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Jul 8, 2010 08:58 AM

Cooking North Carolina Barbecue

I deliberately didn't put this in Home Cooking because I've done similar threads there before, and the knowledge level really wasn't there. Everyone does KC/Memphis style, side smoker, etc.

Anyway...I actually do have a side smoker, but I wasn't satisfied with the results I got using the side firebox, so I started cooking directly over the coals in the main chamber. Using the firebox required me to constantly put wood chips or chunks in to get any smoke flavor at all, and it left the skin leathery and inedible. Cooking directly uses less fuel, doesn't require any flavoring wood unless I want to add some, makes the skin palatable, and takes less time, to boot.

I'm still working on perfecting my cracklings- even when I score the skin, I usually end up with a layer of fat on the bottom that makes it hard to eat. I was thinking about removing the skin when the shoulders are done, wrapping the meat, and returning the skin to the grill for a few minutes to burn that fat off. Any thoughts?

I've also been thinking about cooking a fresh ham on the smoker. I don't have the setup to cook a whole hog, but Piggly Wiggly sells a back quarter that's a ham and ribs, so I figured that plus a shoulder would essentially be the same thing. I'm a bit worried about how to cook it without totally drying it out, though. That's easy with the shoulder, which is really fatty, but hams are leaner.

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  1. Nice idea. I never liked the fire box either but I don't cook BBQ right on top of the coals. I put the coals on one end of the pit and the meat on the other and send the smoke that way. Plenty of heat as the meat is just a foot or so from the coals but there's plenty of smoke. All kinds of ways but as long as the Q is good is all that counts.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Littleman

      That is my strategy as well, except I put a foil pan filled with water above the coals. This mitigates the leathery skin issue naco refers to. I remove the pan during the last hour or so, so that the skin develops a nice crust. I also put a drip pan with a little water under the meat.

      1. re: bbqme

        What's the texture of the skin like when you use a water pan? My strategy has been the opposite, to try and parch the skin. I forgot to mention that in addition to scoring the skin, I put kosher salt on it, as well.

        I'm about 90% of the way to where I want to be with the cracklings. I may just need some extra scoring and extra cook time with the skin down. The tough part is timing the flip so you don't burn the skin, but so that the coals have enough heat left to crisp it up.

    2. I usually do a bone in picnic or a bone in boston butt over hardwood charcoal some times with fruit wood if I have it. I usually do about six to eight hours on the grill to get it smoky enough then do 4 hours in the oven. I do just like littleman, heat source on one side with meat on the other. I often place foil under the pork to avoid any grease flare ups or place a foil pan of water under the pork replenishing the water as needed. A long cook will eliminate the fatty layer as will a trip to the oven. I usually flip whatever I am coking every two hours or so so that the fat renders evenly and so that each side gets a long sear from sitting directly on the grill grates. I will have to try scoring the next time around and see how it works

      6 Replies
      1. re: quazi

        OK y'all when's supper? I'll bring the red slaw and hushpuppies.

        1. re: quazi

          I tried finishing in the oven once or twice, but that got the skin a bit too brittle for my taste. I like for it to have some chew to it. I may just need to flip it sooner. I have the fat up for most of the time I cook, and I flip it skin side down for the last few hours. I don't like to have the skin down initially, as it's easy to burn it if your coals are too hot.

          Do y'all really feel like you get a good smoke flavor by having the coals offset like that? The only way I've been able to get the smoke to permeate the meat is to rely on the fat dripping down onto the coals to make smoke.

          1. re: Naco

            Mine usually has good chew to it. Honestly I would like it more brittle.

            I start skin side down then after two or three hours I flip it. I had a pecan tree fall in my yard so for the past two years everything on the grill has been nice and smoky. In the past I would get hardwood chunks and soak for a long time to get good smoke. How do you have your vents set on the grill. I usually have the outlet mostly closed

            1. re: quazi

              I keep the intake and the stack mostly closed. I go for minimal airflow over the coals to minimize flare ups, although opening the cooker to put the meat in there brings in a bunch of fresh air that causes flares. That's why I start skin side up- the meat side can weather that, and when you open the cooker up later to flip it, the coals have calmed down a bit and that rush of air doesn't get them so hot that they burn the skin.

              As for smoke, it's just been my experience that charcoal produces very little smoke on its own, and I feel like I get more and better smoke flavor for less money by cooking directly.

              1. re: quazi

                You had that tree lying in your yard for 2 years?! {;-/)

              2. re: Naco

                By adding hickory chunks I get plenty of smoke flavor. In fact, after the first couple of hours I stop adding it because then it can get too smokey.

            2. Oh, maybe we could trade sauce recipes. I have been trying to get the family recipe from my dad- with little luck, because there is no recipe, him and my grandfather just *made* it, which requires an in-person clinic- so in lieu of that, I've been using the eastern style sauce recipe from Holy Smoke, which is pretty good. I didn't really like their Lexington style sauce recipe, so I'd definitely be game for a Lexington sauce recipe.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Naco

                For 2/3 quarts pour large bottle of ketsup in the pot. Fill the empty bottle which still has some left over ketsup about 1/3 full of warm water and shake up then pour into pot. I hate to waste anything. Put a little vinegar just a short dose for some kick. It doesn't need to taste like vinegar but a jigger or two will help. Also a stick of butter. Put a fine chopped onion in the pot with the juice of 5/6 lemons. Add a short dose of Worchestershire and a short dose of Heinz 57. Just a few ounces of each. Add a good bit of chopped garlic along with a short dose of cajun mustard. Add some yellow dry mustard seasoning to give it a kick. Cook several hours. You can add some more red stuff like tomato sauce or V 8 juice if needed. Add horseradish towards the end for more kick. Do not use sugar and go light with the vinegar. I probably left out something. It needs to be just right not too thick and not too thin.

                1. re: Naco

                  I find it is so good that just a little hot sauce(texas Pete) really brings out the pig flavor with no bbq sauce (east or west needed) I do brine it ahead of time and lately I have been trying different rubs but smoke is the main spice.

                  Like JayL says below I usually keep it at 300 to 350F. I think it just cooks to slow any lower and I think the fatty pork cuts can handle that amount of heat.

                  It sounds like adding the water pan may greatly aid your skin efforts. Let us know how it come out.

                  Also I must agree with you. I could not bbq without some beer preferably a six pack!!

                2. You should be ok with the back quarter along with your shoulder. Would be nice if they would cut you a front quarter also. Either way, you'll be close to authentic flavor when mixed.

                  Continue to cook directly over your coals. Otherwise you'll be doing something other than North Carolina bbq...but you know that already.

                  I don't know how your grill is set up, but I'll give you some "pointers". NC bbq is cooked about 18-24" over the coals. This could be difficult on a home grill, but if you have a top "warming" rack then use it for your cooking rack. BBQ in other states is cooked low & slow. NC bbq...not so much. Many people don't realize that pit temperatures for NC bbq go 300+ degrees. 325-350 sounds about right. At these temps you really need that ~20" space between the coals and meat. BUT! This is what gives you that crispy skin we love so much in The Old North State.

                  Best of luck.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: JayL

                    It's a Piggly Wiggly, so they probably would cut me a front quarter if I asked- I just don't know if I could fit half a hog on my grill.

                    I'll have to measure inside my grill tonight. It has a pretty good amount of clearance between the rack and the coals. When I first started doing this, I was mainly interested in messing around in the yard while producing a somewhat-edible piece of meat. I went over to direct cooking once I built my confidence up a bit. Truth be told, one of the primary interests is still messing around and drinking beer, as I have to go to Ayden to buy the meat and could just pop into Pete Jones for a sandwich if I wanted.

                    1. re: Naco

                      If you can squeeze a half on your grill, you'll be in the money. Keep your coals under the thicker parts (shoulder & ham) and don't put any under the center part...just like you would when cooking a whole hog.

                      Good luck.........and have fun!

                  2. Bit of an update.

                    I don't have the kind of clearance in my cooker that Jay talks about, so I've started doing what I was talking about in the OP; removing the skin from the shoulder toward the end of cooking and placing it on the grill over some weaker embers that have been burning for a couple of hours. Then I offset some fresh coals in the other side of the main chamber. That gets the temperature up without the risk of burning the skin. I've gotten really good results this way.