Barbecuing—and by that I mean the low-and-slow cooking of meats using live fire and smoke—is more art than science. Not that there isn’t plenty of chemistry and physics going on, too, but I’m certainly not the guy to try to explain that stuff! What I mean to say is that the people who do it best have all gotten there by years of practice, trial and error, patience, and perseverance. Either that, or they grew up alongside someone who did so before them. Books and YouTube videos are helpful, but the best way to learn and perfect this art is to get out and try and fail and try again.
True barbecue is as much about building and maintaining fires as it is about sourcing, seasoning, and cooking meat. Which means that barbecue is also about buying, storing, and chopping wood, which is why so many home cooks opt for easier solutions like charcoal-fueled water smokers or gas- or electric-powered vertical smokers. But without live fire and real wood smoke, food will never reach its true potential to become that intoxicatingly flavorful, complex, and deeply aromatic food of the gods.
Pitmasters obsess over smoke: good smoke, bad smoke, black smoke, blue smoke. The goal is to create and maintain a steady flow of pale gray smoke that is so light, it almost looks blue. You should wait to place the food into the smoker until it reaches the proper temperature and “the smoke is running clear.” This is the type of smoke I am referring to. Good smoke is produced by a properly built and tended fire burning at optimal temperature. Once that fire is going great, maintaining ideal cooking temperatures is as easy as adding an occasional log and regulating the airflow by adjusting the dampers.