Smoking Meat - Beginners Guide

Smoking Meat – The Basics! The Ultimate Guide!

Smoking meat is an art form and also one of the most satisfying hobbies that you can have, For many people, it’s a way of life. There is just something incredible about working the fire for hours on end and creating a product that family and friends love. In this guide, we will be going back to the start and giving some great pointers. We all had to start somewhere so I hope this of use to many of you.

The thing about smoking is there are a lot of ways to do it, but it imparts an incredible flavor on the food. There are a lot of different types of smokers that are out there. You will see tons of Weber bullet smokers and you can get them online for under 200 dollars. They do a fantastic job of smoking meat, whether it’s brisket, pork ribs, or whatever. If you’ve got a weber kettle grill at home you can smoke on that. If you’ve got a big green egg, those are very popular ceramic cookers. You can cook your virtually your whole 15-16 hour cook just on a handful of charcoal. They’re really incredible. We have also met people that have cooked on a trash can with great success.

The rule of thumb is if you can control the fire then you can cook on it. Typically barbecue is about low and slow and it’s about controlling that fire over a long period of time. You are imparting a flavor of that smoke onto the meat and getting a good and tender product.

The Big Green Egg in Action
The Big Green Egg in Action

Smoking Meat – The Meat

People always ask us what kind of meat can you smoke. Well, we smoke everything. we have smoked brisket, pulled pork, prime rib, and chicken. We will do everything. any food could be smoked. Sometimes though it’s better to grill things. You’re not going to smoke a hamburger but you can smoke a meatloaf. It’s an incredible way to eat meatloaf. You could also do beef ribs or pork ribs. You know there are people that smoke whole lambs, you can do whole beef shoulders, you could even smoke a whole hog and do Pig picking parties. There are many things that are possible, you can smoke fish, smoked salmon is incredible with a little bit of butter. a little bit of dill and a little bit of lemon juice, it’s just fantastic! The next great thing about smoking is you can be creative you can try different flavors.

Smoking Meat - The Basics
Smoking Meat – The Basics

What Wood Can I Use?

The type of wood you use will help determine the flavor of your food. we cook with a lot of different types of wood as well as different sizes. There are so many different woods you can use. Examples include peach wood, hickory, pecan. Any good hardwood that bears a fruit you can cook on and that’s a good rule of thumb to follow. You want to make sure that whatever you have that it’s good and well seasoned. Typically you want it to be about six months old from the time it’s cut to when you start to cook with it. That’s going to give a better flavor to the food.

Some woods are going to impart a stronger flavor and some a weeker flavor. Applewood is great for chicken and fish because it is very mild. Hickory is great for beef and even pork. The Hickory has a pretty strong flavor so sometimes you have got to be careful about over smoking the wood. some people will create a mix of charcoal and hickory. Pecan is a very mild wood. a lot of times we cook with just pecan because of the mild taste of the smoke. It allows us to cook for a long period of time. Be creative, think about it and just don’t hesitate to experiment. If you mess it up so what, you’ve learned and so try different woods see the different flavors and ask your friends who have done this for tips.

Which Wood for Smoking Meat
Which Wood for Smoking Meat

Temperatures

Another question people ask us a lot is what temperature do you cook at. Again this is another debate altogether and you’re going to get many opinions. Barbecue is low and slow so we cook about 225 degrees and sometimes up to 250. Chicken will cook a little bit higher, but there are a lot of people out there who cook hot. We may cook a brisket for 12-14 hours, it’s possible there are people who cook that same brisket at 300-350 degrees for five or six hours and they make a fantastic product. It’s just a different technique, a different way to do it.

Some meats lend themselves to a hotter cook like chicken. Chicken seems to do better at a hotter cook because it crisps up that skin a little bit more so it’s not as rubbery. I like brisket, pulled pork and ribs low and slow but again there are just as many people doing it hot and fast as there are low and slow. Try both ways to see what works best for you.

Temperature Control is Everything when Smoking Meat
Temperature Control is Everything when Smoking Meat

Smoking Meat – Seasoning and Marinades

A lot of people ask me what do you season with? Do you use a wet marinade? Do you use a dry rub what do you use? Well, typically most barbecue restaurants that you go to will use a dry rub. When we started cooking you would go to the store and there were no dry rubs. Now you go there and there are several championship barbecue teams that have commercialized their rubs so there are a lot of good things to choose from. Some are sweeter, some are hotter it’s all based on what your taste is.

I think it’s important to have fun with rubs. If you like a hotter flavor try different pepper. Maybe white pepper, cayenne pepper or black pepper. If you like a sweeter rub there are different types of sugar. Brown sugar, white sugar, turbinado sugar. Just try different things that fit your palate. Paprika gives a certain color to your meat which can really make the meat look great.

Typically most rub recipes that you’ll see start with equal parts of salt and sugar and then from there they’ll add things like garlic. They’ll also add things like paprika things to give it color and you know there’s onion powder, there’s cumin, there is so many choices. It all depends on what you’re cooking. If you are cooking beef you want to use something with a little bit heavier content of salt and pepper. Maybe even a little bit of heat coming from some cayenne pepper.

Something like pork or ribs will want something a little bit sweeter. A lot of times you can make a good all-purpose rub that covers a lot of things, but also a lot of times you will use a rub that is specific to those specific meats. There’s a lot of really crazy ingredients like powdered honey that you can get and put in your rub. It’s very fine, it makes it a real sweet flavor. Experiment and have fun with it. Do a little research and again you’re never going to mess anything up, just because if you do you’re just going to learn from it and you’re going to make it better the next time. Come up with your own rub that makes your signature barbecue taste best.

Experiment Until you Find the Rub or Marinade that you Like
Experiment Until you Find the Rub or Marinade that you Like

Smoking Meat – The Tools

A lot of times people ask us what tools do I need to go with the smoker? Is there anything special that you need? Well obviously you need a grill, we’ve talked about the different types of grills that are out there. You need a good knife, good sharp knives don’t have to be anything fancy, just make sure it’s sharp. You will need a good cutting board and a lot of things that you don’t really have around the house. A good set of tongs is also a great addition. One of the things that I think are always pretty good is a good set of thermal gloves. That fire gets really hot sometimes so you want something to protect yourself so nobody gets burned.

Another thing that I would invest in is a great instant-read thermometer. There’s a lot of them out there on the market. Do your research and use one that you can leave in the meat so you can always monitor it. It’s very important because when you’re cooking these meats a lot of it is the science of food, the science of cooking, the chemistry of cooking. At certain temperatures different things happen, whether it’s a collagen break down or something else. Pulled pork at 195 degrees goes from being stiff to immediately falling apart. The same thing with brisket, there’s that fine line that takes you right there and a good instant-read thermometer will help you to do it better.

Think you are ready to go to the next level? Check out our brisket guide!

A Good Set of BBQ Tools is Essential
A Good Set of BBQ Tools is Essential
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