Sugarcreek BBQ
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BBQ How To Page

Everyone has an opinion about what type of grill/cooker/smoker is best to do BBQ with. 

In this instance we will stipulate that our BBQ needs to be smoked at a temperature of less than 250 degrees F using only wood or charcoal.  We are not talking about grilling over flames or hot coals.  We will also assume that your cooking device has an accurate built in thermometer in the smoking chamber.  Not many wood/charcoal devices can maintain a temperature of less than 250 degrees over long periods of time without constant attention. 

A good smoker will keep the heat and smoke contained in the smoking chamber and will require little more attention than making sure the firebox has fuel. 

This requires an airtight seal on the firebox and cooking chamber.  Any air leaks will create issues.  A leaky firebox is near impossible to manage.  A leaky cooking chamber will belch smoke and create hot or cold spots on the food racks.

I have yet to see an inexpensive cooker that is airtight without some sort of backyard engineering. 

While a kettle type cooker is relatively inexpensive and airtight, it is not really designed to be used for 18 hours at a stretch.  You must remove the lid completely to refuel the thing and that is problematic.  Similar cookers have the same issues.  Bullet upright smokers also have limitations.  These smokers generally have firepans that are hard to refuel and no way to really limit air going to the fuel.  The water pan that most contain is also hard to refill and can create a nasty burnt mess if the pan completely evaporates.
 
Anything that can burn wood or charcoal can be made to smoke better than when you first assemble it. 

Making a cooker function better requires an understanding about what is really important when smoking over long periods of time.  Any type
cooker that has a separate firebox that can be fueled without disturbing the cooking chamber is best.  Most of more common ones look like a barrel with a smaller barrel attached to one end.  I still use a Chargriller with a side mounted firebox on the patio.  (I love the cast iron grates when grilling!) It's strictly used at home.  It leaks air and requires gaskets made of aluminum foil if you want to cook low and slow, but for grilling or cooking on a rotisserie spit, It's great!

I have found that the only way to control the air or smoke leaks in the mass marketed small cookers is by using foil.  First, measure how long of an area needs to be sealed.  Then take a piece of regular or heavy duty foil of that length and fold it lengthwise several times until it resembles a long and puffy strip about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide.  Take this "gasket" and place it around where the lid of the cooking chamber meets the lower part and push the top tightly onto the foil.  This should seal the cooking chamber very well.  You can repeat this process to fully seal the firebox as well.

Once your cooking chamber and firebox are well sealed, you can focus on regulating your air intake to the firebox and vent from the smoking chamber.  If everything is sealed very well, you could conceivably regulate your cooking temperature by opening or closing only the firebox damper or the cooking chamber vent.  Rarely is this the case.  You will probably find that a well sealed
smoker will require a bit of venting for the smoke and some regulation of the air going into the firebox.  How much so is a function of how well your cooker is sealed and it's general design.

If you have managed to regulate the fire and smoke, next to be considered is that your smoker will have hotspots in the cooking area. 

Very few cookers at any price have even temperatures throughout the cooking area.  If you walk away from a smoker because the one thermometer in the center of the smoker is stable and at temperature before you learn where the hotspots are of your individual cooker, you will probably regret it.  To learn how your smoker cooks takes time.  Be patient and be rewarded with great results.

Several manufacturers of smokers pretty much eliminate the hotspot problem, but these smokers are usually considerably more expensive than the grills and cookers that most backyard BBQ enthusiast already have or are willing to buy.

Another type of cooker that pretty much eliminates the hotspot problem is the rotisserie style smoker. 

This style cooker usually has a firebox running the length of the smoking chamber.  The cooking chamber has a number of revolving racks that pretty much guarantee even cooking if the fire is evenly distributed in the firebox.

This is the style cooker we use and it's a great machine. Because of it's size and weight it requires a significant amount of fuel to cook for 20 hours, but it delivers excellent results and is easy to cook with.

More to come...

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