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7 Tips to Follow When Smoking Meat

Nothing compares to the rich, savory flavor of smoked meat. While grilling over a bed coals is always an option, smoking creates a unique flavor while helping to preserve foods in the process. It’s been used by countless cultures throughout history, and in that time little has changed regarding the general concept. Smoking exposes meat to smoke — typically created from wood — that seeps into the protein to make it even more delicious. If you’re planning to smoke meat, though, you’ll want to follow these seven tips to achieve the best results.

#1) Choose the Right Type of Meat

Some meats are better suited for smoking than others. Generally speaking, ribs, pork chops, steak and fish are all great choices. You can even choose some of the tougher cuts, as smoking breaks down the protein to make it more tender. Because of its large size, though, many inexperienced backyard chefs have trouble smoking beef brisket.

#2) Place Coals to the Side

Unlike grilling, you shouldn’t place your meat directly over the coals when smoking it. Rather, you should place all your coals to one side of your grill, fire pit or smoker. Doing so allows you to place the meat on the other side so that it cooks more slowly. Depending on the type of meat that you are smoking, as well as its size and other factors, it may take anywhere from two to four hours to smoke. With the coals stacked on a single side, your meat will slowly smoke over this time.

#3) Place a Water-Filled Pan on Opposite Side

After placing coals to one side of your grill, add a water-filled tin or aluminum pan to the opposite side. This is arguably one of the most important steps to smoking meat, as water promotes the formation of smoke while also promoting a long, slow burn.  Without a pan of water, your coals will burn hot and fast, resulting in poorly smoked meat. To prevent this from happening, add a couple inches of water to a tin or aluminum pan and place it on the side of your grill opposite to where you placed the coals.

#4) Choose the Right Wood Chips

While smoking requires coals, you’ll need to add wood chips as well. The coals are responsible for producing the heat, but it’s the wood chips that produce the smoke. As the coals heat the wood chips, it releases smoke that rises up and leeches into the protein-rich meat. But contrary to what some people believe, not all wood chips are made equal. Different varieties have different effects when used for smoking.

Some of the top wood chips for smoking meat include the following:

  • Hickory
  • Oak
  • Maple
  • Walnut

Although there are many other types of wood chips available, you can’t go wrong with any of the four listed above. Hickory, oak, maple and walnut create a delectable flavor that compliments most meats.

#5) Soak Wood Chips

The golden rule of smoking meat is to soak the wood chips before adding them to your grill, smoker or fire pit. When dry, wood chips will burn hotter and faster than coal. As a result, you may discover that your wood chips have burned down in just a half-hour, resulting in little or no smoke. You can keep your wood chips burning for hours by soaking them in water. Simply fill a large pan, dish or bowl with water, and submerge your wood chips inside it for about an hour. After an hour has passed, remove the wood chips and place them directly over the coals. Some people use a separate container to store their wood chips when smoking meat, but this isn’t necessary. Assuming you soaked them for at least an hour, you can place them directly over the coals.

#6) Add Coals Periodically

Because it takes anywhere from two to four hours, on average, to smoke meat, you’ll need to add coals periodically. A good rule of thumb is to add coals about every hour or hour and a half. You should keep a hot bed of white coals burning at all times. If they go out, there won’t be enough heat to effectively cook and smoke your meat.

#7) Don’t Open It

An all-too-common mistake made by backyard chefs when smoking meat is constantly opening the grill, smoker or fire pit. Some chefs open it as frequently as every 15 minutes to see how their meat is cooking. While mostly harmless, each time you open your grill, smoker or fire pit, it releases some of the smoke (and heat). As a result, meats take longer to cook, and they don’t have the same rich flavor that’s commonly associated with smoking. Leave the top on your smoking accessories, and only remove it when you are adding new coals.

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