Best Barbecue Tips & Myths

America's best pitmasters are clearing the hickory-smoked air

It's finally here: that time of year when we get to bring our grills out of hibernation and dig up our "world famous" rib recipes. As we retrain ourselves on the chimney-starter basics, some of the country's best barbecue pitmasters will also be gearing up—in NYC for the city's yearly Big Apple Barbecue, where they'll be serving up smoke, sticky fingers and plenty of regional 'cue.

Yet, for all the styles of sauces and spice rubs that will be represented this weekend, there are just as many misconceptions about what it really means to barbecue. So before they take the stage at Madison Square Park, renowned pitmasters are helping us clear the hickory-smoked air on these five common myths. 

Myth #1: Hosting a barbecue is the same as cooking barbecue.

"My favorite myth to dispel is the idea that cooking burgers and hot dogs on the grill is barbecue," Leslie Roark Scott of Ubons in Missouri jokes. "Barbecue is cooking a large cut of meat over a long period of time while allowing smoke to add flavor to the meat. Grilling is hot and fast, and uses charcoal or propane for a heat source." (Though, as a side note, she stresses you shouldn't be ashamed of the kebabs coming off your grill grate—just don't try to pass them off as genuine 'cue.) 

Myth #2: It's all about the smoke ring.

"I'm not saying that a smoke ring isn't important," Blue Smoke's pitmaster, Jean-Paul Bourgeois, begins, "just be careful with big, highly pronounced smoke rings that are used for clickbait on Instagram and for food photos." Scott Roberts of Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, is also quick to clarify that "smoke rings have nothing to do with smoke," but instead are a reaction that occurs when the meat is cooked "low and slow and with a lot of love." So instead of obsessing over whether or not your brisket is changing color, he recommends starting with the highest-quality meat you can get your hands on and focusing on cooking it as gently as possible.

Myth #3: You need to soak your wood chips first.

"Wood does not soak up water," Chris Lilly of Alabama's Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q confirms. "A couple minutes in the fire and the water evaporates, leaving you with the same dry wood you started with."

As for the other belief you can soak your wood chips with other flavorings? "Honestly, not so much at all," North Carolina pitmasters Ed and Ryan Mitchell point out. "The myth originated with the notion that you can soak and season wood just like meat and get the aroma inside the actual protein. In reality, wet wood is good for nothing besides killing your fire and creating a good story."

Myth #4: A well-used pit provides more flavor.

As romantic as it sounds, a rarely cleaned pit doesn't work like your seasoned cast-iron pan. "A dirty smoker creates dirty barbecue," Ash Fulk of Hill Country Hospitality explains. "You're just burning more oil . . . which will give your 'cue an acrid taste." 

Myth #5: "If you're lookin', you ain't cookin."

One of the oldest myths in the barbecue bible is that constantly checking on your brisket will significantly increase its cooking time. But Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott's BBQ (and recent James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Southeast) believes otherwise: "I always say to pay close attention to your barbecue, checking to make sure you have enough heat going. If you don't have the right heat, then that's what prevents the meat from cooking."

Meet these barbecue masters in person at the Big Apple Barbecue in NYC.