There is a lot to making great BBQ. Lots of techniques, flavor profiles, styles, traditions, and conflicting advice. Obviously, I learned by doing, but it is much more than that to get really good. I have gathered some broad themes to help point you in the right direction. Let me know how you learn and what resources helped you along the way.
First, I am not done learning. I am always picking up something. I like to browse BBQ photos at night on Instagram, watch Mad Scientist BBQ on YouTube, and talk with others about BBQ. I am always learning and always trying something new. I also try other people’s BBQ and critique it like a cooking competition show on the Food Network. Just don’t stop learning. Give back. Enjoy yourself. It’s BBQ.
I started with the book Low & Slow 2: The Art of Barbecue, Smoke-Roasting, and Basic Curing. I bought this book since it had recipes that used my cooker, the Weber Smoker Mountain. It let me know what to do with the vents on the bottom of the smoker and what to expect with timings. My first pork butt didn’t go as planned. I did two things wrong: 1) I didn’t account for the weight. The book talked about two hours per pound and they had a 5lb butt. I had a 7lb pork shoulder and it took an extra four hours or so. 2) I kept opening up the smoker to look. This also added time to the cook, but it also wasted a lot of fuel. I have learned to trust the process.
The reason to use a book is to get a head-start. At least you are not starting at square one, you start a little further down. The devil is in the details, so try something and then reflect. This is the way. Find a book that works for you and has some info about your smoker in it. A big early mistake is taking advice about time and temperatures for the wrong smoker. Pellet, offset, and vertical smokers are similar in that they smoke meats, but the times and temperatures and techniques are all very different.
There are a lot of great websites out there. I will share the one where I continually learn the most: Meathead’s AmazingRibs.com. I always pick up something on this website. I learn technique and the why behind what I am doing.
YouTube and TikTok have been my go-to places for barbecue information. There is so much great content on YouTube. TikTok helps inspire some new recipes or things that I want to try. I learned about smoking cream cheese on TikTok and I pretty much always smoke cream cheese with every cook. It is fantastic. I recommend some pecan-based BBQ rub.
I am big believer in community. To get better, to learn more, you need to be a part of the community. You don’t want to always take, but you need to give back. The more time you spend with a community, the more you will improve. With that being said, not all communities are great. Some BBQ communities are filled with folks that are highly opinionated and want to be right. My philosophy is to remember that I am always learning and that everyone has a perspective and brings something to the table. I suggest going to a BBQ festival, cook off, or your local BBQ restaurant and network, ask questions, give feedback, and fellowship. Online, I like the Smoking subreddit and using Instagram. Reddit for traditional Q&A and Instagram for inspiration, live streams, and networking.