The Beginner's Guide to BBQ

The Meat

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

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).