/ Story by Pete Martin/photography and recipes by Pete Martin and Robert Bradley

Three kinds of wine to pair with three kinds of barbecue. Pulled pork is paired with a bolder pinot noir, beef brisket is paired with cabernet sauvignon and pork ribs are paired with zinfandel.

If you ask two Southerners the definition of good barbecue, the probability is high you will get two very different answers. You might even find yourself in the middle of a smokin’ hot debate.

Barbecue holds a special place in these parts, though people can never seem to agree on the exact definition of this cultural and culinary phenomenon. One of the reasons is that barbecue is regional, with the major styles originating in the Carolinas, Memphis, Kansas City and Texas.

Even in the Carolinas, barbecue varies from region to region.

To many people, barbecue means smoked pulled pork, but let’s not forget those succulent ribs and juicy beef briskets. There are lots of great barbecue joints in the Upstate, but it’s also relatively easy — and fun — to smoke meat at home. With some basic equipment, a little practice and a lot of patience, almost anyone can be a backyard pitmaster.

About 10 years ago, I stepped into the smoky world of barbecue when I cooked my first Boston butt. These cuts from the upper part of the pork shoulder weigh about 10 pounds and are readily available at grocery stores. My first cook turned out better than it should have, considering all the mistakes I made, but the pork wasn’t very tender. And the flavor was more like the Sunday roast my grandmother used to make than the smoky, tangy ’cue I expected.

These days, I know better. I’ve learned a lot by trial and error, but much of my hands-on knowledge I gained from Wayne Preston, owner of Bucky’s Bar-B-Q in Greenville. Preston regularly teaches groups of 20 students how to smoke meat, make rubs and manage cooking temperatures. He also drilled into us that most meats, after several hours of smoking, need to be wrapped to finish the cooking process and ensure tenderness.

Ever since that class, I’ve been perfecting my pork shoulder, while Robert Bradley, who took the class with me, has applied his cooking skills to ribs and brisket. If we can do it, so can you. With fall upon us, now is a great time to get outside, fire up your smoker, grab a glass of wine and get ready to eat.

Three kinds of wine to pair with three kinds of barbecue. Pulled pork is paired with a bolder pinot noir, beef brisket is paired with cabernet sauvignon and pork ribs are paired with zinfandel.

Just Add Time

Smoking takes time and it demands close attention. Plan to get up early and tend the smoker until the evening. If you’re cooking pork shoulder, consider cooking it a day ahead, unless you don’t mind eating late. Smoking also requires some basic equipment. This can be as fancy as your budget permits, but if you’re new to smoking, there’s no need to go overboard.

» Grill or smoker: Though an offset smoker is ideal, smoking meat can be done on almost any charcoal grill or smoker if the heat is indirect. You also need to be able to maintain a steady temperature of 225 degrees. Yes, it will spike or dip, but don’t panic; adjust your fire or airflow as needed.

» Wood: Wood chips and chunks are easily found at hardware and sporting goods stores. Start your cook with fruitwoods such as apple and peach, and progress to hickory or mesquite. Have enough wood for four or five hours. If you’re using wood chips, soak them beforehand. When the smoker quits smoking, add more wood.

» Charcoal: Use a chimney starter to light your coals, not lighter fluid. Once coals are fully lit, dump them into the smoker. Add the wood on top. Add coals as necessary to maintain temperature.

» Thermometer: You need to be able to monitor the temperature of the meat throughout the cook as well as the temperature inside the smoker. Some smokers have a built-in thermometer, but a better solution is a dual-probe barbecue thermometer.

Three kinds of wine to pair with three kinds of barbecue. Pulled pork is paired with a bolder pinot noir, beef brisket is paired with cabernet sauvignon and pork ribs are paired with zinfandel.

Pulled Pork Shoulder

1    Semi-boneless pork butt, about 10 pounds

1    Cup light brown sugar

3    Tbsp paprika

2    Tbsp kosher salt

2    Tbsp black pepper

2    Tbsp chili powder

2    Tbsp dry mustard

2    Tbsp onion powder

1    Tbsp yellow mustard

2    Cups apple juice

Combine dry ingredients to make the rub. Rinse pork and pat dry, setting meat fat-side down in a disposable foil pan. If desired, use an injector to inject a small amount of apple juice throughout the meat. Lightly coat the pork with yellow mustard, and then apply the rub until evenly covered. Excess rub may be stored indefinitely.

Place pork on 225-degree smoker; it can be put directly on the grates or remain in the foil pan. Smoke meat steadily for 4 to 5 hours. At this point, or when the meat reaches 165 degrees, wrap tightly with aluminum foil (or seal the pan), adding some apple juice. Use charcoal to maintain the heat of the smoker or transfer to a 225-degree oven until the meat reaches 195 degrees.

Rest meat for 30 minutes before pulling it. Serve with sauces of your choice.

Beef Brisket

1    Beef brisket flat, about 5 pounds

2    Tbsp salt

2    Tbsp garlic powder

2    Tbsp paprika

2    Tbsp black pepper

2    Tbsp cayenne pepper

1    Tbsp oregano

1    Tbsp thyme

1    Tbsp yellow mustard

2    Cups apple juice

Sea salt

Coarse black pepper

Bottled hot sauce

Combine dry ingredients, except sea salt and coarse black pepper, to make the rub. Trim fat from brisket as necessary and apply rub. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight. Remove one hour prior to smoking and rub lightly with mustard. Sprinkle with sea salt, coarse black pepper and 12 drops of hot sauce.

Ensure smoker is at 225 degrees and start the cook with fruitwoods. Smoke meat steadily for about 4 hours. When the meat reaches 165 degrees, wrap it in heavy-duty aluminum foil, adding some apple juice before sealing. Use charcoal to maintain the heat of the smoker or transfer wrapped brisket to a 225-degree oven until the meat reaches about 205 degrees. Each brisket is unique, so expect cooking times to vary greatly.

Rest meat for 15 minutes before slicing against the grain.

Baby Back Pork Ribs

1    Rack of pork baby back ribs

2    Tbsp salt

2    Tbsp garlic powder

2    Tbsp paprika

2    Tbsp black pepper

2    Tbsp cayenne pepper

1    Tbsp oregano

1    Tbsp thyme

Brown sugar

Bottled tomato-based barbecue sauce, for basting

Remove membrane from the back of the ribs. Apply rub until ribs are evenly coated. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight. Remove ribs from refrigerator one hour before smoking.

Rub a handful of brown sugar on ribs and place on smoker, meat side up. Smoke meat steadily. After the first hour, and each hour thereafter, drizzle a bit of sauce on the ribs. After about 3 hours, wrap ribs in heavy-duty aluminum foil, adding just a touch of apple juice before tightly sealing. When the meat starts to pull away from the bone, the ribs are done. This normally takes 3 to 4 hours.

Serve with sauce, if desired.

Three kinds of wine to pair with three kinds of barbecue. Pulled pork is paired with a bolder pinot noir, beef brisket is paired with cabernet sauvignon and pork ribs are paired with zinfandel.

Red Wine Meets Smoked Meats

It seems like a natural match: barbecue and beer. But the right wine is ideal for the smoky, rich flavors of barbecued meats. The three wines we chose to pair with barbecue would work well with almost any smoked meats, but we think each does have a specific strength.

Easton Amador County Zinfandel, $20

Pair it with baby back pork ribs.

Bill Easton knows how to make zinfandel, and Amador County is one of the best regions in California to grow zin. This is a full-bodied wine with flavors of dark cherries, blackberries and a hint of spice, but compared to many high-alcohol zinfandels that are overly sweet and thick, this wine is superbly balanced and smooth. Its big tannins easily stand up to the rich flavors of the ribs, and it would also work well with grilled burgers. It’s a superb value.

David Paige Wines Pinot Noir, $40 – $60

Pair it with pulled pork shoulder.

For nearly 20 years, David Paige worked for Adelsheim Vineyards in Willamette Valley, Oregon, before forming his own winery in 2018. The winery currently offers three pinot noirs; we tasted the Willamette Valley pinot (the entry-level offering) and the Chehalem Mountains pinot (the middle wine of the trio) with the pulled pork. Both wines are surprisingly big for Oregon pinots, with deep flavors of red fruits such as cherries and raspberries. If you prefer bigger pinots, or typically drink California pinots, these wines won’t disappoint. Paige’s wines are new to SC.

Matthiasson Village Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $36

Pair it with beef brisket.

When you think beef, you think cab, right? Matthiason calls this food-friendly wine a “table cab,” which is made from a blend of wines from multiple vineyards throughout Napa Valley. It is aged for 20 months in mostly used oak barrels and offers a nice balance of cherry, blackberry, cranberry and herbal flavors. It’s not a huge Napa cab, but that’s OK, because it works perfectly with the brisket. This wine is very nicely balanced, with smooth, medium tannins.