How to make a smoker
In case you hadn’t noticed, slow ‘n’ low BBQ smoking is where it’s at right now. Hailing from the Southern states of the US, it’s a delightfully tasty bandwagon you really should be jumping on. Here’s the Gran Luchito guide to how to make a smoker out your standard BBQ…
Image courtesy of David Hale Smith
How To Make A Smoker:
Step one, Preparation:
Before you set out to make your smoker, you need to understand that smoking is a time consuming business. But just know that for every hour you put in, the taste, texture and overall experience will benefit. The preparation of your meat will vary depending on what you’re cooking. But most dishes will require some kind of brining or dry-rub (often a bit of both). You’ll probably want to follow a recipe to start with until you’ve learnt the science and get confident enough to start experimenting with it. Try this beef short rib recipe from Jedi Swine Tricks’ award-winning pitmaster, Steve Heyes.
Woodchips. Image courtesy of Mike McCune
The use of woodchips is a contentious topic. Some say that their use plays an important part in bringing a smoky flavour to whatever it is you’re cooking. Others argue that the effects are minimal, especially when cooking meat.
For those keen to experiment, different hardwoods are said to give you different flavours and levels of smokiness, which are associated with different geographical regions. For example, hickory is frequently used in the Southern US for a medium/strong smoky flavour. Whereas mesquite is known to give a very strong flavour which is usually reserved for cooking brisket, since its robust flavour is one of the only cuts which can stand up to it. Again, take advantage of what experienced smokers have already discovered and research tasty combos. Here’s a handy guide.
It is often said that woodchips require soaking before they are used to prevent them from burning too quickly. However, a far better way to achieve this is to wrap them in a tin foil pouch with small holes poked in it. This stops them being in direct contact with flames and therefore burning too quickly. You can also buy smoke boxes which do the same job.
Water is key in transforming your grill into a smoker. Image courtesy of David McSpadden
Using Water Containers:
Smoking and grilling differ in several ways. However, one of the most fundamental differences is that grilling cooks food over direct contact with heat, whereas smoking is indirect. Positioning metal water containers in the bottom of your BBQ (with coals positioned on the other) creates two distinct areas, and it is above the water containers that you will be cooking your meat.
Adding water containers has 2 benefits: Firstly, it is important in maintaining the steady temperatures which are so vital in smoking. Secondly, meat juices will drop into the water rather than onto hot coals, avoiding flare-ups.
Coals come in all shapes and sizes. Although it is tempting to use quick-light charcoal, you’re better off investing in a chimney starter which will make lighting ‘real’ charcoal much easier. Once lit, arrange the charcoal over to one side of the BBQ (with your water pans on the other). Once your smoker reaches the desired temperature, you can start cooking. If you’ve got a hinged grill grate, position this over the coals so you can easily add more wood chips as they burn (if you’re using them!).
Meat should be positioned as far away from the charcoal as possible. You can then place the lid on top. The vent should be positioned over the meat which will draw the smoke around the meat as it escapes. Leave the top vent half-open and control the temperature by manipulating the bottom vents (this will alter the oxygen allowed to fuel the coals. Too hot, close vents; too cold, open vents). Alternatively, fill a spray bottle with water and spray the lid. This will bring the internal temperature down. Removing the lid will allow more oxygen to get to the coals which will actually increase the temperature.
Monitoring the temperature of your makeshift smoker is very important. Image courtesy of Daniel Chow
Temperature & Time:
Use a thermometer to measure the temperature. Make sure you are measuring as close to the meat as possible, since the temp at the top of the dome will be higher than that where the meat is cooking. You are looking to maintain a temperature of around 120 °C (250°F).
Again, cooking times will vary massively depending on what it is you are cooking, and how big it is. Also, as in Steve Heyes’ previously mentioned beef short rib recipe, you can utilise foil marinades and glazes to add extra flavour.
Unlike cooking meat on a grill, slow-cooked meat doesn’t really require and resting once it’s ready. So once it’s ready, it’s good to go!
Smoked meat has an unmistakeable appearance. Beef short rib cooked by Jedi Swine Tricks’ Steve Heyes.