Are you new to the world of smoking meat? Well, this guide is a great place to start!
People have been smoking and adding flavor to meat for centuries. Whether it’s to change the flavor profile of the meat or to cure it, there are a lot of reasons why smoking is a better alternative than just seasoning food.
Smoking meat may seem like a daunting task but in reality, it’s very easy and a whole lot of fun for people who are passionate about cooking.
So, what are the best meats to smoke for a beginner? The truth is, smoking is such a versatile way to prepare meat that you can start with almost anything that you can get your hands on. Of course, there are a few great starting points like whole chicken, beef brisket, pork ribs, turkey, and more.
If you are ready to dive into this wonderful and flavor-packed journey with us, then welcome on board. Read on to learn more about how you can easily smoke meat without needing to be an expert!
What Is Smoking?
Smoking is a way to prepare meat and add flavor to it. The concept of smoking meat is as old as time. We have been adding meat on top of wood-fueled fire for centuries.
It turns out that meat absorbs a lot of the smell and flavor of the smoke. Plus, if you cook it at a stable temperature for long enough, the smoke alone will tenderize the meat.
Chances are that you may already be familiar with the process of smoking meat without even knowing it.
Think about it, when you have a backyard BBQ, you are essentially not just cooking with heat from the coals but you are also adding in a lot of flavors from the coals.
That indistinguishable smell and flavor come not just from the seasoning but the addition of charcoal too.
This same concept extends to a range of meats and preparation methods. For example, smoking is commonly done with a lot of different types of wood.
Many pizzerias use a certain type of wood (which usually is part of their secret recipe or secret technique) to bake pizzas.
If you have ever wondered why your food doesn’t taste as good as your favorite deli even though you’re using the same ingredients, it’s probably because they smoke their meat.
How Smoking Works
Smoking meat is a relatively easy process that involves placing food over a smoker via a separating grill, or in the case of industrial food, over hangers.
To smoke meat, you need to have a smoker which is basically a container that holds the fuel or smoking agent like charcoal or wood.
You would then either place the meat above the smoke emitting out of the container, or you would hang the meat inside a tightly sealed container that can seal in both the smoke and the meat.
Most industrial smokers are in the shape of vertical containers that have vents on each side. These vents release smoke and heat in a controlled manner.
Too much can add in overpowering flavors so the process needs to be controlled and timed properly for the best results.
Beef, for example, can be smoked for about 4-8 hours at 220°F. This combination of heat and smoke will loosen the protein strands within the meat and add in flavor via chemical reactions.
There are literally hundreds of ways you can smoke food and each technique is unique to either a particular type of meat or method but in general, the underlying concept is always going to remain the same.
Smoking can also be used to season a dish and add just a bit more flavor when it comes to finishing touches.
The easiest way to smoke food would be to heat charcoal over the stove then carefully add it to your finished dish over a piece of foil.
Add in just a few drops of oil or butter on the heated coal to release smoke, then quickly close and seal the lid.
It will take about 10-15 minutes for the food to smoke but as soon as you open the lid, you are going to notice a distinct and delicious flavor to your dish.
This is one of the most basic and easiest ways for beginners to get acquainted with smoking.
Types Of Meat That Can Be Smoked
Generally speaking, any type of meat or veggie can be smoked.
Most of the store-bought pre-made flavored meat is smoked using industrial-sized smokers.
But you don’t need fancy equipment to start your journey. Depending on what type of meat you want to smoke, you can begin at the very start by using a simple BBQ pit.
BBQ pits are an amazing way to smoke meat and introduce a new layer of flavor.
Of course, your results may vary depending on if you use an open BBQ pit vs a lid smoker. Regardless, if you are just starting out, you should definitely first try your hand at BBQ pit smoking.
It’s easy and accessible to a lot of people. Just light up a few coals and then cook your meat over the coals using a grill. This will allow the smoke to permeate the meat and add in flavor via browning and other chemical reactions.
There are a few things to keep in mind, though:
- Smoking may be used as a finishing move to season your dish
- It can also be used to fully cook and tenderize meat
- You can use a combination of wood and coal to smoke meat for different flavors
- You can use smoking to cure meat and extend shelf-life.
Here are a few great starting points for beginners:
White meat is a great place to start because it’s so readily available and you may already have an idea of how to go about the process.
Chicken is a staple and the go-to protein for billions of people around the world. It’s quick, easy to cook, and is great for smoking meat.
For example, in the case of a whole chicken, you would first add all the seasoning and let the chicken sit for about half a day or at least 2 hours in the fridge.
You may then smoke the chicken over a BBQ pit or smoker at around 210°F for 2 hours. Alternatively, you could also cook the chicken halfway on a stove or oven and then move it to a smoker for finishing touches.
It is important that you add a water tray to your smoker because when meat is cooked over a constant temperature, it will eventually start to lose moisture, this is where the water pan comes in handy.
The water pan will add in moisture by raising the humidity and will also help in tenderizing the meat more evenly.
This is true for turkey as well. In the case of using a full bird, you will have to smoke the bird for about 3 hours at 215°F.
Remember, smoking requires patience so you better be willing to spare a few hours for this method to work its magic. Once the bird is properly smoked, it should have a glistening exterior with uniform brownness all over the surface.
You could also cook the bird in the oven and then shift it to a smoker for added flavor.
A hallmark and poster food for smoking, beef ribs are delicious and packed with a lot of flavors. If done right, properly smoked beef ribs will have a satisfying exterior and a juicy and tender interior.
Smoked beef ribs take the most time to cook because beef has a lot of meat fibers.
When heat is applied for enough time, the collagen within the meat breaks down and turns into gelatin which then makes the fibers separate from each other – in other words, the meat tenderizes.
This is when the smoke starts to penetrate the meat. The type of wood you use will also affect the flavor and smell of the food.
For example, oak adds a very musky smell and grounded flavor to any protein whereas cherry-flavored wood will impart a subtle sweet yet savory flavor.
Beef ribs can also be wrapped in foil to maintain internal temperatures and to seal in the juices excreted from the meat. This adds to not only the texture but the succulence of the meat as well.
Pork chops are hailed as one of the best-tasting meats in the world. This is because pork meat is inherently flavorful due to its fat profile and texture. It is almost always smoked and is cooked to perfection using various techniques.
Pork chops can be smoked at 220°F Celsius for 4-5 hours using either hickory, oak, or maple wood. You can also throw in some coal for a more complex flavor.
While this type of meat is still easy for beginners, salmon does still need to be prepared with some precaution.
Unlike other types of protein, seafood, especially salmon fillets, is notorious for being overcooked.
This type of protein doesn’t require much heat and is cooked relatively quickly than beef or pork. With a smoker at 195°F, you will need to smoke the salmon for around 1.5 hours.
Quickly check the doneness of the meat at around the 1-hour mark and then continue accordingly.
Shrimps and prawns are a delicacy in many cuisines but did you know you could add in an extra layer of flavor just by smoking them for a few hours?
Prawns can be pre-seasoned and then added to a smoker for about 1-2 hours for a savory, sweet and fishy flavor. Make sure to try to sear the prawns over a BBQ pit to add in color and even more flavor.
Some seafood pair well with smokers while others don’t. We highly recommend that you start with either shrimp, prawns, or salmon. We guarantee that you won’t regret it!
Tips For Smoking
There are a few things that you must keep in mind when smoking meat!
- Always go with a smoker that has a tight lid. This will help in keeping a steady temperature and will also keep all the smoke contained within the pit.
- Don’t open and close the lid of the smoker repeatedly. This will cause discrepancies in temperature and will also cause the smoke to leak out. You need smoke to both flavor and tenderize meat.
- Don’t go overboard with the quantity of coal or wood while smoking. You need to maintain a steady temperature with adequate smoke or too much of it may cause a disagreeable flavor. Follow the instructions on the label of the fuel or refer to the recipe for more information.
- Sweet, flavored wood is great for lamb and beef. It adds a distinct but subtle sweet aroma and flavor to the meat and pairs extremely well with beef.
- Applewood pairs well with almost any type of protein and is a great place to start for beginners. Just get this type of wood if you don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of smoking. It’s excellent for beginners, burns evenly and it will always add a great taste to any meat.
- Hickory adds a unique sweet and fruity flavor that may also match the flavor of bacon to any type of meat. It burns slowly which means that it will release smoke uniformly throughout the cooking process.
- Maple, oak, olive, and other types of woods can also be used to impart a unique earthy, fruity, and slightly sweet flavor to any meat.
You can use these woods either individually or you can also mix and match different types of woods to get a different and blended taste.
If you are confused about where to start then we highly recommend that you go with either applewood, hickory, or oak.
Once you get an idea of the flavors from each, you can then experiment by mixing in different types to create a unique layer of flavor for your dishes.
Now that we’ve gone over all the different kinds of meat that work best with smoking, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
Do I need to buy a smoker to smoke meat?
If you have the resources, then the best way to smoke meat is inside a smoker.
However, if you don’t want to buy one then we highly recommend that you use either an open BBQ pit or place a lid over the grill to achieve more or less the same flavor.
Can any meat be smoked?
Yes. Most types of meat pair very well with various types of wood and charcoal.
The exception to this rule is some types of seafood but even in this category, you can try smoked salmon and shrimp as they are considered to be the best-smoked meats.
What’s the easiest type of meat that can be smoked?
White meat like chicken can easily be smoked by beginners because this type of meat is easy to cook, is readily available, and does not require a lot of time or commitment.
Of course, you may need to follow a good recipe for the best results. Generally speaking, you can use any type of wood or charcoal to smoke this meat.
Why does smoked meat require so much time?
Smoking requires a lot of time because you are essentially tenderizing the meat via smoke rather than direct flame.
The ambient temperature is raised because of the smoke and this helps in breaking down the collagen within the meat. Over time, the smoke penetrates and permeates the food, imparting a distinct flavor to the meat.
Industrial smokers are able to use pressurized cabins to smoke meat much efficiently but for home chefs, the best way to smoke meat is to wait a few hours.