Barbecue on a budget

Nate Voge, Features Editor

Authentic barbecue is hard to find. Doing it yourself is surprisingly easy and cheap.

Juicy, smoky barbecued meat requires time, not money.

The key to barbecue is keeping the temperature low, opposed to grilling where the meat is charred and cooked quickly over high heat.

When people say the term “BBQ,” they often mean “grill.” The two methods are confused because both use hardwood or charcoal as a heat source. Propane grills and smokers with electric components to smolder wood chips are more expensive, less authentic options.

Barbecue — wood smoke, low-heat cooking — is an American tradition. Christopher Columbus learned the technique from the first indigenous tribes he encountered, terming the cooking method “barbacoa” in Spanish. In addition to the native technique, Europeans brought pigs for meat and African slaves brought the tradition of seasoning meat with peppers. These three contributions are what make authentic American barbecue.

Regions throughout the U.S. developed their own styles of barbecue and differ in the type of wood, sauce and cut of meat.

In the Carolinas and Virginia, pork is the only meat qualified to become barbecue, and traditionally, only whole-hog. The meat is served with a variety of sauces from mustard-based to pepper and vinegar.

Kansas City-style barbecue is famous for hickory-smoked pork ribs and cuts of pork, beef and poultry smothered in a sweet and spicy tomato-based sauce.

Texas is the farthest west traditional regional barbecue extends. German immigrants first brought cattle ranching to Texas, and bovine barbecue with simple seasonings has been the Texas way ever since.

Traditional styles provide a framework, but a homemade smoker allows for complete creative control.

There are many different DIY smokers on the Internet. After testing celebrity chef Alton Brown’s electric smoker, coals proved the better option. Brown’s design includes an electric hotplate, which is placed inside a large terra cotta pot with another pot as the lid. Wood chips are placed in a frying pan on the hotplate, and in theory, the hotplate will provide enough heat to smolder the chips.

It did not work.

Instead, use all the same materials in Brown’s model and replace the hotplate with hot coals. Place the hot coals on top of dead coals, with wood chips directly on the coals to create smoke.

For a more detailed description of the DIY smoker and a step-by-step smoked pork tenderloin recipe, check out the video on