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Secrets Revealed!

People always ask me what’s  the “secret” to my BBQ. To throw you off the trail, I could say it’s my secret rubs and sauces…  But in all honesty, the key to any great BBQ is managing the entire cooking, holding and storage process. 

If you want to cook great BBQ, the two major things you have to get right are:

1) Producing clean smoke.

2) Watching the temperature curve.

Producing Clean Smoke

The most critical factor in the taste of the finished product is what kind of smoke you’re producing. If you think about it, smoke is the main ingredient that sets everything else up! That’s why I use real hardwood throughout the entire cooking process.




Pardon me sir – do you use propane?

If you have to use propane to cook BBQ – you’re cutting corners.

I don’t care how clean it burns – propane is still a byproduct of gasoline production. In small doses, such as cooking a hamburger or steak,  propane is ok. But when you’re cooking meat for 12 hours – the gas fumes can’t help but completely soak into the meat.

Whenever you stop by a BBQ joint ask them about the cooking process. If they say “We use apple wood.”, dig a little further and ask if it’s 100% wood fired or propane. If they use propane – be prepared to be dissapointed.

Real hardwood logs produce the best smoke –  if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, you can run into problems by infusing the bark with soot, ash and creosote.

Selecting the Right Wood

Apple + Beechwood = Mellow Smoke

I’m very picky when it comes to selecting the right wood to smoke with. It has to be high quality wood that’s free of rot, fungus, mildew, moss  and such. (Why go through all the trouble of dealing with a wood fire if you’re sending this kind of junk through the cooking chamber?)

Next, the wood must be cured for at least 6 months to ensure it is dry. If you use “green wood” that hasn’t been completely cured you end up infusing the meat with nasty tasting creosote. If you want to see what creosote tastes like –  just try cooking something over pine wood.

The Fire

The goal of cooking with real wood is to produce a clear stream of smoke while keeping the temperature around 250 degrees. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. A cool fire produces a lot of soot and ash.  A hot fire burns clear but you end up incinerating the bark before the connective tissues begin to break down . Hitting the sweet spot with a fire that burns cool and produces a clear stream of smoke is the ticket to great BBQ.

So how to you hit that sweet spot? Well let me tell you…


Now I know that’s a lot to take in but keep at it. With enough time and experience makes you will be able to produce a cool fire with clear smoke.

Reverse Flow Smoking

Everyone who is interested in the process always want’s to check out the smoker.  I lucked out and bought the best wood burning smoker on the market – a Lang 84 reverse flow smoker. The diagram below illustrates the process:

With reverse flow smoking the smoke travels under the bottom plate before entering the cooking chamber. Without this feature the meat would be blasted with direct heat and smoke. In addition, the plate captures a lot of soot and ash that would otherwise be deposited on the meat.

Producing wood fired BBQ is a real pain in the butt. Cutting, splitting and stacking wood is a back breaker. Breathing smoke and wearing it like some sort of cologne all day isn’t exactly fun. And when it comes to starting and maintaining a fire… it can really be a bummer. I can remember the times when it was 90 degrees thinking to myself “Now I understand why people use propane!”  But the bottom line is – all the hard work is worth it.

The flavor of properly smoked wood fired BBQ just can’t be beat. That’s why Stevie Z’s BBQ will never cut corners by taking the easy way out.

The Temperature Curve

The critical temperatures to watch for when you’re doing BBQ are 145 degrees and 165 degrees.

At 145 degrees the collagen in the connective tissues of meat begins to break down into a gelatin. This gelatin along with the fat is rendered out of the meat during the long slow cook. One of the things that makes our BBQ stand out from the pack is trimming the fat before applying rub. Think about it this way, if you have an inch of fat on top of the meat how can the interior fat drain away? By taking the time to trim the fat all the gunk can drain out before the rub sets up! And another thing, we are firm believers that rub should go on meat – not the fat. This is why our bark is the way it is!

The next critical temperature is 165 degrees. At this stage the rub has turned into a crusty bark locking in all the natural juices. The meat however, is not completely cooked. What we do during this phase of the cook cycle is absolutely essential to the taste of Stevie Z’s BBQ. Here’s the lowdown:


As you can see, if you do it right the protein in the meat breaks down. If you do it wrong – it won’t. In addition, the natural juices still contain rendered collagen and fat but by lucky for us, this junk floats! We go the extra step by pouring it out and setting it in the freezer we can skim off the fat before pouring the juice back on top of the meat.

Producing great BBQ is truly a long drawn out process. The key to the taste of Stevie Z’s is not cutting corners. Remember that the next time you fire up the back yard BBQ! Good Luck!


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dawn permalink
    May 19, 2011 4:58 pm

    I enjoyed your website and your well thought out lesson on “producing clean smoke”. Your BBQ sounds great! Our Girl Scout troop is looking forward to coming to Waynesville in Aug.
    Will you also serve hand-dipped ice cream?

    • May 19, 2011 8:43 pm

      Hi Dawn,
      Thanks for the nice comments. We’re serving Hershey’s hand dipped ice cream so when you come to Waynesville – I’ll hook you up!

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