Great post! Thanks for sharing.
I agree with this method of learning. I think what happens to new cooks (at least it's what I did) is that they want to get the perfect result all at once. If you'd have suggested that I use S&P on ribs or a shoulder, I'd have considered it a waste to spend $25 on a few racks of ribs and NOT rub them or sauce them.
Don't get me wrong....I COMPLETELY agree that to start with the least amount of variables is definitely the best way to learn. I just don't think I was patient enough to do it that way. What I did do, though, is find a rub recipe that I happened to like and I used it for everything. I still use it for enerything. I guess like you said, instead of jumping around and using a different rub every time with many different ingredients, it would have clouded my analysis of the cook, especially if I'd changed another variable (like fighting with temps, due to weather, loading the smoker differently, using a different smoker, whatever).
Another thing that I always found myself wigging about on long cooks was when to start the cook. I always envisioned putting the meat on, it cooking until perfection, pulling it off and after a sufficient rest, carving, pulling or slicing and serving at the table. I was always SO stressed about "Did I give myself enough time?", "What if it's done 3 hours too early?", "What if I hit a stall?". I think what I've learned over the last hard year of q'ing is that (as is said many MANY times here) it's DONE when it's DONE. I've learned that wrapping and coolering is a wonderful thing. I've also learned that the only way to FINALLY be comfortable about planning cook times now is that I've done it enough that I know what my cooker will do at what temp for what cut of meat. Again.....reiterating what you said about PRACTICE. There really is no shortcut for it.
Thankfully there's a great place like THIS PLACE to come and get reassurances on planning or advice for what you don't have sufficient practice to know without a doubt. I know in my heart that there's no WAY I'd be able to pull off what I can now after only having been doing real low & slow BBQ for the last year WITHOUT the head start I got here.
GOD BLESS THE BBQ BRETHREN!!!!
That's the only "learning" advice I can offer. Post here, ask questions, and above all else.....just get in there and DO IT! Pay attention to the result and make adjustments.
One more thing that I found very helpful when I got started. I started a BBQ log, or journal. I have written down the first 2 or 3 cooks I did for butts, ribs, ham, etc. I just noted how much lit coals I put on, what kind of smoke wood, etc. Then I made a chart and recorded vent positions, cooker temp, meat temp. I got it from the Virtual Weber Bullet site. He posts his cook results with his recipes. It WORKED! I was able to reference from previous cooks and it kept me from trying to remember all the details. Plus I had written down how long each cook took.
Can't believe I typed that much.