In case you can’t tell I’m a huge fan of Texas barbeque. I’ve decided it is both a science and an art. I figure if I can better understand the science behind good tasting meat, I can begin to cultivate the art of great tasting barbeque.
Real Texas barbeque can’t happen on a gas grill. Grilling is fast cooking over high heat, while barbequing is slow cooking over low heat. Typically, gas grills cannot maintain a low enough temperature for proper slow cooked barbeque.
Smoke is the key.
A gas grill cannot match the flavor imparted to food from wood or charcoal smoke. During grilling, the meat is exposed to air, but during barbequing or smoking the BBQ lid or smoker door is closed, enveloping the meat in a thick cloud of smoke. Mmmm...can't you just smell it? Many barbeque pits have a system of vents that can be opened or closed to control the amount of heat and smoke that contact the food. The smoke must be able to move freely around the meat and out of the top of the smoker/cooker/pit quickly so that creosote will not build up on the meat and give it a bitter flavor. Sometimes a pan of water in also placed in the cooking chamber to provide steam.
Smoked meats such as Texas barbeque usually still have a red tinge to them, even when completely cooked and will have what is known as a smoke ring - a thin pink layer around the edges. This coloring of the meat is caused by a reaction between the carbon monoxide of the smoke binding with the iron in the myoglobin of the meat. How about that word, huh? Myoglobin, in case you were wondering, is the oxygen-binding protein in muscle.
Tender cuts of meat are best for grilling, but they require close attention. Vegetables and fruits can also be grilled because they don't need a long cooking time either. The quick cooking and the high heat work to seal in the juices, but if you leave the meat on too long it can dry out. This can happen with any dry cooking method, however, it is best not to walk away from your grill. Sauces can be used, but with such high heat, it is better when added near the end of the cooking time, so they won’t burn.
Tougher cuts of meats, such as beef brisket (my favorite) or pork ribs, are usually used in barbeque. These meats benefit from the long, slow cooking process that softens the thick connective tissue surrounding the muscle fibers. The meat can become so tender it can fall off the bone. Since the heat is not as high as grilling, barbeque sauce can be brushed onto the meat throughout the cooking process, if desired.
This is the first of several installments about Texas barbeque. Stay tuned for an entry on wood smoke – the flavor of barbeque.