Pitmaster Tips from PRIME Barbecue

Two years ago at the Sam’s Club local qualifier in Greensboro, I met Chris Prieto, pitmaster of PRIME Barbecue out of Wendell, NC.  I’ve run into him a couple of times out on the competition circuit, and let me just say he knows his way around BBQ!  If you are a fan of PRIME Barbecue on Facebook, then you will have noticed that there has been a BBQ tip a day for almost every day in the month of May.  If you’re not a fan… then why not?!?! 

I asked Chris if he would be okay with me publishing some of his tips in a blog post, and he was gracious enough to give me the okay.  So below are just a few tasty tidbits and tips from PRIME Barbecue (along with pictures courtesy of the PRIME Barbecue Facebook page).  To see the full list, become a fan of PRIME Barbecue on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PrimeBBQ

If you have any other tips you’d like to add, leave a comment below!  Or if you’re interested in having some of your BBQ tips featured on this blog, get in touch with me via my contact page.


Pitmaster Tip – Ribs and Removing the Membrane

Some people say it is important to remove the membrane, others claim it doesn’t matter. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. In fact, you really don’t have to trim your ribs at all, but removing the membrane will enhance the introduction of flavors and smoke while leaving a more pleasing texture.

The rib membrane is a waterproof film that separated the chest cavity of the hog from the muscle/rib area. It keeps virtually everything from passing in or out of the chest area. When cooking ribs this means that it keeps out smoke and seasoning flavor, and holds in the fat that needs to be rendered. This is why we remove the membrane. Plus it is really easy to do and only takes a few seconds, once you can get a good grip on it.

You can see the membrane as a dull, whitish film over the rib section of the rack. As you look at the membrane, you can see that it is a long, triangular piece. Start at the point. With your knife, lift up this corner of the membrane and then take a paper towel and get a good grip on the membrane. Pull straight up and away from the rack of ribs. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t start to split up. Once you get the hang of this you will be able to pull the membrane from a rack of ribs in a couple of seconds. Have fun!


Pitmaster Tip – Minion Method

The “Minion Method” is a technique for when you plan a long slow cook (225-255 degrees) and want to get as much out of one load of charcoal as possible without needing to light a new batch mid way through a cooking session. The technique is really easy and can be used in any style of cooker.

Simply fill a chimney starter full of charcoal, and place in the middle of the charcoal chamber. Light the coals in the chimney starter, then place more coals around the chimney starter into the base of the charcoal chamber. Wait for the coals in the chimney starter to be fully engaged. You’ll know it’s ready when the coals at the top are turning white and the flames have died down. This should take about 20 minutes if using lumpwood charcoal, or 30 minutes if using briquettes. When the coals are ready, simply lift out the chimney starter and carefully pour the red hot coals into the space vacated by the chimney and over the rest of the unlit coals. This creates a hot zone in the middle of the charcoal chamber surrounded by a ring of unlit coals.

The advantage of this method is that it allows you to control the temperature of the cooker more effectively by preventing a heat surge at the initial stages when the coals are red hot. This can happen if all the coals are lit at once. The coals last longer as the outer ring is gradually ignited by the hot central coals.

Remember, this method is only used for low and slow cooking, not direct grilling. The intention is get as long out of the charcoal as possible. Stop messing with your fire and have fun!


Pitmaster Tip – Charcoal Chimney

Ditch the lighter fluid and get a charcoal chimney. Burn clean and even charcoal without the worry of leaving a bad taste.


Pitmaster Tip – Instant Read Thermometers

An instant read thermometer should be an extension of the Pitmaster’s arm.

Aside from the obvious of keeping you from overcooking your meat, a good quality instant read thermometer will keep you from losing too much heat from your cooker when temping your meat.

We prefer to use the Thermapen by Thermoworks.  (Wayne’s Note: And so do I)


Pitmaster Tip – Wrapping Your Meat

There are some differing opinions on whether or not you should wrap your barbecue while it’s on the pit. There are several arguments that support wrapping your meat for part of your cook.

Wrapping in a double layer of aluminum foil can keep your meat from getting overly smoked, and can keep the outside bark from getting too dark. The foil also helps to speed up the cooking process, and since it holds in the natural juices, can help make a much more tender final product.


Pitmaster Tip – Wrapping Your Meat, Part 2

Photo: Pitmaster Tip #8:</p><p>When it comes to wrapping your meat, focus more on the color and less on the temperature. When the outside of the brisket or butt reaches a deep mahogany color, you're ready to wrap.</p><p>Your fellow Pitmasters,<br
/>Christopher & John

When it comes to wrapping your meat, focus more on the color and less on the temperature. When the outside of the brisket or butt reaches a deep mahogany color, you’re ready to wrap.


Pitmaster Tip – The Sauce (or Not)

Photo: Pitmaster Tip #17:</p><p>One of the most hotly debated topics in barbecue centers around sauces (particularly in our great state of North Carolina).</p><p>Vinegar vs. Tomato<br
/>Spicy vs. Sweet<br
/>Hot vs. Mild</p><p>The most important thing to remember is that barbecue should be all about the meat, not about the sauce. A great barbecue sauce still needs meat to be complete, but well cooked barbecue does not NEED sauce.</p><p>As we always tell people, we offer our two signature sauces with all of our meats, but only if you need them.

One of the most hotly debated topics in barbecue centers around sauces (particularly in our great state of North Carolina).

Vinegar vs. Tomato
Spicy vs. Sweet
Hot vs. Mild

The most important thing to remember is that barbecue should be all about the meat, not about the sauce. A great barbecue sauce still needs meat to be complete, but well cooked barbecue does not NEED sauce.


Pitmaster Tip – Cooking with Wood

When cooking with hardwoods like oak, pecan, or hickory, make sure the wood has been properly “seasoned” or aged once cut. The purpose of this is to reduce the amount of moisture in the wood.

A good measure of seasoning is 6-12 months; however, once the wood has been split, it will dry faster.


Pitmaster Tip – Proper Planning

It’s always important to plan out your cook in advance. A simple written down timeline can keep you from leaving out steps that can make a big difference in your final product.

Don’t just factor in the cooking time alone. Be sure to include starting your pit, seasoning time, when the meat goes on, when to baste, when to wrap, etc.


Pitmaster Tip – Saucing Your Ribs

Photo: Pitmaster Tip #11:</p><p>When putting sauce on ribs, make sure to apply a light glaze rather than a heavy coat. Then let the sauce bake on the ribs rather than burning the sugar.</p><p>Your fellow Pitmasters,</p><p>Christopher & John

When putting sauce on ribs, make sure to apply a light glaze rather than a heavy coat. Then let the sauce bake on the ribs rather than burning the sugar.


Pitmaster Tip – Become a Judge

Photo: Pitmaster Tip #27:</p><p>The best way to become a great competition cook is to start by becoming a certified barbecue judge. This experience is essential in understanding the product, expectations, and what it takes to deliver award winning barbecue.</p><p>Luckily their is a KCBS certification class in Apex a week from Saturday. Visit the link below to find out how to sign up today!</p><p>http://www.theapexherald.com/view/full_story/22685480/article-Sunrise-Rotary-hosting-BBQ-judging-class</p><p>Your fellow Pitmasters,</p><p>Christopher & John

The best way to become a great competition cook is to start by becoming a certified barbecue judge. This experience is essential in understanding the product, expectations, and what it takes to deliver award winning barbecue.