Barbecuing low and slow has long been my favorite way to grill. Every Sunday I try and spend my day outside working on a recipe that can take anywhere from six to sixteen hours to cook over an open flame. It’s an experience and one that I cherish. I pour myself a couple of cold drinks, listen to some good Willie Dixon blues and enjoy the fresh air as I sit, catering to whatever piece of meat is sitting on the grates of my grill.
If you’re looking to barbecue the most succulent meats the way they were meant to be eaten, this is the guide for you.
Low and Slow
The primary difference between grilling and barbecuing is that grilling is cooking over a direct heat source on high heat for a short amount of time whereas barbecuing is cooking over an indirect heat source on low heat for a long period of time. While grilling works best on small cuts such as hamburgers, chops and steaks, barbecuing low and slow is best for larger cuts of meat or whole animals that take longer to cook fully.
Often misconstrued with ‘smoking’, barbecuing is slightly different and the topic we’ll focus on today. While we absolutely infuse the meat with smoke, we’re not talking jerky today. We’re going to focus on two of my best recipes I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
What You’ll Need
The first thing you’ll need for low and slow cooking is a high-quality barbecue. While you could use gas, I prefer charcoal and in my opinion, it’s the only way to go.
For both of these recipes, you’ll be able to get away with using something like a Weber 22” Kettle Grill or a large Big Green Egg.
Next, you’re going to need time and lots of it. These are recipes that are going to take you all day to prepare. You’re going to make sure you have lots of time and no other commitments. Forget cutting the grass, trips to the grocery store or watching your favorite movie on TV. You’re going to be by the barbecue all day, and it’s going to be great.
You’re going to want to get everything you’ll possibly need for the day. The goal is to think like a Boy Scout and be prepared for anything. Just because you might be able to leave the grill unattended for a short time doesn’t mean you should. Remember, this is an active fire that can easily spiral out of control at any time. You need to be vigilant, and you need to be close by. I recommend having the following:
– Cold water
– Bug spray
– A good book
– Any electronics you want + chargers
– A hat
– A light jacket or sweater (if it’s cool)
– Cigars, a pipe…
– Anything else you find useful
Of course, if someone else is around, it’s nice to be able to call on them should you need something. The most important thing to keep with you is all of your barbecue tools and accessories. Make sure you have them ready to go.
I’m very fortunate in that the patio doors off my deck lead right into the dining room which is next to our kitchen so it’s easy to quickly get a cold drink or an extra platter or tasting spoon. However, if you don’t have the luxury of that convenience, I recommend having a cooler with your favorite drinks nearby. My standards are sweet tea and a few cold cocktails.
Prepping Your Grill
I’m going to assume that you’ve already cleaned your grill and have all the tools and equipment you need. You’re also going to want to make sure you have enough charcoal. I suggest using natural lump charcoal over briquettes. I also like to keep chunks of wood on hand for smoking and grilling. Lately, I’ve been using a lot of apple wood.
If you are going to smoke, keep your wood chunks or smoking chips in a bath of cold water for at least an hour or two before applying to the fire.
You’re going to want to prep your grill for indirect heat. For the recipes in here, I recommend using high quality charcoal on one half of the grill with a foil drip pan filled halfway with water on the other half of your grill to keep the moisture levels just right. If you’re using a kettle grill like the Weber, you’re going to want to use a method called the Jim Minion method, created by its namesake as a way to increase the lifespan of the charcoal and heat source. You’re going to place a layer of unlit charcoal on the bottom, followed by a layer of lit charcoal from a chimney starter on top. This ensures your heat source will stay consistent without too much maintenance for some of the longer recipes. Of course, if you are using a gas grill this process doesn’t apply.
To learn more about prepping and lighting your grill, check out our in-depth barbecue grilling guide.
Here are two of my recipes for low and slow barbecuing. Please note that when I do these recipes at home I use a charcoal grill or smoker and not a gas grill. Both of these recipes can easily be done on a kettle grill, although I do suggest using a large smoker for the ribs if space is an issue.
Also, please note that I usually prepare my recipes by sight. I don’t use exact measurements which are why none of these measurements should be construed as being precise for these recipes. Please season according to taste.
Prep time: 1 Hour
Cook time: 10 Hours
7lbs, butcher quality, flat-cut beef brisket with a nice fat cap.
2-3 tbsp coarse salt
2-3 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
2-3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2-3 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2-3 tbsp sweet paprika
2-3 tbsp coarse black pepper
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 can Guinness beer
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
Mix all the rub seasonings together in a prep bowl. With the brisket on a prep tray, rub it down with mustard and Worcestershire sauce until it’s evenly coated on all sides. Then, take the rub and generously massage it all over the meat, ensuring you get all sides.
Heat the grill using the method described above with a water pan on the other side of the grill. After the grill is lit to about 225°F, place some soaked wood chunks under the cooking grate, on top of the charcoal to add some smoke. Take the brisket and place it fat side up on indirect heat (over the water pan, not the charcoal). You want your temperature to stay consistent at 225-250°F throughout the cooking time. I suggest using a standalone oven thermometer over a grill thermometer as it doesn’t have to be stuck into the meat which will release its juices. Close the lid and open the vents, adjusting them accordingly. If your temperature does lower, you want to make sure you add charcoal to bring the heat back up.
After the brisket has been on for about an hour, you’ll want to mix your mop together in a medium bowl. Using a barbecue mop, you’re going to want to mop your brisket roughly every thirty minutes, adding more smoking wood or chips to the fire as well. Be sure to check the temperature of the grill each time and to adjust vents or add charcoal accordingly.
After eight hours has passed, you’re going to take the brisket and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Place it back on the grill and let it sit for another two hours. After the ten hour mark, remove the brisket from the grill, unwrap it and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!
BBQ Spare Ribs
* For this particular recipe, I recommend using a smoker over a kettle grill.
Prep time: 1 Hour
Cook time: 5 Hours
Pork spare ribs, membrane trimmed or skored
Keen’s hot mustard
5 tbsp kosher salt
4 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tsp garlic powder
3 tbsp paprika
3 tsp onion powder
5 cups ketchup
1 cup water
1 cup of bourbon whiskey
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 tbsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp onion powder
5 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
If you do decide to use a charcoal kettle grill, prep it using the same method as you did for the brisket above. I suggest using hickory or mesquite wood for smoking ribs.
1. Generously massage the hot mustard into all sides of the ribs and coat evenly with the rub. Place the ribs on the grill grates.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the ingredients of your bbq sauce.
3. Place it on a side burner or the grill (if there’s room) on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until it’s heated throughout.
4. Every 30 minutes, spray the ribs down with a spray can filled with apple juice.
5. After four hours, remove the ribs and place on aluminum foil. Smother them generously with the bbq sauce and wrap the ribs tightly in the aluminum foil, placing them back on the grill for another hour.
6. Let them rest for about 15 minutes and enjoy!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick primer on low and slow barbecuing. Stay tuned for more great grilling recipes. If you have a favorite tip or trick, please share it in the comments section below.