People all across the world have been mastering the nuanced art of smoking meat for thousands of years. There have been several cultures discovered with evidence of smokehouses and cooking pits with smoked foods.
It takes time and effort to become a master at smoking meat. You can’t just do it in your backyard on the spur of the moment. To achieve your goals, you must have the proper tools, learn how to maintain them, and be familiar with the various varieties of wood. Then there are all the other variables, like keeping the right temperature and knowing when the food is done.
And in case you didn’t know, smoking meat is a fantastic technique to enhance juiciness and softness in addition to the fantastic taste you may be accustomed to.
Through the process of smoking, the meat is absorbed with smoke that carries flavors and seasoning deep into the meat fibers. Think of it as a sort of marinating your meat in smoke instead of liquid. And because heat helps spread flavor through food, the smoking process lends itself to cooking meat as well.
And that’s why smoking is such a preferred method of cooking for many. In fact, the tradition of smoking meat has been adopted by many cultures across the globe not only as a way to preserve food but also as an art form and national cuisine. It’s no wonder that smoking is a way of life for many.
In this article, we will cover the fundamentals of smoking, so that by the time you finish reading, you’ll feel confident about smoking meat for yourself and for your friends and family!
Understanding the Smoke
In order to understand how to do smoking and what exactly happens during the process, it’s important to understand a little about smoke itself. Smoke is a collection of airborne solid and liquid particles. The size and color of these particles depend on the source from which they originated. Smoke contains water, carbon, ash, tar, dust, and a few other solid/liquid substances that vary depending on the smoke source.
The main components in smoke are small water droplets. As these droplets move between different temperatures, they evaporate and condense, creating a cloud-like substance.
The term “smoke” is also used to describe the aroma of this substance. By definition “the color of smoke depends on the components in it; however, you will always see an overall grayish component since fine particles scatter light. It is this scattering of light that we see as color.”
Smoke can be created from many different sources. For cooking, the most common are wood-burning and liquid smoke. Because of its prevalence in smoking meats, we will focus on the science behind wood and smoke.
Why do We Need to Smoke our Meats?
We all know the joys of good smoked meat. You can smell it from “miles” away, and once you get close enough, your taste buds will be in for a treat.
The delicious flavor is unmistakable and almost addictive – it’s easy to see why people love smoking their meats! But do we really need to? What are the benefits of smoking meat?
Have you ever eaten fall-off-the-bone ribs? They’re some of the tenderest, juiciest pieces of meat around!
What makes meat and smoke so inseparable?
There are a few things that happen during smoke cooking that make the meat moist. The smoke itself, through evaporation, keeps the meat from drying out as it cooks. Plus, smoke is a natural preservative! It slows bacterial growth in food and adds an unmistakable flavor to it.
So, now that we understand smoke and smoke cooking, learn more about this method and the different ways to smoke meat. Also, read some tips on smoking meat and making a plan for smoke cooking your next meal! Enjoy!
Related: 12 Meat Smoking Mistakes That You Might Be Making
Do we need really need a Smoker or we can DIY?
You don’t really need a smoker to enjoy smoked food. You can use your grill to get the same effect, but smokers are better and easier for beginners. They also provide more control over the cooking process, so you can cook your favorite meats without them being dry like they might be on your grill.
You can also DIY a smoker if you don’t want to buy one, as long as you have the time and skills. Building your own smoker is pretty easy, but it may be a lot of work for people who are new to smoking food.
If money isn’t an issue, I advise buying a smoker because they make everything easier to cook. If money is tight, the DIY method is a good way to learn how to build your own smoker and save some money at the same time.
They are also a great smoker and griller combos that allow you to do both smoking and grilling. Whichever style of smoker you choose, you’ll enjoy smoked foods as much as we do.
Using Your Grill as a Smoker
If you prefer to use your grill as a smoker, you can do that. Just be careful not to overcook your meats, and use indirect heat if possible. Indirect heating is when the heat comes from a side rather than underneath the meat. This allows for a better smoky flavor since it takes longer to cook with indirect heat on a grill, than with direct heat from the flame.
When indirect heat is placed on the opposite side of where the food will be placed, this helps lengthen the cooking time while maintaining moisture in the food. Here’s how to use the different types of grills as a smoker.
How to Use a Charcoal Grill as a Smoker?
So, you want to be a BBQ pro? The best way to learn is with practice. But before you get started, there are a few things you might want to know about the best charcoal grills and how to use them for smoking.
Smoking on a charcoal grill is relatively simple. You can spend a lot of time perfecting your technique, but the basics are pretty manageable.
Here you need to use the two-zone cooking method, where on the one side, the temperature is low enough to let the meat smoke, and on the other side a high heat builds up.
In other words, to use a charcoal grill as a smoker, you will want to light the coal on one side of the grill and put a drip pan on the opposite side, where the meat will be cooked. This will let you cook the meat with indirect heat, which is very important to a successful smoking experience.
When the coals are going and hot enough, put on top of them the wood you prefer for smoking. If you want, you can choose from different types of wood to create a diverse flavor of your meat.
Fill the drip pan with water to help the smoking process.
Last but not least you need to set the ventilation so the smoke can escape the grill.
How to Use a Gas Grill as a Smoker?
If you are a fan of the gas grills but want to experience the best flavor and health benefits of a smoker, then try smoking with a gas grill. Using a gas grill as a smoker is possible because, in most models, you can set an indirect area where you can cook the meat and a direct heating zone where the wood chips are lit to flavor the meat.
It is important to firstly preheat the gas grill for about 20 minutes to make sure it reaches the optimum temperature to cook your meat. This will smoothen the further cooking of the meat.
Even if your gas grill has only two burners, you can still make the best use of them by setting one on low and the other on high. The low heated side is where you should cook the meat and the high heated side is where u can use a special smoker box for the wood chips or pellets.
You don’t want direct heat on the meat so you need to keep it away from any flame sources. You also need to control airflow and maintain stable temperatures when using your gas grill as a smoker.
You can go ahead, and check our detailed guide on how to use a smoker box on a gas grill.
Why the Smoke Flow is so Important for Smoking Meat?
There is a lot of confusion about how much the smoke flow impacts the meat when cooking.
It is important for the smoke to circulate in the smoker and to be able to escape it.
A good circulation generates a powerful flow and it will guarantee you a real smoking result.
It is also important for the smoke to accumulate slowly because if it comes too quickly, the meat will burn from the high temp and the smoke flavor won’t be able to penetrate deeply into the meat.
You can experiment a lot with the smoke flow, but until you have a small opening for the smoke to escape, everything should be fine.
The right amount of smoke flow will allow you to keep your smoker at a constant temp and just let the meat cook slowly in its own juices. This means you have to keep a good eye on your thermometer and keep good control of it so that the meat doesn’t overcook and lose moisture.
They are Different Wood Flavors suitable for Different Meats
Are you looking for a smoking wood that will give your meat the best flavor? You may be surprised to find out there are many different types of woods that you can use. For some dishes, one type of wood is better than others, but all in all, you’ll want to experiment with different combinations and see what works for you. Here’s a little more about each type of wood and for which types of meats they’re good choices:
In this chart, we can see that for chicken and seafood, we can use sweet-smelling wood such as apple and cherry. Whereas for pork and beef you should go for the more powerful wood flavors like mesquite or hickory.
As mentioned above, smoking meat is art, so you can experiment as much as you want. We are just showing here some of the most commonly used woods, suitable with different types of meats, to give flavor to your dish.
Yet, remember that seafood and poultry meat will absorb smoke much better than beef and pork.
Wood Logs vs Wood Chunks vs Wood Chips vs Pellets for smoking
We have covered the different flavors of smoking wood and how they can make a big difference in the taste of your smoking process. Here’s what to know about your options, in terms of the size and shape of the woods for smoking. They are four main types of wood for smoking including logs, chunks, chips, and pellets.
Logs are long pieces of wood that have been cut from trees and split into quarters (hence the name “log”). They’re less expensive than other options and burn for a lot longer.
Wood logs are perfect for professional smokers and for those who are looking to have a long, slow smoke.
When using a wood log, you can expect it to burn quite slowly and efficiently.
The flavor of your meat will be also determined by the type of wood log used. Oak is heavy, sweet, and spicy. It’s great for smoking pork, beef, chicken, or seafood, but be careful to not overpower the last two with its flavor.
Chunks are shorter pieces of split logs that tend to be thicker than chips. They maintain a strong smoke flavor and also burn for long.
Wood chunks are preferred by profesh smokers and those who want to have a longer, slower burn.
Soaking the wood chunks with water is essential to bring out the most flavor of whatever you’re smoking.
Wood chips are thin, short pieces of wood that can be as large as a pencil or as small as rice. The ticker these chips are, the longer they’ll burn for.
They produce an intense smoke flavor when used for smoking meats but don’t last as long as above mentioned types of smoke woods.
Wood chips are perfect when planning on quick smoke sessions.
They’re also an excellent choice for adding a touch of flavor to grilled foods.
Wood chips are great for beginners because they’re easy to use.
Wood pellets are designed to be used with pellet smokers or within a smoker box. They are made from compressed sawdust and come in all kinds of flavors including apple, hickory, oak, cherry, mesquite, and pecan.
Pellets burn quicker than the other types of smoking woods, that’s why it is essential to use them with a good pellet smoker.
They are perfect for adding a little bit of flavor to your food, but they don’t offer a long-term smoking experience.
Which are the Best Time and Temperature for Smoking?
The time for smoking could vary by a lot. It could take minutes or hours.
Smoking at too low of a temperature will cause your meat to dry out or become tough.
Smoking at too high of a temperature will burn your meat instead of giving it that nice smokey flavor you are looking for in barbecue meats.
It’s recommended to use 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit when smoking meats because it gives the perfect balance between cooking and smoking without drying out or burning the meat.
Yet these are just some basic guidelines, smoking meats can vary greatly due to your smoking environment and the type of meat you are smoking.
It’s recommended that you experiment with the smoking times and temperatures on different types of meat since each will react differently.
In our dedicated article for the different times and temperatures for smoking, you can find info about various types of meats and how each one should be smoked. This is a good place to start if you are confused about what you should smoke and how.
No Need to Flip the meat when you smoking it
So, you want to learn how to smoke meat and have been flipping it every ten minutes or so? STOP! Studies show that it’s unnecessary.
Smoking is a low-temperature cooking technique that cooks food slowly due to indirect heating. So when you flip your smoked meat, all you’re doing is disturbing the even heat temperature in the smoker.
Don’t open the smoker during smoking. The only time you should be opening is to measure the internal temperature of the smoked meat or to add more wood chips meaningfully for an additional boost in flavor.
Soaking the Wood Before Smoking
Soaking the wood before smoking is essential to get the best flavor. Let’s take a look at why this process is necessary, and how you can do it properly.
Soaking in water for about an hour will allow the wood to absorb some of that liquid, which will cause even smoke release during cooking, imparting smoky flavor as well as moisture when smoking. This means that meat smoked with wet wood tastes better because the smoke will release slowly as it cooks, making a much even coating on the smoked meat.
Yet, you can use dry woods, but then you are risking getting too much smoke at once, which will most likely give you an unpleasant taste in the end.
How Long Do I Cook the Meat on The Smoker?
Meat cooked on the smoker is a delicacy that many people enjoy. It can be difficult to tell when the meat has been fully cooked, but it’s not impossible.
The time and temperature of smoking will vary depending on what type of meat you are cooking.
As a rule of thumb, a temperature above 160 F is enough to kill all bacteria.
We recommend using a solid and reliable grill thermometer to know when the internal temperature of the meat has been achieved.
They are a lot of options when choosing a meat thermometer. Choosing between a Bluetooth meat thermometer, which will send you the temperature through your phone, or an instant-read meat thermometer, which is a simpler way of knowing the temperature, is a personal decision.
Can I Smoke Food Which is Already Cooked?
Yes, you can smoke cooked meat. But make sure it was not smoked before, because smoking it again can overload it with flavor that will make your meat taste worst.
One of the benefits of smoking already cooked meat is not needing to be concerned about reaching safe cooking temperatures.
Another benefit is the considerably less time to smoke the meat that is already cooked.
Can I Use Marinates or Dry Rubs to Flavor the Meat Before Smoking?
Smoked meat is a delicious culinary delight. Now that you’ve learned what to smoke and how to do it, the next question you may have is: How can I flavor my meat before smoking? Well, there are two ways to add flavors and make your smoked meat even tastier! For example, if you want a lot of flavors, marinades are the way to go. But if you want to experiment with dry rubs and spices, that option is good too.
The first way is by marinating the meat in any of your favorite marinades for at least a couple of hours or overnight before smoking. This involves adding all the ingredients of your choice to the meat, such as herbs and spices. These marinades add a lot of flavors to the meat as it sits in the refrigerator.
Another way to infuse the marinade into the meat is by injecting it with a meat injector. Insert the needle deep into sections of your meat. You want to make sure that the marinade is dispersed throughout the meat evenly.
The second way is by adding dry rubs just prior to cooking on the smoker or grill. The way this works is you add all the dry rub ingredients to your meat, let them sit for a couple of minutes and then cook on the smoker or grill.
The advantages of marinating your meat are that the flavors from the herbs and spices soak into the meat, making it very flavorful.
If you want to achieve a good bark then dry rubs are the way to go. They add a lot of flavors and taste good on all types of meat.
Why do I need Liquid in the Drip Pan when Smoking?
The liquid in your drip pan keeps things moist and absorbs fat from drippings!
It also controls the temperature of your smoker. Yet, adding too much water into the drip pan will increase the time needed to smoke the meat.
The water in the drip pan also absorbs unwanted fatty acids from dripping meat. Otherwise, this oil will cause a buildup of soot and carbon, which can turn into an unpleasant burnt flavor.
You can experiment and replace water with beer, wine, or apple cider. These are the most common options to replace water and add a new taste!
Should I wrap my Meat or Should I let it uncovered When Smoking?
You’ve heard them say that when smoking, you should cover the brisket in foil or with a piece of butcher paper or foil. But is this really true, and if so, when? Let’s look at the pros and cons of wrapping your meat when smoking.
First off, wrapping meats when smoking does one main thing: It keeps the meat juicier when cooking, compared to when left unwrapped.
You can start smoking with an uncovered piece of meat for half of the total cooking time. Then when the meat is about halfway done, you can wrap it in foil or paper and continue cooking for about 1/3 of the total time cooking. In the end, unwrap the meat and let it cook for the remaining time. This way you get the juicier meat when finished.
Yet, you can smoke without wrapping the meat when it has a higher fat content.
Smoked sausage and smoked bacon are an example of when you don’t have to wrap them when smoking. They have a high enough fat content, that when smoked they won’t turn out dry when unwrapped.
One of the reasons when smoking you may want to let the meat uncovered is for the crispy bark which you get on the outside of the meat.
Can I Smoke Cold Meat?
It’s not a good idea to smoke cold meat. In order for the smoking process to work properly, you need heat and smoke. If the meat is too cold, it will take longer to cook and could eventually end raw in the center.
For best results, bring the meat up to room temperature before you smoke it. This will make the meat soak the smoke flavors better.
Yet, if you are planning to smoke for a long period of time, then it doesn’t matter if the meat is cold. In this case, the meat has plenty of time to cook.
If you are asking yourself “What about frozen meat?” then just forget about it.
Smoking frozen meat could lead to too many complications and eventually a very bad result. You don’t want this to happen because there is a risk of spoiling your meat.
Your best option is to wait a couple of hours and let it warm up before starting the process.
You could also leave it for a night in the refrigerator before smoking it. This will prevent the food from spoiling when placed inside the smoker.
How to Become a Better Meat Smoker?
Just the mention of barbeque can make a person drool. But what is it that makes some people better at smoking meats than others?
Now is the time to learn how to become a master meat smoker and impress your friends with your skills!
The first step is learning about barbecue basics – what types of equipment are available, how to set up for cooking, and how to season your food before cooking.
It is very important to learn from every previous experience. After you’ve had some practice smoking meats, examine what went well and what did not go so well. Use this info to guide you in your next barbeque endeavor!
You can also keep a diary, where you keep detailed notes on everything from weather conditions to gas adjustments. Additionally, you can write down ideas for future projects or pieces of knowledge that will help you become a better barbeque cook in the future!
The more details you add to this diary, the more help it will be in the future!
Another great way to learn is by watching someone else. Observe how the professionals set up their equipment and their technique for lighting the smoker, setting the cooking temperature on a gas or electric smoker, and properly seasoning their food before placing it into a smoker.
The last thing you need to keep in mind when becoming a better meat smoker is that no one is born a master smoker. Smoking meat is an art, and you will need to practice if you want to be a successful meat smoker!
How Often Should I Check my Meat While it’s Smoking?
Smoking meat is not a fast process. It takes hours and patience. The last thing you want to do while smoking meat is open the smoker door, because it’s just going to let out all the heat and that delicious smoke you’ve worked so hard for, and your cooking time will be significantly lengthened.
To avoid this problem altogether, we recommend checking on the temperature of your meat every hour or two, or when you need to add more wood or charcoal (if using a charcoal smoker). It’s easier to keep track of the temperature in your smoker by using a Bluetooth probe thermometer or instant-read meat thermometer.
Whenever you open the door, it will add at least 10-15 minutes to your overall cook time and increase the overall smoking process by 10%. Keep this in mind when checking on the progress of your food!
Can I use Sauces or Sprays During Smoking?
If you are a fan of BBQ meat, you have probably been wondering if it is possible to use sauces or sprays during the smoking process. There are many different opinions on this topic, and yes you can use sauces and sprays, but it is important to pay attention to what you are doing.
You will find two different kinds of information on the internet; some sources say that using a sauce during smoking can give your meat an unappetizing taste, while other people claim that this is not true.
Whichever way you look at it, it is a good idea to try and learn as much about how smoking works, before you start using sauces or sprays.
One of the main reasons for using sauces and sprays during smoking is that it helps keep the meat moist throughout, while at the same time enhancing its flavor in ways that dry seasoning just can’t do.
However, some experts say that it is not necessary to do so in order to produce quality food. The main reason for this opinion is because there will already be plenty of flavor from the smoke and seasonings used when cooking with fire. In addition, these liquids can often drip down onto the coals or the drip pan below and create more smoke than desired.
Can I Smoke Vegetables?
Smoking vegetables is something you might not have considered. But if you’re looking for a way to add a smoky flavor to your side dishes, it’s worth checking out. And the good news is that there are plenty of options available.
You can smoke just about any vegetable you can think of. So, you just need a regular grill basket, your favorite vegs, and some wood chips, and you’re good to go. You’ll find that smoking gives vegetables a very different flavor profile than just grilling them – with a much more intense smoky overtone.
Can I Smoke Cheese?
To smoke cheese, you’ll need the cold smoking technique used to flavor and preserve food. It does not cook the food, but rather infuses it with the taste of smoke. The process may also impart a yellowish tint from the smoking agent used. Smoking cheese can be done using all four wood smoking types as fuel. The type of wood used will determine what flavors are imparted on the cheese.
Yet, for cold smoking, you’ll need a different setup – one that will cool the smoke.
You can cold smoke cheese in a standard smoker or into a box. Since it is a cold-smoking process, instead of firing the smoker you’ll need a cold smoke generator to produce the smoke.
The process may take between two to 10 days for you to complete, depending on the type of food you are smoking.
What is Liquid Smoke?
Liquid smoke is a fluid that contains the taste, and the aroma of the smoke woods.
It can be added to many different foods. Liquid smoke is most commonly used in beef, pork, chicken, and fish dishes to give them a delicious smoky flavor without the use of actual smoke wood.
It’s made from wood for smoking that has been slowly heated to produce smoky vapors. This vapor then passes through a condenser where it becomes liquid that can be used to spray onto food for flavoring purposes.
Some common ingredients in liquid smoke are water, molasses, salt, caramel coloring, and of course the liquid that is extracted from wood chips.
Smoking meat is one of the oldest methods for preserving food, and it’s still a favorite among many today. The smoke from burning wood or liquid smoke adds flavor to the meat as well as imparts some preservative qualities.
Smoking can be done in various ways: using a smoker, grilling over indirect heat, or cooking indoors with an electric smoker.
The smoke flavor that is imparted into the meat ranges from mild to heavy, depending on the type of wood and how long it’s smoked.
Although there are a variety of foods suitable for smoking including vegetables and cheese, the most popular is meat. Depending on your palate and personal preferences, you can choose what kind of wood and the type of heat to use for smoking.
Once you master the process of smoking, it will become a fun activity that can be enjoyed alone or with family and friends for years to come!