Nothing screams summer quite like the smell of charcoal and smoked meat wafting through the air.
With the season of cookouts and outdoor gatherings fast approaching, it’s time to brush up on your barbecue skills.
Tuffy Stone’s wise words hold a special significance during this time of year.
A native Virginian, Tuffy is a legend in the barbecue world. His bona fides include winning the World Barbecue Championship six times. He’s also a member of the Barbecue Hall of Fame, which sounds way more delicious than the dusty halls of Cooperstown or Canton. He’s also a former Marine, a French-trained chef, and the author of the book Cool Smoke – The Art of Great Barbecue. You may have seen him on reality TV as a judge and co-host of “BBQ Pitmasters” on Destination America.
Known as “The Professor”, Tuffy’s attention to detail and passion for the science of smoke has earned him a reputation as one of the most important figures in the world of barbecue.
“When it comes to cooking, grilling, and barbecue, I can get a little windy, so just cut me off if you need to,” Tuffy tells me on a recent phone call.
We’re talking about his new collab with Flaviar, a curated set of American whiskey and BBQ accoutrements, ideal for the home griller. The collaboration launches just in time for Father’s Day.
“I get windy on whiskey. All these flavors that come from years and years and in the barrel,” says Tuffy in his signature Virginia draw. “It could be smoke, it could be cherry, it could be coffee. All these nuanced flavors. The whole process of making whiskey to me, it’s super fascinating.”
Talking to Tuffy about grilling and barbecuing is like opening up a treasure trove of knowledge and expertise: What’s the best grill? What’s the best fuel? Can you make a proper BBQ sauce with bourbon? Why is Alabama white sauce so underappreciated in the BBQ world?
We’ll cover those topics later. In the meantime, let’s talk about barbecue and screwing up.
Mistakes and Tips for Better Barbecue
While talking to Tuffy, we land on an important introductory topic – one that’s near and dear to anyone who just bought a shiny new pellet cooker or charcoal smoker:
We all make them. It’s just when you make a mistake cooking barbecue in the backyard, you usually waste precious hours of prep time and have to order a pizza for dinner while a burnt hunk of meat cools in trash.
Tuffy Stone, in his own words of pitmaster wisdom, explains that he aims to simplify things by using easy-to-understand language.
According to Tuffy Stone, the number one mistake beginners make is over-smoking. He emphasizes the importance of treating smoke like salt and pepper and allowing the meat to be the star of the dish.
“I think most of us myself included when we first make barbecue for the first time when we get that smoker, you know, and we set it up that smokes coming out of the stack and you’re like yeah, I’m smoking,” says Tuffy.
“So I think one of the first mistakes that we all make when we’re learning how to make barbecue is we over-smoke stuff. I’ve been doing this for a long time now. I like to treat smoke like salt and pepper. So whether it’s ribs or fish or chicken or brisket or whatever it is, I want you to taste that meat first. And then I want the smoke to be a complimentary backdrop flavor to whatever it is that we’re the whatever it is that we’re making,” Tuffy adds.
“And so the bigger the cut of meat, the more smoke I put on there. The lighter or the thinner the cut of meat and less smoke. So you know, so over smoking is probably one of the big mistakes we made,” says Tuffy.
“But smoke is a good flavor used in the right way,” Tuffy emphasizes.
“I coined the phrase ‘stereotypical expected flavors of barbecue’. And so what is that? Well, smoke is one of those flavors, man.”
The second major mistake, according to Tuffy, is not considering tenderness and mouthfeel.
“The other guiding light for me is tenderness,” Tuffy continues. “The best foods in the world are going to have the best mouthfeel, and I don’t care if it’s Caesar salad, ice cream or barbecue.”
Tuffy says beginners should think about how ice cream and Caesar salad tastes to try to emulate the same culinary experience with their smoked meats.
“So how does Caesar salad get into this conversation? The best Caesar salad in my opinion is the one that’s got crisp romaine, the right amount of dressing not too much, not too little. The croutons are fresh and crispy and crunchy. That cheese is graded just right. Ice cream, the smoothest silkiest mouthfeel,” says Tuffy.
“Barbecue is the same way. Everybody likes a rib that’s fallen off the bone. Well, the reason we say that is no one likes tough barbecue. No one wants undercooked barbecue. Most barbecue is historically these tougher cuts of meat. People think they’re lesser cuts of meat. I’m trying to cook something great out of them. We don’t like a chewy rib. But when you get good at making a good rib, you get this sweet spot where, where it’s a nice gentle chew, the meat comes cleanly from the bone where you bite it, but the rest stays on there,” Tuffy concludes.
“So I think texture and the right amount of smoke are the biggest mistakes people make when first starting out.”