Smoking food has evolved a lot from its use as a method of preserving food.
Long before we had invented the refrigerator and chemical preservatives, smoke was the primary method to extend the life of our food and especially meat.
Nowadays we get excited for the upcoming barbecue, it is all about the smoky taste and texture of the meat and not making it last longer, because when it is smoked perfectly there will not be any meat left over to preserve anyway.
When thinking of smoked we may first think of smoked ham, bacon or fish. But in the world of traditional barbecue smoking means something entirely different.
To smoke food on a barbecue means to cook it on a low heat and have it slowly cook.
This requires a specific piece of equipment and takes anywhere from one hour up to 20 hours.
Smoking is much more of an art than a science. It involves a lot of patience and time and is much different than simply slabbing a piece of meat on the grill.
Read on and learn all about the art of smoking meat.
Selecting A Smoker
When it comes to supplies and equipment to smoke the food you will need a container that will hold in the smoke, a source for the smoke and the food you are planning to smoke.
A smoker can be just a simple hole in the ground ranging up to a $20,000 smoker, the fuel can also range from electricity to hardwood.
Which smoker you will buy depends on a few factors, the space that you have, the fuel you wish you to use, budget you have and the amount of effort you wish to put into it.
Smokers will range in size from a small drum smoker to a large box smoker, and the amount of food that each model can hold will vary.
So once you know how much your smoker can handle then you can move on to looking at what type of fuel the smoker requires.
Some smoking experts will tell you that hardwoods such as, oak, hickory or apple are the best fuel to go to, but smoker fuel can also just be the much easier to attain charcoal, wood pellets, propane or even electricity.
Smokers that use charcoal are often the least expensive while electric smokers that head up the wood are the most hands free.
Always make sure to choose the right type of fuel for you, but keep in mind that if you do not use hardwood then your smoker may not impart a satisfying smoky taste to the food.
If the signature smoky taste is the most important aspect of smoking meat, then you need to choose a smoker that uses hardwood.
Freshly cut hardwood is the best as of the weight is water and will produce the perfect, moist steam that will help to flavor the meats.
Although dried hardwood has only five percent water content, it does contain a large amount of sugars and carbohydrates which also impart a smoky taste.
The species of wood, as well as where it is grown, will have a direct effect on the food’s flavor.
Hickory is a wood that has a very smoky taste that is reminiscent of bacon whilst mapel is sweeter and provides a milder flavor.
If you decide to use hardwood it is important to soak the wood you plan to use in water for around an hour before using wet wood that will last for hours whilst fresh wood can burn away in only 20 minutes.
If you plan to use wood chips then after soaking them place them in some aluminum foil pouch and puncture several holes into it this will extend the smoke time by several hours.
Choosing The Perfect Cuts Of Meat
The type of meat you choose is purely down to a matter of taste. The most popular meats for smoking are ribs, brisket and pork shoulder.
But you should not just limit yourself to these meats, you can also smoke a whole range of other meats including, prime rib, leg of lamb or lamb shoulder as well as any bit of chicken you can think of, fish, even cheese and nuts if you so wish too.
Controlling The Temperature
Smoking requires good temperature control. Meat smoking is best in the range of 200 to 220 degrees fahrenheit.
To be safe most meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees and any poultry to 165 degrees.
To get a real tender barbecue you would want a higher final temperature of around 180 degrees.
Smoking is a long process of overcooking tough meats to get a tender and flavor packed meal.
To make sure you are getting the best possible cook you will need at least two accurate thermometers.
One should be inside the smoker and one to place inside the meat to tell you the internal temperature.
There are two reasons to keep the temperature low:
The first is to allow the smoke enough time to sink into the meat and the other is to allow the meat to naturally tenderize.
Slow cooking gives the natural connective fibers in the meat time to break down and thus the meat becomes very tender and turns into gelatin.
Collagen which is the tough connective tissue in the meat will break down into several types of gelatin when cooked slowly.
This slow process allows the meat to develop a succulent flavor.
Sustaining The Smoke
The basic rule of smoking is to place the meat in the smoker so that it is surrounded by smoke.
You will want a thick stream of smoke surrounding the meat at all times so it provides the right kind of exposure needed for enhancing the flavor.
The smoke must be moving to prevent it from turning the meat bitter due to the build up of creosote.