Low and slow is a term used when discussing food cooked over a fairly long period of time at a low temperature, often used in grilling or barbecuing that involves smoking meat. This is usually achieved by cooking over indirect heat, such as inside a smoker or on a grill. The purpose of low and slow cooking is to allow meat to cook fully, but to avoid burning or drying out the meat in the process, and in smoking to add flavor and depth to the meat itself during the cooking process.
When grilling or barbecuing, low and slow cooking is usually achieved through indirect cooking. This is the process of cooking food, often meat on a grill, in a way that does not expose the meat directly to the heat of the fire or charcoal within the grill. With charcoal grills, this is usually achieved by moving the briquettes to one side and setting the food on the other side of the grill. For gas barbecues with multiple ranges, this is often done by only using the range on one side but placing the food on the other side.
Meat smokers allow low and slow cooking while smoking the meat at the same time. The meat is placed in an enclosed smoker with wood chips made from hard woods such as hickory, oak, or apple wood, which are burned and produce smoke. Smoking the meat exposes it to fairly low temperatures, which cooks the meat slowly and allows the smoke to penetrate into the meat, usually adding otherwise unobtainable depths of flavor.
The process of smoking the meat also typically adds a “smoke ring” to the meat, which many barbecue and smoked meat enthusiasts look for as a sign of the highest quality. This smoke ring is a layer of slightly pink meat just below the surface of the skin that runs around the circumference of the smoked meat. The smoke ring can typically only be achieved through low and slow cooking in a smoker and can often be the result of hours or even days of slowly smoking the meat.
While the term low and slow is often used for barbecuing, the process of slowly cooking food over low temperatures can be applied to other forms of cooking as well. While deep frying at low temperatures may produce unwanted results, roasting in an oven and pan frying can both include low and slow cooking for varying results. For foods such as peppers and onions, low and slow cooking is often preferable, as it allows the food to soften without burning. Similarly, garlic is often cooked in such a way, as burnt garlic takes on a bitter taste that is far less pleasant than the sweet, earthy flavor of lightly sautéed garlic.