TORONTO - Low and slow is Danielle Dimovski's mantra.
She's talking barbecue, when meats are cooked for a long time at low heat, rendering them smoky, tender, juicy and flavourful.
Patience is required to achieve best results.
Dimovski was introduced to barbecue about seven years ago when she was asked to judge a competition.
"I thought I knew what barbecue was — hamburgers and hot dogs, steaks and shrimp and that kind of stuff on the grill — and so we got to judge this contest and it was so incredible what we got — pulled pork, brisket and ribs and chicken," she recalled.
"It took me back to just really an incredible way of cooking, low and slow, and I have been hooked ever since."
Three days later she bought a smoker, and the Barrie, Ont., mother of three now owns 25 barbecues and travels throughout the U.S. and Canada attending competitions and teaching novices.
As host of the new show "BBQ Crawl," Dimovski takes viewers on a road trip across the American South to experience the best barbecue joints. It premieres Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET on Blue Ant Media's Travel+Escape channel, with episodes later available online.
"The show is going to make you hungry," said Dimovski during a phone interview from her home before she headed out to Greencastle, Penn., to teach a class on barbecuing. "It's a real road trip. Nothing is staged."
She and her team, which includes her husband Vlado, travelled for six weeks to 10 states, including 32 cities and five barbecue competitions.
"We met some of the most amazing personalities in barbecue joints with old pit masters that have been there for multiples of generations," said Dimovski, a.k.a. Diva Q.
"We met some incredibly creative barbecue personalities that are creating barbecue fusion cuisine. We went to contests where the contestants were so incredibly good and they're focused on the meats and we learned a lot from them. I personally drove 10,000 kilometres in six weeks."
Many people use the terms barbecue and grilling interchangeably, but Dimovski, 39, explains that barbecue is low and slow.
"So we're talking about 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120C) or lower and the reason that's barbecue is because the usual meats, like briskets, shoulders, the very large cuts of meat, have a lot of proteins and collagens in them that need to be broken down and the way you achieve that is by cooking them at a much slower, lower pace.
"In Canada, we think of barbecue as grilling. That's much higher temperatures — 300 degrees (150C) and above."
The male-dominated barbecue circuit seems a far cry for a woman with a diploma in marketing who spent 10 years as human resources operations manager at the retailer Zellers. But when her middle child was diagnosed with one functioning kidney at age five months, Dimovski decided to stay home to ensure the child got the care she needed.
And that gave her more time for cooking. After she became consumed by barbecue, she began blogging about her backyard experiences and did some television segments. She was the lone Canadian on the TLC reality show "BBQ Pitmasters."
From June through October she's on the road almost every weekend in her Ford truck, towing a black six-metre-long cargo trailer equipped with a stainless-steel table and shelving, plus five barbecues that are rolled out for competitions.
Dimovski, who has won numerous competitions in the U.S. and Canada, including in 2011 for pork in the prestigious Jack Daniels World Championship, says the true test of a barbecue champ is brisket, "the make it or break it" meat.
"A lot of times at a contest most people will do well or reasonably well in chicken, in ribs, in pork, but then it comes to brisket and brisket can tank you faster than anything."
Brisket comes from the lower chest of beef or veal. "It has two opposing faced protein muscles, so one of the protein muscles goes one way, one protein muscle goes the other way," she explains. "One of those muscles is extremely lean and that's called the flat and the other part is extremely fatty and, funny enough, it's actually called the point."
The challenge is to get both parts cooked properly, keeping the flat from getting dried out and getting the fattiness from the point rendered throughout. Also, once you slice into brisket it can dry out quickly.
"I was able to apprentice with some of the very most acclaimed top pitmasters in Texas. When you think of Texas you think beef, so the people who know how to cook brisket better than anybody are in Texas. ... So I tried to duplicate what they do within the competition setting and of course at home as well and I mastered it now, which is great. It was a big challenge."
After years of perfecting her techniques, Dimovski has plenty of tips.
No. 1 is patience.
"If you're cooking a rack of ribs, it should take you at least four or five beers, one beer for every hour. One cocktail for every hour. It's a very simple ratio. Lots of fun," she says.
"Just remember that you need to spend time on it. Low and slow. And the slower you break down those proteins and the slower you break down that collagen, the juicier that meat gets, the more flavourful it gets."
Research buying a good-quality grill and learn to use it to its full potential.
She recommends owning two or three grills. She finds an electric wood pellet grill ideal when it's -20 C — she can turn it on and go inside while it warms up. If she wants to cook a huge bunch of shrimp, she turns to a gas grill. To prepare a quick dinner for a large group, she fires up her infra-red gas grill. If she has more time, she'll use a charcoal grill.
Dimovski has nine grills in her backyard that she rotates through and others stored in a shed and the garage she pulls out for different occasions.
"It's like children. ... You love them all, but they all have different personalities. Every one of them has their strengths and weaknesses, so depending on what I'm doing I use a certain grill."
Learn to create an indirect cooking zone, with half the grill on and half off. What you're cooking goes on the cold side. "That way, you don't have a direct force of heat hitting your meats. Therefore the heat that's cooking your meats is much more gentle."
You can smoke food on a gas grill. Use a smoker box or make your own wood packets.
Never boil ribs prior to cooking them. "All those fats that are in the ribs is actually what makes them taste really good. If you want lean meat, you should be buying a tenderloin."
Let meat rest when it comes off the grill to allow the juices within to redistribute. Dimovski's rule of thumb is 10 to 15 minutes per 500 grams (one pound). "So if you have a five-pound chicken, let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes."
You can grill everything, including desserts.
In the summer, Dimovski slices store-bought pound cake or angel food cake, brushes each side with butter and grills it on high heat just long enough to caramelize the sugars and then tops it with fresh fruit and whipped cream. "It makes a phenomenal dessert and it's so simple."