If you’re a meat lover, nothing satisfies quite like sinking your teeth into a moist and tender cut of beef, poultry or fish. While you can enjoy such delights by dining out, you can just as easily create them at home with a smoker. With BBQ smokers, you can cook up flavor-infused brisket, chicken, ribs, pulled pork, fish and much more. Who wouldn’t want to come over for dinner and enjoy a smoky, barbecued meal? Whether you’re cooking in a competition or whipping up some home-smoked eats for the family, take a peek at these helpful tips to get started:
What kinds of BBQ smokers are available?
You’ve got your sights set on a mouthwatering barbecue recipe and it’s time to get smoking. When it comes to buying a smoker grill, there are a few items that you simply must have. These include easy to use temperature controls, thick metal, seals and insulation, a design that provides even heat, dampers that are easy to operate, and, of course, safety features like locking wheels. You’ll also want to consider what styles are out there and choose the one that best fits your needs:
• Ceramic: Also known as a kamado grill, these ceramic smokers date back thousands of years. Their unique design lets you do much more than smoke meats — you can grill and even bake pizzas with a kamado grill. They’re easy to use and require less fuel than pellet smokers, making them a great choice for beginners. Look for a model with a thick ceramic wall and hardware that resists corrosion.
• Pellet: Pellet smokers use wood pellets to heat and infuse meats or fish with that oh-so delicious smoky barbecue flavor. They’re the easiest style to use, especially since most models feature an electronic control that automatically adjusts the temperature and feeds the pellets onto the burner. Look for a pellet smoker made from thick-gauge steel that’s coated with a corrosion-resistant finish. A high-end model should also feature grease drip trays and electronic controls.
• Water: A water smoker uses heat from a fire plus steam from the water to cook your meat and keep it moist at the same time. They tend to be easy to use and do a great job of infusing meat with that great smoky flavor. You can find these working hard at most barbecue competitions.
• Horizontal: Also known as an offset smoker, this design features a firebox that’s attached to the side of the main cooking chamber. They’re great for smoking large amounts of meat and fish, though you may find that cuts placed closer to the firebox finish cooking faster than those that are farther away. If you do opt for an offset smoker, make sure you purchase one that’s made from thick metal and has tight-fitting doors and dampers. Some more expensive models may also feature a duct system that forces hot air through the length of the smokebox to cook food evenly. Another perk of more expensive models is the placement of the chimney on the same side as the firebox, which pulls the hot air across the top of your food.
• Drum: Also known as a barrel smoker, these resemble a large, industrial-looking drum. They feature ample space for smoking large quantities of meat or fish, and the design is perfect for allowing the heat and smoke to rise and evenly cook your food. Some designs even feature hooks to hang your meat on.
How can I get the most out of my new smoker grill?
So you’re ready to get started smoking, are you? If you’re a beginner or even a full-fledged grill master, we’ve got some great tips that will have you enjoying a savory, smoky meal in no time:
• Preparing your fuel: If you’re planning on using wood chunks, it’s important to prep them before you begin smoking by soaking them in water for at least an hour. If you’re using wood chips or aromatic woods, you can soak these for 30 minutes instead of a full hour. Once they’re done soaking, shake out all excess water before adding them to your fire. If you’re using charcoal, refrain from adding starter fluid as this can add an unpleasant chemical taste to your foods.
• Add in some water: Water is important for keeping meat and fish tender. Some smokers feature water pans, and if yours has one, you can play around with adding marinades, barbecue sauce, herbs and spices, juice and even wine or beer to your water. It’s important to keep the water pan full, so if you’re smoking a large quantity of meat or larger cuts, be sure to check the water levels and add more if needed. An easy way to add more water is to use a watering can.
• Get smokin’: Once your smoker is fully preheated, go ahead and place your food in the center of the grate just above the water pan if you have one. As they say, a watched pot never boils, so avoid peeking in at your meal while it’s cooking. This can release smoke and heat, which slows down your cooking process. A pro tip you may not have considered is to smoke your meats up to two days prior to serving. This allows that irresistible smoky flavor to build up and become richer as your food sits in the refrigerator.
• Check temperatures: Make sure you have a meat thermometer on hand to ensure your food is done but not overcooked. Simply eyeing up your finished product may be misleading since smoked foods can be pink or red even when they’re fully cooked.
• Enjoy your meal: Sit down with family and friends and savor your hard work. It’s a great idea to keep track of the different ingredients, wood types and amounts used plus your results in order to duplicate successful recipes or try new combinations in the future.
What types of woods work best in smokers?
There are a few go-to choices when it comes to wood pellets, but you shouldn’t be scared to try new combinations. Here are a few different choices you might try next time you get busy smoking:
• Mesquite: This wood is great for most meats and vegetables. It has a sweet, delicate flavor that’s similar to hickory. It does burn hot, so use caution.
• Maple: If you’re smoking ham, veggies or poultry, maple is a great choice. It infuses your food with a somewhat sweet and smoky flavor.
• Alder: The delicate flavors this wood provides are perfect for fish like salmon, sturgeon and swordfish. It’s also a great choice for pork and chicken.
• Wine barrel chips: You can add a uniquely wine-like, oaky flavor to beef, chicken and turkey with these wood chips. Try looking for some in specialty food stores or online.
• Herbs and spices: Try garlic, mint, citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and rosemary for a wide variety of flavors for veggies, fish and smaller cuts of meat.
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