How To Turn Your Charcoal Grill Into A Smoker – Apple Bacon Wrapped Tenderloin Recipe Included
Nothing smells more like summer than a grill fired up and finishing off some afternoon favorites. Add in a few close friends, cold drinks, and a sprinkler for the kids and you have a pretty idyllic summertime get together.
But you don’t need a social situation as an excuse to use your grill for more than on the weekends. And if you dislike working in the heat of a kitchen every summer as I do, it doesn’t take much to find that there are only so many ways one can prepare meat and veggies on the grill – or is there?
I set out this summer to try out some new ways to prepare year-round favorites using my charcoal grill, and something I’ve very much have wanted to try is smoking.
But I don’t have a smoker. And if you don’t either, read on for a simple way to add in that desired, slow-cooked, smoky flavor that makes your meal taste like a million bucks.
What You Will Need
The cuts of meat used for BBQ are generally those that aren’t ideal for cooking in any other way, and so therefore get their flavor from the rubs and sauces used in the technique. But when you smoke a cut of meat, you can up the ante and use just about anything as long as you take care to preserve the moisture of your meat choice.
For this project (and included recipe that follows) you will need the following:
Bacon Wrapped Smoked Pork Tenderloin Recipe
I’ve been dying to smoke the pork tenderloin I had in my freezer even though I know it’s not the choice cut for smokers due to the fact it can dry out quickly, and doesn’t have a lot of fat to render into the meat. However, I was up for the challenge, and boy am I glad I did – because this recipe turned out delicious!
What you will need:
- 2 to 2.5 lbs of pork tenderloin
- 1 package bacon (I used the cheapest in the store)
- Meat rub
- 2 teaspoons each of salt and black pepper
- 1 teaspoon each of oregano, rosemary, garlic powder, and chipotle powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
Ready, Set, Go!
Step 1: Ready Your Meat
If you have a frozen cut of meat, you’ll want to make sure it’s thawed thoroughly before you apply the meat rub. Do this in the fridge at least 24 hours before for cut meat, 2 to 3 days for whole chickens or turkeys. Do NOT thaw your meat on the counter since it will thaw unevenly and you don’t want any bacteria to begin to grow.
Step 2: Rub ‘er Down!
Using your favorite meat rub (see recipe above for a great one I concocted), rub- as in literally RUB the seasonings into your meat with your hands. After you get it all worked in and well coated, cover or place the meat in a plastic bag and let it sit in the fridge for at least 5 hours (or overnight). The flavors of the seasonings will infuse into the soft tissues and muscles of the meat, help tenderize it, and you will also get more flavor while it cooks this way.
Step 3: Soak Your Chips
The morning you are going to smoke, soak your chips in water so they will smolder and send up smoke slowly to infuse flavor into your meat. I soaked mine for about 3 hours in a pie plate and later realized I wanted more chips soaked to add during the smoking process, and soaked another plate full. All in all I used about 150 cubic inches (or about ¾ of the bag I had purchased).
Step 4: ‘Create’ Your Smoker
This is the step that will change the way you see your charcoal grill for all time. And it’s simple. Using the aluminum foil you will want to basically line your grill and cover any air vents that cannot be controlled by you, the cook. Most charcoal grills have openings along the bottom to feed oxygen to the fire, and you want these sealed off.
As you can see in the pictures, mine has an opening along the bottom and also air is allowed through under my charcoal grate where it can be lowered and raised along the sides. I simply lined my grill leaving my controlled air vent (on the left) open. This also creates a much easier cleanup later on.
Step 5: Ready the Charcoal
Create a pyramid stack of charcoal briquets. I first set my pans in and spread charcoal out 2 deep around the pans to see how many I would use. Then I piled them, soaked them with ODORLESS lighter fluid (this is important – otherwise you will get a lighter fluid smell during smoking), and lit them up.
Keep your vents open during this step to allow the oxygen in, and it doesn’t hurt to keep the grill open either until you know that you have the charcoal has truly started. Once you know the charcoal is smoldering, close the grill and allow it to begin to burn down. I left mine for 30 minutes until a good gray ash was seen on all the briquets.
Step 6: Let’s Get Smokin’!
Here comes the really fun part: beginning the masterpiece! Put your pans in with the liquid already added and spread out your briquets around it. I was cooking with apple chips and used apple juice in lieu of water to keep the moisture below the meat while cooking. This is very important because smoking requires lower temps, and longer cook times, which can easily begin to dry out your meat.
Layer your water soaked chips on top of the charcoal. And then place your meat above the pans. Because I used pork tenderloin, a more lean cut of meat, I wrapped them in bacon to help preserve the moisture, and allow the fats to render into the pork. Move your meat on as quickly as you can as the smoke will begin almost immediately and you’ll want to trap in all that smoky goodness.
Step 7: Relax
Ideally you want to keep your smoker right around 250 degrees but this can be hard to do with a modified smoker. I was able to keep mine consistently between 280-300 degrees by fiddling with the air vent and smoke stack.
Every 25 minutes I took a peek to see how the chips were holding up and would add in more through my front access using tongs without having to open the lid. If you do have to open your grill to add chips do so quickly but don’t worry about it too much since your grill will most likely go back up to temp quick enough.
My 2.5 lb tenderloins took about 2 hours until I had them at 140 degrees in the center. Then I took them out and wrapped them in aluminum foil to rest for another 30 minutes (this is important! Do not skip this step if you want the best flavor ever!). The results were amazing. You can see the pink smoke ring seeping into the tender meat, and the bacon wrap combined with the apple juice kept the meat incredibly juicy.
As mentioned earlier, different types of meat cook differently on the BBQ. Traditional meats have a lot of joints and fats that are released through the high heat of the BBQ process and are flavored by what you add to them. These are generally inexpensive and can be bought in large amounts. These are easily smoked in lieu of a quicker BBQ process, but don’t be afraid to try out different types of meat.
More expensive cuts are lean, and cook more quickly. These include tenderloins, roasts, and many types of fish. Although these are not ideal for smoking, do not rule them out since you can easily add in fats and keep the moisture content through techniques I explained above.
You can always use water to help keep the moisture high, but consider experimenting using juices, wines, beers, etc to lend an extra flavor kick to your meats.
Choose your wood chips according to the meat you are using since different flavors compliment different meats in various ways. Use the following chart to match your meat with your favorite smoking flavor. Original chart can be found here.
This simplified version of turning my BBQ into a smoker was a huge success and gave the meat an amazing apple smoked flavor which is exactly what I was looking for. Of course you aren’t getting the day long, or even overnight smoking experience using this technique, but for the backyard cooking enthusiast- this is a great substitute to dropping quite a bit of money on something made specifically for smoking.
I’m excited to try out more recipes and I’d love to hear about any suggestions, recipes, questions, or experiences you’ve had trying this technique out!