Smoking Meat in a Home Smoker
Ribs on the Bullet
I hesitated on buying a barbeque smoker, because I knew that the process in smoking meat meant low (temperatures) and slow (many hours). Though I love to grill, I wasn't sure about investing from 4 hours up to a full day tending the grub.
If you've ever had pit cooked barbeque or ribs, then you know that smoking means that the meat is fork tender. It just falls right off the bones. The meat picks up the flavor of the smoke and is simply impossible to beat on taste. We live in barbeque country and are huge fans, so visions of home smoking continue to dance in our heads.
We Decided to Go For It
My boys and I finally talked ourselves into getting a smoker, and we discovered that it's not nearly as difficult or labor intensive to smoke as we had thought. A good quality smoker pretty well tends itself. We'd prepare the meat, start the fire, check back now and then, and the results . . . oh man . . . we're talking some really good eating.
Before buying a smoker, I did a lot of research. Yes. I'm the nerdy type, but it really does pay off to read before buying rather than after making a bad purchase.
There are some gas and electric smokers on the market, but most of the big barbeque fans go with standard charcoal/wood models. It's a little more work (not much really) to get charcoal fired up, and it takes a little more effort to regulate temperatures, but it's hard to beat old fashioned charcoal smoking.
In looking at charcoal/wood smokers, barbeque fans really raved about the Weber Smokey Mountain Bullet. Weber is known for excellent quality products. (We've used our Weber grill for years.) Another plus is that the smoker design by Weber means low maintenance during the smoking process. I was sold on getting a smoker that would last a long time and would be easy to use, so our pick was the Smokey Mountain Bullet.
Before smoking, we read up a bit on the process and checked out recipes. The Bullet comes with a small recipe booklet, and there is a great site called The Virtual Bullet with almost everything you could think about when it comes to smoking.
Before smoking, you'll need to rub down the meat. It can go on without rub, but the seasonings do make the meat much more tasty. There are loads of rubs on the market, and there are lots of recipes for homemade rubs. One really good rub that is easy to find is Emeril (yes—made by the cooking show guy). Rub the meat down a couple of hours before cooking or the night prior.
The first step in smoking is to get the fire going. A barbeque chimney which is kind of like a big can really helps in getting the coals ready. You can't use the pre-soaked charcoal (usually called Easy Light or Quick Start), because the starter fluid will give the meat an off taste. Most any plain charcoal is fine though Kingsford seems to last longer and burn more evenly.
In order to get smoke, you'll need to get some wood chunks and soak them in water. If you don't have your own wood, then wood chunks are sold in bags at the grocery store. The wet chunks are placed on top of the burning charcoal and produce the smoke. Various types of wood give different flavors. It's fun to try out different woods.
You'll also have a water pan with the smoker. That is above the coal area. Before filling the pan with water, cover it in tin foil. Juices and fat drip down in the water pan, so it gets pretty messy. Using tin foil on the pan helps a lot on clean up.
Once the fire is going and the temperature regulated, you put the meat on. Temperatures and times vary depending on the meat being cooked. Weather conditions can also impact. Recipes help in the beginning. After you smoke a few times, you'll be able to get a "feel" for the process and can wing it.
We typically check the meat every couple of hours but have left the smoker going as long as six hours on its own during the night hours (for a shoulder). It's hard to get used to leaving well enough alone when smoking. Taking the lid off to check drops the temperature and adds to the overall cooking temperature.
Generally, you need to add extra charcoal and water to the pan a couple of times during a smoking session. Extra wood chunks may also be needed if the smoke is not cranking out.
If you want barbeque sauce on the meat (yum), that is swiped on about a half hour before the meat is done. If you put the sauce on at the beginning or too early, then the sauce burns and the meat looks black (though is fine under the dark layer).
Yes. You Can Do This!
Smoking meat is much easier than I expected. Though it does take a long time to cook low and slow, it's just a matter of getting the smoker going and then checking now and then to make sure the fire is going and that the water has not cooked out.
Meat from a home smoker is absolutely fabulous. I love the local barbeque, but the home smoked is even better.
Another plus with home barbeque smoking is that the meat is just as tasty frozen and then reheated in the oven. The flavors really sink in over time. That means that we can smoke up some meat and then enjoy the results over several meals.