Its actually quite easy. First of all start out with quality meat. Around here we have Publix, Kroger and Winn Dixie and never have gone wrong with their cryo-wrapped butts and briskets. Secondly you need a good smoker where you can control your cooking temperature. It is an absolute must, that you can maintain a 220-250 degree temperature for at least 14 hours. This is where most folks at home have trouble. Most folks at home don't have the quality of smoker needed nor the time needed for the cook. If you have the money, we recommend a local company for your smoker. We are quite pleased with the smoker, a 10X30 with Grittle Option, one of the HawgFathers up north, purchased from www.cookersandgrills.com in Georgia, however be prepared to drop some cash. A quality smoker thats able to maintain a consistant temperature and cook a large quantity is not going to be cheap. If however money is an issue, there is still another option. Its called a UDS and if you build it right, it will maintain a consistent cook temperature for up to 16 hours, doesn't cost that much and can cook up to 40 pounds at time, enough to feed about 60 people around here.
The UDS is tried and true method for smoking at home and is nothing new. Thier popularity started growing after WWII and today there are some folks who drag these smokers to sanctioned BBQ competions. There are many variations of the UDS and are easily customized to individual needs and tastes. If you read up of the forums out there where folks are making thier own, it would take you a couple of days to read the entire thread (which I enjoyed), and then another few weeks to decide on your final plans. Here is the mother of all UDS threads hosted at The BBQ Brethens website.
Below is our take on the UDS and how to build it, so that you have a constant temperature for duration of the cook on a single load of wood. When you fire this baby up, we recommend that you baby sit it for about two hours (to learn how to control it) and then just forget about it until you are half way thru the cook where you will flip your meat once. With a little time and effort you too can serve competion quality BBQ at home, with minimal effort.
55 Gallon Drum, New is better and more costly, however used, thuroghly cleaned is OK. Most tight head drums come in a standard size, how ever you should always verify the the measurements. A tight seal using the Kingsford Lid is a must. Kingsford lids will fit perfectly, however most others including Weber will require slight modification.
Kingsford 22.5 Grill. Again new is better, however an old donor will work perfectly. The Kingsford Lid will fit perfectly on a tight head drum and the cooking grate will fit perfectly inside the smoker with minimal play.
Thermometer. Don't skimp here, spend a little extra and get a good one. If you buy a cheap replacement from Walmart or Home Depot, you will end up buying another one anyhow. Again get a good one. We like Tel-Tru and have had good luck with them
Draft Door. Buy one from a Green Egg Dealer or Make your own. These look nice, are easily adjustable and make controlling your cook temp a cake walk. Both the Large and Extra Large versions will work.
HawgFathers R&D Firepan for holding your wood. Get one within an inch of the measurements noted below. This will facilitate easy loading and cleanup when done smoking. Dont't worry about galvanized.
Fire Basket. Cut enough to make a tube 15 inches in diameter (Fire Pan) and 12 inches tall. This will be big enough to hold 8-10 pounds (1 bag) of lump charchoal when fit inside of the fire pan. This will provide enough fuel for the entire smoke.
Miscellaneous...The main item here is 10 Nuts, Bolts, Washers and Lock Washers. Size 1/4 x 1". Six (6) of these will support the cooking grate and four (4) will fasten the draft door.
Engine Enamel High Heat Paint
White, Grey and Black
Advanced Autoparts, Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart
Drum Deheader, Sawsall, Drill Bits, Misc Nuts, Bolts and Lock Washers
Home Depot, Lowes, Northern Tools, Harbour Frieght
Drill 6 equally spaced 1/4' holes around the barrel 9' down from the top. Install Bolt, washer, lock washer and nut in each hole. Insert grate and check for proper support and fit.
Find the front of the barrel (nicest side) and install thermometer between two of the bolts just installed, at 1/4" below the grill plate.
Using sawsall or equivalent, cut out a 2' x 3.5' rectangle as above directly below the thermometer and 2" above the bottom rim. Install sliding draft door over this hole. Make sure draft door conforms to barrel shape, you may need to use felt gasket material for a good seal which is very important to properly regulate temperature.
Leave it as is or decorate with your logo or favorite theme.
Place your fire basket inside of the fire pan and fill it with 8-10 pounds of real hardwood lump charcoal. Around here we use Green Egg, Cowboy, Western and Royal Oak. All will produce a nice fire if dry. On top of the charcoal, place about 4-5 nice chunks (about the size of your fist) of seasoned hickory. You can soak them if you wish. Place the assembled pan, basket and wood in the bottom of the barrel. Using a separate grill or propane torch, ignite 6-8 pieces of the lump charcoal. Once they are glowing red, transfer them to smoker, placing them right on top of the wood in the fire basket. Place the cooking grate in the smoker and relace the lid. Open the bottom draft door all the open along with vent in the top all of the way open. After about 20-30 minutes start adjusting the bottom vent (close gap) to bring the temperature down around 250 degrees. Now take your favorite butt rub and season up three or four 8-10lb pork butts.
Load up the cooking grate with the butts. Now comes the most difficult part of this smoke. Grab a beer and make minute adjustments to your bottom and top vents until your temp gauge settles around 220 degrees. Plus or minus 20 degrees will not be detrimental, and depending on several conditions this make take about 45 minutes to an hour to find your vents sweet spot, so grab a couple more beers. Once everything is running correctly, do not open your lid to take a peek anymore. The smoke coming out should be a pale blue whisp, no frieght trains here!. Your temp gauge would ideally be at 220 degrees. The next time you open the smoker will be 6 hours from the time you placed your butts on. When you do flip them, be cautious! Close the bottom vent first and do the next step quickly to prevent flare ups. Remove the lid, flip the butts using gloves or clean bbq towels. Quickly replace the lid. The reason for being expedient here is minimize oxygen to our coals, which will cause a steep increase in temp and possible flames due to drippings. Be careful!. Now you need to verify that your smoker again stablizes around 220. Now wait another six hours. How do you know when they are done? Easy, your first check is going to be around 12 hours from the begining, or six hours after you flipped them. insert a meat thermometer into the center of the butts. The temp should be 185-190 degrees and the blade bone should pull free and clean with a little twisting (Dont pull it out). Depending on your specific conditions, this should happen sometime between 12 and 14 hours. If you checked at 12 hours and the meat temperature was 175, you have about one more hour. When the temp is correct and the blade bone wiggles free, remove the butts using gloves or bbq towels. After they are removed, open all vents and let your fire catch up and burn off drippings.
After you have removed them, let them rest for about 20 to 30 minutes where you can handle them. Pull them apart with two forks. If you can handle them without getting burned, go ahead and pull them by hand. We separate big pieces of fat, bone and any cartilage for the hound dog. Make sure to keep those crunchy pieces of bark. Once all is pulled, we sprinkle with about a 1/8 cup of white distilled vinegar per 10lb butt.
Serve with your favorite BBQ sauce on the side