charcoal BBQ. (Until I found this site and your column in particular.) I am curious to get your thoughts and recommendations pertaining to charcoal,(vs GAS) and the Charcoal BBQ that you recommend, and why.
I know that you are going to make a master barbecuer because you are already a "smooth talking devil" and I never met a grill master who wasn't.
Thanks for your kind words.
For grilling, the Webber is super. It is reasonably priced, safely stable, neat and functional. It is best used for those types of cooking which do not require replenishing the coals, i.e. broiling steaks, chops, 'burgers, etc. and roasting small roasts, poultry, etc.
As you know, barbecuing requires low temps. and long times. The coals have to be replenished and the max.temp. should not exceed 225°F for more than occasional short periods. Because of the physical limitations of the design, it is more difficult than it ought to be to barbecue. Before I would use a Webber to barbecue, I would dig a whole in the ground or carve up a 55 gal drum into a barbecue grill.
As for gas vs charcoal (wood coals), gas is neat and clean. Therein lies the problem. It is those vapors of wood coals that impart that flavor which distinguishes outdoor cooking from kitchen fare. You can help the flavor of gas cooked meat with a few green limbs of certain hardwoods - oak, hickory, pecan, apple, etc.- but not duplicate the long exposure to wood coals. Further, gas grills are normally too small to barbecue. Good for grilling, but can make the grade for serious barbecuing.
The best charcoal that I know of is produced by Hickory Specialties in Brentwood, TN. They sell under the Natur-Glo and Jack Daniels labels. They also produce and package some housebrands. Problem there is you rarely ever know which retailer because retailers don't know and don't give a damn about any aspect of charcoal except the price.
Quality charcoal briquettes will be firm and dense with very little disintigration. Shake the bag, if there is a lot of dust and particles moving about, look for another brand. If the bag does not say "all hardwood" pass it up. You can bet your sweet pork butt that, if were made of hardwood, they would be proud. I cannot recommend either of the two major US brands - Kingsford and Royal Oak. My advice is to look for local brands and buy a small bag of each. Open them and take a few briquettes out of each bag. The firmest will most likely be the best. Use them all and keep notes. Next time you will know which of those to buy. But, keep on testing any new ones that you run across.
Don't dismiss wood. It takes a little longer to burn down, but, what the heck, that is only pleasure prolonged. It is much cheaper, gives you complete control of the coals' contents and will give more flavor.