For some, backyard barbecuing means firing up a gas grill and tossing on some burgers. But for purists, barbecue means something very different: slow-cooking meats at a low temperature in a smoker. Slow and low—it’s an art form that can take a lifetime to master, and no two people do it exactly the same.
Bryan Forgione is executive chef at celebrity toque Buddy Valastro’s restaurant Buddy V’s in the Grand Canal Shops at the Venetian. But when he gets a day off, there’s nothing he enjoys more than spending a day at home with his backyard smoker. So we asked him for a few tips for barbecue newbies. Here’s what the chef had to say:
THE MACHINERY: “The simplest thing that you should go with is the traditional barrel smoker with the offset fire box. The whole idea with barbecue is that you’re not doing it with direct heat. So that’s why it’s offset. You’re gonna actually build your fire with the coals and the wood, and then the actual main barrel chamber is what holds your meats.”
THE FUEL: “There are many different ways of doing it. I believe that if you’re gonna do something and really call it barbecue, you’ve got to use some kind of wood product. That’s just my view, whether you’re using lump charcoal, or you’re using Kingsford charcoal— your standard briquettes—or straight wood. I’ve tried it all, and you get different results out of all of them. For me, what works out the best and gives the cleanest flavor and is the most crowd-pleasing is using briquettes and also chunks of wood or a nice size log if you have the right size smoker. I don’t like using wood chips, which a lot of people use, because they tend to burn up really fast.”
THE MEAT: “The classic is ribs. But if you’re gonna plan on doing barbecue [correctly], it’s about how much time you have. Because if you’re planning on doing pulled pork or brisket, you’re [talking] a full day, 16 hours. That’s down to six hours for ribs. Or if you want to do something like chicken, I’d say you need three hours.”
THE PREP: “You can have fun with spices. But really all you absolutely need is just salt and pepper. But have some fun. Get spices. Do it up with anything from spicy to sweet. If you’re doing a couple of different meats—if you’re doing chicken and sausages and pork—you should experiment with different seasonings for each one. That way you don’t have that same spice flavor throughout everything.”
THE TEMP: “One of the secrets of barbecue is having a good solid, steady temperature. So you have to make sure your smoker has a thermometer on it. And you keep your temperature within the guidelines. It fluctuates between 225 and 275 degrees, depending on the meat. If you’re doing ribs, 250 is a good place to be. If you’re doing half chickens, 275 is nice, because it gets the skin crispy on top. If you’re doing brisket or pulled pork or something that’s gonna be in there a long time, I usually do around 235. But you don’t want your temperature going up and down. It’s a lot of maintenance, so clear your schedule.”
THE SAUCE: “If you’re doing barbecue in your backyard for your family and friends, you should always have sauce. But it should not be dripping wet. It’s always nice if you want to do a thin glaze on the meat right before it comes off. But I wouldn’t do it until the very end. It should complement the smoke flavor, but not hide it.”