Although smoking was traditionally a means of preserving meat, it has recently become a favorite means cooking it.
It’s easily the best way of bringing out rich flavors in brisket, ribs, and various other cuts of meat, succulent to the point that it falls easily from the bone.
Meats can be treated in a brine, dressed in a spicy rub, or charcoal-grilled alongside a variety of different wood chips, depending on the desired flavor.
The Bare Necessities
Regardless of the different approaches, smoking meat is a process that uses prolonged exposure to low heat to achieve delicious results. It’s easy enough—some would argue all you need is a hole in the ground. This may be true, but it’s better to obtain some equipment for smoking meats, such as a charcoal grill, a wood smoker, or a gas smoker. These will give you more reliable results.
See our review of the 30” Char-Broil Electric Vertical Smoker!
You can use a variety of hardwoods in order to complement the flavor of the meat. For example, mesquite wood chips will lend a tasty, but very strong, smoky flavor. For small cuts, using mesquite alone is fine but, for larger cuts you need to cook on a low heat for the whole day, mix the mesquite with milder wood chips.
Most of us know hickory. This is best suited to red meats or pork, as it produces a very strong but delicious flavor. Cherry is also a good complement to these meats. For poultry, try applewood, which has a lovely sweetness to it. It also compliments fish rather nicely. Maple and alder also go well with pork, fish, and poultry.
The Smoking Method
There are two methods to smoking: wet or dry. Water can be useful in order to control the temperature inside the smoker. Some smokers are actually “water smokers,” which are designed to incorporate water into the cooking process. It’s also possible just to add a pot of water to the smoker to regulate the temperature. Just make sure you refill the pot every now and then, as it will evaporate.
The water smoking method is most useful for larger cuts of meat. It’s more important to keep these temperatures regulated because you’ll be smoking them for a substantially longer time.
You should soak small chunks of wood chips in a bit of water, but leave bigger ones dry. This keeps your small chips burning longer, keeping up with the bigger chips. A good tip is to wrap your smaller pieces in aluminum foil and poke holes in it to allow smoke to be released.
Once you’ve prepared your meat and the smoker is ready to be used, you need to calculate your cooking time. Depending on your temperature, the size of the meat, and other variables, you should be cooking for 6-8 hours, but sometimes a lot more. Beef and pork ribs will take about 8 hours, but a big piece of brisket can take up to 22 hours.
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With so many variables, it’s obvious that you need to be extremely careful with the temperature of your meat. If it’s not cooked fully, you could end up incredibly ill. The US Center for Disease Control estimates that roughly 1 in 6 Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses. 128,000 of those were hospitalized and around 3,000 died, most of whom were children.
Using a quality thermometer and following common sense hygiene guidelines can reduces the risk to practically 0. Poultry should reach 165° F. This is the most dangerous meat as it presents a risk of salmonella. Pork and ground meats should reach 160° F. The internal temperature of steaks and pork chops should be at least 145° F, though beef poses less of a threat than pork or poultry.
Because it is so important to get these temperatures correct, it’s necessary to have a quality thermometer to be certain your meats are properly cooked.
See our articles on the best infrared thermometers for grilling and the best smoker thermometers for more information about temperature management.
ThermoPro TP19H Digital Thermometer Thermapen
The best probe thermometer on the market is known as a thermapen. It was originally designed for professional kitchens, but has since become a reliable favorite for non-professionals. It’s the thermometer of choice on television shows like Masterchef, which offers a great deal of credibility.
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The SuperFast Thermapen digital thermometer only needs three seconds inside the meat to give you the most accurate temperature reading. It has a huge range of temperatures, from -49.9° to 299.9° C. This means it can be used for a wide range of foods, from jams to meats. Its ergonomic design allows it to fold out like a penknife for easy storage and protection of the probe. This action also turns it off, so you won’t be wasting the batteries. The antibacterial casing comes in a number of different colors.
Don’t take the risk of making yourself or anyone else ill when you decide to smoke! You can safely enjoy the satisfaction of smoking your own meats and creating your own unique flavors. Purchasing a quality probe thermometer will maximize your health, and that of those you share this wonderful experience with.