The Blog of Craig W. Hansen

How to Make the World's Best Barbeque - Part One

This series of posts has been cooking on low heat for several years. Everyone who knows me knows that I love to make barbeque. In fact for me it’s a bit of a survival skill. You see, we live in Alabama – a theocracy where football is the state religion. The bad news is that I’m neither an Auburn nor an Alabama fan. The good news is that I’ve discovered an excellent way to overcome the cultural blight of football ambivalence: Make excellent BBQ.

In barbeque culture there is always an entertaining mixture of truth and hype. First, the truth: It’s very difficult to screw it up. Pork shoulder is the most forgiving of all meats, and as long as you get a couple of things right and cook it to a safe temperature of 165 degrees, whatever you try will likely turn out just fine. Mastering BBQ is fun, anyone can do it, and your friends and family will love your handiwork. Now, the hype…

The methods I am about to describe will empower you to craft the Greatest Pork Barbeque in the History of the Known Universe®. Period. If you’re not doing it this way, you’re doing it wrong. I have sacrificed countless hours (and hogs) perfecting these techniques. If you disagree with me, you can rest assured that you are in error. Follow these precepts, my children, and pariahs will become princes, singles will attract soulmates, and geeks will become gods. These are treasured secrets. To keep them safe you must print these instructions and promptly eat them.

The Meat

Most of my expertise is with pork shoulder, and to a lesser extent pork spareribs. My favorite supplier of so-called Boston butt roasts (actually pork shoulder) is Smithfield’s from Sam’s Club. Their two-packs weigh in at nearly 20 pounds and are often the biggest, best cuts of meat I can find for the money. Since fuel costs can be a factor, I’ll typically use two large roasts to get good mileage. But in general, it’s always a good idea to cook more than you need. Barbeque is social food, so the more you make the more you can bless others. Many times we have followed an “eat one, give one” philosophy, because our guests are anxious for the leftovers too. Done properly, BBQ also freezes and microwaves very well.

Anyway, you get the point. I always use roasts as big as I can find. Trim the extra fat cap off of the roasts and cover them them liberally with your favorite spice rub.

The Rub

I know spices are expensive, but don’t skimp here. No matter what else you do, flavor is always king. The great thing about a 9-10 pound roast is that you can really lay on the spices, but still not overpower the flavor of the meat. When you get this magic right, it yields the holy trinity: Natural meat flavor, enhanced and complimented with complex spices, with the added depth of mouth-watering natural smoke flavor.

I adapted my mix from other recipes, and I honestly think it has a very good chance of becoming your favorite all-purpose rub. I go for a well-balanced mix of spicy/salty/savory/sweet. I use it on nearly everything I smoke, including turkey and ribs. Once the spice rub is applied, wrap the meat in saran wrap for about an hour. This allows the salt to trade places with some of the moisture in the meat, drawing in the flavor. When cooked, you want a rich dark bark on the outside of your roasts. This process creates that beautiful bark, but your guests will love that it’s neither dry nor hard.

Every few months I make nearly 30 cups of spice rub. My recipe includes brown sugar, so it has a fairly high moisture content. For this reason, I generally store the rub in ziplock sandwich bags and freeze them, one cup per bag. I put several small bags in gallon-sized ziplock freezer bags for easier management and to protect them from getting punctured.

Craig’s Kickass Butt Rub

1/4 C kosher salt
1/4 C raw sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C sweet Hungarian paprika
2 Tbs ground cumin seed
2 Tbs chili powder
2 Tbs black pepper
2 Tbs ground sage
1 Tbs cayenne pepper

The Fuel

Use only a good natural lump charcoal, never pre-formed briquettes such as Kingsford. Some experimentation is required here, but you can never go wrong with Big Green Egg brand charcoal. In my experience it’s consistently the most efficient, controllable fuel you can buy. But it’s also probably the most expensive. There are plenty of other options, so try a few out over time. But be careful - some brands can smell as if some kind of accellerant was applied to the wood. Beware of a greasy petroleum-like smell. Also watch out for brands where you get as much dust as chunks. Chunks are important, because they allow for good airflow in your firebox. It’s all about finding an efficient fuel that adds a great natural flavor, leaves a minimum of ash residue, and can keep your grill at a rock-solid temperature for many hours at a time.

The Chips

I always throw in a handful of pre-soaked wood chips, either hickory or apple, to add focus to the smoke flavor and help provide that signature pink smoke ring on the meat. The problem is that soaking wood chips can be one of the longest steps in the cooking process. It’s frustrating when you decide to start a cook, only to realize you didn’t pre-soak any wood chips. So here’s a pro tip: Soak an entire bag of chips at one time overnight. In the morning, put handfuls of the chips into individual ziplock sandwich bags and freeze them. Then you always them available when you need them, just like with your spice rub. This keeps you in a position to fire up your pit on a moment’s notice.

In Part Two, we will cover grills, temperature control, cooking, and serving. So say we all.