Big Daddy Tug offers seasoned advice on the best ways to barbecue

There’s nothing like the aroma of wood smoke and the flavors it creates in a well-smoked meal.

We’re talking authentic barbecue: Slow cooking at low temperatures with tiny tendrils of thin, bluish-white smoke allowing the natural juices to break down the essence of the meat until it falls off the bone.

Before refrigeration and added preservatives, smoking was used to make meat safe to heat and expand its shelf life. Now, modern methods of smoking foods make it easier than ever to turn any meat — and even vegetables — into a tender, juicy, lip-smacking, finger-licking feast.

Tim “Big Daddy Tug” McDonald is a barbecue enthusiast, connoisseur and educator from Madison, cooking for family, friends and crowds all over the state. He even teaches and shares his love of barbecue through fall classes at the Adult Ed program at MSAD 52 in Turner as well as through the Kennebec Valley Community College in Hinckley.

It all started in 2009 when he bought a Brinkman upright smoker at a garage sale for $10.

“I brought it home, fired it up, smoked a pork roast and fell in love! I started to explore the world of true barbecue, developing and refining recipes, sauces and rubs, learning everything I could. I was determined to prove that a boy from the hills of western Maine could create authentic Southern-style barbecue right here in Maine.”

According to McDonald, people are often apprehensive to use a smoker, but with a bit of research, it can actually be simple to learn.

He said there are a few things to consider before getting started.

Choosing a smoker:

“There are backyard, competition and professional units. The biggest isn’t always the best. Strike a balance between capacity and smoke/fuel efficiency,” said McDonald. “For cooking a few ribs or a brisket, you don’t need a large smoker. You need enough room for air to circulate, yet not need an entire tree to produce enough smoke. Google DIY smokers, you’ll be surprised at what you can use and how inexpensive it can be.”

Methods of heating your food in a smoker include:

*Wood: Produces flavorful results, but it takes careful monitoring and feeding of the wood.

*Charcoal: For beginners and experts, because it burns long and steady.

*Gas: Easy to regulate temperature, but tends to not have as much natural smoke flavor.

*Electric: You can walk away for hours, but it may not produce an immense smoky flavor.

“My main smoker is one I built, called ‘The Beast,’ and it runs on charcoal and/or wood chunks. I also own both gas and electric smokers,” said McDonald, “which I typically only use for classes. But because of its intense flavor, I am a charcoal guy — Kingsford, blue bag. Period.”

Now for the fun part: choosing the meat to barbecue:

“Because smoking is a slow process, many good, lean cuts of meat will dry out and become inedible. Meats full of fat and connective tissue come out tender, flavorful and delicious,” said McDonald. 

“Pork, such as ribs, by far, are the best. Fatty cuts of beef, like brisket, are great, as well as chicken thighs and whole birds,” he said “High-fat fish like salmon will be better than haddock. Leaner meats can be used when wrapped in bacon or injected with some sort of liquid or fat substitute.”

Next, decide what type of wood to use:

“Pairing food with the right wood creates unique and enjoyable flavors, some stronger than others. You can mix different types to have the properties you like,” said McDonald.

“I use chips and small chunks, and I typically don’t soak them to drive more flavor into the meat early on. For chicken and pork, I often use a mix of apple and hickory; for beef I use cherry and mesquite. Apple is a great, all-purpose chip with a sweet and mild flavor, and it is plentiful here in Maine.”

Marinades, rubs and sauces can add depth of flavor:

“Rubs are commonly used to flavorize meat before smoking and are usually a combination of sugar, spices and salt. Marinating is often used for chicken, steaks and other beef,” McDonald explained.

“Sauces add another layer of flavor, especially in ribs. Sauces have sugar, which burns at a low temp; apply only at the end. To safely save any leftover rub or sauce, do not cross contaminate; use an old squirt bottle for sauce and a shaker for rubs,” he said.

Keep it consistent:

No matter what type of smoker is used, the key to success is a consistent environment within the smoker, McDonald said.

“The goal is to keep the smoker at a range of 225 to 250 degrees. Big fluctuations in temperatures can tighten and dry out food. Some smokers have water pans to help stabilize heat and add humidity,” he said.

McDonald said vents are used to keep the air moving by drawing smoke from the wood and swirling over the food. Ventilation is important in keeping a “clean” smoke; white smoke is good, black is bad.

“It is also important to not open the door too often or for too long as the smoke and heat escape (and are replaced by) cold, dry air, knocking the consistency out of whack that you worked so hard to create,” he said.

And smoking is not just for meat.

“Virtually anything you bake can be smoked. Try pizza, veggies, baked beans, even chili. . . . You’re only limited by your imagination,” he said.

McDonald said that with patience and a little bit of knowledge, anyone can become proficient in true barbecue.

“Smoked foods boost flavor and tenderness. Be patient and experiment. It may take longer to achieve, but it’s worth the extra effort,” he said.

“And remember, it’s the cook not the smoker that makes good barbecue,” McDonald added, laughing. “After all, they don’t call me BIG Daddy Tug for nothing!”

Rip-Roarin’ Rib Rub

An all-purpose rub for any meat.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup paprika

1/3 cup white sugar

3 tablespoons dry mustard

3 tablespoons onion powder

3 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons ground basil

1 tablespoon chili pepper

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon sea salt

Instructions:

Mix together all ingredients. Sprinkle all over meat and lightly rub to spread it around evenly. Allow meat to come to room temperature and smoke or grill.

Teryiffic Teriyaki Marinade

Ingredients:

1 cup soy sauce

1 cup molasses

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup pineapple juice

1/4 cup corn oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Instructions:

Mix ingredients together and marinate meat in refrigerator for 4-8 hours before bringing it to room temp.

SSSmokin’ St. Louis Sauce

Ingredients:

12-ounce can tomato paste

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup yellow mustard

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons cayenne powder

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

Instructions:

Mix ingredients in a sauce pan and bring up to a low boil and remove.

Slather on meat at the end of a smoke or grill.


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