Start with a Weber — or that old wreck of an enclosed barbecue in the background will do just fine, too.
1. Use a Weber, or some other enclosed barbecue with a removable lid. This will allow you to both grill and smoke.
2. Be kind to the earth — use lump charcoal (or briquettes) with no “self-lighting” solvents. These are easy to light in one of those chimney contraptions, available at any hardware store. It’s a great investment, and you need only a single sheet of newspaper to get the fire started. And the solvent won’t stink up your meat, and give your dog cancer.
3. Know your barbecue guests. If they crave burgers and hot dogs, rather than exotic and expensive cuts of meat, that’s what you should make for them.
4. On the other hand, slow-smoking over a cool fire, rather than just grilling, produces meat of unspeakable savor and succulence. A rack of fatty pork ribs purchased from Western Beef, coated with freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, and paprika, and smoked over a slow fire for four hours, will drive foodies crazy. You must, however, watch them (the ribs, not the foodies) during the entire four hours, turning and repositioning them constantly. If this sounds like too much work, skip it. (For the real barbecue masochist, a whole brisket will take eight hours.)
5. If you want your Weber to multitask, bank up the fire on one side and leave the other half of the grill charcoal-free. Regulate the temperature of the interior by opening and closing the flue on the top. Closing completely will result in a slow-burning fire and a low temperature — perfect for smoking.
Make your burgers thick, so they don’t break up and slide down between the tines of the grill. Prongs? Wires? What are those parallel pieces of metal that make up the grill called, anyway?
6. With your fire banked on one side, you can open the Weber and grill hot dogs directly on it, while the smokable meats rest on the top shelf or to the side. If the fire is low enough, the hot dogs turn out nicely if you slow-smoke them, too. They’ll be ready in 20 minutes or so.
7. Don’t make hamburgers from lean meat, but make them from meat you’re sure about (bought from an actual butcher) so you can leave them red in the middle if you choose. Handle the ground beef as little as possible, and leave the patty thick. Use a spatula to tease the patty up for turning.
8. Try making lamb burgers for a nice change and a more flavorful burger. Or try a 50-50 beef-lamb mixture.
9. Don’t neglect the sides. A mayo potato salad, tabouleh, sweet onion-cucumber salad, or a couscous salad made the day before and refrigerated provides a welcome foil for the barbecued meat and actually makes it taste better. Don’t just open a giant bag of onion and sour cream potato chips and expect that to satisfy anyone.
10. Consider doing vegetables on the top of the grill, too. Or even doing an all-vegetarian barbecue. You can do lots to make the vegetables interesting to carnivores. Leave corn on the cob in its husk and immerse the corn in water before putting it on the grill with the lid on. Slice zucchinis lengthwise and dip them in a mixture of yogurt and tandoori paste. Smoke beets whole and let them cool down before peeling and slicing. Rub slices of potato with the salt, pepper, and paprika rub mentioned above, or simply coat them with olive oil. Drench other vegetables in olive oil before putting them on the grill — the dripping oil will produce flare-ups with plenty of flavorful smoke.
Next: Bonus tip …
Bonus tip: Chicken is the hardest of all meats to grill. If you simply grill it, it takes forever and the skin chars before the inside is done. If you parboil it first — this is a common barbecuing tip — it leeches all the flavor and fat out before the bird even hits the grill. Here’s my trick: Do chicken wings, removing the tip third first, salting and peppering the skin, and then grilling the two-part remainder. Use a combination of smoke and direct heat. The wings will drive your guests crazy they’re so good.