Tips for National BBQ Month from Sonny’s pitmaster

Former Gators and Cowboys player Shannon Snell offers his must-haves for barbeque season. Cover photo provided.

Although the Tampa Bay area might get a head start thanks for Florida’s “Endless Summer” climate, May is the start of the warm season for most of the country and is celebrated as National BBQ Month.

Before the calendar flips, Sonny’s BBQ pitmaster Shannon Snell has offered a few tips, tricks and must-haves for outdoor cooking. Snell’s name might be familiar to football fans — before graduating from Sonny’s Pitmaster-In-Training (P.I.T.) Academy, Snell was an All-American guard for the Florida Gators and played professionally with the Dallas Cowboys. In his post-pigskin career, Snell joined the Florida-based chain as a manager before completing the intensive training required to become a certified pitmaster.

A catering spread from the Florida-based chain Sonny’s BBQ, where Shannon Snell is a certified pitmaster. Photo provided.

The certification course teaches the science of smoking; cooking times and temperatures for different cuts of meat; and how to create from-scratch rubs and sauces. Though a licensed professional, Snell has plenty of advice to share with backyard barbequers.

Snell’s BBQ must-have tool kit includes: 

  • BBQ Digital Meat Thermometer – This is a must have for BBQ fanatics. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some have Bluetooth capabilities.
  • Fire Starter Cubes – Great for firing up your BBQ fire quickly. Very handy when it comes to lighting wood and charcoal.
  • BBQ Chimney – This tool holds the charcoal securely while they get hot. They’re inexpensive and also last a long time.
  • Extra Long BBQ Tongs/Spatula – Your hands and arms will thank you for this one. Grills and smokers can reach upwards of 550 degrees.
  • BBQ Hot Gloves – Not your normal kitchen oven mitt. These are great for hand protection over heat, and hot item handling, protecting up to 1400 degrees F.
  • Knife Sharpener – Can’t cut BBQ with a dull knife.
  • Pink or Brown Butcher Paper – Chemically free from any additive (unlike some white butcher paper), it’s specifically made for BBQ. It protects your food and speeds up the cooking process without altering your product too much.
  • Aluminum Foil – Help aid in quick cleanup, and helps preserve product during long or shorter cooks.
  • Disposable foil Pans– Saves time on dish clean up, and is great for serving large and small party groups.
  • Cutting Board – Absolute necessity. Some versions have the optional juice/liquid catching alleys.

According to Snell, those looking to practice the art of BBQ at home also need these staples on-hand at all times: 

  • Honey – Goes great with Pork and Chicken, especially when you’re using it in a BBQ Sauce.
  • Salt – The base of EVERY BBQ Rub.
  • Paprika/Smoked Paprika – Good flavor and it produces the really dark cherry BBQ look that presents well.
  • Brown Sugar – Great in BBQ sauces, rubs, or wraps to add flavor – especially to pork items.
  • Mustard – Great base for a BBQ sauce. Alternatively it makes a great binder for your BBQ rubs to stick to the meat.
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