Like any part other method of cooking, smoking meat is also an art, and like art, it has its secrets. By secrets we mean small tips that may go a long way in making your food tastier and also make cooking more of a pleasure than a pain. This does not imply that without knowing these you will not be able to smoke meat, but why settle for good when you can have the best? Below we have compiled for you a few smoking meat secrets that can go a long way in turning you from an amateur to a professional cook.
Preparing the smoker
- Experiment Using Different Liquids – While beginners are better off with water as far as the liquid in the pan is concerned, some foods may just come out soggy when smoked with water. The answer is to try out fruit juices or even beer. This may raise the cost of the preparation significantly, but it will create much better flavors for your food. On the other hand, if you really must use water, use citrus fruit peels (preferably oranges), garlic and even onions to add the requisite flavors. Make sure that the pieces are floating in the water and not sinking to the bottom.
- Amount of Water – The amount of water is the key to the moisture in your food. Even seasoned chefs working on the best electric smokers mess up their cooking by adding excess water. The ideal level is ½ inch of water, since this keeps the food just moist enough to allow flavors to permeate and improve the taste. Ideally, you should add hot water just before the start of the smoking, such that the water is still warm when actual cooking begins.
- Thaw meat and poultry beforehand – Unlike ovens, smokers tend to thaw food slower, and this puts the food in the 40-100 degrees Celsius range for some time. This is the range where bacteria grows rapidly, and even if they are killed off as the temperature continues to rise, some may survive and cause health issues. The solution is to thaw the food at room temperature before placing it in the smoker, so that the food temperature rapidly rises to over 150 degrees and any bacteria present are killed off.
- Using ceramic briquettes – To control the heat and channelize it better, many users apply ceramic briquettes around the heating element. For optimal results, this should be done at least 15-20 minutes before you actually begin the cooking.
Choice of wood
- Any softwood is generally great for smoking meat, but if you’re asking for smoking meat secrets, we will have to add that weak woods like cherry are generally not the best for beef, pork and lamb, though they may work great with chicken and pork. In case of beef and lamb, one should use hickory or mesquite, both of which produce heavy smoke and penetrate the tougher texture of the meat. Some cooks also use apple or maple wood, but these too can prove to be weak on certain occasions.
Preparing the Food
- Know your food – There are some “full flavor” meats and some that are less capable of handling a heavy smoking. In the former category fall beef, lamb and ribs, while in the latter we can count poultry, venison, pork and veal. In case of the latter, it is best to avoid a prolonged smoking even with woods that produce light smoke since they may burn away the flavors.
- Use a bonding agent – A bonding agent keeps the meat from breaking apart and thus losing the juices that act as conduits of the flavors. Further, it prepares the food for the sauces which will be rubbed on it during cooking. Most users who know how to use an electric smoker will suggest mustard oil, but butter and olive oil work just as well. This agent should be applied during the thawing period.
- Seek out marbled meats – While marbled meats with their high fat content may not be the best for health, they are indeed the best candidates for smoking. If the thickness of the layer of fat is more than 1/4th inch, reduce the thickness to just about 1/4th inch. This ensures that the meat stays moist without the fat hindering the import of flavors into the meat.
- Remove the skin – The skin should be disposed off as far as the bone side of the food is concerned, so that the entry of flavors is not hindered. Perforate the skin with your fingers or any other small pointed instrument and then apply it carefully back onto the meat.
- Apply sauces in the penultimate moments – As our electric smoker reviews have shown, the juices and flavors from the wood/particles in the water tend to enter during the earlier part of the cooking. Adding sauces during this period will not only disrupt the normal entry of flavors, it will also burn the sauce to the point of charring, thus ruining your food furthermore. Ideally, the sauces should be added during the final 10 to 15 minutes of the cooking, when the juice redistribution has already been completed
- Keep adding wood chips – Wood chips tend to burn down as they are constantly in demand during the cooking process. The wood chips, normally placed in a bowl or a tinder box, should be replaced periodically so as to ensure proper functioning of the cooker.
- Do not open the lid unnecessarily – One of the secret meat secrets is that the better the smoke. The perfect smoked meat requires no more than 2-3 inspections, each of which are related to replacement of wood chips and/or checking food temperature. Inspect the food all you like when carrying out these tasks, but don’t open it again until another measurement of temperature or replacement is called for.
- Leave the food for half an hour after completion of cooking – The processes by which flavors redistribute themselves does not end with the removal of the food from the oven. Instead, the food should be left to cool down for about half an hour. As the food cools, the flavors redistribute themselves evenly and eventually, this molecular movement stops. This usually occurs in 20 to 30 minutes, and hence one of the best kept secrets of meat smoking is that food should be kept outside for a certain period of time without use of any additives.
As the above list of points show, the secrets of the electrical smoker are basically small tricks to ensure that you don’t end up overdoing or forgetting something that is vital to the flavor of the food. As you master them, you will gain the confidence to try out newer recipes and customizations. Yet no matter how sophisticated your cooking becomes, keeping these points in mind can go a long way in saving you the snide comments at the dinner table.