Cooking Pork with Rub on It

Overall GRILLING BASICS are covered here.

            Overall SMOKING BASICS?  Oh, they are covered here.

            Pork.  So good.

For each cut, we’ll offer some suggestions on applying the Rub and actually cooking the cut.

            Click on your favorite kind of pork and read away:


            BUTT / SHOULDER

            CHOPS (coming soon)


Spare ribs are my favorite thing to barbecue.  They're probably my favorite thing to eat.

It's pretty easy to make uninspiring ribs.

Turns out there's a relatively foolproof way to make really good ones.

I will tell you what I have learned.  I think if you take care and heed my advice, your ribs will eat good and you'll be happy about them.

Preparing to cook yourself some pork ribs

You will need these non-edible items:

            All the stuff in Smoking Basics
            A spray bottle, a big one, suitable for food products
            A bristle brush suitable for food products
            Kitchen shears
            Maybe a rib rack

If you're only cooking a couple of slabs, you might be able to fit them flat on the grill surface to smoke them.

If you're cooking more than a couple slabs, get a rib rack.  Google "rib rack"--you'll figure it out.

On the food front, you will need:

            Some ribs (see below for guidance)
            Midyett Premium Rub
            Barbecue sauce (someday I'll relay my thoughts about sauce)
            Yellow mustard
            Apple cider vinegar (unfiltered if your spray bottle's nozzle can handle it)
            Apple juice (also unfiltered if the nozzle can deal)

Navigating the rib wilderness and selecting proper ribs to cook

A few varieties of pork ribs are out there in the world:

            Baby backs

                        Popular and plentiful. 

                        I read a thing somewhere about the pigs for baby backs being farmed in bulk in high-rise pig farms. 

                        It was not a happy story, but it made me feel smugly pleased with myself, because I've never liked the texture of baby back ribs. 

                        I find them to be overly tender to the point of being a somewhat infantile eat. 

                        Surely I will eat them if they are the only ribs around.  So smoke 'em if you got 'em.  But get spare ribs if you can.

            Country ribs

                        Not really ribs. 

                        Thick strips of pork loin cut from the shoulder blade. 

                        Very meaty, no rib bone, just bits of shoulder blade bone. 

                        I'm not a fan of smoking or grilling country ribs. They cook somewhere between ribs and the flat of a brisket.  Just not fun to cook on the grill. 

                        If you want to braise some country ribs and have me over for dinner, I'm in.

            ***Spare ribs***

                        Oh gosh, these ribs are the ribs you want, in my opinion. 

                        Keep reading.

Spare ribs are available a couple of ways:

            St Louis cut

                        St Louis cut means the tip of each rack of ribs is cut off. 

                        In addition, the flap of meat on the back of the slab ("skirt meat") and the flaps of meat at the end of each rack (I call it "flap meat") are cut off.

                        Result?   A nice, clean looking slab of ribs (yay). 

                        And no tips or bits to eat (boo).

            "Full rack," untrimmed spare ribs

                        Full rack, full slab...whatever. 

                        If it doesn't say "St Louis cut" on the label, and if it isn't a squarish looking slab... 

                        ...look for a wide, curved expanse along one of the long sides of the slab. 

                        That's the tip. 

                        Rib tips are delicious.


We're going to cook full slabs of ribs here. 

Why?  Because everything that gets cut off in a St Louis cut is GREAT. 

Tips are great. 

The "skirt meat and flap meat" should never even make it to the table.  You eat that at the grill when it's done (which will be way before the rest of your ribs). 

If you end up with St Louis cut or baby backs...well, OK, you're still alive.  Things could be worse.  You can skip the "trimming" part below and start cooking. 

Otherwise, yay, you're gonna trim your ribs and get the full experience of making them.  And have tips.  And since you're cooking, you're gonna eat the skirt meat and flap meat before anyone else even SMELLS ribs.

Trimming the ribs if you did a good job and got full spare ribs

Here's a reasonable tutorial on trimming full racks of spare ribs.

If we had time, I'd type out my own version, but hey, this one is done right now and you want to cook, not wait for me to reword something that is already well-documented.

A couple of notes on those instructions:

            You may find a "silvery" membrane on the back of your rib racks. 

                        Some people remove it.  You may. 

                        I do not. 

                        I think it's fine w/the membrane on there and actually helps hold everything together.

            I cut off both the skirt meat on the back of the rib rack and the flap meat on ends of the rack.

                        As mentioned previously, I cook it with the other stuff and eat it when it's done after a couple hours on the smoker.

            You can totally cook the rack of ribs first AND THEN cut off the tip.

                        I don't do that for two reasons:

                                    1. The tips cook differently than the rest of the rack.  They take less time, but they are also fattier and way less likely to dry out.

                                    2. I want all the rub and spray and sauce on the ends of the ribs and the tips.  You get no stuff on the ends if you cook the slabs while the ribs and tips are attached.        

Preparing the meat and smoker and stuff

Smoking Basics covers the smoking setup, BUT those temperatures are for large cuts like pork shoulder and brisket.

You will want to use different temperatures...

            For ribs, I like the smoker at about 250-275.  No lower. 

            You can do higher, as high as 350 or even hotter, but less margin for error the hotter you get. 

            I do not recommend high-temp cooks if a) you haven't been doing this a while and b) you can't afford to order take-out if you turn your ribs into carbon.

Slather the ribs and tips lightly with mustard on both sides.  The mustard makes a nice base for the Rub, and you won't taste it in the end.

You know that spray bottle I told you to buy earlier?  

Mix together the apple cider vinegar and the apple juice and put it in the spray bottle

Mix those things to taste.  You can add water as well if you like or ginger ale if you're feeling fancy.  I go more vinegary, you might like a sweeter mix, whatever.  Just make it because you'll use it later.

Applying the Rub to ribs

Don’t rinse or pat dry the meat.  A little moisture will help the Rub adhere.

Coat both sides of each slab or tip completely with Rub.

The Rub is formulated such that the meat won't turn out overly salty or peppery.  If a complete coating makes you nervous, try coating one side completely.

Dust the extra skirt meat and flap meat, which you'll eat early because you are the cook.

Cooking the ribs so you can eat them and be happy

I am going to provide a lengthy, full-suffer, almost-sure-to-be-great method of rib cook.

If you do it this way, you're almost certain to be real happy with the result. 

I suggest you do it this way to start.

If some other time you are lazy and want to pare back on steps, you can pick and choose as to what you leave in and leave out.

In other words: you don't have to do all this stuff every time.  But it may or may not work out quite the way you'd like. 

For example, my friend Andy and I make what we call "Ninety Minute Ribs."  We cook them at 400°F, no basting, no nothing, almost no margin for error.  They're charred and not moist.  They absolutely do not fall off the bone.  They are gnarly, but they are also quite bacony and fairly us.  I wouldn't make them for some of my guests, but I will eat them at home myself, no problem. 

You're probably impatient by this point...

I suggest you settle yourself.  It will take a little while to cook these ribs.

How long? 

Your cooking time is going to depend on your smoker's starting temperature.

At 250°F, you're looking at about five hours.

At 300°F, you're looking at about three hours or so, probably. 

Within the total time, we'll have three periods of time to consider:

            1.  Initial Smoke (about 3/5 of your total time on the smoker)

            2.  Foil Wrap (about 1/5 of your total time)

            3.  Final Cook and Dressing (about 1/5)

At 250°F, you're looking at 3hrs Initial Smoke, 1hr Foil Wrap, and 1 hour Final Cook and Dressing.

At 300°F, it'll be more like 2hrs Initial Smoke, 30-40min Foil Wrap, and 30min Final Cook and Dressing.

HOWEVER... with any cut of barbecue, you're cooking to a consistency and quality of result much more than some value on the clock. 

We'll get into that later.  But you don't want to rush ribs any more than you'd rush a brisket.  Rushing barbecue never works.

Note that you can see variations of this method on the Internet if you search for "3 2 1 method of smoking ribs."

Many of them will call for 225°F smoker temp, with 3hrs Initial Smoke, 2hrs Foil Wrap, and 1hr Final Cook and Dressing.

Here's what I think:

            a) 225°F is too low for ribs, and

            b) 2hrs in foil is way too long

If you like super soft ribs, that's what you'll get using that version of the 3-2-1 method.

I don't like super soft ribs.  I feel like a little baby eating baby food.  Moosh moosh moosh.

I like ribs to have texture to them and still chew like meat.

I also think a long foil section ruins the crust on the ribs, irretrievably.  The Final Cook calls for returning the ribs to the smoker...which is a pain in the neck if they are too fall-aparty.

In case you haven't figured it out, I'm counseling against the 3-2-1 method and in favor of the variation I'm about to run down.  But you do what you like.  3-2-1 is there for you, and if you don't have any teeth, you may well prefer it.


Get the ribs on the smoker, either flat on the grill if you only have a couple slabs or in a rib rack if you have more than that.  I mentioned the rib rack earlier.  If you skipped that bit, uh, you may need a rib rack now.  Maybe Target has one.

If you're putting the ribs in a rack, put them in there with the thick edge on top.  The thick part has more fat, and as that fat renders out, maybe it'll slide down the rib and coat it.

You may not have room enough in the rack for everything.  Just improvise.  Tips can be laid on top, across the top edges of the racked ribs, or leaned up on the stuff in the rib rack.  Try not to touch ribs together on the faces of the slabs or that spot won't develop bark.  You can figure it out.

Now you're into the Initial Smoke.  This will take about 3hrs if you're in the 250°F range.  You can do a little less if your temperature is higher than that.

Leave the ribs on the smoker for an hour or so.  Don't peek and don't tweak unless the temperature isn't what it should be.

After an hour or so, open the smoker and spray the ribs with your mixture of apple cider vinegar and apple juice.  Quickly!  Don't mess up your smoking environment!

You can repeat the spray move every half hour or so after this point, during the Initial Smoke part of the cook.

During the Initial Smoke, you'll also want to prep for the Foil Wrap.

You're going to double-wrap each slab and length of tip in foil.

So...pull as many lengths of aluminum foil as you need to do that.

Now you want to mix the following in a bowl:

            Apple cider vinegar
            Apple juice or cider
            Whatever barbecue sauce you like
            Maybe some applesauce but not too much
            Maybe some brown sugar if you really like sweet ribs (I don't)

I used to do the applesauce.  I don't anymore.  I'm not into the extra sweetness, and inevitably it glops up in spots and complicates the rib crust.  But knock yourself out if you want to try it.

Me, I'm not going to use too much of this stuff anyway.  You get a real wet, steamed rib if you use very much of it and do the Foil Wrap for the full hour (much less two hours as counseled in the 3-2-1 method).

OK, now enough time has passed, we'll say.  It's been maybe 3hrs, and the Initial Smoke is OVER.

Time for the Foil Wrap phase.

Take the ribs off the smoker.

For each slab or length of tip:

            Put it on a length of foil.

            Brush it lightly on both sides with the mixture you made earlier. Not too much. 

            Wrap in the foil.  Then wrap again in another length of foil.

Put the foil packages back on the smoker, with the ribs meat side down (as opposed to bone side down).  Leave them there for 30min to an hour, depending on your smoker temp and how tender you want your ribs to be.

You can flip the packages halfway through if you want.

You can also totally do the foil wrap stage in an oven if you want.

Next up:  the Final Cook and Dressing stage.  Yay!

Take the packets off the smoker (or out of the oven).  Give them 5-15min to cool. 

Open them up.

Now...they'll look kind of depressing when you take them out of the foil, like ribs you'd get at a steakhouse that doesn't have a smoker. 

You'll think you messed them up.  Don't worry about it.  You kinda did, but I told you to do it.  We will fix them now.

Re-dust the ribs with Rub (just a little...not a thick coat) if you like.

Put the ribs back on the smoker.  If you can grill the ribs flat on the grill, do it.  If you have too many, just get 'em back in the rib rack (with the fat edge on top, like before). 

If you cooked the ribs for a long time in the foil, they might be a pain to get on the grill because they're too soft.  Oh well.  Do the best you can.

I often jack up the heat here a little bit.  If I did the foil stage in the oven...I might even have removed the drip pan setup from the smoker and gotten the heat up to 300 or so to expedite this last stage.

What's the goal of the Final Cook?  To tighten up the exterior so it gets bark-like.

If you've followed the directions, the meat is edible at this point.  You're just tuning texture by making bark.  You're getting everything firmed up the way you want it.

You're really going to cook by feel and look from this point on. 

If you get some bark...coat the meat with a THIN layer of barbecue sauce mixed with your spray mix and re-bark to build up another layer.  When I'm feeling fancy, I might do this step three or four times if the ribs aren't in danger of drying out.  This technique builds up a lot of deliciousness, but it only works if the slabs aren't falling apart, which is another argument for not overdoing the Foil Wrap time.

When you get tired of doing this part or you can tell the ribs aren't gonna handle too much more fooling around, take the ribs off the smoker.  Put them on a platter and take them inside.

I dust them lightly (very lightly, more like sprinkle them) with Rub at this point.

Let everything cool for a bit.  When you can handle the tips, take your kitchen shears and cut the tip sections into chunks, 1" thick or so.  You can cut the ribs into sections of two or three bones, or you can just serve them whole and put the shears on the platter so people can cut their own sections.

Serve with sauce on the side.  They're already sauced, so you probably won't need it, but just in case.  You are done.  Eat if you aren't already full from sampling.

Butt / Shoulder

Pork shoulder is, as you might surmise, the shoulder of a pig you're gonna eat.  Pork butt?  Not a pig butt!  It's part of the eating pig's shoulder.  Seriously, no joke.

Here's how it works.

Three words are important when it comes to knowing all about a pig's shoulder:




Boston butt is often called, simply, the pork butt.  So if the meat hunk you're buying is pork and it has either "Boston" or "butt" in the name, here ya go.  The cut is from the top of the pig, over the shoulder blade.  This cut is full of marbled fat.  It's pretty easy to cook, because it's hard to overdo, though it'll get mushy if you really really hammer it.  You always pull apart this part of the shoulder to serve and eat it.  Can't really slice it.  It'll be falling apart when you're done, if you did it properly.

Picnic shoulder, picnic ham, whatever...if it's part of a pig's shoulder and it has "picnic" in the name, it's the lower part of the pig's shoulder.  "Picnic" is a leaner, tougher cut than a "Boston" cut.  Don't take "tough" the wrong way.  It holds its form better and has more meaty texture than a Boston butt does.  Great for slicing.  Some people prefer the flavor, probably the same people who prefer the concentrated flavor of the leaner parts of a brisket.

If you get an enormous thing that has the bone in it and looks like the entire shoulder of an's probably got both sections on it.  The challenge in cooking an entire shoulder like that is the cooking time.  The picnic section will take longer to get up to temp than the Boston.  But you can even them out quite a bit by wrapping...and more on that later.

Anyway, chances are you'll end up with a Boston butt, and that's where I'd start if I were you. And maybe end.  I could smoke Boston butt/shoulder every single time and be happy.  That's all I have to say about that.

OK, so you need:

            Pork shoulder (Boston butt recommended to start and really forever)
            Midyett Premium Rub, of course
            Yellow mustard
            Apple cider vinegar
            Apple cider or apple juice
            All the stuff in Smoking Basics
            Spray bottle
            Maybe a meat injector

Preparing the meat and smoker and stuff

Whether to inject shoulders and briskets is a matter of taste and appetite for bother. 

Personally, I inject brisket maybe half the time and pork shoulder 100% of the time.  I think injecting adds a ton of flavor to pork, and the cut is so enormous it's semi-neededish.  Having flavorful elements working on the interior of the shoulder during the cook makes a lot of sense to me.

You can get cheapo plastic meat injectors at any supermarket.  If you're going to do it more than once, I highly recommend springing for an all-metal one.

It's pretty simple to do. You just mix up an injecting fluid in a bowl. Taste it to make sure it's good (but not after you start injecting, since it'll have pork stuff in it then).  Draw the fluid into the syringe, and inject it into the shoulder.  Do that a whole bunch.  (Very often your shoulder will be wrapped in plastic. I leave mine in the plastic for the injection, since it helps contain any leakage.)

Here's where I'd start with the solution:

            Apple cider vinegar (unfiltered if your spray bottle's nozzle can handle it)

            Apple juice (also unfiltered if the nozzle can deal)

Mix those things to taste.  You can add water as well if you like or ginger ale if you're feeling fancy.  I go more vinegary, you might like a sweeter mix, whatever. 

I do not add salt to the injecting fluid, and I do not inject longer than an hour or two before the shoulder goes on the smoker.  You're not makin' ham.

Smoking Basics covers the setup of your smoker.

Finally, take some of your injection stuff and put it in the spray bottle.  Or mix apple cider vinegar and apple cider/juice to taste and put that in there, if you didn't inject.

Applying the Rub to the shoulder

So hey.  If the cut you bought has skin on it, take it off.  I would try to grill it up later and eat it, though your mileage may vary on eating that kind of thing.  But it won't do you any favors when you're smoking. 

If there's a bone in the shoulder, leave it in.

Smear the entire shoulder with a very light layer of mustard. 

Apply the Rub very generously to the exterior of the shoulder.

Trust me—you will not taste the mustard.

Cooking the shoulder part you are meaning to eat later

I'm going to make this pretty short.

You're going to want to keep the smoker between 225 and 275.

Shoulder is durable, particularly Boston cuts.  If the environment gets hot, it's OK for a brief period.  But try to keep it in that 225-275 range.

You're shooting for a meat temperature between 195 and 205.  Once it gets to 195 or so, I pick at it a little to see if it's falling apart yet.  If it is, I take it off.  If it's not, I let it go a bit more.

It's going to take a very long time to smoke the shoulder to that point.  Like...90min/lb to 2hrs/lb.  That kind of long.

After 3-4hrs on the smoker, I'd hit it with the spray bottle every 90min or so.

And at the 6-hour mark or so, I'd have a meat thermometer in it to see where I was.  I use therms that have remote probes on them, so I don't have to open the smoker to check.

Now, if you need to get the shoulder done can always wrap.

Wrapping means you take the shoulder off the smoker, and you wrap it (double-wrap it!) in foil.

Then you return the shoulder to the smoker ( oven, if you want to cheat) and let it cook.

When to wrap?  Some people do it just as the shoulder enters the "stall" period.  The "stall" is when the cut of meat (happens with brisket as well) is sweating off moisture enough to cool itself and stall any temperature rise in the meat.  Generally the stall kicks in at about 160-170.  It can last...a disconcertingly long time.  And that's why people usually resort to wrapping at that point.

I'm agnostic about wrapping with Boston butt.  I always wrap picnic cuts or whole shoulders, because they take longer to cook.  But pork butt has so much fat in it that it is unlikely to dry out if the temperature isn't too high, and I love the bark on the meat's surface so much that I want to preserve it.

My middle position is often to ride out the stall and wrap only when I start to see the butt come out of the stall.  When I see the temp (after a long time sitting at, say, 165) start to rise, I let it go up a few degrees, and then I might pull the shoulder and wrap it.

Why wait? Well, once the cut is out of the stall, it's given off most of its excess moisture.  And therefore the wrap is less likely to hold in moisture and end up sort of "steaming the meat"...and trashing my nice bark in the process.

Anyway.  Get the shoulder to 195 internal, and see if it's starting to fall apart on you.  If not, let it go a bit longer, as high as 205 if you need it.

Once it's beginning to fall apart...take off the shoulder.  Wrap it in foil.  Let it sit in an unheated oven or a cooler for an hour or so (you can wrap it in towels if you're paranoid that it's going to cool off too much).  This resting period is important.  It allows the meat to settle down and the juices in it to spread out and redistribute themselves.

Unwrap the foil gingerly and transfer the shoulder to a cutting board.  You're not going to cut it.  If you got it right, you should be able to pull it apart now.  I have these "bear claw" things for pulling pork, and they work great, but you can do it with a couple of large serving forks easily enough.

Once pulled, here's what I like to do:

            Spray the pulled pork with a little of my spray from the cook (vinegar/cider)
            Dust it lightly with Rub
            Mix up the pork
            Taste it

And repeat those four steps until I'm confident I've got a spread of pulled pork that is going to taste great through and through.  Mix the bark with the interior meat, and it'll be great for everyone.

For what it's worth...a 12-15lb pork butt isn't a one-meal kind of thing in our house.  Here's how it usually works out.

            Night #1 - pulled pork
            The next morning - pulled pork and eggs
            Night #2 - I eat pulled pork but everybody else is still full from Night #1
            Night #3 - Tacos
            The next morning - we make chili out of whatever is left


I will get to it.  Suffice to say, for now, that I use a grill and a griddle both.

Grilling Basics

What you need to do to grill things...go!

Get this stuff:

  • A grill (kettle, "egg"-style, something like that)
  • Hardwood charcoal and a little bit of hardwood (chips, a chunk, whatever)
  • Some food to grill

So there's grilling and there's smoking.  Grilling is cooking over a fire at moderate to high heat for a short time.  Smoking (barbecuing) is cooking over smoke at low temperature for a long time.  This here tutorial thingy is about grilling.

Now...if you have a gas judging.  I use 'em when they are around.  Just fire it up and grill the food.  If you have multiple burners and can afford to leave one unlit, do that.  You can move things over to that part of the grill to sit for a bit, if they get cooked enough and you need to catch up with other stuff or whatever.  And also ignore the rest of this thing.

If you do not have a gas grill...are they gone?  OK...good for you.  Man, who wants to cook on one of those things?  You might as well stay inside, right?  Don't you feel bad for those people?  Me too.  Ugh caveman cook food wood fire, me big caveman.  So anyway, let's move on with real grilling.

Fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal and get it going.  Use hardwood (a/k/a "lump") charcoal, if at all possible.  Briquettes are a total drag for smoking, but you can get away with them when grilling.  Still, I don't recommend them.  They don't burn as hot as lump, they don't smell or taste as good, and they produce a ton of ash.

Now...if you are cooking just a bit of food, or you're cooking just veggies for some reason, or even cooking real thin stuff like bulgogi or cutlets, you might only want a half-chimney of charcoal. And I don't clear out the grill if there's viable charcoal in the bottom (as opposed to just ash, which I do trash)--if you have a bunch of leftover charcoal in there, then a half-chimney might be the ticket for your cook.

I use some kind of pulpy paper (newspaper is ideal) crumpled up to light the chimney.  Crumple the paper into balls, put it on a non-flammable surface like concrete or the bottom of your grill, light it on fire, and put the chimney with charcoal in it on top of the now-burning paper.  You can use a crumpled-up paper bag, as well, but it might not catch as quickly (hint: light a candle, drip wax on the paper, and light the waxy paper with the candle--wax is an accelerant).  You know what else works great?  Peanut shells.  Seriously great for lighting a fire.

Anyway, LIGHT IT, then let the chimney run until the top of it sees ash.  You should have at least a bit of white ash on the top of the charcoal in there.  Then dump the coals into the grill...

...ideally leaving about a quarter of the available space largely free of charcoal.

Why?  So you will feel smart when you have a steak or piece of chicken or charred pepper that is done early and you want to keep it warm but not full-on cooking for another five minutes.

The charcoal you have in there?  You ideally want it spread out evenly over the area you DID want covered.  That can be hard to do pouring charcoal out of a chimney.  Maybe move coals around with tongs to get it evenish.  Once you grill a bunch, you get good at managing the hot and cool spots, and maybe this will not matter much.

If you have wood to add here...add it.  Use only hardwood, and not too much.  You're only going to get a short amount of time with the smoke.  It's going to be an accent, not a primary element as in smoking.  Let it burn a bit before putting anything on the grill.

For grilling, I would suggest opening the bottom damper on the grill completely.  Get it hot.  And you may or may not be using the grill cover.  If I'm cooking sausage or hot dogs or burgers, I do those cooks with an open grill mostly (though I do smoke sausage at low temperature sometimes when barbecuing).  Steaks, I'll use the lid, but usually when I do put the lid on over steaks, I close off all dampers completely.

A note on burning grease and fat:  it's not a major flavor issue when grilling like it is with barbecue, mostly because the temperature of a grilling fire is so much hotter than a smoking fire.  The grease burns off more quickly and completely.  The food isn't lingering over the smoldering grease fire for many many minutes, soaking up the petroleum taste.  If anything, a little beef grease just adds some grilly grillness on the flavor front--but only at grilling temps!  You want to avoid burning grease completely on a low and slow cook.

Anyway, if your grill is hot, good job.  You're ready to grill now.

Smoking Basics

What you need to smoke meat:

  • Hardwood charcoal
  • Hardwood chunks (not chips)
  • Drip pan (large hotel pan)
  • Grill with a couple layers of grills (more on that later)

And's how you set up your grill to smoke meat.

We're talking kettle grills and kamado-style smokers like the Big Green Egg and so forth.  If you have something fancier like an offset smoker or whatever, good for you!  But you can figure that out on your own!

Fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal and get it going. I'll assume you know how to use a charcoal chimney. Use hardwood charcoal, not briquettes. Briquettes are not pure wood. They have fillers like clay and other stuff in 'em. As a result, you're smoking your meat with whatever else is in the briquettes as well as whatever wood material is in there. Even if the fillers do not flavor the meat (they might), the non-wood stuff in there means they won't produce the same flavorful impact as hardwood charcoal. The filler also means briquettes ash a TON. Plus I don't think they last as long for low-temp cooks, maybe because they ash so much and kinda smother themselves or something, I don't know. I think they're a drag.

Fill the bottom of the smoker with unlit charcoal—”fill,” yeah…not FILL-fill. Just get a good one-chunk-thick layer of charcoal in there. Dump the chimney onto it once the chimney stuff is nice and hot.

Add 5-6 sizable chunks of hardwood to the fire—or less. I like a lot of early smoke myself, but you can overdo it, I guess. Spread the chunks out so they’re not clumped together.

What kind of wood? Hardwood of some kind. Hickory and oak are good for most everything, as are other nut woods like pecan.  Cherry is good for cuts of beef.  Apple is great for pork or chicken, just OK for beef (kind of light).  I like mesquite, but it’s strong--I wouldn’t use it all alone if you can help it, and I wouldn't use it at all on anything but beef.  A mix of wood will give you good, complex flavor.

The bottom damper on the grill should be maybe ½ way open and the top should be about the same. Just because that’s the middle and you can go up/down on either end from there.

Ideally you’ve got a thermometer on the lid of the grill. Shoot for 225°F or maybe 250°F tops. Overshooting is best to avoid—high temp wastes fuel and takes a long time to come down.

You’ll want to have some kind of two-level grill scene so you can put a drip pan between the fire and the meat. There is a variety of ways to do this—just depends on your grill deal. Maybe you have an offset smoker, and it’s a nonissue. But the drip pan should have a large surface, it should be pretty shallow (couple inches deep), it should not be right on the coals, and it should be maybe half full of water—room at the top for whatever grease falls into the pan.

The top grill goes above the drip pan—worst case, you can put the drip pan on the regular grill and balance a second grill on top of the drip pan. That would be wobbly, but I’ve done it and it works OK.

Just do not allow too much grease to get in the fire. It’s not like getting a little steak fat on the fire when grilling. A brisket, for example, puts out a lot of grease from the fatty point and the fat cap. If that grease gets into the fire to any great extent, you’ll end up with a hot-ass grease fire, greasy smoke, and meat that has this gross petrol taste. Even if other people don’t notice it, you will, and it will bum you out.

Once your drip pan is “secured” or at least there, with a grill above're ready to put on the meat.