The Low and Slow Cook Phase of a Barbecue
Let the barbeque roll!

Up to this point there has been a lot of
barbecue planning, barbecue calculations,
timing of steps in the barbecue process,
and just generally getting everything ready
to go.

You have been cooking for about an hour or
so, tantalizing all your downwind neighbors
and guests with that sweet, smoky scent.

They are primed to take a look at the
barbeque that is causing all of this
wonderful aroma, and if you are going to
follow our technique, you are about to pull
your meat out of the smoker and wrap it in
foil.

Invite them over to take a look, just be
advised that they may not leave!
Low and Slow.

The "low" refers of course to the
need to keep the temperature low -
recommend around 225`F - for the
next several hours.  

For ribs, that could mean keeping
the fire steady for 5 more hours or
so for a backyard cook, less for a
competition cook.

If you are doing a good size butt,
you have just started an
18-hour-or-so odyssey!

And I'll be honest with you - a
straight out smoker requires a little
bit of continual attention.
Qpinion: Ceramic charcoal cookers have a
distinct difference to smokers in respect to the
'Low and Slow' cook phase. Indeed, one of the
beautiful things about ceramic cookers, in my
opinion, is that you can load them with good lump
charcoal, a little wood, adjust your vents and it
will cook for a loooong time on its own, at a
consistent temperature - often even for that
entire 24 hour period! Sometimes, in today's
hectic world, that can be invaluable. Even if you
don't need to go a way from it for a day,
sometimes it is nice to know that you can walk
away for a few hours if you need to.
I often consider that an advantage - I get to be in one of the places, doing one of the things, often with some of the people, that I love the
most! Doesn't get any better than that!

This is where it becomes helpful to be philosophical about life - remember, it's about the journey, not the destination. Yes, you get
to eat the wonderful creation at the end of the process, but you can easily enjoy the process just as much by surrounding yourself with
an enthusiastic group of friends and family.

The main thing you have to worry about on the cook is the temperature. If you have a smoker like the one I have featured on these
pages, then you can count on it to maintain a consistent temperature for about 1.5 to 2.5 hours before you will need to add coals and/or
wood.

You will probably find out, if you experiment a bit, that the lump charcoal may tend to burn a little hotter than briquettes, and maybe as a
consequence it will also not maintain its heat as long as briquettes. That is actually one of the benefits that the briquettes may tout, that
they will hold a more consistent temperature, for a longer period - by design. We do not consider it enough of a benefit to switch from
lump to briquettes, but it may be what works best for you.
Get to know your smoker. The better you know it, the better
you can gauge how much charcoal or wood to add along
the way to maintain the temperature range. Add too much
and you get high spikes, too little and you will extend your
cooking time.

Too high and you lose the slow fat rendering process that
adds so much flavor and tenderness to the meat.  Too low
and the fat can stay around unrendered. At the end of the
day, the most flavorable end to this journey is found by
keeping the temperature close to 225`F. We give ourselves
a range from 200`F to 250`F when cycling through charcoal
and wood additions during the cook. In other words, as the
fire burns down, your temperature will naturally begin to
drop; our advice is to pay close enough attention to keep it
from getting below 200`F before you add charcoal start it
going back up.

That does not mean that you wait until 200`F and then add
coals. Inside the smoker - remember it is closed during this
time! - you have a build up of residual heat. When you open
the door, some of that escapes, but the unlit coals will not
begin to replace that heat for quite a few minutes. Your
existing coals will continue to lose heat for a few minutes as
well, so if you wait until you hit 200`F to add anything, you
will drop even further before you start the climb back up.
So what if you waited too long? Well, I use a couple of approaches - you can grin and bear it, add the proper amount of coals, and
inform your guests that they may need to wait for dinner may be a few more minutes than you said before. Or, you can add a little bit of dry
wood to the coals and the flame up will more quickly raise the temperature in the smoker.

Be careful if you do this! You do not want to cause too high a spike and potentially scorch the meat - this flame is even trickier than just
overall heat from the charcoal. Flame ups can literally reach much closer to the meat itself and while the overall temperature of the
smoker will experience a spike, the meat surface that is closest to the tips of the flame are likely to experience a much higher spike, and
not with desirable results.
Which leads to the obvious next advice - try not to add so much fuel to the fire that you end up with charcoal to eat! This is not as hard to
do as it might seem, especially if you have dipped fairly low and you are trying to correct it. Just remember, you are going to be here a
while, the name of the game is low and slow cooking - if you have undercooked you can always cook a little longer, but if you overcook,
you're done! Get it right and you are ready to
wrap in foil and put the meat back in.
The
1st
hour
gone,
these
ribs
are
ready
for the
next
step!
A
closer
look
at
where
we
are
after
a little
over
an
hour.
Ready
for the
foil,
these
ribs
are
well on
their
way to
'Low
and
Slow'.
(above) A few new pieces of lump
charcoal and some wood, we're ready
to close the door and proceed.

(right) A Boston butt in the last
quarter of its 'low and slow' phase,
while a rack of ribs is just getting
started.

(far right) Closed back up and ready
to cook, the smoker begins the 'Low
and Slow' phase of the cook.
Qpinion: Note the position of the vents - all are
wide open to ensure that the new coals and wood
catch quickly and maintain the temperature of
the cook. Adjusting the vents can be key to the
amount of fuel you have to add, or how often you
need to add it. We rely on them to help control the
higher and lower than ideal temperatures. I keep
the top vent wide open, and use the side vents to
adjust the burn rate, and thus the temperature.
Copyright © 2009 BDT Enterprises, LLC - All Rights Reserved
Next Step: Wrapping the Meat
Previous Step: Cooking the First Hour
Next Step: Wrapping the Meat
Time to show off a bit!

Invite all those lucky folks who will
get to sample your creation, and
any that you want to make mad that
they aren't, to take a look at the ribs
as the peek their head out for a
moment before entering the low
and slow cook phase.

Wrap the ribs, or shoulder, or butt,
in foil, tend to the fire, and close the
door. Your job now consists of
entertaining. You get to entertain
your guests, preferably fire side,
and you get to entertain your
smoker, preferably with your
friends.