So you got that new smoker you've been asking for – now what?
That shiny new smoker is glistening on your back porch and you are ready and eager to start your first smoke job. But the first time you smoke meat can be a little daunting if you aren’t really sure how to go about it, so we’ve put together some tips to help you through it.
Smoking Meat Basics: Temperature
First, you should understand how smoking works. It is the opposite of grilling, which requires high and direct heat and cooks quickly. Smoking is a long slow process, meat is cooked at low temperatures over a long period of time. Grills usually operate around 400 degrees while a smoker is best around 250. And when we say a long period of time we mean typically 1.5 hours for every pound of meat. Each smoker is different and the temperature and time will vary depending on the cut and the smoker. You’ll have to work with your smoker until you find what best for you.
Smoking Meat Basics: Keep lid closed
If You're Lookin' You Ain't Cookin'
Keep the lid closed as much as possible when smoking. When you're grilling the temperature is high enough and reheats quickly enough that the inside of the meat continues to cook even with the lid open. However, smoking meat is all about low and steady temperatures. Opening the lid lets: cold air in, moisture escape and it allows oxygen to feed the fuel; all this leads to major changes within your smoker's environment which can effect your meat negatively. These negative effects vary based on several factors such as the outdoor environment: temperature, humidity, wind, etc. Nonetheless, if you're only opening the lid for a minute or two it shouldn't be a big deal and likely won't affect your final product. Luckily, you don’t need to turn the meat often when smoking, only once or twice.
Smoking Meat Basics: Best Practice Tips
First, it's all about the seasoning, make sure to season your meat. Make a rub, wet or dry and let your meat soak it up for several hours.
Make sure your smoker is at the right temperature, somewhere between 225 and 275 degrees. Do yourself a favor and purchase a good thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of your grill – those dial thermometers are garbage and are usually off by 25+ degrees.
A water pan is not necessary when using a smoker but there are several benefits. Since water boils at 212 degrees the steam fills the smoker and helps regulate the temperature so you are more likely to stay in that sweet spot of 225°F. Another good thing about water is it helps the heat transfer evenly all around the meat additionally, as moisture adheres to the meat it creates the ideal "glue" for smoke to stick to. One thing to remember when adding water to the pan ensure it is boiling – never add cold water.
Choose the right wood. Mesquite is a famous wood, you hear it being used all the time at great barbecue restaurants. But don’t be fooled. It is strong and overpowering. It is not always the type of wood you want to use, instead, consider a great nut wood like hickory or even fruit woods such as cherry.
As the wood smokes keep in mind the smoke should be almost invisible or at most a light white, if it turns into thick white or black clouds you're doing it wrong. Most likely there is not enough ventilation; check the air flow. Remember, smoking is kinda like wearing makeup...it should look like you're wearing none at all – same thing goes for smoke – less is more. The best tasting smoke is the kind you can barely see, don't feel you need thick clouds of smoke for the entire 7 hour cook time. Most all meat will only absorb smoke for about 3 hours, after that, it's....all smoke and mirrors...
If you must add a serving sauce, such as BBQ, don't add it till the last 30 minutes.
Always use an good internal meat thermometer you can trust to make sure your meat is done properly – never trust suspect "hacks" that claim you can know when meat is done with methods that don't involve a meat thermometer.
Comment with tips that have improved your smoking game.