1. Make a DIY Smoker
Why spend hundreds on a smoker when you can make one for five bucks? If you have a gas or charcoal grill, you can concoct your own metal smoker box by making a double-layered pouch of aluminum foil. Just stuff the foil pouch with pre-soaked wood chips (so they don’t burn up right away), then throw them on the coal or flame, and put the meat on the other side of the grill (away from the heat).
2. Try a Science Experiment
It sometimes takes up to 12 hours to slow cook barbecue on the grill, and it’ll turn into jerky if you do it at too high a temperature. Keep your meat from drying out by putting a pan of water underneath it; the evaporation will add moisture without compromising texture or flavor. This will also give the meat added smoky flavor.
3. Marinate in Moderation
Many people assume that, the longer you marinate something, the better it will taste. This is not true. First of all, marinade will never soak in past the thin outer layer of the meat. Secondly, since the acid of the marinade effectively cooks the outer layer in advance (think ceviche), the surface in turn dries out on the grill much faster. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Chicken and fish have lighter muscles, so they need less time in the sauce (an hour or two, tops), while denser pork, beef, and game can soak overnight if need be.
4. Have a Steak Strategy
There is no quicker way to impress someone with your grilling prowess than with a hot-off-the-flame steak—and no quicker way to put a hole in your wallet. The good news is that the most expensive choice is usually not your best one. Avoid the top cuts like filet mignon and sirloin (they’re often too lean for the grill and end up drying out) and instead look for a thick rib eye with nice flecks of white fat throughout the meat, rather than just around the edge. When grilling a thick steak, sear both sides over the flame, then move the steak over an unheated portion of the grill and close the lid to let it bake for a bit—otherwise you’ll end up with a black-and-blue steak that’s charred on the outside but raw on the inside.
5. Finish Strong
Don’t be afraid to use the competitive BBQer’s crutch—aluminum foil and liquid—at the end of a long smoking day. There is no better finishing move for a dried-out pork shoulder, ribs, or brisket than wrapping it all up in a couple layers of aluminum foil with BBQ sauce or apple juice, and letting it stew in its own juices to tenderize for an hour before serving. (You can even wrap the whole thing in a beach towel, and put it inside a cooler to maximize the effect.)