Even in urban centers like New York City, there is no shortage of blackened briskets or vinegar-laced pulled-pork sandwiches to sample. But just because more smoke chambers and chopped wood piles are popping up around the country, doesn’t mean we’re any closer to penetrating the underground BBQ fraternity—a sub-culture of moonshine-sipping folks united by sauce-stained shirts, the scent of smoke, and a whole lotta jargon.
That tribalism was on display in spades at last week’s Windy City Smokeout, a three-day feast of meat, country music, and craft beer sprawled out in the parking lot of the Chicago Tribune. “It’s like an old-time family picnic,” says Garry Roark of Ubon’s Barbecue in Yazoo City, MS, one of the event’s nine featured pitmasters—which also included heavy-hitters like Skip Steele of Pappy’s Smokehouse, Scott Roberts of the Salt Lick, John Stage of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Barry Sorkin of Smoque BBQ, and Lee Ann Whippen of Chicago q.
In keeping with this all-in-the-gang mentality, the smoked-meat elite abides by its own set of slang, a coded world that Doug Psaltis of Bub City says he picked up “just by hanging out on the rig.” Often the chosen vocab is personal, like when Kelly Dallas of Hogapalooza says, “We jacked that up” at the sight of an imperfect rack of ribs, or when Charlie McKenna of Lillie’s Q singles out an especially alluring batch of tri-tip as “cash money.” But some language, while indecipherable to outsiders, is universally understood among the pros.
We rounded up a group of pitmasters at Windy City Smokeout to come up with a glossary of in-the-know BBQ terms.
Also heralded as the pitmaster, this is the sweaty, greasy badass who presides over the red-hot coals to create smoky, char-encrusted proteins of perfection.
The smaller muscle of the brisket (also referred to as the point), the deckle is a fatty, marbled cut preferred by brisket aficionados.
A thick layer of fat between the skin and flesh. Its presence ensures a piece of meat is flavorful and tender. Whether brisket should be cooked with the fat cap up or down is a long-standing debate among pitmasters.
These morsels of smoked brisket—crispy, fatty bark bits (see below)—are a delicacy, particularly in Kansas City. They also go by the playful name of meat candy.
The flavorful outer layer of crust that forms on a brisket.
A photo posted by @foodiemagician on Jun 8, 2014 at 8:39am PDT
The dark, crunchy exterior of whole-hog barbecue.
The light, moist interior of whole hog barbecue.
Mr. Brown Goes to Town
Refers to the Memphis ritual of adding crunchy pieces of pork to sandwiches.
A Kentucky specialty where a selection of bark and meat from mutton ribs, neck, and shoulders are mixed in a dip liquid.
A specialty of Alabama, this zesty mayo-based concoction typically dresses BBQ chicken.
Photo: Justin Bolois
Crash in the Smoker
Sometimes meat lined up in the smoker sways off the track. When it does lose its balance, the collision is deemed a crash in the smoker.
Preserving meat’s post-fire life is just as important an undertaking as smoking. Wrapping, say, pork shoulder in butcher paper helps absorb grease and create a protective shield—that’s the crutch.
For brisket, star of the Lone Star State, many pitmasters prefer nestling it in aluminum foil. A sure-fire way of holding in moisture, the technique preserves extra-succulent slices.
Shiners should be avoided. When a rack of ribs bares exposed bones, it means too much meat has been butchered off. The bones, therefore, “shine through” the meat.
Photo: Liz Barclay
Brushing this vinegar-based sauce on a piece of meat before cooking adds a burst of flavor and caramelization.
Stabbing a syringe full of marinade—every pitmaster has his or her own recipe—is a common way to infuse meet with extra flavor.
Juicy skin sometimes gets bruised due to overheating or a scratch that swells under fire. This is when a pitmaster has a blowout on their hands.
Wide and narrow
How to describe a rack of rib’s girth.
Photo: Justin Bolois
Smoking meat leads to a release of nitric oxide and carbon monoxide. When combined with myoglobin, a protein found in the meat, a coveted pink hue called the “smoke ring” appears just underneath the bark. Often considered the sign of a good brisket.
Refers to that magical moment when the smoke coming off the flame is lightly tinged blue. This is the optimal time for throwing meat onto the smoker.
If a pitmaster is behind on his or her cooking, cranking up the heat to overcompensate is a must.
This choice piece of pork, located high on the shoulder, is moist and flavorful. A its name implies, it often pulls in the loot during competitions.
Photo: Justin Bolois
When slick pitmasters spy on their competitors to uncover BBQ secrets, the covert practice is called shiggin’.
Properly cooked brisket will quiver when touched.
The gush of juice that should come forth when brisket is done right.
Butt over Brisket
When fatty pork butt is cooked atop brisket and its juices flow down through the grate to give the beef a little basting love.
“A period of smoking a brisket when the temperature seems to have peaked, even though it’s still well below the temperature you want to achieve. It should be called ‘The Darkest Hours’ or something to indicate the devastation you feel at the possibility of wasting countless hours and a lot of money on an undercooked brisket.”—Tim Carman
Typified by “North Carolinian BBQ pundits [who insist] that pork is the only legitimate barbecue meat.”—Ardie Davis