Ah, summertime. The one time of year meant for fun in the sun, trips to the beach, and—of course—backyard barbecues. Though it's really no secret that barbecue is the unofficial main dish of summe, there are plenty of people who aren't quite sure how to make it best on the grill. If your goal, however, is to smoke your meats for this summer and beyond, the intimidation factor is probably higher than it is with just regular grilling.
If you've never touched a grill in your life, you may be wondering what the difference between grilling and smoking meat even is. And while it may just seem like a change in words, there's actually a difference between the two, according to Octavius “Tay” Nelson—pitmaster and owner of Bobby's BBQ in Fountain Inn, South Carolina.
Smoking meats, unlike grilling, requires an indirect source of heat. Meaning, the fire is not directly underneath the meats you're cooking; it's to the side with the smoke and heat drifting over to the meat to cook it. Self-explanatory, right?
Now that you've learned the first lesson in smoking meats, here are a few other tips and tricks that beginners should keep handy if ready to begin their journey as a backyard pitmaster.
Alright, so which meats should I actually be smoking?
While there are plenty of meats that can be (and deserve to be!) smoked, Nelson explains to us that if you're just starting out, there are a few meats that will fare better for beginners.
"Chicken, turkey, or Boston butts (or pulled pork as they are more commonly called) are all relatively easy to cook," he says: "These meats themselves are less expensive to buy and therefore are better to experiment with."
That doesn't mean that these meats are where you should stop, though. According to Nelson, once you feel as if you've mastered the basics of smoking with those accessible buys, you can upgrade yourself to the big boy meats like beef ribs. And while they may be a little on the pricier side, they're still easy to cook and can produce delicious results. Brisket, however, takes a little more confidence and fire management skills to get just right.
"It's a tough one to learn, but you aren't considered a true pit master until you've conquered it!"
What's the main thing I should know about smoking these meats?
While most people may believe that the thing that matters most about smoking meats is the quality or cut of the meat, Nelson revealed there's something that holds a little more weight than that. And by "a little," I mean a lot.
"It's important to practice fire and temperature management—especially when you're new to smoking meat," he tells Delish. "Everybody says 'low and slow' when it comes to barbecue, but you need to maintain your temperature, too."
So what's the proper temperature for smoking your meats? Nelson suggests beginning the cooking process at 250 degrees and letting it get up to 275, then keeping it at the latter for a few hours. Cooking your meat too low will prevent the fat from rendering down properly (which means melting down and clarifying hard animal fat), plus you need that to break down the fibers of the meat you are smoking.
Another tip he highly suggests—which may seem like a no-brainer to some—is to always keep a meat thermometer handy when smoking. Though you may be tempted to use the common method of "poking your meat," the pitmaster notes doing this while it's on the smoker can actually dry it out.
"It's worth investing in a good digital meat thermometer if you smoke a lot of meat. A digital thermometer will ready your temperature much faster, so you're not leaving your smoker open and letting the heat out."
What if I don't have a smoker?
For those of you who have strayed away from smoking meats due to the absence of an actual smoker, fret no more. You don't actually need a smoker to get the amazing taste of smoked meats; a charcoal grill can work just fine!
"If you use a charcoal grill, I recommend using a charcoal chimney to get your charcoal hot," said Nelson. (FYI, charcoal chimneys are metal tubes with holes at both ends and a wire grate that holds your charcoal.) "All you have to do is stuff some newspaper in the bottom, fill it with charcoal, then light the newspaper on fire. Your charcoal should be hot in 10-to-15 minutes, then you can dump them into the grill."
When doing the above step, however, just make sure all of your charcoal is placed on the side of the grill that's furthest from the vent opening and throw a few wood chips on top. Your meat will go on the side opposite the charcoal.
Don't have a charcoal grill either? You can use a crock pot instead! Just cook your fat side up and, per Nelson's recommendation, add a little liquid smoke.
Are there any common mistakes I should try and avoid?
Though any cook, chef, grill-master, or pitmaster will tell you mastering the art of whatever specialty you're attempting will take trial and error, Nelson said there's one huge mistake that plenty of folks make when beginning their meat smoking journey: a lack of patience. Lucky for you, that can definitely be avoided.
"Start your cook well before you need to serve your food. Don't be in a rush," he said. "It takes time to smoke meat—sometimes more than you think—especially if it's windy or cold outside. You'll also want extra time after your meat is done cooking to let it rest before serving." Need to keep it warm before your guests arrive? Just put it on the lowest setting in your oven or place it in a cooler wrapped in a towel.
Now that you know all you need to know about smoking meats as a beginner, make sure to have all the best barbecue sauces handy for your guests! But if you're still left with questions, here's everything you need to know about how to smoke meat.
You Might Also Like