Enjoy these great tips from the The Grill Sergeant BBQ.

No matter what type of fuel you use, the resulting fuel is the same… a bed of hot coals. You can use hardwood, charcoal briquettes, or lump charcoal. All three burn down to hot coals, which cooks the meat. The advantage of using wood over briquettes or lump charcoal is the flavor imparted by the smoke. Briquettes and lump charcoal are processed products and, although they do smoke while burning, have lost virtually all of the means to produce the flavoring effect of burning wood. If using briquettes or lump charcoal, wood chips or chunks are required to produce the smoke that flavors the meat.

If you burn wood in a fireplace you know the more dense the wood is, the longer the wood burns. Most any wood will work for a fireplace. Not so with your smoker. Hardwoods, either from a nut or fruit tree are most commonly used due to the flavor imparted by the wood. All hardwoods are dense, just some more dense than others. Although a few pit-masters (you can count them on one hand) will use green wood, it is best to use wood that has aged or cured out. Most wood is best used in the range of 6 months to 1 year. If you have wood that has been around a while and is looking old and getting light in weight, it can be used as fire-starter wood. Use it to start your fire. Use good, heavy, dense pieces of wood for getting your primary bed of hot coals.

The Grill Sergeant BBQ typically smokes with oak, cherry, apple, hickory, pecan. Various herbs or onions thrown on the fire can also impart a pleasant flavor to meat. If you have a question if a certain type of wood is good to burn for BBQ, light a piece on fire and smell the smoke. If it smells good, it will probably taste good as well. Beware of hickory, mesquite, and pecan. These woods, used for an extended period of time, can and will be over-bearing. Use them sparingly!

For those using charcoal, you will find briquettes have a longer burning time and burn cooler than lump charcoal does. Briquettes are uniform in size and you will tend to get less temperature spikes with briquettes once your target temperature is attained. Many people believe the fillers which are included in briquettes impart undesirable flavors to the meat. These fillers may include powdered charcoal, anthracite coal, clay, limestone, starch, sawdust, and sodium nitrate. Lump charcoal is basically pure carbonized wood made from wood scraps in an environment depleted of oxygen. If you take a chunk of wood, wrap it in foil, and put it in a fire, the result will be that of lump charcoal. Lump charcoal burns faster and hotter than briquettes. You will have to experiment with your own smoker to decide which form of charcoal (or wood) is right for you.

Once you get the fire going, shoot for the “right fire”. Make sure to cook with a small fire which is getting plenty of oxygen. A small fire is easier to maintain and will enable you to keep your draft intake vent almost wide open. Keep the exhaust smoke stack full open. Too large a fire burns too hot and requires you to shut down the intake vent next to nothing, which will cause the fire to create resins and creosote. Resins and creosote are present in a “dark” fire. The “right fire” will actually give off very little smoke. If it is smoking, make sure it is white or blueish-white smoke and not dark.

Listed below for select types of wood is some information you might find useful in determining what type(s) of wood you want to burn. Granted, not all the woods listed would be good for smoking, but you might have a wood burning stove you want to supply also.


Species Shagbark Hickory
Black Locust
Ironwood (Hardhack)
White Oak
Sugar Maple
Red Oak
Black Walnut
Black Cherry
Green Ash
Black Ash
BTU’s / Cord (millions) 24.600


* The above values are based on 20% moisture content in the wood.

Cooking temperature plays a very important part in how long it takes to cook your meat, tenderness of the meat, as well as appearance of the meat. Certain cuts are cooked at lower temps than others while other types of meat are best cooked at higher temperatures. We’re not talking steaks here either! Brisket and pork shoulders or butts, as well as ribs like temperatures around 225 degrees F. Some BBQers will argue for 200 – 225 F; others still, 225 – 250 F. Fatty and connective tissues and/or collagen need extended time at low heat to render and break down.

Poultry likes high heat. Chicken and turkey is naturally tender so there is no need to cook for long periods of time just to break down tissues in the meat. I use to cook turkeys at a temperature around 300 – 315 degrees F. That was with an offset cooker. Now with a rotisserie and convection fan in my Southern Pride Smoker, I cook turkeys at 250º.

Pork loin, as well as pork chops, also likes a higher heat and shorter cooking time. Many individuals will cook a loin too long, taking it to too high an internal temperature. This will dry out the meat! Put the loin at the hot spot of your smoker and take off when it reaches an internal temperature of 145 – 150 degrees F. Then let it “rest” for about 10 minutes before you cut into it. By letting it “rest”, the meat will “re-absorb” the juices and it will be nice and juicy and ready to eat.

For beef, use only USDA choice cuts. Choice, as opposed to select or prime, contains just the right amount of marbling to help give that taste and texture you’re looking for. Buy a brisket where most of the fat is marbled in with the meat. You want a fat cap of about 1/4 inch on the fat-side of the brisket. The marbled fat will do more for keeping the meat moist than will the fat cap on the fat side of the brisket. But don’t get me wrong; you need that fat cap to help prevent drying out of the meat. Look for briskets that are thick and not tapered at the flat. Make sure the fat is white, not yellow. Yellow fat in beef means it is meat from a dairy cow.

A whole front shoulder is usually used for pulled pork. But if you can’t find a whole shoulder, they are usually cut into two pieces, the butt and the picnic. The upper part of the shoulder is the butt. The other part of the shoulder (toward the hoof) is the picnic. For these cuts of pork, a small fat cap of approximately 1/8 inch would be good. Pork tends to have adequate fat marbling in the meat. Be sure it does not have too much! Most of the fat will render out during the cooking process and will “self-baste” the meat and add that great pork flavor. Butts usually come in 5 – 9 pound sizes. Again, make sure the fat is white. This is just to insure good, fresh meat!

Brisket is by nature, one tough piece of meat. What makes it tough is the connective tissue, or collagen. The collagen must be broken down to a gelatin type nature and this can only be done by slow cooking at low temperatures for an extended period of time. We’re talking an environment of 225 degrees F for approximately 1 hour per pound of meat.

Preparing the brisket – Buy the brisket according to the info above. If there is a fat cap greater than 1/4 inch, trim down to 1/4 inch. At the nose end (thick end) there will be a layer of fat on the side that needs to be cut out. Cut this out wedge shaped. There will be a somewhat smaller amount of fat on the other side of the brisket and this should also be cut out in the same manner. This layer of fat, however, does connect from one side to the other. It separates the point from the flat. Once the trimming is done, season liberally with your favorite BBQ rub, Grill SGT Rub, wrap in plastic wrap, and let set in refrigerator overnight.

Smoking the brisket – Start the fire and set the brisket out. When the smoker is at 200 to 225 degrees F, put the brisket in the smoker, fat side up! If this brisket is 10 lbs, it will need approximately 10 – 12 hours cooking time. DO NOT open the smoker for at least 4 – 5 hours. You will loose heat by checking it too much. Also, don’t mop until 4 – 5 hours. The salt/sugar in your rub will start osmosis (pulling moisture from within the meat) at the time it’s put on the meat. This moisture mixes with the rub and forms a paste. This paste is what becomes the crust on the outside of the brisket. Mopping or spraying down the brisket before 4 or 5 hours will wash off the paste. Be patient and allow the paste to form! Feel free to mop at every “half-time” until you reach your anticipated finish time. NOTE: If your temp is a little higher, the brisket may get done quicker, but beware of drying it out. Just remember, when it comes to BBQ, there’s no replacement for “Low and Slow”.

Spare ribs or baby back ribs? That’s what most people ask themselves when choosing. Both are good ribs. It’s just matter of opinion which better. Baby back ribs come from the rib area closest to the loin. They are by nature, more tender than spares and they are more expensive! They also take less time to cook than spares. Prep the ribs the night before you are going to cook them. The key to great ribs, bb’s or spares, is to remove the membrane on the back of the slab. You can use a screwdriver to get underneath the membrane, but many times you can get a hold of it with your fingers. Use a paper towel to grab hold of it and rip it down the length of the slab. This will enable seasoning and smoke to penetrate the meat. Apply the BBQ rub liberally over the entire slab, wrap with plastic wrap, and let sit in refrigerator overnight. It will take approximately 4 – 4.5 hours for spare ribs to cook and 3 – 3.5 hours for baby backs. Cook them at 225 degrees F. Be sure to let the rub form a crust before basting them. Otherwise, you will wash the rub right off. When the ribs are done, the meat should be pulled up on the ends of the bones about 1/4 to 1/2 inch, or by using a pair of tongs, lift the ribs in the center to see if you have a full break, meaning both ends bend when held in center.. Remember, if you like your ribs sauced, don’t sauce them before taking them off the smoker unless you plan on keeping a very close eye on them. The sauce will burn before you know it!

Many people hear the terms St. Louis style ribs and KC style ribs. Both are trimmed versions of spare ribs. As in the picture to the right, the ribs are trimmed evenly down the brisket bone side through the cartilage. Additionally, on the underside of the slab is a flap of meat. St. Louis style ribs are void this flap of meat while on Kansas City style ribs, the flap is left on the slab. Be sure to save these trimmed portions of rib meat to naw on for samples!

Even bad BBQ can be decent BBQ if it’s sliced and/or presented the right way. Take brisket for example. There are two different grains on a brisket. The point grain will go one way; the flat grain another. After cooking, separate the two pieces. Using the flat portion, make sure to cut AGAINST the grain, not the length of the grain. The brisket is made up of long fibers of meat. If the brisket was a little “under-cooked” these fibers will be quite chewy if you cut “with” the grain. If thinly sliced against the grain, even this brisket should be tender enough to eat. For a nicely done brisket (and some will argue this one!), take the brisket to a temp of 185 degrees internal temp. Wrap the brisket in foil, then wrap a towel around it, and place it in a small, dry cooler. Two to so hours later you will have a tender, tasty brisket ready to eat! I don’t necessarily do it this way any more, but it does work.

As for pork… pork cooked to the “right” temperature will pull off the bone without taking a knife to it. Slightly “under-cook” your pork if you want sliced pork. Pork will pull easily at internal temperatures of 195 – 200 degrees F. Some will even take it to 200 – 205 degrees internal temp.

A BBQ mop is not to be confused with a BBQ tool used to apply BBQ sauce. A mop is a sauce without a sugar content and is used to baste BBQ meat while it is cooking. Many mops are oil or vinegar based and contain just enough other seasonings to complement, not over-power, the BBQ rub or marinade applied before smoking.

When it comes to BBQ sauce, the first thing to remember is tomato based sauces, as well as others, contain varied amounts of sugar and WILL burn if put on meat too soon! In this neck of the woods, a basic BBQ sauce starts out with tomato, sweet, and sour. Tomato can be ketchup, paste, sauce, puree, or chili sauce. Sweet can be brown sugar, molasses, honey, or corn syrup. Sour can be white vinegar, wine, beer, citrus juice, or flavored vinegar. To make your very own sauce, make a sauce base with 32 ounces of tomato ingredients, 1 cup sweet ingredients, 1 cup sour ingredients, and 1/4 cup total of any of the following: mustard, tomato juice, fruit juice, V-8, Tabasco, water, Worcestershire, soy, stock, soda, oil, or hot sauce. Then add any 3 of your favorite seasonings or spices. Make adjustments one at a time and the end product will be one you can be happy to call your own!

Remember though! BBQ meat cooked the right way is very tasty in its own right WITHOUT sauce! But if you need sauce or dry rub, there are none better to try than THE GRILL SERGEANT BBQ.