HOW TO SMOKE MEAT THE RIGHT WAYThis pitmaster is confident that you can smoke meat like a pro
If you define firing up the barbecue as blasting the heat and throwing a few frozen burgers on the grill, then it’s time to up your game. While the lengthy process of smoking was once reserved for the notoriously tasty barbeque cuisine of America’s Deep South, it’s now gone mainstream. “You’re starting to see smoked items everywhere, and there’s always something smoked on the menu,” says Chris Lilly, partner and pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q restaurants in Decatur, Alabama.
According to Lilly, smoking typically means cooking meat over indirect heat at a lower temperature for a long period of time, thus the familiar phrase ‘low and slow’.
“Smoking is usually best for bigger cuts of meat,” says Lilly. “You’re looking to impart the smokey flavour and you’re working on tenderness because you’re cooking for a long period of time.”
Here’s Lilly’s step-by-step guide to getting your smoke on.
1. Clear your schedule
Most large cuts like a pork or a beef brisket will take between eight to 12 hours to smoke.
2. Start small with ribs
A rack of pork ribs on a 90°C grill will take four hours to cook, so you can ease yourself in.
3. Make your own flavour
Since pork lends itself to both sweet and salty flavors, whip up an easy dry seasoning that’s got a 50-50 ratio of salt and sugar and spike it with whatever spices you like.
4. Go with charcoal
While you could, in theory, smoke meat on a gas grill, Lilly’s preference is charcoal because it provides an extended burn, a more consistent heat, and most importantly, a better flavour.
5. Create a two-zone fire
Push all of the charcoal to one side of the grill to make a small pile, light it, and then place some unlit charcoal over that. “Once the charcoal starts burning slowly, it sort of feeds over and burns like a fuse to the unlit charcoal, so you’re actually extending your cooking time,” says Lilly. When the coals are burning, place the meat on the opposite side of the grate so it’s not directly over the heat source.
6. Throw in some wood if you want
If you’d like a more intense taste of smoke, you can layer some wood chips in between and on top of the charcoal. Lilly recommends hickory, which gives a bold smoke flavour. Forget what you might’ve heard about having to soak the chips in water first. “It’s a waste of time,” he says.
7. Adjust your airflow
Start with the damper (that little multi-hole vent) on the top of the grill slightly open and the bottom one fully open. After you’ve reached that sweet spot of around 110°C, close both up a bit so the temperature can level out. If you find your grill is too hot, close them up even more (but not fully or your flame will go out). If the grill still isn’t hot enough, open them wider.
8. Figure out if you need to flip
You won’t have to turn your meat as much if you have a larger grill with a lot of room between the fire and the grate. But if you’ve a smaller version like a kettle grill, flip and turn the meat several times throughout to make sure each part gets a turn closest to the fire. Overall, though, the less you open the grill, the better.
9. Check if it’s done
After four hours or so, use Lilly’s trick for deciding if the ribs are done. Grab side-by-side bones and pull them in opposite directions. If they feel rubbery then they need more cooking. If the meat is just starting to tear, it’s perfect. If the bones completely fall out, the ribs are overcooked. Invest in an internal temperature gauge and make sure your pork ribs are around 90°C degrees before you take them off the grill.
10. Give it a rest
Considering you just spent hours cooking this thing and don’t want to screw it up at this point, let the meat sit for 15 to 30 minutes to give the juices a chance to redistribute, ensuring that they won’t spill out when you cut into your meat. “I’d rather have the juices in my meat,” says Lilly, “than running off my table.”