Mastering Meat Smoking: A Guide to Professional Results with Home Equipment
Smoking foods as a means of cooking and flavoring is nothing new. In fact, this cooking technique has been used for thousands of years. Since primitive caveman first put fire to flesh, the process has been evolving. In modern times, smoke is what makes grilled burgers, ribs, and chicken taste so great at our summer cookouts… It is what makes our Easter hams so colorful and flavorful… and bacon? Don’t even get me started!
Until fairly recently, however, the delicate balance of cooking meats with a combination of heat and smoke was reserved for those with expensive commercial equipment or dedicated smoke houses. Just in the last few years, there have become more affordable and easy-to-use home smokers to achieve high-quality results from the comfort of our backyards. Still, however, the process of smoking meats to impart flavor and color, and to render out fat and leave tender and flavorful meat products behind continues to evolve. In fact, through human ingenuity and experimentation, you can now produce incredibly tasty smoked meats at home with little more special equipment than either a simple charcoal grill or an oven! Following is a quick and easy crash course in the art of smoking meats at home with these two simple devices.
The Pellicle Principle
Most smoke masters recommend the creation of a pellicle before smoking your given meats. The pellicle is a slightly tacky surface that will allow for maximum adhesion of smoke flavoring to your foods. The simplest way to create a pellicle is to allow your meats to dry uncovered in a refrigerator overnight. Overly damp meats won’t pick up smoke as effectively as those allowed to develop a pellicle.
The Oven Method
The simplest way for a beginner to maintain the constant and low temperatures required to smoke meats is in an oven. The first step to smoking meat in an oven is really wet soaked wood chips. Depending on what kind of meat you’re cooking and the recipe you’re following, you’ll want to select the proper type of wood chips. For pork, apple wood seems to be a pretty popular and safe choice, but again, depending on recipe and availability, first select your hardwood, be it hickory, mesquite, oak, or whatever. Submerge the wood chips in water for at least an hour, and once soaked, drain through a colander. You’ll want to save some of the extra chip water in a bowl for future use.
To begin cooking, preheat the oven to a standard 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Position the oven rack a notch or two below the middle to keep it closer to the bottom of the oven and allow room for the meat you intend to smoke.
Put the soaked wood chips inside an aluminum pan in a single layer, ensuring that some of the excess water creates a film across the bottom of the pan. It is important to not stack the wood chips, as this will produce too much smoke inside the oven. Over the layer of wood chips, place a raised metal baking rack, allowing enough space between the bottom of the rack and the chips to let the smoke flow freely.
At this point, you’re ready to place the meat you’d like to smoke onto the rack. Place the meat directly over the wood chips and create a “tent” of aluminum foil that will seal over the meat and the roasting pan on all sides while leaving room at the top for the smoke to circulate over the meat. The better sealed the foil is around the roasting pan, the more the smoke flavor will penetrate the meat and the less will be lost to smoke out your oven/kitchen.
Next, simply place the aluminum pan/smoking setup in the oven and allow the meat to slow-cook. Depending on the amount and type of meat you are cooking, let it roast for 3-6 hours. Periodically monitor the wood chips inside the smoking setup to make sure the chips remain wet to continue constant smoking and avoid drying out your meat. This is where you will be glad you saved a bit of chip water, to maintain a film of water at the bottom of the roasting pan.
After a few hours, check the internal temperature of the meat you are smoking according to your recipe and personal preferences. Once the optimum temperature is reached, simply remove the meat and smoking setup from the oven, and enjoy your homemade meat masterpiece!
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