Indoor Barbeque:
The Ultimate Culinary Frontier

If any culinary subject is more controversial than chili making, its barbeque. East and West of the Mississippi River we can't even agree on the animal to be barbequed, let alone the means. In Texas barbeque is beef, or possibly sausage (of all things). In the Deep South, where true barbeque resides (naturally), it is pork and generally pulled shoulder or butt meat rather than ribs. On the Atlantic coast, often as not its chicken that gets the nod and while we cook chicken down south, its "barbeque", not barbeque, if you see what I mean.

The true form of barbeque is meat slow cooked in a sand pit over buried coals. It was a cooking style picked up by Caribbean buccaneers from aboriginal Americans and was a handy way to prepare meat if you spent a lot of time on the beach, ready to hasten to the ship at a moment's notice. Done properly, the meat is cooked at much less than boiling temperature, between 160 and 180 Fahrenheit, and should emerge still pink inside when done, but fall off the bones. Whole pigs were traditionally cooked in this way, by first building a fire in a pit and then burying the coals with sand when it had cooked down a bit, putting the pig on top of sweet fronds and burying the whole under more sand. Go away, come back in 6 to 12 hours and unearth.

Obviously, this procedure was not conducive to commerical food preparation and so alternative means have been developed to arrive at the same result. The key is slow cooking, by indirect heat. The rest is just personal preference.


  • Pork Roast or Shoulder
  • Liquid Hickory Smoke Flavor
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Brown sugar
  • Red Pepper
  • The Method:

    The entire trick to barbeque is controlling the temperature. In point of fact, it is far easier to make excellent barbeque in an oven than on a grill, for precisely this reason. Ovens have temperature controls (mine has digital control!). Grills do not and they produce localized hot spots that can greatly exceed the mean temperature in the grill. What grills do provide is that wonderful crisp and lightly charred exterior and a smoky flavor that can only be approximated by indoor means.

    So, there are two ways to make this work. The first way is to do the whole thing in the oven. The second approach is to use both an oven and a grill, reserving the time on the latter only to that sufficient to produce the desired degree of crispiness and/or glaze, if you get into that sort of thing.

    Use a good pork butt roast or shoulder for best results. Ribs are a favorite, but are not very good cuts of meat. Sad to say, but only beef ribs amount to much. Still, true barbeque can make decent eating out of almost any cut.

    Apply a rub or glaze if you like that outside meat condition. There are a million variations on those themes and I won't venture to suggest what is best, other than to say that first coating the meat in olive oil and then applying a liberal amount of cracked black pepper and brown sugar, with coarse sea salt and a little red pepper will do wonders.

    Set the oven on 180 F (around 85 C). It needs to be more than 160 F for proper cooking and 180 gives a good margin of safety away from boiling.

    You will lose moisture even though the meat does not boil, but there is a trick to manage this. Tightly wrap the entire piece of meat in heavy gauge aluminum foil. The foil retains the water vapor and by keeping it inside the partial pressure of water vapor rises, effectively resisting the tendency toward evaporation that would otherwise dry out the meat. A few squirts of liquid hickory smoke flavor on the meat before wrapping will help to infuse a smoky flavor.

    The downside of the above approach is that it wil result in a pulled pork kind of condition, tender but not browned outside. So, alternatively, you can leave the meat fully uncovered for the entire cooking time and it will, sure enough, achieve that slow cooked pit barbeque exterior that hard core barbeque afficianadoes crave. I prefer this approach. If the meat is well oiled to begin with, moisture loss will be minimal.

    Cooking time varies by oven and temperature and the thickness of the cut, but 4 to 6 hours is a typical figure and longer may be required. Overnight is often too long. You can overcook this way. If you are uncertain, open it up and have look. If the meat is not loose on the bone or the fibers do not readily part from one another, then its not done. NOTE: if the meat is cooked uncovered it will not be loose because the browning of the outside will bind the meat together. It must be judged by a meat thermometer or by cutting into the meat.

    When it is done or almost done, remove the foil wrap and set the oven on high broil. Keep a close watch at this point, because all your hard work can be for naught in no time with the exposure to such high heat. The idea is just to make the outside brown and crispy. I don't like this approach any more than I like browning rolls on 500, but its an approach used by professional barbeque cooks.

    If you are a die hard purist or simply too ashamed to admit to any of your friends that you cooked barbeque indoors with an oven, then by all means fire up the grill and break out those hickory chips for some real smoke. This way, you can take confidence in knowing that you won't overcook the meat. Just make sure to make the grill very hot, so you get a browned exterior long before the inside is cooked further.

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