What you need
A charcoal kettle or gas grill can be easily adapted for indirect cooking. But if you want to get serious, we’ve got some alternatives.
The Big Green Egg With an 18 1/4-inch grill, it’s one of the doc’s favorites. It grills, too —even pizza, with the ceramic deflector. It’s got the three things Doc says you need in a cooker: good insulation, good air circulation, and good fuel (it uses charcoal, not gas). ($869)
The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
Looks like an elongated version of the company’s traditional kettle. The extra vertical space keeps the food away from the fire, allowing it to be cooked by ambient, not direct, heat. ($249)
Maintains a set temperature by automatically feeding wood-pellet fuel into its fire. Ideal for the lazy backyard barbecuer. ($2,895)
A few accessories make it easier to do the work.
Aluminum foil works just fine for holding the smoking wood, or you can invest a little money in a cast-iron smoke box. ($10)
For the best results, take the temperature of both the grill and the food. Ray uses a grill thermometer with a long lead wire for a constant readout without having to open the cooker. His food thermometer is the instant-read Thermapen from Thermoworks. “You can stab the thing in five places in 10 seconds,” he says. ($84.95)
Ray uses big, thick silicone mitts. “You could probably stir the coals with these things. They’re just indestructible.” ($29.95)
Use natural lump charcoal if you can find it. Charcoal briquettes are OK, but nothing self-lighting. And no lighter fluid!
Smoldering bits of wood give barbecue its flavor and color, but more is not necessarily better. “People think they’ve made a great accomplishment with food that tastes like a log, but nobody wants to eat it,” says the doc. Use chips or pellets; start with milder woods like apple, cherry, or pecan. Ray favors two parts cherry to one part hickory, but hickory (and oak and mesquite) can easily cause oversmoking. As a general rule, add wood during the first half of the cooking time.
Use tougher, cheaper cuts that benefit from long, slow cooking, like ribs (spare, baby back, and St. Louis style), pork shoulder, pork butt, and beef brisket.