The techniques and equipment may vary, but the guiding principle of barbecue remains the same: slowly cook large cuts of meat at a low temperature (between 225˚ and 250˚) in a covered cooker, surrounded with moist hardwood smoke, until it is fall-off-the-bone tender.
Most barbecue begins with a dry rub applied liberally to the meat. It’s best to season the meat and refrigerate overnight. Some barbecue aficionados like to baste the meat as it cooks.
Some longer-cooking barbecue recipes call for spritzing the meat with apple juice, for example, then wrapping in heavy-duty aluminum foil for part of the cooking time, which helps keep the meat from drying out.
Ignite coals using a 5-quart chimney starter. To start a low fire for barbecuing, fill the chimney one-quarter of the way up with briquettes (you will need about 20 briquettes).
Dump the coals in the fire bed when fully lit. Arrange the coals into 2 equal piles on either side of the fire bed and place a foil drip pan in the center, leaving the middle of the grill without heat. Pour water or other flavorful liquid into the pan, and replace the rack with its handles over the coals. Cover the grill.
Allow grill to heat for about 10 minutes. Use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the grill’s top air vent to get the most accurate reading (you’re shooting for something between 225˚ and 250˚).
Adjust the grill’s vents to control the heat level—opening them feeds oxygen to the fire, which raises the cooking temperature; partially closing them reduces air flow, which lowers the temperature.
Add a handful of soaked and drained wood chips or chunks directly to the coals. Add more wood chips about every 30 minutes and wood chunks about every 45 minutes for, generally speaking, at least the first 2 hours (times will vary, so check your recipe first).
For even cooking, tie or truss large cuts of meat or whole birds before grilling. Place the food in the center of the grill rack directly over the drip pan, and cover the grill.
Use the chimney to start new coals (in another grill or on a stone or cement surface) to replenish the fire. Adding already-hot coals will keep the grill’s temperature even. Add charcoal through the holes under the handles as needed to maintain the temperature. Eight to 10 briquettes about every 45 minutes should keep the inside of the grill between 225˚ and 250˚.