As the weather begins to warm, here in New England we can finally say goodbye to bitter winter and hello to enjoying the great outdoors. Summer also means we get to roll out the grill and brush up on the best techniques for preparing amazing barbecue. Behind every great grill master is the science of fire, smoke, heat, and meat. We’ll break down the methods used to turn large cuts into tender mouthfuls of juicy ribs and smoky sausages.

We can trace the roots of modern barbecue back to the Carribean, where it was known as “barabicu,” meaning “sacred fire pit.” Cooking meat for a long period of time over an indirect open fire was eventually brought north by Spanish conquistadors, and then was adopted westward by settlers. Cooking meat low and slow helps large cuts achieve that fall-off-the-bone quality. If you want to up your barbecuing game, a good first step is to understand how it works! 

Charcoal Grill Shot

Cooking over a charcoal grill.

Smoking vs Barbecuing

Barbecuing and smoking are terms that are often used interchangeably, but there is a big difference. Barbecuing involves cooking primarily with fire, while smoking (you guessed it) primarily cooks with smoke. Barbecuing uses temperatures ranging from 190-275°F and cooks for roughly 4-6 hours. Depending on the type of smoking you are doing (hot or cold), temperatures can range from 86-450°F, with cook times as long as 24 hours.  

What is Smoking

Inside a smoker, air molecules move around rapidly due to the hot fire. These molecules smack into the meat and transfer that energy into your ribs or pork shoulder. Heat breaks down proteins into amino acids that react with sugars and create that delicious exterior browning. 

Infusing your meat with the flavor of whatever wood you use is another advantage of smoking. The hardwoods used — hickory, mesquite, apple, cherry — contain cellulose, which turns into sugar and mixes with the smoke during the cooking process. Lignin, a substance responsible for transporting water and nutrients in the wood, also adds its own unique aromatics when heated. 

So Why Cook Low and Slow?

Tougher cuts of meat have lots of connective proteins that tighten up like rubber bands when heated quickly. However, these connective protein chains break down and melt when heated slowly. Fats in these cuts work much the same way with their high melting points. Heated slowly, the fat is liquified through a process called “rendering” which makes your meat juicy and tender. The science and art of slow cooked meat is worth taking the time to learn. A little extra knowledge and care along with high quality ingredients will enhance your next cookout (and impress your friends). 

Barbecuing (and smoking) for us means spending time outdoors with those we love. There’s nothing quite like slow-smoking a rack of ribs, or grilling up some patties and franks while sitting in the sun and enjoying good weather and better company. 

We hope you have a wonderful summer, and thank you for helping us make local work! 

—All of us at Walden 

Walden Half Smoked Beef Brisket

Don’t have a smoker at home?

Try our par-cooked Smoked Brisket for an easier way to enjoy some delicious smoky flavor. Walden smoked brisket is great on sandwiches, or can even be diced and added to chili! Available for a short time on your specials page!