HOW TO SMOKE MEAT THE RIGHT WAYThis Pitmaster Is Confident That You Too Can Actually Smoke Meat. Here’s How.
If you define firing up the barbecue as blasting the heat and throwing a few frozen burgers on the grill, it’s time to up your game. While the lengthy process of smoking was once reserved for specialty Southern barbeque, it’s gone mainstream. “You’re starting to see smoked items all over the country now. And at white tablecloth restaurants, 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 (around 225 degrees) for a long period of time, thus the familiar phrase “low and slow.” “Smoking is usually best for bigger cuts of meat,” he explains. “You’re looking to impart the smoke flavor and you’re working on tenderness because you’re cooking for a long period of time.” Here, Lilly’s step-by-step guide to getting your smoke on.
1. Clear Your Schedule
Most large cuts like a pork butt or a beef brisket, for example, will take anywhere from eight to 12 hours to smoke.
2. Start Out Small With Ribs
A rack of pork ribs on a 250-degree grill will “only” take four hours to cook, so you can ease yourself in.
3. Make Your Rub
Since pork lends itself to both sweet and salty flavors, whip up an easy dry rub that’s got a 50-50 ratio of salt and sugar and spike it with whatever spices you like (or have in the cabinet).
4. Go With Charcoal
While you could, in theory, smoke meat on a gas grill, Lilly’s preference is far and away charcoal since it provides an extended burn, a more consistent heat, and most important, a better flavor.
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 are actually extending your cooking time,” Lilly explains. When the coals are burning, place the meat on the opposite side of the grate so that it’s not directly over the heat source.
6. Throw in Some Wood If You Want
If you’d like a more intense smoke flavor, you can layer store-bought wood chips in between and on top of the charcoal. Lilly recommends hickory since it gives a bold smoke flavor. And forget what you’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 225 to 250 degrees, 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. Most charcoal grills come with a temperature gauge on the lid, but you can buy an aftermarket version if not.
8. Figure Out If You Need to Flip
For larger grills with a lot of room between the fire and the grate, you won’t have to turn your meat as much, but if you’ve got a smaller version like a kettle grill, flip and turn the meat several times throughout to make 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. Also invest in an internal temperature gauge and make sure your pork ribs are 200 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 internal 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.”
Ready to go bigger? Try an 8-pound pork butt next. Your neighborhood butcher should carry it and it’ll yield about four pounds of meat, according to Lilly, perfect for a small party (one where you’ll surely be the hero if all goes according to plan). You’ll want to cook it for 12 hours at 225 degrees or 10 hours at 250 degrees, and make sure the internal temperature hits 195 degrees before pulling it off. As for the rub, go heavier on the salt than sugar to make sure flavor penetrates the whole thing. Makes for perfect plates or pulled pork sandwiches.