In my many hours or research of the topic of BBQ I came across this article on smoking techniques. It helped me understand my smoker and roaster and smoking in general, and I found this information very helpful. I was going to attempt to write my own, but truthfully this article is very complete and gives you everything you’ll need to know.
First, know your equipment, each and every smoker and roaster is different; there are hot and cold spots inside the smoker and roaster. The larger the smoker and roaster, the more hot and cold spots there will be. Weather is a big factor during smoking, the pit will smoke differently in high and low humidity. Wind and temperature will also affect smoking. On a cold day, you will end up using more fuel than a hot day. On a windy day you will need to limit your airflow or your pit will most likely run hot (remember: more air = more heat, less air = less heat).
Fresh ingredients, and proper food handling guidelines are a must. Smoked meats are exposed to bacteria more so than any other cooking process. If you have questions regarding proper food handling, check the article here. It is imperative that proper food handling practices be followed.
Building The Fire
There are many out there that have great fire building techniques, and you should use what you are comfortable with. I will share mine as well:
I only use real Hardwood Lump Charcoal. This can be a little hard to find depending on where you are at. If lump charcoal is difficult to find then regular briquet can be used, just make sure it is made out of hardwood, without lighter fluid.
A very popular method is to use a chimney starter. If you will be primarily using charcoal for your heat source, then I recommend using one of these to start and burn down new charcoal before adding it to your pit.
In my large offset pit, I use lump charcoal to heat it up, and wood for cooking. In most pits you will need to use mostly charcoal, and then use some wood chunks or chips for flavour. A good rule of thumb is 90% charcoal to 10% dry wood chunks. If you are using wood chunks or chips that have been soaked in water do not add them until you are ready to cook. Also, you will only need a couple of wood chunks if you are soaking them first, or a small handful of wood chips. To light the fire I use a fire starter stick. I have also used a gel fire starter, I never use lighter fluid, it has a tendency to flavour the meat. When using the gel I put my charcoal in and leave about a 3 to 5 inch gully in the middle where I put the gel fire starter. If you use the stick fire starter, then place pieces of the stick into the sides of the charcoal pile. Make sure you can see the edge of the stick so you can light it! At this point you need full air flow through your smoker and roaster. Both chimney vent, and the fire box air vents should be wide open. Then light the gel or stick and close the lid/door, within 15 minutes (small cookers) and up to 60 minutes (large cookers) you should be ready to cook. On most smoker and roasters the ideal cooking temperature will be between 220 – 250 degrees.
If it’s a windy day keep your air vents near closed. Remember more air, increased temperature. On some of the water smoker and roasters, you may even close the air vent completely. Typically there is more than enough air coming from the bottom and sides of the smoker and roaster. In an offset air leakage into the cooking chamber through the doors can give a convection type effect. Increasing the air draw from the firebox. In controlling your fire, there is no substitute to knowing how to control air flow in your smoker and roaster.
Another method is becoming increasingly popular to increase burn times and to bring the cooker up to temp slower and more accurately. This method is now popularly known as “The Minion Method”, so named after Jim Minion a competition cook who perfected this method on his WSM (Weber Smokey Mountain). This method starts with stacking a large quantity of un-lit charcoal in your cooker, then using chimney starter burn a relatively small amount of charcoal, then adding it on top of the pile of un-lit charcoal. The remaining charcoal will start and burn slowly throughout the cook. It will take many hours to burn through your charcoal this way. This method is extremely useful if using forced draft temp control, such as the BBQ Guru. The BBQ Guru will bring the cooker up to temp, and only burn what it needs throughout the cook.
Seasoning a New Pit
A new BBQ pit should be seasoned like a new iron skillet. It is suggested by most manufacturers to rub the inside of the pit with a vegetable cooking oil, but actually some even use lard. Then light the pit and bring the cooking chamber up to about 220 degrees. Cut the airflow in the pit to about 1/2 and let it smoke. A few hours is good, the longer the better. Another good idea is to spray or rub the oil at the joints of where the firebox meets the cooking chamber. This will help you keep the paint in those spots.
Here are a few quick guidelines on cooking times. Cooking times will be relative to the temperature you are cooking at, the physical size of the piece of meat, air flow (convection effect) through the cooker, etc.. This is only a guide, start with these and adjust based on your cooker.
pork ribs – a good starting point is 60 minutes per pound.
Pork shoulder – a good starting point is 75 to 80 minutes per pound, with the second half of the cooking time wrapped in foil.
Chicken – 45 to 60 minutes per pound.
Beef Brisket – a good starting point is 65 to 75 minutes per pound with the second half of the cook wrapped in foil. (cook brisket until the flat portion is fork tender)
Using aluminium foil during the cooking process is a very controversial topic amongst BBQ experts. Using foil on fibrous pieces of meat will have the following benefits:
Decreased Cooking Time – Using foil on fibrous cuts such as pork shoulder, or beef brisket will aid in collagen breakdown resulting in less cooking time.
Limit Smoke Absorption – Smoke should be viewed as a spice. You want to achieve the right amount of smoke flavour. Wrapping your meat halfway or 3/4 of the way through cooking will limit the amount of time the meat is exposed to smoke.
Some view this as a crutch, and others (including myself) view it as a very necessary part of the cooking process.
The Water Pan Myth
The use of a water pan in upright water smoker and roasters, and in some offsets has been thought to add moisture to the air surrounding the meat. In the old smoke house days when meats were smoked for days at low temperatures, this was definitely a possibility. The reality is that at temperatures of 220+ degrees, the air will not hold the moisture. The water will actually end up on your meat, and can result in ash and soot sticking to the surface of the meat. Water used in smoker and roasters is to aid in temperature control of the cooking chamber.
Many have started using sand in place of water which will actually help in the fuel efficiency of your smoker and roaster. Keep in mind that it is very easy to burn up a piece of meat using sand in place of water, and you should know your smoker and roaster before you try this.
Geared towards the newbies in the outdoor cooking world, but relevant to experienced cooks as well. Hey, The Kingfish even learned a thing or two himself in doing research for this article. If you feel I missed something or have a tip to add, E-mail me, I will post them in future updates.
In the beginning we all have made BBQ mistakes and some have even given up after a few tries. The reason? Outdoor cooking, like anything else that’s really really good, takes time and practice to make perfect. Unless you do awful lot of homework or learn from a master, your first crack at ribs or a brisket will not be as good as your future attempts will be. Below is a list of 11 of the most common mistakes made in the quest for the perfect BBQ experience. Avoid these common mistakes and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble.
1. You’re in too big of a hurry and have planed poorly.
You’ll need to plan in advance for most smoker recipes. Many recipes require a dry rub or other over night prep just for the meat. In most cases we are working with meats that require long, slow, even heat to tenderise and cook properly. Barbecue takes time and patience. You can’t rush it. General rule of thumb is to figure 1 to 1 1/2 hours of smoker time per pound for most meats. If you’re looking for something quick, stick with hamburgers, boneless chicken breasts or hotdogs.
2. Lacking basic cooking skills
It helps to be a semi-good cook in the first place before you try your hand at barbecuing, this includes basic understanding of food safety . If you get a reputation for poisoning your guests, your future BBQ’s won’t hold quite the same turn out! If you can’t boil water, let someone else tend the grill. To be sure, most of the great BBQ masters can hold their own in the kitchen as well.
3. Opening the lid to peek too often.
Even The Kingfish had this problem at the beginning — it’s hard not to look!! However, you can’t tell if the meat is done by looking at it as the smoke causes the outside to appear “done” long before it actually is. I stopped looking once I finally bought a Digital Oven Thermometer and saw for myself the huge temp drop every time I opened the lid. I also noticed how long it took to bring the smoker back up to temp, sometimes as long as 45 minutes! The temp drop can shock your meat and make it tough, plus it will add to your cooking time. Open the lid only when necessary to mop, move or turn the meat. The meat is not going anywhere, so no need to keep checking up on it.
4. Trying to do a brisket or spare ribs the first time you use your smoker.
Start off on the road to the “Perfect Q” with the simplest meat to smoke like a whole chicken or a pork picnic roast. They’re cheap and hard to ruin. There are plenty of books and web sites like The Kingfish BBQ (shameless plug) with some great tips and recipes for those new to BBQ and smoking world. It’s a good idea to read and compare recipes and tips before you tackle the brisket and ribs in your smoker. Don’t fill up the smoker with meat until you’ve had some successes. Start with just one item. The good news is once you master the basic general principles of smoking you’ll be able to learn and master brisket and ribs easier. You will find the result are easy to achieve. After that then you’re ready to become obsessed in your quest for the perfect rub and marinades.
5. Using lighter fluid to start your charcoal briquettes.
This will give you some really awful odours and tastes in your smoked meat. Use a chimney starter or electric starter for charcoal . Once you taste something smoked with out fluid you will be surprised at how the wood spice flavours come through and I bet money you won’t do it again. If you must (yuck) use a charcoal lighter fluid (hurl), let the coals burn for at least 40 minutes before you put on the meat, and by the way, you’ll still be able to taste the fluid.
6. You’re a Pyromaniac!
Because of your compulsion, you feel the need to build a hot fire and recklessly add way, way, way too many hot coals, while quickly piling the meat into the smoker (see rule #1). This is a big mistake. It is much easier to add more coal to make a fire temp rise to get a hot smoker back down to it’s correct temp. At this point most people panic, trying to control the heat by closing the inlets and exhaust dampers which is a no no. The proper way is to open that exhaust damper all the way and regulate the oxygen intake with the inlet damper. Be careful how you close that inlet damper, your fire can smoulder and give you some over smoked nasty-tasting meat. Best advice, keep your fire low and your dampers open. Remember, slow and steady to the road to success
7. Using green wood.
You must use seasoned wood (aged wood) to get good results when you begin barbecuing. The old pros can use a mix of green and seasoned wood, but beginners should not use the green stuff until they know about fire and temperature control. Using green wood without knowing what you’re doing is the surest way to ruin the meat. You’ll get a creosote coating on your meat which results in a bitter taste and meat that cannot be saved.
8. Trying to adjust too many things at once.
Don’t adjust everything on the smoker at once. Change one thing, see what happens, then change another. Make small changes to the smoker. Open or close the intake vent a little bit, not a lot. If you are continually making big changes, you will continually overshoot the correct temperature point. Your temperature curve will look like a giant sawtooth. Make the changes in small increments.
9. Putting cold meat into the smoker.
This can also lead to the condensation of creosote on the surface of the meat if you don’t have a clean-burning fire. Beginners should allow the meat to warm up on the counter, but for no longer than an hour (see rule #2), before you put it in the smoker. Experienced smokers can put the cold meat directly into the smoker, as some experts say this helps with smoke penetration, but this technique is not for beginners.
Inviting the family, the in-laws, and the preacher and his wife over the first day you get that new smoker. Your “Q” reputation is fragile and first impressions are also important. Remember, you’ll only as good as your last cook out. If people don’t like your BBQ and know you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, they will politely excuse them self from any further BBQ events you throw. Practice some, get to know your smoker on a personal basis (even name it, I did). Do a pork picnic shoulder, some chickens, then some ribs and finally when every things coming together, do a brisket. Then invite the whole gang over and wow ’em good.
When you start barbecuing for the first time, keep a log book of exactly what you’re doing and when you did it. This will help later on when you want to make a few minor changes or repeat something.
I’d also suggest trying to stay with one food type (i.e., chicken, pork butt, brisket, etc.) until you’ve got everything pretty much down pat. Also, try to buy similar weights, so your timing will be the same.
Once you’ve got all your favourite food types somewhat mastered, you will go crazy and experiment with different rubs, mops, sauces, and so on. It’s important to have at least speciality that you can pretty much always count on, and that everyone likes. Besides, you never know when I may be in the neighbourhood!
It goes without saying that finding the best quality ingredients is the first step in any great meal, but where grilling on charcoal or gas is concerned, special attention must be given to selecting the right ingredients. Kosher Salt is a must have for taste, ionised salt tends to add a metallic taste to your food. And I always roast somegarlic and onionsfor added flavour to the meal or for other recipes I have going. Rule of thumb – garlic is good.
For Ribs, Tri-tip, and Chicken, its best to add BBQ sauce toward the last 10 to 15 minutes of the grilling. I love to use doctored up Open Pit myself, only because I grew up with it and like it’s tang. Or for the more adventurers out there try a more exotic recipe likeStrawberry Barbecue Sauce
For grilling steaks or chops, thicker is always better – at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches is what I recommend for best grilling results. If I don’t see the cut I want at the counter, I always ask the butcher for a custom cut. (They live for this!)
I prefer grilling on charcoal, but gas will work if done properly. The most important factor is that the grill is clean and in good repair. I always start by emptying any left over ashes from the bottom of my charcoal grill and cleaning the grill itself with a high quality wire bush, I also make sure to clean both sides of the grill. Once the grill is hot I clean it again.
Always make sure your utensils are clean and at hand. I usually have a long handled spatula, tongs and fork and oven mitts ready to go. I also keep a second, especially long handled, pair of tongs on hand reserved for moving hot charcoal into proper position. It’s a good idea to have a spray bottle handy in case the coals flare up and to keep your food moist while cooking. I use marinades in my spray bottle. For chicken I find that plain old flat beer is a great spray all by itself, or you can use your favourite mop sauce with great results (be sure to strain mop sauce first or spay bottle will clog). If your using a Webber type grill use a spray bottle, if you’re using a larger grill you can use a mop brush. Another couple tools you’ll find use full is a rib rack and ceramic poultry Roasters. The Rib Rack holds your rib and allows smoke to evenly surround your ribs for a more even cook/smoke. The Ceramic poultry Roaster lets you make better than beer can chicken. The ceramic roaster is a safer, faster and easier way to roast whole chickens on your grill, smoker or in you oven. The ceramic helps cook from the inside, sealing in juices. If you never used one I suggest you try it.
Next on the list are two types of thermometers; a digital and oven thermometer. I personally prefer the digital meat thermometer with two probes one for meat and one for inside grill or smoker. By monitoring both the meat and inside grill temperature, I can accurately control cooking time and quality. (One of the best tips I can pass along).
I always plan to manage the heat in my grills by cooking area. If I am preparing a very thick cut of meat or roasting a large bird, I use indirect heat with charcoal lined up on either side of a drip pan placed directly under the food. If I am grilling chicken, burgers, steaks or chops, I pile the coal to one side of the grill and spread them just a bit, always making sure there is at least one forth of the cooking area with no coals under it whatsoever. This is important if you are to manage the cooking time and temperature for the best results. I use the oven thermometer to be sure the temperature of the gill itself stays somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your using a smoker you want your temp around 200-250 Fahrenheit (in most cases) since you use smoking for slower and longer times and lower temps.
I start grilling steaks by placing them directly over the hottest coals, just long enough to sear them on each side to the point where they do not stick to the grill. Once I have accomplished this, I move them to a medium heat portion of the grill, cover, but continue monitoring the temperature with my digital thermometer. If the meat begins to char on the outside but is still at room temperature on the inside, I move it to a cooler part of the grill and cover. I also make sure to turn the meat often enough to allow individual surfaces too cool and avoid burning.
If I am preparing a large bird such as a turkey or roasting hen, I use my second grill to keep a second source of coals hot so that I can add them to the main grill. This is necessary due to the fact that the long grilling times (up to four hours for a turkey) requires the addition of coals during roasting in order to maintain temperature. This is where the second pair of long handled tongs comes in handy indeed. The second grill can be used for grilling vegetables while the main course is cooking..
4. Gourmet Flavour
I never use charcoal lighter fluid to start my coals. Lighter fluid will soak in and will spoil the flavour of the meal during the first critical minutes of grilling. You might not believe this, but you will understand the first time you grill without lighter fluid. You Will Definitely TASTE THE Difference ! Charcoal lighter fluid flavour is stronger, you’ll realise and not using it will allow the smoke to emerge as a more dominate flavour. I prefer an electric starter because I can heat up more coals at once, but a charcoal chimney with a wood or paper starter also works great,. You might want a couple of these chimneys for the long haul. Just be sure whatever you use is certified as safe for grilling.
I use various types of charcoal, wood chips and chunks to create the flavours I am looking for. Once I have a good start on my coals, I may decide to add other wood chips to deliver more flavours. My favourites are pecan, alder, cheery, apple, and hickory in that order. I don’t always use extra chips, but when I do, I make sure to add them before the meat is place on the grill. I keep in mind that any additional flavour they add will be absorbed in the first 3 to 5 minutes of grilling. These chips can be added to a foil pack for slow release, but I find that just dropping them on the coals works fine.
Once I have my grill up to the proper temperature, I plan on a grilling time of at least 45 minutes for a well cut T-bone, New York, Rib eye or pork chop. As I mentioned earlier, large birds can take four or more hours. For indirect roasting it is very important to maintain the temperature of the grill as I described above.
Chicken is also best done slowly. If speed is the name of game – think seafood, hotdogs or hamburgers.
Well there you have it, The Kingfish’s top five grilling tips. If there is anything I forgot, don’t hesitate to contact The Kingfish.
Results From My First Electric BBQ Smoke
It’s been a couple weeks now since I reported that I bought myself the 30 Inch Masterbuilt Electric Smoker for my birthday and I’ve got some feedback to report.
Seasoning My Masterbuilt BBQ Smoker
First off, the seasoning process was a success. When I first turned on the meat smoker it produced a bad electrical smell…not exactly what you’d want your barbecue smelling like. However, by the end of the 3 hour process it smelled amazing. I added a cup of Apple wood chips the last 45 minutes as recommended and it seasoned the smoker very well. It smelled like I had already smoked a couple batches of ribs. Very cool!
My First Smoke: Houston, We Have A Problem
Next came my first smoke. I decided to try smoked trout and used a recipe from the Masterbuilt manual that was included in the smoker. However, I quickly hit a snag. Nearly three minutes into preheating the smoker, I almost had a fire on my hands. I was using an extension cord to power the smoker and the receptacle that I had the smoker plugged into started smoking. I quickly powered down the unit and disconnected the power cord. Sure enough the receptacle on the extension cord had melted a bit. I wasn’t concerned about the extension cord but was pretty worried about the smoker. Discouraged, I decided to hold off on cooking the trout the following day after I called Masterbuilt customer service.
Contacting Masterbuilt Customer Service
The following day I contacted Masterbuilt and they immediately diagnosed my problem. My extension cord was too long. I had a 50 foot workshop power cord. They recommended that through extensive testing the power cord should not exceed 20 foot. Good information they should add to the owners manual.
Luckily there wasn’t much damage to the power cord on the smoker. Only a slight melted mark at the base of one of the plugs and some soot that I was able to quickly clean off. As such, Masterbuilt’s customer service said I should be fine to try using the smoker again and if I had further problems I could call back and they would see if they could get a new smoker sent out to me.
Resolution: Use A Heavy Duty Extension Cord
So I ran out and bought a heavy duty 12ft 14/3-wire gauge 15 Amp extension cord and reattempted my smoked trout the following day. After all the drama, I’m happy to report that the smoked trout was a success. I even threw on some jumbo sized shrimp with cajun seasoning for the first hour that also turned out pretty well.
Conclusion: Smoked Trout A Success
I’ll save the trout recipe for another post so stay tuned. I definitely have room to improve, but overall it was very good. After dinner I cleaned up the racks and wiped down the inside of the smoker to tidy it up. Overall it cleaned up well and wasn’t too troublesome.
Is BBQ Smoking For Me?
It’s true, many people believe that barbecue smoking should be reserved for only professional barbecuers. Heck, I thought so myself for many years. It wasn’t until I put my first foot forward that I realized that is not the case for anyone with the passion for smoked meat, even if they have a small budget.
In what will eventually be included in my forthcoming “BBQ Smoker Buyer’s Guide, ” I’d like to go ahead and debunk this so called myth that smoking meats be reserved only for the BBQ pros of the world. Sure, experience can go a long way in turning out excellent results, but everyone has to get their start somewhere. I’ve only been smoking on my own for two years and I already prefer my smoky-meat-masterpieces to that of many many restaurants I’ve since visited.
While many smokers can costs thousands of dollars, newbies can get started with smoker grills for £100 if not less. I recommend starting with something easy to manage, like a gas or electric smoker.
My first smoker was a vertical propane smoker that I purchased from my local Loews for about £150. I like propane and electric smokers because they make it easy to maintain consistent temperatures and you don’t have to continue to “feed the fire” as you would on charcoal or wood burning smokers.
This leads me to my first rule for smoking beginners:
Keep It Simple
When starting out you should do your best to keep it simple. Gas and electric smokers give you the best chance to see some early success. I like to relate smoking meat to driving a car – slow and steady wins the race. Like driving with caution, it’s easier to avoid accidents if you keep the temperature somewhat low and allow yourself the necessary time.
This leads me to my next rule:
I’ll be blunt here because there isn’t much else to say….slow down! Good results take a while. So sit back, crack a beer, and take in the smell. You’re going to be here a while and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
What to Smoke?
While everyone may not agree, I would suggest starting out with ribs. They seem somewhat forgiving to me and you can properly cook them within 3 to 4 hours. I’ve overcooked them a few times and I’ve still had people tell me they were the best ribs they’ve ever had.
On the other hand, I would avoid starting out with beef brisket as I’ve found there are a lot more steps involved in prepping the meat and handling the meat after smoking which can make a big difference – details of which are best suited for many future discussions. Needless to say, I’m still trying to perfect my brisket skills
Pork butt, or pulled pork may be another great alternative for beginners, but be prepared for a long smoke. Depending on the size, port butts can take 10 hours or more! However, they are fairly forgiving as well and I’ve had very good luck.
Anyone with a small budget, a little patience, and a passion for smoked meats can enjoy a BBQ smoker. So what are you waiting for? Dive right in. The only way to become a pro yourself is to get started now!