Butt in a Kettle
If you have a Weber Kettle you know it can be a love hate relationship. For the casual griller who wants to cook a few frozen Bubba Burgers, the Weber Kettle isn’t too much of a colt to break. But for the serious BBQ connoisseur who wants consistently good BBQ, it can be the bronco that can’t be broken.
I’ve ruined a lot of good cuts by cooking too fast, too slow, too hot, too cool and listened to the wrong advice from people who don’t even use a kettle. I point that out because the Weber Kettle is so unique. It’s like owning a fine pen but you don’t know how to write in cursive. So I hope the instructions to follow will help you break your streak of less than 8 second rides and your butt in the kettle will be worth a super-sized championship belt buckle. So “cowboy up” and let’s get going.
First, I won’t go into meat prep, that’s an article all unto itself. But I will note that my successful butts are injected with apple juice, lightly coated in mustard and then rubbed down with seasoning. A personal favorite rub is Stubb’s All Natural Spice Rub.
The key to Weber Kettle cooking is the flow of the air and smoke. My first important point to make is that you should always keep the bottom vents completely open. That’s right. Forget they even exist other than to make sure they are open start to finish. You will control all air related adjustments with only the vent in the lid.
Now think of your grilling surface as a little gulf coast town. On one side you have water and on the other side you have dry rub… I mean land. With that in mind, get yourself a piece of aluminum foil about 14-16 inches long and fold it in half. Then cut it perpendicular to the fold. For those geometrically challenged, you should now have two pieces of foil and both pieces are still folded. You’re going to drape each one of these pieces of foil over a single rod in the grate at the center of your grilling surface. You cut it in half because of the large divider in the center of the grate.
Now you have effectively divided the area below the grilling surface into two zones. Your coals will go on one side and your meat will be topside on the other. The foil works as a screen to keep the meat from cooking too fast or getting too charred on one side.
So topside, you will have meat on the non-fire side and an aluminum pan of water on the other side. And just like a little gulf coast town we want our heat and water vapor to rise to the dome of the lid, float over to the meat and rain down it’s goodness on the land. Your dome vent needs to be positioned above your meat at all times so don’t forget that as you take the lid on and off.
I’m going to back up a bit now that I’ve explained the lay of the land. I start my charcoal in a chimney and wait until it’s roaring like an F-16 engine before dumping it carefully into the kettle. Remember, all coals stay on one side of the draped foil so don’t spread the charcoal around too much.
Once the coals are deposited into the kettle, replace the topside grilling grate and wait 2-3 minutes with the lid off in order that the grate get super hot over the coals.
Now the meat! We want to use the super hot coals to first sear our butt. So go ahead and lay your butt on the hot side with the coals and rotate it every so often until almost all sides of the meat are seared (not burned). Still lid off.
With your butt seared it’s now time to get down to the art of BBQ. Move the butt to the non-fire side of the grilling surface and make sure it’s far enough over that the foil drapes you had placed before are being effective. Your meat should not be cooking from direct heat but from indirect heat. See the diagram above showing the flow of air and heat. Indirect heat is heat that rises to the dome and then circulates over to the meat side of the grill.
Put the lid on and dampen the one vent in the lid. Again, leaving the bottom vents wide open. I have a thermometer that I stick into one of the holes in the vent lid to monitor temperature. Ideally, you want to run around 180 degrees. Too hot, close the vent some more, too cool, open it some more. The temperature will not react instantly so make very small adjustments and recheck until you reach the right temperature. Let her go… and go… and go… and go…
During the entire cooking process, you can add whatever wood chip flavors you like to create smoke. I believe it only adds to the flavor within the first few hours of cooking and not much effect in the final hours. Keep your pan full of water and try to avoid as much as possible removing the lid just to have a look for no reason.
If you can maintain that 180 degrees then 3/4 of a bag of Kingsford will last about 12 hours. You will have to add a handful of coals every hour but do it in small amounts as not to squelch your temperature. As an added measure put an oven thermometer inside the grill right next to the meat. You can see I have done this in my photos.
So maybe after 12 hours and a good management of your heat you test the meat with a thermometer and it says that it’s done. Well it’s true the meat is technically ready to eat but it’s still not as good as it could be. This is the juncture that separates good BBQ from great BBQ. You’re not done!
Take the meat off the grill and wrap it in heavy aluminum foil and return it to the grill.
This is the final critical stage. The people who took their butts off the grill already may be enjoying some decent BBQ but the ones willing to go the second mile will have great BBQ.
What happens in this phase is the breaking down of the fat and collagen. This my friends is the difference in having BBQ with some tough of stringy parts and having BBQ where you could eat just about the everything except the bone.
With your butt wrapped and your fire stoked, go ahead and run the temperature up to about 220-240 and maintain that for another 4 hours. I know it’s difficult to wait! Trust me, you’ll have friends asking how you did it. You can say, “old family recipe” or point them to this blog.
So here’s to winning that championship belt buckle and riding off into the sunset.
Please comment if you have suggestions or questions. We all want to learn something new and my way is not the definitive way.