Cooking and eating food outdoors has always been popular, and now more people than ever are trying their hand at home smoking.
Smoking meat on a grill creates some interesting tastes and the meat is tender and juicy.
The correct combination of heat and smoke ensures that the meat cooks slowly, so it’s important that things are done properly.
Things to Do When Home Smoking
When you plan to smoke meat on your home grill, you’ll first need to decide what type of grill you’re going to use.
You don’t need an expensive smoker to cook your food, a charcoal or gas grill will also do the job.
Charcoal and gas grills do need to be set up slightly differently to get the best results from smoking though.
Here, we’ll look at the two types of grill and how to set them up. We’ll also take a look at a few other considerations that need to be taken into account when home smoking.
When you’re smoking on a grill, you don’t want the meat directly over the heat source as it needs to cook slowly.
Preparing a Charcoal Grill
Pile up some coals on one side of the grill, and place a drip pan to the side. Light the coals and wait for them to get hot before placing your hardwood on top of the charcoal.
In order to get a decent amount of smoke it’s a good idea to place some liquid in the drip pan. Water, apple juice and cider are all good choices, flavor-wise, and the liquids also help to keep the meat moist. When the grill starts to produce smoke, you’re ready to start cooking.
Place your selected cut of meat over the drip pan, not over the coals, then close the grill lid. You can then leave the meat to smoke slowly. This will take around 3–4 hours, depending on the size of the cut and the type of meat.
Monitor the cooking carefully to ensure the heat and smoke are constant.
Preparing a Gas Grill
The set up when smoking on a gas grill is different as you can’t put your hardwood chips directly over a gas flame as you would with charcoal.
The chips will need to be placed in a metal container.
The procedure is then the same as with a charcoal grill, place your wood on one side and a drip pan on the other.
To get the best results from a gas grill it’s worth lighting the burners 20–30 minutes before you begin smoking.
Preheating the grill makes sure it’s nice and hot to get the hardwood smoking. You are then able to turn off the burner under the drip pan and place your meat on the rack to smoke it.
It’s easier to control the temperature on a gas grill as you have a thermostat and manual controls to regulate gas flow. But you’ll still need to keep a careful eye on things to make sure the wood is burning steadily.
Which Woods Do I Use for Home Smoking?
Various woods can be used for smoking meat and they all add different flavors.
The type of wood you use is important as you’ll want to smoke the meat without overpowering its natural taste.
Woods such as apple, cherry, mulberry and oak have a mild, sweet aroma and work well with poultry and seafood. Stronger woods, including hickory, mesquite, and pecan tend to work well with beef and pork.
When you first begin smoking you may not know which woods are best but after some trial and error you’ll soon establish your favorites.
You don’t have to use a single wood either, many seasoned smokers often use a mixture. Experiment with different woods to create your own unique flavors when smoking meat, poultry and seafood.
Soak the Wood
Whichever type of wood you are using, it’s important that you soak it first. If the wood is too dry, it will burn away quickly and you’ll use a lot more.
Dry wood also produces a more intense aroma, which some find too strong or bitter.
The hardwood lumps or chips should be soaked for at least an hour in cold water before they’re placed on the grill. The damp wood will then burn at a steady rate and produce an even smoke. Check the wood at regular intervals and top it up when it’s beginning to burn away.
Add More Flavor
As well as the charred flavor you get from the grill and the aroma from the smoke, there are other things you can do to flavor the meat. Use rubs and sauces to enhance the flavor and to form a nice crust on the meat.
You are able to buy ready made sauces and rubs from supermarkets and online retailers, or you may prefer to make your own.
If you plan to smoke chicken or seafood on your grill you can marinate it beforehand, to keep it moist and to add flavor.
If you marinate chicken or seafood, do so the night before you plan to smoke it. This allows the food to absorb the flavors before it goes on to the grill.
Keep the Heat Low and Steady
To get the best results from smoking, the heat needs to be kept low and constant until the food is cooked.
Most grills have vents which are used to control the temperature by giving the grill more or less air.
More air will raise the temperature of the grill and closing the vents will cool your grill down slightly.
In order to monitor temperatures properly, it’s worth investing in a decent thermometer for the grill. This will give you more control when you’re smoking on your home grill.
A meat thermometer can be used to check the core temperature of the meat before serving, to ensure it’s cooked.
Allow the Smoke to Move Around
It’s essential that you get a good flow of smoke in order to cook and flavor the meat properly. If the smoke can’t escape, it will build up and stagnate inside the grill which will affect the taste of the meat.
Use the vents on your grill to aid the flow of smoke, or simply leave a tiny gap between the lid and base.
Follow the Health and Safety Guidelines
Grills get extremely hot and there are some simple rules to follow which will avoid accidents. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for your grill and keep it well maintained.
Use a decent pair of heat-resistant gloves when you’re smoking, to protect your hands and arms from burns.
It might even be worth wearing clear protective glasses to keep smoke out of your eyes. Some grills create a lot of smoke and people may find this irritating to their eyes.
Never let children near the grill while you’re smoking meat, and keep them away for a few hours after you’ve finished cooking, too. Many grills will retain heat for a long time after cooking, particularly if you have used a charcoal grill.
Stay by the grill at all times during cooking. If you need to leave it, make sure someone else is in charge.
Clean the grill thoroughly after each use to keep it in good condition and to prevent bacteria building up.
Things Not to Do When Home Smoking
When home smoking on your grill there are a few things that you shouldn’t do to ensure that your smoking is effective, safe and enjoyable.
Let’s take a look at those things now.
Woods to Avoid
Certain woods should never be used for smoking because they contain sap or resin which is harmful. Using these woods will give the meat a bad flavor and the resins could contain toxins.
Woods to avoid include: pine, fir, cedar, hemlock and spruce, as well as any wood from the conifer family of trees. Previously treated woods are also unsuitable for smoking. So it’s not advisable to use wood that you find lying around in the yard.
If you know your woods well, you can cut your own for smoking. If not, you’ll need to buy pre-packed hardwood.
All of the woods sold for smoking are safe, making this the best way to ensure it is suitable for cooking.
If you are unsure about which woods are harmful it’s worth doing more research online.
Care for the Meat
Once the meat is in the grill, do not open the lid unless you have to top up coals or the wood.
If you need to baste the meat with a sauce this is best done towards the end of the cooking time.
There’s no need to turn the meat, because the smoking will ensure it’s cooked evenly.
If you want the meat to be extra tender, rest it for 30–60 minutes before serving, which will keep it moist and juicy.
Don’t let the grill get too hot, otherwise you’ll end up burning the meat, or it will dry out quickly.
Most meats need to be smoked at temperatures between 200 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your temperatures are too high, the wood will burn too quickly and the smoking process will not be effective. Burnt wood is likely to give the meat an unpleasant flavor, and you’ll use far more wood than you need to.
Now you have some information about the dos and don’ts of home smoking, you can wow your friends and family with your new skills.
Your grilling will be more rewarding and you’ll be exposed to a variety of interesting tastes.