In honor of National Barbecue Month, we’re pleased to share with you during the month of May recipes that will help you quickly climb the ladder of barbecue enlightenment. From chicken to ribs, from brisket to smoked salmon, you’ll be privy to secrets that have taken some grill masters years to learn. In this, our first installment, each recipe is followed by a suggestion for taking things one step further. Because that’s the beauty and the attraction of barbecue: There’s always something new to learn. Let’s get started!
How to Grill a Whole Chicken
Roast chicken is essential to human happiness, which is why I’ve included it here. There are three reasons why you should roast a chicken on the grill instead of your oven. First, you can add smoke flavor to the bird. Second, it’s a lot less messy. Third, the meat will remain moist and succulent. And fourth, the skin will brown beautifully as it renders its fat.
If you want the flavor of wood smoke, soak 1 1/2 cups of smoking chips about 30 minutes before you start cooking. Drain before using.
Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium (350 to 400 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, remove the grill grate and place a disposable foil drip pan in the center of the fire box. Fill a chimney starter three-fourths full with charcoal, preferably natural lump charcoal or briquettes. Place a paraffin fire starter or a wad of newspaper underneath the chimney, then light. In 15 to 20 minutes, the coals should be ready to use—glowing and ashed over. Distribute the lit coals evenly on both sides of the drip pan and replace the grill grate.
If using a gas grill, you’ll need at least two burners. For a 2-burner grill, light only one of the burners and preheat to high. For a 3-burner grill, light the front and rear or left and right burners, and leave the center burner free of fire. (That’s where you’ll cook.)
In the meantime, remove any giblets or large lumps of fat from the body and neck cavities of a 3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken. Working on a rimmed sheet pan, pat the bird dry with paper towels. Tuck the wings behind the back. Rub the outside of the chicken with with extra virgin olive oil or melted butter. Season it generously, inside and out, with coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper.
If desired, tuck half a lemon, a few cloves of peeled garlic, and half an onion (peeled or unpeeled) in the main cavity. Tie the legs together with butcher’s string, if you have some on hand. Unwaxed, unlflavored dental floss will work in a pinch. (Tying the legs together helps the bird retain its juices.)
If grilling with charcoal, arrange the chicken, breast-side up, in the center of the grill grate away from direct heat. (The bars of the grill grate should run perpendicular to you and parallel to the chicken.) Divide the drained wood chips, if desired, between the two piles of coals. Replace the grill lid with the top vent at the head of the chicken. Make sure the vent is partially open so the firebox gets good airflow.
If using a gas grill, put the drained wood chips in the grill’s smoker box, if it has one, or make a foil pouch to enclose the chips. Poke several holes in the pouch, then place under the grate over one of the lit burners. When you see smoke, reduce the grill’s heat to medium using the temperature control knob(s). Place the chicken over the unlit burner and lower the lid.
Roast the chicken for 60 to 90 minutes, replenishing the charcoal as needed. (More smoking chips are not necessary.) When done, the chicken should be beautifully browned, and the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh should be 165 to 170 degrees when read on an instant-read thermometer.
Transfer the chicken to a clean rimmed sheet pan, platter, or cutting board. Remove the butcher’s string, and let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before carving and serving.
Even better: Try Steven’s famous Beer Can Chicken a recipe that’s been delighting grillers for nearly 20 years.
How to Grill a Whole Beef Tenderloin
This is the sort of technique I call “millionaire grilling.” You spend 15 minutes of preparation time, and you wind up with a dish that looks and tastes like a million bucks. Whole grilled beef tenderloin makes a spectacular centerpiece for a holiday or other festive meal, yet it’s not much more difficult to cook than steak. It’s simple and regal, and anyone who has priced beef tenderloin recently will appreciate your generosity.
You can usually save money by trimming a whole beef tenderloin yourself.
To begin, start at the tail of the tenderloin (the thinnest end) and remove the small adjacent muscle known as the chain. You should be able to pry it off with your fingers. (Save it for kebabs.) Trim the “head”—the largest end of the tenderloin—to give the muscle a uniform diameter. (Save this meat for kebabs, too.) Using a sharp knife, trim off the fat and pull off the skilver-skin (the sheath of sinew covering the tenderloin.) Make a slit about 4 inches above the end of the tail and fold under. Tie the tenderloin at intervals with butcher’s twine. Generously season the tenderloin with coarse salt and pepper.
When ready to cook, set up your grill (charcoal or gas) for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high. Brush or scrape the grill grate and oil well with vegetable oil. Lay the beef tenderloin on the grill grate at a diagonal to the bars. Grill, turning with tongs, until crusty and darkly seared on the outside and cooked to medium-rare, 4 to 5 minutes per side (15 to 20 minutes in all). Insert the probe of an instant-read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the tenderloin; you’re looking for a temperature between 130 and 135. Let the tenderloin rest for 5 minutes before removing the strings and carving into crosswise slices.
Even better: It’s one of Steven’s most popular recipes—Project Smoke Cheesesteak.
A trimmed beef tenderloin is butterflied, then stuffed with poblano chiles, sweet onions, and aged provolone cheese before being grilled as described above. It’s then sliced and served on grilled garlic bread with addictive Chipotle Mayonnaise.
How to Make Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is part of the Holy Trinity of American barbecue (the other two are smoked brisket and barbecued ribs). Its birthplace in the Carolinas, where pork shoulders are slow-roasted over smoky hickory or oak embers until they’re so tender you can pull them apart with your fingers—which is precisely what you do. Wood smoke is the soul of pulled pork, and its beneficent presence is recognizable by the smoke ring, a reddish layer just below the surface of the meat.
Confusingly, the term “Boston butt” is not from the rear of the animal, but the shoulder. (And it is sometimes labeled “pork shoulder” at the meat counter.)
For this method, which we like to call 3-2-1, start with a 5- to 6-pound pork shoulder, preferably bone-in. Place the meat in a rimmed sheet pan or aluminum foil roasting pan. Liberally coat the meat on all with a rub such as the basic one in the recipe. (You might want to wear latex or nitrile gloves for this step. LINK] In the meantime, soak 5 to 6 cups of wood chips in water to cover for at least 30 minutes. Drain before using. Alternatively, you can use wood chunks; there is no need to soak them. Note: It is not practical to smoke a pork shoulder on a gas grill. You’ll need a charcoal grill for this project.
Add charcoal to a chimney starter until it’s a little over half full and light from the bottom using a petroleum fire starter or wadded newsprint. Place a drip pan in the center of the grill. When the coals are ready, pile them evenly on either side of the trip pan. Close down the vent in the bottom of the grill until it is open about a third of the way. (If the fire gets too much air, you’ll have trouble maintaining smoking temperatures of 250 to 275.)
Place the pork shoulder in the center of the grill grate over the drip pan. Add a handful of soaked, drained wood chips (or unsoaked wood chunks) on each pile of coals. Replace the lid, aligning the top vent (cracked a bit for airflow) with the center of the grill grate. Add fresh coals and chips (or chunks) as needed to maintain smoking temperatures. You can stop adding smoking woods after 3 hours, but continue to refuel the fire with charcoal as needed for the duration of the cook.
If desired, you can mop the pork with mop sauce every hour or spritz it with apple juice or beer.
After 3 hours, the exterior of the meat will have developed a crusty exterior called the bark. At this point, wrap the pork in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Cook the pork for 2 more hours, adding fuel as necessary to maintain smoking temperatures. At the end of that time, the internal temperature should be between 160 and 170. If it’s not there yet, keep the pork shoulder wrapped and continue to cook. Once the meat hits that mark, carefully unwrap it; reserve the juices that accumulate in the bottom of the foil.
Once again, place the pork directly on the grill grate and continue to cook for another hour, or until the internal temperature when read on an instant-read meat thermometer reaches 195 to 205 degrees. This last hour will firm up the bark, which undoubtedly softened in the steamy environment of the foil. If you don’t own a thermometer—you really should—wiggle the blade bone. It should release rather easily from the meat.
Transfer the meat to a large roasting pan and let it cool slightly. Wearing hand protection like these silicone food gloves, pull the pork into fist-size chunks, discarding the bone, chunks of fat, or other unpalatable bits. Pull into shreds using your hands or meat claws, which make quick work of the job. Add a bit more rub to the pulled pork, if desired, as well as some of the reserved juices. You can also add barbecue sauce at this time, but we prefer ours on the side. Your choice, of course. Serve on toasted buns with your favorite coleslaw.
Even better: For an international take on pulled pork, try Korean Pulled Pork. It’s slathered with an ultra-flavorful Korean hot pepper paste called gochujang and served with similarly-flavored barbecue sauce.
How to Smoke-Roast Baby Back Ribs
Think perfectly cooked ribs, fragrant with wood smoke, can only be achieved by experienced pit masters whose grand-daddys built the pits? Think again. You can achieve rib success in less than 2 hours by following Steven’s iconic recipe for First-Timer’s Ribs. You’ll learn the basic tenets of ribsmanship, from skinning the ribs, to applying a rub, to mopping, to glazing. The method is practically foolproof.
Even better: Using techniques learned in the above recipe, you can apply your skills to Maple- and Molasses-Glazed Baby Back Ribs. And after that? Well, there will be no stopping you.