Barbecue Meat Preparation
Now we're getting to the
really fun part!

Preparing the meat for the
barbeque is easy to do
and it such a tangible step
towards seeing what you
are going to get to eat, and
the end of this BBQ
process, that it can start
your taste bud juices
flowin' just thinking about it.

There are a few tricks of
the trade that I have picked
up over time that I can
share with you. I think they
are worth it, I hope you do
to!

The first step is selecting
what meat you want to
cook, and how much.
Personally, I am a
barbecue leftover king - I
will eat a good supply of
leftovers to the bone. If you
are like me, then buying
too much is rarely an
issue.

However, times and
budgets being what they
are, you may want to take a
look at how many people
you are intending to feed,
and then do a little simple
math on portion size to
come up with how much
barbecue meat to buy.
The Meat of the issue
So you've made your decision on what you want to have for your Q, - now how to choose what is a good cut  
and what is not?
This gets a little murky for me as far as being able to give advice - in other words, I don't have a great
formula to tell you to use to get this one right. Rule of thumb?: buy the best you can afford.

I always look for a good balance between the meat and the fat content of what I am going to cook. Fat adds
a LOT of flavor to the meat being smoked, as it is rendered into the meat be the slow cooking process.

But, just like the old saying "you can get too much of a good thing", you don't want too much fat in the mix. It
may not all get rendered by the time your meat is done, leaving for some seriously rich fat glommed
(technical term) onto the meat that may be hard to stomach.

Indeed, many recipe/preparations you may see for brisket or pork shoulders, for example, will have you cut
away some of the excess fat in order to keep what most people would consider a good fat to meat ratio.
All that being said, I have produced good
smoked barbecue from everything from one of
the large nation-wide discount stores to a local
butcher.

I am not afraid to buy some of my smokin' meat
from the big box-type stores as long as they are
carrying a brand I have successfully used in the
past. It may not be the "best' cut of meat that
money can buy, but consistency at least gives
the knowledge of what you can expect from it,
and what you need to do on the "magic" end to
make it go from good to great. And at the end of
the day, those big stores have prices that are
hard to beat when entertaining a big crowd!

But given enough money to do so, I prefer to buy
my meat from a couple of other places, for a
tried-and-true, simple reason: relationship.

I have a great relationship with a gentleman from
a local grocery store, one of the national chains.
He will let me know when they are getting certain
things in that he knows I like to cook. He will go
through cuts of meat back in the store's butcher
area to get what I need, or will cut it for me fresh.
You probably owe it to yourself to create this type
of relationship where you shop often. It just
seems to make the whole selection more fun,
like you have a colleague or collaborator on the
supply line to make the magic happen.

Same thing for a local butcher. They make the
ultimate partner for getting good meat, when you
need it. They generally charge a little more, and
they usually know that to be able to do that they
need repeat business, business that grows by
word-of-mouth advertising, and to do that they
know they have to supply good meat - better than
that which you can pick up out of the grocery
coolers. They provide a different value
proposition (see my little
Qpinion above!) that is
well worth considering.
Qpinion: A wise man once
said something to me that
has stuck around for many
years. He ran a successful
local company that was not
the low-cost provider of their
goods and services in the
market. A local TV/Radio
personality who was famous
for his ability to find the best
bargain around had recently
done a segment on my wise
friend's industry, and had
proclaimed that most of the
companies, including my
friend's, were over-priced
and sold things to people
that they could easily get
much cheaper on their own.

Someone asked my friend
about it at dinner one night,
and his response (with the
name changed so I don't get
sued) was brilliant:

"You know, 'John Smith'
knows the price of a great
many things, but he knows
the value of very few."

I LOVE that quote!
You have now selected what you are going to cook, sized it for the crowd - and here my
general rule of thumb is a 1/3 - 1/2 pound of precooked meat per serving per person, or 1/2 a
rack of ribs per serving per person - you have to figure out who will eat more than one
serving! - and you begin physically preparing the meat for the cooker.
From here you are almost ready to go onto the sections on Marinade/Brining, Dry Rub and
Temperature, but before going there consider what trimming you may want to do to the meat
before start with marinades and dry rubs.
One of the trimmings I like to do, for the best ribs I have ever had, is illustrated next.
Here you see a couple of racks of baby backs starting
their journey to the smoker
. Again, I have set them out of
the fridge for a bit to warm to room temperature. Note the
milky white appearance of the slab on the right of the
photo. Most of that white, glossy appearance is from a
thin but tough membrane that covers the back of the ribs.
You may well have eaten this membrane on ribs before
because a great many cooks do not remove it. I myself
have eaten it at some pretty successful barbecue
restaurants - it ends up being a kind of crispy but chewy
addition to the back of the rib bone. You would not
normally get much of it in your mouth because many
people serve their ribs sliced apart between the ribs.
This makes them easier to pick up and eat of course, but
is not an issue when the ribs are done the way I like,
because the membrane is removed before cooking, and
the ribs come out fallin-off-the-bone tender anyway, so
knives only need be used to spread butter on the
cornbread.
To remove the membrane you have to grab hold of it
and firmly, steadily pull it off the ribs.
This can be easier
said than done.

First, you will have to find one end of the membrane so
you can get a place to hold it. Sometimes you may have
to get a pair of kitchen shears, or a knife, and slide it
under the membrane, rip a little tear, and go from there. I
always seem to start in the small side of the ribs and pull
towards the large side, though I suspect it really doesn't
matter.

Once you get your starting point, you realize very quickly
that this membrane, coated with the juices from the
meat, is very, very slick. I rarely ever have the grip strength
myself to hold it between my bare fingers and pull it from
the ribs.

I have seen many people use a cloth or paper towel to
help get a grip on it. I myself always keep a few cloths
around during cooking for any number of uses, and have
used them to peel a membrane or two as well.

The paper towels work great too, just be careful not to
have any of the towel stay behind on the rib - sometimes
the moisture and pressure causes the towel to fall apart.

Another favorite way to peel off the membrane is to use a
pair of very well cleaned needle nose pliers, shown in
action to the right. They have a nose that is just sharp
enough to puncture the membrane and get you a good
starting point. They have small teeth on the jaws to grip
the membrane. And by being pliers they allow you to be
able to exert a lot of force from your grip onto holding the
membrane.
Top photo shows a Boston
butt with the fat side up -
the way I prefer to cook
them - fat on the bottom in
the shot to the right
Copyright © 2009 BDT Enterprises, LLC - All Rights Reserved
Next Step: Adding Wood
Previous Step: The Right Temperature
Next Step: Adding Wood
A couple of factors that complicate this decision are the number (and quality) of sides that you intend to
serve, and what I would call the "Chow Factor" - the ability of the average person to eat way more than they
usually do because it is free and really good!

It never ceases to amaze me how many BBQ ribs a 10-year old boy can wolf down when he is inspired, or
that look of satisfaction on the face of the petite woman who is constantly exercising and keeping in shape
after she finishes off a whole rack of ribs for the first time.

The only thing that can help with the Chow Factor, I'm afraid, is experience - let the friends and neighbors
have some so they can find out how good they are, and then let their actions guide your next barbecue.

Personally, when I make my BBQ ribs for someone for the first time, I try to make a quantity that leaves
them wanting just a few more. This will guarantee that A) they don't overeat and end up having a bad first
experience with MY ribs, and 2) they will tell other people how good they are, ensuring that your next
barbeque will be well attended and a lot of fun. Remember the second rule of the creed - use fresh
ingredients whenever possible!