(reprinted from powells.com) The Church of Barbecue celebrates diversity, and there are many different kinds of cookers it sanctions, from simple kettle grills to mighty smokers capable of cooking a feast for dozens of worshippers. There is just one commandment with respect to cookers, and it is absolute: Thou shalt not use a gas grill. Only charcoal imparts the proper flavor to barbecue. Grilling with gas is an act of heresy, punishable, if not by eternal damnation, then by blandly flavored meat, which is almost as bad.
Think of your cooker as your altar, and yourself as the celebrant. Cleanliness is next to godliness: keep the inside and outside well-scrubbed, using only all-natural cleaning products (such as Simple Green). When conducting services, stay calm and focused. Avoid distracting conversations. If others insist on talking to you, stick to the weather or Britney Spears' latest breakup; avoid interesting, potentially diverting topics like whether President Bush is drinking again. And while we're on the subject of alcohol, it must be said that immoderate beer-drinking during services, however natural or "right" it may feel in the moment, can result in fatal inattention to the meat. Dry brisket, undercooked chicken, overly charred burgers — far too many sacrileges have been committed by tipsy cooks.
Your choice of what to barbecue must be guided by what type of cooker you have. The most common type is the Weber kettle. This is the Budweiser of cookers — humble and inexpensive, the perfect grill for the barbecue novice. Weber makes them in all sizes, but shun the really small ones; the coals are too close to the meat. Kettles are best for simple grilling: burgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken, vegetables. When grilling steak, leave the lid off for the entire cooking time. For most other meats and veggies, do an initial sear, then put the lid on, turning every five minutes or so to ensure even cooking. For veggies and delicate varieties of fish, use a nonstick grill basket. Be sure to leave the air vent open, or you'll kill your fire.
Once you've fully committed to the Church and are well-versed in its tenets and practices, you may find yourself longing for a deeper, more meaningful communion with our God. At that point, I would urge you to take the next step and invest in a smoker. There are many kinds of smokers, but nothing can touch the almighty Hasty-Bake. Don't be fooled by the name: this marvelous (and expensive, I'll warn you) contraption, invented in 1948 by Grant Hastings of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is best for slow cooking at low temperatures, though you can also grill and bake on it. It has an ingenious fire pan, which can be raised or lowered to control the temperature, and a heat shield to protect the meat while smoking.
Smoke is produced by placing wet wood onto hot coals. The wood should be soaked overnight, at minimum; wood that's not wet through will burn rather than smoke, making the fire too hot and putting your meat at risk of overcooking. The two types of commercially available wood are mesquite and hickory. I'm not a disciple of either, frankly. Both have intense, bordering on pungent, flavors that tend to overpower whatever you're smoking. I do like an occasional hickory-smoked burger, but for most everything else I prefer to use more subtly flavored woods, like pecan, apple, and when I can get it, cherry and pear. Pecan is hard to find outside the South, but there are stores that will ship it to you for a small fortune in postage (worth every cent). Orchards are good places to inquire after fruit woods. You want nice-sized chunks or small logs, as opposed to puny little chips, which burn too fast and too hot. If you've never tasted pork ribs smoked in pecan wood and basted in the last half-hour with soy sauce and honey, or whole apple-wood-smoked chickens stuffed with onion and glazed with black pepper and maple syrup — well, all I can tell you is, heaven awaits you, and it's more glorious than you ever imagined.
A quick word about one other type of cooker, the Big Green Egg. I don't own one myself (though I plan to acquire one the instant I have a covered porch), but my father, the High Priest of Barbecue, does. The Big Green Egg is both a grill and a smoker, and its design is based on an ancient Japanese clay cooker called a kamado. The modern version is made from the same ceramic material used on the nose of the Space Shuttle, so you can cook on it even when it's ten degrees outside, and it won't shatter. The BGE's primary virtue is extremely fast cooking at extremely high temperatures (up to 1,800 degrees). You can barbecue a whole turkey in a mere hour and a half. The steaks my father produces on it, cooking them three minutes per side, are absolutely sublime — charred on the outside, dark red and bloody on the inside (which is of course how all true believers like their steaks cooked).
Which would bring me to a discussion of another of the Barbecue God's commandments — Thou shalt not overcook thy meat — followed by some recipes and barbecuing precepts, but once again I find myself out of space. My zeal has overpowered my self-restraint, and my sermon has gone overlong. Forgive me.
Let us close with a short prayer: Dear God, May our rubs be dry and our meat juicy. Amen.