This information will assist novices with limited knowledge of how to smoke foods to obtain excellent results while learning the basics of smoking, the traditional form of slow cook barbecue. We present the basics to assist you in getting started while achieving great results the very first time as you gain experience cooking with your new equipment. Experience will allow you to adapt the smoking process to your preferences and your specific equipment. We’ll help you learn the "how to" with terrific results. Ultimately, practice and patience are necessary as smoking is more an "art" than a science; and nothing beats your own expertise and experience in personalizing the smoking process.
Barbecue: The Basics
There are three variables that occur in all forms of barbecue – Heat, Smoke, and Time. The interaction of these three elements determines the barbecuing process one will utilize. Many grill masters will tell you that true barbecue must be “low” and “slow” (heat and time) so that smoke has time to enhance the flavor naturally while tenderizing the meat. Grilling, on the other hand, is a hot and fast cooking technique that occurs directly over the heat source. Indirect heat is similar to roasting and is recommended when grilling larger pieces of meat. with the grill cover down and the meat placed so as to avoid the direct heat source. When you grill steaks and hamburgers with direct heat, the cook time is often too short to infuse the meat with smoky flavor.
The process of meat smoking is done at a lower temperature than grilling yet the goal remains to cook the meat to its normal "safe temperature" but over a longer period of time and at a lower temperature so that the meat has limited opportunity to become damaged or "overdone" when smoking at the lower temperature.
Although curing and smoking meats is an ancient form of food preservation, today smoking is primarily utilized to enhance flavor and tenderize cuts of meat that often cook best with the low heat slow cook method.
Types of Smoking
Dry smoking uses indirect heating with a low smoldering heat source to slowly cook foods while infusing a smoke flavor.
Wet smoking or water smoking is more often employed when smoking and uses a pan of water, fruit juices, wine, or other liquids to maintain moisture and tenderness throughout the smoking process.
Cold smoking is the process of smoking food usually at temperatures below 100 degree F, or below a temperature that burns of liquefies fat. Foods for cold smoking would usually be cured first – smoked bacon, hams, and smoked fish.
Hot Smoking is the process of smoking food at the same time as it is cooked and is the form of cooking this booklet references. Foods for hot smoking would normally be eaten soon after they are prepared. Hot smoked foods may be cured (brined) or marinated, or basted. Additionally, rubs may be used to tenderize or enhance flavor as well as to moisturize and complement smoky flavors.
True Barbecue Starts with the Smoke:
Modern Smoking has evolved from ancient processes of preserving food. Today smoking is truly about flavoring and tenderizing some of the tougher cuts of meat that don’t cook well using other methods into wonderfully flavored meals. What you smoke is mostly a matter of taste; but the most popular smoked items include ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder. Most forms of wild game as well as poultry and fowl produce excellent results when slow smoked. Dried jerky also benefits immensely from the Hot Smoking process.
Preparation of Meats for Smoking:
The USDA recommends following normal sanitary procedures when preparing raw products for smoking.
- Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Keep Ingredients Separate
- Don’t cross contaminate ingredients or utensils.
- Cook to Proper Temperatures using two thermometers;
one for the food; one for the smoker.
- Smoke food to a safe internal temperature and doneness.
- Poultry breast 170° F
- Whole Poultry 180° F
- Beef, Veal, Lamb Roast 145° F to 170° F
- Pork 160° F to 170° F
- Chill – Refrigerate meat and poultry within 2 hours of removing it from a smoker.
Source: USDA Pamphlet on Smoked Foods
Before You Smoke, Brine:
Curing, brining, or marinating of meats to be smoked with a salt brine was a necessary step when smoking was primarily a form of food preservation. Today, although hot smoking does not require curing in order to preserve the food, there are other reasons for brining foods including flavor infusion (brines can be flavored to individual taste with sugars, wines, herbs and spices. Additionally, we no longer have to soak the product covered in brine. Your kit includes our deluxe injector which will allow you to inject brines or marinades directly deep inside the meat to be smoked. These brines not only impart their own flavor but moisturize and complement smoke flavors while also inhibiting bacterial spoilage. You can also utilize our “tough cut” tenderizing marinades to flavor and tenderize large cuts of meat from both the inside and outside through addition of the tenderizer to the marinade prior to injection deep inside the meat. Use added tenderizer as a rub; then bag and marinate overnight in the refrigerator placing a little marinade in the bag so that that the meat is marinated and tenderized from both the inside and the outside.
Using Rubs for Additional Flavor:
After the brining or marinating process is completed or with ribs not utilized, you may wish to use a rub such as our Cajun Injector Cajun Shake to add additional flavor. During smoking the rubs lose some of their flavor in the presence of heat, so apply liberally when working into the surface of the meat. Be sure to utilize vegetable oil, or our basting spray, some folks even recommend prepared mustard, to provide a sticky surface for the rub to adhere to.
Once your smoker’s wood source begins smoking, don’t waste it; place your meat in the smoker.
Preparation of Your Smoker
Once your food has been brined, marinated and seasoned, you need to prepare your smoker following the manufacturer’s directions. To avoid the bitter flavor of creosote on your meats, be sure that your smoker has been completely cleaned prior to commencing the smoking process.
Your choice of wood flavor will depend on your experience with smoked wood flavors. Your new kit contains two smokes – Pecan – a slightly less strong flavor similar to Hickory; and Oak – a moderately flavored, all purpose wood. We recommend our natural wood pellets for their convenience (no soaking required) as well as their consistent slow smoked flavor and cleanliness. We strongly recommend you research woods for smoking prior to experimenting with various wood flavors – or buy commercial wood flavors whether chips, chunks or the pellets we prefer.
Be sure to fill the water pan with water (some people use apple juice, wine, or herbal concoctions) so that the smoker will maintain moisture and steam during the slow cook. If necessary add more liquid as required.
Once the indirect heat source has reached temperature, add your wood choice to commence the smoking process and place the meat to be smoked in the smoker once the wood starts to smoke.
When hot smoking the ideal smoking temperature is around 215˚F with a range of from 200˚F – 225˚F. The goal remains to get the internal temperature of the meat up to it’s recommended safe for consumption as determined by using a meat thermometer in the meat. When the meat reaches temperature it is important to remove the meat from the smoker to avoid drying it out.
Successful smoking also requires practicing good temperature control. Maintaining proper temperature is critical (1) too low can increase cook time dramatically and could allow bacterial buildup to unhealthy levels; (2) too high…your meat cooks so quickly that the benefits of smoking…flavor enhancement and tenderization of tough cuts won’t occur. Slow cooking gives the natural fibers in the meat time to breakdown and become tender. This means that learning to control temperature in your smoker is critical. If you are utilizing an electric smoker (such as the Cajun Injector Smoker with digital heat controls) the learning curve is much less difficult. In either instance, you want to keep the door closed; only opening when absolutely necessary.
Too much smoke, or inadequate air flow, can cause a bitter flavor in the products being smoked as can inadequate knowledge of the wood chosen for smoking. If meat receives too much smoke, it will impart a very bitter creosote taste that also may numb your tongue. Inadequate air flow or too strong a wood flavor for what is being smoked, can also create bitter flavors. With smoke as with spices, it is better to use too little than too much. While there is still debate among some grill masters, most cooks believe that smoky flavor obtained after the first two hours is enough that further smoke is a waste of good wood and may well result in a creosote flavor.