While using a smoker is not difficult, it does require some attention to detail to ensure the cooking environment remains at the right temperature consistently. Typically, everyone has a preferred meat, rub or mop, and technique when it comes time to barbecue. However, we wanted to provide you with some helpful information on using smokers, making every event perfect.
For starters, we wanted to address the infusion technique associated with smoking meat. This specific method dates back to Colonial times and today remains one of the most popular ways of smoking food. Early rubs consisted of catsup with vinegar seasoned with peppers, oysters, and other various spices but no tomato. Over time, recipes have evolved to where today you have literally thousands of different choices when using the infusion technique.
The best smoker to use for this method is a horizontal, wood-fueled design that features an offset firebox. Keep in mind that you could also use a gas smoker but we suggest you go with a wood smoker, giving you a more authentic result. The wood you choose is also important. While oak is a great choice, we suggest you stick with hickory, a nice rich, full-bodied option. Of course, another option is mixing woods, sticking with 40% hickory, 40% oak, and then tossing in about 20% apple wood. Finally, the best meat to use with the infusion technique of smoking is pork. Some people will use other meats but pork comes out so much better.
For the process itself, you want the pork to be at room temperature while the smoker is being set up. Once the coals are ready, always place the pork with the fat side down, at least during the first 60 minutes. After that, turn the meat, cooking on the non-fat side until done. For this technique, temperature needs to be maintained between 220 and 260 degrees for the meat's surface although staying around 225 is best. In addition, use 10 whole garlic cloves, soaking in the burn chamber. These would need to be tossed every few hours. The entire process for the infusion technique is around 10 hours.
After the meat is done, place it in a covered pot or Dutch oven. Add water and apple cider vinegar, just enough to cover the bottom. Continue baking the meat at 275 degrees for two to three hours or until an internal thermometer reaches 160 degrees. Place the pork on a platter and when cool enough to handle, break it off into bite-size pieces. For the glaze, use two cups of apple cider vinegar with two tablespoons cayenne pepper. Add in three cups hot water, and drizzle over the pork. The outcome is simple delicious!
The great thing about using a smoker is all the possibilities. In part one of Using Smokers we touched on the infusion method for cooking. In this second part, we wanted to address other issues. For instance, before fire was discovered, meat was "cooked" using wind and the sun. However, with fire, it was found that not only could meat be cooked to taste better but that it also lasted much longer. Over time, salt was added to the smoking process, which helped cure the meat with wonderful flavors.
While the process of salting originally involved brine, today people use various types of marinades or rubs. What happens is that salt dissolves the proteins in the meat, making it tacky. In addition, salt stops bacteria growth. Therefore, as the salted meat is heated, these dissolved proteins start to bind the meat, which is a very important aspect of the smoking process. In other words, using a marinade or rub for smoked meat is imperative, giving you the rich taste and excellent texture.
Now, the smoky environment of the smoker is what adds wonderful flavor to meats and vegetables while also adding an extra protective barrier against bacteria. The key with good smoked barbecue is to use only the freshest meat possible, as well as spices and other ingredients. The bottom line is that the fresher the food used the better the outcome of the smoked process. Additionally, temperature of your smoker should stay between 225 and 260 degrees, which is what creates juicy, smoky, and tender flavored foods.
By smoking food indirectly, the smoke and heat work off the sides of the smoker so that your foods are never exposed to direct heat. Although recipes vary, the best rule to follow is that you need one hour of slow smoking time for every pound of meat. In other words, a 10-pound brisket would need approximately 10 hours to smoke for the best flavor and texture. Now, for the actual smoking process, we suggest you place the material (pellets, wood, or charcoal) to one side, allowing it to burn. Once the material has burned down, it could be spread out evenly. Then of course, the smoker would need a pan of water if it does not come with a water chamber. This way, humidity will work with the heat and smoke to create juicy, tender food.
Another great tip when smoking food is to soak your wood chips for at least one hour prior to using them. In addition to producing just the right amount of smoke, this will also maintain the right level of humidity without temperatures becoming too hot. Additionally, during the smoking process, you would need to add water or soaked chips several times. Generally, the smoker should be checked two to three times during a 10-hour period to make sure it is maintaining the right environment for the food being cooked.