Today in the US, the word “Barbecue,” simply means cooking meat over an open flame or charcoal. The very first meat our cave dwelling ancestors cooked was of course, Barbecued!
In the “Old South,” Barbecue means long, slow cooking with low heat. Commonly, meat is cooked at 200-250 F. for 12 hours, and often up to 24 hours, depending on what they’re cooking of course.
Most of the rest of the country thinks of “Barbecue,” as what southerners would call “grilled” over charcoal.
If you’re going to barbecue in the southern style, you’re going to be using a large piece of beef or pork, probably at least 8 lbs. or more. You’ll rub it down with the seasonings of your choice, put it on a rack, cover it, and try to hold the temperature as close to about 225 F. as you can, and look forward to letting your carnivorous genes run wild in about 12 hours.
Any connective tissues within the meat, those annoying things we call “gristle” will have turned to a gelatin when the meat has reached an internal temperature of about 215 F.
Cooked that way, almost any cut of beef you’ve “barbecued” will be very tender. The more marbling and exterior fat in and on the meat, the juicer it will be. When cooking this way, you’ll want to keep a pan of water on the grill along with the meat, to prevent the exterior of the meat from drying out.
Probably most often, the “Brisket” or “Whole Brisket” is barbecued. The “Point” of the Brisket contains a large pocket of fat, which should be removed, but the remainder is very well marbled—and very sinewy. The “Plate” of the Brisket, the long flat remainder of the Brisket contains almost no marbling, but has a thick layer of fat on the outer side. People generally cut nearly all the fat off, so that it’s a very lean slab of meat.
A “Blade Cut Chuck Roast,” or an actual “7 Bone Chuck Roast,” bone-in or boneless, would also be superb cooked in this way. There’s no need to cook the better and more expensive cuts of beef, such as a “Rib Roast,” or “Whole Beef Loin,” with this Barbecue method, as they’ll be naturally tender without going to that extreme. Top Round, Bottom Round, Rump Roast, and Sirloin Tip Roast could be cooked in this style Barbecue, but they would all produce very dry meat because of the almost complete lack of marbling.
When cooking pork this way, generally the “pork shoulder butt” is preferred. There’s plenty of internal fat on the butt of the shoulder and the meat is very moist, tender and juicy. “Pulled pork” is made from the shoulder butt in just this way.
When we’re talking about grilling meat over charcoal, we have a whole different set of standards to work with. Beef is going to be cooked much faster, and most people prefer it to be in the range of “medium rare.” Left on the grill until the internal temperature reaches 160 F., any steak will be much drier and tougher to chew. Some people prefer their steaks that way, but it’s good to find out before you start cooking exactly what any guest might prefer. Rib Steak, Eye of Rib Steak, New York Steak, Fillet, and USDA Choice Top Sirloin Steak are all ideal for fast grilling on the barbecue grill. As no bacteria are on the inside of the meat, only the exterior needs to reach a temperature of 160 F. to kill any bacteria, including the worst strain of e-coli. As soon as the steak hits the hot grill those bacteria are dead.
Ground Beef today is another story. What you might buy as “Fresh Ground” was probably pre-ground somewhere in the mid-west, of beef trimmings from several processing plants in at least 2 states and 1 or more foreign countries. Bacteria were on every surface of all that collection of trimmings. The fat that was added to make the “78% (or whatever) lean” requirement was probably cleaned with ammonia at the plant of its origination. As there are an infinite number of surfaces on the meat after it’s ground, and there were certainly bacteria on the exterior of the meat before it was ground, to not cook store bought ground beef to 160 F., internal temperature, is indeed risky. Personally, I’d rather have a peanut butter sandwich than a hamburger cooked to 160 F., and I do love a great hamburger—medium rare! But I’ve never ever bought ground beef out of a meat counter. Even in the “old days” when we cut whole quarters of beef and ground only the trimmings from that beef I didn’t buy it out of the counter. I’ve always had a small grinder at home, and when we want Hamburgers for parties, they don’t have to be turned into something resembling a hockey puck. Nobody is going to get sick on ground beef at my house-even if they eat it raw. There’s just nothing in the world like a great, “grilled to medium rare’ on the barbie,” Hamburger!