There are other ways to cook barbecue, of course. Naturally, I think that my way makes the Best Barbecue in the World, but then I’ve been doing this for, what, 38 years now? I’m at the point where I’m comfortable with my method. It’s the closest I can get to cooking over an open pit, which is indisputably the best way to cook barbecue. That’s the way you get the best flavor and the best char, or outside meat. But then cooking over an open pit requires skill, experience and attention. And a pit.
The redoubtable Jim Shahin has a detailed discussion of how to use your grill. It’s a great how-to for his audience, Washington Post readers, who, one presumes, are relatively new to making barbecue, DC being something of a barbecue desert. Jim includes a description of two methods that are appropriate for barbecue: indirect heat — and the “ring of smolder.” As always, you should read Jim’s article.
I’m not a fan of these methods. In my experience, they get results similar to a box smoker or, if you’re really good, an offset smoker. They do have the potential to work well on brisket which, in any event, is hard to get right on an open pit, and losing beef smoke is not nearly as great a loss as losing pork smoke. (I always barbecue pork rather than beef because (a) it tastes a lot better, and (b) it costs a lot less.) Frankly, a whole lot of barbecue places that use box smokers produce pretty bad barbecue. They use the smoker because it seems easy, and is easy if you don’t care about your product. And in restaurants, the lack of commitment that a box smoker implies (compared to that necessary for an open pit) too often comes with mistreatment of the meat once it’s cooked — things like slicing it in advance rather than slicing fresh with each order. Thus my prejudice.
On the other hand, some people can create magic with a box smoker. I still think about the brisket and the ribs at Pendergast Smokehouse in Amsterdam in the same way I think of the carbonara at Mezza Luna in Orvieto and the crawfish crusted redfish at the Redfish Grill in New Orleans. Brandon Woodruff is the Paganini of the Old Hickory smoker, a true artist. He reminds me of old Peanuts cartoons, with Schroeder playing Beethoven on a toy piano with the black keys painted on.
Criticism aside, I do think that indirect heat is a good way to start making barbecue. It’s forgiving and you won’t embarrass yourself much while you try to work your way up to Brandon Woodruff’s level. It’s a long, tasty climb.