Cook low, slow for great 'cue

Chili and coffee-rubbed smoked chuck roast

Larry Crowe

Making mouthwatering smoked and barbecued meats in your backyard is easy, so long as you don't mind being a control freak.

Tender, flavorful barbecue is all about slow cooking at low temperatures. That's why it is essential that you be able to carefully control the heat in your grill.

The trick is knowing how to use your grill for indirect cooking, which is just a fancy term for not cooking directly over a flame or bed of coals. By cooking to the side of the heat source, the meat cooks more slowly and won't burn. How you do that depends on the type of grill you have.

--Classic charcoal grills with a cover, such as a Weber kettle, work well when you use the special baskets they make to keep the coals contained to one or both sides of the grill. This allows you considerable control over the temperature at which you cook the meat.

It also helps to place a pan filled with liquid (water, wine, cider, beer, whatever) under the meat to add moisture. Vents at the top and bottom of the grill will need to be adjusted often, and fresh coals added to maintain a constant temperature.

--But if ease is essential, consider a common gas grill. Barbecue purists may scoff, but gas grills have advantages for making good barbecue. They hold their temperature well without any adjustments, have separate burners to facilitate indirect cooking, and gas heat is less drying.

The downside of gas is that you miss out on the flavor that charcoal adds to the meat, though you can get decent smoke by putting wet wood chips in a foil packet or a smoker box directly on the heat source.

Servings: 6 to 8

Ingredients

1 dried whole Anaheim or New Mexico chili

1 dried whole ancho chili

2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup water

4-pound chuck roast

1 cup apple, hickory or oak chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes

Directions

In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, toast both chilies until fragrant, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cutting board.

Add the cumin seeds to the skillet and toast, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 60 to 90 seconds. Transfer the seeds to a blender or the bowl of a mini food processor.

Remove and discard the stems from the chilies and cut into 1-inch pieces, then add to the blender or processor. Add the vinegar, brown sugar, garlic powder, espresso powder, salt, pepper and water. Process to a smooth paste, adding water, a teaspoon at a time, if necessary.

Place the chuck roast in a large bowl or baking dish and coat completely with the chili paste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.

Meanwhile, light a smoker, charcoal grill or gas grill and prepare for indirect cooking. Place a drip pan below the cooking grates and stabilize the temperature at around 250 degrees.

Drain the wood chips and scatter them over the coals (or place them in a smoker box and set over the heat source in a gas grill).

Place the chuck roast on the cooking grate over the drip pan. Cover the grill or smoker and cook, maintaining the temperature at 250 degrees, until an instant thermometer registers 180 degrees at the center of the roast, about 3 to 4 hours.

Wrap the roast tightly in heavy-duty foil and cook (with the grill covered) until fork tender and an instant thermometer registers 200 degrees to 205 degrees, about another 1 to 2 hours. Remove the roast from the heat and let rest, in the foil, for 30 minutes.

To serve, shred the meat using forks or slice across the grain.