What Are Burnt Ends? And 11 Other Key Terms You Should Know
You can walk the walk, but can you talk the talk? Here is a mini-glossary of terms every self-respecting griller and pit master should know.
12 Key BBQ Terms You Should Know
The dark, flavorful crust that forms on the exterior of meat such as brisket, ribs, or pork shoulder that is comprised of seasonings (salt and other spices and/or herbs), smoke particulates, and the caramelization of the meat’s natural sugars. Wrapping in foil or butcher paper will soften the bark.
This term traditionally refers to the well-done, tougher, fattier, and/or oddly shaped bits of beef that were carved off for aesthetic reasons when brisket was sliced for service at Kansas City barbecue joints like Arthur Bryant’s. Once given to patient customers for free, burnt ends are now created on purpose. But they are no longer limited to beef brisket: we have seen recipes for pork butt, pork belly, and even hot dog burnt ends.
Brisket, the deep pectoral muscle of a steer (there are two per animal), can be divided into two discrete sections: the top one is the deckle—also called the point—which attaches the muscle to the rib cage. It is both fattier and tougher than the flat (see below).
Many supermarkets remove the leaner, flatter cut of a steer’s pectoral muscle from the deckle (see above). It resembles a thick flank steak and has a pronounced grain. When sold together, the deckle and the flat comprise a whole brisket, often called a packer brisket.
Well known to competition barbecuers, the so-called “money muscle” is a discrete cylindrical muscle that is part of a butchered pork shoulder. Located opposite the bone, it resembles a pork loin and is leaner than the rest of the shoulder. Because it cooks faster, this desirable cut is often removed from the shoulder (which is returned to the smoker) and sliced separately for the turn-in box.
Pink Curing Salt
Not to be confused with mined Himalayan salt (halite), which ranges in color from pink to apricot, pink curing salt has long been used as a preservative. Known by several names—Prague powder is one of them—pink curing salt is comprised of table salt and sodium nitrite (for relatively short curing times) or sodium nitrate (for hams and other meats that require long curing times). Both forms also contain a small amount of food dye to tint them cotton candy-pink and distinguish them from other salts in your kitchen. (For information on how to use them, click here.)
Most of us were taught that the best way to cook thicker cuts of meat (over 1 inch) was to sear them over direct heat and then finish them slowly using indirect heat. The result was meat that exhibited concentric circles of doneness from the outside in. Reverse-searing calls for heating the meat slowly using indirect heat to a temperature 10 to 15 degrees below your goal temperature, then searing it over high heat to brown and caramelize the outside. (For more information, click here.) We recommend it for thick steaks, chops, and prime rib.
Smoked meat (brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, chicken, etc.) often exhibits a pinkish-red ring just below the exterior surface. This is called a smoke ring, and is a desirable result of the meat’s natural myoglobin reacting with the compounds in smoke. Because smoke rings can be produced with curing salt (see pink curing salt above), they are no longer used to judge meat in barbecue competitions.
This is a derogatory term used to describe ribs that have been inexpertly butchered, meaning the meat has been trimmed so close that the underlying bone is visible. It happens often with beef ribs that have been separated from the rib roast as it’s in the butcher’s financial interest to carve as much higher-priced meat off the bones. For beef ribs worth eating, buy a prime rib roast and remove the bones yourself.
Spatchcocking is a technique that can be used on poultry (chickens, turkey, game hens, etc.) to maximize the surface area exposed to heat from the grill and to shorten cooking times. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, remove the backbone from the bird. Discard, or save to make stock. If desired, remove the breast cartilage.Turn the bird over and gently flatten with the palm of your hand.
The “stall” has panicked many barbecuers smoking their first briskets or pork shoulders. It refers to a temperature plateau that usually occurs when the meat reaches an internal temperature of 150 to 165 degrees, and can last for an interminably long time. Hours. Novices—maybe expecting the in-laws for dinner at a pre-ordained time—often make the mistake of increasing the heat, a maneuver that can toughen the meat (especially brisket). For some, the stall signals the moment when the meat should be wrapped in foil or butcher paper. See the Texas crutch below.
Sometimes used derisively, this term refers to wrapping slow-cooked meats in foil or butcher paper once they hit the “stall,” locking in moisture and effectively steaming the meat until it reaches the desired temperature, usually 203 degrees. Barbecue greats like Austin’s Aaron Franklin have given the method respectability. (Read about Aaron in Steven’s book, The Brisket Chronicles.) Sometimes, the meat is unwrapped and finished “naked” to restore the bark, which softens in the moist environment.