Barbecue Bible!

Our textbook
Season 2

Show 205: Where There's Smoke

Where there's smoke, there's flavor. And to many pitmasters smoking is the only thing they consider "true barbecue." In this master class, Steven covers the slight differences between smoking in a smoker, a kettle and a gas grill; the differences between chunks and chips as fuel; and the effect the variety of wood smoldering away in your grill has on the flavor of the finished dish. He demonstrates a range of recipes, from simple Smoked Brats to Memphis-style Pork Ribs, the epitome of barbecue to much of the country east of the Mississippi.

On the menu (page numbers indicate page in the Barbecue! Bible, unless otherwise noted):

  • Smoked Brats (recipe follows, from my newsletter Up in Smoke)
  • Buccaneer Chicken (page 250)
  • Memphis Style Pork Ribs (page 175)
  • Fire Roasted Apples (page 512)


I have a confession to make. For years, I've used wood chips and chunks to add a smoke flavor to foods cooked on a gas or charcoal grill. But it never occurred to me that I could grill on wood at home. I guess I always assumed that wood grilling was restaurant food--something to be done over an industrial strength grill--beyond the reach of the home cook.

Then I met Jerry Lawson. Jerry is the president of W W Wood, Inc. of Pleasanton, Texas, not to mention an avid griller and raconteur. His company sells a line of natural wood products: hefty chunks of hickory or mesquite packaged in flammable paper sacks. Simply lay the bag flat in your grill and light the corners: in 10 or 15 minutes, you'll have a dandy blaze for grilling.

But don't worry if you can't find wood in these starter bags. Many companies sell wood chunks in more affordable bulk packaging.

Wood chunks are a cinch to light in a chimney starter. Simply ball up 3 or 4 sheets of newspaper in the bottom section (or use a paraffin starter), place the wood chunks in top, and light the paper. You should have blazing coals in 10 to 15 minutes. Rake them out as you would charcoal and get ready for one of the best taste sensations of your life.

Cooking with wood is pretty much like cooking over charcoal. But keep in mind that wood can burn hotter, so you might not need quite as much.

  • Because of the high heat, it's best to leave the grill uncovered.
  • (You can cook any recipe calling for direct grilling over wood.)
  • Finally, use only dried natural hard wood. Soft woods, like pine, produce an unpleasant resiny flavor. Lumber scraps may be treated with carcinogenic chemicals.

Smoked Bratwurst printer-ready version
From Steven's newsletter, Up in Smoke

Technique: How to Grill the Perfect Brats

Serves: 4 to 8

A great deal of ink (and possibly blood) has been spilled on the best way to grill bratwurst. Some folks parboil them in beer first; others use direct grilling, which may or may not result in some serious fat fires. If you do decide to direct grill, work over a moderate heat. The idea is to slowly roast the sausage, not cause it to explode. I've taken to smoke-roasting the brats, which gives you the predictability of indirect grilling (no flare-ups), plus a terrific smoke flavor. Here's a simple recipe, along with a mustard that will definitely make you smoke. By the way, a tip 'o hat to our friends at Johnsonville Brats in Johnsonville, Wisconsin, (they make the world's best bratwurst).

for the Fire Eater Mustard:

  • 1 cup Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/4 cup scotch bonnet chili based hot sauce, like Matouk's from Trinidad
  • 8 hard rolls or hoagie rolls
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1-1/2 cups hickory chips, soaked in water to cover for 1 hour, then drained (see Note below)

1. Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. This works best in a charcoal grill.

2. Arrange the bratwurst on the grate over the drip pan. Toss the wood chips on the coals, half on each mound of coals. Cover the grill and adjust the vent holes to obtain a temperature of about 350 degrees. Smoke-roast the sausages until golden brown and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make the Fire Eater Mustard. Place the mustard in a bowl and whisk in as much scotch bonnet chili sauce as you can stand. (You may want to start slow and work up to the 1/4 cup mentioned in the recipe.)

4. Brush the buns with melted butter and lightly toast on the grill, placing them over the piles of embers. Place a smoked brat on each and slather with Fire Eater Mustard. You've never had bratwurst like this!

NOTE: Even if you're a diehard gas griller, I recommend investing in an inexpensive, charcoal-burning kettle grill. It's very difficult to get a great smoke flavor from a gas grill.

Brought to you by BBQ U & Johnsonville Brats

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort