The Fire

Try to find the real wood charcoal called “lump briquet.” If you can’t, regular charcoal briquets will do. Avoid the self-lighting variety; they’re presoaked with lighter fluid and can impart a nasty flavor to your meat.

Don’t use lighter fluid. Spend $15 for a charcoal chimney, a simple combustion device that looks like a large coffee can with a few holes around the bottom (you can make you own from a can, for that matter). You wad up newspaper in the bottom, pour in the charcoal on top, and light. Simple thermodynamics get things burning quickly, and an insulated handle (or your big channel lock pliers, for the do-it-yourselfers) let you pour the ignited charcoal into your pit. Long-handled tongs and heavy leather gloves are not a bad idea.

The secret to barbecue is low heat and smoke. I put the hot charcoal on one side of the Weber side so the meat isn’t directly over it. Keep the vents clear and open to allow enough air to keep the fire burning. I sometimes crack the lid a bit to get the charcoal burning faster, then put it on tight to slow it down.

If you’re cooking a pork butt or brisket, you’ll need to replenish the fuel periodically, so figure out how you’ll lift the grill off to access the fire. You can buy chunks of hickory or fruitwood for smoke. I use grape vine cuttings and trimmings from an apple tree. Soak them in water for an hour before lighting up, then add small amounts during the cooking process.