Using an outdoor smoker adds a unique flavor to beef, pork, chicken and fish. With my Texas roots, I’m a big fan of smoked brisket and ribs seasoned in my grilling spices and swimming in my homemade barbeque sauce. But, there are numerous opinions on the best way to smoke meats and a lot of pros and cons on the various types of smokers available. Since I’ve rarely had any complaints on my brisket or ribs, here’s my two cents…
Smokers come in three basic categories: charcoal, gas, or electric. All three versions use real wood to actually do the smoking, but the heat source is the key variable. I’ve used both charcoal and electric smokers and have decided to go with electric because of its ease of use. The most important part of smoking is keeping a constant temperature throughout the cooking process. Charcoal smokers have to be tended on a regular basis and temperatures can often vary greatly if coals aren’t maintained properly. Electric smokers, on the other hand, usually have a thermostat and the temperature can be regulated automatically.
If you are in the market for a smoker, cost may be a big consideration as well. Simple charcoal smokers can cost as low as $39. But, adding gas or electricity, or increasing the smoker’s capacity and adding additional features like a thermostat, can raise the price significantly. If you aren’t sure whether you’re going to do a lot of smoking, it might be best to get a simple inexpensive one and experiment.
Regardless of the type of smoker you use, here are some key steps to follow.
It’s important to season beef, pork, fish or poultry well before placing it in the smoker. I’ve shared my grilling spices in the past and you can use those for anything you are planning to smoke. I will add a liberal amount to all sides, place the meat in a sealable bag and let it marinade overnight. This process helps tenderize the meat and compliments the smoky flavor.
Room Temp Before Smoking
When you are ready to smoke, bring your marinated meat out of the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before smoking.
Maintain A Constant Temperature
The key to smoking is low and slow. The low temperature and slow cooking time helps tenderize the meat and infuse that wonderful smoky flavor. The ideal temperature I use when smoking is 225 degrees F. Others may recommend a range from 225 degrees up to 250 degrees F. No matter what temperature you use, be sure to maintain it throughout the cooking process.
Keep The Door Closed
Because you do want to maintain a constant temperature, it’s important to avoid the temptation of opening the door to “check on things”. Let the smoker do its job by keeping the door closed. Each time you open the door you add more time to the process.
Monitor The Meat
My smoker comes with a temperature probe. With large cuts of meat, like a brisket, it’s very helpful to know exactly what temperature the meat has reached. I usually like to get brisket to 185 degrees F before removing it from the smoker. With a whole, untrimmed, 12lb brisket at 225 degrees F, it can take up to 14 hours to reach that ideal temperature. Many smokers do come with a probe and other manufacturers actually make probes as an accessory. You can also gauge cooking time with small items, like ribs or chicken, by weight and temperature. Those charts will usually be available with the documentation that comes with your smoker. You’ll also learn over time to experiment with times and temperatures and determine the best combination for your tastes.
Don’t Use Too Much Wood
I have a medium sized box shaped smoker that can hold as much as 25lbs of meat. But, because it’s a closed environment, it never needs more than 6 ounces of hardwood per use. Too much wood will actually create an overly smoky taste that will overpower the basic taste of the meat. So, check the recommendations on your smoker and follow it accordingly. You’ll be surprised how much flavor comes from a very small amount of wood.
Let It Rest
Once you’ve followed all these steps you should have tender and flavorful results. But, after you’ve removed the beef, pork, chicken, fish from the smoker, be sure to let it rest before serving. For a thick cut like a brisket, it’s fine to let it rest for up to 30 minutes before slicing so that juices are evenly distributed through the meat. Fish and chicken will be fine after 10 to 15 minutes.
Add Some Sauce
If you are looking for a full Texas BBQ experience, add some of my barbeque sauce to beef, pork and chicken. It has a nice smoky flavor that compliments just about anything you smoke.