Smoking Meats

Barbecuing is an excellent way to enhance the flavor of any cut of meat.


| July/August 2008



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Barbecued chicken and ribs are messy and delicious.

iStockPhoto.com/Jack Puccio

Barbecue raises the flavor of meat and fish to a new high – and creates an atmosphere of relaxation for the cook. In the United States, now as in the past, a barbecue means a large party. Politicians used barbecues to lure voters in the 1800s. Scarlett O’Hara met Rhett Butler at a barbecue in Gone with the Wind. A good barbecue today starts with setting up the smoker or grill; continues with a gathering of family and friends for an afternoon of relaxed food preparation; and finishes with an evening of great eating.
Grilling, barbecuing and smoking are technically not the same. Temperature, cooking time and smoke vary.
• Grilling involves cooking over high heat (350°F or more) for a short time (an hour or less).
• Barbecue techniques, cooking time and temperature vary with location in the United States.
• Smoking involves smoke and low temperature. The food may or may not be cooked. Smoking is one of the oldest known methods of preserving meat, fish and other foods. Smoking today is popular for the flavor it gives rather than for long-term preservation. Smoked, barbecued leftovers need refrigeration.
The term “barbecuing,” as used in the United States, has come to have a variety of meanings, including the activity of grilling or smoking food or even just a backyard party. For the purposes of this article, the terms “barbecuing” and “smoking” are used interchangeably, in reference to cooking with a low temperature (200°F or under) over a long time (two to several hours) amid a cloud of hardwood smoke.

Prepare the smoker

Unlike conventional ovens, smokers need not be preheated. A few minutes more or less in the low heat of a smoker will not make a difference to the meat. This adds to the leisurely atmosphere of barbecuing. Follow manufacturer’s directions for regulating temperature in your smoker and in placement of fuel and wood.
Charcoal is frequently used in barbecuing, although there is growing popularity in creating your own coals by burning down chunks of fruitwood and other flavorful fuel. Typically, wet hardwood chips or chunks are set directly on the hot coals to create smoke. Electric or gas smokers also use hardwood pieces to create smoke. Other smoker/cookers rely on a low-oxygen wood fire to create both heat and smoke. These devices typically have a firebox that’s separate from the cooking/smoking chamber.

Prepare the meat

Depending on the recipe, meat may be soaked in brine or marinated overnight or for a few hours before smoking. A mixture of herbs and spices called a dry rub can be put on overnight or just before smoking – your choice. Barbecue sauce that is applied at the beginning of smoking will become darker and crustier than if slathered on near the end of the cooking time. Place meat to be smoked on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes to moderate the chill of the refrigerator.

Finish the meat

Most barbecued meat is taken directly from the smoker and eaten. However, there are reasons to finish smoked meats in the oven or slow cooker – the cook who prefers lightly smoked flavor can remove the meat from the smoker after an hour or two; the cook may prefer to start early with the aim of eating much later; the weather may turn bad; or the smoker may misbehave by delivering a low temperature.

Probing for heat

A meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of smoking. (A meat thermometer is different from the temperature gauge on the smoker, which shows the air temperature inside the smoker.) There are two basic types of meat thermometers – Instant Read and Remote. With an Instant Read meat thermometer, the smoker is opened while the thermometer is inserted, read and removed. This results in loss of heat. The Remote type is more efficient and has a probe attached to a 30-inch flexible cable ending in an temperature gauge (or ending in the receiver cradle that transmits the information to a hand-held temperature gauge). The probe is inserted into the meat and stays there, continually sending the temperature reading through the cable to the gauge outside the smoker. The Remote type can be set to sound an alert when the meat has reached the desired internal temperature.

BARBECUED RIBS

Ribs can be grilled or baked, but the result does not measure up to barbecued ribs.

3 pound rack of ribs (labeled pork loin back ribs or St. Louis-style pork spareribs in stores)
Lemon pepper
3 tablespoons cooking oil
Barbecue sauce

trulyyours
11/15/2014 9:38:34 PM

I'm looking for recommendations on a good backyard smoker. I don't want to use propane. I want to use different woods in the side box. Thanks for your feedback.






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