Smoking Meat – Get Professional Results At Home
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!
The Grill Method
The key to smoking meats in general is to maintain a low temperature over a longer period of time than standard cooking methods while providing consistent smoke. On a grill, this can take a bit of practice.
To start with, on a standard kettle-style charcoal grill, you’ll want to start with a chimney-style starter full of assorted charcoal. Hardwood charcoal burns with an intense and clean heat but doesn’t tend to last very long. Charcoal briquettes, on the other hand, burn at a lower heat for a longer period of time. A combination of the two is optimal to begin smoking meat over a grill. Once you have a mound of charcoal which is covered in light gray ash and not directly flaming, you should push it all off to one side of the grill.
To properly barbecue or smoke meat, you will want to use indirect heat rather than putting it directly over a mass of super-hot coals. Keep a supply of these various coals handy though, as you will need to periodically add a few to the hot side of the grill to keep the grill temperature constant.
As for smoke, hardwood is always the way to go to smoke meats, so you’ll want to have a supply of wood chips such as oak, apple, cherry, mesquite, hickory, or pecan. No matter which variety of hardwood you choose for your recipe, be sure to soak the chips in a bowl of water for at least an hour before use. This will encourage smoking, rather than burning away of the wood within just a few minutes. One easy way to preserve the integrity of your wood chips is to wrap the wet chips in aluminum foil with some holes punctured to allow for air/smoke flow.
To smoke your chosen meats, simply place them on the “cool” side of the grill and monitor regularly the temperature of the grill, the moisture of the wood, and of course, the internal meat temperature according to your personal and recipe preferences.