Chef Notes: Smoking Made Easy Peasy

Chef Notes: Smoking Made Easy Peasy

Just the idea of smoked food gets my mouth watering. Who doesn’t love smoked oysters, smoked turkey breast, or smoked beef brisket? It’s one of the oldest ways of preserving and flavoring meats and seafood. Basically, there are two types of smoking meats; cold smoking and hot smoking. When you cold smoke you maintain a low temperature of below 100F. The meat/seafood is either cured prior to smoking so that it can be eaten without being cooked with heat such as lox (cold smoked salmon) or it is smoked with the intention that it will be cooked before eating, like bacon. There are many smoker designs and more philosophies about the proper way to smoke than Baptists in a gin joint on Saturday night. Every smoking aficionado has their own little religion as it relates to smoking, barbecuing, sauce vs. no sauce. These debates can be as dangerous as discussing politics or religion at a dinner party.













We’re going to stick with hot smoking as it’s the easiest and safest.  I’m also going to assume that you are using a regular, everyday charcoal grill. I’m not saying you can’t get smoke flavor using a gas grill but I’m a bit of a purest. If you’re going to go the trouble to do this you should do it right. See I told you it gets people riled up. So let’s start with what you’re going to smoke with. There are a ton of options out there. If you have a yard filled with oak, beech, maple or fruit trees you can actually send the kids out to pick up a bunch of sticks/twigs and break them into 4-6” pieces so they’re easy to use. You can use almost any wood except pine because of the bitter flavor of the sap. If you don’t have access to your own wood you can buy wood chips in a variety of types/flavors such as: hickory, mesquite, even chardonnay or merlot soaked. How much you’re going to need depends on how long it’s going to take to cook your meat. You can always add as you go along. The next step is to soak the wood in water, wine, or beer for at least a couple of hours. Then build your fire and get your coals ready, using natural charcoal, on one side of your grill. Add your wood on top of your fire, put whatever you’re smoking on the other side and cover the grill. You don’t want to dump all of the soaked wood on the fire at one time – or even a lot of it. It will cool the coal


s too much or even smother the coals entirely. You want to sprinkle the chips over the coals lightly (like 1 -2 handfuls at a time depending on the size of the fire). They will generate a lot of smoke but not cool the fire too much. When you see the smoke pouring out from under the cover start to diminish then add some more chips. Be sure to keep the grill covered. If you have adjustable vents on your grill you will want the bottom ones open and the top closed. The temperature of your grill should be no less than 165 to no more than 185, stick an oven thermometer in it to be sure. Fish, shellfish, shrimp will only take a few minutes on each side.   If you’re smoking something lean but tender, like chicken breast, you’ll need to use a probe thermometer and pull it as soon as you reach the desired temperature (165 for chicken).  If you’re cooking something relatively large and tough (like brisket or pork shoulder), you’ll need to smoke it for several hours (until it pulls apart easily with a fork).  You will need to feed that fire and keep an eye on the temperature.

There’s no way to learn how to smoke without getting your hands dirty. It takes practice. It’s a bit of science and a lot of art. But it’s worth it. The art of it comes from keeping the right balance of chips (smoke) without cooling the fire too much and screwing up the cook time.Even if you screw something up, and you will, you can always save it by processing it with cream cheese and serving it as a spread.  Start with the easy stuff.  Save the brisket or pork butt for when after you’ve gotten some dirt under your nails.  The instincts are still there, just buried in our primitive caveman DNA.  Oh, and women can smoke too.  Don’t let the competitions fool you.

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