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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

smokenator bbq system

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.

scissor tongs

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 more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

steak knives for bbq

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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soaking wood

Don't Soak Your Wood. This Myth Is Busted.

"Why do you think they build boats out of wood? Because wood doesn't absorb water!" Meathead

By Meathead Goldwyn

no soaking chipsIt is conventional wisdom that you should soak wood chips and chunks before using them in a charcoal or gas grill or smoker. All the books say so. All the TV shows say so.

To test the concept, I began by weighing two handsful of wood chips, and two handsful of wood chunks on a digital scale. Both bags were labeled "apple". Then I soaked them in room temp water for 12 hours. I then took them out, shook off much of the surface water, patted the exterior lightly with paper towels and weighed them to see just how much was actually absorbed. Large chunks gained about 3% by weight and small chips about 6%. That's not much. Chips absorbed more because there was so much more surface area than chunks.

The proof is in the coloring

To see just how far water penetrates into wood for barbecue, I soaked three pieces of wood for 24 hours in a mix of 10 drops of blue food coloring in 1 cup of water. I then rinsed the surfaces and patted them dry with a paper towel. I photographed the exteriors. I then cut the wood in half and photographed the interiors. As you can see, the dye discolored the surface only a little, and water and the dye entered the interiors only where there were cracks and fissures. The rest of the wood is bone dry.

1) This is a solid block of oak. It is about 2" x 2" x 1". On the exterior you can see that some die has penetrated the soft part of the grain. On the right, you can see a cross section after I cut the block in half. There is no visible penetration on the sides except for a thin crack in the wooden the top left.

2) This is a chunk of cherry. It is about 3" in diameter across the widest part. On the left you can see that the water stained the outside edge where the grain is running perpendicular to the camera. On the right you can see that the water penetrated through several cracks and along a few rough edges. But the wet wood is probably only about 5%.

3) This is a chip of cherry. It is about 1 1/4" long and 1/2" wide. On the left you can see the dye has lightly colored much of the surface, but if you snap the wood and inspect the cross section, the penetration is probably about 1/64".

Conclusion. After 24 hours, water barely penetrates solid wood and slightly penetrates cracks. Most books recommend soaking for only an hour or two. Fogeddaboudit.

What happens to wet wood on a grill?

So as you can see, after 24 hours, water barely penetrates wood. And remember, most experts tell you to soak your wood for only an hour.

There's another good reason to not soak your wood. If you toss dripping wet wood on hot coals, the water will cool off the coals. But the key to good cooking is to controlling your temperature. The goal is to get to a target temp and hold there. Nice and steady.

Let's say the coals or gas jets are 600°F on their surface. If the wood surface is wet the wood cannot heat much beyond 212°F, water's boiling point, until it evaporates by turning to steam. The temp sticks there. It is the same principle as boiling potatoes in a pot water. No matter how much heat you apply to the pot, the potatoes cannot rise above 212°F until all the water is gone. Then, when they hit the bottom of the pan, they will get hotter and hotter as the water is driven out of them.

In a grill or smoker, like the potatoes, the wood temp will not rise much above 212°F until the water steams off. After the water is driven off, the wood starts to warm and when the surface hits the combustion point, about 575°F, it begins giving off gases. It can then combust and produce smoke.

You might think you see smoke when you toss on wet wood, but it is really steam. Here is a test the AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder did with two wood chip packets. Both had 50 grams of wood, but he soaked one in water. Both went on top of a 600°F heat source. The dry wood (red line) rose in temperature rapidly to the combustion point. The wet wood rose rapidly to the boiling point of water and stalled there for almost 30 minutes. When it dried out, it rose rapidly to the same temp as the dry packet. Now the exact elapsed time will vary depending on the oxygen supply, but you get the picture.

wet vs dry chips

I have used this to my benefit. I will sometime put two small foil loaf pans of wood on the grill, and pour water in one. The dry one will start to smoke and by the time it peters out, the water will have evaporated from the second one, the smoke time bomb, will kick in.

smoke bomb

One more reason not to soak: Not all smoke is the same. The best tasting smoke is practically invisible, thin, and pale blue. Blue smoke is better than white, gray, or black, by far. Blue smoke needs dry wood and a hot fire. Click here to read more about wood and smoke.

Troubleshooting

Some people have problems with chips catching on fire when they throw them on the coals. To prevent this and improve smoke quality, try making a smoke packet by wrapping the wood in foil and poking holes in the foil. Or switch to chunks. You may have to experiment with the number of holes.

Planking: An exception to the rule, sort of

Plank cooking is a method of cooking food on top of a wooden plank. The technique calls for soaking the plank in water. The theory is that by soaking we prevent the plank from bursting into flame and the steam created on the top surface under the meat helps with cooking. Alas, not much water soaks into the plank, and not much steam hits the food, but if you don't soak it, you'll have a bonfire with your dinner the star of the show. Click here for more on planking.

This page was revised 7/21/2014


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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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