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Many people will get confused between smoking and grilling and the differences in the flavors. However, many of us will smoke meat over a campfire, but we get confused when it comes to ‘smoking’ meat.
Smoking meat is just this… leveled up. The aroma that gets absorbed into the meat makes it soft, juicy and brimming with flavor.
So, while we have you for today we will tell you all about the ways in which you can smoke meat, the difference it makes, and the different ways in which you can do so. Let’s not forget our 15 top tops to get you smoking your meat perfectly!
Smoking Meat: The Basics
When you smoke meat you are basically just exposing food to the smoke in order to brown the meat, preserve it or add that gorgeous smokey flavor that none of us can resist. It is probably the oldest cooking technique there is going back to when we would cook over a fire.
It is simply done by hanging the meat or placing it on a rack inside a chamber which traps the smoke that is made by a roasting hot hardwood fire. Of course, different woods will give your meat a different flavor, but we will get into that later.
So, what exactly can the method do to your meat? Well, it is said that smoking creates better flavors overall and tastier aromas when it is cooked in this fashion.
We should however remember that the quality of the wood and the meat will influence the overall cook as well. The better the wood is and the better the meat is, the better your eventual flavor will be.
Those who have mastered this profession curate the best wood they can, this does not only craft a gorgeous flavor that tickles your taste buds, but it also manages to aid in crafting the most tender and juicy meats as well.
Smoking meat is also ideal as it will tenderize the meat, which is good for typically tough meats like pork, or some cuts of beef such as brisket. Typically, if you get ribs that have the meat just fall off the bone then the chance is that they were not grilled, but were smoked.
It is also important to note that there are two different types of smoking meat, there is cold smoking and hot smoking.
Cold smoking is done when the meat is exposed to a low-temperature smoke which is usually from 60-120 degree Fahrenheit, and away from the source of the heat. This is done to preserve the meat and enhance the flavor. This does not cook meat, so the meat is usually cured prior.
Hot smoking on the other hand, is basically barbecuing, it exposes the meat to a smoke that is hot enough to be able to cook the meat through, usually from 200 to 300 degree Fahrenheit.
When you do this you actually add the flavor in by either smoking the flavor compounds into the meat via the surface, or through the act of slow cooking which makes the meat very tender.
The process of smoking does not technically need a smoker. Grilling meat uses direct heat for a short time span, but smoking uses indirect heat to cook the meat at a lower temperature for a long time frame. Smokers and grills are basically opposites.
Indirect heat is where the magic is made, you do not place the meat on the heat source, instead you just let the heat and smoke waft over your meat, keeping it out of the path of the heat.
Using a proper smoker does make doing this much easier, as they are designed to do this properly and effectively. It does this but allows the smoke to reach the meat and for the meat to absorb the smoke, thus tenderizing it and giving it that delicious smoky flavor you want.
Good smokers are made to do this, they make sure that the smoke and the heat adequately circulate through the smoker to provide the meat with an even cook all round.
It is actually a very simple process, but it is not the easiest thing to master so it may take some time to get it perfect.
15 Tips And Tricks
So, interested in giving this a go? We aren’t surprised, but you want to make sure that you do this right, so, to get started we will give you some top tips and tricks to make sure that you get started on the right track with your smoking.
Know Your Wood
You need to know your woods if you are going to start smoking. If you have a wood fire in your home you are probably already fairly accustomed to the fact that every wood has a different smell when burned.
Not only do different woods influence the flavor though, they also influence the tenderness and juiciness of your meats. Different woods will work best with different meats, however.
That being said, it also depends on your taste buds as well, so, while we will give you some guidance here, we also recommend you play around and experiment to see what works best for you.
- Alder Wood: Alder wood is best when used to cook seafoods, pork, and chicken.
- Apple: Apple wood is best used for cooking chicken and seafood.
- Cherry Wood & Oak Wood: These woods are best used to cook pork, beef, seafood pork, and chicken,
- Hickory, Walnut, and Mesquite Wood: These woods can be used for cooking with both pork and beef.
- Maple Wood: Maple works well with chicken.
- Peach, Pecan and Pear Wood: These work well with pork and chicken.
Slow And Steady
When you are smoking you are cooking for a long time, hours in fact, and you use indirect heat to do so, so you want to keep the heat up slow and steady.
We recommend a temperature range between 200 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Typically, you will also want a thermometer as well to monitor your grill heat as you cook. Bluetooth ones are probably the best as you can just poop it in and monitor it while you sit on the couch.
Do not forget to manage the fire though, you will need to change out the charcoal and wood every few hours to keep the heat consistent.
Start Your Coals
Not everyone uses wood though, some people use coals. Although we do warn against using lighter fluid or charcoal impregnated with it. If you use charcoal use high quality briquettes, or even a lump charcoal.
Smoking meat is about keeping lit coals burning at your disposal for a consistent temperature. You do not put raw coals in, but you need something going on the side, perhaps another grill with burning coals in it.
A chimney starter is a good investment for this, you don’t need to start it again, instead you just have a fire that is constantly going.
This is the beauty of using this, it keeps things lit, which you need, you won’t risk the temperature of your smoker dropping, which is important.
Temperature consistency is a huge part of successfully smoking meat, and you do not want to risk messing this up, so keep your coals started up and ready to go.
Get The Right Equipment
Sure, you could just buy some cheap stuff, maybe you could even use your current grill as a smoker, but we don’t advise it. You want to get the right stuff.
Get a smoker, they can be known by how they generate heat. A smoker that works via wood is also best, you can get decent grills that generate their heat from charcoal and gas, sure, but wood generally does the best.
There are tons of different smokers too, so choose wisely. You also need your wood, and as you see above, there are different woods for different meats. To use a grill you want wood chips though, chunks are best for a kettle grill.
You also need a smoke box if you are using a gas or charcoal grill, a water pan to add some humidity to your cooking chamber, a spray bottle to spritz the meat exterior to prevent it drying out, as well as a drip pan to prevent grease and fat dripping into your cooking chamber.
Invest In The Right Meats
Getting the right meats to smoke is all about your own preference really, but some meats work better. You should try and smoke a steak for example, instead you want to smoke tough cuts of meat. Meats with a lot of fat and collagen.
Beef brisket is ideal meat for smoking. The more fat they have the less likely they will dry out, and collagen will melt into a tender gelatin as well.
With more marble you will also find more flavor and moisture, not to mention how much better it absorbs the flavor of smoke as well.
Pork is one of the best meats to use on a smoker, pork shoulder, ribs, butt, and such are great choices. Tender cuts are not ideal as they will dry out.
Know Your Burning Stages
We aren’t talking about the burning stages of the food, but instead the wood. Wood will produce its cleanest smoke at around 600 degrees Fahrenheit, as you go to hit this you will be burning off gasses, moisture and oil-soluble chemicals. After that it’s just vapor.
Vapor will settle on the surface of the meat and evaporate, leaving traces of guaiacol and syringol which give it flavor and smell.
There are 4 burning stages for when you are burning wood for your smoker.
Stage 1- the dehydration, which will happen at around 500 degrees, any water in the wood will start to evaporate, so it can burn.
Stage 2- this is the pyrolysis and gasification stage, happening between 500 and 700 degrees, the wood will start to break down.
Stage 3- This is the burning, between 700 and 100 degrees, flames appear and this is where you get the vapor which gives you the aromatic smoke you need.
Stage 4- Finally char burning, this is where there is only the carbon in charcoal left, it will have little to no smoke and no flame.
No Need To Flip
When you are smoking you do not need to flip your meat on the grill. Many novices will make the mistake of doing this.
You do not have to think about one side being hotter than the other, this is because your meat is being cooked indirectly. You should keep the lid closed at all times until the meat is ready.If you are looking at the meat, then it’s not cooking.
The only reason you should be touching the grill or meat at any point would be to add in new wood chips or to spritz the meat.
Plan Your Smoking Times In Advance
You need to make a game plan when you are smoking meat. You can easily forget where you’re at during a long cook, so it’s good to make a plan, even set alarms, so you are almost working by a daily calendar.
Write out a plan and work backwards from when you want to serve.
So, if you want to serve a brisket at 6pm, and you think it’ll take 12 hours, with an hour to rest you will want to start cooking at 5am. If you want to push up the heat 10 degrees after the first three hours, you want to note the time, and set an alarm.
Make yourself a step-by-step guide for whatever it is that you are cooking and plan ahead!
Use Dry Wood
The cook you choose is very important, not just for flavor and burn, and not just for the type of wood you get either. We can all go to the shop and pick up some wood chips for burning, however, some people like to source it themselves and that is totally fine to do.
However, if you do this, make sure you are getting the right wood.
You want to use hardwoods like alder, maple, oak, pecan, apple, cherry, mesquite, or hickory. And stay far away from any woods that look like they may have damage of any sort.
Powdery, rotting or waterlogged wood is a bad idea, and it won’t burn properly, or taste good either.
You should also avoid softwoods like pine, fir, or spruce, they are high in oils and this produces an acrid smoke when it is lit.
It is still best to buy your wood from a seller as then you know it is quality and… it is dry.
Invest In The Right Wood
You should also think about the RIGHT wood for what you want to cook, this means type, no we aren’t talking about the tree it came from again, but instead we are talking about the size and shape of the wood you use.
If you want to use wood chips this is great for an hour or so to cook. The best thing to remember is that the bigger and thicker the wood is, the longer it will last.
Wood chunks are a great investment for smokers who will be working on a cook all day. And pellets are another option, but these should only ever be used with a pellet smoker.
Choose your fuel wisely, you can always try chips first and then move onto chunks if you need something a little more.
Wrap Your Meats
One reason we often love smoked meats is their unhinged juiciness, we love it, but sometimes if you leave a cut of meat uncovered for a whole cook you are leaving it to the potential of drying out.
So, if you want to get a juicier cut of meat, we recommend wrapping it up in foil, or even butcher paper for a section of the time you intend on smoking for. However, do not wrap it for the whole cook, this would be ill-advised.
Some people will leave meat exposed all the time, but some won’t, it is your choice.
Some smoking experts will leave meat exposed for only half the cook, then wrap it in foil and cook for a third of the time and then unwrap it and leave it unwrapped for the rest of the time.
So if you had a 2-hour cook, you would leave it exposed for an hour, then wrap for 40 minutes and unwrap for the rest of the 20 minutes.
Open The Lid As Little As Possible
As we said earlier, you don’t want to flip your meat, and honestly if you can avoid spritzing it, that is probably a good idea too. You see, you do not want to be opening the lid. There is no point in looking at your meat when it is in the smoker.
It won’t hurt you not to look and by keeping the lid closed you’re keeping the smoke where it needs to be. All you need to do is manage the coals and the temperature.
If you have a coal smoker, and you need to refuel, then quickly remove the meat and grate, pop in your hot coals (readied) pop in the grate and meat and close the lit quickly.
You do not want to leave it open for too long if you can help it.
Rest Your Meat
You don’t necessarily need to rest every cut of meat you cook, but you should certainly be resting meats like brisket. These cuts can be chewy and unpleasant when they are not properly cooked.
Not only this but the flat contains less fat than you find in the point, so the meat on this end can be too tough to eat if the juices and steam escapes.
You could actually lose a fair amount of the moisture if you choose not to rest a brisket, you could actually lose a whole 10 tablespoons worth of liquid if you don’t.
Yet, if you rest the meat for only 40 minutes after cooking you will decrease the most you lose to only less than a single tablespoon.
If you are resting pork chops or chicken breasts, they will only need a few minutes, if you are dealing with a whole brisket, you will want to rest it for much longer, an hour is suitable.
Keep Your Meat Moist
Keeping the meat moist is about retaining the juices. When we cook over direct heat the meat is likely to lose juices easier, when smoking this won’t happen so easily, but it doesn’t mean you don’t lose some. This is why we have a drip pan.
Some meats will retain moisture better than others, and the fact that meat can lose its juices is often the reason why many people will choose to spritz certain meats during intervals of the cooking period.
However, while this works you should be cautious about doing it too often as you can lose heat by doing so.
One of the best ways to retain moisture is to properly rest your meat after the cook is done.
Do Not Oversmoke Your Meats
It can be tempting to over smoke when you are first starting, you might worry that it won’t work out as you planned, or there’s not enough smoke for a big cut of meat, perhaps you are worried about getting it perfect, concerned about the flavor.
While it can be difficult when you are doing your first smokes, you need to be patient and just leave it be, let the smoke do its job on its own. You do not need to go crazy or overboard, the meat itself will provide you with the majority of your flavor.
You should avoid not smoking it for any longer than half of the cooking time, so if you wrap it the best time for wrapping is for ⅓ of the cook. If you use a heavy wood like mesquite you might want to wrap for even less time.
But do not try and over smoke for the sake of doing so, or for the flavor, the flavor is already there.
Beginner Friendly Smoked Meat Recipes
Meat smoking is a slow process, and it can take a little while for people who are new to it to get the hang of doing it. It is a slow procedure that uses smoke as the source of the heat to prepare the meal.
Every type of meat you can smoke will have different needs through the smoking process, so you want to make sure you know what you are doing for each meat type you want to smoke.
Here are five smoked meat recipes ideal for beginners to this culinary craft.
Smoked Chuck Roast
A chuck roast is probably one of the first meats that comes to mind when we think of the best meats to smoke. They are nice and easy and do not take too much effort to smoke well, and what is even better is that you just know it will still taste absolutely fantastic1
You can smoke this for around 10-12 hours at a continuous temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit, and the best wood to use to smoke this would be hickory wood.
You can season it and flavor it as you want and then get the delicious smokey taste and smells from smoking it.
Its longer smoking time means that it is easy to do, and you can just leave it there, all you need to do is just keep the fuel going.
We mentioned brisket earlier, so we will cover this one too as a brisket smoked well can be absolutely delicious. In order to prepare a smoked brisket you want to be calm and ready for a long process.
You may come across some trial and error, but you need to be patient, you will achieve a perfect and excellently smoked meat within around 10 to 14 hours, generally.
Brisket is unlike pork ribs or beef ribs, as it is a tough meat, and it requires any external fats it has to make it tender.
You’ll need to preheat your smoker and gently trim your brisket, checking it afterwards. Do not forget to season it well and then pop it on your smoker for its first smoking, then you want to remove and wrap it for 13 of the overall cook time,
Then give it its second smoke and once done take it out of the smoker and allow it to rest for around an hour to ensure it is tender and delicious.
Resting is one of the most important parts of the smoking process for brisket.
Smoked Pork Ribs
This is a classic that you just cannot hate. Pork ribs are a favorite for many, and when cooked perfectly they taste incredible and everyone at the table will be fighting over them. They are easy to smoke and to cook.
You only need to cook these for around 6 hours, so it is shorter than brisket although still a long time, but the glorious tenderness is definitely worth it in the end.
There is not much you have to consider with these, they are pretty easy to do, however, make sure that you serve them with your favorite BBQ sauce once you’re done to add that perfect rib flavor to the smokey goodness.
Smoked Chicken Breast
Chicken is a very common dish at the dinner table and is probably the most eaten meat in the US next to beef meat. However, it does take a little more effort to make chicken taste delicious, as generally it can be rather without flavor.
However, this is where smoking comes in. Chicken skin will dry up when cooking as there is a very limited amount of fat available, so smoking it can do a good trick.
Just take the whole breast and marinade it for a while before you smoke it. And aim for a finished temperature of around 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
Smoked chicken breast takes the shortest amount of time of all our recipes so far only taking 1 hour and 10 minutes on average.
However, the bigger the breast the longer you may want to leave it on for. That being said, remember not to over smoke any meat, especially chicken, as chicken can easily dry out.
We haven’t spoken much about putting fish on the smoker, have we? Well, you can smoke fish as well, and you can get some incredible results by doing so. Smoking does not actually take that much effort with fish, thanks to the oils in fish.
Smoked salmon is a delicacy, and with its fatty oils it takes very little time in comparison to others, so if you want a super easy place to start your smoking, salmon is a good shout.
This fish will only take around 17 minutes overall to smoke with a temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit to get it ready.
If you are going to smoke some salmon we recommend cherry wood or alder wood for the best flavor. Remember that the wood you use is important to the flavor, and you need to match the wood to what you are cooking, that is the main thing to think about with fish.
Otherwise, salmon is an easy smoked dish.
Smoking meat can yield some absolutely incredible results overall, everyone loves the flavors it brings, and it can really make your mouth water. Do remember that you need to choose your wood carefully and match it to what you are cooking.
Do not let temptation catch you and have you lift the lid, just let your food cook, patience is a virtue, and it is a virtue that comes with rewards in this case!
So, will you give it a try? Are you going to try and smoke your meat instead of doing things the fast way? If you do, you will love what happens!