The hottest items to have if you’re a backyard cook are tools to tell and regulate temperatures.
“Temperature is the key thing,” said Don Cary, as he stood in front of a display case of colorful Thermopen thermometers in the Wichita store All Things BBQ, which he owns.
“It’s the most important thing you can offer for someone to improve their grilling. The single most valuable thing for a cook is to understand what temperature done is and to give them the tool to tell that temp,” he said.
Joel Schaible, showroom manager at Walton’s, agrees about the importance of monitoring temperatures.
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“If I’m spending a lot of money on a filet or rib eye, I don’t want it ruined,” he said.
Many of the customers at All Things BBQ like the Thermopen, made by Thermaworks and retailing for about $96, since it’s fast – giving readings in about 3 seconds – and it’s accurate, Cary said. Plus it’s durable and long lasting. “It’s almost a lifetime buy,” he said.
Another popular probe thermometer is the ThermoPop, made by the same company. It retails for $30, but read-time takes 5-6 seconds.
But if sticking a thermometer into a piece of meat to read a temperature – no matter how fast – seems old school, you might want to check out Bluetooth-compatible thermometers that let you monitor barbecue temperatures from more than 150 feet away, or you might want to invest in a grill with Wi-Fi options.
Walton’s, a meat processing, barbecue and grilling accessories store in northeast Wichita, sells a Bluetooth-compatible thermometer ($99.99) that allows you to monitor temps on an iPhone, iPad, Android or tablet device. The transmitter allows you to monitor up to four probes; additional probes are sold separately.
At Walton’s, you can buy a Daniel Boone Green Mountain pellet grill with a Wi-Fi option ($759) that allows you to set and monitor your grill temperatures with a free downloadable app.
“Some people call it the lazy man’s grill, but I say it’s the busy man’s grill,” said Schaible. “If you have a lot to do, this is one more thing to help you out.”
The grill can be turned on and off remotely and temperatures adjusted with a smartphone or tablet. It also has a meat probe to gauge temperatures and will tell you when dinner is done.
Temperature control is also important when using a smoker.
“Barbecue guys will tell you all day long, especially the competition ones, that temperature consistency is key” in smoking,” Schaible said. A BBQ Guru Power Draft temperature controller sold at Walton’s can help with that. The version for larger smokers sells for $329.99, while the version for smaller smokers is $139.99.
“There’s a probe that goes in the smoke box and you tell it to smoke all day at 225 (degrees), for example, and if the temperature drops, it’ll start a fan to get the fire stoked and turn up the temp,” Schaible said.
Other hot items
From meat charms and branding irons to a new option in ceramic grilling, local barbecue aficionados and family and friends who like giving grilling-related gifts can check out the following:
▪ Branding irons to sear in the image of a collegiate mascot ($31.99) or the cook’s initials ($24.99). Since last year, Walton’s, in northwest Wichita, has been carrying collegiate branding irons for the University of Kansas; Kansas State University; and Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma state universities. “We’ve tried to get WSU (Wichita State University), but it’s not available,” said Joel Schaible, showroom manager. “People buy these as novelty items to put next to their grill. It’s usually a gift.”
▪ The Black Olive ($1,699). The makers of the Green Egg created this new grill for people who love kamado-style ceramic grills, like the Green Egg, but also want a pellet grill. ”People who go to ceramic grills don’t ever go back,” said Schaible from Walton’s, which is the only local retailer of the Black Olive.
▪ Steak charms ($9.99 at All Things BBQ). This set of six meat charms, which can be stuck into the steak while grilling, helps the backyard griller keep track of who gets what and the doneness preferences.
▪ Baking stones. Not just for the oven, these stones are popular ways to cook food such as pizzas or even cookies on a grill. Sizes and shapes vary from round stones to rectangular stones. Prices vary as well.
▪ Compressed wood smoking bricks ($7.49-$9.99 at All Things BBQ). For gas grillers who want to add the flavor of smoke, Mojobricks are made of compressed natural hardwood in maple hardwood with apple essence, cherry and a hardwood blend with pecan essence. Small mini-cubes will burn for 30 minutes, while the larger bricks will burn for two hours.
▪ Anything that adds flavor. Seasonings, rubs, brines or injectable flavors can add or infuse flavors to traditional grilling foods. Coffee rubs are being discovered by more backyard cooks looking for something different, said Don Cary, owner of All Things BBQ in Wichita’s Delano neighborhood. “Coffee is acidic and helps open up the pores in the meat,” he said. “It has an earthy flavor and it helps set a crust. We use (coffee rubs) in our classes and people say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’”
Smoking tips from the pros
Little adjustments can take your brisket from terrific to transcendent. Here are some tips for helping you achieve sublimity:
▪ Don’t inject. Look, a quadrillion Texans know what Lyndon B. Johnson’s pitmaster, Walter Jetton, knew: A brisket is “self-basting.”
Among the worst epithets a brisket can be called is “roast-beefy.” Injecting makes briskets roast-beefy. Concerned about it being succulent enough? Wrap your brisket in foil after about four hours. Even better: butcher paper, because, unlike foil, it breathes.
▪ Keep it simple. “You don’t have to brine it,” said Texas pitmaster Wayne Mueller. “You don’t have to have this super-complex rub.” Brown sugar mates well with pork butt; cayenne is a nice touch on pork ribs. But the best pitmasters in central Texas use nothing more than kosher salt and cracked black pepper. The point is to not mask flavor, but to enhance it.
Coat the meat liberally to create a rough, thickish texture. Use equal parts salt and pepper for balance, or 60 percent of one or the other if you prefer a peppery or a saltier crust.
▪ Know how to position it. Set the brisket on the cooking grate fat side up. You want the fat to melt through the meat to moisten and provide richness.
If cooking in an offset smoker, face the point toward the fire to achieve a better crust and avoid overcooking the flat.
▪ Hold steady. Don’t go nuts trying to maintain a specific temperature. The primary goal is to avoid drastic fluctuations, so try to keep the temperature between 225 and 275 degrees throughout the cooking time.
If using a kettle grill, keep the bottom vents open about halfway and use the lid vents to help maintain temperature. If using an offset smoker, learn the hot and cold spots of your cooking chamber and move the brisket if needed. Mainly, though, keep the top on and resist the temptation to peek.
▪ Keep an eye on it. “Don’t walk off and think the fire will take care of itself,” said pitmaster Aaron Franklin. “If you’re going to buy this expensive cut of meat, buy firewood, sit there for 10, 12, 15 hours, let it rest, invite people over, do all this stuff – I mean, that’s a serious commitment. Don’t you want to do a good job?”
▪ Be patient. “It will be done when it’s ready,” Franklin said.
▪ Give it a rest. You know how everybody tells you to rest a steak before cutting into it? Same thing with a brisket. Wrap it in foil after taking it off the grill and let it rest for at least an hour.
Contrary to popular belief, the pros don’t pull off their briskets and slice them when hot. They pull them off and place them in warmers set at 140 degrees for up to three hours. For you to achieve the same result, wrap in foil and cover with towels in a room-temperature cooler and hold for between two and three hours.