When Chris Wrigley smokes meat, he falls into a Zen-like state of relaxation.
“You just concentrate on what’s going on and focus on that moment and everything else just disappears — all the troubles of the day, all the clatter and chatter in your mind just goes away,” he said.
With a decade of smoking meat under his belt, the process has become second nature to Wrigley. As the owner of Zesto Drive-In, barbecue is on the menu and he’s also a regular at barbecue competitions, entering up to 12 each year. He’s also no stranger to first-place finishes.
Wannabe smokers don’t need years of experience to cook delicious food. According to Wrigley, they just need time and patience. First, he said, make sure to dedicate enough time to the smoking process. Once meat is in the smoker, Wrigley advises to open the lid only when necessary. Letting out the smoke lessens the chances for it to infuse the meat with its flavor, he said.
“They say, ‘If you’re lookin’, you’re not cookin’, and that’s a true statement. Put the meat on there, close the lid and walk away from it. Don’t be anal-retentive and look at it every five minutes,” he said.
Wrigley waits an hour to check his ribs after they’ve hit the rack. Three hours into the process, he will wrap the ribs in aluminum foil to help the meat tenderize. Then, he’ll let them cook for two more hours for a total of five hours in the smoker.
Generally, he said he will smoke chicken halves for three hours and brisket can take up to 12 hours. Because smoking utilizes indirect heat, the meat cooks at a slower pace than grilling. More time in the smoker means more collagen will break down, allowing for more tender meat.
Wrigley heats his smoker with pecan wood, which gives the meat a flavor sure to satisfy anyone’s taste buds.
“It’s a milder, smoky flavor,” he said. “It’s not harsh and bitter. Some people use oak, some people use cherry. Pecan is like the middle of the road. I call it, ‘the vanilla of smokes.’ It doesn’t offend anybody and everybody likes it.”
Vegetables and potatoes can be smoked as side dishes and only need salt, pepper and/or barbecue seasoning. The rack must be well oiled, and cooks should eyeball the vegetables to see when they’re ready.
“It’s like eating heaven,” Wrigley said. “It’s delicious.”
The key, he said, is to make sure and dedicate enough time to the smoking process.
“Take your time at it,” he said. “Don’t be in a hurry when you do it. If you don’t have enough time, don’t start.”