Whether you are doing a big family dinner on your grill or barbecuing a feast for some friends, you may be wondering how effective cooking multiple pieces of meat at the same time is.
The short answer: Yes, it is possible to do and you can still turn out some delicious barbecue in the process. Whether you are smoking or barbecuing multiple pieces of the same type of meat or different types of meat, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure everything goes smoothly. Especially if you want to try and have everything finish together so it is served hot.
In this article, we’ll break down what you need to know to cook multiple pieces of meat together. Let’s take a look:
Some meats are cooked low and slow and some are cooked quicker and seared. Either way, the key to cooking delicious meat is maintaining a constant desired temperature in your cooker. This is where really knowing your grill or smoker is key.
Of course, exactly how you control your grill or smoker’s temperature will depend on the type of cooker you are using. You want to try and keep the cooker’s internal temperature between 225°F and 300°F (depending on what exactly you’re cooking). Before you start adding your pieces of meat, you want to make sure the temperature has been stabilized for a couple of minutes in your grill or smoker.
Remember, you cannot trust the thermometer on the hood of your cooker, it will lie to you. To accurately keep everything under control and cook properly it’s important to have a good thermometer setup. You should have a probe measuring the air temperature inside your cooker and another to measure the internal temperature of the meat.
It’s important to understand that the best barbecuing is done by temperature versus focusing on a specific cook time for each piece of meat. Recipes that push a specific “standard” for a cook time are just asking for trouble. You can end up with dry overcooked meat or even undercooked meat.
Having to look up times, internal temperatures, and meat types can be a hassle. Keeping a temperature chart on hand while grilling will make the entire process much easier. This one, from Traeger Grills, includes the most commonly barbequed cuts of meat, along with their expert chef's suggested cooking temperatures and the USDA's recommended safe internal temperatures.
Source: Traeger Grills.
There are a lot of variables (the type of cooker you’re using, outside temperature, humidity, wind, etc.) that can impact how long it really takes for a piece of meat to cook. So the goal is to always aim for the target internal temperature in the center of the thickest part to determine when the meat is done.
This, again, is why it is so important to have some good digital meat thermometers. When cooking multiple pieces of meat (especially different types), it is even better if you have multiple thermometers or a multi-probe thermometer to use so you’re not constantly poking a bunch of holes in the different pieces.
You may start to get concerned about pieces that are ready to pull off the grill overcooking before everything else is done or you want to let some pieces rest longer. You can still keep them warm and ready to go. Just wrap the meat in butcher paper or aluminum foil, then wrap in towels, and you can store them in a large cooler and finish the rest of the pieces. Or you can store pieces in your indoor oven.
But, when it comes to cooking multiple pieces of meat together, timing does play a part in ensuring everything finishes (reaches internal temperature) at the same time.
Ideally, when you are to the point where you are wanting to attempt to cook several different pieces of meat at the same time you have a good understanding of how to work your grill effectively. You should also know how long it normally takes you on your grill, all factors considered, to cook certain types of meat to the desired temperature.
So, you know how long it normally takes you on your cooker to cook a full packer brisket, a slab of ribs, a whole chicken, etc individually. Then, it will just take some planning to determine exactly how to cook multiple pieces and time it so they are all done together.
The last thing you want to do is not give yourself enough time to cook everything and have people waiting on you. When you have to start rushing is when mistakes are often made.
When cooking multiple pieces of the same type of meat, in theory, it is possible for them to all cook in roughly the same time if they are the same size. This is as long as there is enough space between the pieces for air to flow, each piece is getting the same amount of heat, and you hold the target temperature in your cooker. Each piece will then cook independently.
Of course, if the sizes of the pieces of meat vary, you’ll have to monitor their temperatures and timing closer. You should start cooking the larger pieces first.
When picking out your cuts of meat, trying to get pieces that are all very similar in weight and size will make cooking multiple pieces easier.
If you are cooking different types of meat together, a little more math will need to be done to time everything right. Some meats cook much faster than others. When determining your timing and how much time overall you will need, you have to start by looking at each piece individually.
This is where your past experience of cooking different types of meat of certain sizes on your grill comes in handy. You should have a pretty good idea of how long it normally takes to cook a certain piece to temperature. With this information, you’ll use a simple math formula to plan out your timing of when each type of meat goes on the grill or in the smoker. The formula is:
Start time of each piece = Target finish time - Time to cook to temperature
Let’s say you wanted to have everything ready by 4:00 PM on Saturday. You know that:
- A brisket in your smoker normally takes 1.6 hours per pound and your brisket for this cook is 10 pounds.
- A full slab of ribs in your smoker normally takes 6 hours
- A whole chicken in your smoker normally takes 4 hours
So, using the formula above, you would start by putting your brisket in at 10:00 PM on Friday night, which gives you 16 hours (based on the 1.6 hours/lb) plus a 2-hour buffer. The ribs would then go in at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning, which gives you 6 hours plus a 2-hour buffer, allowing time for them to sit wrapped and in the cooler to rest for further tenderizing. Then, the chicken would go in promptly at 11:30 AM on Saturday which gives you 4 hours plus a 30-minute buffer, allowing time for it to rest as well.
The key thing to remember when cooking multiple pieces of the same type or different types is to ALWAYS give yourself some extra time just in case. Start earlier than you think necessary. It would be safe to say that giving yourself roughly 20% extra time to cook would give you a good buffer to utilize if needed.
Depending on the type of grill you are using, you can utilize a two-zone grill setup where you have one side that is direct heat and one side that is indirect heat. This will give you a little more flexibility in being able to utilize varying cooking temperatures. For example, being able to put a nice crisp on the skin of a whole chicken while your ribs are finishing up.
With the two-zone grill setup, you can also have more control over your timing by being able to shift things around as needed.
For example, say you have one piece of meat that has reached the desired internal temperature a little early compared to the other pieces of meat and has a nice crust on it now. By shifting that piece totally into the indirect zone, you can hold it at temperature for a little bit longer until the other pieces are ready to come off the grill as well. Or until you want to take it off to rest (another reason to give yourself extra time).
“Can you cook more than one type of meat at the same time?” is a very common question. As you can see, grilling or smoking more than one piece of meat or even several types of meat at the same time is not impossible. It will just take a good understanding of your cooker and some planning to make it happen.
As long as you’ve planned out your timing, keep the temperature of your cooker at a nice constant temperature, and you’re keeping an eye on the internal temperature of the meats, you’ll be able to cook a delicious feast to feed a crowd.
You can get more info to help you master your grill, as well as competition BBQ secrets, straight from the pros in the online barbecue cooking classes here at BBQ Champs Academy. Champion Pitmasters and Grillmasters will show you, step-by-step, how to elevate your outdoor cooking game like never before.
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