Smoking meat adds flavor and tenderness and also helps preserve the meat and keep it moist. While you may think of smoked meats as something you can only find at a barbecue restaurant, you can enjoy it at home too. Here’s what you need to know:
The Art of Smoking
People have been smoking meats for centuries. Smoked meat is cooked at a low temperature for an extended period. The meat doesn’t come in direct contact with the heat source but is cooked and flavored by smoke and steam.
When smoking meats, you can use a charcoal grill or a commercial smoker. You can also use a gas grill, but it won’t give you the same flavor as charcoal.
Types of Meat
Almost any kind of meat can be smoked, but most smoked meats are large, tougher cuts that tenderize during slow cooking. These include beef brisket, beef or pork ribs, and chuck roast. Leaner meats can also be smoked, such as chicken and pork tenderloin.
Choose cuts of meat with lots of marbling. Ask your grocery store’s butcher for advice on the best meat cuts for smoking and how much you’ll need. You can also ask him to trim any excess fat for you.
One of the best things about smoking meats is the unique flavor it gets from different types of wood. Jeff Phillips of Smoking-Meat.com describes the following wood chips:
- Apple: fruity and mild
- Alder: perfect for fish
- Cherry: sweet, fruity, and mild
- Hickory: strong and pungent; avoid overuse
- Maple: sweet and light
- Oak: yields a strong smoke flavor
- Pecan: fruity flavor
As you become more comfortable with the smoking process, you can mix and match different types of wood chips to create your own unique smoke blend. Phillips recommends using oak and pecan on larger cuts of beef or pork roast and the sweeter wood chips for poultry, ham, or fish.
Tips for Ultimate Flavor
- If using a charcoal grill, always use new briquettes.
- For a punch of flavor, use a dry rub, marinade, or brine before smoking. Try this recipe for Memphis-style Southern dry rub pork spare ribs from Deep South Dish. This recipe for hickory and apple smoked baby back ribs from SmokingPit.com uses a mist of apple juice to give the ribs added moisture and flavor.
- To produce as much smoke as possible, soak wood chips for thirty minutes to an hour before starting the smoking process.
- Remove meat from the smoker when done to prevent it from drying out.
- Smoked meats often have a slightly pink color. This is a hallmark of the smoking process and does not mean the meat is undercooked. However, to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, use a meat thermometer to determine doneness.
- Always keep at least 1/2 inch of hot water in your smoking pan to keep the meat moist. Think outside the box and try substituting other liquids for the water, such as apple juice.
- To avoid burning, add sauces during the last 30 minutes of smoke time.
- Depending on the cut of meat you’re using, Smoking-Meat.com recommends maintaining a smoking temperature of between 200 and 300 degrees.
Prepare to Wait
Smoking meat isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming. It can take several hours, and you’ll need to keep tabs on your smoker to be sure the water level and temperature stay consistent. But the type of flavorful, fall-off-the-bones meat that smoking produces is more than worth the wait.
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