Kendra here. There are some things I’m great at – organizing, sewing, knitting, cleaning. There are things that I’m good at. And there are some things I just let my husband handle.
My husband (and new blog co-author), Gary, is a marvelous cook and a smoking master. He can coax pretty much anything to grow and is in charge of our vegetable garden. He’s also forgotten more things about electronics than I’ve ever learned. Needless to say, I’m thrilled that he’s going to be writing here and sharing his knowledge about these sorts of things. (And I’m hoping I’ll learn a thing or two along the way as well!) Without further ado, let’s start smoking!
Low And Slow, All Day Long
So, let’s start at the beginning. I’m sure you’re wondering what the difference is between smoking meat and cooking it.
When you cook meat (baking or grilling), the temperature is set at medium to high (350-450 degrees) for a short period of time (usually 30 minutes to several hours).
Smoking meat is all about low and slow (225-275 degrees), all day long (4-16 hours). Because of the longer period of time, smoking is especially good for tougher pieces of meat like brisket or pork butt. (You can smoke pretty much anything you want though, including vegetables. We’ll get into that later in this series.)
All about the rub and marinade
Once you’ve picked out your meat, it’s time to choose how you want it flavored. You’ll want to at least use salt and pepper. I like using Montreal seasoning, which is salt, pepper, and a few other spices. While you can buy rubs in the store, you can also make your own rub – especially if you want it hotter or sweeter (or not so much so) than one you can buy. It’s pretty simple to use a rub: coat the meat to taste just before cooking. (You can do this ahead of time too.)
A standard rub recipe might look something like:
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon pepper
1 tablespoon of black pepper
2 teaspoons chile flakes
Marinades generally need a bit of time to infuse themselves into the meat. You’ll usually want to start marinating the meat about 4-24 hours ahead of time, depending on how thick the piece of meat is. You can either soak the meat in the marinade (using a plastic zip bag or a dish) or you can buy a marinade syringe and inject it into the meat. Soaking generally will flavor the outside layer, and injecting will reach into the middle.
A typical marinade has several different flavor components: citrus/acid, spice and sweet. You can purchase marinades or make one of your own. One I like to use is:
Bottle of ginger beer
Juice of 4 oranges
I toss the squeezed orange halfs in with the marinade and then discard them before cooking, so make sure you wash your oranges before using if you decide to do the same.
I have tried stick wood and wood chips, but have found the easiest way to start smoking is with pellets. The good news is that you don’t have to have a smoker. If you have gas or charcoal grill, you can use a pellet tube or A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker.
I buy small packs of pellets first to make sure I like that brand and kind of pellet. I’ve found that I like hickory, apple, cherry, and oak. I generally stay away from mesquite, which has an extremely pungent flavor. If you like it, though, try it out and see what you think. When I find a kind I like, I then buy in bulk. You can get. A 25-50 pound bag for about $20-$35. A word of caution: make sure you are using smoking pellets not heating pellets. Those are two different things!
So if you’re smoking meat for the first time, you probably don’t have a smoker (yet). By using a good ol’ charcoal grill you should have a lot of room for meat to get in-direct heat. Open your grill’s bottom damper, then pile lit coals on top of it, keeping all the coals on one side of the grill. If you’re using charcoal, get a chimney starter to avoid using lighter fluid to get started. Lighter fluid will taint your the flavor of your meat at these lower temps. On my grill I have put 9 pieces of charcoal all in one corner and added 1 or 2 lumps every hour to maintain 225 degrees, but your grill may vary.
I definitely recommend that you get a good temperature gauge to track the meat and grill temps. You’ll want to know the grill temperature so it doesn’t get too hot or cold, and you’ll want to know the meat temperature so that you know when it’s done. I personally use the igrill so that I can monitor everything remotely. It has an iPhone app with alarms – this is important because once you’ve started smoking your meat, you want to open the grill as little as possible.
Remember that you’re generally working with tough cuts of meat. Because of this, it’s really important to let the meat rest 15-30 minutes after it’s done. Cooking pulls the liquid to the outside of the meat, and resting lets it settle back into the interior so that it isn’t dry when you go to eat it. When you pull the meat off your grill or out of your smoker, cover it with foil and it rest before you slice, pull or chop.
Just getting started smoking meat? This series is for you. We’ll talk rubs, marinades, pellets, smokers, smoked meat and vegetables.
- The cheap and easy way to start smoking meat