There's a lot of overlap between dads and self-proclaimed grill masters, and one could argue that title is fairly easy to achieve. Just learn a few secrets for juicy burgers, know how to operate your grill of choice, nail the science of when to use the grill lid and you've got a fair amount of bragging rights already. But when it comes to barbecuing -- as in, smoking meat over long periods of time, practicing the craft of pit mastery -- there's definitely a little more mystique (and patience) involved.
Maybe your dad does know his way around a smoker already. Or maybe he's always wanted to learn to make Texas brisket like the pros at Snow's and Franklin Barbecue. Whatever his current skill level, if he has "master smoked meat" on his BBQ bucket list, here are some gifts to help him achieve his pit-god goals this Father's Day.
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If dad's a little lost when it comes to getting started, the first thing he'll need to help him along is someone else's expertise. There are a number of great BBQ cookbooks to consider, but this is a No. 1 best-seller for good reason. It's from Aaron Franklin, multi-award-winning pitmaster extraordinaire and owner of constantly-lauded Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX. It covers every part of the process, from customizing your smoker (or even building your own from scratch) to curing wood and creating the ultimate fire for perfect barbecue. And of course, there are recipes for smoking brisket, sausage, ribs and other cuts of meat.
As a supplement, or if your dad's not one for cookbooks, you can sign him up for a 16-part MasterClass on Texas BBQ taught by Aaron Franklin, veritable meat messiah, himself. The lessons are via video (so dad can learn at his own pace and convenience and on the device of his choosing) and there's also a class cookbook with lesson recaps, recipes and other exclusive additional materials. If you think your dad would like to learn cooking tips from other chefs (Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller, Alice Waters), or would be into even more diverse subjects (like guitar as taught by Carlos Santana or film making as taught by David Lynch), you can get him the $180 All-Access MasterClass pass for a full year of learning opportunities.
Once your dad has the method down, he'll need the right equipment. You can hack any charcoal grill into a smoker, but if you have deep pockets and really want to impress (i.e. earn the coveted title of Favorite Child), you can put a big old bow on this big old Traeger grill and smoker. It runs on wood pellets and enables you to cook hot and fast (for steaks and burgers) or low and slow (for smoked turkey, brisket and more). The built-in temperature regulator makes it easy to maintain the proper environment, and there's enough room to make four whole chickens at once or five racks of perfect ribs.
If a Traeger's not in the budget or your dad only has a little outdoor space to work in, this Weber charcoal smoker is a great option at a fair price. It has a temperature gauge for easy monitoring, two internal shelves for cooking multiple items at once and a fuel door to make adding more wood and charcoal easy. Otherwise it's pretty no-frills. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive and contain lots of tips and tricks for optimizing its performance, so consider jotting down a few of them to give dad along with this smoker if you're feeling generous. (And if pops has a bit more outdoor room, another one in this price range to consider is the Oklahoma Joe Highland Smoker.)
One more option for dads who appreciate a multi-use appliance is this hybrid grill and smoker that lets him smoke meat, grill with gas and cook with charcoal -- and even do all three at once if he wants to feed a crowd (or just show off).
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Does dad plan on sticking with his trusty Weber kettle grill? This kit (which includes "a microprocessor controlled fan to feed oxygen to the fire and regulate cooking temperature") will help him hack it into a smoker and maintain consistent temperature control for optimal results. It costs nearly as much as the Weber smoker above, yes, but it fits in a drawer when not in use, so if your dad is short on space for another backyard appliance, this might be just what he needs. As a bonus, it's Alton Brown-approved. It works with charcoal smokers too, but cannot be used with gas grills, so take note if that's all dad has at his disposal.
Add fuel to dad's fire, in a good way. He'll probably want to experiment with different types of wood (from apple and cherry to hickory and mesquite), but post oak is a solid choice to start with. If he's using his charcoal grill as a smoker, wrap these up along with a smoker box. And speaking of charcoal (which he'll also need), this Fogo super premium hardwood lump charcoal is some of the best around; bye bye, briquettes.
A recurring tip that many pitmasters give is to practice on cheaper cuts of meat, which makes total sense. But if you have confidence that your dad knows what he's doing, consider gifting him a premium cut that takes beautifully to smoking. This American Wagyu packer brisket is an impressive piece of beef, and all that marbling promises a supremely tender texture.
Before the meat goes into the smoker, it needs at least a little seasoning. Dry rubs vary from pitmaster to pitmaster; some like to incorporate coffee, some go with straight-up Lawry's seasoning salt. There are near-infinite rub recipes and dry rubs you can buy, but this one comes from The Salt Lick, a Texas BBQ institution. Reviewers use it on just about everything, including brisket, ribs, chicken wings, pork, steaks, salmon and even asparagus. The exact ingredients are a secret. The label discloses only salt, black pepper, cayenne and spices. It just might become dad's secret weapon too, or at least inspire him to create his own unique blend.
In the world of barbecue, there's something known as a Texas crutch, which is wrapping your meat in foil part way through cooking to help keep it moist—controversial in some circles, but widely practiced because it works. If your dad's not one to shun such helpful hacks, he might like this pink butcher paper (also known as peach paper), which serves the same purpose but, unlike aluminum, is breathable, so the meat will still keep picking up smoky flavor and the precious bark that's built up won't be ruined, because the steam will be able to escape.
Taking your meat's temperature is a surefire way to know when it's done, so a nice digital thermometer would be a great gift for wannabe (and already-made) pitmasters. This one is often name-checked by chefs and has legions of devoted fans in both professional and home cooking circles. The company also makes this smoking thermometer with a two-channel alarm for monitoring a couple cuts of meat at once, in case dad likes to know how things are doing every step of the way.
Dad's going to need somewhere to keep all his tools (and his beer opener) while he's tending the smoker, so if he needs an apron upgrade, this is a good one to get. It has multiple pockets, including a quick-access cell pocket and a loop meant for a towel that could also hold the spray bottle he'll be using to mist his meat. Made from "heavy weight, yet soft and breathable" cotton, it's machine washable and sturdily constructed, plus it adjusts up to XXL. (If that's not quite "dad" enough for you and yours, consider this "Dinner Is Coming" version with a chef-hatted direwolf, perfect for "Game of Thrones" fans who want to keep the Stark legacy alive.)
Smoked ribs, turkey, brisket—whatever dad makes, it will demand the utmost care when it comes time to carve and serve such a masterpiece of meat. This knife is not kidding around, and shows the proper respect due the pitmaster's creation. Also, it's super sharp, so it slices cleanly and easily; remind your father to watch his fingers, and consider throwing in a knife guard for safe storage.
Pitmaster dreams finally achieved, all your dad needs is the proper attire. If he wants to express a fuller sentiment, there's this "All I Want to Do Is Drink Beer and Smoke Some Meat" shirt, and this "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em" shirt (among many others), but if he likes to make his points in a simple manner, just go with this understated t-shirt that proclaims his pitmaster status for all to see.
If you know your dad's dreams are really just to indulge in delicious barbecue—if it's more about the destination than the journey—maybe you should just order him a taste of some of the country's best BBQ, straight from Texas. No muss, no fuss for him. And if you're lucky, maybe he'll share.