Barbecue Versus Grilling
The art of cooking meat has its genres, led by barbecue and grilling.
Appreciation in the nuances starts with barbecue – the methodology of using a slow, circumvented unit of hot air with the lid closed; and smoking, as it relates to barbecue, cooking “low and slow and taking the time to get it right,” as Chuck Gawey of Albert G’s Bar-B-Q describes. Grilling, as a meat method, is done lid up, with high, directed heat from underneath.
Football legend Billy Sims grew up with Texas barbecue and opened the first eponymous BBQ location in Tulsa at the Farm Shopping Center, where the ‘cue choices often start with ribs. Due to being close to the bone, rib meat contains connective tissue and fat, which means it needs to cook for long durations, preferably over low heat to ensure tender and rich flavor.
“If you want a lot of rich flavor in your meat, you want to slow cook it,” says Brent Swadley, owner of Swadley’s Bar-B-Q. “It’s very, very hard to slow cook on a grill because your food dries up. But there are not a lot of meats that you smoke, because they dry up. Brisket is such an ideal item to smoke, because there’s not much else you can do with it but grind it up into hamburger meat. A brisket or a pork butt or pork shoulder smoke so well because they are fatty and the meat is dense. It creates a rind on it that protects it while it’s cooking and traps the moisture in it.
“When it comes to grilling, a good rib-eye usually grills up well. It usually doesn’t dry up on you,” he continues. “Pork chop might be the best if it is done right. The most important thing is to buy higher quality meat when you are grilling something. When you’re smoking something, it’s not as important to buy high quality because you are going to cook the hell out of it.”
Becoming a Pitmaster
The big payoff from performing meat magic at home attracts many a home cook to the barbecue sector.
“If folks want to be good at barbecue it takes practice, time, money and willingness to learn,” says Adam Myers, owner of Tulsa-based BurnCo Barbeque. “There is not a shortcut. Read books, cook with strangers, know that food is subjective and there is not a right, perfect or best recipe process or seasoning for everyone. Knowing your eaters’ preferences and catering to their needs is the true sign of a pitmaster.”
Swadley continues: “I’ve often said it has zero to do with the smoker, it has zero to do with the seasoning, it has zero to do with the sauce, and it has zero to do with the meat,” says Swadley. “It has everything to do with you mastering your grill. You can turn your grill into a smoker if you do it right. You can turn a smoker into a grill if you know how to manipulate that. It’s learning how to work with what you got, what you can afford. Don’t step out there and spend a bunch of money buying something because it was successful for somebody else. It’s all about learning how to manipulate and make what you have work.”
Gawey, who started in the business 30 years ago, still believes in the unadorned perfection of simple seasoning.
“It’s all about piece of meat you want to cook and just practicing and learning,” he says. “Some of the stuff does not require seasoning – like sausage or hot links, but your chicken, steak, pork and burgers – I believe in just serious salt and pepper when I’m cooking at my house.”
If you want to get started, event calendars yield one-time barbecue and grilling classes. Or, if you’d like a longer education, acquire some skills at places like Tulsa Barbecue School (tulsabbqschool.com).
Not all meats – nor veggies – are created equal. Here’s a short explanation of what you should be aiming for when you’re at the grill.
Chicken: Different chicken cuts require different cooking temperatures. Also consider whether it is bone-in or boneless, as boneless goes for about four minutes on each side, while bone-in breast needs to be over indirect heat for about 40 minutes or until the temperature reaches 165º. Use a meat thermometer so that it won’t dry out. Bone-in wings cook for about 20-30 minutes, while thighs and drumsticks should be grilled for about 40-50 minutes on indirect heat.
Beef steak: Grill a steak for four to five minutes on each side and then continue for about three to five minutes for medium rare (135º); five to seven minutes (140º) for medium, and for well, continue to grill an additional eight to ten minutes (150º).
Pork ribs: The target temperature is 190º. Cooking times vary.
Burgers: Grill burger patties for five to seven minutes per side over medium heat. The target temperature is 160º.
Lamb chops: The target temperature depends on at what level you want them, just like for steaks, and depends on the thickness of the chop as well. For example, if it’s 1-inch thick, grill each side around three to four minutes.
Salmon: Place seasoned fish on a wooden plank and not directly on the grate. Cook for 10-15 minutes.
Tofu: Tofu will stick to a grill, so oil the grill or use aluminum foil. Always marinate at least an hour before grilling, as that is where the flavor comes – and it can be as basic as barbecue sauce. Also press the water from your tofu before marinating so that it is absorbing it and not the water it came in. Grill your tofu for five minutes per side and brush with more marinade while cooking.
Sources: themeatstick.com; tofuxpress.com
2022 has brought about several new innovations to the barbecuing world, including:
The Looftlighter – The Looftlighter is a torch that makes grill-lighting easy and speedy within 60 seconds as the cylindrical unit pushes a concentrated stream of super-heated air. When you point the Looftlighter at lump charcoal, briquettes or wood, very soon you’ll have a fire going.
Weber iGrill Mini – At a price point around $60, the Weber iGrill Mini is a two-inch magnetic thermometer that pairs with your mobile device via an app, and it alerts when the food reaches your desired level of ‘done’. The smart LED technology offers a four-color food heat progression spectrum to track.
Precision Cooker – The Anova Precision Cooker is considered the No. 1 Sous Vide machine available to provide multiple portions in one cooking session. You can supervise the cooking process through the available app. The cooking magic happens via heated and circulated water that reaches a precise temperature, meaning maximum tenderness and moisture retention without the worry of overcooking.
Timberline Grills – Outdoor cooking is perfected and versatile using Traeger Timberline grills. Features include a state-of-the-art premium construction including Wi-Fi connectivity to include recipe guidance and video tips, along with an Apple Watch version and recently introduced Traeger Provisions meal kit service.
Ask the Experts:
What’s Your Favorite BBQ Dish?
A multi-meat plate of ribs, brisket, pulled pork and sides. I love our potato salad invented 30 years ago, our tabbouleh washed down with one of our local Tulsa beers. End with our key lime pie.
– Chuck Gawey
Start with the easy one – sweet tea and barbeque go hand-in-hand. When it comes to meat, it’s hard for me to beat ribs. I’m a ribs nerd. Also, I love sausage. I would say ribs and sausage are my two most favorite. Number three would be brisket. Our smoked chicken is one of our best sellers. For vegetables, potatoes and grilled corn. Wrap some onions and potatoes up in some foil with butter and seasoning.
– Brent Swadley
A 50/50 sandwich – half chopped brisket and half pulled pork – mixed up on a bun, with baked beans and plain potato chips. I like a root beer to drink with it. Something amazing happens when you mix pigs and cows, like a bacon cheeseburger. As I eat my sammy, meat falls out and is scooped into the smoky, little sweet, little spicy mix of baked beans. Sometimes I’ll use a fork, but usually pick a shovel-esque potato chip to scoop up the meaty sweet soft bite of beans, enjoying the textural crunch and saltiness of the chip against the rich sweetness and spice of the beans and sandwich drippings.
BBQ Restaurant Listing
Albert G’s Bar-B-Q
Billy Sims Barbecue
Knotty Pig BBQ,
Burger & Chili House
Rudy’s “Country Store”