So, you’ve picked up a barbecue book, you’ve watched the online videos, and you’re raring to start smoking meat. Well, make your foray into southern-style barbecue a little easier with a few tips from Stephen Perrin, one of Canada’s few barbecue masters.
Perrin is classically trained in fine dining (and owns four acclaimed restaurants—Terra and Sarpa in Richmond Hill, Rusty’s in Collingwood, and Francobollo Posto Italiano in Toronto), but he also competes on the barbecue circuit. He’s good at it too. His team won first place in the cook’s choice category at the Jack Daniels Invitational (which is the biggest event in barbecue) and third place in the whole hog category at Memphis in May (where they beat Myron Mixon—no easy task).
What we’re saying is: this guy knows cooking and barbecue. Take heed.
Buy Smart: Go Ceramic
First things first: you’re going to need a cooker, and they don’t come cheap. “These smokers cost a lot of money. The ceramic cookers tend to be the best of both worlds; you can grill on it and you can smoke on it.”
On the cheaper end of the scale, you could get a Weber Smokey Mountain, which isn’t ceramic, but is an egg-style cooker. It’ll run you about $400. But Perrin recommends taking a look at a Primo or a Green Egg. “It’ll be the last grill you buy.”
When Perrin fires up his smoker, he uses a BBQ Guru. It’s a fan unit and thermostat. Basically, it’ll help your smoker hit a target temperature and stay there. According to Perrin, “It takes a bunch of the guesswork out of a cook.”
You’re also going to need a good temperature probe. We like this one.
Pair Up Charcoal & Hard Wood
What does a barbecue champion use when he smokes? “Mostly charcoal. I use lump charcoal and two big chunks of peach or cherry. With brisket I go with hickory and with pork I go with fruit.” You’ll only need a quarter bag of charcoal for eight hours of cooking.
Worry More About Technique Than Ingredients
Do you hear a lot about other people’s secret ingredients and special spice blends? Don’t worry about that—when you’re just starting out, Perrin has this advice: “Start off with a pre-made rub, just to get your feet wet.” Why? Because the way you smoke meat will have a bigger impact on its flavour than any rub, so it’s important to get that part right first.
Visit a Butcher
Perrin admits that your local grocery store is probably getting better, but: “If you want to really enjoy what you’re doing, talk about it with your butcher.” A proper butcher shop will not only have the best meat, but a bit of know-how too.
The Carolinas love mustard sauce, and Texas loves heavy smoke, but this is Canada. We don’t have a strident smoking tradition, so feel free to experiment and get a little wild. Here’s what Perrin’s team won with at the Jack: a beef tenderloin, stuffed with goat brie, wrapped in Mennonite bacon, with a lobster and crab mix on top. Sounds decadent? You’re damn right.
Dave Robson is the editor of DailyXY. He spends his time reading books, drinking Scotch, and smoking cigars.
Photo courtesy of Holmes PR.