Ranking the best barbecue joints in the South could very well earn us an inbox full of hate mail because barbecue is something the South feels very strongly about. Instead, we asked chef Jonathan Fox—of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in Atlanta, one of the most highly rated barbecue joints in the South—to share a few tips about making truly amazing barbecue in your own backyard.
- Don’t be afraid. At the end of the day it’s just cooking, so have fun with it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—we’re all human. I screwed up plenty early on, but I stayed with it, and now look at me!
- Know your meats. Small cuts versus large cuts, lean cuts versus fatty cuts, slow cooks versus fast cooks, etc. Do research on slow cooks. The internet is full of lots of useful tips these days (where were all these tips when I started?!), so if you’re going to cook a brisket, commit the time to do so. Learn as much as possible going in so you’re prepared when it’s time to cook.
- Clean smoke is the best smoke. I know it sounds enticing to want all your neighbors to know you’re smoking by filling the neighborhood with tons of white smoke. But in the barbecue world this is a really bad thing. Thick white smoke tends to leave a very heavy bitter and smoky taste, as well as a black color to your meat. We call this “bad smoke.” You want the smoke to be clean, almost clear. This will leave a very clean, flavorful taste on the meat. Fire control does this, and allowing your fire to breathe and burn and not smolder. Your neighbors will still know what you’re up to by the heavenly smell of smoking meat!
Common mistakes when cooking barbecue
Northerners have a common misconception about what barbecue is—it’s a noun, not a verb! People will say grilling hamburgers and hot dogs is barbecue, but slow-smoked items like chickens, turkeys, briskets, and pork all actually fall under barbecue.
When most people want barbecue, they seem to crave heavy, sweet flavors. I try to stay away from this and offer well-rounded flavors of sweet and heat instead. When I make dry rubs, I create a base rub that does not contain sugar. I want that rub to be a practical base for wide use. The rub will have heat; if I want to tone down the heat on a cut of meat I am applying the rub to, I will add sugar at that time. For ribs, I apply the rub, then go back and apply some brown sugar. I don’t like applying sugar to long-cook items like pork and brisket because it will tend to burn or leave a hard bark on the meat.
Lastly, when applying your favorite barbecue sauce, say like Fox Bros. sauce, you want to apply it at the end of your cook. Apply your preferred amount, and then leave it on the cooker for five to 10 more minutes. This will allow the sauce to set and become more of a tasty glaze. If you add the sauce way too early, the sauce, which is likely full of sugars, will burn. Sauces are for finishing, not flavoring at the beginning of the cook.
Need a few more tips?
Tuffy Stone, owner of restaurant chain Q Barbeque, judge of the show BBQ Pitmasters, and three-time winner of the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue, offers a couple more tips.
- Keep the meat moist. When cooking meats that take a long time—like pork ribs, pork shoulders, or briskets—spritz occasionally with something like apple juice to keep the meat moist during the cooking process. If your meat starts to get too dark or smoky but is still not tender, wrap the meat in aluminum foil then return it to the barbecue cooker and finish cooking until tender. This will help keep the meat from being over-smoked and dry.
- Cook your meat long enough. Most of these meats take hours to cook to a state of tender. Be patient, and cook the meat until a probe or skewer will slide into the meat easily with no resistance. No one likes tough barbecue.
To learn more about Tuffy Stone, visit coolsmokebarbeque.com.
Fox Bros. Smoked Wings
1 1/2 cup paprika
1 1/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup chili powder
1/2 cup granulated garlic powder
1/2 cup granulated onion powder
1/2 cup black pepper
Mix well. If you like it really spicy, add 3–4 tablespoons of cayenne pepper. This recipe will make a large enough amount for several barbecue sessions. Keep it covered and in a dark place for best results. After three months, make a new batch.
24 jumbo fresh wings, rinsed and cleaned
1 cup dry rub
1 1/2 cup of your favorite barbecue or wing sauce (Fox Bros. preferred!)
In a large bowl, add the wings and the dry rub. Make sure everything is evenly coated.
Have your smoker set and ready, running between 225–250 degrees. Place the wings on the smoker evenly, making sure they are not touching each other and that there is some space separating them. Smoke for two and a half to three hours, flipping the wings midway to give them an even smoke. Remove the wings from smoker.
If you like your wings dry, they are ready to eat. If you like them saucy, grab a medium-sized mixing bowl, your favorite barbecue sauce or Fox Bros. Wing Sauce. Add half of the sauce and then add half of the wings. Toss them around in the bowl to make sure everything is covered. Remove the wings to a serving plate and repeat. If you like the wings really wet, add more sauce to your liking.
Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q
1238 Dekalb Ave. NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30307
More places for BBQ:
Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours
1133 Huff Road
Atlanta, Georgia 30318
2249 Central Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38104
Like food tips? Here’s some tips on preparing oysters from the executive chef of Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle.