For many people, barbecuing is a nice hobby and a fun way to cook for family and friends. But for some, it’s a serious sport with its own rules, contests, etiquette, and slang! Seasoned pitmasters have their own language, and for those looking to step up their grilling game, it helps to know a thing or two about the unique terms being thrown around. From “shiggin’” to “shiners,” some of these BBQ slang words may sound strange, but they’re pretty cool. Let’s get cookin’!
1. Pit boss
It makes sense to start with the most important person in barbecue vernacular. That person is the pit boss, or pit master. The pit boss is who all wannabe barbecuers aspire to be. The one who stands and sweats over the red-hot coals and vast smoke, expertly turning the copious amounts of meat into char-encrusted perfection. All hail the pit boss!
When you’ve been at a barbecue in the past, you might have heard the term “creosote” thrown around by the person manning the ’cue. But what does it mean? The answer is that it’s slang for the sticky yet natural substance that will likely arise on the surface of the meat that’s being cooked, if the wood isn’t smoldering correctly. That substance is carcinogenic and bitter-tasting, so you might want to get some more meat and try again.
3. Crash in the smoker
“There’s been a crash in the smoker!” Ever heard a pit boss utter that at the barbecue? Well, if you have, you were likely wondering what the heck they were going on about! A crash in the smoker refers to when meat wobbles off track or off hooks, effectively losing its balance, before colliding with another piece of meat in the barbecue. Comprende?
If a pit boss has told you that they’ll be “planking” the next round of meat, that can only mean one thing. He or she will be cooking it all on top of a thin piece of wood, which has been pre-drenched in water. So, when the wood is heated, the smoke and steam will envelope the meat and create a unique tenderness and flavor. Mmm..
Pit masters generally like to view themselves as all-knowing when it comes to the art of barbecuing. But ultimately that knowledge has to come from somewhere, and if it doesn’t come from the internet or through trial and error, it often comes from other pit masters. Indeed, the process of spying on another pit master to find out his cooking secrets has a term, and that term is “Shiggin’.” It’s often done at barbecuing competitions.
6. Atomic buffalo turds
“I’ve got some atomic buffalo turds ready if anyone wants any,” shouts the pit master. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it? But hear us out — ABT’s are actually delicious. That’s because they’re just tiny balls of jalapeño peppers draped in bacon, crammed full of cream cheese, and smoked on the barbecue. On second thoughts, we’ll have a few of them!
The most esteemed pit masters know exactly when the meat on their barbecue is properly cooked. There’s often a moment or a test that can confirm such a thing. For a beef brisket, there’s the jiggle. The jiggle being the way in which a brisket will move upon a light prodding, in a sort of quivering motion. That means it’s cooked to perfection.
8. Skin ’n’ trim
“I’m just gonna give these ribs a skin ’n’ trim before serving them up,” utters the pit master. Huh? Us neither. But through a bit of research, we’ve discovered that “skin ’n’ trim” is the practice of detaching the membrane on the rib’s underside, which often becomes tough when sizzled. Its removal is down to personal taste, or the diktat of the pit master.
9. Money muscle
The most self-confident pit masters often take part in barbecuing competitions. When they do, they often choose to cook pork shoulder. Why? Because this particular cut, that’s located high on the shoulder, is regarded as the most moist and flavorful. It’s so flavorsome that pit masters have dubbed it “the money muscle,” and it’s often the key to winning such a competition and bringing home the prize money.
10. Beer can chicken
Have you ever seen a pit master at a barbecue do the following: place an open beer can inside the cavity of a chicken and then set about grilling it. If you have, you might have heard them refer to it as “beer can chicken” or even “beer butt chicken.” The belief is that doing that flavors the chicken, due to the beer steaming in the heat and releasing its aroma inside it. Sounds like a massive waste of an ice-cold brew, to us!
11. Blue smoke
When a pit master declares “blue smoke,” that means something special is about to happen. Blue smoke refers to the specific instance in time when the smoke that’s coming off the flame has a light blue tinge to it. Pit masters know this moment well, and that it’s the indication they need to start throwing the meat onto the barbecue and get the party started.
12. Wide and narrow
There’s nothing quite like a rack of pork ribs that have just been cooked to perfection on the barbecue. Even better if those ribs are particularly “wide and narrow.” Eh, what? Oh, sorry, if you didn’t know already, we were just referring to the girth of the ribs, which is a common thing to do among pit masters.
If you’ve ever barbecued some burgers, or even cooked them in the air-fryer, then chances are you’ve seen a whitish, milky liquid emanating from the middle of them. It always looks kind of gross to us, in all honesty. Well, in barbecue slang, this protein-stocked liquid is called “boogers.” Which somehow makes it even more disgusting than it already was. Thanks, pit masters.
If you’ve ever overheard a pit master calling for an injection, you probably wondered if they needed an insulin shot or something. But no, unless they really are diabetic, they’re most likely just calling for a tasty marinade to be syringed directly into the meat. This is, of course, to permeate it with a whole lot more flavor. Yum.
15. Snake method
What on Earth does it mean when a pit master tells you he or she is going to use the “snake method” to cook the meat on the barbecue. Luckily it doesn’t involve placing any highly venomous, invertebrate reptiles onto the hot coals. No, the “snake method” is merely a low and slow barbecue trick in which charcoal is strategically positioned around the inner edges, before the first few of them are ignited and the rest become inflamed naturally. Hiss.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a mop is merely what is used for cleaning a floor. But in barbecue bro vernacular, it’s something else entirely. Indeed, in this context, a mop is a vinegar-heavy sauce that’s “mopped” or brushed on the top and bottom of a piece of meat to baste it before being added to the barbecue. All to add to the flavor and aid the caramelization of the meat. Yum.
Have you ever seen a pit master use some newspaper to light the charcoal on a barbecue, creating a chimney-like effect? This method is a better way of lighting the fire than using starter fluid, because that’s filled with nasty chemicals that can seep into the charcoal and add an unwanted flavor to the meat. Not surprisingly, pit masters call this fire-starting method “chimney.”
18. Crutch and Texas crutch
Being a pit master requires more than just preparing and cooking the meat. A true pit master will make sure they look after the meat post-barbecuing. That can mean plating up or setting up “the crutch.” Erm, what? So, the crutch is the process in which the meat is wrapped in butcher paper, to both protect it from flying insects and to absorb any excess grease. The “Texas crutch” is when the meat is wrapped in aluminum foil, usually when the meat is mostly cooked but needs a little bit more heat to be sure. The latter method ensures the meat isn’t dried out and burnt.
19. Bounce test
There’s an important pre-rib eating assessment that nearly all pit masters do, in order to check whether low and slow smoked ribs are cooked to perfection. This is known as the “bounce test,” and it involves lifting the rack of ribs by the middle or center bones with some tongs then bouncing them slightly. If they’re done, the rack will arch until the meat begins to break away.
20. Mr. Brown goes to town
The American South is one of the heartlands of the humble family barbecue. So it’s no surprise that a home-grill-based lingo has developed down there. One phrase you might have overheard is “Mr. Brown goes to town.” Maybe someone has asked you if you fancy a “Mrs. Brown goes to town,” and it’s bemused you? Well, it essentially is the process of adding crunchy pieces of pork to a sandwich, so if you’re ever asked, just say yes!
If you’ve ever been to a barbecue where a kamado-style cooker has been used, you might have seen it “burping.” What that means is you’ve seen the pit master lift and open the lid a tiny amount before closing it, opening it a little bit more, closing it again, and continuing with that process until it’s opened the entire way in a safe manner. This is done to stop a sudden rush of oxygen causing a large flame to form, potentially striking loose clothing. So the barbecue “burps” instead of making a massive belch.
22. Power cook
“I’m just gonna go ahead and power cook the rest of the meat,” or, “I’m a bit behind, I’m going to power cook,” is something you might have overheard at a barbecue. This slang term is pretty straightforward really. It involves ratcheting up the power and the heat to cook the meat as fast as possible, making up for any lost time potentially caused by chatting, eating, or drinking.
Some people at a barbecue might be overheard asking the pit master for their meat to be “necked.” What on Earth does this mean, you might justifiably be left wondering? The answer is pretty straightforward: necked meat is that which is barbecued and served straight up, without any marinade, seasoning, or sauce. It might also be referred to as having it “naked.” Hmm, we’re not sold on that, to be honest. Pass the ketchup!
You probably think a shiner is what you get when you’ve had one too many in a bar and come out on the worse end of a fight. While that’s certainly true, a shiner doesn’t just mean a black eye. No, in barbecue vernacular, it’s used to describe a rack of ribs that’s seen too much of its tender meat cut or butchered off, so that the bone “shines through.” Best to avoid both types of shiner in life if you can!
Outside of the weird world of barbecue slang, you’ll think a bark is what a dog does, or what a tree is made out of. But pit masters and others use the term “bark” to describe the crispy and flavorsome outer layer on a beef brisket — the crust, if you will. It sort of is like a tree bark, in effect, but it’s usually seasoned, not made out of wood, and tastes absolutely delicious.
26. Holy Trinity
When we hear the words “Holy Trinity,” most of us will immediately think of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. But at the risk of being blasphemous, there’s another Holy Trinity in town. At least in barbecue slang. This one involves a New Orleans staple of mixing bell peppers, onion, and celery together with your meat, or perhaps into one delightful sandwich straight off the grill.
27. 3-2-1 ribs
“I’ve got some 3-2-1 ribs going, if anyone wants any?” Eh, what, dear pit master? If you’ve heard something along those lines at a barbecue, then the person manning the barbie is offering up ribs that have been smoked at a low temperature for three hours, then wrapped in foil and cooked for another two. Finally, the foil wrapping is removed and they’re cooked at a higher temperature for a final hour, whilst being basted. Simple!
28. Hot ’n’ fast
If a pit master declares he’s gonna go “hot ’n’ fast,” that can only mean one thing. He’s going to get a move on with the cooking by cranking up the barbecue heat to over 350° F and get the meat sizzling over radiant heat or even an open flame. Seasoned pit masters will know that by cooking this way, they’ll have to turn the meat over regularly to stop it from being badly burnt.
29. Fat cap
A fat cap isn’t slang for an oversized baseball cap that pit masters wear whilst manning the barbecue. No, it’s actually a term used for the thick layer of fat that’s situated between the skin and flesh, which serves to almost guarantee the meat in question is tender and full of flavor. Pit masters often debate among themselves whether they should grill brisket with the fat cap up or down.
30. Butt over brisket
There’s an unusual cooking method utilized by pit masters that has an even more unusual name. That particular cooking method is “butt over brisket.” Yes, you read that right. It involves placing a pork butt over a beef brisket during barbecuing, in order for the brisket to be covered by the juices from the fatty pork. This has the effect of basting the brisket and locking in some extra flavor.
31. The stall
Pit masters often talk about “the stall.” You might even have heard them yourself, reader. This barbecue-based phenomenon occurs when the inner temperature of the meat that’s being smoked by them plateaus or drops. Many seasoned pit masters aim to fight the stall by remaining steadfast and resisting any temptation to ratchet up the heat.
32. Chipped mutton
If you’ve ever been to a barbecue in Kentucky, you might have heard the term “chipped mutton” thrown about. Yes, in the Bluegrass State the local people often ask for this from the pit master. It’s a special delicacy in that part of southeastern America, and it includes having bark and meat derived from mutton ribs, neck, and shoulders together in a dip liquid.
33. Miss White
Who is this “Miss White” you’ve heard the pit master mutter about under their breath at the barbecue? Is it their girlfriend or mistress? Well, it might be! But in all honesty, it’s much more likely that they’re referring to something food-related. In barbecue vernacular, “Miss White” is the light, moist inside of a whole hog barbecue.
34. Low ’n’ slow
“Low ’n’ slow” is a common barbecue slang term among experts. This one is pretty self-explanatory, though. Put simply, low ’n’ slow is a barbecuing method where food is grilled at a low temperature for an extensive period over indirect heat, occasionally up to 18 hours. Pit masters cooking “low ’n’ slow” ensures that the temperature doesn’t exceed 275° F and sits around 225° F.
35. Smoke ring
This is one for the most accomplished pit masters in town. Achieving the coveted “smoke ring” is a big deal for barbecue experts. It occurs near the bark below the grill when meat that’s being cooked emits carbon monoxide and nitric oxide, which join together with the myoglobin protein in it, forming a pink hued “smoke ring.” Seasoned pit masters know this means the meat is amply-smoked and has an undeniable, smoky flavor. Mmm.
Real barbecue aficionados know which part of the meat is the prime cut. A lot of pit masters and other experts like to eat what’s known as the “deckle.” This is the lesser, muscly part of a cut of meat — such as the marbled cut of beef brisket or the rip cap of a rib-eye steak — and is often desired for its unique taste and texture by those in the know.
When barbecuing a beef brisket, pit masters might mention that there’s been a “cascade,” or that they’e waiting for such a thing to pass. Why? Well, in barbecue slang terms, a cascade is the spurt of juice that emanates from the brisket. And pit masters know when that occurs, then the brisket is cooked to perfection.
38. Burnt ends
Enjoy eating the fatty but crispy bark of a smoked beef brisket? There’s a reasonable chance, then, that you’re a Kansa City native, as this is a delicacy in that particular area. But what do they call ’em down there? “Burnt ends” is the answer. Or sometimes “meat candy.’ Hmm.
A “blowout” can mean a bunch of different things, from handing out a thrashing in sports to having a huge party or witnessing your car tire burst. But in barbecue slang it has a very specific meaning. I refers to the overheating of juicy meat skin that’s bruised or scratched from overheating and swells under the flames. When this happens, it’s time to scrap the meat and go again.
40. The tug
“The tug” is often an important factor in a barbecue competition. Pit masters know all too well that, if pork ribs are cooked to perfection, they should fight back a little when you swoop in to bite them with your teeth. In a competitive environment, any pork that slides off the bone without “a tug” will be liable to a points penalty. Yes, a stupendous rib should need at least a gentle tugging to come off the bone.