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How to Make Better Barbecue, According to Pros

We asked the founders of Pig Beach BBQ to give us some tips on how to be a better pitmaster.

bbq grilling
Ken Goodman

Barbecue, in some form, is present in most cultures and countries around the world. And while you likely associate American ‘cue with places like Memphis and Texas, pitmasters are setting up shop all over the country to put their own spin on classic regional styles. That’s exactly what Matt Abdoo and Shane McBride did when they opened Pig Peach in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood in 2015.

“Having an opportunity to eat the barbecue of many of the legendary pit masters from across the country, as well as cook with them, has truly defined our style,” Abdoo says. “Because New York is not a classic barbecue region, it gives us the opportunity to curate our favorites from across the country and apply those items to our menu.”

Both chefs have cooked on competition barbecue teams, and they also have culinary school degrees and backgrounds in New York City fine dining. These combined experiences have opened their minds and palates and inspired them to create the mouthwatering menu at Pig Beach that keeps the crowds coming year after year.

pig beach bbq
Pig Beach

“Working in fine dining is an exercise in doing the same thing perfectly over and over, day in and day out,” McBride says. “It also gives you the opportunity to taste exceptional food and really develop a taste memory that most people never get the opportunity to do. We have taken those skills and plugged in ingredients that push the flavors of our barbecue.”

Pig Beach
Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook: Smoked, Grilled, Roasted, and Sauced
bookshop.org
$27.90

In addition to a Brooklyn location, Pig Beach has set up shop in Queens, New York, as well as McBride’s hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida. And now, Abdoo and McBride are bringing their celebrated barbecue to home cooks everywhere with the release of Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook: Smoked, Grilled, Roasted, and Sauced on May 17. The book begins with the history of U.S. barbecue and how European settlers learned to cook with smoke from enslaved Africans and Indigenous Americans. It then delves into the nuances of American regional barbecue and some basics, like how to choose a smoker and the tools and ingredients you’ll need to get started. Finally, the book houses more than 50 recipes that will help you become the at-home pitmaster you’ve always wanted to be.

The recipes include barbecue essentials like rubs, seasonings and sauces, as well as more traditional dishes like Pork Shoulder, Salt-and-Pepper Brisket, Baked Beans and Buttery Cornbread. But what makes Pig Beach’s food so great is the global flavors that have influenced its food.

“As New Yorkers, we have so many amazing and different cuisines and flavors right on our blocks, you could literally have a global culinary journey every week without having to go far at all,” Abdoo says. “These cuisines have inspired us to take some of our favorite and iconic flavors from across the globe and have fun by applying them to our barbecue menu as specials.”

To get the most out of the cookbook and our meat smoking adventures, we asked Abdoo and McBride for their best barbecue tips that can help steer at-home pitmasters in the right direction.

pig beach bbq
Pig Beach

Invest in a Quality Digital Thermometer

Whether you’re cooking a pork chop in the kitchen or firing up the smoker for a backyard barbecue, having a quality digital thermometer will ensure whatever meat you’re making is done to perfection.

“Knowing when the protein is stalling, cooking or perfectly done is very hard for the beginning BBQ enthusiast,” Abdoo says. “The digital thermometer will give you great confidence to know where you are every step of the way throughout your cook.”

Quality Wood Makes a Difference

Barbecue is all about cooking with smoke, and wood is what you’re using to create that smoke, so quality is everything.

“The better smoke you can generate will result in better tasting barbecue,” Abdoo says. “Wood that is too dry will burn too hot and too quickly and can result in an acrid flavor. The wood should feel dense for its size, indicating a good moisture level. Wood that is too young and too fresh can create too much smoke and overwhelm the flavor of the meat and seasonings.”

The type of wood you use is also essential. Smoke from hickory wood will impart a different flavor from that of cherry wood, and so on. Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook gives a wood recommendation with each recipe, so you don’t have to play guessing games when firing up your smoker.

Embrace “The Stall”

If you’ve ever smoked a large piece of protein like a brisket or pork shoulder, the interior temperature of the meat probably stopped going up once it hit the 150 to 160 degree mark. This is called “the stall,” and it happens because liquid is evaporating from the meat’s surface, which cools the meat’s temperature a bit. But because you know the stall is going to happen, you can properly prepare for it ahead of time, especially if you’re expecting guests.

“At the stall, most pit masters will either increase the temperature of their cooker to push through or utilize a technique known as the ‘Texas crutch,’ which involves wrapping the protein in butcher paper or foil,” Abdoo says. “This traps the heat so the temperature will continue to rise for an on-time cook. It also helps retain moisture in the meat, but sometimes at the expense of bark development.”

You don’t have to wrap the meat if you have time to spare. But if you do, buy the correct size to avoid frustration.

“Buy restaurant size aluminum foil and plastic wrap,” McBride says. “Using grocery store sizes is frustrating and expensive when you're wrapping ribs or a pork shoulder. It’s much easier when you use the 12- or even 24-inch version. Look for it at your local restaurant supply store, Costco or even Amazon.”

Don’t Forget to Spritz

Spritzing your meat with liquid while it’s smoking adds flavor and moisture, and it’s another way to make the cook your own.

“Many pit masters have different views on spritzing, but we find it’s a great way to enhance the flavor as well as smoke adhesion,” Abdoo says. ”Spritzes can be as simple as apple juice and apple cider vinegar or as elaborate as beef broth with lots of aromatics. Whichever you choose, have fun with it and make it something you love!”

pig beach bbq
Pig Beach

Practice on Pork Butts

Just like with anything, great barbecue takes time, patience and practice. But meat is expensive, so honing your skills on a cheaper cut will help you save money.

“Pork shoulder is the most economical meat, so become a master of controlling your fire and managing your smoker by cooking it before you invest in a high-ticket item like brisket,” Abdoo says. “It’s also a great way to become the favorite neighbor by inviting everyone over to enjoy in your barbecue journey.”

Another way to be the favorite neighbor is to whip up these smoked tomahawk steaks from Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook at your next summer get together.

Tomahawk Steaks

bbq tomahawk steak
Ken Goodman

Serves 4 to 6

Note: When you take the steaks out of the smoker, you will notice that the rub has produced a really beautiful crust over the meat. Again, this method takes more time and effort to prepare, but you’ll be serving amazing steaks. If you choose to eliminate the smoking process, marinate and proceed to grill as you would on whatever type grill you are using.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (2-inch-thick) tomahawk ribeye steaks
  • 1.5 cups Pig Beach Wet Rub (see below)

    Tightly wrap the bone of each steak with heavy-duty aluminum foil. (If you want to follow an old steak house trick, first wrap the bone with a wet heavy-duty paper towel, then wrap with the foil. This helps clean and bleach the bone while it cooks, resulting in a beautiful bone for presentation.)

    Put on a pair of disposable gloves and generously coat the meat of the steaks with the rub. Place the steaks on a wire rack and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.

    While the steaks are marinating, using cherry wood, preheat your smoker to 250°F.

    Insert a thermometer probe into the thickest part of each steak and place the steaks in the center of the smoker. (It is essential that you use the probe, as you must monitor the temperature while keeping the smoker chamber closed to retain the heat and smoke.) Smoke the steaks for about 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 100°F. Remove the steaks from the smoker and transfer to a platter. Set aside to rest for 15 minutes. Do not remove the aluminum foil from the bone.

    While the steaks are resting, clean and oil the grill grate and preheat the grill to high.

    When the grill is very hot, place the steaks facing in the same direction in the high-heat zone, arranging them at a 45-degree angle to the vertical rungs of the grate and grill for 3 minutes. Using tongs, rotate the steaks about 45 degrees to create the elegant grill marks that you see on all steak house steaks, or rotate the steaks 90 degrees to make neat square crosshatches on the meat. Flip the steaks and repeat this procedure on the second side.

    When both sides of the steaks have been marked, flip them again and place in a medium-hot zone. Grill, flipping every 3 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 125°F. Remove the steaks from the grill and place on a cutting board. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. The internal temperature will continue to rise to 130° to 135°F, which will result in a medium-rare steak.

    Using a sharp knife, cut the steaks into thin slices against the grain and lay the slices on a serving platter, with the bones included in the presentation.

    Pig Beach Wet Rub

    Ingredients:

    • .5 cup yellow mustard
    • .15 cup Better Than Bouillon roasted beef base
    • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
    • 2 tablespoons honey
    • 2 tablespoons butcher’s grind black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
    • 2 teaspoons chile flakes
    • 2 teaspoons water

      Combine the mustard, beef base, sugar and honey in a small bowl and stir to blend thoroughly. Add the pepper, rosemary, chile flakes and water and beat until a paste forms. Transfer to a food-safe container, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

      From Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook by Matt Abdoo and Shane McBride. Copyright © 2022 by Matt Abdoo and Shane McBride. Reprinted by permission of Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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