10 Mistakes Made in the Quest for the Perfect BBQ

Geared towards the newbies in the outdoor cooking world, but relevant to experienced cooks as well. Hey, The Kingfish even learned a thing or two himself in doing research for this article. If you feel I missed something or have a tip to add, E-mail me, I will post them in future updates.

In the beginning we all have made BBQ mistakes and some have even given up after a few tries. The reason? Outdoor cooking, like anything else that’s really really good, takes time and practice to make perfect. Unless you do a awful lot of homework or learn from a master, your first crack at ribs or a brisket will not be as good as your future attempts will be. Below is a list of 11 of the most common mistakes made in the quest for the perfect BBQ experience. Avoid these common mistakes and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble.

  1. You’re in too big of a hurry and have planed poorly.

You’ll need to plan in advance for most smoker recipes. Many recipes require a dry rub or other over night prep just for the meat. In most cases we are working with meats that require long, slow, even heat to tenderise and cook properly. Barbecue takes time and patience. You can’t rush it. General rule of thumb is to figure 1 to 1 1/2 hours of smoker time per pound for most meats. If you’re looking for something quick, stick with hamburgers, boneless chicken breasts or hotdogs.

  1. Lacking basic cooking skills

It helps to be a semi-good cook in the first place before you try your hand at barbecuing, this includes basic understanding of food safety . If you get a reputation for poisoning your guests, your future BBQ’s won’t hold quite the same turn out! If you can’t boil water, let someone else tend the grill. To be sure, most of the great BBQ masters can hold their own in the kitchen as well.

  1. Opening the lid to peek too often.

Even The Kingfish had this problem at the beginning — it’s hard not to look!! However, you can’t tell if the meat is done by looking at it as the smoke causes the outside to appear “done” long before it actually is. I stopped looking once I finally bought a Digital Oven Thermometer and saw for myself the huge temp drop every time I opened the lid. I also noticed how long it took to bring the smoker back up to temp, sometimes as long as 45 minutes! The temp drop can shock your meat and make it tough, plus it will add to your cooking time. Open the lid only when necessary to mop, move or turn the meat. The meat is not going anywhere, so no need to keep checking up on it.


  1. Trying to do a brisket or spare ribs the first time you use your smoker.

Start off on the road to the “Perfect Q” with the simplest meat to smoke like a whole chicken or a pork picnic roast. They’re cheap and hard to ruin. There are plenty of books and web sites like The Kingfish BBQ (shameless plug) with some great tips and recipes for those new to BBQ and smoking world. It’s a good idea to read and compare recipes and tips before you tackle the brisket and ribs in your smoker. Don’t fill up the smoker with meat until you’ve had some successes. Start with just one item. The good news is once you master the basic general principles of smoking you’ll be able to learn and master brisket and ribs easier. You will find the result are easy to achieve. After that then you’re ready to become obsessed in your quest for the perfect rub and marinades.


  1. Using lighter fluid to start your charcoal briquettes.

This will give you some really awful odours and tastes in your smoked meat. Use a chimney starter or electric starter for charcoal . Once you taste something smoked with out fluid you will be surprised at how the wood spice flavours come through and I bet money you won’t do it again. If you must (yuck) use a charcoal lighter fluid (hurl), let the coals burn for at least 40 minutes before you put on the meat, and by the way, you’ll still be able to taste the fluid.

  1. You’re a Pyromaniac!

Because of your compulsion, you feel the need to build a hot fire and recklessly add way, way, way too many hot coals, while quickly piling the meat into the smoker (see rule #1). This is a big mistake. It is much easier to add more coal to make a fire temp rise to get a hot smoker back down to it’s correct temp. At this point most people panic, trying to control the heat by closing the inlets and exhaust dampers which is a no no. The proper way is to open that exhaust damper all the way and regulate the oxygen intake with the inlet damper. Be careful how you close that inlet damper, your fire can smoulder and give you some over smoked nasty-tasting meat. Best advice, keep your fire low and your dampers open. Remember, slow and steady to the road to success


  1. Using green wood.

You must use seasoned wood (aged wood) to get good results when you begin barbecuing. The old pros can use a mix of green and seasoned wood, but beginners should not use the green stuff until they know about fire and temperature control. Using green wood without knowing what you’re doing is the surest way to ruin the meat. You’ll get a creosote coating on your meat which results in a bitter taste and meat that cannot be saved.


  1. Trying to adjust too many things at once.

Don’t adjust everything on the smoker at once. Change one thing, see what happens, then change another. Make small changes to the smoker. Open or close the intake vent a little bit, not a lot. If you are continually making big changes, you will continually overshoot the correct temperature point. Your temperature curve will look like a giant sawtooth. Make the changes in small increments.


  1. Putting cold meat into the smoker.

This can also lead to the condensation of creosote on the surface of the meat if you don’t have a clean-burning fire. Beginners should allow the meat to warm up on the counter, but for no longer than an hour (see rule #2), before you put it in the smoker. Experienced smokers can put the cold meat directly into the smoker, as some experts say this helps with smoke penetration, but this technique is not for beginners.


  1. Inviting the family, the in-laws, and the preacher and his wife over the first day you get that new smoker. Your “Q” reputation is fragile and first impressions are also important. Remember, you’ll only as good as your last cook out. If people don’t like your BBQ and know you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, they will politely excuse them self from any further BBQ events you throw. Practice some, get to know your smoker on a personal basis (even name it, I did). Do a pork picnic shoulder, some chickens, then some ribs and finally when every things coming together, do a brisket. Then invite the whole gang over and wow ’em good.


Final Thoughts

When you start barbecuing for the first time, keep a log book of exactly what you’re doing and when you did it. This will help later on when you want to make a few minor changes or repeat something.


I’d also suggest trying to stay with one food type (i.e., chicken, pork butt, brisket, etc.) until you’ve got everything pretty much down pat. Also, try to buy similar weights, so your timing will be the same.


Once you’ve got all your favourite food types somewhat mastered, you will go crazy and experiment with different rubs, mops, sauces, and so on. It’s important to have at least speciality that you can pretty much always count on, and that everyone likes. Besides, you never know when I may be in the neighbourhood!


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