Smoking utilizes wood smoke and generally lower temperature to render the meat tender and impart that traditional BBQ flavor.
Therefore these tips are, among other things, for controlling temperatures and cooking “low and slow” with smoke involved. Smokers come in many shapes and sizes, some people even use a kettle grill. Different fuel types- charcoal, wood, propane, electricity-are used depending upon the unit design. Most of the tips here regarding temperature control are geared toward a charcoal smoker since they’re inevitably more difficult to control than a propane or electric contraption. However many of these apply to any style of smoker.
These aren’t necessarily really in order-they’re all important.
10. Be Patient- Start the day (or day before) early and give yourself the time needed, then add an hour or two-particularly for longer cooks. Patience and starting early will help avoid having to increase the smoker temperature or pulling the meat early. Your guests will thank you.
9. Use Multiple Wireless Thermometers- Who doesn’t want to relax on the couch watching a game with a craft beer in hand? This way both the meat and smoker temperatures can be monitored remotely from the living room. It saves work and keeps the temperatures more consistent.
8. Add Moisture through a Brine or Injection- No one likes dry BBQ. Utilizing a brine or injecting a liquid will help keep that meat moist. I prefer to inject and swear by the results, it’s also quick and easy.
7. Better to Undershoot Smoker Temps than Overshoot- It’s a lot easier to open the vents or add a little more charcoal than it is to try and cool the smoker down. Like most of these, I’ve learned this the hard way.
6. Give it a Rest- Wrap that meat in tin foil and throw it in a cooler when it’s done. According to theory, the juices redistribute and reabsorb but there is differing opinions on this. It will rise in temperature during the rest and it’s important to take that into account. Use an old cooler or one made of Styrofoam or you’ll be sorry, trust me on this one.
5. Pair with Craft Beer and Food- Craft beer and BBQ go hand and hand. Open a stout with that brisket or a Belgian Wit with that boston butt. Heck, just open a favorite Craft beer with that smoky meat and enjoy. Sides are often overlooked but can really enhance the experience. Look beyond the meat and at the whole spread.
4. Use an Appropriate Wood- There is a plethora of information online regarding which woods compliment which meats. The smoke flavor should enhance the flavor of the meat, not dominate it. Oak is always a great choice, mesquite can be overpowering. Fruit woods are often used with pork and poultry and many people (including myself) like a combination of woods depending upon the meat. A little research goes a long way.
3. Buy Quality Meat- You don’t need a Wagu Brisket or prime beef but make sure the meat is fresh and looks good. Sam’s Club or Costco are solid choices for bulk purchases. Some of the higher end grocery stores like Fresh Market and Whole Foods can be a little expensive but the products are usually high quality. Publix is a good choice (they custom cut Sirloin Tri-tip for me) as is Land & Sea for those in the Tampa Bay area. If your favorite local shop doesn’t have something ask and they can usually order it for you.
2. Know your Meat- Research and find out what temperature is regarded as best to pull that particular meat off the smoker, make sure to figure in the rise from the rest. Many people don’t realize it but just a 5-10 degree temperature shift can make a huge difference in the final product. I can’t stress enough how important proper meat temperature is. To reduce stress, determine what rub you want to use and what brines, injections, and woods are best before the big day. Also look up any special procedures that enhance the product-like taking the membrane off of ribs.
1. Watch the Temperatures- Keep an eye on both the smoker and meat temperatures with those wireless thermometers, set an alarm if you need to. This helps keep the smoker temperature constant and will produce better results. Make sure you’re prepared to get some coals going, open some vents, or pull that meat when the time comes. I’ve seen competition teams on television somehow blow this. Be proactive not reactive.