outdoor barbecue pork ribs

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When it comes to keeping meat cooked over coals moist and flavorful, pitmasters know a few things the average BBQer might not. While the smoky flavors from the fire and naturally succulent flavors of the meat are a great base for any grilling or smoking recipe, by adding a little sauce during the cooking process, you can really tease out the signature flavors of the very best barbecue. Here are the two main ways to do it right.



What it is: As you may have already guessed, this is a sauce that’s literally mopped on the meat while it’s on the grill or smoker. A thin vinegar-based sauce, it will moisten the meat while adding layers of flavor. Other ingredients often found in mop sauces include beer, apple cider, and worcestershire sauce, but plenty of pitmasters have their own top-secret concoctions.

What to put it on: Mop sauces are most often used to baste ribs, pork shoulders, briskets and other big hunks of meat.

How to use it:
You’ll want to mop the meat once or twice an hour until it’s finished. Most barbecue accessory stores will sell miniature mops for this purpose, but if you find yourself in a barbecue joint that has lines out the door and goes through hundreds of pounds of meat you will see them using an actual mop (hopefully a different one than they use to clean the floors!). While a mop is the obvious tool of choice to get the job done, you can also use a brush in a pinch.



What it is:
We all know what barbecue sauce is, but the specifics very much depend on what part of the country you’re from. Down South many sauces are vinegar based while in the Midwest you’ll likely find sweeter versions with molasses. There are tons of different sauces out there—including some great new options from Kingsford: Smoky Jalapeño Mesquite, Brown Sugar Applewood and Original Smoked Hickory—and with the popularity these days you’re likely to find a great Carolina-style sauce at a restaurant in Brooklyn and a superb Kansas City-style sauce down in Texas. Find a style you like, and enjoy the fact that it just gets better when you use it as a glaze on the grill.

What to put it on: What can’t you put it on? But for our purposes, a barbecue sauce glaze is best on grilled or smoked chicken, ribs and pork chops.

How to use it: You can add barbecue sauce to the meat while it is cooking but it must be done at the end of the process. Most barbecue sauces have quite a bit of sugar in them — which adds a wonderful caramelized glaze to the meat when exposed to the heat for the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. But if you try to coat the meat with barbecue sauce before putting it on the grill, or too early in the process, it will burn the outside of your meat and ruin it. So apply liberally at the very end of the process and make sure to set out more sauce next to the meat when you serve it. Those gathered around the table will be sure to find plenty of use for it!

Photo: iStock/mphillips007