Smoking means to slowly cook foods indirectly in the presence of a fire. Smoker grills are a great way to give large cuts of meat, turkey breasts, and whole poultry a rich, natural flavor.
But flavor is not the only benefit. The slow cooking process that goes along with smoking also keeps these meats tender. Slow cooking allows the natural fibers in meat to break down and tenderize. In order to slow cook successfully, you have to have temperature control. It is not a bad idea to use two meat thermometers when smoking. Place one close to the meat so you know the temperature inside the smoker grill, and one inside the meat so you know when it is cooked. Below are some precautions and suggestions you should consider when smoking.
Meat or poultry should be thoroughly thawed before smoking. The low temperatures used to cook food when smoking mean that the meat would take too long to thaw in a propane smoker grill. This would allow more time for bacteria to multiply. The best way to thaw meat and poultry is in the refrigerator. If you use the microwave to quickly defrost meat, smoke the meat immediately as some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting.
Some people prefer to partially cook food in the microwave or on the stove to shorten the smoking time. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the food goes immediately from the microwave or stove to the hot barbecue smoker. You can also thaw food in a clean sink or container and cold water. Do this by completely submerging an airtight wrapped package, and changing the water every 30 minutes. Or you could completely submerge an airtight wrapped package in constantly running cold water. If you allow the food to thaw completely, it must be cooked immediately.
You should never marinate foods on the counter, but let meats soak in the refrigerator instead. Never put raw meat and poultry in any marinade that is to be used for basting or as a sauce on the cooked foods. Instead, reserve a portion to use for that purpose later. Do not reuse marinades from raw meats onto cooked foods.
To avoid chemical residue contamination, your smoker should be made only of materials that approved for contact with meat or poultry. Do not smoke foods in containers such as galvanized steel cans or other materials not intended for cooking. If you use a charcoal smoker, use commercial charcoal briquettes or aromatic wood chips. BBQ smokers should be used in well-ventilated areas away from trees, shrubbery and buildings. Only use approved fire starters, and follow the manufacturer's directions for igniting.
You need to practice good temperature control. Meat smoking is best done between 200-300 degrees and you need to cook the meats to a safe temperature. Below are some guidelines for safe meat temperatures:
- Poultry Breast - 170 degrees F
- Whole Poultry - 180 degrees F
- Beef, Veal, and Lamb Roasts - 145-170 degrees F
- Pork - 160-170 degrees F
The best way to ensure you are reaching safe temperatures is to use two thermometers: one for the food and one for the smoker grill. One thermometer is needed to monitor the air in the smoker to be sure it is consistent. The other should be an oven-safe thermometer inserted into the meat or poultry. Cooking time will depend on the type of meat, the shape and size of the meat, the distance of the meat from the coals, and the temperature of the coals. If you use a bbq sauce it should be applied during the last 15 to 20 minutes to prevent burning. Always refrigerate meat or poultry within 2 hours of removing it from the smoker grill.
Creating Your Own Barbeque Smoker Grills
To smoke foods yourself, you could use a BBQ smoker box that is designed specifically for this purpose. However, all you really need is something to contain the smoke, a source of smoke, and something to smoke. In fact, you can transform your charcoal grill into a barbeque smoker very easily. Here's how to do it:
- Remove the cooking grate and build a fire on one side of the grill with charcoal, hardwood, etc. Airflow is very important when smoking so be sure the fire is on the side that any wind will blow against.
- Place a drip pan in the grill, opposite the fire, and replace the cooking grate. When your fuel source is hot, you are ready to add the meat. Place a water pan, about 2/3 full, directly over the fire to keep air inside the grill moist during the cooking process. Place your meat directly over the drip pan and a thermometer next to the meat. Shut the lid to keep the smoke inside.
- The ideal temperature for smoking is 200-250 degrees, so you will need to adjust the vents on your grill to achieve this. The airflow needs to come in under the fire and exit through a vent above the meat. The air needs to be drawn through the fire, over the water pan and over the meat.
- Keep an eye on the temperature and the fire as you will need to add more fuel periodically, but keep the lid closed as much as possible.