Smoking Meat 101:
What is smoking?
Smoking is the process of cooking meat slowly over indirect heat for extended periods (often 12 to 16 hours, sometimes even more), while the smoke uniquely flavors the meat and gives it distinct texture.
Why Bother Smoking My Meat?
While it sounds a whole lot easier to just toss your meat on a hot grill, and get it cooked and into your stomach ASAP, we strongly believe that low and slow is the way to go. By smoking your meat, you’re able to infuse it with incredible flavor, create something called a bark (essentially the tasty, crispy crust on the outside of your meat). Your meat will ultimately be juicer and take on a better texture—think fall-off-the bone tender!
What meat should I smoke?
Skip the ribeye and filets— the best types of meat to smoke are the thicker, fattier, tougher meats that you might normally avoid! The reason we recommend you opt for these large, fatty cuts is because the meat will, over several hours of smoking, become soft, and tender and extra juicy! A few great options to pick up from your local market are, briskets, pork butt or rump roasts, and everyone’s favorite, ribs! If you’re looking for non-meat options, you can always smoke salmon or trout, or even opt for vegetables like bell peppers, portobello caps, chilies and tomatoes.
What type of wood should I use?
There are many different options to use for wood. While most woods are good with just about anything, some woods pair better with specific proteins. Also, what you use depends on what type of flavor you’re looking for! Check our list below for a few of our favorite flavors!
Alder offers very subtle and sweet notes. It is best used with beef, chicken, pork, seafood, vegetables
Apple is quite mild, and adds a little sweetness and a nice hint of fruity flavor. Apple pairs best with chicken, pork, vegetables.
Cherry, like apple, is quite mild and has a fruity flavor. It is a great match for beef, chicken, pork
Hickory is perfect if you love the flavor of bacon! It creates a sweet yet strong smoky flavor. It pairs well with most proteins, especially beef, chicken, pork, vegetables.
Maple is sweet and mild, perfect for beef, pork, and vegetables.
Mesquite is one of the more popular woods used for smoking. It has add a strong, smoky flavor with earthy tones that is ideal for beef, chicken and seafood.
Think of Oak as the Goldilocks of smoking wood. It’s a little stronger than apple and cherry but still lighter than mesquite and hickory. What’s great about Oak, is that it can be paired with other woods, to create a unique flavor. Oak wood with it’s medium smoky flavor, pairs well with beef and seafood.
Chunks, Chips, Pellets, or Planks?
The Smoking Meat Geeks, recommend you choose your wood depending on the type of smoker your using.
Chunks are more desirable for pitmasters of all skill levels; they burn faster and are easier to control than logs, but more slowly than chips, giving you more control over the cooking process.
Wood chips are common and can be picked up at almost hardware or grocery store. They’re good for smoking on a gas or charcoal grill, as they can be placed in foil and moved around. And while they burn quickly, you can easily add more by grabbing a handful and tossing them on.
Pellets are becoming more common as pellet grills become more popular. They’re created by taking wet sawdust and pressing it so tightly that it holds together in pellets; there are, no fillers or glues holding them together, and if they became wet, they would merely become sawdust again. Wood pellets are very convenient as, like chips, you just toss some more into the fire when needed. Many pellet smokers also have automated augers that feed pellets into the pit when the thermostats signals, keeping a consistent heat going. They also create a smooth, clean smoke that imparts a generally desirable flavor.
Planks are great for beginners who want to start learning about how smoke works when you cook your food. Planks are most commonly used on the grill, rather than in a smoker. The biggest difference between planks and other forms of wood, is that meat is placed and cooked directly on the plank, whereas chips, chunks and pellets are placed in the bottom of the smoker and do not touch your proteins.
What should my smokers’ internal temperature be?
We’ll say it again, low and slow is the way to go! The ideal smoker temperature is between 225°F and 250°F. If you’re pressed for time, you can increase your smoker temp to 275°F or even 300°F, but we wouldn’t go much higher than that. The higher the temp, the quicker your meat will be done, but keep in mind this is when you’ll start to sacrifice tenderness and juiciness!
How long do I smoke my meat?
How long you cook your meat, all depends entirely on the size, cut, type of meat you’re cooking and the temperature of your smoker. A good, and very general rule of thumb, is to cook your meat for 1-2 hours per pound of meat, assuming your smoker is running 225-300°F. Be sure you research the exact cook time and temp before you start smoking, and always make sure your food is fully cooked before consuming.