Smoking meat has long been the preferred method of cooking for all things beef, pork, chicken, etc. The smoky aroma of hardwood just adds an element of flavor that can’t be reproduced. With the advent of pellet grills, it’s never been easier for someone to smoke meats, even notoriously tricky cuts like beef brisket. Whether you are using a pellet grill or traditional offset smoker, there are basic principles that are best to follow each and every time. Here’s 7 of the most important meat smoking tips for beginners.
Follow these basics and you should go from beginner to Pit Boss in no time:
It’s important to know certain things about your meat so you can start to learn the nuances of what it takes to bring out the flavor and retain the moisture of the cut.
When selecting meat for smoking you should know:
Different cuts of meat need to be treated in different ways. Lean cuts of meat, like a chicken breast, will dry out quickly and taste like you’re chewing a horse’s saddle if you smoke it the same way you would a fattier cut of meat like a pork butt, for example.
For a thorough library of the cuts for different meats, visit:
Wood is the other important element in this equation (fire is crucial as well, obviously) but you can’t use just any wood. If you’re going to smoke food, you must use food-safe hardwood. Pit Boss uses food grade 100% hardwood to make our pellets but if you’re using raw wood, it’s best to stick with the following:
Different types of hardwood will create different aromas which will affect the flavor of your food. The following is a handy chart to understand which hardwoods to use with certain kinds of meat.
Smoking low and slow is an indirect cooking method, meaning the heat source is not a direct flame. Much like an oven, both sides should be cooked evenly. Flipping your meat means you’re opening up your grill or smoker and that is generally not advised. Since you’re dealing with low temperatures, you can lose the heat that you’ve built up quickly, causing wild swings in temperature. As long as you have a temperature probe in your meat, there should be no reason to open the door (unless you are using a wet mop on a brisket).
Rubs are a great way to enhance the flavor of your meat. Some meats call for just a sprinkle of rub, some need to be coated. It really depends on the cut of meat you’re using. However, salt should be added in the preparation process, not on the rub itself.
As AmazingRibs.com explains:
“Applying the salt separately and in advance is a very important technique called dry brining. Dry brining is simply salting thick cuts the day before cooking and thin cuts an hour or two before. Adding salt in advance is good for the meat because it melts on the wet surface of meat and it penetrates deep.”
Removing the paper-thin membrane on the bone side of ribs will ensure your guests won’t be gnawing at their food. When smoked, the membrane gets extremely rubbery.
Removing the membrane is pretty simple. Make a slit at the end of the rib rack, and while holding a paper towel for grip, gently pull the membrane off the rack.
Watch Melissa Cookston remove the membrane from a rack of baby back ribs:
Your meat, especially if you’re cooking poultry or pork, is not done until it reaches a certain temperature. Anything less could be extremely dangerous to you and your guests. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been smoking for 10 hours, if your meat hasn’t reached a certain internal temperature, it needs to go back in.
Smoking times can vary wildly from recipes due to a variety of factors. Everything from the wood you use, the grill or smoker, exterior temperatures, the amount of meat you are smoking, etc. can all prolong or shorten your smoke. If your smoker does not come with internal meat probes, we recommend investing in a good digital thermometer and stick it in the middle of the thickest part of the cut.
So many people in the past have avoided smoking meat because of the challenges of maintaining consistent heat throughout the smoking process. There was simply too much maintenance required for the average person to dedicate their precious time to. Pit Boss Pellet Grills and Vertical Smokers allow you to virtually set it and forget it, even for cuts like brisket that notoriously take hours to smoke. Never before has smoking meats been this easy. As long as you apply these principles, then you will have an enjoyable experience and some amazingly smoked food.