Low and slow

Barbecue tips from two Chico masters

SLOW FOOD <br> Brian Howard is in for the long haul as he waits for his pork roast to fall off the bone.

Brian Howard is in for the long haul as he waits for his pork roast to fall off the bone.

Photo By Rosemarie Zoilus

It’s summertime, and since the living may not be easy, the food budget for your summertime parties has probably shriveled up. Thankfully, there is almost no better way to get maximum flavor from inexpensive ingredients than from summer’s most enduring tradition: barbecue.

I wanted to ensure that I got the most bang for my buck, so I turned to a couple of local barbecue masters for some expert tips for the grill. First off, I was set straight on the difference between the terms “grilling” and “barbecue.”

Barbecue is “low and slow” over indirect heat, whereas grilling happens directly over the flame and cooks the meat faster, said Brian Howard of Chico’s Howard Family Farms. Howard has spent the past couple of decades perfecting his barbecue skills, recently lending his talents to about 100 hungry patrons at Butte College sports’ spring gala. “I cooked 80 pounds of pork butts for 18 hours and when I set them on the table, the pork just slid off the bone.” he recalled.

Modern barbecues can be pricey (though you can get an entry-level setup with side “firebox” in the $250 range), so Howard built his own out of a thousand-gallon water tank and industrial wire mesh. Fellow Chico grill-master Tom Little Jr. also uses a self-built grill. Inspired by local barbecue legend Marve Brogden, Little repurposed a discarded barrel, dubbing it the “Texas Hibachi.”

“It’s not so unusual to see a barrel converted into a barbecue smoker,” said Little, who spent his youth in barbecue-crazy West Texas. “But what Brogden did was stand the barrel straight up. This gives more space between the fire and the meat. Using hooks along the side of the barrel, you can smoke up to eight chickens at a time.”

Howard and Little each offered their secrets on how to get the most from your barbecue.

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Getting that smoky flavor:

Howard: If you want really good flavor, then cook over real wood. I use oak, almond, apple or hickory. Use charcoal to start it up and choose charcoal with infusions of mesquite, or wood chips on top. Charcoal serves if you’re only cooking hamburgers or hotdogs, but if you are barbecuing something you want to be proud of, you need that added smoke/wood flavor.

Little: Spend the money to get a decent charcoal. Kingsford brand is all right. Royal Oaks is a pretty good one that not many people know. Budget-brand charcoal is like using lighter fluid. Real wood is the way to go, but not everyone has access to wood.

Cooking chicken:

Howard: A good rub for chicken is one part paprika, one part brown sugar, one part pepper. Mix it all up, and tweak it with garlic salt. Spread it inside and out. A rub needs to have balance, a sweet thing and a tangy thing—but there are no set rules. The meat that won last year’s Jack Daniels BBQ championship was ribs seasoned with only salt and pepper. They adjusted the flavor of the ribs with heat and wood, that’s it.

Little: Salt, pepper, the right heat and you can’t get more genius in your whole life.

Cooking pork/beef:

Little: Brisket is evil to cook. If you cook it at too high of a heat it turns tough, but to get a brisket with a nice crust with a good smoke ring with the entire flavor and to be juicy, it’s super hard. Tri-tip too—that is the hardest cut of meat to cook for a large group of people.

Howard: Pork butt is always on sale—as low as 70 cents a pound. Make a rub the night before with garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, brown sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper—depending on the crowd. Rub and cover it. The next day, start at 4 or 5 in the morning so it can cook 12-14 hours. As long as the internal temperature is 195-200 degrees, which is incredibly hot for a piece of meat that big, you can’t overcook it, but it takes forever.

Never exceed 200-250 degrees on a brisket or ribs. Take your time. What you are looking for is the smoke ring. It’s an enzyme that is released that [creates] a pink ring. When it is truly done you will see a pink ring all the way around the outside [layer] of the meat.