Barbecue fans have strong opinions about what is considered good barbecue. The common wisdom is that cooking times and temperatures are among the criteria that distinguish good barbecue from the bad. Hot and fast is not traditionally considered good barbecue; instead, many barbecue enthusiasts consider it grilling. Only low and slow is the real barbecue in the eyes of many experts.
What does it mean to cook hot and fast?
Hot and fast is relative. When barbecue cooks talk about cooking low, they typically mean in the 225 to 245 degrees Fahrenheit range. The cooking time for brisket is a little over an hour per pound. For a 20 pound brisket, that is almost a full day in the smoker. High can mean almost anything hotter than that. Hot and fast briskets can be cooked at up to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and can be completed in under eight hours.
Generally speaking, you need to expose meat to heat for longer periods for the connective tissue to break down and become gelatin. You want this to happen inside a cut of meat without the outside being burned. The traditional way to do this is to cook it at lower temperatures, but you can do it hot and fast as well. Collagen will break down at higher temperatures even more quickly as long as you keep the exterior of your meat from charring too much.
What are the pros and cons of hot and fast cooking?
It keeps some meats moist
If you have thin or lean cuts, you run the risk of them getting dry and becoming overly tough when you cook them low and slow. Hot and fast cooking can keep them from losing their juices.
You get dinner ready in less time
Hot and fast cooking is ideal for weeknights and occasions when you want the flavor of grilled food but don’t have enough time for low and slow barbecue.
You get a better bark
A hotter smoker can give you a darker, richer bark. The exterior of the meat is what gives you most of the flavor since it’s the part that takes on the smoke and which is exposed to your dry rub.
It reduces the risk of over-smoking
The longer your cooking time, the greater the risk you run of giving your meat too much smoke. Smoke is essential to good barbecue and greatly enhances meat when used in moderation. However, the meat becomes acrid and tastes like ash when it gets too much smoke.
It might be unhealthy
The charred exterior that comes from cooking meat over a very high heat may be carcinogenic.
There is not enough smoke
The shorter cooking time for meat cooked over a high heat also means that it is exposed to smoke for a relatively short time. The result is that meat that is cooked hot and fast won’t get as much smoky flavor as meat cooked low and slow.
Which meats should you cook hot and fast?
Most types of seafood are prone to drying out. Cooking them over high heat for a short period gives them a sear without causing them to lose too much moisture. Thinner steaks like skirt steaks and flank steaks have to be cooked hot and fast or else they will lose moisture and become rubbery.