In our humble opinion, there is nothing more rugged, manly, and outright delicious than smoked meat. It’s a thing of beauty; equal parts art and science, and we think every guy out there should know how to smoke meat properly. To to help you
Smoking originated as a way to preserve food back before refrigerators and chemical preservatives were invented, and even though the former have become rather ubiquitous in the present day, smoking is far from being forgotten. Despite becoming obsolete as a method of food preservation, the sheer deliciousness of smoked food has kept the tradition alive. Through years of culinary geekery, humanity has teased out all the best smoking techniques — and in the process, elevated the age-old practice to a level of artisanship that brings tears to our eyes and drool to our chins.
There are entire books written on the subject, but contrary to what you may think, it doesn’t take years to learn how to smoke. In this article we’ve put together all the information you need to know to dive right in and start smoking like a seasoned meathead in just a day.
Buying a Smoker
You basically have three choices when it comes to picking a smoker: you can opt for wood, gas, or electric — but you’ll want to choose wisely. Each type comes with it’s own set of pros and cons.
Electric smokers use electricity to heat up a rod or other heating element, which then causes the wood to smoke. These are probably the easiest in terms of heat control, since all you have to do is turn a dial to adjust the temperature.
Gas smokers work almost exactly like electric smokers, but use a gas-fueled flame instead of a heating element to make the wood pellets smoulder. These are pretty simple as well, and might be a better choice for people living in areas with high electricity costs.
Wood smokers are definitely the way to go for flavor, but they require much more attention and care than gas or electric machines because they’re harder to keep at a constant temperature. For this reason, we don’t recommended wood smokers for novice users who don’t have a lot of experience.
Choosing a Good Cut of Meat
When you’re hunting for the right chunk meat, try to pick something that will benefit from the slow cooking process. Don’t shy away from cuts with lots of connective tissue and fat — those are good things. A generous marble will make the finished product more succulent and delicious. We highly recommend Waygu beef if you can find it.
Picking the Right Wood
Alder has a light and naturally sweet flavor, which makes it great for pairing with fish, poultry, and any white meat.
Apple wood, much as you’d expect, has a fruity and sweet smoke that pairs wonderfully with pork, fish, and poultry
Hickory has a strong and distinct flavor that’s ideal for red meat – especially ribs.
Pecan gives your meat something of a fruity flavor and burns cooler than most other barbecue woods. It’s similar to hickory and is best used on large cuts like brisket and pork roast, but can also be used to compliment chops, fish and poultry.
Maple has a sweet and delicate taste, and tends to darken whatever meat you’re smoking. Goes well with alder, oak, or applewood, and is typically used for poultry and ham.
Mesquite is undoubtedly the most pungent and powerful wood you can smoke, and can easily overpower your meat if used improperly. Avoid using mesquite with larger cuts that require longer cooking times, or simply use it with other woods.
Oak, on the other hand is great for big cuts of meat that take a long time to cook. It’s got a subtle flavor that’s hard to appreciate in low doses.
Cherry wood’s flavor is best suited for red meat and pork, and it also pairs well with alder, hickory, and oak.
The Importance of Brining
Brining your meat keeps it from drying out during the smoking process. In it’s most basic form, brine is nothing more than salty water, but the best brines are made from
the tears of 1,000 vegans much more than that. Since brining is a bit of a double edged sword (it helps meat retain moisture, but also makes it saltier), some people use sugar, molasses, and various spices to combat the salty flavor. To make a good brine, add three tablespoons of salt to one quart of water – then throw in whatever else you prefer. Personally, we’re fond of using honey, molasses, and
If you care to know the science behind brining, the salt in the brine makes the proteins in the meat more water absorbent. When sodium and chloride ions get into the meat tissue, their electrical charges mess with the proteins, (especially myosin) so they can hold onto moisture more effectively and lose less of it during the cooking process. For optimal moisture retention, soak your meat in brine for 10-12 hours before smoking.
A Few Words of Wisdom
Slow and low is the key to good meat. Keep your temperature between 212°F and 230°F for best results. These lower temperatures generally won’t cause the meat’s cell walls to burst, which makes it more succulent and helps the food retain nutrients. Cooking at low temperatures also makes it possible for tough collagens in the connective tissue of meat to be hydrolized into gelatin without overheating the proteins. In other words, doing it slow and low lets all the tough tissue dissolve into the meat while simultaneously giving the smoke time to absorb. Now stop drooling on your keyboard. That’s really all you need to know. Now get out there and start smoking!