Tips For Using a Smoker

For Father's Day, my dad got a shiny new smoker. While he's enjoyed experimenting with it so far, he's run into some technical difficulties. When I asked him what the instruction booklet said, I was shocked to hear that it does not include any smoking directions! Well listen up dad — and anyone else out there who is using a smoker this Summer — here are some important tips on how to properly use a smoker.

  • First of all, be patient. Smoking is an art form in which meat is slow-cooked over a long period of time. It involves an element of trial and error.
  • Soak the wood chips overnight or for a good amount of time.
  • The temperature in a smoker is controlled by vents. Most smokers have two: one at the bottom by the firebox and one on the top. The bottom vent sucks in air for the fire, while the top vent is a draft that pulls the hot air through the smoking chamber. If both vents are open, the fire will grow and the temperature will rise.
  • To better understand the way these vents affect your smoker, play with them a little. Once the fire is going, close the bottom vent and leave the top one open. Note the change in temperature. Then close the top a little and see how that changes the temperature, etc.
  • The meat absorbs a lot of heat, so be sure to check the temperature regularly.
  • Use a water bath. Fill a roasting tray with water and place underneath the meat. As the meat cooks, the water tray will catch the juices, which then evaporate and infuse the meat with more flavor.
  • Different types of wood chips — hickory, mesquite, cherry, etc. — will affect the flavor of the meat.
  • The ideal temperature for smoking is between 230° and 250° F.
  • If using charcoal, remember that the coals will start to cool after 60 minutes so be sure to have plenty of fresh charcoal.
  • Each pound of meat needs about 90 minutes of cook time.
  • Don't lift the barbecue cover too often — it will let all the smoke out!

Do you have a smoker? What are your tips for smoking meat?

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