Over the years cooking with Dizzy Pig, I have cooked a ton of barbecue, and have tried tons of other peoples’ barbecue. Some patterns begin to emerge, and a lot of the same mistakes are being made.

#1 – Oversmoking

oversmokedThere is no better way to screw up your food than to put too much smoke on it. Smoked foods can have an amazing depth of flavor when the smoke compliments the flavor of the food. But when the smoke is too strong or too long, that flavor will totally overwhelm the flavors of everything underneath. This common mistake seems to be made the most by those who are new to cooking with charcoal and wood, but oversmoking is a big problem for a lot of experienced backyard barbecuers too. Here are a few suggestions to avoid putting too much smoke on your food:

  • With milder foods, like fish, poultry and veggies, consider not adding wood. Charcoal alone provides a clean gentle smoke flavor that is usually plenty.
  • If you decide to you use wood, chips or chunks both work well, but don’t add your food to the cooker right after you put wood in. Give it some time for the smoke to start burning cleanly before you put your food on.
  • Don’t soak your wood! It won’t burn cleanly until it is dry, so why start wet?
  • Use milder woods like alder and fruit woods for milder foods, and more robust woods like oak and hickory for robust meats.

#2 – Under Cooking

For some reason, this common mistake seems to happen mostly with chicken (thighs and drumsticks) and ribs. There is nothing quite like biting into a well browned chicken drumstick and learning that the meat near the bone is not cooked. A few tips for making sure this doesn’t happen to you:

  • Bone-in chicken pieces take a while to cook through to the bone. I’ve found a cook of an hour or more to yield the most delicious thighs and drumsticks.
  • If cooking chicken direct over the fire, keep your fire from getting too hot. You’ll end up completely browning the chicken before it is done.
  • Check the internal temperature. Breast meat is done at 160, but dark meat really needs more cooking. Thighs and drumsticks can be effectively cooked to 185-195 internal and still be very moist and tender.
  • If ribs are tough and dry, many folks think they are overcooked. That’s not the case most of the time. In fact, undercooked ribs are tough and dry because the fat and collagen has not had enough time to break down. So ribs are being undercooked, and assumed to be overcooked…and some folks never get it right.
  • Cook your ribs longer, until they are tender. A toothpick will slide into and pull out of the meat with very little effort. Meat temperatures are generally at least 190 before the ribs are tender, and they will want to break in half if you lift the slab by the middle.

#3 – Overcooking

overcookedThis mistake is commonly made with lean pork, chicken breast, lean steaks, fish and veggies. None of these foods benefit from overcooking, and it’s very possible you’ll want to chuck your overdone food into the garbage. Avoiding overcooking is not difficult if you pay attention. Here are a few tips:

  • Cooking lean meats is very much a balance of getting enough browning on the outside without overcooking the middle. I know it goes against our natural way of thinking, but thinner cuts need higher heat and less time, and thicker cuts lower heat and more time.
  • Unless you want your grandmother’s mushy vegetables, you’ll want to cook them quickly over high heat for a little crunch.
  • Consider carryover temperature. When your food is removed from the grill, the internal temperature will rise. The hotter your cooking temperature, the more the temperature will rise. It is not uncommon to get a 10 degree rise in temperatures during the rest. If you want to cook your pork chop to 140 degrees internal, but you are cooking over hot direct heat, then you will want to pull it off before it reaches 140.
  • For most pork chops, thin steaks, fish fillets, boneless chicken breast you really only need a few minutes per side to properly brown and cook these meats.
  • To closely monitor internal temperatures of your meat to avoid overcooking (and undercooking for that matter), I highly recommend a digital instant read thermometer. I use Thermapens but many companies out there are making quality instruments to monitor food temps.

#4 – Cooking Unevenly

UnevenYou see this in pictures all the time. The food on one side of the grill is charred brown, and on the other side, pale. This mistake happens with multiple roasts as well, where one is done, and the other is way behind. All it really takes is paying attention. A few ideas to help you avoid this foul-up:

  • Make sure all the air holes in your cooker are clean and breathing well. A fire burning on one side will not cook evenly.
  • Even with clean airways, charcoal fires almost never burn evenly all the way across your entire cooking surface. Paying close attention to how your food is browning is key. When you notice more browning in the middle or along one side, take a moment and move the well browned pieces to the cooler spots, and the less browned pieces over the hotter spots. It seems obvious, but I see this mistake all the time.
  • Rotate your grate. If your cooker is round, an easy way to even out the heat is to spin your grate. I do this on 15 minute intervals. First 180 degrees, then 90, then 180 again. It’s a great way to get good even browning.
  • Don’t use too much charcoal. Smaller fires burn more evenly.

#5 – Not enough seasoning

As a producer of seasonings, it may seem obvious for me to tell you to use more! But seriously, this is a common mistake. You never want to overwhelm the flavor of your meat with too many spices. But what many folks don’t realize is that cooking time and browning mellow the spices significantly. How do you know how much to use?:

  • Remember, nearly all Dizzy Pig seasonings are low in salt. Generally around 20% by volume. You will need to use at least 5 times the amount of salt that you would normally apply.
  • Thinner milder meats, and foods that you will not be browning do not need as much.
  • Many foods can stand a healthy dose of rub…an even coating that covers most of the surface, especially if they will be well browned or cooked for a long time. Chicken pieces, over-an-inch thick steaks, thick pork chops, whole birds, and ribs can all stand an even coverage of Dizzy Pig.
  • For larger roasts, pork shoulder, beef briskets, chuck roasts, whole turkeys and anything that will be cooked for hours and hours…pile the Dizzy Pig on and press it in with your hands until it is falling off. As we say in Dizzyland, “lather, rinse…repeat!”

seasoningI did a full write-up a ways back that explains using Dizzy Pig in detail. You can find that here if you are interested in reading further!

May your cooking be mistake free! Thanks for reading.
Chris

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