As barbecue enthusiasts, you might be interested in experimenting with different meats to smoke. If you’ve got the fire going, you might as throw on some different cuts of pork, beef, fowl or fish to really show off that aromatic and woodsy taste that only a slow, low cook over wood chips can provide. But what flesh is the easiest, best and most enjoyable for the art of smoking? We’ll give you some choices, some tips and some guidelines for preparation. Whether you’re new to smoking or an old pro, you’ll enjoy these selections, and so will your guests.
First, smoking is for those who like their meats so succulent and juicy they fall off the bone or melt in your mouth. It doesn’t use the high heat of traditional grilling, nor does it finish the meat fast. Smoking is about savoring the time and letting the smoke rise from the wood chips to infuse each cut of meat with a distinctive taste and smell. Using temperatures as low as 200 to 220 degrees, meats swelter in smoke for three to four hours. Smoking is an event. You can hang outside with family and friends as you wait for the meat to reach perfection. The white plumes of smoke puffing out of the smoker or grill will build the anticipation and create an atmosphere that hearkens back to the early years when our cave ancestors first preserved and cooked meat by smoking. So, make friends with a butcher, so you can readily retrieve some of the suggested pieces of meat below and get your fire started.
10 Great Meats you should smoke:
A Whole Suckling Pig
When you partake of a whole suckling hog that has been smoked until its crispy skin is a deep crimson color and the flesh is tender and burnished with a little char around the edges, both the sight and the feast are rewarding. Depending on the size of your smoker, a 20-pound to 25-pound baby pig will fit just fine.
Trim the pig by opening the chest cavity to remove organs like the liver and kidney as well as extra fatty sections. Leave the head on. Apply seasoning or barbecue rub from head to toe, inside and out. Cook the pig on its belly. For flavor, consider a blend of hickory and oak wood chunks. Cook the pig at a temperature between 225 and 250 degrees for about three hours.
Smoking is not just for summer. Even in fall or winter, smokers can render meats like turkey tender and juicy for the holiday tables. Use a whole turkey ranging from 18 to 20 pounds. A barbecue rub and brine can prepare the turkey for cooking. Stuff with thyme, rosemary, sage and red onion. Turkeys can take a long time to cook. At a recommended temperature of 240 degrees and a time of 30 minutes per pound, a 20-pound turkey can take nearly 10 hours. So, some cooks opt to raise the heat, cooking the bird at 260 degrees for the first two hours and 325 degrees for another two or three hours. Then, the turkey will need about an hour to rest before cutting once the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees. Use a light fruity wood, like apple wood, which is delicate enough to not drown out the mild flavor of the turkey.
Savory and sticky ribs are the signature food of barbecue season. For smoking, choose the meatiest spare ribs you can find. Buy a commercial rub or create your own with onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, salt, chili powder and a little brown sugar. Using cherry wood chips, smoke the ribs at 235 degrees for five hours. When the ribs have cooked for three hours, it will be time to baste and add more flavor by applying any of the following: honey, brown sugar, butter, diluted barbecue sauce or more rub. A mix of these enhancements will now help the ribs caramelize as they become tenderer in the final hours.
Amp up the taste of spiral-cut ham to the max by double smoking it. That’s right: smoke it once, and then again the next day. You can also buy a pre-smoked ham and then smoke it again yourself. Double smoking isn’t required, but it will intensify the flavors so much that the extra labor and time will be worth it. Create a rub and a glaze for the 8- to 10-pound ham. For the rub, you can use dried mustard, salt, brown sugar, paprika and garlic powder. Massage this on the outside of the ham. Honey, bourbon, and apple cider vinegar mesh well to create a great glaze. Cook the ham at 250 to 300 degrees for five hours over hickory, resulting in a shiny, crusty hunk of pork. Enjoy on sandwiches, with breakfast or as a centerpiece for a dinner.
How would you like to dish up a hickory- smoked roast? The technique is really easy. Consider a bone-in shoulder cut roast or a pork loin roast. The day before you cook, mix up a rub consisting of brown sugar and salt. Score the roast and add the rub to the roast. Refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours. Then, you’re ready to smoke. Cook at the roast low and slow at 225 degrees for five hours.
For beginners, smoking salmon is a quick experience that anyone can do. You can smoke a whole salmon or a fillet. You can flavor it with glaze or a salt-and-sugar brine. For a dry brine of kosher salt and brown sugar, you should do the application the night before and refrigerate it for 12 hours. Rinse off the brine before smoking. If using a glaze, mix molasses, white wine, soy sauce and red pepper flakes. Apply it and refrigerate for an hour. Use alder wood or pecan pellets. Smoke the salmon for just one hour at 220 degrees. Less time is needed if you cut the fillet into serving sizes before cooking.
Smoking a chicken is easy and flavorful, but why not challenge yourself to smoke a game bird like duck, pheasant or goose. To prepare a whole duck, fill a pot with water to create a brine of salt, bay leaves, black peppercorns and brown sugar. Sit the duck in the brine overnight. Then, dry it off. This will keep the duck moist even though it will be over smouldering wood at a higher temperature than normally used for smoking. Smoke the duck at between 300 and 325 degrees over alder wood for four hours.
If you don’t have much time, but you want a meal fit for a king, lobster tails or whole live lobsters can be ready to eat in minutes. Brush the meat in the cracked lobster tails with a luscious mix of chopped garlic and butter sauce. To make it spicy, add some flakes of dried red pepper. Before cooking over pecan wood at 220 degrees, season lightly with salt and pepper. This delight only needs to be cooked for 45 minutes.
With their pungent, savory and fatty flavors, Italian, chorizo, Polish and kielbasa sausages are already tasty. Unsurprisingly, they get even better with smoke. Choose your sausage; you can even consider lamb, Bratwurst or venison sausage. You can add them directly to the grill or you can cook them in a nice beer bath of your choice. To do the latter, slice some onions and sweet bell peppers. Put them in a heat-resistant bowl or pan. Add the sausage on top of the vegetables. Then, pour beer over the mix. Sit the pan in the smoker or grill. Smoke at 225 degrees over peach tree or oak wood for 1 to 3 hours.
Preparing to SmokeOnce you have your meat, there are a few more things you need for an exceptional smoking experience. First, you have to decide whether to use a smoker or a regular grill. Smokers come in vertical or horizontal styles. Some look like barrels or boxes; others look like ovens. Some are electric or gas, requiring just a turn of the knob to adjust the heat. Others use charcoal, which requires more management. If you don’t want to invest in a dedicated smoker but have a grill, you can pile the lit coals on one side and put the meat on the other. Don’t place meat directly over fire when smoking. The radiant heat and smoke will still reach the meat without the excess charring and drying out of direct flames. Other tools that will come in handy include a drip pan, tongs, a heat-resistant oven mitt, and thermometers. In fact, have two thermometers. Use one to measure the temperature of the meat when you are near completion. Use the other to help you measure the inside of the smoker. You’ll know your meats are ready when a thermometer inside the meat reaches between 145 degrees and 165 degrees, depending on the selection.
- Keep an eye on the smoke. If it turns from white to black, your fire is too high. Close the vents or spritz the fire with a spray of water.
- Put a pan of water or leftover brining liquid under the meat. The heat from the fire will heat the liquid and keep the atmosphere inside the smoker or grill moist. This will help prevent the meat from drying out over time. Some cooks opt to add water to the drip pan so they can catch the fats and impart moisture with one container.
- An additional moisture tip is to brine or marinate the meat overnight or seal in seasonings with a layer of mustard to trap in the meat juices. You can also inject moisture and flavor with a needle into the flesh; use butter, fruit juices, apple cider vinegar, or a commercial flavoring liquid for this purpose. Otherwise, you can spritz the meat periodically with water mixed with an apple juice.
- Don’t keep opening the dome or door on the smoker or grill. The key is to trap smoke and heat around the meat consistently.
- Make sure you thaw out your meat the night before so that you’ll be able to reach the proper meat temperature and not have the meat cold in the center, which could breed pathogens and make you sick.
- Use foil paper to protect your grill or smoker from mess when you get ready to add glazes or sauces to the meat and put them back on the grill.
- Add more wood chips midway through the cooking process, if necessary.
- Use smoked spices, like smoked paprika or smoked chipotle, in your rubs to enhance the smoke sensation.
TYPES OF WOOD CHIPS
Where there’s smoke, there’s flavor, and where there’s wood, there can be perfect notes of maple, apple or oak in every tender bite of meat. It may take a few cooking sessions to figure out which wood flavor you like best with which cut of meat, but invest in two or three types and experiment. Soak the wood chips an hour before adding them to your fire. Here are some popular choices:
- Mesquite is one of the richest woods your taste buds will ever experience. Its taste is pungent and earthy. Its smell is similar to pine. If you’re not familiar with mesquite, it’s not for beginners who might use too much and create an overpowering flavor. For those who know how to use it conservatively, mesquite can go well with goose, lamb, and any dark or red meat. This is also good for smoking sausage.
- Hickory. This wood really amps up the smoky favor and has an intense, almost bacon-like smell and taste. If you want effects that are really pronounced but not as sharp as mesquite, choose hickory. It goes great with all cuts of pork or beef while adding just a hint of sweetness. A favorite of many, hickory pairs well with just about anything and can be your go-to wood for regular smoking.
- Oak. Continuing in descending order, oak is next on the smoke scale. It offers a moderate flavor but will still give a distinct barbecue taste.
- Cherry, Apple, Orange or Peach woods. Fruitwoods can mix their signature sweetness with a mellow, smoky essence. Choose one of these to mildly accent the taste of any fowl from chicken to turkey to hens. Peach is especially nice with white meat.
- Maple is also light and sweet in flavor. This wood can be used for poultry, but also for smoking veggies or cheese. Maple pairs well with fruitwoods, especially apple.
- Alder wood is the perfect choice if you are smoking seafood, whether it’s shrimp, oysters, herring or salmon. It also works with game birds, such as duck. Alder wood has a very gentle taste and can often be combined with any of the other wood chips mentioned above.
If you become addicted to smoked meats but don’t have the time to do it right, there is always liquid smoke, which is made from collecting the condensation from smoked wood. However, it’s just not the same as achieving the flavor from becoming a master smoker and toiling over the meat yourself. When you do that, you can take pride when all the guests moan with pleasure as they taste the meat you spent hours perfecting with the techniques above.