Tools You Can’t Live Without? Take Your ‘Que from Top Pitmasters
The tools of the barbecue trade have remained virtually the same for decades and therein lies the charm of this well-seasoned art. We checked in with two veterans of the Chicago area’s famed barbecue scene to smoke out pitmasters’ essentials. Whether you’re all barbecue, all the time, or just feature the occasional pulled pork sandwich, consider these primarily low-tech, yet highly reliable accessories.
First on the list is an instant-read meat thermometer. These run the gamut from highly sophisticated Wi-Fi enabled to extremely basic, so scope out the one to fit your needs and budget.
“A good, accurate thermometer is indispensable,” asserts Barry Sorkin, owner of Smoque restaurant, which has carved out a stellar reputation in its 12-year history. A purist at heart, Sorkin believes great barbecue is all about the quality of the meat and the smoke, placing the thermometer squarely at the heart of the action.
“When we’re doing low and slow, managing time and temperature is the most important thing. I put meat thermometers throughout the grill. And, if you’re just starting to barbecue, that thermometer is the best way to learn what a brisket looks like when ready,” he says.
“It’s the best investment you can make,” says Jeff Shapiro, who spent years on the competitive barbecue circuit before launching his award-winning Real Urban Barbecue restaurants in Chicago’s suburbs.
“Pitmasters can judge readiness by touch and feel, but even the most experienced uses a meat thermometer.” He includes himself in that group, remembering when he first opened Real Urban and dropped his prized Thermapen. “I said ‘no one’s going home until I find it’ and I was only half kidding!”
Second is a great knife. “You need something you can depend on to do everything from breaking down chickens to slicing meat,” says Shapiro. Sorkin’s top choice is a serrated 12-inch to 14-inch knife to cut through pork bark without shredding the meat inside.
He also uses a spray bottle to spritz the meat throughout cooking and prevent it from drying out.
Gloves, not tongs, are vital. Sorkin’s dual-glove technique consists of a heat-resistant Kevlar glove to protect against burning embers, with a latex glove on top when handling meat. Shapiro uses silicone-based, non-slip gloves.
The one major piece of equipment valued by Shapiro is his CVap (controlled vapor technology) holding cabinet. “I started using this 10 years ago, and it’s phenomenal for maintaining the integrity of the meat throughout the day.”
Finally, invest in great aprons and non-slip shoes.
“It’s a messy business!” laughs Shapiro.