A Beginner’s Guide to Smoking Meat
Smoked meat gets its flavor through a long cooking process, during which it’s exposed to low heat—and yes, a great deal of smoke. If you’ve always wanted to try it but have found the prospect daunting, there’s no reason to wait any longer.
As long as you have the right equipment, it’s simple to prepare your own smoked meats. Besides, the results are delicious. Here’s our guide to using a smoker for the very first time.
1. Choose your smoker
There are many quality brands to choose from, not to mention different fuel sources. We prefer using pellet grills for smoking, as they provide the most wood flavor. Whichever type you choose, we would recommend looking for a brand that’s ranked as one of the most user-friendly. If the unit is too difficult to operate and assemble, you’re bound to get discouraged before you’ve even gotten started.
2. Choose your pellets
You’ll be able to choose from a myriad of different wood types. Choose one that matches the flavor profile of whatever you’ll be smoking first. For example, applewood and pecan are ideal for smoked pork butt, while beef can stand up to stronger flavors like hickory and mesquite.
3. Do a test run
Before you attempt to use your smoker for the first time, you should season it by building a test fire. Get the temperature up to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then reduce it to 250 degrees and let it burn at this temp for roughly three to four hours. As a bonus, this will allow you to test the accuracy of the unit’s built-in thermometer.
4. Prepare the meat
Look up a recipe for a simple dry rub or marinade. Use it to season your meat up to a day in advance. Make sure you leave plenty of room in your refrigerator, so the meat can soak in the flavors overnight.
5. Prepare the smoker
Have plenty of fuel on hand. If you’re using a pellet smoker, fill the hopper to capacity. Keep an extra supply nearby, just in case.
In addition, most smokers will work best when they’re set up in an area that’s out of the wind. If this isn’t a possibility, keep a close eye on the temperature to make sure it’s not fluctuating too much during the cooking process.
6. Start the smoker
As before, your fire should be allowed to reach 400 degrees Fahrenheit before you turn it down to a lower temperature. This will greatly improve the smoke flavor. When you add the meat, the temp should hover somewhere between 200 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Add the meat
The meat should be placed directly on the cooking grates. If you’ve used a marinade, blot the meat dry before adding it to the smoker to avoid the risk of flare-ups.
8. Let the smoker do its work
Resist the urge to check the meat too often. If you open the door too frequently, you’ll allow precious heat to escape, thereby lengthening the cooking process. Instead, rely on the external thermometer to tell you how things are progressing. Some units are even equipped with Wi-Fi capability, which allows you to check the temperature remotely from your smartphone or tablet.
You should, however, check the hopper in case additional pellets are needed. If you’ve done a trial run, you’ll have some idea of how long it will be before the hopper starts to run low.
As a rule of thumb, you should smoke meat for about one and a half hours per pound. If the temperature is running slightly higher—say, 300 degrees Fahrenheit—one hour per pound might be sufficient. However, we would recommend aiming for lower temperatures and a longer cooking time, as this will make the meat more succulent and flavorful.
9. Rotate every few hours
After 2-3 hours have passed, it’s permissible to rotate the meat and give it a dousing with a prepared mop, if you’re using one. Check it again one hour before it’s due to be finished. It’s better to check it early to avoid overcooking. If it needs more time, you can always pop it back in.
10. Remove and rest the meat
When the meat has reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees, it’s ready to be removed from the smoker. Wrap it in aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 1-2 hours, then remove the foil and let it rest for another hour.
You’ll be able to tell whether the meat is smoked correctly if there’s a pink ring just inside the crisp exterior. This color is a sign of nitric acid, which is the hallmark of properly smoked meat. Enjoy!