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BBQ 101 — A Pro Guide for Beginners

Learn the basics with a pro pitmaster

Vintage Image of Aubrey Hepburn Eating BBQ at an outdoor picnic

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What better way is there to embrace Labor Day weekend than with some barbecuing? We challenge you to step behind the grill and try this exciting cooking style. To help you prepare, we chatted with Pacific Northwest Pitmaster Lynnae Oxley-Loupe of Sugars BBQ. As an award-winning chef on network television shows such as “Chopped,” “BBQ Brawl – Flay v. Symon,” and “BBQ Pitmasters” on Food Network and Destination America, her insight and advice are sure to have you hungry for more. Learn something new about the history of BBQ and read on for Lynnae’s notes to begin.

Get to Know U.S. BBQ

BBQ styles are very different around the U.S., reflecting each region’s produce, landscape, socioeconomic makeup, and immigrant history. If every style were the same, BBQ wouldn’t be as special as it is! Find the tastes and flavors around the country mapped out below:

Southeast

Marked by sweet fruit woods and hickory for smoking and cooking heat, the Southeast cooks with direct-ember radiant fire or indirect low and slow until the BBQ is super tender and flavorful. Classic seasoning — just plain salt! Sauces range from chile flake-infused tangy vinegar to a slightly thickened, sweet, tomato-based sauce with a little pepper. The “less is more” approach is the key factor in this region.

Texas

A large state with differing BBQ styles, Texas is influenced by German, Mexican, and Natives. Oak, pecan, hickory, and mesquite woods are all major players with smoke and fuel sources. Salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne, garlic, and onion provide the backbones of seasoning routines. The Central Texas BBQ sauce style leans toward a thin and tangy tomato-based “dressing” of sorts, used to compliment the richness of slow smoked beef, goat, pork, turkey, and lamb. Texas is all about the meat. As you head North and West, the seasonings stay the same but the sauces become sweeter, perhaps slightly spicier, and thicker.

Kansas City

Famous for its layered seasonings and complex sauces, Kansas City’s poultry, beef, and pork share the spotlight — all bathed, low and slow, in smokey hickory wood until perfect and tender. Chile powder, cumin, molasses, brown sugar, coriander, garlic, rich tomato, mustard, and vinegar create a sweet compliment to the meats that can’t be beat.

Memphis

Pork, pork, and more pork. This region takes notes from Eastern Tennessee with its inclusion of smokey, hickory wood-cooked pork (mainly), but highlights its regional difference with a nod to its early Greek population. Sweet and savory herbs and warm spices mix with sweet, tangy vinegar sauces to enrich their pork like nothing else.

Northwest

Combining influences from all over the U.S. and calling it one’s own, the Northwest takes oak, alder, maple, and fruit woods to fuel the barbecue pits and provide amazingly smokey meats and fish. Spices and sauce blends run from simplistic to more layered, chef-driven compositions.

Where to begin

  1. Invest in quality tools. Buy a good thermometer — in the world of BBQ, temperature is more important than time.
  2. Get the best BBQ smoker you can afford that is fire-safe, heavy duty, and well built. Don’t be afraid to go bigger than you think you’ll need.
  3. If you’re interested in an easier BBQ and smoking experience, try a well made pellet-fueled smoker.
  4. Do your research and prep on products and the craft. Read cookbooks, go online, check out social media pages, and look at the thousands of videos available.
  5. Be sure to allow the full time needed for roasts or other large cuts of meat. Time and temperature don’t generally coincide with each other. Remember this old adage, “BBQ is done when it’s done.”
  6. Don’t be afraid to cook and make mistakes. Buy less expensive chicken and pork, and experiment. Take notes, take pictures, and most importantly, have fun!

Tip

If you prefer the less automated BBQ smoker, a major challenge is the complexity of learning fire management. Subtle changes in meat preparation and cooking processes affect the outcome, including air drafts, fuel types, heat output, cooking wood differences, and meat quality differences.

A note about BBQ in apartments

While we’d love to cook BBQ in our apartments, unless you have a balcony and a building manager/company that allows patio BBQ’s it’s not possible in the traditional sense. Generally, most apartment complexes will allow a pellet fueled BBQ smoker as opposed to a more live fire or open flame type grill. If you do not have a patio, balcony, or if that isn’t allowed at all, you’re relegated to using an indoor, smokeless electric grill and as most know, that is not BBQ.

Either way, remember to keep things simple to start. Begin cooking steaks, chops, skewers, and then add larger cuts of meat that take a bit more time. Keep your area well ventilated, and avoid marinades that contain a lot of oils and sugars. The last thing you want is products that flare up, burn, and create a ton of smoke and bad, cloudy smells.

Grilling necessities fit for beginners

Optional tip

Try mixing equal amounts of lump charcoal and briquettes then, throw a couple of hardwood chunks in and you’ll be set. You get the blazing heat value from the lump charcoal, flavor from the wood, and a longer cook-time from the briquettes.

For more on Pitmaster Lynnae Oxley-Loupe and Sugars BBQ, and to buy Sugars BBQ rubs and sauces, visit sugarsbarbecue.com.