Did you know smoking meat wasn’t originally created solely for the amazing flavor it creates? Nope - Before ice boxes and refrigerators, smoking was used as a food preservation method, extending the shelf-life of food.
You see, there are many chemicals in wood smoke, but 2 of them specifically that make it great for preserving meats; formaldehyde and acetic acid. These 2 chemicals work in a way that is both inhospitable to microbes (due to the low pH level), and slows their growth.
With the advancement of modern refrigeration, these methods are rarely used for preserving meat, and more for their flavor enhancing qualities. Which, if you ask me, is a-okay!
You can’t get much better than a properly smoked piece of meat that has been slow cooking for hours, absorbing all that smoky goodness.
Today, smoking has taken on an almost cult-like following and has also become the subject of many festivals, competitions, organizations and clubs - and for more than just meat! Cheeses, fish, vegetables, even fruits are now popular items to place in the smoker.
Ready to get started smoking your own meat at home? Here are a few things you should consider.
Choosing a Smoker
To be clear, smoking meat doesn’t require fancy, top of the line equipment. In fact, you can smoke meat using your gas or charcoal grill you already have at home! There are some advantages to buying a smoker made solely for smoking meat, such as ease of use, but if you want to get started with what you’ve got - That’s completely doable.
Using a Gas or Charcoal Grill:
Smoking with a Charcoal Grill: If you already have a charcoal grill, getting started with smoking is relatively simple. You just pile your coals up on one side, and have a drip pan set up on the other. Once you’ve heated your coals, you place some smoking wood chips on top (or even better, in a smoker box!), put some liquid in your drip pan to help regulate the temperature, and then monitor the temperature while your meat absorbs all that delicious smoky flavor.
Pro-tip: Try something other than water to place in your drip pan. Apple juice will help give a sweeter flavor, while beer or bourbon will have different effect respectively. Go ahead and experiment!
Smoking with a Gas Grill: Using a gas grill requires a slightly different set up than using charcoal. As there is no pile of charcoal to place your wood chips on (just burners), you’ll have to use a smoker box. This is a metal device that you place your wood chips in that has has holes or slots for the smoke to escape. Place the smoker box on one side of the grill, over the burners, and your meat will go on the opposite side allowing it to cook indirectly.
Yeah, it’s really that simple!
Using a Propane Smoker
A little more expensive than using a gas or charcoal grill is to purchase a propane smoker. Propane smokers (obviously) use propane as a fuel source, which makes maintaining temperatures fairly easy.
To use a propane smoker, you’ll first want to check the propane levels in your tank before beginning. Nothing worse than running out of fuel half way through the cooking process.
Next, fire it up! Once you’ve started your propane smoker, you’ll want to choose the correct temperature, which will typically fall between 200 and 220 degrees F.
After that, you’ll want to add your wood chips. YOu’ll add these to the pan directly above the burners. Once the smoker has pre-heated, it will build snoke in the chamber and you’re good to add your meat.
As soon as you have all this sone, it’s just monitoring the temperature, and waiting… waiting…. Waiting, until smoky perfection.
Using an Electric Smoker
If you’re looking for ultimate ease of use, you’ll want to go with an electric smoker. That’s because everything is monitored for you electronically. Some variations of electric smokers even have apps that go directly to your phone telling you every little detail down to the internal temperature of your meat!
To use an electric smoker, you simply place your wood chips or pellets directly under the heat source (Pro Tip: 4 Cups of wood chips should be enough for about 5 hours of smoking), set your desired temperature and wait for it to preheat, set how long you’d like the smoker to run, add your meat and then sit back and relax while the smoker does the work for you!
Choosing Your Meat
So you’ve got your smoker - Great! The next thing is quite obvious… Choosing which type of meat you’d like to smoke.
While smoking can be used for almost any type of meat, there are a few cuts that tend to work the best. These cuts tend to be tougher, with a lot of connective tissue and a decent amount of fat. Cuts like ribs, pork belly, pork shoulder, brisket, and Boston butt are very common meats to smoke.
Poultry and other lean cuts can also benefit from smoking; however, brining these cuts is almost mandatory.
Choosing Your Wood
Choosing the type of wood to use can be particularly challenging, especially if you’re new to the game. We’ve created a wood pairing guide for smoking, which helps you pair a wood with the particular cut of meat you’re working with.
You’ll definitely want to give it a read!
You should now feel a little more comfortable jumping into the world of smoking. While it can seem a bit daunting, there are plenty of helpful resources to get you started. This one included.
You’ll also find a HUGE community of smokers, grillers and BBQ’ers that are usually quite happy to lend a word of advice.
Now get out there and start smoking!... Meat, that is.
And as always, Happy Grilling!