Important Info - How weather affects BBQ...

Dear BBQ Friend:

I finished about in the middle of the pack at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas. Overall, things went great, but when it came time to slice and dice, the meat was a little dry and overcooked. That's whatworld food championships I want to discuss in today's newsletter about how weather affects bbq. My first question is...

How do you make ice cream?

I know most of you are asking... what the heck does ice cream have to do with BBQ? A lot actually. Just hang with me for a minute – you see, making ice cream is all about heat transfer and how the phase changes of water need lots of heat.

Most people think that the ice you place around the cream in an ice cream churn transfers coldness from the ice to the cream and makes the ice cream. In reality, it's just the opposite – the ice is supposed to melt. That's why you pour rock salt on it. The phase change from a water solid to a liquid requires heat. Where does the process get it's heat? From the cream container! And like magic, the cream freezes. Basically, the heat is being transferred from the cream to the melting ice. If the ice did not melt, there would be NO heat transfer and the cream would NOT freeze. There's no such thing as cold – just lack of heat.

Now back to our BBQ...

A similar phase change and heat transfer process happens when we BBQ. But the phase change is from a liquid to a gas and the heat moves with the water vapor. At the World Food Championships in Las Vegas this past weekend, something weird happened. My butts and brisket didn't seem to get up to the proper temperature but when I got around to pulling and slicing, they seemed overdone.

  • My brisket was on the dry side with a flaky bark
  • My butts had a dark bark and the meat was mushy
  • My ribs were falling off the bone too much with just a little more bark than usual
  • Remember... I cooked these to my regular internal meat temp or LOWER

Why did this happen?

I think it was a combination of three things... extremely low or no humidity. Everybody was running around like crazy zombies looking for their chapstick it was so dry. Second, there is a bit of elevation in Las Vegas even though it's out in the desert. At 2000 ft your liquids are going to evaporate just a little quicker at a lower temperature. And third, I was using a Southern Pride 1000 smoker with a convection fan in it. A convection system in any oven or smoker will exaggerate the first two effects.

Don't get me wrong - Southern Prides are very nice smokers, but that was the first time I had ever used one. If we learn by our mistakes, I should be a genius by now! Low and slow is the way to go with a Southern Pride. The convection system will put the heat to the outside of your meat very quickly if you cook hot & fast. The meat needs time to absorb the heat deep down and cook uniformly throughout while working it's magic tenderizing the meat evenly.

I was sticking my temperature probe deep in the center of the meat as usual. All the while the outside of the meat was barking up more than usual. This was the first thing that surprised me. The meat seemed to not be done yet -- even though it was getting very dark on the outside.

What was going on?

Well... it took me a couple days of thinking, but I figured it was an exaggerated evaporation effect caused by low humidity, the convection fan, and higher elevation. The outer parts of my meats were getting done much more quickly than the inner parts where I was measuring the doneness.

There could have been an evaporation effect going on – think of the inside of the meat as the ice cream and the evaporation from water to vapor as the ice or phase change that needs heat.

The convection system forces more heat to the surface of your meat thus drying it out, creating more bark, and basically overcooking the outer two to three inches.

Then you add in the low humidity and higher elevation and you have a much, much different cooking environment than we have in our 100% humidity sea level environment in Savannah. world food championships las vegas

If I were a BBQ genius, I would have cooked lower and slower and introduced some more humidity to the cooking chamber. I did place a full size foil pan on a rack in the smoker with an inch of water in it early on when I noticed the darker bark developing. I also noticed that Southern Pride has a water tank and automatic drip system on their new smaller competition cooker that drips water directly into the firebox to add humidity. That's a nice feature!

I don't think I'll ever cook in the that area of the Country again, but if I do, I'll bring more water and chapstick!

A big thanks to member Jim Doyle and his son Mike. They were a tremendous help in organizing this cook and loaning me his beautiful Southern Pride smoker. Not to mention a lot of hard work. Thanks Jim & Mike!

Here's a video of the World Food Championships. If you are ever in Vegas, be sure to stop by the Fremont Street Experience and check out the World's largest video screen...


Bill Anderson