If you want to learn how to barbecue like a world champion pitmaster, give Andy Husbands a call. As the decorated chef and owner behind the popular Cambridge BBQ spot The Smoke Shop, Husbands has spent years honing his craft with a smoker, and it shows with his fall-off-the-bone ribs and other mouthwatering meals.
“Barbecue is a passion. Even on a bad day, it’s still real good,” says Husbands, who recently released his new cookbook, “Pitmaster: Recipes, Techniques, and Barbecue Wisdom.”
Since the summer weather has finally arrived, we hit up the 48-year-old BBQ king for a few tips and tricks on how to up your grill game.
Get the right equipment
While you don’t need to break the bank, having the right equipment is integral to a great BBQ experience. The Smoke Shop chef says that standard charcoal Weber grills are perfectly fine, but avoid smokeless setups. “I’m sorry, but electric and gas aren’t really going to work for me,” Husbands says. He recommends the Weber Smokey Mountain as an affordable smoker to pick up. Other useful items include Thermapens and Polder Remote Thermometer, which offer quick and accurate temperature reads without compromising the grill’s heat.
Smoke and fire
According to Husbands, the key to amazing barbecue is knowing how to manage a fire. “We don’t care about your sauces and we don’t care about your marinades and we don’t care about your rubs,” he says. “Can you hold a fire, a consistent fire for the amount of time? Brisket is 12-14 hours. That’s your biggest challenge.” Consistent heat is key as spikes in temperatures can cause bitter flavors and aromas. Husbands says that novices tend to set their temperatures to 180 degrees, which is way too low and makes grilling take forever. Instead, he prefers 250-275 degrees.
Since the Bay State chef puts an emphasis on smoke, wood plays an integral role in the barbecue process as well. While he’s fine with people splurging on Texas mesquite wood, Husbands likes to use local hardwoods such as cherry or oak, as well as hardwood charcoal. However, the key is to use chunks of wood instead of chips, as the later burns too fast. Husbands claims that the smoking process only has an impact for the first few hours. “It creates this wonderful, wonderful flavor for the first three to four hours,” he says. “After that it doesn’t matter because the bark is formed, and you’re not going to get a lot of smoke penetration.”
Don’t commit this BBQ sin
The biggest barbecue no-no, in Husbands mind, is constantly peeking at the food to see if it’s done. “The one we like to say is if you’re looking, you ain’t cooking,” he says. “Every time you open up that door, it really lets out the heat.” Lifting up the top of the grill creates a vacuum of air, causing uneven temperature spikes, which is why he recommends getting quick read thermometers.
Take it to the next level
If you really want to become a pitmaster, the only way to achieve that goal is through great ingredients and a lot of practice. Husbands suggests starting out with meats that are easier to handle than 18-pound briskets, such as chicken, pork shoulders and even ribs. “There’s great and then there’s awesome,” he says. “It’s practice. But it’s fun practice.” As far as seasoning goes, Husbands likes Blues Hog dry rub, a common ingredient among BBQ competitors.
Don’t forget the sides
Meat isn't the only thing on the menu. When it comes to sides, Husbands says pit beans with BBQ sauce is a classic and can easily be cooked inside a smoker. The decorated chef also suggests adding in a few greens. “What’s coming up right now is asparagus locally,” Husbands says “I’m a big fan of asparagus. I don’t even blanche it. I just cut off the ends, a little bit of olive oil, a little bit of salt and pepper, grill it, throw some lemon juice on it. To me, that’s pretty cool.” He’s also been fooling around with grilling lettuce. Husbands likes to quickly “kiss them on the grill” to avoid wilting and adds a dash of vinaigrette.