Smoking Food

The basics for smoking food are right here: how it works, how to set up a smoker, tips, and more.


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Smoking uses low temperatures, 180 to 220 degrees F, and long cooking times to cook and flavor foods.

How Smoking Works

  • Low heat makes smoke as wood smolders, rather than burns, to impart the smoky flavor.
  • Water-soaked wood chunks, chips, and/or aromatics are distributed among the coals to enhance the flavor.
  • Grill is covered to allow heat and smoke to slowly penetrate and cook the food.

Types of Smoking

  • Dry Smoking Dry smoking uses indirect cooking with a low, smoldering wood fire to slowly cook foods while infusing smoke flavor.
  • Wet Smoking Wet smoking, or water smoking, is more commonly employed and uses a pan of water to maintain moisture and tenderness.

Tips for Smoking

  • Keep water pan full, replenishing as needed with hot tap water.
  • The water helps to maintain temperature and adds moisture to keep food tender.
  • Don't peek! Heat and smoke escape each time the lid is lifted, sacrificing aroma and flavor and increasing cooking time.
  • Start with small amount of wood to see if you like the flavor, adding more for more intense smoky flavor.
  • Make wood chips last longer and prevent burning by bundling wet wood chips in a foil packet with holes. Place the packet directly on the coals.
  • Smoke only those foods that can handle the assertive smoky flavor: beef, lamb, pork, poultry, oily fish, and game.

Aromatics

  • Add an aromatic dimension by tossing fresh leaves, stems, or herbs onto the coals.
  • Bay leaves, rosemary, grapevine cuttings, fruit peel, or cinnamon sticks are examples of aromatics.
  • Generally aromatics with higher oil content provide stronger flavor.
  • Soak branches and stems, which otherwise burn quickly.

Food & Wood Pairing

Try experimenting with different foods and woods to find the flavor combination you like.

  • Alder, delicate: Pork, poultry, especially fish
  • Apple, delicate, mildly sweet, and fruity: Veal, pork, poultry
  • Cherry, delicate, mildly sweet, and fruity: Veal, pork, poultry
  • Hickory, strong, hearty, smoky: Brisket, ribs, game, pork
  • Mesquite, lighter, sweeter: Most meats, vegetables
  • Oak, assertive, versatile: Beef, pork, poultry
  • Pecan, similar to hickory, more subtle: Pork, poultry, fish
  • Seaweed, tangy, smoky: Shellfish

Setting Up the Grill

  • Soak wood chips and chunks in water for at least 1 hour.
  • Soak aromatic twigs for 30 minutes.
  • Drain and shake off excess water before adding soaked wood to the fire.
  • Use long-handled tongs to arrange hot ash-covered coals around foil pan that is filled with 1 inch of water.
  • Add presoaked chunks, chips, and/or aromatics to coals.
  • Place food on grill rack and cover.
  • Check food, temperature, and water pan once an hour; adjusting as needed.
  • Do not add additional wood during last half of smoking on charcoal (or vertical smoker) as too much exposure to smoke imparts a bitter flavor to food.

Tips for Gas Grills

  • Soak wood chips and chunks in water for at least 1 hour.
  • Soak aromatic twigs for 30 minutes.
  • Drain and shake off excess water before adding soaked wood to the fire.
  • If equipped with smoker box attachment, before firing up the grill, fill water pan on attachment with hot tap water.
  • Place presoaked chunks/chips in compartment as directed by manufacturer's instructions.
  • If you do not have an attachment, use a foil pan (separate from the water pan) or a foil packet with holes punched in the bottom. Place pan on rack directly over heat source.
  • Place food on grill rack and cover.
  • Check food, temperature, and water pan once an hour, adjusting as needed.

Tips for Charcoal Grills

  • Monitor temperature by adding 8 to 10 fresh briquettes.
  • Do not add "instant-start" charcoal briquettes during the cooking process.

how to smoke meat
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