Well, you asked for it. Here, Smoky answers the most commonly asked questions. He is direct, honest and offers an insight into the time proven techniques to preparing great barbecue that is unavailable elsewhere. If you are unable to locate the exact answer you are seeking, feel free to contact him directly and ask!
He returns all questions . . . . . . .
Topic: Why is there "only heat" and no "direct heat" or "indirect heat"?
From: Peter Hirst,
Subject: Re: Heat!
Does this have to be in the form of a question?
OK ... why is there "only heat" and no "direct heat" or "indirect heat"? A related question is: are you sure that the meat doesn't care how it gets the heat?
Consider this: you usually hear the term "indirect heat" applied to a situation in which radiated heat is minimal and convected heat dominates, such as in a Weber with the coals covered with a pan or in a Texas style metal pit with an offset fire box. "Indirect" is used to indicate heat delivered primarily by convection (hot air with a little smoke) rather than radiation ("directly" over the coals). OK so "convected heat" rather than "indirect heat" and "radiated/conducted heat" rather than "direct heat" is really what these folks ought to say, but we know what they mean.
Now to the second question. The meat may not care how it gets its heat, rest its soul, but the barbecuer sure ought to. If the heat is delivered primarily by radiation, that ain't even barbecuin, where I come from. Thass called grillin. And with good reason. If it didn't make any difference how the meat got its heat, it wouldn't make any difference whether you used a Hibachi or a Hondo. If radiated heat predominates, its because you got the meat right ("directly") over the coals. That means your're only cookin on one side at a time: turnin an fussin instead of barbecuin an recreatin: antithetical to barbecuin. Also, I defy you to control the temperature of radiated heat at the surface of the meat. Varies with the square of the distance from the source, remember? Thats why you got to turn it. If You want the heat at 212°F, and the meat is 6 inches or so over the coals, how much temperature diference does a little fluctuation in the fire temperature or distance make at the surface of the meat? Lots. One edge of those valentine breasts are heat at a whole lot different temerature than the other, unless your fire is about four feet across and you got one of them babies dead center on it. If you're cooking by convection, how much difference does a little fluctuation in the fire temperature make at the surface of the meat? Zip.
What do you say?
--- Peter Hirst
First thing I say, Pete, is that you sure are long winded for a Texan.
Secondly, when Comanches and Apaches were running Tomball, people were barbecuing in the Carolinas on a rack over a shallow hole in the ground where the wood coals provided radiated and convected heat. Any competent cooker then and now can control the heat by the amount of coals and where they are placed. Where there is around 30" of distance from the coal bed and the meat grate, a stable coal bed will provide consistent heat - convective and radiant.
When I was coming up, there were no covered cookers big enough to hold a whole hog or a couple of goats. Everybody cooked over an open pit - although we sometimes put pieces of tin around it to better contain the heat. Covered cookers didn't get popular until electric welding became widespread.
Radiant heat is now mostly used for broiling - where the meat is put close to the coals and cooked quickly. Although, any metal cooker absorbs heat and radiates in all directions. If you don't believe that the cover radiates heat, lay a piece of foil across the top of one piece of meat and see the effect.
Keep reading. You're thinking.