Some of the best BBQ comes from smoking quality cuts of meat. You don’t have to be an expert at this technique either, and can easily smoke in your own backyard with a sealed charcoal grill, or a good home smoker.
Although anyone who has smoked is going to have their own opinions about cuts of meat and flavor, if you are new to smoking, this is a great article for you. The best meat to smoke for a beginner, as well as simple steps and flavor profiles are suggested to help get you started.
What You Need
There are a few things absolutely necessary in order to get a good smoke on your meat. The first is a grill or smoker capable of holding lower cooking temperatures and smoke, and the proper cut of meat.
Charcoal Grill or Smoker
Smokers use an indirect heat and help hold in the smoke from your wood to slow cook your meat and infuse it with flavor without drying out your cut. You can use a charcoal grill as long as you make sure it holds smoke well and are able to cook your meat away from the direct heat source. Using pans of water and aluminum foil can help you achieve this effect. However, this often cooks your meat a bit more quickly- although it will still taste awesome.
But, a good backyard smoker of any size is preferable to a charcoal grill. These are designed with a smoking box that allows you to keep your heat source separate from what you are cooking, and directs smoke under and around your cuts of meat. As you can see, our smoker has been well loved and used over the years, but it still is a dependable tool!
Electric smokers also are very convenient and use wood chips to provide the smoke. These don’t allow you as much range of temperature and play for various smoking techniques, but are great for learning from.
A Quality Cut of Meat
Pork and chicken are awesome for smoking, especially if you are new at this. Pork tenderloins, center loin chops, and pork chops are some of my favorites to smoke. Chicken breasts are also an excellent choice, and both show amazing smoke rings in the meat when done.
For this we smoked center loin chops and also ended up putting on some ribeye steaks as well. Beef can sometimes be a bit tricky but we ended up with some great results by placing them on the side furthest away from the smoke box to hold their moisture.
Natural casing sausage is also a great meat to smoke, and you can follow these directions and smoke times, sans the rubs and sauces for sausage. Sausage is already well seasoned so you don’t want to add to it while cooking.
Not all wood is the same when it comes to smoking. The point of smoking is to infuse the meat with an aromatic flavor, and so wood that carries these flavors are ideal. Mild to medium woods, such as maple, fruit woods, and oak infuse a lighter flavor to your meats and are ideal for longer smoke times. Stronger options, such as pecan and mesquite, burn hotter and have strong earthy tones. They can be bitter unless you know how to use them.
For this smoke we used a mesquite. This is because we live in Texas BBQ country where it is widely available outside just about any rural backdoor. I will suggest you use mesquite only with a smoker box as you want to be able to control your temperatures and avoid cooking your meat too quickly.
Seasoning and Sauce
When smoking, especially with mesquite, I always suggest using sweeter, tangier flavors to help offset the strong flavors of mesquite and bring out the smokey flavor. Pork works wonderfully with fruits, and I love smoking directly over slices of pineapple to help hold moisture and also have an awesome side dish to serve with the meat since the pineapple begins to caramelize and tastes awesome afterwards.
A molasses-based sauce is suggested if you are a sauce person, or a spicy, sweet infused rub. We decided on both for this smoke since we love playing with flavor profiles.
How to Smoke Meat in Your Backyard Grill or Smoker
Step 1: Load and Light Your Smoking Box
Before you even begin to smoke, you need to get a good bed of wood coals going so you can control the smoke through your smoker. Load your smoking box and get it burning well. It won’t take long to burn down to a good bed of hot coals that will easily ignite any more wood you add to it.
Once you have a hot bed of coals you can add some more wood to help keep it smoldering. You don’t want it to flame up again too high and more or less just keep smoking. One way to keep it from burning too hot is to close up your air vents.
Step 2: Prepare Your Meat
While your wood is burning down, prepare your meat. You want to hold off on any sauce until the end of the cook time, but if you are using a rub, be sure to cover your cuts well and rub it into the surface of both sides of the cut.
Since the ribeye was an afterthought, I didn’t ever get any pictures prior to placing it on the grate. However we simply seasoned it with salt and pepper.
Step 3: Keep Your Grill Around 250 Degrees
The point of smoking is to cook your meat slowly in the smoke and without losing moisture. You can place a pan of water or fruit juice in the bottom of your smoker to help keep moisture up if you feel you need it. We cooked right around 250 degrees for approximately 45 minutes on each side.
Step 4: Place Your Pineapple and Meat in the Center of the Grill
You don’t want your meat set too close to the opening of the smoking box as that will be the hottest part of your smoker. We placed our pineapple (if you use it) with the meat right on top and about in the center of the grate.
Be sure to keep an eye on your temperature and adjust as needed. As mentioned, keeping the vents closed or close to closed will keep the wood from burning too fast and help it produce more smoke.
Step 5: Flip Your Meat Every 20 Minutes
Be sure to flip the meat every 20 minutes in order to help keep each side cooked eveningly. Between flipping, be sure to keep the top shut to help keep the smoke concentrated around the meat.
Step 6: Check Temperature and Add Sauce
Pork should be cooked to a minimum of 145 degrees. However, when you smoke you don’t often have to watch this too closely simply due to the long, slow cook time. After 90 minutes you can sauce if you decide to. Take the pork off the pineapple and apply the sauce liberally to each side.
Step 7: Flip Pork on Grill for Char Marks
If you like the char on your pork, be sure to let it set for about 10 minutes on each side on the grate whether you use a rub or sauce. You also may want to layer the sauce and turn it a bit more to get a good coat. You can take off the pineapple if you used it at this point, or allow it to keep cooking as well depending on the preferred taste.
Step 8: Remove From Heat and Admire
Once you remove the meat from the smoker it should cool fairly quickly and not continue to cook internally for too long. If you are taking the internal temperature, be sure not to let it go over 165 degrees or it may dry out.
One of the most exciting parts of smoking is checking out the smoke ring. This pink ring around the surface of your meat is the indication that your meat has been infused with the smoky flavor of the wood. As you can see we got a good deep pink ring around these center loin chops. Both the rub and sauce complimented the tenderness of the meat and the strong mesquite flavors.
Once cut, smoky meat doesn’t last long around our house. In fact, anyone nearby (children included) are generally grabbing bites of the meat as it is sliced and it rarely makes it to the plate. Smoked meat serves up well alongside baked beans, fresh and grilled veggies, pasta salads, corn, and just about any other summer infused flavor. We’d love to smoke up multiple meats at a time and experiment with flavors and cook times to have a great selection to choose from.
Everyone has their favorite methods for smoking, but these are some tried and true tips for some simple, stress free backyard smoking.
Keep in mind that smoking meat times are going to be variable depending on your cuts of meat sizes, types, and temperature. If you cook at a higher temperature then it will cook faster. The same goes if your meat is thinner and you may not get too smokey of a flavor.
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