Also known as “dry rub”. A mixture of spices and aromatics rubbed on the exterior of the meat before cooking, usually allowed to serve as a dry marinade for several hours to overnight. Persistent ingredients in the flavor profile mix are garlic and onion powders, paprika, chile or mixed chiles of some sort, black pepper, salt, and sugar (and sometimes coriander and dry mustard). Sugar begins to scorch at 260º, so if sugar is used, the heat level should be kept below that temperature or it can acquire a bitter taste. The alternative is to add any mix containing sugar right at the final part of the cooking process.
Some prefer to take the rub and add liquid of one sort or another (oil, butter, or margarine, vinegar, fruit juices, beef stock, beer, etc), forming a viscous seasoning paste that gets slathered on to serve as a marinade, and occasionally a baste.
Basically a liquid version of the rub, usually vinegar and oil-based, or it can be a slathering of mustard or other flavorings. Some prefer to directly inject the marinade into the meat using large needles. Brining involves immersion of the meat into a mixture of water, aromatics and or spices, salt, and sugar, used to keep the meat moist.
Any wood used should be dry and seasoned for at least a year to avoid resins and creosote-like taste, and it ought to be a hardwood or a fruit or nut wood. Oak (live oak or post oak) is probably the preferred wood, being ubiquitous, clean, long-burning, and subtle and well-rounded in flavor. In the Southeast and the Midwest hickory is preferred, yielding a rich and smoky flavor. Pecan is a milder alternative to hickory, and is popular in the South as an amendment to oak. Mesquite is favored in West Texas and the Southwest, and provides a heavily-flavored taste that can be overwhelming and resinous if overdone (think creosote), but it provides the longest and hottest burning of all of the woods. Fruit woods are an amendment, and can provide another layer of flavor to the finished product. Construction lumber should never be used, as it can be previously treated with toxins to discourage insects and rot. Softwoods are never used.
These are flavor enhancers added during the cooking process, generally used in place of rubs, as the repeated application of the goop can physically remove the crust formed by the rub. The danger with these is they tend to contain sugar in some form or another (tomatoes or their by-products, fruit juices, sugar, molasses, cane syrup, honey, booze, etc.), and if the sugar scorches during cooking, then the meat will acquire a bitter taste. Generally they are applied with a brush, or a yarn-type mop with the handle sawn-off. An alternative method, adopted from South America, is to use a bunch of parsley (or other herbs) as the “brush”. Some of those who use a seasoning rub will apply a spray as a moisturizer, using a hand-held spray bottle during the cooking process, the advantage being that it will not physically disturb the rub crust. Apple juice, or a combination of liquids or seasoned liquids (that won’t stop up the nozzle), is often used as a spray.
Many professionals will, after a certain amount of cooking time, completely wrap their meats in aluminum foil to allow the meat to keep cooking, but limiting the amount of accumulated smoke flavor, especially if they are using woods with strong flavors. Some say that the process also tends to steam the meat inside the foil wrapper, making it more tender. Detractors insist that this process ruins the smoke ring and the texture of the BBQ, and cinches a loss in any BBQ competition. When they wrap the meat they will often add enhancers of some sort at that time: butter, sauce, juice, bastes, etc. This of course destroys the carefully cultivated crust that many barbecuers strive for. It’s a matter of personal and regional taste.
There is a lot of variation by barbecuers in the amount of heat and time chosen for cooking different meats. Generally, you want to cook low (200-275º) and slow (extended hours of duration). The frequency of turning the meat can also affect the flavor and appearance of the meat. “If you’re lookin’ you’re not cookin’ ”: is a phrase muttered sarcastically by the pros, referring to the tendency of greenhorns and neophytes to constantly be opening their cookers to look at, poke, and play around with the meat, thus allowing their built-up heat to escape, thereby slowing down the overall process, and creating uneven heat inside the cooker. The standard figure is that every time you open the lid you should allow 15 minutes for the heat to come back up to spec temps. Occasionally if an especially tender cut of meat is used, the temperature will be increased, and the cooking time decreased proportionally.