The process of slow cooking with smoke can be a daunting one. You’re committing a bunch of time to a hunk of meat, just praying that it’ll be at least somewhat palatable when it comes out of the smoker. (But I highly recommend you do it.) There’s all sorts of useful tools you’ll want when smoking meat, but there’s an often overlooked one that will help you perfect your smoking game, and the best thing is, you probably already have one: a cooler.
How a cooler can help you barbecue
Yep, the same cooler you fill with ice and shove beer and soda in for a gang of guests at a party. While a cooler is typically meant to keep things ice cold, it does so because it’s a great insulated device. That means it’s also a great place to keep food warm, too.
Here’s the thing: We all know that you can’t dig right into meat right after it’s been removed from a hot grill, otherwise the precious juices will run right out. It’s the same with barbecue, especially with large cuts like pork shoulder and brisket. When you’ve hit the proper temperature for your slow-cooked meat, it needs to rest.
This is where the cooler comes in. Barbecue enthusiasts line them with a towel, and gently place their meat inside, which should be wrapped in foil or butcher paper. The meat will sit without dropping the temp like a brick, which is important because it’s essentially still in the process of cooking by using carryover heat. You can typically hold a piece of meat in there for hours that way (usually between two to four, but I’ve made it as long as six).
One of the best parts is that this allows you to hold the meat until you want to eat it. As much as we consider barbecue an exercise in culinary science, each individual piece takes an unpredictable amount of time to complete cooking. If you have guests coming over and your meat finished earlier than expected, the cooler will (ironically) keep the meat hot, which means everyone gets some steaming hot pulled pork, and you look like you timed everything perfectly.
What this also does is help you finalize your cooking schedule. If you’ve got, say, an eight-pound pork shoulder and you’ve got people coming over for dinner that night, you can start extra early to ensure it’s finished cooking. Then it can coast for up to four hours until everyone arrives, and is ready to eat. That’s a lot of buffer. Who knew your cooler could be this handy?