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.
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.