The Thrill of Grilling
If you're like 90% of the South East Region of the US (including myself), then you're smoking some meat this Father's Day no question! Everyone and their brother claims they can grill, smoke, and steam anything their own way and while that might be true, it never hurts to brush up on your grilling knowledge by reading a short point-by-point analysis on the fine points of grilling which is exactly what we have for you today. Enjoy!
1. Select a Smoker
If you’re going to smoke meat on a regular basis, you’ll probably want to invest in a good smoker for your outdoor kitchen. If you just want to try it out or use this cooking process occasionally, you can either use your charcoal grill, or even dig a hole in the ground to create a smoking pit. When you’re ready to buy one, consider these options:
Charcoal Smoker: These smokers are fueled with a combination of wood and charcoal. Because charcoal burns easily and steadily, you’ll have no trouble keeping the heat regulated. Wood is trickier to burn, but gives a great flavor to the meat.
Wood Smoker: Although cooking with wood is more challenging than other methods, it gives your ribs and brisket the best smoky taste. Hardwood chips and blocks are used as fuel and both need to be tended in order to keep the temperature even.
Electric Smokers: Electric smokers can be pricey, but they are simple to use and constant tending isn’t necessary. Simply plug in your smoker and forget about it. Electric smokers are like a crockpot for smoking BBQ. If you want the easiest option, an electric smoker might be perfect for you. However, be prepared for a change in taste as this technique can sacrifice flavor.
Gas Smokers: Gas smokers are a good midpoint between wood smokers and electric smokers. Cooking with gas is as simple as grilling with electricity. You will have more flavor with a gas smoker than with an electric smoker, but there won’t be as much flavor smoked into the meat as there would be with charcoal and wood.
2. Choose Your Wood
The type of wood chips you select for smoking meat will play a large part in the taste development of your entree. Some wood chip options taste better with specific cuts and types of meat. Just a few of the many options available to you are:
Cherry: Sweet and mild flavor; great for unseasoned meats, especially turkey, beef or pork.
Hickory: Strong and smoky flavor; works well with lamb and beef.
Mesquite: Extremely strong and smoky–recommended for short grilling over long smoking; best with beef or pork, especially ribs.
Oak: Slow cooking, strong and versatile; recommended for beef, lamb, pork or wild game.
Apple: Sweet and mild flavor; works well with poultry, fish or pork.
Alder: Light and sweet flavor; suitable for fish and poultry.
Maple: Sweet and smoky taste; works well with poultry or pork.
3. Soak Smaller Wood Chips
…Or at least consider it. There are two sides to this tip. Some people swear by the wood chip soaking method, while others claim that this is actually worse for your meat.
Meat smoking is meant to be a long process, so it is important to ensure that your wood is not burning up too quickly. Some say that in order to keep the small wood pieces burning at a slow but steady pace, it is a good idea to soak them in water first. They agree that larger logs and pieces of wood should be left dry. The opposing view states that soaking your wood chips prior to using them in the smoker not only does nothing to prevent flare ups and keep the wood burning steadily, but also can sacrifice the taste of your meats.
The best advice that I can give on this subject is to advise you to try both methods on your own and decide which one works best for you. You can also get creative: try soaking half of your chips while keeping the other half dry. The combination of dry and soaked wood chips might be the perfect combination for your taste. Another fun method to try would be to soak your chips in your favorite beer or wine and see the effects it has on your meats. Experimentation is the best way to find out what you like the most.
If you do end up soaking your chips, follow this procedure:
- Soak them in water.
- Wrap them in aluminum foil.
- Poke holes in the foil for ventilation.
4. Select the Right Meat
Although you can smoke any type of meat, it is an especially effective culinary technique for tougher cuts. Because the cooking process is extremely slow, it breaks down the meat’s connective tissue and fat, allowing the texture to become very tender. Here are some meats that are truly enhanced by the smoking process:
- Corned beef
- Pork and beef ribs
- Pork roast
Again, experimentation is a great way for you to discover what meats you can cook the best with your particular smoking style and setup.
5. Prepare Your Meat
You can enhance the flavor of your entree even further if you opt for using a rub or marinade. Not only will rubs and marinades add zing to your meal, these processes tenderize your dinner as well.
Marinade: If you decide to marinate your beef, pork, poultry, or fish, you can concoct your own recipe or buy ready-made bottles of Chipotle, Cajun, Teriyaki, Caribbean, or garlic and herb flavored products. Score your meat so it will be ready to soak up the marinade, put it all in a plastic bag or container, and refrigerator for eight hours or longer.
Rubs: With this technique, a mixture of spices, garlic, and salt are rubbed into the ribs or other meat shortly before cooking time. You can create your own mixture of spices or buy pre-made rubs at the grocery store.
6. Find the Right Temperature
You’re going to want your grill to be just the right temperature, because if it’s too hot or too cold, your meat won’t cook properly and may dry out.
Start at 250 degrees: You want to start your smoker out a bit hot when you first set your meat on the grill and close the lid. This heat gets the smoking process going.
Level out at 220 degrees: Once your raw, marinaded or rubbed-down ribs or other pieces of meat are added to your smoker, the temperature will drop a bit, which is fine.
Monitor the heat: In order to keep your smoker’s temperature at a fairly constant 220 degrees, you’ll need to keep a close eye on it and adjust as needed. If you’re using a charcoal or wood smoker, you will need to add more wood or charcoal every half hour or so, so make sure you begin the smoking process with enough supplies.
7. Keep the Lid Closed
One of the big mistakes backyard chefs make while smoking meat is opening the lid to check on their meal’s progress. This can alter the outcome of your meat and produce undesired results. Here are some points to remember:
- Leave the lid closed for four hours. Resist the urge to peek!
- Don’t spray water on the meat–it doesn’t do anything.
- Manage your temperature by adjusting fuel, not by adjusting the hood.
8. Add Extra Moisture at the End
Once your beef, pork, lamb or fish are fully smoked, add one more final glaze of seasoning, and smoke for another ten or fifteen more minutes. This will make your dinner extra moist and flavorful.
When you decide to smoke meat for your main course, take your time. This process is supposed to be slow, so savor it. Spend the day inhaling the delicious aroma of your BBQ as you anticipate a meal to remember.