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How to Smoke Meat

Three Parts:Setting Up a SmokerGetting Your Meat ReadySmoking the Meat

Smoking was traditionally a technique used to preserve meat. Although we now have better ways to keep meat fresh, the popularity of smoking it has never died. It's the best way to bring out the deep, rich flavor of brisket, ribs, and other cuts of meat that simply taste best when they're smoked until the meat melts off the bone. You can brine your meat first or dress it in a rub, use a charcoal grill or a high-tech electric smoker, and choose from a variety of woods that each impart different flavors to the meat. Regardless of the particulars, the meat is cooked on low, even heat for many hours until it's smoked to delicious perfection.

Part 1
Setting Up a Smoker

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    Choose a smoker. Meat smoking experts like to say that all you need to smoke meat is a hole in the ground. While that may be true, using equipment designed for smoking will make the process go a lot smoother and give you more reliable results. If you want to give smoking a try, but aren't sure if you'll do it more than once, you can use your charcoal grill to smoke meat.[1] Otherwise, consider investing in one of the following types of smokers:
    • A wood smoker. Wood smokers are known to produce the most flavorful results. They are fueled by hardwood blocks and chips, which impart their strong flavor to the meat you're smoking. Wood smokers can be tricky to use, though, because it's necessary to monitor them carefully and keep feeding them wood to keep the temperature steady.
    • A charcoal smoker. This is a great choice for both beginners and experts. Charcoal smokers are fueled by a mixture of charcoal and wood. Charcoal burns longer and steadier than wood, so charcoal smokers are easier to use than wood smokers. You can create a charcoal smoker out of your backyard grill if need be.
    • A gas smoker. These are easy to use - you don't have to monitor the temperature all day long - but the final product won't have as much flavor as meat smoked in a charcoal or wood smoker.
    • An electric smoker. With an electric smoker, you can put the meat inside, turn it on, and forget about it until the meat's done hours later. However, electric smokers aren't the best for flavor, and they also tend to be pretty expensive.
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    Decide what type of wood to use. Meat can be smoked with a variety of different hardwoods, all of which impart a unique flavor to the meat. Some are stronger than others, and some pair better with certain types of meat. You can mix different types of wood that have properties you like. Depending on what kind of smoker you're using, you'll either need enough wood to burn all day long, or just enough to flavor the meat while charcoal, gas or electricity does the work. Choose from these options:
    • Mesquite will give your meat a delicious but very strong smoky flavor. If you want to use only mesquite, use it with smaller cuts that won't have a very long cooking time. For bigger cuts that will require all-day cooking, mix mesquite with a milder type of wood.
    • Hickory has a strong flavor pairs best with red meat.
    • Oak is good for cooking big cuts of red meat that need to smoke all day long, because its flavor is more subtle than that of mesquite or hickory.
    • Cherry is a great complement for beef or pork.
    • Apple wood has a sweet taste that's delicious with pork or poultry, and you can use it to smoke fish, too.
    • Maple is another sweet wood that pairs well with pork or poultry.
    • Alder is light and sweet, perfect for poultry or fish.
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    Decide to use the wet or dry smoking method.[2] Water can be used to help control the temperature inside a smoker while the meat is cooking. In fact, some smokers are called "water smokers," and they're designed to incorporate water into the process. But you can smoke using water in a charcoal or wood smoker, too. All you have to do is put a pan of water inside the smoker, and make sure it stays full throughout the day.
    • Water smoking can help regulate the temperature when you're smoking a big cut of meat that will need to cook for many hours. For smaller cuts of meat that don't have a long cooking time, it's not necessary to use water.
    • If you purchase a smoker, make sure you read the instructions before you decide to use water.
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    Soak wood chips, but leave bigger pieces dry. If you're working with a small charcoal grill or another type of smoker where you're not actually using the wood as fuel, you can use wood chips instead of big pieces. Since chips tend to burn up quickly, they need to be soaked in water so they last longer. Bigger pieces, such as chunks and logs, can be left dry.
    • To prepare wood chips, soak them in water, then wrap them in aluminum foil. Poke holes in the top so the smoke can get out.
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    Get the smoker ready for cooking. Each smoker has different specifications as to how to get it ready to start smoking the meat. If you're using wood or charcoal as fuel, light up your materials in the grill and wait until they burn down and are no longer producing flames. The meat should not be placed directly over high heat; rather, you want to push the coals aside so the meat cooks low and slow over indirect heat. Throughout the cooking process, you'll add more coals and wood to keep the smoker going. The goal is to keep the smoker in the range of 200–220 °F (93–104 °C) the whole time.
    • If you have an electric or gas smoker, all you need to do is turn it on according to the manufacturer's instructions. Place your wood chips or pieces where they belong in the smoker - again, check the instructions to make sure you do it properly.
    • You might want to invest in a thermometer you can keep inside the smoker to monitor the temperature.

Part 2
Getting Your Meat Ready

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    Choose a type of meat to smoke. The smoking technique can be used on any type of meat, but it's usually best for tough cuts that need a long, slow cooking time. The slow cooking process breaks down the fat and connective tissue so that the meat becomes extremely tender. You also want to choose meat that will taste good with a smoky flavor. Here are a few types of meat that taste great smoked:
    • Beef ribs, brisket, corned beef
    • Ham, pork crown roast, pork spare ribs
    • Turkey and chicken drumsticks
    • Salmon, trout, lobster, tilapia
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    Consider brining the meat or using a marinade or rub. It's common to use a brine, marinade or rub to add moisture and/or flavor to meat before smoking. Of course, the smoke itself will impart a huge amount of flavor, so it's not absolutely necessary to use one of these preparation methods - however, it can add an element of depth and ensure that your meat comes out as juicy as possible.
    • Brining is often used to treat ham and poultry before smoking. If you plant to brine your meat, mix up a brine recipe and soak your meat in the brine overnight or for at least 8 hours. Keep the meat in the refrigerator while it brines. Be sure to remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before you begin the cooking process.
    • Marinating is often used to treat brisket and other beef cuts before smoking. Use the same technique to marinate the meat. You can score the meat in a few places to help the marinade soak in. Drain the meat and bring it to room temperature before you cook it.
    • Rubs are commonly used to treat ribs before smoking. Rubs are usually made with a combination of salt and spices. The rub is applied all over the meat and left to rest for a few minutes before cooking.
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    Bring the meat to room temperature. This is an important step to take before you begin smoking any type of meat. It will ensure that the meat cooks evenly and reaches the right internal temperature by the end of the cooking process. Depending on how large your cut of meat is, set it out on the counter 1/2 hour to 2 hours before you begin smoking it.

Part 3
Smoking the Meat

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    Calculate your cooking time. The length of time it will take to completely cook your meat is determined by the heat of the grill, the type of meat and the size of meat cut, but you should factor in at least 6 - 8 hours of cooking time - and sometimes many more. Check your recipe to determine about how long your meat will need to smoke.
    • Pork and beef ribs typically take up to 8 hours, while a big cut of brisket could take 22. It's very important to look at your recipe to figure out how long your meat might cook, so you can plan ahead.
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    Place the meat inside the smoker. You can either place it directly on the grill or put it in a shallow aluminum tray. Don't wrap the meat in foil, though, because this won't allow the smoke to touch the meat. You want it to be able to surround the meat during the cooking process.
    • The positioning of the meat will change according to what you're cooking. If you're make smoked brisket, for example, you'll need to place the meat side down and keep the fat side up.
    • Be sure the meat isn't over direct heat. As mentioned, if you're using your grill as a smoker the hot coals should be scooted to the side of the grill so that the meat won't cook too quickly.
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    Baste the meat if necessary. Again, depending on what you're cooking, you might want to baste the meat to keep it moist throughout the cooking process. This technique is a popular choice for brisket and ribs. Read the recipe you're using to decide if basting is necessary. If you cook your meat low and slow, it should come out moist and tender whether you baste it or not.
    • Smoking meat can be basted, or "mopped," with a thin solution such as water or a combination of water, vinegar and spices. It should be applied with a barbecue mop, which looks exactly like it sounds.
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    Cover the meat if necessary. Some smoking recipes follow a "3-2-1" process:[3] the meat smokes for the first 3 hours, then you cover it with foil for the next 2 hours, and finish it uncovered in the last hour. The smoke flavor infuses the meat first, then the meat warms up internally during the second two hours, and finally develops a nice thick crust to finish. Check your recipe to determine whether covering your meat at some point during the process is recommended.
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    Remove the meat when it reaches the right temperature. You'll need to monitor the temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer to determine its doneness. Poultry should reach 165 degrees. Any pork and all ground meats should be 160 degrees. The internal temperature of steaks, roasts and chops should be 145 degrees.
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    Check for the smoke ring. During the smoking process, a pink ring will form just underneath the delicious outer crust of the meat. This is a result of a chemical reaction that happens when the smoke infuses the meat; the pink color is caused by the formation of nitric acid.[4] When you cut into your meat and see a pink smoke ring, you'll know that you smoked it right.


  • Prevent illness from bacteria. Keep the cooking area clean, including your hands. Avoid cross-contamination by touching cooked and non-cooked items together or by using utensils that touched raw meat on the cooked meat without being cleaned first. Cook your meat to the proper temperature. Store all foods promptly.
  • Avoid using treated wood. Treated wood contains toxins that are harmful if used to cook your food with. Wood sold for smoking meats can be purchased in chunks or chips or even sawdust.

Things You'll Need

  • Meat
  • Wood chips
  • Foil
  • Marinade
  • Smoker
  • Charcoal
  • Fire starter
  • Meat thermometer

Article Info

Categories: Meat