I received a message from one of our HS members to put up a smoking BBQ thread on HS.
His request was as follows:
Would you consider starting a thread on Hornsport that explained step by step how you smoke & prepare different meat cuts.
Please be very elementary in your explanations.
Also please give a list of the minimum equipment- smoker type, thermometers, rubs, temps, time, etc.
I love bbq but have NO cooking skills. Now that I have the time, I would like to become somewhat proficient at it.
Seems fairly basic, but in actuality, it's quite a complex request.
Let's start at the end, as you have said a mouthful.
You say you now have time and you want to become proficient at smoking? That is a great combination of desire and time on your hands, both of which you will need.
In order to become proficient, you absolutely must practice. It is like anything else. That's not to say that you can't throw on a brisket and have it turn out just fine the very first time. You most certainly can. The trick is getting that 10th, 40th, 100th brisket to be as good or better than the one(s) that you smoked before it. Some improvements are only going to be noticeable to you, other improvements will be very apparent to everyone else.
Keep in mind: YOU WILL SCREW SOMETHING UP.....AT LEAST ONCE. Don't worry about it-it happens to all of us.
Now that we have established that you're going to screw it up, let's get down to business.
I would encourage all of our HS BBQ Pitmasters to chime in on this thread. Give us some of your expertise. I think this could be a great thread for all of our HS members, from novice to pro.
I'm no expert. I'm proficient. I've ruined my share of smoked items over the years. It happens. I've also learned quite a bit over the years. I'll share with you whatever I can.
Let's call this PART 1.
(I'm going to have to take this in steps, as I want to make sure I don't miss anything. I'll update it with additional sections as we move forward.)
Pits: There are all kinds of BBQ pits, from electric to propane to wood burning. Pits built out of brick and mortar, to light steel to heavy-gauge steel. Pits shaped like planes or trains, uprights, horizontal, cabinets, bullets, kegs, etc. Heck, you can even smoke something using indirect heat on a basic Weber kettle if you have to. It's not all that difficult, and you don't need to spend several thousand dollars for a pit if you don't have it.
First step, determine your needs. Are you going to go out and spend $5,000-10,000 on a custom-built top-of-the-line pit so you can smoke a brisket on the Fourth of July, then let it sit idle for the rest of the year? Or are you needing something that can be durable for multiple smokes just about every week? That's a wide range, so figure out how much you'll use it, how much you need to cook at once, and what your real needs are.
Price: Once you determine how often you're going to use it, you will need to figure out a price range. Pits range anywhere from under $100 to as much as you want to spend, and then some. What is your budget?
Type: Do you have restrictions where you live? Do you have limitations on how much time you want to spend tending a pit? Do you want "Set it and forget it," or are you more of a traditionalist that wants to tend to your stick-burner? Maybe you're in between. Let's take a look at the options. (Again, if anyone would like to chime in here with their own personal experience, please feel free; don't be shy.)
Electric: There are several types of electric pits.
Pellet Smokers: Traeger is a pellet smoker, driven by an electric auger system that feeds pellets to an element that produces smoke. Traeger is not the only company that makes pellet smokers, but they are currently one of the most popular. Makes a very good product, very little attention is needed to this type of pit. Set it and forget it. I have some friends that have these, and the finished product is good. It does not have the same smoke flavor as an offset stick burning pit. The meat is still smokey, just not what I personally prefer.
Wood chips/chunk smokers: Cookshack is the leader in this one. More expensive than most, but in my opinion, as close as you can get to an offset for flavor. This operates with an electric heating element that sits underneath a mini wood box, heating the wood box so the wood smolders, creating the smoke.
Puck Smokers: Bradley makes an electric cabinet smoker that uses bisquettes, or pucks, of wood, heated to smoldering by an element. North Texas Horn has used these in the past and has been pleased with them. I have never used one, so I don't have much to pass along on this.
Wood sliver/fine chip smokers: Both Little Chief and Masterbuilt fall into this category. Little Chief is used predominantly in the northern parts of the country for fish smoking, mainly due to the fact that they don't get too hot and are simple to use. Masterbuilt is an electric pit that, similar to Bradley is usually a cabinet. LHR has used these for years. They are fairly inexpensive and they do a good job. They take some attention, as you'll have to replace the wood chips from time to time during a smoke, as the capacity for wood is not all that great. Flavor wise, again, not the same as an offset burning logs, but it is suitable if cost & ease of use are your top criteria.
Propane: Most are popular with hunters and fishermen, as well as campers. These run off a standard propane bottle, and are available at places like Cabella's, Bass Pro, Academy, etc. I have not used one of these, so as far as quality of smoke produced, someone else will need to chime in. Most of the majors have entries in this category, Brinkmann, Bradley, Camp Chef, etc.
Charcoal Smokers: These are typically in a bullet design, under the names of Brinkmann, Weber, Char-broil, Smokey Mountain. Work by using charcoal as your main heat source, with wood chunks tossed in to create the smoke around the meat. The up side is they're pretty reasonably priced, so if you're on a budget, this may be the way to go. Down side is that it can be difficult to maintain heat for longer smokes. Most have a door to access the charcoal/wood tray to add more, although these can be small and a bit challenging if you're working with hot coals. The flavor profile on the smoked meat is pretty good.
Ceramic/Porcelin Wood Smokers/Grills: I'm referring to two in this section; Big Green Egg and Kamodo Keg. Both are fantastic grills. Smoking is done with indirect heat. Both produce very good results. Maintaining temperature is tricky the first few times you use these. Once you get that down, they are pretty easy to use and one of these may be my next purchase, mainly for the grilling benefits.
Offset Stick Burners: OK, now we're in my wheelhouse. I admit, I'm extremely partial to the traditional offset, heavy steel constructed smoker pit. There are a plethora of manufacturers out there, and prices are all over the place. I got my start with an old New Braunfels Smoker. It lasted me 10 years in the PacNW. I replaced it with my current pit, and Old Country BBQ All American. Academy carries this item. A HornSports member, chorn, is one of the owners of Old Country. They make an extremely functional mid-range pit. They also manufacture pits for those on a limited budget as well as some really killer high end products. Others are Gator Pit, Klose, Pits and Spits and Lyfe Tyme, to name a few. All are solid. In my opinion, there is really no comparison to a product smoked in an offset using logs. Unless you have the time, money and expertise to build a brick and mortar pit like is used at Coopers, Smitty's, Black's, etc., I am a believer in the offset steel pit.
Feel free to ask me any questions about these, and I'll answer as best as I can.
Thermometers: Thermometers are a key piece to your smoking process. There are many types; from digital to analog, wireless to wired. I've used most over the course of time.
Wireless: Probably the most convenient. You plug a probe into the meat, plug the other end into a sending unit, and have another unit that tells you the temp of the meat from a distance. Battery operated. The best brand of these I've found is the Maverick.
Bluetooth: If you have an Apple device, I recommend the iGrill. Wired unit that accomodates two probes, that talks via bluetooth to your iPhone/iPad. I use this quite often. What I really like is you can purchase an ambient temp probe that can sit in your smoke chamber, and then set a range of temps. If the temp in the pit goes below or above your range, your phone/iPad alerts you.
Manual: There is absolutely nothing wrong with the old standby of an analog or digital meat thermometer. I keep two out in the Man Pit. Just in case and also for quick temp readings if I don't want to mess with the iGrill.
So there you have it; Part 1. In Part 2, we will discuss wood, rubs and cuts of meat. Bear with me, as I have a lot of travel coming up for work in the next couple of weeks. I'll get to it, I promise. For now, hopefully this will foster some good discussion and input from others.
Questions are good, and there are no stupid questions. If I don't know the answer, I'll try to find it for you.