Memorial Day Barbecue, Stately Tanner Manor, Washington, DC: Managing the Heat

Once the cooking starts, the next eight or nine hours involve managing the heat: low and slow is the rule. I keep it low and slow by controlling the oxygen available for the fire.  I usually do this by adjusting the upper vents, opening them a bit to raise the temperature, and closing them a bit to lower the temperature.  I’ll adjust the lower vents as well if things start to get out of hand.  You have to keep the fire going but you don’t want it to get too hot.  If you can hear the fire crackle or the meat sizzle, shut everything down at once.  It’s way too hot.

After doing this for a few years, you can tell whether the grill is at the appropriate temperature by placing the flat of your hand on the grill cover.  You really learn to keep the fire low.  My fancy new grill, another generous present from the lovely Liza Tanner Boyd, has a thermometer on the lid.  I’m learning to compare the thermometer reading to the feel of my hand on the lid.  According to the thermometer, I cook at approximately 225, with variations between 200 and 275.

The grill develops hot spots.  The coals in some areas extinguish completely while others keep burning.  You can tell by moving your hand around a few inches from the grill, and by turning the meat over and looking at the grill side.  Here we are at 1:30 or so.

mem day 130

The variations in color reflect the varying heat levels of portions of the grill.  Those need to get evened out.  You want to move the meat around every now and then to balance your butts, so to speak.

Sometimes, you need to balance out the hot coals and reinvigorate some of the slackers.  I put newspaper down on the table next to the grill (always have a table next to your grill) and put a couple of bricks or pieces of broken flagstone on the paper.  I remove the cover, pick up the grill using paper towels folded four or five times, and set the grill on the flagstones.  Then I stir things around and, while I’m at it, add some wet wood chips.

meme day adjust

The fire heats up when you open the lid for this process, letting in all that oxygen.  You want to cool it down with the wetness of the chips and the resulting fire-dampening smoke.  And the smoke adds more hickory flavor.  Hickory and pork love each other.

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