Are you a grill master considering going rogue and buying a smoker? Both are excellent BBQ techniques. Grilling is more of an intense heat that sears and cooks quickly while smoked barbecue is a method of lower heat for a longer period of time. Both techniques produce some delicious food and are terrific methods that are easy enough to try out.
A lot of people are intimidated by BBQing with big, thick cuts of meat and because of this they avoid it. But really, there is nothing to be intimidated about. It’s much easier than people anticipate and if you’re using a smoker a lot of that immediate anxiety over burning or drying the meat won’t occur because a smoker requires hours of cooking. In fact, it’s much like an outdoor oven with that special smoky flavor and fall off the bone results that we all crave.
When defined, the term barbecuing just means the processes of cooking meat over open flame from wood or charcoal. Grilling, in terms of barbecuing, just means centralized heat with higher temperatures so that the meat cooks quickly. Smoking is the opposite in that it is the slower version of standard barbecuing. It takes the temperature down very low and cooks the meat with an indirect heat which is what gives it that smoky flavor.
There is really no end to the ways you can use a smoker! From the wide variety of meats, vegetables and cheeses that can be smoked, to the flavor pairings and preparations that will make your mouth water and your guests talk. If you’re not sure where to start, you can check out recipes that are popular among barbecue enthusiasts and have proven to turn out great.
A smoker works by burning or smoldering wood materials and then using the hot smoke to cook and flavor the meet. There are different styles of smokers that you’ve probably seen over the years, some of them use propane, some of them use burning wood and water to maintain proper temperature, some smokers are simply 55-gal drums with the coals way down at the bottom and the meat placed all the way at the top mimicking an indirect heat by putting space between the two.
For the sake of brevity, however, let’s focus on one that is commonly used and highly commercialized, the electric offset smoker. The barbecue works by creating heat from within the firebox where a heating element burns automatically fed wood pellets from a reserve. The firebox is attached to the side of the grill allowing smoke to flow into the cooking chamber and then vent out the far side.
The perk of an electric offset smoker is that they are self regulating, all you need to do is turn the dial to your desired temperature, set an alarm on your phone for the cooking time while you wait for it to heat up, and then slide your meat in and walk away. The one downfall to an electric offset smoker is that the pellets do not produce smoke nearly as flavorful as if you were to burn the real wood. But even so, the end result is still delicious and mouthwateringly tender.
Flavoring the Meat
Finding pellets or smoking wood is relatively easy, you can pick from a variety of flavors at almost all farm and garden stores or outfitters that also sell a wide selection of smokers and barbecue supplies.
Apple is a great flavor that pairs well with all meats and adds a very mild but sweet taste. Another great all around flavor to try that might surprise you is cherry, it also has a slight sweet taste to it and smokes well with all meats. Two very popular flavors for beef, ribs, big game, are hickory and mesquite. The hickory is very sweet with a delicious hint of bacon flavoring and the mesquite is a little sweeter and earthier, an ideal choice for veggies.
If you are smoking white or pink meats like fish or pork, consider using either oak or peach flavor. The oak is mild and doesn’t leave a smoky aftertaste which is great for when you want the flavor of the meat to stand out. The peach is sweet, but it also adds a woodsy flavor, especially to chicken and turkey. You can use cedar for fish or other seafoods, but don’t overdo it; make sure you don’t smoke your meet for too long with cedar pellets because the flavor is notorious for having a strong kick to it.