Ask anyone about how to smoke a piece of meat and you might find yourself smack dab in the middle of a passionate argument. Much like the age-old northern vs. southern BBQ feud, how to smoke meat can be a bit of a confusing foray for a beginner as everyone seems to have different advice. Luckily, we’re here to help demystify and hopefully explain how to smoke meat more easily so that you can dive in and create some memorable dishes.
No Smoker Needed
If you don’t own an old fashioned or electric smoker, you can still create those mouthwatering smokey flavors and the meat tender enough to fall off the bone with just a bit of creativity.
Regardless of whether you have a smoker or you do not, the wood chips you decide to use do influence the smokey flavor of the meat you will be smoking. Let’s go over a few common wood chip types and what flavors they impart as well as what meats they pair best with.
- Applewood – Applewood is a mild, sweet, and fruity smoke that pairs well with poultry, fish, shellfish, pork, veal, vegetables, and fruit.
- Cherrywood – Cherry wood chips will produce a sweet or tart fruity smoke and like Applewood, pairs well with poultry, fish, shellfish, pork, veal, game, vegetables, and fruit.
- Hickory – Hickory wood chips produce a bold and universal smoke flavor and are excellent with pork, bacon, turkey, game, and portobello mushrooms.
- Mesquite – Mesquite wood chips are known as the quintessential Southwest BBQ flavor with hints of sweetness but a bold and strong flavor profile. Beef, pork, poultry pairs well here.
Of course, there’s room for experimenting here, but as a beginner, these wood chip flavors are generally the easiest and most common to find and a great starting point. Once you’ve figured out what types of meats you’ll be smoking and what wood chips to pair with them, you’re ready for the next step.
You’ll no doubt want a delicious, smokey, crispy outside to whatever meat you decide to smoke. The best way to do that is to generously season and rub spices to the outside of your meat just before smoking. Here’s a very basic BBQ rub that can be used on many different types of meats.
- ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup paprika
- 3 tablespoons black pepper
- 3 tablespoons coarse or kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Mix this and store it in an airtight container. To use, make sure meat is fully dry by patting it with a paper towel then sprinkle liberally over all sides then rub it into the meat.
You might have been given this advice: soak your wood chips before smoking. If you soak your wood before smoking, however, you won’t get the smoke you are looking for until all the moisture is heated and evaporated. What you get is steam and ultimately you’ll be steaming your food.
Additionally, soaking the wood, whether you smoke meat in the oven or a smoker will drop the internal temperature of the oven or smoker until the moisture is burned away. So for the best smoke, keep your woodchips dry.
The exception to this rule is if you decide to cook a piece of meat on a wooden plank. In that case, you will want to soak the plank up to 24 hours before cooking with it.
If your grill has no smoker, no problem. All you need is some tin foil and a bit of creativity. Simply place your chips on a sheet of foil, then place a second sheet on top and twist the ends into a bag shape. Poke a few holes for venting the smoke and you’re ready.
When using a charcoal grill, place the coals to one side, meat to the other as you want to cook over indirect heat. You can place your smoking chips under your meat on the coal-free side or place it on the grill racks. The same principle works for gas grills—only use the burners not directly under the meat you are smoking. Low and slow is key. Your cooking temps should remain between 225 and 275 F, and the cooking time will range from 4-6 hours depending on the cut of meat, thickness, and temps. We advise using a probe thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the meat is at the right temperature to be done before removing it from the grill.
Note: For very long smoking times, you may need to remove the aluminum bag of wood chips and replace it. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on whatever you smoke to ensure steady temperatures and smoke.
You will need a roasting pan that has a raised grill. First, this ensures the meat does not sit in its juices so that you get that crisp, smokey outer shell. Second, beneath the roasting pan is where you’ll place your wood chips.
Line the bottom of the roasting pan with foil and add your chips, topping it with the raised grill. Place your meat on the grill, then using the second sheet of foil create a tent over the pan. Set the oven to 225 or 275F for four to six hours, but remember: you’re smoking meat here and so there will be smoke in the oven. You’ll want to keep checking here on temps, doneness, and continually basting to keep the meat from drying out.
At Wholey’s, we aren’t just passionate about the food we sell, we’re passionate about every aspect—from the different cuts of meat, to how it can be presented, cooked, and its flavor. We know that the best food comes from the freshest, highest-quality meats and seafood. It’s why we always provide excellence in both quality and convenience by delivering straight to your door, whether it’s beef, seafood, sauces, bases, or more. When you need the choicest cut for your next smoked meal, we’ll be ready to have you covered! Happy smoking!