Barbecuing–and by that I entail the low-and-slow cooking of meats utilizing live flame and smoke–is more art than science. Not that there isn’t plenty of chemistry and physics going on, too, but I’m certainly not the guy to try to explain that stuff! What I mean to say is that the ones who do it best have all get there by years of practice, trial and error, patience, and perseverance. Either that, or they grew up alongside someone who did so before them. Books and YouTube videos are helpful, but the most effective ways to learn and perfect this art is to get by and try and fail and try again.
True barbecue is as much about house and preserving flames as it is about sourcing, seasoning, and cooking meat. Which means that barbecue is also about buying, storing, and chopping wood, which is why so many home cooks opt for easier solutions like charcoal-fueled water smokers or gas- or electric-powered horizontal smokers. But without live flame and real wood smoking, food will never reach its true potential to become that intoxicatingly flavorful, complex, and deeply aromatic food of the gods.
Pitmasters obsess over smoking: good smoking, bad smoking, black smoke, blue smoking. The aim is to create and maintain a steady flow of pale gray smoke that is so sunlight, it virtually seems blue. You should wait to place the food into the smoker until it reaches the proper temperature and” the smoke is operating clear .” This is the type of smoke I am referring to. Good smoking is produced by a properly built and tended fire burning at optimal temperature. Once that flame is going great, preserving ideal cook temperatures is as easy as adding an occasional log and regulating the airflow by adjusting the dampers.
To achieve that” good smoke ,” it’s crucial to start with properly seasoned timber. Seasoned wood is wood that has been cut to length, split, stacked, and allowed to dry over months and months. Seasoned wood burns easier and faster and renders the kind of smoking that pitmasters require. You’ll often hear barbecue pros go on and on about specific types of timber and how they are the best for this or that particular style or be applied in barbecue. But the one thing they all have in common is that they utilize species native to their locating, because utilizing what you readily have available simply makes sense economically. In Texas, they burn post oak. In Kansas City, they burn hickory. In Cleveland, we burn apple- and cherry wood because northeast Ohio has tons of fruit orchards. Barbecue is regional because it developed around the use of local timber, livestock, and equipment.
When it comes to cooking and eating, there are few things in this world that I love more than pork belly. This affordable cut of meat is so versatile. Most of us know that pork belly becomes bacon when it’s cured and smoked. But when you simply season and smoke it, like we do at Mabel’s, you end up with something completely different in texture. Our popular pork belly is smoky, meaty, and deliciously rich. Some might even say it’s unctuous. How’s that for a $10 word!