How to Marinate or Brine: Wet and Dry Methods

how to marinate meatProperly preparing food prior to it going into a smoker or on the grill is of the utmost importance. There are many methods, but at the core is either brining or marinating before applying heat. This not only imparts flavor, it also ensures that your food doesn’t dry out over the course of a long time in the dry heat of a smoker. Properly marinating or brining your meat before cooking is the difference between dry, tough meat, and melt-in-your-mouth, fall-apart meat.

How does it work? While scientists do not have a consensus for what the exact chemical reaction is, the gist of it is that by using one of these methods that salt gets drawn into the food and help trap water, as salt is hydrophilic.

So, what are the options?

On the wet side of things:

  1. Brining: This is the process of soaking your food in a solution of water and salt (I prefer to use sea salt, but really any salt will work). You will need a vessel large enough to contain your food and enough water to submerge it. Generally, I use a ratio  of 1 cup of salt for every half gallon of water, but you can adjust this based on your taste. The upside to this method is that it is super easy (and relatively inexpensive). The downside is that you need to have a larger vessel for larger items, such as turkeys or pork shoulder, and you need to find room in the fridge if you intend to brine it for more than 30 minutes. Larger cuts should brine for longer, so this can be problematic. A bucket full of water and meat can also be very heavy.
  2. Marinating: The same process as brining, only using other flavors as well. This can be as simple as buying a bottle of marinade off the shelf, or making one of your own; either are valid options.  Get your food coated in the marinade, allow to soak for at least 30 minutes (again, larger cuts of meat will take longer). This could be a good use for one of the Saint Brian’s BBQ sauces; a friend of mine soaks beef roasts in Sweet Victory prior to slow cooking them. The result: a super-flavorful dish that melts in your mouth.

In either case, make sure to rise off any excess liquid before cooking so that the food isn’t over seasoned, and in the case of a marinade to get the sugars off so that they don’t burn. Also, discard any of the liquid remaining after you take the meat out, as it is not safe for consumption.

On the dry side:

  1. Dry Brine: coat the entire outer surface of the meat with kosher or sea salt. And I mean cover it. Not a light sprinkling. Wrap it in plastic wrap or seal it in a resealable plastic bag, and allow it to sit overnight. This will perform the same function as a wet brine, only without the need of a bucket and water. It’s a space saver. Be sure to brush off the excess salt (or even rinse it lightly) to prevent the food from tasting too salty when you cook it. A variation on this is the Salt Roasted Chicken recipe we just posted the other week.
  2. Dry Rub: a staple of the barbecue community. Every pitmaster has his or her own secret blend of spices (I’m partial to Dash Cunning Rub myself) that they slather onto the meat for a few hours before cooking. My personal preference is to leave it on when I throw ribs or pork shoulder into the smoker; it forms an amazing, flavorful crust over the hours it spends smoking.  Why does this work with a rub, as opposed to a dry brine? Less salt over all.

Check out our videos on rib prep for an example of how to use a dry rub.

BBQ Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Use Lighter Fluid

Don’t use lighter fluid to light your barbecue. Or match light charcoal. Ever.

No pitmaster worth their salt wants the taste of lighter fluid in their food, and that’s exactly what you get when you use it to start your fire and when you use match light charcoal (which is essentially charcoal soaked in lighter fluid). Stop it! Light your coals the right way:

  1. Only use natural lump charcoal. (If you are feeling especially creative and motivated, you can make your own.)
  2. Use a chimney starter:
    1. Put a pile of coals in your barbecue, smoker, or fire pit
    2. Load more coal into a chimney starter
    3. Put 2 pieces of crumpled up newspaper in the bottom of the starter
    4. Place the chimney on your grill, or some other fire-proof location
    5. Light the paper

The chimney will naturally draw the fire up into the coals and light them. When they are all lit, you can pour them on top of the pile of charcoal in your cooker and your’ll be ready to go.

Elevate your grilling game even more with the Saint Brian’s BBQ Pitmaster Collection

BBQ Party Ideas: Throw the ultimate backyard bash


Tips from the experts for a backyard barbecue party that will leave people talking

Plan Ahead

“An Aces Event is all about the prep work. It’s about the people you bring together: friends, teams, or even a community.” Chuck Francisco is a film host at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville and a Master of Ceremonies for Swing Kat Entertainment. He’s been involved in putting on monthly horror screenings at the historic theater in Phoenixville, PA, and locally famous perennial events such as BlobFest and Blob Ball. Whether it’s a BBQ party or a Halloween bash, he knows something about pleasing the crowd. “Mapping out all the minutia in advance is what allows your events this ability to feel authentic and organic- and what will have people reminiscing about it years from now.”

Plan out your BBQ party: the meals, music, decor, where the food will go, when it will need to go on the grill or out of the smoker. Getting all of this down on paper ahead of time will make the day of the event go much smoother, and you’ll be less stressed.

Some resources to help you keep track of everything:
Facebook Events: if your entire guest list is active on Facebook, this will be the easiest tool to keep track of RSVPs and message all of your guests
eVite: know who’s coming, who’s not. Great if you have people you’re inviting who don’t have or use Facebook


Download your free BBQ checklist


BBQ Party Food

This is the centerpiece of the BBQ party, it’s raison d’etre. Planning this feast ahead of time will make you less stressed while working the fire or running between your grill and the kitchen, and leave you more time to mingle with your guests.

A good guide for the flow of the meal:
Appetizer (either ready to go when guests arrive, or just pulling it off the fire)
Main Course: 2 meats, 1 veggie, 2 sides (this will cover just about every taste palet there)
Dessert (either go simple, like ice cream and grilled pound cake, or make it a presentation, like a grilled apple crisp)

Whatever you can make ahead of time, do. Sides are usually in this category. This will leave you time to concentrate on the main course, where your attention should be.  A BBQ party should center around great food and great friends…checking this off your list will make it easier to enjoy both.

Food Network has a calculator that will help you estimate how much you need to buy.

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Do Something Cool

To truly elevate your BBQ party, you need to add a cool factor. Depending on your skill level working the fire, maybe it’s as simple as cooking steaks caveman style right on the coals, or maybe as complex as cooking a whole hog. Whatever your comfort level is, make sure to include something like this to push your simple backyard BBQ into the territory of an Event. This will give your guests something to talk about, and have them looking forward to the next time.

Some suggestions:
Caveman Steaks: cook the steaks directly on the coals
– Carne Asado: cooking Argentinian style with your food staked around an open pit
Smoked Cocktails: a simple touch that elevates the drinks
– Smoked Meat: a simple approach, but the smell from the smoker will have your guests salivating
– Burger Bar: offer your guests a slew of different, sometimes off-beat toppings (like peanut butter and jelly…no seriously, it’s a thing) and offer a prize to whomever comes up with the most creative (and yet still edible) burger
– Hot Sauce Bar: offer an array of hot sauces of varying degrees of burn
– Whole Hog: not for the faint of heart. This takes skill and patience.

BBQ Party Music

“Cater to the crowd,” says The Quixote Project’s Jeff Selby, who’s musical tastes run from Bob Segar to A Tribe Called Quest. “But you can never go wrong with the iree vibes of Bob Marley at a cook out!”

Pandora and Spotify both have summer mix channels you can tap into if you don’t have time to curate a playlist yourself.

Speaking of catering to the crowd, Casey “Caseyboy” Foster of WMMR‘s Preston & Steve Show made a specific request: Barbecue from Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas.

Let it Ride

A final note of advice from Chuck Francisco: “Pick a place, buy supplies, set the tone, and then step back to allow an amazing shindig the space to evolve naturally.”

More BBQ Party Ideas

31 Best Backyard BBQ Party Ideas

25+ BEst Ideas for a BBQ Party

Traditional BBQ Menu

Sauces that will Elevate Your BBQ Party

10 Next Level BBQ Ideas

Baby Back Ribs

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Baby back ribs are, with close competition from Boston Butt, the kings of barbecue. They are crowd pleasers, a staple of both backyard barbecues and competition pit masters, and absolutely delicious. With the proper preparation and a little patience, they are also deceptively easy.

Before you dive into the recipe below, check out these two videos on how to properly select  rack of baby back ribs and on how to properly prepare them before putting them on the smoker.

Print Recipe
Saint Brian's Baby Back Ribs
Succulent, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs that will please any crowd.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Passive Time 1-8 hours
people per rack
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Passive Time 1-8 hours
people per rack
  1. Using a meat thermometer or table knife, work your tool under the silver skin on the bone side of the rack and remove the membrane. (See link below for the instructional video on how to do this.)
  2. Apply the spice rub to both sides and edges of the rack. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
Smoker/Grill Prep
  1. Start your smoker according to the manufacturer instructions. Preheat to 225-250 degrees F
  2. (If using a gas grill) Set up your grill for indirect heating and preheat to 225 degrees. If your grill has a smoke box, insert wood medium according to manufacturer instructions. If your grill does not have this feature, see the link below for creating your own smoke box.
  1. Using a rib rack, position the ribs vertically with the bone side up in the smoker.
  2. If you have a water/liquid tray in the smoker, make sure to keep it filled with either water, beer, or cider. If you're smoker or grill doesn't have this, every 30-40 minutes spray the ribs with a mixture of water and cider vinegar to keep them from drying out.
  3. Maintain a temperature in the smoker between 225-250 degrees F for about 4 hours. You will know the ribs are done when the meat recedes from the bone about 1/4". Internal temperature will be at least 165 (probably higher, and that's OK). Another test is the "break" test. Pick up the ribs in the middle with a pair of tongs. The ribs should droop and almost break apart under their own weight.
  4. Allow the ribs to rest for 20 minutes, then cut them into 3 rib servings. Serve with Saint Brian's Barbecue sauce on the side for dipping.
Alternative Finish
  1. When you have 30-40 minutes remaining on the ribs, brush on a thin layer of Saint Brian's Barbecue Sauce every 5 minutes. (Note: don't put the sauce on too early, as the sugars will burn.)
Recipe Notes

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Of Dreams and Past Lives

My first trip to the fabled South Street in Philadelphia was on my first or second day at La Salle University. I had heard all of the stories about the freaks and weirdos and criminals that populated the strip between Front and Broad, of the sex shops and tattoo parlours that you couldn’t miss if you were swinging a dead cat.

To my 18 year old eyes, it was everything it was supposed to be, and more. I got my ear pierced at a shop there, the ultimate act of rebellion for me at the time. A few years later, I got my second tattoo on South.

Granted, even in 1996, South Street wasn’t as big a to-do as it was in its heyday. And going down there today, you can definitely see that it has fully transitioned from punk to pop. But it will always carry a special place in my heart, in this city I fell in love with over 20 years ago.

And it is with no small measure of pride that I can announce that Saint Brian’s BBQ sauces will be available at the South Street Whole Foods starting March 30, 2017.

Bongs, Books, and Spreadsheets: NYE 2016

My wife and I aren’t “hit the town” kind of people. Even back in my wilder days, I don’t ever remember being New Year’s Eve as a night where I got “turnt” or “lit”, as the young people say (is that even what they say?).

So as we clean the house, a NYE tradition to get all of the dirt from the previous year out of the house, I’m taking some time to look ahead to 2017 and set some goals for Saint Brian’s.

  1. I’m attempting to make smoke-infused whiskey as an ingredient for a new sauce. Over a conversation with friends at O’Neal’s Pub at 3rd and South, we conceptualized a gravity bong-like device to pull the smoke through. Experiments 1 and 2, conducted yesterday (a reverse gravity bong constructed from an empty Pepsi bottle and small water bottle) and today (constructed from an empty Cherry Coke bottle and powered with a shop-vac), did not prove fruitful. Fear not! I believe I have isolated the problem and will run a new experiment tomorrow morning. Results will be posted.
  2. I’m a spreadsheet junkie. I admit it. The last several jobs I’ve had, Excel has been an indispensible tool. I’m putting together my revenue and expense tracking for 2017. As I’m focusing on the wholesale side of things in 2017, it should be easier to track my P&L, and I want to be organized. So much else in my life feels either chaotic or impulsive (by my own design, to be sure), it’s good to have a few safe harbors of stability and organization.  This is one of them.


3.  I’m reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and loving it. I’m finding inspiration in how he runs his kitchens, and I’m sure that his history of addiction resonates with me.

So Happy New Year’s, everyone. Don’t take any shit from anyone in 2017.

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

Warrior/28 Week 3

This week has been challenging.

First, entering the 3rd week of any experiment can be a make it or break it time. This is when the true behavioral changes will start taking root, and this is also the period where it’s easiest to fall back into old habits.

Combine that with Sunday having been Christmas…well, while I attempted to make good decisions that day, and didn’t spend the day gorging myself, I definitely blew things up a bit.  But one day of indulgence isn’t worth throwing out the entire experiment. The goal is to modify behavior so that, even when there’s a day like that, it’s easy to get back on the path of good decisions.

Add in that this is my early week at the day job, which throws off my whole morning. To “save time” I would typically grab Starbucks for breakfast, rushing out as soon as I was finished feeding and walking the dogs. (I say that in quotes, as in reality I had to leave earlier to make that side trip, so I really wasn’t saving any time.) I will claim a little victory in that I haven’t made that trip to Starbucks yet.

One other hiccup to the whole plan: I have an injured shoulder.  I’m not sure what I did to it, exactly, and I’m sure it is jiu jitsu related. It’s curtailing my ability to train, so this part of the experiment is a bit compromised. I’m hoping that adequate doses of ibuprofen and heat pads will help this heal quickly.

Anyway, the menu this week: leftovers.

With the holiday, I didn’t have time to get my meals prepared for the week.  Fortunately, we had roasted pork loin Monday night, so that will suffice as my lunch for the week. I’ll need to get a little more creative for dinner, but that’s less of an issue.


28 Day Challenge

Despite doing a pretty intense Brazilian jiu jitsu workout 3 times a week, I’ve been carrying a few extra pounds lately.  I attribute this to stress, getting older (I’m closer to 40 than I’d like to admit to myself), and a daily Starbucks habit.

I was reading about this “Whole30” thing (essentially a revamp of the Paleo diet, which is a revamp of the Atkins diet: no grains, mostly protein and roughage, and no fun), and while I have no intention of eliminating grains from my diet, I was intrigued by the idea of really zeroing in on what I was eating.

My hypothesis is that I’m already leading a relatively healthy lifestyle, and with only minor tweaks to my daily food intake, I can affect a positive change in my weight and health. My starting weight is in the neighborhood of 168 lbs, and I believe that I can get that down to 160 lbs.

I want to be a little scientific about this, so the only thing I’ll be altering is my diet. The goal is to put an plan in place that’s easy to follow, easy to execute (time is ever the enemy to plans), and is based in actual science. For example, I won’t be eliminating grains, as there is no conclusive, peer-reviewed study that shows that grains have a detrimental effect on one’s health.  To that end, should you come across an article that shows scientifically-backed information about nutrition or diet changes, please send it along, as I will gladly ready it.

So here’s my plan: starting Monday, December 12th, I’m going to start following a 28 day food plan, and I’ll share what I’m doing with everyone.  At the beginning of each week, I’ll post the planned meals. Some rules I’m going to set for myself:

  1. No more Starbucks chai lattes in the morning.
  2. No soda (except on my cheat day, if the mood takes me)
  3. Be flexible; life happens, so the plan needs to be able to change
  4. East relatively normal; this isn’t a crash diet, it’s meant to be an experiment to engage longer-term change, so the plan cannot be draconian, else it won’t be sustainable
  5. Incorporate Saint Brian’s products whenever possible (because SHAMELESS PROMOTION)
  6. Post the results, regardless of whether they prove or disprove my hypothesis

I’ll be posting the first week’s plan on Sunday.