Low and Slow or Smoking
The Low and Slow or Smoking cooking technique is not a difficult technique to do. However, you will need to understand how your barbecue works and you will need to know how to keep it under control for the duration of the cook. Low & Slow simply refers to the Low cooking temperature and the Slow cooking time. Larger pieces of meat cooked in this way will quite literally fall apart under their own weight and yet be so tender and flavoursome that you will want to do it all over again. This is the technique to use if you like Pulled Pork, Brisket or ribs.
If you are fortunate enough to own a Weber Smokey Mountain or similar or even an offset smoker I guess this page isn't going to help you too much. If, though, like me you don't have room for those barbecues but you do want to enjoy Low & Slow this is a method that can achieve very similar results on a kettle barbecue. I use a Weber 22 1/2" kettle with my Barbecue Stacker. By no means do you need a Barbecue Stacker, I will show you how to cook Low & Slow without one, but it is much easier with one and I believe the results are much better too. If you don't have a Barbecue Stacker you can jump to the technique that shows you how to cook Low & Slow in your barbecue.
Low & Slow with a Kettle and Barbecue Stacker
Start a chimney full of charcoal briquettes in a Starter Chimney as usual. Lay out the remains of the 5kg bag of briquettes into the kettle and when the briquettes are becoming grey on top, tip them carefully over the unlit briquettes. This is known as the Minion Method.
Put the first grill in place and put a roasting pan centred on to it. Up to about ¾ of the way up, add water. Now, put your Barbecue Stacker on to your kettle BBQ. This is going to convert it into a water smoker. For more about the science of the Barbecue Stacker take a look at the website.
Put a second grill on to the top tabs of the Barbecue Stacker. Put your meat onto that in the centre, directly above the water tray. A meat and grill thermometer will help greatly from here. Put the lid on. Close the top and bottom vents to about ½ way so have a cooking temperature of 105°C to 135°C or 225°F to 275°F. Hold it in the middle if you can, it is possible.
Keep and eye on the two temperatures, the barbecue temperature primarily to start with at least. If the temperature starts to increase, check the water. If the temperature starts to go down, check the charcoal and the bottom vents. The chances are that the briquettes need the ash knocking off or the vents are starting to block.
You will see the stall in meat temperature. This is where it seems to just not want to increase when it started out increasing steadily. Keep your patience, this is normal and is caused by the meat sweating. When the water in the meat evaporates the temperature will begin to climb again. A great meat temperature for low & slow is 95°C or 203°F but always make sure your food is cooked properly.
Start a chimney full of charcoal briquettes in the Starter Chimney as usual. There is some snobbery around the use of briquettes but in my opinion the briquette is what makes this Low & Slow possible in a kettle barbecue. Charcoal is going to burn hotter and faster so will require constant monitoring and small adjustment. You are welcome to try. As part of my KISS approach I recommend charcoal briquettes at this stage.
While the charcoal starts and comes towards cooking temperature set up your barbecue. Clean it out of ash and spent charcoal as before. With the charcoal grate in place use the charcoal retainers to section 1/3 of the charcoal grate, use both of them face to face to do this. This is going to create a larger area for the charcoal to sit. At this time leave the bottom vent open and leave the cooking grill off.
Prepare yourself further by having the following close to your barbecue; An oven thermometer, an old or designated bread loaf tin, some wood chips or chunks, a sack of briquettes and a jug of cold water. Your meat should have had your preferred rub or marinade applied and be close to hand too. Try to have the meat out of the fridge so it doesn't go onto the barbecue too cold.
Once the charcoal in the chimney is up to temperature place the charcoal into the 1/3 that was separated off. Put about 10 briquettes on top. Give these new briquettes 5-10 minutes to start going but as an exception don't wait for them to grey over. Next put some wood chips, a couple of handfuls, or a couple of wood chunks on to the fire. Put the cooking grill in place. Put the loaf tin directly over the heat and 3/4 fill with the cold water. Now put your meat as far away from the heat as you can manage without it touching the barbecue or the lid. Put your oven thermometer next to it. Close the bottom vents to be 1/2 open, put the lid on and close those vents to 1/2 as well. Leave this for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes check the temperature, charcoal and top up with a few briquettes as necessary, top the water up, add some more wood chips and rotate the meat. Look to see the bottom vents are clear of ash. If they are blocked at any time carefully rotate the bottom vent to open and close it, this encourages the ash to clear. Depending on what you are cooking you will repeat this process many times during the cook. Each time check the charcoal and ensure the ash is clearing. Top the water up as required and clear the vent as and when it starts to block up. The temperature in the barbecue is important as you want to keep the temperature low. An ideal cooking temperature range is 105°C to 135°C or 225°F to 275°F. By closing the vents of your barbecue you will reduce the temperature, opening them will increase it. Avoid sharp changes in vent position instead develop a feeling for the number of briquettes to add and when. It might be that you don't need to add briquettes every time as they hold their heat so well. If the temperature plunges and the charcoal is burning through, checking that the barbecue's temperature is not too high, use your starter chimney to get some hot charcoal going quickly.
A boneless 1/2 pork shoulder, for pulled pork, or a whole beef brisket, could take 8 or more hours to reach the point of perfection, lamb perhaps not quite so long as the heat will penetrate the meat more quickly. The internal temperature of the meat and the barbecue temperature are going to reach a point of equilibrium and, believe it or not, the meat's internal temperature may rise further once you have removed it from the barbecue. Once the meat is cooked make sure you give it time to rest. 30 minutes rest time wrapped in foil with a couple of towels adding insulation will work well.
After the meat is rested it can be shredded, chopped or sliced as you like. And mixed with some barbecue or chilli sauce for a delicious meal you will thoroughly deserve. Pulled pork should fall apart with little encouragement. Some of the meat near the edges may need to be chopped. The dark outer of any meat cooked this way is known as the "bark" and is full of smokey flavour. The pinkness that you see working into the meat is known as the "smoke ring", this isn't a sign of being undercooked, instead this is visible evidence of the smoke penetrating the meat with flavour.
If your cooked a bone in shoulder, all being well you will end up with a nice clean bone, with the meat having fallen away.
Find more ideas for food to cook in the Low and Slow method.