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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

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GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

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Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

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Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $289 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

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Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived mor than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

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The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.


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BBQ Pitmasters

Don't Try To Cook The Way They Cook On TV And In BBQ Competitions!

"Barbecue is a journey, one meal at a time." Sterling Ball, pitmaster of the BigPoppaSmokers.com team

By Meathead Goldwyn

Those of us who worship barbecue are thrilled that the food we love is getting so much air time, especially on the popular BBQ Pitmasters series on the cable station Destination America. But if you are a backyard cook and just beginning to build your repertoire and skill set, you have probably watched barbecue competitions on TV or in real life. You have probably been thinking about emulating these techniques.

But you should not, absolutely not, try to cook for your friends and family the way they do on TV. If you want superb food, follow my recipes precisely the first time. Then, once you have the techniques mastered, if you want to try to add something you saw on TV, try one trick at a time, but I'm here to tell you, cooking for competition usually produces poor quality dining, and starting with my recipe and modifying it with something you saw on TV will probably leave you disappointed.

scottie johnson of cancer sucks chicagoHere's why: Competition cooks have really good equipment, huge expensive high tech machines like the wood burner shown here, a $15,000 trailer mounted Jambo J-5 used by Scottie Johnson of CancerSucksChicago.com. Behind him is a $4,000 Cookshack Fast Eddy FEC100 pellet cooker (disclaimer, AmazingRibs.com is one of his sponsors). Chances are that not all the techniques he uses will not work on your backyard smoker.

Competition cooks also know that their entries will be one of several samples served to the judges, usually six samples at a time, and in order to win, theirs must really stand out. They must be flashy, different, loud, and boisterous. Delicacy, simplicity, subtlety, and complexity, all characteristics of great food, get you eliminated in a competition. So competition pitmasters go for big bold sweet flavors knowing that most of the time, the judge will take only one bite of their sample.

This is especially important in non-TV events when the judges aren't as experienced and skilled as Tuffy Stone, Myron Mixon, or Melissa Cookston, shown above. Alas, at most of the more than 500 events around the nation, many of the judges are newbies or have judged only a few events. They are easily seduced by the shiny, big, bold, and sweet.

To get there, the cooks employ every trick in the book. For example, they inject everything with moisturizers, tenderizers, and flavor enhancers. Butcher BBQ's popular pork injection is made with hydrolyzed vegetable protein (hydrolyzed soy and corn protein and salt, with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil [cottonseed, soybean] added), monosodium glutamate, sodium phosphate, pork flavor (yeast extract, natural flavors maltodextrin) and xanthan gum. Not something you can get at the local grocery store.

Then they use a mustard slather to hold down their rub, they wrap their ribs, pork butt, and brisket in foil partially through the cook, they lather on liquid margarine and agave, and sprinkle a different rub on the bottom of their ribs than on top so the tongue and roof of the mouth get different flavors.

competition chicken thighsIn competition, most pitmasters cook only thighs for the chicken category. A typical prep involves removing the bone, peeling the skin back, scraping the subcutaneous fat off, trimming each thigh until it is identical in shape, coating it with a sweet dry rub, injecting with liquid margarine, folding it so you see only skin, and placing it on top of butter or margarine in cupcake tins, and painting it with shiny sweet red barbecue sauce! Click here to read more about how competition chicken is prepared for an example of how far off the barbecue path they have gone.

The food is so bizarre that eating more than one or two bites becomes a chore. They are just toooo over the top. I have heard more than one pitmaster confide that he would never cook like this for friends and family. Competition food is designed for one bite, not a meal.

Another factor to remember when watching "reality" TV is that directors are focused on telling a story, creating drama, developing heroes and villains, winners and losers. They don't have time or the inclination to teach technique and show recipes. You just get only a quick glimpse of what is really going on. A lot is left out.

thermometers at a competitionFor example, competition cooks rely heavily on thermometers. They know that meat temperature and pit temperature are crucial. But you rarely see them poking their meat with a Thermapen, which they all own. It's just not good TV. The directors would rather you live under the illusion that these are artisans who work by touch and smell.

If you have a chance to visit a barbecue competition, by all means, go. You may be lucky enough to find a pitmaster who is (a) a good cook, (b) willing to talk to you, (c) willing to tell you what he really does. But most of the time the gal in charge doesn't have time to talk, the guy you are talking to is a flunky, and the head cook isn't going to tell you her tricks. But even if she does, you shouldn't try them until you are experienced. You wouldn't go into the kitchen of a French restaurant and go home and try to replicate the meal would you? You need a written recipe, proper equipment, and years of experience. You need to understand the concepts.

John Dawson runs the excellent BBQ blog PatioDaddioBBQ.com and cooks in competitions. Here's what he told me "The bottom line is that the majority (and I would argue the vast majority) of 'professional' competitive barbecue cooks do not cook and serve competition-style barbecue at home. In fact, not only do they not serve it to friends and family, many don't enjoy eating their competition products, and I'd be one. Further, many rarely even taste the meat that they turn in. I usually take one bite of each meat category after it's turned in.

"Cooking competition barbecue at home is akin to an Iron Chef cooking what they turn in at home. It's overly-complicated, overly-seasoned, overly-sweet, and crazy techniques are used to a point where one could argue that it's not even 'real' barbecue. We're cooking to hit every part of the barbecue taste palette (smoke, spice, savory, and sweet) like a two-by-four to the senses, all in one bite.

"Another complaint that I have with competition barbecue is that the techniques and flavor profiles have become so homogenized that creativity is punished, rather than encouraged. Judges have become 'trained' to expect certain meats to look and taste a certain way. As a cook I want to show my creativity, but coloring outside the lines in competitive barbecue will get you sent home licking your creative wounds."

I could not agree more, especially the comments on creativity. What if a cook turned in killer Asian style ribs? Or with a chocolate chile sauce? Or even a South Carolina mustard sauce? She'd get zeros.

Harry Soo of SlapYoDaddyBBQ.com is one of the winningest cooks on the circuit, a winning contestant on the first BBQ Pitmasters, and a cooking instructor. He says "Comp recipes are great but they are lot of work. Whenever I cook ribs for myself, I like them simple with a nice Tex-Mex influenced garlicky rub and with some spicy Pico De Gallo. No, I've never turned in this recipe for a contest and don't think it would do well, but that's how I like my ribs when I make them for myself."

Mike Wozniak is the pitmaster of Quau, 2010 Kansas City Barbeque Society Team of the Year. He says "The biggest diff between comp meats and backyard is in the amount of prep time. It is impractical to spend that kind of time on backyard meats. At home, I put them in the Ole Hickory and turn the gas on!"

Sterling Ball, pitmaster of the BigPoppaSmokers.com team, was on one of the BBQ Pitmasters competitions and he has won the prestigious American Royal in Kansas City. "We spent nine hours taping for a one hour show. Subtract about 15 minutes of commercials, yet there was only about three minutes of actual cooking shown. There's not much useful info there. If you're going to barbecue, get a good recipe and follow it. Master the skills. Then if you see something on TV that sparks your interest, try it only after you have the basics down. You need to learn the rules before you can break them. Barbecue is a journey, one meal at a time."

Start with my recipes. They are proven. The only ones who complain are the ones who veered from them: "I saw Myron Mixon cook brisket on TV and he said 350°F is the ideal temperature. So I tried it on your recipe, but the meat was too tough." Well, you didn't cook my recipe. Maybe on his custom made water smoker with Wagyu beef 350°F is ideal, but chances are, on your cooker with the slab of meat you got at Costco, that is much too hot.

You will notice that my recipe for ribs doesn't call for wrapping them in foil for part of the cook, a common practice known as the Texas Crutch. It's a good technique, but it is not necessary, and it is a step that can create an opportunity for failure. I have left it out to keep you on the path to success. Follow the recipe as written the first time. Then, once you have it down pat, try adding the Crutch.

Remember, KISS, Keep It Simple, Students.

This page was revised 8/5/2013


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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

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