Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'bbq'

jono

Introducing BBQpad

Recently I have been working on a project with my best buddy Stuart ‘Aq’ Langridge, called BBQpad.

I haven’t really talked much about it on my blog as we have been fixing up the rough edges, but I wanted to share a little about it now.

As some of you will know, I have been increasingly getting into BBQ as a hobby. I love being outside and cooking, I love cooking over fire, and the art and science of BBQ facinates me. Don’t think there is a science? Well check out amazingribs.com and see just how much detail, science, and engineering can be involved in creating awesome BBQ.

One of the tips people give you when you start learning grilling and smoking is to maintain a notebook where you track the details of your cooks. You can then refer to what you did, learn from what works and what doesn’t, and improve your ‘cue.

Being of the nerdy persuasion, I was not going to use no stinking paper and pen, so I wrote a web app to track my cooks.

Originally I wrote this as something just for me, and then it struck me that this could be of general interest. I was chatting to Aq one day and he loved the idea so we decided to build what you now see at www.bbqpad.com. The sites works on your computer, mobile, and tablet.

How BBQpad Works

So what does BBQpad let you do?

Well, with it you can create any number of cooks; each cook is a place you track the details of each cook session, such a meal for your family, practicing to improve your cooking, a party for your friends, a BBQ competition, or anything else. Go and see an example cook.

Within a cook you can add as many cookers and foods as you need (we maintain a database of cookers and foods to make this easy).

When you start cooking you can then track lots of different things:

  • The different woods and fuels you use (we maintain a database of woods and different fuel products).
  • When your food is added and removed from the cookers, and we automatically calculate cook time to make it easier to see how longs things take to cook. You can also track rest time for the different foods (if applicable).
  • All your food prep elements such as rubs, sauces, brines, marinades, and more. You can also add general notes about your food items such as the weight, quantity, where you bought it, the level of marbling, whether it is organic (good for veggies) etc.
  • The temperature of your cookers and any food items you are tracking internal temperature for. We use this to plot graphs of your cookers and foods; this makes it easier to track your temperature control and improve things where there are problems.
  • General updates to the cook. As an example, if you spritz your food with apple juice to keep it moist, you can track this and the time when it happened.

We also allow you to add photos for the final food products as well as photos through the cook to show how your food is evolving. Photos can be added from your desktop, or mobile devices such as your phone or tablet.

When you have finished cooking an item you can then rate it for taste, tenderness, and appearance; these are the same ways people rate food in a BBQ competition setting.

Continuing the competition theme, we then provide a cook score based upon the certified KCBS competition scoring format for each of your food items as well as an overall score for the cook. This provides a neat way of seeing which cooks or items were better than others.

An example cook.

Getting All Social

One of the goals of BBQpad is not just to provide a place to store cooks, but to also make BBQpad as social as the cooking itself. BBQ is all about cracking open a few beers, cooking some food over fire, enjoying the spoils with friends, and having a great time.

The social aspect of BBQpad is built right into the cooks.

On every cook page there is integrated discussion where people can leave comments and offer tips, advice, and other comments while you are cooking. We also have integrated social media to post your cooks to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Reddit.

One area where BBQpad is really handy is pointing people to the details of a cook. As an example, you may join one of the many BBQ forums/communities online and ask a question about an aspect of your cooking and you can easily point people to the cook page on BBQpad where people can get a good idea of the context of the cook. We have also seen many users tweet about their cooks so folks can follow along as they are happening, often leaving feedback and comments on the cook page.

Another neat part of BBQ is the community. Here you can see the latest photos from cooks, most active pitmasters, new users, active cooks happening right now, recently completed cooks, and more.

The community brings BBQpad pitmasters together.

Another feature is the most popular page which shows you the most popular cookers, woods, and fuels that the community uses in their cooking. We plan on expanding this page with other most popular items soon.

See what our pitmasters prefer.

Clicking on one of these products will also take you to a product page which shows you information about the cooker, the prices on various sites (right now Amazon, but we will add other vendors soon), and a place to have discussion about that product.

Product information for the Weber Performer grill.

Cooking Together

Another cool feature that we added recently is the ability to do online cook offs.

The idea is simple: there will be a number of cook off events on BBQpad in which everyone is welcome to join and participate in. The cook off will happen on a specific date period and cover a specific food, and pitmasters from around the world will all cook together, tracking their cooks on BBQpad.

To take part you simply go to the event page on the date(s) of the event, create a new cook as part of the event, and track your cook in BBQpad. As you and others cook you can see the latest cook updates from these different cooks all in one place, as well as discussion from those watching the cook off. We also encourage those of you who tweet to tweet about your cooks with the #bbqpad hashtag, and those tweets appear on the cook off page too. This provides a great way of cooking together and having fun with the cook off.

Congrats to Jason Perlow for winning our first cook off!

We did our first cook off recently and it was a lot of fun; go and see the The Ultimate Rib Cook Off. We plan on doing another cook off soon (most likely chicken). :-)

Upgrades

BBQpad is completely free to use, and we want it to be a fantastic community resource for the wider BBQ community. Naturally we have some running costs, so we have added some discrete ads to the cook pages to help cover these costs. We also gather a small amount of affiliate revenue when someone buys one of the products linked on Amazon. As such, if you want to buy a cooker or charcoal, go and buy it from BBQpad. :-)

We also have a few cheap upgrades people can buy. Our view is simple: all cooks by default are publicly available and thus shared with the wider community, and when people provide these cooks we feel they have earned the right to use BBQpad for free. Some folks (such as competition cooks, restaurateurs, or just private people) may prefer to have private cooks so they don’t share their techniques and recipes.

We offer private cooks as part of BBQpad Pro (which includes blocking ads) for $24/year, which is only $2/month. You can also just block the ads for $10/year.

The private cooks feature is pretty cool: you can choose whether cooks are private or not on a per-cook basis, so if you want to use the community features on the site (such as cook offs) you can make those cooks public, but if you want to practice for a competition and keep those cooks private, you can do so with the click off a button.

The Technology

Now, many of you in the technology world who follow me will be curious about the site and how it was built. In a nutshell, we are using the awesome Django platform (and the always lovable Python) as well as Twitter Bootstrap as our CSS library. We are managing the source code with Bazaar and hack on it on Ubuntu Desktop using Geany. All imagery was created using Inkscape and the GIMP. We test across a number of different browsers, and primarily use Firefox for debugging. The site is deployed and running on Ubuntu Server.

In terms of development methodologies Aq and I both hack on the site and we manage our work using Trello and drafted and reviewed UI designs using Balsamiq. We have also deployed staging and live servers and we each code review each fix before it lands.

The site is currently in beta and has evolved significantly since we first launched it. This has included two rounds of user testing that have proved to be tremendously valuable in refining the user journey on BBQpad.

I know some of you will want to know if this is Open Source or not. Right now BBQpad is not Open Source but is a free web service that everyone is welcome to use. We may consider Open Sourcing it in the future, but right now it is not a priority; we would rather focus on adding extra features and refining the site.

BBQ is a lot of fun and our hope is that BBQpad makes it even more fun and social. Come and join in the fun!

Go and see www.bbqpad.com and follow us on our Facebook page, on Twitter, and in our Google+ community..

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jono

The Barbecue Journey Continues

A while back I posted about my new passion for BBQ. I haven’t talked much about it since my last post and I had a little time tonight and thought I would share what has been going on. There isn’t anything about Ubuntu in this post, so feel free to move along if you are looking for Ubuntu-related shenanigans.

When I first got into BBQ it was because I like to eat it and I am fortunate enough to live in a part of the world with pretty decent weather and many locals who cook outside. When I started out I was more interested in grilling (most Californians tend to grill when they cook outside) but as I started learning about grilling online, my reading led me to learning about smoking, and smoking is what real BBQ is about.

I was instantly fascinated by smoking. On one hand I loved the BBQ food I had eaten before in restaurants, but there was also something really exciting to me about cooking over fire. My life is so filled with technology, buttons, and gadgets, that the idea of creating something awesome on a fire with no electricity or gadgets really…fired me up. Enjoy the comedy, I am here all week. :-)

Firing up the pit on a rainy day.

With my initial interest in seeing if I could create some BBQ that I would like to eat, my curiosity was fueled further (the comedy just a’keeps on coming) by the fact that there isn’t a lot of particularly incredible BBQ where I live. California is known for many things, but BBQ isn’t really one of them. For great BBQ you need to get out to Texas, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kansas. Interestingly, BBQ varies significantly between these different parts of the country, not just in flavor, but also in the science of how it is made.

Now, I know what you are thinking:

Really, Jono? Science in BBQ? C'mon!

There is a tremendous amount of science in all aspects of the preparation and cooking process in BBQ – how to choose your meat, methods of cutting and preparing it, the benefits and disadvantages of using brines/marinades/injections, different smoker types, approaches to using water and spritzing, foiling techniques, the impact of weather conditions, temperature control, different fuel types (e.g. charcoal vs. stick-burning), sauces and mops, and different rubs and the impact of their ingredients. Each piece of meat also has very different methods of preparation, so all of these variables get shaken up with each cut and animal you cook.

The more I read and played around with different techniques in my BBQ, the more it has fascinated the engineering side of my brain.

My brisket from a few days ago. Loving the smoke ring.

Since I last posted I have done quite a bit of experimentation. I have smoked brisket, baby back ribs, pork shoulder (to create pulled pork), chicken, turkey, and even a few ducks. Every meat is different, has it’s own quirks and techniques, different flavor profiles and more. Each is a little engineering puzzle to take these many variables of meat, rubs, fire, weather, and more, and produce predictable and delicious results.

My primary goal has been to try and get the quality of the main competition categories up to scratch; brisket, chicken, ribs, and pork shoulder. So far I have had good results with pork and ribs, a few good briskets, but my chicken still needs some work.

I have also wanted to master the kind of BBQ people enjoy in the backyard as well as at competition. As an example, lots of people (myself included) love ribs that fall off the bone. If you were to cook in a BBQ competition though, fall of the bone ribs are considered over-cooked. A competition rib should be tender enough that you bite into it and it leaves a bite-size hole. One day I want to try my hand at competing, and I might try it in a local King Of The Country contest later this year, but I have a lot more practice to do. :-)

Anyway, despite my variable results, this little journey has taught me an important lesson. Before I moved to the US I was convinced that I was by pure definition a shitty cook. Everything I had tried to cook in the past lacked flavor, generally went wrong when I cooked it, and was a million miles away from the kind of chow I would eat in restaurants. I was convinced that it was impossible for me to ever master any kind of cooking – my brain was simply not designed for making good food.

What broke me out of this was a desire to be able to feed my family and friends good food in a social setting.

Grilling some ribs for some friends.

BBQ is inherently social. Usually people grill and smoke when they have a bunch of friends over on a nice warm day, blowing the froth of a few cold ones while stood around the grill or smoker, and just having fun and then eating some good food. I wanted to be able to have my family and friends come over and want to eat my BBQ and have a great time while here.

Consequently, going from a fear of cooking for people due to my built-in view that my brain is not cut out for making great food and transitioning it to a confidence about cooking and enjoying people eating my good, has been quite a journey. This is still a journey I am still traveling on, but I am loving the ride.

Going To BBQ School

This interest in BBQ has not escaped the interests of my family, and this Christmas I had something of a BBQ themed set of gifts.

As a little bit of background information, since I got into BBQ I have also been following some of the competition cooks who compete at BBQ competitions around the country. One of these cooks is Myron Mixon, who has won nearly a million dollars in prize money and is one of the stars of the TV show BBQ Pitmasters, which I have become an avid fan of.

When I first learned about Myron I bought his New York Times bestseller Smokin’ with Myron Mixon. The book is fantastic both in terms of the story behind his work as well as cooking guides and tips.

Well this Christmas my always thoughtful wife, Erica, decided to go to Myron’s [Jack's Old South]((http://www.jacksoldsouth.com/) site and buy me every rub and sauce that they make. She wanted to get me everything so I could experiment and try them out in different cuts of meat. I have only used a few of the rubs and sauces so far, but they are incredible.

Myron Mixon in competition.

Although the rubs and sauces were awesome enough, I didn’t expect what came next. It turns out that Erica had been plotting with my father-in-law, and he also booked me and him into Myron Mixon’s cooking class in February. This is a weekend-long class delivered by Myron himself, at his house, where he teaches you how to smoke various cuts of meat, as well as doing a whole hog (a whole pig on a brick pit). The class kicks off on the Friday night with dinner at his house for the students, and then runs all day on Saturday, dinner on Saturday night, and then there is competition-focused cooking on the Sunday. It all takes place in a little place called Unadilla, in the heart of Georgia, one of the main BBQ states in the USA.

To say I am rather excited about this trip is an understatement. It is going to be fun just going out to Georgia, but to also not only meet Myron but also learn from arguably the most talented BBQ cook in the USA is going to be incredible.

So all in all, BBQing is fun, and I recommend you all to give it a shot yourself. Pick up a cheap smoker, grab some meat, read one of the best sites online for BBQ, crack open a few cold ones, and have some fun. :-)

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Michael Hall

Well, we did it.  The six members of the Canonical Community Team stayed awake and (mostly) online for 24 straight hours, all for your entertainment and generous donations.  A lot of people gave a lot over the last week, both in terms of money and time, and every one of you deserves a big round of applause.

Team Insanity

First off, I wanted to thank (blame) our fearless leader, Jono Bacon, for bringing up this crazy idea in the first place.  He is the one who thought we should do something to give back to other organizations, outside of our FLOSS eco-system.  It’s good to remind us all that, as important as our work is, there are still things so much more important.  So thanks, Jono, for giving us a chance to focus some of our energy on the things that really matter.

I also need to thank the rest of my team, David Planella, Jorge Castro, Nick Skaggs and Daniel Holbach, for keeping me entertained and awake during that long, long 24 hours.  There aren’t many people I could put up with for that long, I’m glad I work in a team full of people like you.  And most importantly, thanks to all of our families for putting up with this stunt without killing us on-air.

Upstream Awesomeness

Before we started this 24-hour marathon, I sent a challenge to the Debian community.  I said that if I got 5 donations from their community, I would wear my Debian t-shirt during the entire broadcast.  Well, I should have asked for more, because it didn’t take long before I had more than that, so I was happily sporting the Debian logo for 24 hours (that poor shirt won’t ever be the same).

I wasn’t the only one who put a challenge to the Debian community.  Nick made a similar offer, in exchange for donations he would write missing man pages, and Daniel did the same by sending patches upstream.  As a result, the Debian community made an awesome showing in support of our charities.

All of our donors

The biggest thanks, of course, go out to all of those who donated to our charities.  Because of your generosity we raised well over £5000, with the contributions continuing to come in even after we had all finally gone to bed.  As of right now, our total stands at £ 5295.70 ($8486).  In particular, I would like to thank those who helped me raise £739.13 ($1184) for the Autism Research Trust:

And a very big thank you to my brother, Brian Hall, who’s donation put us over £5000 when we only had about an hour left in the marathon.  And, in a particularly touching gesture of brotherly-love, his donation came with this personal challenge to me:

So here it is.  The things I do for charity.

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jono

My Barbecue Adventure

I usually use my blog for talking about my work and technology-related projects, but today I wanted to share a fun adventure that I have been on recently. There is nothing Ubuntu or community management related in here, but I think it my tickle the interest of some of you, in the same way this has captivated me.

In the last few months I have been getting increasingly into barbecue.

Now, to put this in perspective, I am a terrible cook. I have never really had an interest in cooking. While I love eating great food, I have never been particularly interested in how it was made. Then, about a year and half ago when my wife and I moved into our house which is in a warmer part of the bay area, my mother in law bought us a grill and I started getting interested in how to use it. The main reason why I developed this renewed interest is that outdoor cooking seemed like a fun thing to do (I had this romantic vision of being outside with sunglasses, shorts, and cooking great food), and there is something I like about the idea of cooking with fire.

While grilling caught my interest, it wasn’t until I learned about smoking and barbecue that I really got interested. I read about people smoking pieces of meat for many hours over a fire, and the meat being incredibly tender and delicious. When I heard about this I absolutely had to try it out. Not only this, but as I discovered more about smoking, there is a real science behind it. I was excited to learn the science behind something so simple and fundamental: cooking with fire.

The first thing I needed to do was buy a smoker. Now, there are different types of smoker (electric, gas, charcoal etc), and although charcoal is considered the pure way to do BBQ, I wanted to start with something easier to control. As such, I decided to use electric, and I bought a cheap smoker from Home Depot – the Brinkmann 810-7080-4 Gourmet Electric Smoker and Grill.

This unit cost about $65 dollars and it is a water smoker. The way it works is that it has a tray at the bottom that you fill with lava rocks that hold and transmit heat, and the heating element sits on top of it. Further up the unit is a water pan, and above that are the two cooking grills. To use it you switch the unit on, add some flavoring wood to the lava coals to create some smoke (such as hickory), fill the water pan (the water can keep a consistent moisture in the unit), and then add your food to the grates.

The Brinkmann in action.

This smoker is pretty simple to use, and has no temperature control. It locks in at around 250 which is the right temperature for low and slow cooking (225 – 250) for doing things such as ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. It is not really suitable for grilling as you can’t get the temp high enough to sear steaks.

Although simple, the smoker has some downsides. Firstly, there is no thermometer, so I needed to mod my smoker and add my own. Secondly, the lack of temperature control would be fine if the smoker was super-insulated, but this thing leaks heat like a shed. On a warm day this is fine, but one time I did an overnight smoke and this baby was running for 25 hours to smoke two 8 pound pork butts. If I could control the temperature I could increase the heat in the middle of the night when it cools, but with this smoker…no banana; the temp dropped throughout the early hours and slowed down my cook.

The other downside with this smoker is that it is pretty small. While it could be fine for smoking for a small family, the width of the unit is not wide enough to accommodate baby-back ribs, so this means you need to pinwheel them (this is when you use a toothpick to hold the rack in a circle) or chop them in half. The problem with chopping them in half is that you can’t use the bend test to check when they are done…and this resulted in some pretty tough racks of baby backs.

Baby backs after an hour of smoking on the Brinkmann.

When I bought this smoker I also bought a few other essentials such as tongs, heat-proof gloves (for pulling pork/chicken), skewers, and I bought a few great books on smoking and grilling. First of all, check out Weber’s Way to Grill (which has become my go-to-guide as I learn), and then also see Smokin’ with Myron Mixon (Myron Mixon is a famous BBQ grand champion). Part of the reason I bought the latter book was from becoming a bit of a fan of Myron Mixon after watching BBQ Pitmasters on Netflix.

One item I purchased which I thought would be a bit of a luxury but has become invaluable is the Maverick ET732 wireless thermometer. It works by providing a transmitter unit with a temperature probe for the pit (which you attach to the grill) and a probe for the food (which you jab into the meat). These two temperatures are then transmitted to the receiver that helps you to keep an eye on the cook from inside.

This device has a few distinct benefits. Firstly, it gives me a precise idea of the temperature of the meat so I can check when it is done. Secondly, it means that overnight smokes (such as a pork butt or a big brisket cook) can be done and I can keep an eye on things when I am in bed. Thirdly, I get a more accurate pit reading as the temp that is being taken is at the grill level where the food is, as opposed to on the lid or base where the manual read thermometer is. The unit also includes alarm support which means that if the pit or food drops lower or exceeds particular temps it will will alert you…such as waking you up if something is going crazy when you are smoking overnight.

The Maverick on a beer-can chicken smoke.

With my gear all good to go, I spent a number of fun weekends trying out different meats and learning different techniques. I have smoked brisket, baby back and spare ribs, chicken, and pork butt. I learned a bunch of things throughout this time such as:

  • Get a spray bottle an fill it with apple juice to spritz your meat every so often to keep it moist.
  • Resist the temptation to constantly check on your cook. As the BBQ manta goes: if you are looking, you ain’t cooking. :-)
  • To reduce flare-ups (when your flavor wood sets on fire and increasing the temp of the cooker), soak your flavor wood first.
  • There are various tests for checking when your food is cooked, and it is important to know them.
  • There are many different approaches to foiling. For example, for ribs many people use the 3-2-1 technique which includes a piece in which you foil the ribs to help keep the moisture in.
  • Resting meat is critical; when I rest my meat I wrap it in foil and then wrap it in old towels and put it in a cooler. This has a dramatic impact on the quality of your results.

If there is one lesson I have learned more than anything, it is that great BBQ is all about maintaining a consistent temperature. As an example, if you want great ribs, you need to smoke them at 225 – 250 and keep in that temperate range for a long period of time to help the collagen dissolve into gelatin for that fall-off-the-bone goodness. Interestingly, in competitive BBQ fall-off-the-bone is frowned upon; it is considered over-cooked. Personally, I love fall-off-the-bone. :-)

The problem with my dinky little smoker is that there is simply no temperature control. As such, for longer smokes where the weather changes (such as wind, cooling, heating up, rain), this impacts the smoker and therefore maintaining the temp was complicated. As an example, when doing a long smoke that goes into the evening, when the sun went down it was difficult to bring the temp up enough.

Not only was there this temp issue, but I was also itching more and more to move from electric to charcoal and start doing barbecue with nothing but a pit and fire, and learning how to control the temp to create awesome food.

This is going to sound a bit weird, and my wife also thinks it is a tad bonkers, but there is something magical in my mind about the idea of cooking with fire. This probably boils down to some cavemen DNA still rumbling around in my body, but I love the idea of getting back to basics and learning how to create awesome food with fire…and charcoal…I am not that much of a caveman. :-)

As such, I came to the conclusion that it was time to upgrade. I looked at three options; the Big Green Egg, the Primo Oval Junior, and the Weber Smoker Mountain.

The Big Green Egg and Primo Oval Junior grills are Kamado cookers, made of ceramic, and based upon 2000 year old cooking techniques. They maintain heat tremendously, are fantastic for smoking, grilling, and baking (the ceramic nature means they can also act like a pizza oven), but they are expensive (the Large Big Green Egg comes in at $899 not including the stand). Aside from the cost, the Large Big Green Egg also had a smaller cooking size than I would like and they risk cracking if you knock one over.

To be honest, I was pretty captivated by the idea of the Large Big Green Egg. Although expensive, these things are built to last a lifetime and are passed down from generation to generation, but with a baby on the way I found it difficult to justify such an expensive smoker. I checked the Primo as an alternative, but it is not that much cheaper. As such, I started looking more at the Weber Smokey Mountain.

The Weber Smokey Mountain comes in two sizes: 18.5″ and 22.5″, and it has a fanatical following, and is used by many professional competition cooks (such as Harry Soo). It is a water cooker, but it uses charcoal (or wood) instead of my familiar electric, and it is made by Weber, who have a long history of quality, with apparently fantastic customer service.

As I was researching the unit, I found quite possibly the most incredible enthusiast site I have ever seen for a product; the Virtual Weber Bullet. This site has an encyclopedic knowledge of the cooker, and every minute detail you could ever want to know about the cooker is documented, complete with guides, videos, and an active forum.

The Virtual Weber Bullet site is run by Chris A. Allingham and part of the way in which he funds the site is with Amazon affiliate links, so when I pulled the trigger to buy the bigger 22″ model, I used his link. I decided to buy the bigger model so I could have plenty of room for parties and I figured it would be better to have more space than less.

I also dropped Chris an email to say thank-you for his wonderful website, and interestingly he is based in the South Bay (about an hour from where I live). When I emailed him Chris was interested in discussing about community growth, so offered to drop him a copy of my book in the post. I hope we can get together to do a cook one day (and hopefully some of his knowledge can rub off on me). :-)

This weekend the 22″ Weber Smoker Mountain arrived in a box about the size of Australia:

As I neared the box I heard a muffled “G’day”.

I put together the smoker (which took about 15 minutes) and it is a bit of a monster:

Roar.

The way the smoker operates is really interesting, and gets back to my interest in controlling fire. If you look at the picture above you can see that it is broken into three pieces:

  • The bottom piece (with the legs) is where you add the charcoal.
  • The middle piece (with the door) is where you add the water bowl and the lower food grill.
  • The top piece (with the handles) is where you have the top cooking grill.

If you look at the bottom piece in the picture above you can see a circle with four smaller circles on it. This is a vent. There are three vents on the bottom and one vent on the top. To control the temperature of the unit you build your fire and then use the vents to control how much airflow enters the cooker, and this controls how hot it gets. If you want it hotter, open the vents and let more air in, if you want it cooler, close the vents. Depending on how much you open and close the vents, you can dial in the temperature that you need.

When I bought the smoker I also bought a few important items for using it, namely some heat-proof BBQ gloves, and also a chimney that is used to start the fire.

For my first smoke I figured I would start simple and smoke beer-can chicken. I chose this for a few reasons. Firstly, chicken is quite greasy, and I wanted to season the smoker and get a layer of grease on the walls of the unit (this layer helps maintain temperature and protect the unit). New Weber Smokey Mountain grills tend to run about 50 degrees too hot (due to the reflective nature of an unseasoned cooker), so I wanted to get it all greased up. Secondly, chicken is cheaper than ribs, and for my first charcoal smoke, I didn’t want to screw up an expensive cut of meat until I knew what I was doing. :-)

To be honest, I was a little nervous about my first smoke. Not only had I never used charcoal before, but it was a really hot day and the smoker was already at 170 degrees inside the cooker without any fire in there.

This would not have been a problem when I lived in England.

I kicked off my first smoke by filling the chimney with Kingsford charcoal and lit a few of the Weber fire-starter lighter cubes and got a nice burn going:

Safety Warning: do not eat.

I then cracked upon the smoker and put the charcoal in:

I didn’t use much wood in there so I could taste my first chicken on a charcoal cook.

I then put the middle section on, and there is plenty of space for food:

Safety Warning: do not sit on grill while cooking.

With my trusty Maverick attached to the grill and monitoring the pit and food temperature I was good to go:

Nothing like a Dr Who vibe when smoking meats.

I popped the beer-can chicken on and smoked it with a pit temperature of 350 until it hit an internal temp of 170. About three hours later it was done

After letting the bird rest for about 20 mins I cut it open and I saw the juiciest chicken I have ever seen. It was incredible. I was delighted with the results of my first smoke.

As I mentioned earlier, I was pretty nervous about how well I would do keeping a consistent temp using the Weber Smokey Mountain, but it stunned me how well it maintained temp. I would dial it in using the vents, and when it was there it held the temp really well. The only time it started to fall was when it needed more charcoal (I didn’t add quite enough), so I threw a few more coals in there and it went back up.

In a nutshell, I have been having a blast learning how to smoke and grill, and it has been wonderful to get outside and get some fresh air, learn about meat and controlling temperature, learning how fire works, different seasoning and rub styles, and for the fruits of this learning to be delicious barbecue. I am still very much at the beginning of my journey, but if you are even vaguely interested in this, I would heartily encourage you to give it a try. It really is a lot of fun. :-)

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