Hear the word “barbecue” and what comes to mind? Warm summer gatherings? A piece of cooking equipment?
Or does your mouth begin to water as you remember smoky, tangy flavors that delight your taste buds?
In fact, barbecue is all those things – from the event, to the equipment to the food. For most of us, it brings many happy thoughts.
Yet, not done right, barbecue brings fear and trepidation with memories of chicken or ribs served at the company picnic – burnt to a crisp on the outside, dry and tasty as cardboard, or left too chewy next to the bone.
Use as many jalapeños as you’d like. Cut them in half, or as boats keeping the “lid” to put back on. Remove all seeds.
Mix together softened cream cheese and any spices you want. We used some barbecue rub. You can also add minced garlic and sausage.
Spoon the mix into the jalapeños or fill a large baggie, cut corner and squeeze to fill.
Use uncooked bacon to wrap around each popper and secure with a toothpick. Size of jalapeño will determine whether you want to cut and use a half slice or more on each popper.
Preheat barbecue or conventional oven to 400 degrees. Use a baking sheet in the conventional oven. A baking sheet can be used in barbecue, but you can also lay poppers directly on grills, turning as needed.
Bake for about 20 minutes until bacon is cooked to your liking.
“There’s trial and error,” says “pit master” Josh Green of Pop Pop’s BBQ in Eugene. “It all depends on what you’re working with – the differences between a gas grill or pellet grill or charcoal. And (with all those choices) the differences in the ability to maintain temperature.”
Green learned to enjoy the art of outdoor cooking as a Boy Scout. He’s now a FedEx driver, and that hobby has turned into a real passion.
“It’s always been something that interested me,” says Green, who craves learning new ways to refine recipes and techniques on his own. He reads a lot, talks with others, and simply experiments with different recipes and methods.
“We have a little test kitchen here at home,” says Green, joined by his wife Corrie.
If you’re just getting started, the Greens suggest buying beef, then moving onto pork and, finally, chicken.
Next, find recipes, tips and techniques for the type of barbecue equipment you have, including whether you’re working with gas, charcoal, pellets, wood, or a combination.
The Greens have a shelf in their home dedicated to cookbooks and many of them are related to barbecue. Across the room is a collection of cast-iron cooking implements. Josh found many good books at second-hand stores, and he loves using social media sites — Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest — as top-notch sources.
“Our barbecue ‘family’ on Instagram is very helpful,” Corrie Green says.
Just as important as the right recipe and technique is keeping an eye on temperature.
“A big part of it is being able to control the temperature,” Green says. “Ribs cook best at about 275 degrees over the course of a couple hours. If it’s too hot, you’ll cook up the outside, but the inside won’t be done.”
He prefers a digital thermometer which is controlled by an app on his smart phone.
“It’s Bluetooth-connected to my phone, so I don’t have to keep running out there to look at it,” he says. “And they’re not that expensive.” He bought his for about $40. A quick search online shows a cost between $15 and $100.
For the Greens, what revolutionized their barbecuing success was investing in two types of smokers — a barrel smoker and a wood pellet barbecue.
Barrel smokers (or barrel barbecues) are new to the barbecue scene. In these, the meat is suspended on hooks and hangs vertically within the barrel, smoking for two to three hours. Briquettes are placed on the bottom, making this type of barbecue equipment more mobile than a gas- or pellet-fueled grill.
Green throws on a couple pieces of mesquite or other types of wood for extra smoke flavor, then monitors the temperature on his phone.
Both Josh and Corrie agree ribs done in the Barrel House Cooker are their favorite. Barrel smokers cost between $200 and $300, and it is possible to make your own smoker with a 55-gallon drum.
They also love their wood-pellet fired barbecue, and say it has made the greatest impact on their cooking.
Like an oven, turn on the Traeger and walk away. But it’s outdoor cooking, and being able to bake dishes outside on a hot summer day makes for greater variety in their summer cuisine.