View Full Version : Smoking Meat Ain't Queer, It's Delicious.

04-11-2015, 07:56 AM
Well, the weather is improving all across our fine land. The wintry hellscape we were living in has thawed, and that means one thing: barbecue season.

For those who don't know--or aren't from Texas--, a true BBQ isn't defined by sauce. Sauce is the dress you put on the beautiful woman, not the woman herself, and it (the sauce? the dress?) usually is best left aside (or on the floor) if she is all that. BBQ is defined by slow, indirect heat, and smoke. By cooking things low and slow, you give time to break down all of the connective tissue and collagen in the meat, producing moist, tender, delicious, smokey, savory morsels to feed to your friends and family. Plus, you have plenty of time to sit around by the smoker & sip a cool beverage, shoot the shit, and otherwise enjoy the day.

The Wood

The choice of wood can make a significant difference in the flavor of your end product. A general rule of thumb is to use 'heavier' wood (oak, hickory, etc.) for heavier, denser meat like beef, and use 'lighter' wood (apple, adler, etc.) for fish, poultry, and some cuts of pork. Woods like hickory and mesquite have extremely strong flavor, and can easily overpower the flavor of your meat, seasoning, etc. For example, a slab of cured pork belly smoked for more than three or so hours in hickory will end up tasting mostly like a burn up piece of hickory, with a bit of pork fat on it. Which, sounding delicious, lacks the subtlety of a gentler smoke. Just be aware of what you are getting into, and choose accordingly.

Rolling your own wood is easy, cheaper, and generally preferable. If you have felled any aromatic deciduous trees (don't use coniferous, ever: they leave a tarry smoke on the meat that tastes like the bottom of a shoe that walked through a burning garbage heap), debark a section, chunk it into fist sized pieces, and allow the wood to dry for several months. Green wood combusts incompletely, and the many compounds not yet dried out and broken down leave a bitter taste on meat.

The Meat

Brisket is the classic cut for Texas BBQ, but eye round works just about as well. Get something around 10 lb., or which will chunk neatly into 5-10 lb. slabs. The meat should be able to be folded in half without much trouble; if you can't, the piece in question has a great deal of gristle, or may just be too thick.

Pork shoulder, bone in or out, makes a fantastic smoked cut. It can be pulled and left in it's juices for delicious pulled pork, or sliced. These cuts often share a cooking time with brisket and eye round, making them ideal bedfellows in the smoker. Pork loin, gently smoked at low temperature, with lighter wood such as apple or pecan will pretty much get you laid.

Poultry is a great way to round out your smoker. Start the denser, more thick cuts early in the morning, and as they come off, add chicken. Whole chickens work just fine, but be sure to stand them on end in order to allow the smoke to fully surround the bird. Quarters and thighs also make excellent morsels. Heck, if you want the most legendary wings of the summer, get a wire rack and smoke a 10 lb. case of wings until fork tender.

The Seasoning

Less is more when it comes to smoked meat. An excellent flavor profile is a combination of subtlety: a bit of wood smoke, umami from the meat fat, tender & savory cuts, and a touch of spice. Texas style brisket calls for salt & pepper. That's it. A 10 lb. brisket will take somewhere around 4 tablespoons of whole black pepper and 4-5 tablespoons of kosher salt, put into a spice grinder and ground coarse, to fully season. A good rule of thumb is 1/2 teaspoon of salt per pound of meat (not bone). Rubs should be applied a day or two before smoking, giving adequate time for the flavors to penetrate the meat, and for the salt to draw out water. Place the meat on a wire rack holding it above the floor of the dish you store it in.

Past the puritanical Texan method, the limits are just your own creativity. The following is a spice mixture I use for my pork shoulders:

4 tbs. sweet / smoked paprika
4 tbs. kosher salt
4 tbs. black pepper, toasted and ground
2 tbs. chili powder
2 tbs. coriander seed, toasted and ground
2 tbs. garlic powder

Sometimes, I add two to four tablespoons of brown sugar.

The following is a tandoori style marinade for chicken:

4 cups greek yogurt
1-2 lemons, juiced
4 cloves of garlic, pureed
2 tbs. ginger puree
8 black cardamom pods
4 green cardamom pods
2 tbs. black pepper
2 tbs. coriander seed
1 tbs. cumin seed
1 cinnamon stick

Heat a dry sauce pan on high heat, then put all whole spices in the pan and toast, tossing frequently, until the spices begin to sizzle & pop. Remove from heat, and grind spices with a spice grinder. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and toss chicken in the mixture. Marinade at least over night. Place chicken on a wire rack ~4 hours before smoking, allowing the yogurt marinade to drip off and dry.

The Smoking

Smokers come in varying shapes in sizes, from the bourgeois Green Egg, to a 55 gallon drum sawed in half. Learn your smoker, and master it. The most important characteristic of your smoker is its temperature range, and how much control you have over it. Ideally, you want to hot smoke beef, pork, and chicken at 225-325 degrees. The peak, sustained temperature of your smoker will determine how long you need to / can cook the meats in question. You will need to use a meat thermometer, or preferably an instant read thermometer, to keep a handle on your meat's internal temperature. Your smoker should have a drip pan of water in it, which acts as a kind of heat-battery, keeping the internal temperature down, and internal humidity up, producing a much more controllable cooking environment. Your target temperatures are as follows:

Beef: 203 F
Pork: 185-203 F
Poultry: 165 F

For something like a pork loin, the lower end of the temperature spectrum is good. Shoulder can be taken all the way to 203 F to ensure maximum tenderness.

As the meat smokes and cooks, the internal temperature will rise steadily, and then plateau at somewhere around 150-170 F. This is related to the evaporation of water as it leaves the meat, the density of water remaining in the meat, and the internal temperature of your cooking environment. Old school smoking takes 16-18 hours at 225 F to pull enough water out of the meat to let the internal temperature increase to a safely cooked level. Smoking meat has a normal distribution curve for how much flavor you get out of the smoking: this means that there is a kind of 'value' point where enough flavor is on the meat, and the smoke environment isn't really doing much more than taking forever to finish cooking your dinner. If you have the time and the patience, I strongly suggest doing a low and slow smoke the whole damned day. It's a great exercise in alcohol tolerance & day drinking. After the novelty of that has worn off, I suggest the Texas Crutch.

The Texas Crutch is where, once the meat has plateaued in temperature, we wrap the meat tightly in a double layer of aluminum foil, creating a sealed cooking environment. Inside this mini-oven within an oven, the steam pressurizes and increases the mini-oven's temperature dramatically, cooking the meat far more thoroughly. Cooking times in the Crutch vary from cut to cut, thickness, density, etc. A brisket typically takes a couple of hours to go from ~160 to 203 F, while a pork shoulder takes a bit less. Any puncture in the foil (such as to take a temperature reading) will dramatically decrease the temperature of your mini-oven, so a certain amount of patience & feel is required here. For a brisket, I'd wait 120 minutes, and for pork shoulder somewhere around 90 minutes

Once the meat has reached your desired cooking temperature, remove it from the smoker, keeping it wrapped in foil. Wrap the foil covered meat in towels, and place it in a cooler, where it shall remain for an hour or two. Still wrapped in your mini-oven, and insulated in the cooler, the meat will continue to cook, allowing all the tougher tissues to break down. Beef brisket needs around two hours in the cooler, while pork can be done in an hour to an hour and a half. Carefully unwrap the meat, put it back on the smoker for around 30 minutes to cook off the liquid on the outside, and to get the nice, crispy bark back on the brisket or shoulder.


04-11-2015, 07:59 AM
Shoot me the address and time for dinner. I'll bring the Shiner Bock!

04-11-2015, 08:06 AM
If this subject interests you, and you want to consult the Old Man on the Mountain for all of the forbidden knowledge ye dare ask for, go here: AmazingRibs.com (http://amazingribs.com/index.html).

There are articles available there on every topic you can imagine, and a few you never dreamed of. From choosing a smoker, to running a smoker well, rubs, sauces, cuts of meat, recipes, the whole shebang.

Good food takes time, and learning how to make it well takes time. Start now. It's worth it.

Sky Pilot
04-11-2015, 09:37 AM
Informative and a good read! I entertained my beautiful bride, reading your account aloud, and we both laughed at your incisive observations! Many thanks!

04-11-2015, 03:00 PM
Great thread

Sent from the TACC OPS Center

Mr. Anthony
04-11-2015, 03:34 PM
Good timing--we just put pig-wrapped-pig-stuffed-pig on the smoker. Pork loin, stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon, with a dry rub.


05-27-2015, 01:40 PM
Good timing--we just put pig-wrapped-pig-stuffed-pig on the smoker. Pork loin, stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon, with a dry rub.


Oh my - I'm going to need a moment... to compose myself. Yeah, that's right... compose myself...

05-30-2015, 06:11 AM
Worth noting in all of this is that an instant read digital thermometer is worth its weight in gold. Get a model that you can input a set temperature, put it at 195, and fuhghettaboudit. These models by Taylor (http://www.amazon.com/Taylor-Digital-Cooking-Thermometer-Stainless/dp/B00O6PRZ4O/ref=sr_1_43?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1432991019&sr=1-43&keywords=taylor+thermometer) can be found at Target for a decent price--I paid around $15 each for a pair of them.

The best places to put these are near your heat source, and far from it, each inserted into the thickest portion of the cut or whole muscle you are smoking. This would be the first cut end of a brisket (the thicker side with the fat cap), the mid point on the cup of the scapula on your pork shoulder (you don't really need to bone these when smoking, but doing so increases the surface area for smoke flavor and rub), and the breast of the chicken near the thigh. Remember, as above, you are cooking the meat with heat and applying smoke at the same time. Total time in the smoker is less important in many ways than achieving and holding a cooking temperature. At around 195, collagen is breaking down, turning your meat into tender, unctuous, heavenly morsels. One probe in the hot section let's you cook meat, while a probe in the cool section of your grill lets you make sure that things aren't getting over 205 while smoking or resting.