Hot Smoking is the process of cooking meat in a chamber filled with flavourful smoke traditionally for a relatively long time (well, longer than if you were to BBQ your food),at a low temperature. By doing this you allow the meat to take on the delicious flavours of the smoke which gives it a unique and incredible flavour profile that can’t be matched.
In general, a smoker will cook the meat at a temperature between 200ºF -250ºF. But this depends on the type of meat you’re working with and the style of cook you are doing.
How does it work?
There are two ways to cook meat, that is, by using either direct heat or indirect heat. Direct heat is how you traditional cook on a BBQ. But to smoke, you use indirect heat.
Grilling meat is all about using direct hot heat for short periods of time, while the key to smoking is to use indirect heat to cook meat, traditionally at a low temperature over a long period of time.
The magic of smoking lies in this indirect heat. In other words, you’re not placing the meat right on top of the flame or heat source; that’s too hot and too hard to control. Instead, you’re letting the heat and smoke from the flame waft over the meat, while keeping it out of the direct path of the heat.
Using a dedicated smoker makes cooking with indirect heat relatively easy. A smoker is uniquely designed to keep the meat out of direct heat while still letting smoke reach it and absorb. A good smoker is crafted to ensure smoke and heat properly circulate around the meat for an even cook.
There are a variety of different types of dedicated smokers, some of which can can be used as a traditional BBQ as well. A Kamado is an example of an adaptable grill that can be easily set up for slow cooking with indirect heat. By simply inserting the deflector plates in the Kamado you a changing from direct to indirect cooking and the perfect set up for hot smoking food.
You don’t necessarily have to purchase a dedicated smoker in order to smoke food. A good quality kettle BBQ is a prime example of a grill that can be easily adapted to become an indirect cooker.
In fact you can turn most BBQ’s into a Smoker, though you will usually find that they will be harder to control temperature wise than a purpose built smoker.
Low and Slow or Hot and Fast
American Low and Slow barbecuing started as a way to get great results from cheaper cuts of meat like brisket and pork shoulder. Often thought to be tough, fatty and undesirable, these cuts are tender and full of flavour when cooked at a low temperature 95 – 120°C (220 – 250°F), for several hours, sometimes even overnight.
This renders and softens the fat, and breaks down the connective tissue/collagens, leaving you with incredible results.
Hot & fast BBQ is a much more modern method which allows very similar results to be achieved in a lot less time. Stemming from the BBQ competition circuit and often used in catering operations, this technique can be great when time is short. Whether or not you think the results are better, worse or just the same, it’s well worth experimenting with the different methods to see what you prefer.
Hot & fast is usually done in the 135 – 175°C (275 – 350°F) range. This can improve things like crispy skin and pork crackling as well as shortening cook time, but as you’re cooking at a higher temperature the window when your meat is perfect is smaller, and you may need to keep a closer eye on your BBQ temperature particularly when getting used to cooking like this.
When starting out smoking the low and slow method is a great introduction and generally easier to master. Once you have learnt and understood how to control your BBQ Smoker, it’s easier to move on to hot and fast cooking.
A couple of basic Smoking Tips to help get you started
Choosing the right fuel
Use a good quality lump wood charcoal or briquettes and avoid using anything that says instant light, these are impregnated with accelerants like paraffin and other chemicals that can taint the flavour of your food. In the UK, we’ve found that it’s best to use premium coco shell briquettes or restaurant grade charcoal.
A good quality fuel will not only be more efficient than cheaper varieties, which will be very noticeable on longer cooks, it will also make controlling the grills temperature a lot easier which is essential when cooking low and slow.
Lighting your Fire
A Chimney Starter is one of the best ways to start your BBQ, its efficient design allows you to get your charcoal/briquettes perfectly hot in no time at all and without the need for any lighter fuel or starters
Place an outer ring of charcoal/briquettes in your fire basket leaving space to tip your heated coals from the Chimney
Fill your Chimney to a maximum of half full with your charcoal/briquettes
Place a ball of paper under the Chimney and light
Once the charcoal is glowing hot, tip into your fire basket, making sure you wear a good quality BBQ glove
Then add your wood of choice.
Important note: if you are using a ceramic grill such as a Kamado it is important to light your fire in a way that the heat rises gradually. The quick increase in temperature brought on by using a Chimney full of lit coals could cause the ceramic to crack. Natural wood wool firelighters are a great choice in this instance.
Should I check my meat regularly?
Simply, no, just let it be and check as infrequently as possible.
Its often a temptation to keep checking how the food is cooking but this just leads to a loss of smoke and greater fluctuations in your cooking temperature.
Knowing when your meat is cooked
Although you’ll quite often see cooking time guides, only use these as guides, the best way of knowing when your meat is cooked is using a meat thermometer that measures the internal temperature of your food.
There are many types of thermometers available with multiple probes to monitor more than one meat at a time as well as the internal temperature of your grill. Wireless options allow to leave your grill and still monitor the temperatures safe in the knowledge that its cooking fine.
Hopefully this information will provide an insight into the world of BBQ Smoking, but if you have any questions not covered here, please feel free to email us, we’d be more than happy to help.