How to Smoke Meat: 6 Tips for Beginners

The practice of smoking food has been around for thousands of years. Long before the invention of preservatives, people smoked their food—particularly meat—to prolong shelf life through the chemicals found in wood smoke. Today, people primarily smoke meat, fish, and even food products like cheese to bring out delectable flavours that would make for a more interesting dining experience.

Meat smoking has two types: cold smoking and hot smoking. Cold smoking involves flavouring meat by exposing it to low temperatures, typically 60-120°F (around 15-48°C), away from a direct heat source. Because the low temperature will not cook food, some pitmasters cure the meat before smoking to preserve it and add flavour. Hot smoking, on the other hand, exposes the meat to temperatures of around 200–300°F (around 93-148°C) and slow-cooks it to melt and soften the collagen. This method also referred to as barbecuing, tenderizes the meat and infuses that rich, smoky flavour.

Choosing the right smoker is the first thing to consider if you want to successfully smoke food. The smoker serves as your container and source of smoke, so it’s important to choose one that can cook the meat evenly by properly circulating smoke and heat. One great tool for smoking meat is the pellet tube smoker, which is uniquely designed to preserve meat through long exposure to heat and smoke. The smoker dehydrates the meat and imparts antibacterial properties to make it tasty and safe to eat. 

Beyond the type of smoker you use, there are other elements that impact the quality of your meat. Here are some tips to consider for you to get started on the art of meat smoking.

The type of smoker you use can impact the meat smoking process. Image source: Pexels

  1. Choose the right type of smoker

The first step into meat smoking can be tricky. There are a lot of high-quality pellet tube smokers in the market, but which one should you buy? 

According to the meat lifestyle site Carnivore Style, smoking times and temperatures vary depending on the type of meat you want to smoke. Smokers also vary depending on factors such as heat control, size, and fuel source. There’s a wide range of smokers to choose from, but the key to a good smoker lies in its handling of indirect heat. Cooking with indirect heat will become easier given that you use the right smoker.

 There are electric smokers, which have dials for regulating temperatures; and propane smokers which use gas to smolder wood pellets. Charcoal smokers are cheaper and best for barbecues, while wood smokers infuse a purer taste to your meats. Pellet smokers work similarly to wood smokers except that it uses wood pellets, making them more convenient and less complicated to use for first-timers.

  1. 2. Get a good hardwood

Your choice of hardwood will say a lot about the flavour profile of your smoked meat. Hickory produces that smoky taste that suits meats like lamb, beef, and pork. Maple adds a mild, sweet flavour to any meat and is commonly used for ham and poultry. Oak and mesquite provide strong and pungent smoke while alder, cherry, and apple produce lighter smoke. Fruitwoods are ideal for vegetables and fish.

 Avoid softwoods such as fir, pine, and spruce that have a higher resin content and produce thick smoke. It’s also best to avoid rotten, powdery, and waterlogged wood.

  1. Choose your meats wisely

Meat smoking requires lengthy amounts of time, which is why it’s the ideal method for cooking tougher meat with plenty of collagen and fat. Collagen tenderizes into a gelatin-like texture while fat absorbs the smoky flavour and retains moisture. 

 For beginners, good choices of meat include beef brisket, pork shoulder, and ribs. Tender cuts dry out with slow-cooking and must be avoided.

  1. Prep your meat

Dousing your meat can also bring out the flavour and prevent it from drying out. To keep the meat moist, you can marinate it before cooking or add a sauce while smoking. Some cooks recommend using a spray bottle filled with apple cider vinegar or apple juice to regularly douse the meat and retain the smoky taste on its surface. The sugars will also caramelize while smoking, adding a dash of sweetness. 

For fatty meat types, consider trimming the fat to add more “bark” or crust to the meat’s surface. Some professionals also recommend using meat emulsifiers like hot sauce or mustard to ensure that the dry rub sticks to the meat and forms a bark.

  1. Manage your smoke

Good airflow is another thing to consider if you want to properly smoke meat. Build up the heat and trap the smoke in your cooking chamber by opening the lid as little as possible. Check if your smoke looks light blue—this helps produce the best flavours.

 The “3-2-1 rule” may also be helpful for beginners. The rule entails leaving the meat to smoke for around 3 hours before wrapping it in aluminium and letting it rest for about 2 hours to properly cook the interior. Remove the foil over the next hour to allow the bark to form.

  1. Schedule your cooking time

Regardless of the type of smoker and meat, the smoking process requires a lot of planning ahead to accommodate prolonged cooking. Briskets can even demand a maximum cooking time of 22 hours! It’s safe to reserve at least half a day for preparing the meat, smoking, and serving.

 Write a detailed schedule that revolves around when you would like to serve the meal and work your way backward. If you want to serve a brisket meal at 5:00 p.m., anticipate a 12-hour cooking time and an extra hour for resting the meat. If you plan to increase the heat as you smoke, you can cut a few hours from your schedule.

Slow but rewarding

Meat smoking is an art that rewards patience. It also breeds experimentation and perseverance to create the perfect, smoky meat that will amaze your loved ones. Don’t worry if you’re new to the whole process—with enough patience, you’ll bring out not just the best flavours in your meat but the best in you as well.