The Beginners Guide to BBQ

To help you get started into the hobby of BBQ, we’ve put together 7 easy essentials to help you on your journey.


The Basics

Congratulations! If you are exploring the tasty world of BBQing and want to know where to start, you’ve come to the right place.

You’re about to embark upon an adventure that is not only fun, but maybe even a little addicting. One thing’s for sure, though: It’s delicious! One of the most common misconceptions for beginners is that grilling is the same as BBQing, but that’s not the case. Grilling uses high and direct heat for quick cooks (think burgers, hot dogs, and steak). BBQing, on the other hand, requires indirect, consistent, low heat and longer cook times. Many who barbecue also use different types of smoke wood for an additional layer of flavor on top of the charcoal smoke. Meat used for BBQing also tends to have a higher fat content, which provides tenderization and flavor over a long cook.

Cooking barbecue is often called "slow 'n' low" because you cook your food slowly at low temperatures.

The key to delicious BBQ is the precise mix of time and temperature. Whereas grilling uses high and direct heat for quick cooks, traditional BBQing requires indirect, consistent low heat and longer cook times. It’s commonly referred to as a “slow ‘n’ low.”

This takes hours, as opposed to grilling which cooks food quickly. At first, it might seem crazy in today’s fast-paced world to wait around for hours until your food has finished cooking.

But once you’ve tasted really good barbeque, you’ll quickly find out that wait was worth it because it tastes fabulous! There really is no other way to get meat that’s tender, moist, and juicy other than slow ‘n’ low.

The science of slowly cooking over a long period of time has to do with the fats and connective tissues of meat called collagens. This “low ‘n’ slow” process causes the food to change, introducing new flavors and making it tender and succulently juicy. When cooked too quickly or not at a precise temperature, your meat will turn out chewy and tough, which no one wants.

Since barbequing is a slower process, you’ll find that it’s a great way to bring friends and family together to spend time with one another around a meal. In a very real sense, barbequing embodies the true American spirit. There is a liberty that comes from cooking outdoors in the fresh air. There’s also a certain satisfaction one gets by manning the grill and hearing people rave about your food.

Barbequing is one part science and one part art, but it should always be 100% fun. To ensure that it is, here are some basics to keep mind as you begin your adventures in barbequing:

  • Be sure to keep temperature even and consistent throughout the cook.
  • Know what internal meat “done” temperatures work best for the cut of meat you’ve chosen.
  • Make sure your food retains moisture during the entire cook.

Finally, believe it or not, a key ingredient is having the confidence you will do a good job! Try not to be intimidated by cooking on charcoal. Trust us: You can easily learn to cook BBQ, and it will turn out great. Your friends and family will thank you!

Ready for the next step?

With BBQ Guru, you’ll never have to miss out on a fun barbeque experience. Our temperature controls help you automatically and constantly manage your cooker’s fire with our patented power-draft technology. Our devices quickly bring precise oven-like temperature control to your charcoal and wood cookers. They take the guesswork, and hassle, out of trying to achieve and maintain concise temperatures.

Having a well-made cooker, grill, or smoker that uses charcoal or wood as its heat source is essential. Some popular styles are barrel and drum, offset, kamado, and bullet-style smokers. Be careful with the cheaper models of these as they aren’t often air-tight, and unwanted oxygen airflow can cause undesirable temperature spikes.

Having a well-made cooker, grill, or smoker that uses charcoal or wood as its heat source is essential (yes, electric cookers exist, but we don’t recommend them generally because they can’t give you that same great charcoal- or wood-infused taste everyone loves).

There are many different types of grills and smokers that work great for BBQing with a range of prices. Here are a few:

Most top-of-the-line smokers are primarily made from ceramic (sometimes called Kamado style). This innovative design retains heat better, requiring less charcoal and are generally more airtight. As a result, they are more efficient than metal grills. Most allow the outdoor chef to do both grilling and smoking on it.

More versatile than most smokers, the Kamado style smoker can barbecue, grill, sear, roast, smoke, and bake your favorite meals. To control temperature on these smokers, you can choose from the simple and timeless DigiQ DX3 controller or opt for our UltraQ. The UltraQ control not only allows you to monitor and regulate food temperatures in real-time, but they have Bluetooth and/or WiFi capabilities to monitor and control your smoker’s temperature from inside the house or anywhere in the world via the BBQ Guru App.

Another very popular style of smoker are the bullet-style cookers, named because of their long bullet shape. Most often made from metal, these are a great less expensive alternative. Their shape can often allow two levels of cooking, and the shape can allow of hanging larger pieces of meat or fish. The shape can also create a nice circular flow of air heat and smoke creating a nice balance throughout.

Barrel and drum smokers are usually built from steel and are known for being easy to use, inexpensive, and lightweight. Like a grill, the food cooks directly over the charcoal. The shape allows cookers to hang meat vertically over hot coals, giving ample room to cook large cuts of meat. If you love a good “do-it-yourself” project, you can also build your own from scratch or buy a kit.

The offset smoker is a classic design, but can be more difficult to use. Food smokes in a long horizontal chamber while charcoal and smoke wood burn in a firebox attached to one side. This can be a problem because smoke and heat want to go up, not sideways. This can cause unstable temperatures inside your smoker. For maximum heat control, look for offset cookers made of thick steel, which help trap in heat.

Be sure to do some research and find a cooker that meets your needs. As holds true for most things in life, you generally get what you pay for with smokers and grills. Be careful with the cheaper models of these as they aren’t often air-tight, and unwanted oxygen airflow can cause undesirable temperature spikes.

The key to knock-your-socks-off BBQ is keeping the temperature even and consistent throughout the cook.

BBQ Guru’s award-winning temperature control devices automatically and constantly control your cooker’s fire. In other words, they do the work for you. We carry an entire line of high-tech cooker accessories, including the DigiQ DX3, and UltraQ. All of our temperature controls can be used on nearly every charcoal or wood-burning cooker.

“How am I supposed to do that on charcoal?” you might worry.

The important thing to remember is this: Don’t be intimidated by cooking on charcoal. BBQ Guru’s temperature-control devices automatically and constantly control your cooker’s fire with their patented power-draft technology. In other words, they do the work for you by quickly bringing your cooker to target temperature, regulating the fan, and delivering the precise amount of airflow to the charcoal.

We’ve got 2 controls to help make your BBQ fun and easy, and take out some of the guesswork in trying to control temperature.

The DigiQ adds a digital food thermometer that constantly tracks your meat’s internal temperature. This way you can easily pull your food off the heat at the exact moment it reaches its peak of perfection.

The UltraQ supports up to 3 food probes, allowing you to track the temperature of three different meats simultaneously. Supporting both Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, access your cook through the companion app or computer. Graph your temperatures, and even setup email and text message alerts.

There are several ways to fuel your fire, but for beginners, we'll focus on the two most popular types of charcoal that most BBQ'ers use.

Don’t be intimidated by cooking on charcoal! Believe it or not, the key ingredient to BBQing is confidence. When it comes to lighting a fire, we recommend using paraffin wax cubes, a chimney or a charcoal starter torch. To keep things as natural as possible, don’t use lighter fluid.

The most common charcoal people use comes as briquettes. Carbonized coal has been turned into a powder and then compressed into shape with binders and fillers. Some are all natural, others aren’t. (We prefer the all-natural ones).

The most common charcoal people use comes as briquettes. Carbonized coal has been turned into a powder and then compressed into shape with binders and fillers. Some are all natural, others aren’t. (We prefer the all-natural ones).

What you want to look for is a briquette that doesn’t have a lot of ash and is fairly easy to light. When you light a briquette that’s not all natural, let it burn or “ash” over and turn white before you use it to cook your food. This allows the non-natural chemicals used in the charcoal to burn off first, so it doesn’t taint the taste of the meat. (Note: All natural briquettes don’t require this extra step.)

The other popular type of charcoal comes as “natural lump”. They are made from wood that has carbonized. Lumps give a nice, even cook. They come in different sizes, and because they are all natural, lumps have less ash and are easier to light. You only have to light them a little bit to get them started. When they are at temperature, place your food in your cooker or smoker.

We HIGHLY discourage using lighting fluid or charcoal with lighting fluid to start light your charcoal. This can be dangerous in some cookers and can also give you unsatisfactory tastes in your food. When it comes to lighting a fire, we recommend using paraffin wax cubes, a charcoal chimney, or a charcoal starter torch.

Charcoal chimneys work well because they rely on oxygen to quickly light your briquettes. Put the charcoal at the top and use a starter, such as newspaper (it’s inexpensive) underneath. Light the newspaper, and the airflows from underneath carries the heat up into your charcoal. You only need to light a small amount of coals initially in the chimney, because once you add it to the rest of the charcoal, it will do the rest.

Weber and other companies produce cubes of paraffin wax. These light quickly and burn just long enough to get your charcoal going. You can use them with your chimney, or you can create a pile (think pyramid shape) with the wax underneath. After the wax cube finishes, you can spread out the charcoal for a more even distribution of heat.

When done with your cook, shut the lid of your cooker or smoker, and close any air dampers and it will soon extinguish your coals’ fire. The lack of oxygen will starve the fuel, and it will go out on its own.

There are many dishes you can make with BBQ, but there are four that are the most popular and seen at many competitions: BBQ chicken, pulled pork, ribs, and brisket. It’s important to keep even temperature throughout the cook, know what internal meat temperatures work best for the type of meat you’ve chosen, and make sure your meat retains moisture during the entire cook.

There are lots of dishes you can make with BBQ, but there are four that are the most popular and seen at many competitions:

  • BBQ Chicken (usually thighs and drumsticks)
  • Pulled Pork (usually the “Boston butt” or “shoulder” of a pig)
  • Ribs (most often pork as baby back or spare ribs)
  • Brisket (from the chest area of the cow)

Beginners might consider starting with BBQ Chicken and ribs since they have shorter cook times than the longer cook times of Brisket and Pulled Pork (could be 10+ hours)

Pulled pork uses the pork butt cut of meat, which is actually the shoulder. That may be confusing for some beginners. (The butt of a pig is actually a ham). With pork butt, you want something that has a good amount of fat, although we recommend trimming off any excess fat or any loose pieces of meat. Generally the “done” internal temperature for pulled pork is 190 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beef brisket comes from the chest of the cow. When selecting it, look for a nice grain of the meat. Depending on where you live, it may be hard to find a full beef brisket. If you have trouble, just ask your butcher as they can often get it for you. You’ll want to trim the heavy fat off, but not necessarily all of it because that will help to flavor it. It will cook down and when finished will be a smaller piece of meat. For most, the “done” internal temperature for beef brisket is 190 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are generally two types of ribs: spare and back.

Pork “spare ribs” come from around the stomach area, the same area that gives us bacon. Large, meaty, but not as tender as back ribs, they do have more fat and thus additional taste. They’re typically cheaper than back ribs.

Back ribs come from the same area as the loin and pork chops. They are smaller than spare ribs and have less meat and fat. To their advantage, they cook faster and are tenderer.

At the store, it’s best to buy ribs direct from the butcher when you can. Try to buy fresh, not frozen or “previously frozen,” if you can help it (sometimes you can’t). Look for ribs that have more meat. Avoid any ribs where the edges appear dried out or the meat seems discolored (gray for instance).

The “done” internal temperature for ribs is about 180 degrees Fahrenheit, however, with ribs, it is sometimes difficult to measure this because the meat between the ribs is thin and some pieces thicker than others. There are many popular ways to test if it’s ready. One of the most common is to plunge a toothpick into the meat and pull it out. If it feels tender and there’s no real resistance, then you know it’s ready.

While many people grill chicken breast and call it BBQ, real BBQ chicken is slow cooked at low temperatures. Because of that cooking process, chicken breast is usually not a good candidate since it has very little fat. Thighs and drumsticks are preferred because they are dark meat, have more fat, and less likely to dry out. Generally the “done” internal temperature for BBQ thighs and drumsticks is 170 degrees Fahrenheit (some people prefer even higher for their chicken).

If you think the only way to add flavor to your BBQ is BBQ sauce, then prepare to have your eyes opened.

After you’ve burnished your BBQ basics, try adding smoke woods like apple, hickory or cherry wood to your charcoal. Sauces and rubs are also a great way to achieve a variety of flavor profiles. Rubs are dry and usually applied to the meat before cooking. Sauces are wet and are typically applied toward the end of the cook for a sweet or savory caramelized crust.

The great thing about the hobby is that there is this wonderful world of flavors that are yours for the taking.


Most people use a combination of BBQ rubs and sauces to spice up their meals. Rubs are a mixture of dry ingredients and usually applied to the meat before cooking. Sauces are wet and typically applied toward the very end of the cook for a sweet or savory caramelized crust. (Putting sauce on too early can cause the sauce to burn or dry out which will give you unpleasant results).

The sky’s the limit with BBQ rubs and sauces, as there are tons of options with which you can experiment to achieve a variety of flavors.

After you apply the rub, it’s best to let your meat sit covered at room temperature for a minimum of 15 minutes (many do it longer). It helps the flavors of the meat and the rub to blend together for the best results.

The great thing about dry rub is that it helps the meat to form a “bark,” a slightly crunchy crust that is delicious. It also gives your food a bold flavor, which cuts such as beef brisket can handle.


Don’t forget smoke wood, which can bring out even more flavors. Think of smoke as an ingredient for BBQ, just like sugar, cayenne, salt or pepper would for a recipe. You want to use just enough so that it compliments your meat, but doesn’t overwhelm it.

Most charcoal should have very little flavor of its own. Smoke woods come from very specific types of trees and add a great aroma to your BBQ. Smoke woods come in “chips”, smaller pieces (better for beginners) or large chunks. Once you get the hang of charcoal, consider adding these chips or chunks of smoked woods such as mesquite, apple, hickory, or cherry to your charcoal. Chips are best for short cooks (thin chicken, fish, and thin steaks or chops), while chunks provide the best choice for meats that take a longer time.

It can’t be repeated often enough: A little smoke goes a long way. You want to achieve balance and not overpower your foods with too much! One of the biggest beginner mistakes is to add too much smoke wood, which overwhelms the meat and can quickly ruin the taste.

These are the most popular wood flavors that have proven track records for great BBQ. Apple wood is one of the mildest and is therefore often a great one to start with as a beginner, before moving on to bolder flavors.

Smoke Guide

Sweet, fruity aroma and dense smoke.
Use with salmon, pork/ham, game, fowl, beef, fish and chicken.

Subtle, sweet flavor.
Use with beef, fowl, game, pork, seafood, fish and chicken.

Stronger aroma reminiscent off a bacon-like flavor.
Use with beef, pork, game, fowl. Popular with pork shoulder/butt and ribs.

Subtly mild yet rich; sweet, spicy, nutty.
Pairs well with all meats and even cheese. Good with fish and chicken.

Bold and strong! A little goes a long way.
Use with beef, vegetables, and pork. A brisket favorite.

Mild and delicate. Similar to oak.
Use with fish, heavy game, and cheese. Good with fish.


A fantastic way to get “Oh, my goodness” flavor into your meat is through injection. While it seems odd to the beginner, it produces great results. An injector – which looks like a really big doctor’s needle – is used to push flavored and/or tenderizing marinade deep into the meat. This helps keep the meat moist, flavors it, and sometimes helps break down the meat’s collagens for tenderer BBQ.


An increasingly popular (and very old) way of adding flavor to the meat is to brine it. This simply means to soak your meat for a period of time in a solution of salt and water. Brining your meat not only helps enhance the flavor but, especially with non-fatty cuts such as pork and chicken, can prevent them from drying out. In addition to helping retain moisture, brining also helps break down the meat’s collagens.

Finally, believe it or not, a key ingredient is having the confidence you will do a good job! Try not to be intimidated by cooking on charcoal. Trust us – You can easily learn to cook BBQ, and it will turn out great. Your friends and family will thank you!

Having the right BBQ grill and smoker accessories helps make barbequing easier, more convenient, and fun!

There are some BBQ accessories that simply make cooking “low and slow”, easier, safer, cleaner, and a lot more fun. Knives, gloves, tongs, injectors are just a few of the many other items that are indispensable for the BBQ aficionado.

BBQ Guru has many of the essential BBQ tools, must-have products, cool gadgets, and otherwise awesome smoker accessories. Here is a list of grilling supplies we recommend to make your BBQing experience enjoyable and delicious!


The one and only rib rack designed to maximize your grilling space by placing ribs in an upright circular pattern. You can cook 6 racks of ribs in bulk or 5 racks of ribs and a whole chicken.

Heat Resistant Gloves

Super heat-resistant insulated fabric can withstand extreme heat, giving you the protection you need when handling hot items of the oven, grill, smoker, etc.


Some other grilling supplies we recommend:


For an easy and fun way to get your fire going, you will want a fire starter torch. All you have to do is turn on the gas, activate the torch, and start firing up your coal. This also allows you to keep a safe distance, so you don’t get any hot embers on your clothes.


It’s always a good idea to have a basic thermometer on hand to quickly check your food for an accurate read to avoid overcooked or undercooked food.


If you like succulent, juicy meats, then invest in a meat injector to add flavor deep into your food and keep it moist.


One of the best tools for grilling is a pair of tongs. They allow you to cook with ease by picking up or holding your food, while keeping your hands away from the heat.


For basting your meat you’ll want to use a silicone brush because it’s durable, the bristles won’t clump, and it’s easy to clean.