Planning to grill out this summer? Fort Worth BBQ pitmasters and experts weigh in on how to make your grilling and smoking a piece of cake.
We polled some of the area’s great pitmasters –– Rodney Lambert (currently gearing up his Uncle Daddy’s food truck for Magnolia Ave.), Joe Riscky (The Meat Board) and Chris Magallanes (Panther City BBQ). We also chatted up a couple of chefs –– John Piccolino, executive chef at B&B Butchers and Richard Sandoval, chef/owner of Toro Toro Pan Latin Steakhouse. Here’s what we learned about barbecue in the Fort.
Pick Your Wood
Joe Riscky is a fan of smoking with oak wood at The Meat Board, specifically post oak which is plentiful around Fort Worth. “Mesquite has to be seasoned really well so there is low moisture. [If not,] the resin gets into the smoke and it tastes like turpentine,” he said.
Rodney Lambert uses a combination of hickory and mesquite woods. “Mesquite alone is strong and overpowering, and can give you heartburn because it’s so acidic.” Blending the mesquite with hickory adds a sweet element, he said, and if he can’t get hickory, he likes pecan wood.
At Panther City, Chris Magallanes also uses post oak, which he says provides a subtle, smoky flavor. Whatever you use, make sure the wood is dried adequately or the inside moisture will steam out and may affect the flavor of what’s on the grill.
Pellets and Charcoal
If you’ve got a smoker that uses pellets, Lambert says to use the best grade available. If you’re using a commercial smoker that runs on wood pellets, you have an almost unlimited number of blends from which to choose.
Chef Richard Sandoval recommends a combination of mesquite wood and charcoal because he says the smoky and charred flavor from the wood and charcoal is unique. He also advises using the best quality charcoal and cooking when the charcoal is completely red but not burning – “a las brasas.”
Keep It Clean
Any grill is going to get sticky. Sandoval’s cleaning tip: Once the grill is on and hot, take half of a white onion soaked in a little corn or soybean oil. With a grilling fork or large tongs, use the onion as a brush to clean the grill. This will both remove rust off the grill and prevent the meat from sticking.
For turkey, Riscky uses a whole breast single lobe turkey with minimal processing. At the Meat Board, the meat’s always fresh and never frozen, but if you’re buying turkey or chicken, he advises a full thaw in the refrigerator the day before.
John Piccolino recommends seasoning the meat the day before and pulling it out 2-3 hours prior to putting it on the smoker so it comes to room temperature. “Then you need patience and love,” he said.
If you’re dealing with chicken, Lambert cautions you to marinate it 24 hours in a brine for a “light, moist bird flavored with smoke but not over the top.” Cut the chicken in half, skin side down, and make a slit along the thighbone and the drumstick to speed up the cooking time so the white and dark meat cook evenly.
For his brine, Sandoval recommends salt, water and achiote or adobo chiles-- the achiote marinade is made with annatto seed and the adobo is made with guajillo chili paste. Both marinades provide flavor and enhance the smokiness from the charcoal or wood.
If you’re starting out as a grillmaster, Lambert says that pork ribs will provide almost immediate gratification. “You don’t have to wait 10-12 hours, just two or three,” he said. And pork is forgiving. “If you don’t like it, you can still try again that day,” Lambert said.
Riscky advises cooking turkey until about 150° to 155°, then pulling them off the grill and resting until the temperature reaches a safe 170°. For brisket he says you’ll need the better part of a day (12-14) hours at about 225° to “get the fat to melt back into the meat.”
Magallenes says that brisket is “one of the most unforgiving meats to cook.” Since it’s a large muscle, you will need eight to 15 hours depending on the size and the way you cook it. “You can’t force it,” he says.
Piccolino recommends a smoke for six to eight hours, then spray the meat with cider vinegar and bourbon (unlike with cooking wine, it doesn’t have to be expensive) for flavor. Use one part bourbon to three parts vinegar– spray every 30 minutes for the next six to eight hours, then wrap in butcher paper and let the meat rest.
There’s The Rub
All of the chefs have a particular rub they like to use. Predictably, they were also all a little coy about their secret ingredients.
Piccolino proffered his JHP Seasoning, which is sold at B&B Butchers.
Riscky uses salt pepper garlic, chile powder and paprika. He calls it a “North Texas rub” and says it differs from the rubs in Austin and parts south, which tend to be salt, pepper and garlic.
Lambert’s rub is salt, coarse ground pepper and garlic, with “maybe some brown sugar for sweetness and cayenne pepper to taste.” The one thing he cautions against: onion powder, which he says gives a dry mouth feel.
Magallanes also uses salt, cayenne and a heavy amount of coarse ground pepper. He says that table grind black pepper is too spicy.
Whether you want to cook out this weekend, or you just want to make the meal happen, you have a variety of options.
B&B Butchers offers several take-out packages that you can grill or smoke yourself, ranging from the fancy Steak Kit Dinner for Two to The Family Grill, which includes: four Texas Wagyu burger patties, a pound of Wagyu hot dogs, Martin's Famous potato buns, a pound of thick-cut bacon and Hill Country sausage. The special items run through Labor Day weekend.
The Meat Board’s July 4th Cookout Special includes five house-made burger patties along with cheese, tomato, and all the fixings, five Wagyu hot dogs with buns, two large bags of seasoned chips and 10 large chocolate chip cookies.
At Panther City BBQ, you can get pre-cooked platters, including the Hell’s Half-Acre, a half-pound each of brisket, pulled pork, sausage, pork ribs, smoked turkey and pork belly burnt ends, along with your favorite two sides.
Toro Toro recently re-opened the dining room to 75% capacity, and you can order any of the menu for carry-out. The Toro To-Go packages offer three- or four-course meals with your choice of entrée, sides and dessert.