BBQ anathema, but it worked!

I’ve been watching an American reality TV show called BBQ Pitmasters, in which teams compete to cook the best and tastiest barbecued meats. We actually went to one of these cook-offs in Dodge City on one of our mid-west motorcycle tours, but at that time we didn’t really appreciate the nuances of competitive BBQ.

Anyway, inspired by the Pitmasters, we decided to do a family BBQ last weekend. We booked a couple of pitches at a campsite in rural Essex. We pitched the caravan on one, and the big frame tent on the other to act as an awning.

But what I hadn’t got, and couldn’t transport even if I had, was a suitably large grill, never mind something like a half-ton “reverse flow stick burner” or whatever other fiendish devices the real Pitmasters favour. All I had was our little portable Cobb and a Weber kettle.

So I turned to my trusty Sansaire sous vide:


The picture shows some chicken thighs coming off the production line, but I also cooked a beautiful piece of Scotch brisket from Costco, and of course a nice piece of Ethel the little porkie.

The idea was to marinade and rub the meats, then cook them “low and slow” in the sous vide, then chill them down hard, take them to the site, and finish cooking them on the small barbecues. Fans of BBQ will immediately throw up their hands in horror, because this is absolutely the wrong way round. The correct order of play is to smoke the meats first over a wood fire, then to seal them in foil and finish heating them in a little of their cooking liquid until tender.

But in spite of that, it worked pretty well. I used this excellent book by Steve Raichlen: Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades.

Each marinade was injected to get it all through the meat. Lesson learnt: when dealing with dense pieces of meat like brisket, don’t inject too enthusiastically. Spicy brine solution squirting back into your eyes doesn’t half sting!

I then put some of the rub on before the sous vide. Before finishing on the barbecue, we drained most of the liquid, used the appropriate rub, and periodically basted the meat with a little sauce. The pork got both a Kansas City style of rub and sauce and a brush with puréed apple. For the beef, I did a Texan rub and a mustard-based sauce, and the chicken got a mild mayonnaise sauce with garlic and lemon.

Here’s the result:


And yes, we took a bain marie to a BBQ. Heroic or deeply sad, depending on your perspective.


But the meat had acquired a reasonable spicy crust, and a bit of a “smoke ring”. Most important, it was tender and delicious.

So I’m encouraged to try this again, and maybe do even better next time.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from BBQ Pitmasters, said by one competitor to another. Say it aloud in your own American southern drawl: “I’ve come here to do two things, chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

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