Barbecue Basics


Barbecue is a skill that must be practiced and developed over time. We've all made terrible barbecue at some point. Below are some of the things I've learned.

Barbecue with Franklin

Current title holder for best brisket in the known universe shares some of his knowlege. Highly recomend watching his PBS series called BBQ with Franklin. There are 10 episodes, each 30 minutes covering a variety of topics.

Episode 1 - Brisket

Aaron Franklin also has a class on Masterclass that I hear is amazing.

Good Smoke vs Bad Smoke

I never smoke to excess - that is, I smoke in moderation, only one cigar at a time. ~Mark Twain

The color of the smoke leaving your smoker is important. Great barbecue is produced when a thin transparent blue smoke is exiting your smoker at a fairly fast speed. This thin blue smoke indicates your wood is burning properly, and a fast speed tells you hot air is moving over your food inside the cooker like a convection oven. Sometimes the smoke will be nearly invisible, and this is good too.

Good Smoke - click to enlarge


When a fire needs more oxygen or when wet wood tries to burn, thick white smoke may be produced. Thick white smoke leaves a bitter taste on barbecue and should be avoided if possible. If white smoke appears, try opening up the air intake vent to allow the wood to burn more cleanly. The added airflow should reduce the white smoke, and will raise the temperature of the cooker, so if you're getting white smoke and need to lower temperature, use a pair of long tongs or a shovel to remove the problematic wood. Having a place to keep burning wood or coal allows you to pull burning wood or coals from the smoker in these situations. I use a small metal trash can or a nearby fire pit with a grate to store burning wood. Later if I need to raise temperature quickly, I will have burning wood or coals nearby to add.

Prepping new chunks of wood is also a good strategy to avoid white smoke. Place new chunks or splits on top of the fire box (for an offset). This will heat up and dry out the wood. Once placed in the fire box, it should catch fire quickly and burn cleanly.

Basic Barbecue Rub

From Steven Raichlen's "How to grill" book.


  • 1/4 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 Cup paprika
  • 3 Tablespoons black pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons coarse salt
  • 2 Teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 Teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 Teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 Teaspoon cayenne pepper
Butter Knife Method

From Fine Cooking web site.