At first glance the statement doesn’t exactly make sense. A smoker is a purpose built device that allows the controlled burn of wood or a wood product, and contains the smoke in a chamber wherein food is placed. A box filled with smoke and regulated heat.
For a variety of reasons a dedicated smoker may not be available in your cooking arsenal. Whether it is limited space, the wrong place (and apartment or such), or you already have enough toys, you can still make meat and other foods with that smoky goodness. And we are here to help with that.
Smoking on a Weber or Kettle Grill
This is most common method to smoke meats at home without a dedicated smoker. In particular, a kettle style barbecue, egg or such, will lend itself to effectively smoking meats.
The main reason is that it allows for the meat to be out of the path of most of the heat, what we call indirect cooking. That’s a fancy name for putting the food on one side and the coals on the other side. Or, coals banked to both sides with the meat in the middle, you get the idea.
We’ve already covered how to turn your grill into a smoker, but if you want to step up your game try the Snake Method to smoke your next feast.
Not only will you look like a pro, the snake method is easier than standard grill smoking. With this method, you can smoke for longer hours but have less worry over controlling the temperature. Although this is a fairly new idea it is quickly becoming thought of as the best way to smoke with a charcoal grill.
By arranging the charcoal in a snake, or semi-circle, along the edge of the grill the temperature inside remains steady. Also, this method will burn for longer hours while, at the same time, reducing the amount of fuel you have to use.
To prepare your grill first remove the cooking grate. On one side of your grill place an aluminum drip pan. To add some moisture to your smoker fill the pan approximately halfway with liquid. As usual, you can use this opportunity to get creative, you can use typical liquids such as water or apple juice or you can experiment with your own tastes. Whatever you decide, don’t skip this step, the water helps to keep the temperature even.
On the opposite side of the grill, set up your briquettes like dominoes in a semi- circle along the edge of the grill. Make this snake two briquettes tall and two briquettes wide. The longer you make the snake the less room you’ll have for the meat, on the other hand, the longer it is the longer it will burn. So figure out what is best for you and go with it.
Add Wood Chunks
Place the wood on top of the snake, but not all together. Starting about four inches from the head of the snake, spread out four of five pieces along the top of the snake. Keeping the wood spread out means you will have smoke throughout the long hours of cooking.
Using a charcoal chimney (not lighter fluid), get about a dozen or so briquettes going. Once they are red and well ashed over place them at the head of the snake. Dump them out and then arrange the charcoal so they overlap the head of the snake.
Now cover the grill, open the bottom vent all the way and the top vent about half way, then just let it burn for a while. After about 20 minutes the temperature inside the grill should be stabilized around 250 degrees.
Place the meat in on the cooking grate; if you think the meat is too close to the burning coal, you can build a heat shield out of foil and place it under the edge of the meat nearest the coals.
When you close the lid place the vent and thermostat, if you have one, opposite the coals, and that’s that.
You should check it every now and then to make sure the temperature is good and adjust the vents as needed. You should be able to get around 5 – 6 hours of 225°F. This is assuming you loaded two bottom rows of coals (side x side), with one coal stacked on top of those two bottom rows (most of the way around). Be sure your bottom vent is open about an 1/8 inch and the top vent is all the way open.
Slow ‘N Sear
As smoking food makes its way into the mainstream, not everyone owns a smoker, but a large majority of American families own a kettle style grill.
The Slow N Sear is revolutionizing backyard smoking. Read on and you’ll understand. Why has nobody thought of this before? It makes smoking so easy.
Grab a Slow N Sear for your kettle style grill, it fits snugly just under the top grate (designed to work with any Weber style grill, it works with most other kettle style grills).
The Slow N Sear (SNS) easily creates two cooking zones in the grill, a direct heat zone (searing) and an indirect heat zone (smoking). It is easier to set up and maintain than the snake method which is also very popular for Weber grills. Now, you don’t need a SNS to smoke food on your kettle style grill; but it makes it a heck of alot easier.
Preparing for smoking
Set the SNS in the grill. Get some coals started in your chimney, or dump about a dozen coals into the SNS and get them started. Once the coals are hot and in the SNS, fill the rest of the SNS with coals. The non lit coals will catch and be ready for smoking in about 20 minutes.
The SNS holds about 90 briquettes, good enough for about 7 hours of smoking time. It’s best to fill the SNS about 1/3 of the way (instead of filling it to the brim) to avoid having to wait for the internal temperature to drop to the ideal smoking temperature of 225 – 250°F.
Once your internal temperature is around 250°F, you’re ready to smoke. Note: the bi-metal dial thermometer that comes with your grill is likely not accurate, it is a good idea to invest into a grate thermometer you can leave inside the grill throughout your smoking session.
If you can, use hot water. Then the charcoal doesn’t need to expend energy heating the water up. This water will give you 5 or more hours of steam elevating the smoke flavor of your meat. It also drastically helps in maintaining the proper temperature of the smoker. The reservoir also acts as a heat barrier between the coals and the meat.
When you place your lid, set the vents over the top of the smoke side and adjust the vents to set your temperature. Leave the top vent slightly open until the temperature gets around 200 degrees. Then you can begin to make adjustments until you’ve reached the desired temperature. Because the SNS burns charcoal so efficiently be prepared to have the vents more closed than you are used to. Also be aware that even very small changes in the vents can have a huge effect on the temperature inside.
Make sure your lid is airtight, the temperature will be difficult to control if the air is flow isn’t regulated.
Adding the Food
When you have reached a stable temperature add food to the indirect or smoke side of the grill, you can even add meat to the bottom grate as well. Just remember the temperature on that rack will be significantly lower, about 70 degrees less, than the top. Another great idea is to add a pan of beans or other dish, on the bottom grate. Not only will it cook but it will catch the drippings of the meat and add extra flavor.
Tips for Using the Slow ‘N Sear
If you need to smoke longer than 6 hours, you should replenish the briquettes early. Don’t wait until the burned pieces are too small to move around. Also remember the water reservoir will need to be replenished every 3 – 4 hours.
I love using the SNS for steaks. A thick steak can be smoked and then quickly seared before serving, giving us a beautiful medium rare inside and a beautifully seared outside.
The searing side can be used as a regular open grill. It is not often that we need the entire grill space and the SNS and will save you time and coals. The searing side can get very hot, much higher than your normal grill, so keep that in mind when setting it up for grilling. You can also set the SNS up for baking and roasting. This simple accessory to your Weber grill will transform the way you cook.
Smoke Flavors without Direct Smoke
There are two choices in the market to add smoke flavor without having a flame involved. The most commonly known additive is liquid smoke, of which there are many choices for you. Less known, but available, are powdered smoke flavorings. These will both lend themselves to a few different cooking scenarios.
By far the most common way to use them is in a moist or wet cooking process. Cooking pulled pork in the crockpot or spare ribs covered in a slow oven give the smoke flavors a liquid to disperse into thoroughly, and time to permeate the meat. Also common is to use these products in your marinade or brine, imparting the flavor before the cooking process.
Obviously a dry rub will only work with the powder versions. Either a dry or liquid additive can be used after cooking, but your results may suffer. The flavors don’t get cooked in like real smoke, and there is often a bitter acridness that comes out when applied after cooking.
The Smoking Gun
We’re not making that up, or involved in some cheesy mystery, there are devices literally called a smoking gun. Imagine a soft blow dryer device that puts out a plume of warm-ish smoke from very fine wood chips. Add a cloche – okay most of us just call this a dome – and you can infuse smoke flavors into literally anything that will fit.
Do they work? Yeah, actually they do work within certain expectations. They will not get the deep saturation of a long term smoke or any of the bark on the meat we come to expect from great BBQ. They are most effective for immediate service, smoke it and go to table. Since we know that taste is based heavily on smell, when it arrives with a smoky aroma the food will be perceived to be smoky as well.
You can also add smoke flavor to the components that are going into your recipe. Smoke the salt, herbs or the seasonings and they can carry those flavors. Like the smoke additives, this is somewhat effective if you use it immediately prior to a marinade, brine, or dry rub step and then seal it to contain the flavors and allow them to carry into the food. Immediately prior to cooking will get mild flavors, again, better when used in a sealed environment like a crock pot or oven braising in a Dutch oven or such.
These toys can also be used in very unique ways aside from “smoking meat”. Not enough smoke in your whiskey? Put the whole glass in the cloche and fire it up. Throw some cheese in there and use it on a pizza for hints of a wood fired taste. Finish off your popcorn for a unique flavor. Some people even like to add a smokiness to their favorite dessert or ice cream. We don’t judge.
Smoking Indoors on a Stove
Recently, one of our Facebook fans asked me how he could achieve a tasty smoked meat without the use of a smoker (he lives in an apartment where the use of an outdoor smoker is not an option).
Here’s one way to make a stovetop smoker at home. This is one of the easiest involving just a large pot, some aluminum foil and a steamer. Don’t have a steamer either? No problem.
Start by lining the bottom of a large pot with aluminum foil and place a handful of wood chips on top. Be careful not to use too much. Next, place another layer of aluminum foil on top of the chips, just enough to make sure the drippings from your meat don’t land on the wood.
STEP 2Set a steamer basket on top of the foil. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. Just grab an aluminum pie pan and poke a bunch of holes in it, 15 or so would be about right. Now you have a steamer basket, put in the pot on top of the foil.
You’re now ready to put the meat in, arrange it in the basket so as much surface area is exposed as possible.
You’re now ready to put the meat in, arrange it in the basket so as much surface area is exposed as possible. Finally, cover the pot with aluminum foil before placing the lid on it. This will help keep the smoke in, otherwise the smoke will find a way to escape.
Your smoker is ready to go!
Your smoker is ready to go! Place it on the stove top and set the burner on med-high for a few minutes to get the chips smoking, then reduce the burner to low while the meat cooks.
For larger cuts of meat, let it smoke for the first hour or two in the pot, then move it into the oven to finish it off. Most of the smoke flavoring is only absorbed by the meat during the first hour or two anyway, so slow cooking will allow it to infuse well.
This should provide some insights on how to achieve delicious smoke flavors without using an actual smoker. There are certain to be other paths to this goal, and like all geeks, we recommend learning as much as you need. And experiment. There is no be all and end all technique.
You may not be able to produce a deep hickory smoked bacon out of your kitchen, but then again you might hit pretty close to the mark.