While the summer is well-known as the major grilling season, it’s lesser-known cousin the smoker is starting to make a comeback. And for good reason! The taste of meat that is smoked correctly is unbelievable! Fall off the bone, melt in your mouth goodness. And while it’s definitely an investment of time, it is well worth it!
Today, I’m going to share some tips for how to use a smoker and be sure to check back in a few days when I share the brine and rub recipe we use! Be sure to read until the end of the post because not only did HomeRight send me an ElectroLight Fire Starter as part of sponsoring this post, they also agreed to let me give one away to my readers! Lucky you!!!
- Preparation is key! Decide ahead of time what your end goal is in terms of meat and flavor. Already seasoned meat (such as sausage) does not need to be prepped ahead of time and doesn’t need nearly as long on the smoker. Meat with a bone will require a lot longer on the smoker. Chicken and ribs will stay juicier if they’re soaked in a brine the night before.
- A brine is basically a salt and sugar bath for your meat. You need to use enough water to cover your meat. You don’t need to mix anything ahead of time. Just put your meat in your food-safe container, pour water over it and then add your salt and sugar. You can just use your hand to mix it all up so it will all soak into your meat. You want your meat to soak for about 8-10 hours.
- If you’re looking for a sweet, smoky flavor you should brine with 1/4 cup each of salt and brown sugar to 2 cups of water. You could use granulated sugar as well, but we prefer brown sugar because it crusts a little better on the skin of the meat. The second factor in the sweet, smoky flavor is wood you use to smoke. There are all kinds of fruit-flavored wood chips you can use: apple, peach, grape, etc. This will give your meat a subtle fruit flavor as opposed to using a hickory wood chip. If you don’t use a fruit flavor wood chip, you would need to season your meat once it’s done cooking to sweeten it a bit and that results in a gummy effect.
- The morning you’re ready to smoke, soak your wood chips in plain water for about an hour. If you place wood chips on without soaking them, they will flame and burn out within minutes. If you soak them first, it buys you an hour or so. If you use wood chunks as opposed to chips, they do not need to be soaked first since they are larger.
- Mix up a rub of your favorite spices. Stay tuned later this week, for the recipe we use for our smoker rub and the process we use while the meat is smoking. It’s too much to get into in this post about how to use a smoker, but I promise we’ll deliver on the rub recipes soon!
- Once your rub is mixed, remove your meat from the brine. The brine can just be dumped down the sink. Liberally coat your meat with your rub on all sides. Leave your meat at room temperature while you prepare your smoker.
- In a smoker, you use lump charcoal as opposed to briquets. Briquets burn hotter and with more of a flame. The lump charcoal will smoke more and you have more temperature control. Spread a layer of lump charcoal on the bottom level of the smoker.
- We used a ElectroLight Fire Starter this time as opposed to a lighter. The benefit of an ElectroLight is that it starts faster and you don’t need to add any lighter fluids or additional chemicals to get it to flame. You also have a lot more control over the temperature which is especially important with a smoker where you want a slow and steady burn.
Plug in your ElectroLight and put it directly on a center coal for 15-30 seconds until you see it start to glow. Then move to 2-3 more coals in the center and light them each for 15-30 seconds until they’re each glowing.
Then pull back 2″-3″ and fan it back and forth over your coals for 3-5 minutes until they’re all evenly glowing and lit. Then turn the ElectroLight off and let them catch and burn down for a few minutes. They should be smoking pretty well and glowing by this point. You can tell the ElectroLight is a little blurry in the picture below. That’s just to show you how we were fanning it back and forth!
- Scatter 4-5 wood chunks scattered around the perimeter of your charcoal. If you put them in the middle, that’s where the drip pan is and the smoke would go directly up making the temperature gauge harder to read. You want your wood chunks spread along the outer perimeter. Wait about 2-3 minutes to make sure the wood chunks catch and start blacking up a little bit to make sure they’re part of the smoking process.
- Start assembling according to the directions for your specific smoker.
- Whatever meat is going to take the longest (in our case, ribs), place on the bottom shelf. Whatever takes the shortest amount of time (in our case, chicken) goes on the top shelf so you’re not trying to adjust them or remove anything while you’re in the middle of the smoking process.
- Put your lid on and make sure your temperature goes up to the smoking range, 200-300 degrees. If it doesn’t, open the door to let some air get directly on the flame to keep it smoking.
- While your meat is smoking, you want to check every 30-45 minutes or so to make sure the temperature is holding steady and see how your coals are holding up. The ElectroLight makes it easy to adjust the temperature. Normally, you would have to either sit and watch the temperature gauge to know that the new coals are going to catch or you have to relight it. When you relight it, the temperature jumps high very quickly which is the opposite of what you want when you’re trying to slowly smoke meat. With the ElectroLight, you just have to take the top off the smoker, and fan the ElectroLight over the charcoal for about 10 seconds. The temperature never changes and it’s a pretty much a smoker’s dream.
- Always remember that smoking meat is a commitment. If you are looking for a quick meal, smoking is not for you. Smoking will take 6-8 hours. You will get hot, tired and smoky. That is not to say it is not worth every minute, because at the end, you will be rewarded with a feast of delicious smoked meat!
Remember to check back in a few days for our rub recipe and more specific tips on how to grill different cuts of meat!
HomeRight has generously agreed to let me give away one of their ElectroLight Fire Starters. The contest will run until June 12, 2016 at midnight and would make a great Father’s Day gift!!
In the meantime, these are some of our favorite products we use when we smoke our meat.