If there’s one thing I may love more than a meal fresh off the grill, it’s one fresh out of the smoker. It’s hard to rival a rack of ribs or a brisket that’s spent all day over low smoky coals and wood chips. I was curious how easy it is to become a smoke master in my own backyard, so I reached out to Hugh Horner, executive chef of Helsinki Hudson and a backyard smoking fiend.
When it comes to a home smoker, Horner recommends the Orion Smoker. It’s inexpensive and can fit even the smallest of backyards. They’re sturdy and reliable, and Horner says, “I’ve gotten about 4 years out of each of them. It’s a cool barrel smoker that allows you to get the full effect of smoking and it can fit on a fire escape, which I’m guilty of doing, but don’t recommend.” Because of their affordability and size, there’s no reason for anyone to shy away from a backyard smoker.
The most intimidating part of being a novice smoker is figuring out how to get your smoke just right. Horner cautions against watching too many TV shows full of caricatured southern chefs equipped with huge smokers full of bells and whistles. Like anything, practice is what makes the home smoker a master. He says to start small, learn how to “properly cook a pork butt, don’t overcook chicken and get a proper smoke ring on your ribs or brisket.”
Horner, a Hudson Valley resident, loves to use applewood in his smoker. But there are a ton of options available for the home smoker. Part of what makes smoking meats so fun is experimenting with different woods to experience all of the possible flavors matches. Use your judgement: it’s probably a better idea to pair lighter flavored foods like chicken with a milder wood, like apple. Save the mesquite for a hearty meat dish and remember to use it sparingly.
Related: Worn Out Wednesday with Hugh Horner
When it comes to what to smoke, you can really smoke anything. My parents just left me with smoked trout, shrimp, and eel from Delaware Delicacies in Hancock, New York and they are outrageously good. Horner says that a good place to start when it comes to smoked meat is anything fatty. “Smoke loves fat!” he says, “It’s like nature’s gift for flavoring. Fat absorbs the smoke and allows the meat to take high heat without overcooking.” And when it comes to Horner’s favorite smoked meat, he had to go with pork: “You can take a Carolina boy outta the south, but you can’t take the south outta him.”
I asked Hugh if he could share one of his favorite recipes, and he more than happily obliged:
“I’m going to give you a recipe for an Orion smoker, preferably for an NFL Sunday/Family Outing or a Tuesday night (if you’re in the industry). We do more of a southern hybrid type BBQ at Helsinki Hudson. The Hybrid being Texas (dry rubbed) and Eastern Carolina (vinegar based sauce).
At no given point in time should this recipe be shared with people you dislike. This one’s for the creme de la creme of your friends.”
Helsinki Hudson Pulled Pork
2 8 lb. bone-in pork butts – always leave that bone in
5 pounds brown sugar
1.5 cups paprika
1.5 cups cayenne pepper
3 cups cajun spice
2 cups chili powder
1 cup red pepper flakes
1/2 cup garlic powder
1/2 cup onion powder
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup white pepper
Don’t worry, you didn’t mess up when there’s a bunch left over, keep it sealed up tight and save it for the next ‘Cue.
Pork Butt Preparation
- Simply put a little bit of olive oil on the pork butt and rub it down with the dry rub. Put your DRY chips in the bottom drip pan of the Orion smoker… DRY… I don’t care what they tell you. Put the pork butt in the second shelf and the top shelf and seal with the lid. The most important part is to not open up the Orion smoker to check on the butt after you start smoking. I’ve tried and failed miserably… So now that you have the Orion smoker in front of you, you’ll see that there’s charcoal trough on the bottom and on the top. Looks like R2-D2 right!?
- The total cooking time on two 8 lb. pork butts is 6 hours. Light the charcoal, let it go for 3 hours and then reapply the charcoal exactly like you had initially, and light it again. If you do this you will have phenomenal, authentic pulled pork.
- 6 hours later, take that bad boy out, take it off the bone and break it up adding apple cider vinegar (never too much) and some of the left over dry rub from the beginning (just a little now, let the pork be pork). Serve with coleslaw, good bread and an ice cold Modelo can or Bud heavy can.