8 Tips for Smoking Meat

If you love the flavor of slow-smoked meat, have no fear, you too can create delicious smoked food at home. One of the most time-honored ways to cook meat, you'll love it even more when it's smoked exactly the way you like it. Experiment with different meats, woods and marinades to find what works best for you. If you're an experienced master of the pit looking to hone your craft, it never hurts to revisit the basics, right? You just might find the tip that puts your signature dish over the top. 

Here are 8 tips for smoking meat in response to your most burning questions.

What are the best things to cook in a smoker?

Don’t limit yourself. In general, foods that cook slowly at low temperatures are ideal for the smoking process.  When you smoke meats, not only is the flavor enhanced by smoke, the meat is tenderized and cooks evenly throughout the cut. However, there are many delicious foods that only get better with the infusion of smoke. Add sides like mac-n-cheese & baked beans, fruits & veggies, nuts, cheese and ice-cream to your smoking repertoire.

 

What is the hardest meat to smoke?

Brisket is the holy grail of smoking. Everyone from competitive cooks to dedicated pit masters and barbecue enthusiasts agree that beef brisket is the hardest meat to get right. Since it’s lean and doesn’t have as much fat content, it has to be cooked just right to transform it into a tender piece of smoked meat. For big meats like brisket, you can inject with marinade the day before you smoke it for increased flavor and tenderness. Good things take time and that definitely goes for brisket; we’re talking 10 to 12 hours.

What is the best kind of meat to smoke?

Any kind of meat can be smoked. The best cuts of meats to smoke are fatty cuts like pork shoulder and ribs. Since the smoking process can dry out some types of meat, the high fat content of ribs and pork shoulder help keep them moist, tender and flavorful. Larger and leaner cuts like brisket, porterhouse steak and roasts are ideal for infusing with wood-fired flavor over a longer cook. Smaller, thinner cuts like fish filets and skirt steak are enhanced by a hint of smoke flavor from a shorter time on your smoker.

Which type of meat is the best for smoking by beginners?

Start with meat you can afford to ruin. While you’re building your smoking skills, not everything will turn out the way you hope it will. The best meats for beginners to smoke are meats that are more inexpensive and don’t require as many hours to cook, like poultry, fish and sausage. Pork is one of the best because it is naturally high in fat, which gives it more flavor and tenderness when it comes to low and slow cooking. Of course, beginners can try their hand at the more challenging meats, but until you really get the hang of it, we recommend holding off on the more expensive cuts.

What are the best meat smokers for beginners?

Start out with a smoker that’s easy to operate. If you’re new to smoking meat, look for a smoker that is easy to learn. Meat smoking is a passion that takes time to master. With so many things to learn from what to cook, how to prep it and getting all of the timing down, a big part of enjoying the experience is having the right equipment.

 

Offset Smokers: Sometimes called charcoal smokers, briquettes are commonly used for fuel, with wood chunks or chips being added for smoke flavor. Controlling the airflow to the fire is key to maintaining the cooking temperature. With a slight learning curve to start and maintain a slow burning fire and control temperatures, it’s really not that difficult. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of fun, especially once you’ve done a few cooks and get a good feel for it.

 

Drum Smokers: Also fueled by charcoal with a charcoal basket that holds enough fuel for an all-day cook. Load the basket with charcoal, adding wood for smoke flavor. Set it into the bottom of the barrel and light the fuel with a charcoal lighter. With no dials or dampers to adjust, drum smokers are easy to set up and easy to use, great for beginners and competition pit masters alike.

 

Pellet Grills: Fueled by wood pellets that are continually fed from a 20-pound capacity hopper into a fire pot. Cooking temperatures are managed by a digital controller that alerts you when cook time has elapsed or target temperature is reached on the meat probes. A cool down program ensures all unused pellets are burned up, clearing the auger to prevent jams.

How do you prepare meat for a smoker?

Rub, season or inject meats before smoking. Exactly how you prep your meats for smoking depends on the meat and your personal preference. While a high-quality steak only needs an oil rub and a little salt and pepper, other meats need more attention. For example, when smoking a rack of ribs, you’ll remove the membrane on the underside and apply a dry rub to both sides. You can inject large pieces of meat with butter, herbs, beef or chicken broth to add flavor and keep it juicy, especially for long smoking times.

How do you keep meat moist when smoking?

Spritz, baste or wrap meat when smoking. Use these methods when smoking meat to create a barrier that preserves the juices without blocking smoke infusion.

  • Spritz with liquids like fruit juice, cider vinegar or olive oil with ingredients like Worchester sauce and soy sauce added for flavor variations while smoking to keep it moist.
  • Baste with your favorite barbecue sauce or your secret recipe to add layers of flavor while keeping the meat moist and tender.
  • Wrap in butcher paper instead of aluminum foil to keep it moist while still allowing smoke to penetrate the meat’s surface for smoky flavor.

You can place a large aluminum pan with 1 to 2 inches of water between the meat and the fire to generate steam to cook your meat with a moist, smoky heat.

HOT TIP: Using a water pan can increase condensation under the smoker lid. Adding spices, beer or wine to the water pan can be used to infuse an added layer of flavor into your food.

What's the secret to smoking meat?

Dedication to the details is the secret to smoking the most delectable meat.

  • How you load the firebox and build the fire is key to a clean burning fire that produces the thin white/blueish smoke you want. A dense, darker smoke can overpower the taste of the food.
  • Keeping the meat you’re smoking moist is essential to the process. When a meat’s surface dries, it forms a barrier that blocks the infusion of smoke.
  • Be sure you have enough wood for the entire cook. As a general rule, you’ll burn roughly one wood chunk for every hour of smoking.
  • Probably the hardest and most important “secret” is to keep the lid closed, only lifting to spritz the meat or check internal temperature. Every time you raise the lid, heat escapes your smoker, resulting in inconsistent cooking temps and longer cook times.

The only way to become a true master of the pit is to put in the time. Practice with less expensive cuts and experiment with different woods and marinade flavors. As your passion grows, take on greater challenges with leaner cuts and new techniques. Enjoy the process. You’ll eat really well and learn something new every time you cook.

Ready to try your hand at some Applewood Smoked Wings or Smoked Pork Ribs?

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