There probably wasn’t any barbecue sauce at little Delany Barlow’s baptism on Sunday, but afterward there was likely plenty.
Her father, barbecue enthusiast Chris Barlow, celebrated the event with his wife, Kate, family, friends, and 18 pounds of bone-in smoked Boston pork butt, his specialty.
“I’m a beginner really,” he said. “I’ve been trying different injections, and this rub and that rub. I haven’t really found a difference between the two yet, but it’s a highly debatable topic.”
Pork is good practice meat, Barlow said. He’s tried brisket and ribs, but found pork to be more forgiving.
Barlow prepped pork butts last week by coating them with Worcestershire sauce, adding a barbecue rub, then putting them in five-gallon trash bags to sit overnight.
On Thursday, they came out of the bags and went into his Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker, a vertical water charcoal smoker with compartments for charcoal and water.
Barlow used the minion method — a technique of setting up charcoal to burn longer, steadier, and more reliably.
“You light it in the middle,” he said. “The flame burns outwards.
Barlow added apple wood to the charcoal and adjusted smoker vents to reach and maintain target temperature.
“I’ve been rocking steady at 225 degrees,” Barlow said. “Smokers like these are made so you can just set it and forget it.”
However, Barlow periodically checked and sprayed the meat with apple juice.
“It keeps the meat moist,” he said. “Apple juice or orange juice, really any citrus, is supposed to work well with pork.”
If Barlow is a beginner, then Les Allison of Florence is a barbecue veteran.
“I’ve been barbecuing about 15 years, ever since I retired the first time,” Allison said. “When I retired I hooked up with Ron Goodwin; he makes competition barbecue grills down in Burns.”
Allison traded his labor for Goodwin’s “Goodone” — a smoker mounted on a trailer.
“It’s meant to be towed places like football games,” Allison said. “There’s a smoker on one side and a grill on the other. I’ve done a lot with it, but my son-in-law once smoked a whole hog on it.”
On the grill, Allison usually cooks fish or bacon-wrapped chicken. He’s also grilled pears, vegetables, and pizza.
“With pizza, your toppings need to be cooked a little before you put it on the grill,” he said. “You want to leave it on just long enough to bake the dough and melt the cheese.”
In the smoker, he burns charcoal with apple or cherry wood between 250 and 320 for most meats. He said brisket and baby back ribs are favorites of those who’ve eaten his barbecue.
“There’s nothing clean about barbecue,” he said. “You’ve got to love the process. You’re gonna get messy.”
Although he was reluctant to give up his secret recipes, Allison divulged some favorite ingredients. He said he uses a mixture of rubs and glazes, and often blends honey and brown sugar with vinegar apple juice.
“I cook it low and slow like a lot of guys do,” he said. “Slow cooking makes meat tender.”
As a certified barbecue judge with the Kansas City Barbecue Society for almost two years, Marion resident Gale Cooper could offer expert opinions about anyone’s barbecue.
He has barbecue for almost 10 years, and has run a barbecue restaurant in Marion for about eight years.
Judges tend to taste barbecue meats differently than people just sitting down to eat, he said.
“Everyone’s got their way, but when you’re a judge, you look at taste and tenderness,” Cooper said. “I ask myself, ‘Is this something I would take my family to eat?’”
He has opinions about the way specific meat should be prepared to reach a desired taste.
“Judges usually don’t use a lot of sauce,” Cooper said. “You want to taste the meat.”
Cooper said finding a good rub is what makes the meat in any situation.
“Pork, ribs, and chicken do better with a sweeter rub,” he said. “You don’t want to overpower it with hot spices, but it should have a little pop.”
He likes pulled pork when it has texture. When injecting, he said pork butts shouldn’t be mushy inside, and rub shouldn’t be over-spicy.
People usually like ribs when the meat falls off the bones, but Cooper said meat should only come off the bone where it is bitten.
With beef, the rub should have a salt and pepper foundation, he said.
“Brisket is the hardest to get right,” Cooper said. “There is a fine line between over and underdone. It should pull apart, but not fall apart.”
Though he wouldn’t give up all of his secrets, wrapping meat in foil is known to increase the quality of the meat, he said.
His smoker’s temperature hangs between 225 and 275 degrees. He avoids over-smoking meat by using a moderate amount of wood with charcoal. He also watches and rotates meats to prevent hot spots from over-cooking certain areas.
He smokes ribs about two to two-and-a-half hours, then wraps them in foil to keep them moist, and smokes them another two hours
“There is a lot of debate when it comes to taste,” he said. “I learned through trial and error.”