I’ve posted a couple of smoker recipes here — one for duck and one for turkey and I’m sure I’ll post more. Rather than continue to regurgitate the same tips over and over, I figured I’d write a manifesto, ‘cause writing manifestos sounds so cool.
First off, you don’t need a fancy-schmancy smoker. I primarily smoke on my grandfathers old Brinkmann. It’s big enough for a fourteen-pound turkey, which is an ample size. This model is incredibly simple; it’s basically a drum with a fuel source in the bottom, a place for a water bath right above the fuel source, and a rack on top of the water bath. The temperature guage is crude but effective. It has three levels; warm, ideal, and hot. The goal being to keep the temperature in the “ideal” range as long as possible. Bonus pro-tip; let the smoker warm up to its ideal temperature before adding the meat.
The one feature this smoker needs but is missing is an access door for the fuel. When using a smoker without an access door, you have to ensure you place enough fuel at the beginning to fuel the entire smoking session, because opening the smoker once it’s started will release vital heat, smoke, and steam.
Smoking meat is a slow process done with low, indirect heat. You want to have a water bath between the heat source and the meat. This acts as a buffer to help regulate the heat delivered to the meat as well as provides a source of steam in the smoker. I like to season the water with alcohol (cheap rum and whisky both work nicely), freshly squeezed orange juice, honey, and/or various aromatic herbs such as rosemary, marjoram, thyme, etc.
In this smoker I fill the water basin completely full so that I don’t run out of water. It’s relatively easy to top up the water but you have to remove the top to do so, which releases vital heat, smoke, and steam.
I prefer to use freshly cut, green (live) wood as a source of smoke. When I can’t get live wood, I’ll get chips and soak them overnight. Place the wet wood directly on the burning brickettes.
You can use a number of different types of wood. Hickory is very popular but I’ve also used apple and cherry wood with great success.
Avoid using lighter fluid or brickettes soaked in lighter fluid, as the lighter fluid imparts flavor to the meat. Instead use a chimney to light your brickettes. Pro bonus tip; use wood brickettes instead of charcoal to add to the woody-smoky-goodness.
You should prep your meat before you smoke it. Regardless of the meat (fish, poultry, beef, etc) you want to let it come to room temperature first. You also want to pat the meat dry. Water is a heat sink and will absorb energy that would otherwise be used to cook the meat evenly.
If you are smoking poultry, truss it to achieve a more uniform shape and thickness. This further helps with even cooking and helps prevent burnt tips of legs or wings.
Dry rubs work great when smoking meat. I’ve played around with coffee-based dry rubs and really enjoyed the results.
Finished tempertures for smoked meat are no different than those for baked meat, it just takes longer to get there (slow and low is the tempo).