There may be a lot of science involved in the disadvantages and advantages of smoked foods, but it is hard to deny that using the smoker to cook food is also an art. While it is easy to learn, like any art it takes a long time to master. Getting to an acceptable level of expertise, though, is not difficult, provided that one follow the right steps. However, given how a single mistake can ruin the entire smoking procedure, those who make early mistakes sometimes tend to get disheartened. To help you stay on the right course during your first few smoking attempts, we have compiled for you a short list of common mistakes made during smoking foods, and how one can avoid and/or mitigate them.
Too much or wrong type of wood
One of the elementary points in any guide that explains how to use an electric smoker, is that the amount of wood must be right. Many novice users think they would save the time needed for filling wood again and again by packing the smoke box to the full. This only produces thicker and uneven smoke, leading to uneven cooking and consequently a bad taste in the mouth. The solution is to take only the amount of wood prescribed by the manufacturer of the box or in the recipe book, and keep refilling it as the chips are burned out.
One point that is not mentioned, on the other hand, is that green wood should never be used by beginners. While green wood adds a range of flavors to the food and is in fact widely used, temperature control with green wood is extremely difficult. Hence, unless you want to fight a desperate battle with the temperature controls, using green wood is not a good idea. Instead, use totally dry seasoned wood, which though not contributing much to the flavor, maintains an uniform temperature in the smoker.
Wrong timing for the wrong foodstuff
There is no grand list of cooking times for all meats and vegetables, so amateur cooks may be forgiven for getting their timing wrong. The result of their misplaced labor in most cases is a leathery or undercooked product that lacks flavor. To avoid this common mistake, a good idea would be to begin with the simplest types of meat namely whole chicken or pork ribs. These are tolerant to some overshoot in terms of cooking timings and temperature, and therefore can taste great even when you’ve got the timings wrong.
However, missing the right timing again and again is no badge of honor for a smoking enthusiast, and so each new entrant to the field must follow some simple rules. The first one is that each pound of meat generally requires between one to one and half hours of smoking time. This can be higher in case of tough meats like beef, but it is seldom lower, except of course for vegetables. The second rule of thumb is to avoid using rubs or seasoning on the very first try. These tend to make the foodstuff more responsive to temperature and timing alterations, thereby reducing the window of error.
Don’t try all types of foodstuffs at once
Some types of food preparations such as brisket require quite a high level of expertise. Though it may be tempting to try them out after the first successful smoking session, you are more likely to get the preparation wrong than right.
As we have seen above, the best foodstuffs to start off with are meats like chicken or pork. If you’re a vegetarian, you can try out simple vegetable preparations that do not have an excess of materials with excess water content (like some fruits, etc). Once you’ve obtained a basic amount of skill in preparing these, you can move to spare ribs, sausages and hamburgers. From there you can try out various fishes like salmon, etc. Only when you’re comfortable with these types of preparations should you head towards briskets and other costly and complex preparations.
Opening the lid too often
One of the most common electric smoker mistakes is to open the lid too often. The lid is meant to keep the heat and smoke inside, and opening it too frequently can cause loss of smoke. Further, it lets the moisture in the air outside seep in, thus causing your meat to develop a layer of moisture with smoke particles embedded in it. This not only prevents the flavors from developing properly, it can (in extreme cases) cause health problems as well. Finally, opening the lid too often lets the atmosphere wreak havoc in the temperature department by allowing a lot of heat to escape. You’ll not only be wasting your time adding more wood to keep the cooking going, you may also find yourself consuming food that is less than healthy due to overexposure to the smoke produced in the smoker.
Most of the best electric smokers contain a warning to this effect in their manual, but just in case you missed it, know that the lid should not be opened unless there is more meat to add, meat to remove and/or an electric component to be regulated. If you’re still curious, you can try out an electric heater with a transparent glass front.
No cold meat in the smoker
Our electric smoker reviews have shown that smokers generally take the food through a wide range of temperature. Now there is a section of this temperature spectrum which allows bacteria to grow rapidly, thereby causing a range of problems. If cold meat is thawed in the smoker, it passes through this danger zone rather slowly, thus raising the health risk. Indeed, this could be the costliest electric smoker mistake if you’re not careful.
The solution is to thaw/warm the food beforehand and once it has reached room temperature, to place it in the electric smoker. Mind you, the food must not be left in the open for too long prior to placing it in the smoker, or bacteria will grow and cause alimentary issues later.
As the above list of most common mistake made using an electric smoker shows, being fully prepared and starting out well is the key to smoking success. Such mistakes can also depend on the smoker, and while some smokers handle common mistakes well, not every pet smoker can make the necessary changes in a quick span of time. Therefore, the solutions we’ve listed never list drastic changes like change in hardware components of the smoker. Indeed, keeping the above in mind, taking the right alternative as the way forward and using one of the best electric smokers available in the market today, we believe you can have a long career as a successful home cook or even professional chef.