– Getting started –
It’s said that perfecting low and slow cooking in a smoker is an art. Doing it well consistently, with all the variables life throws at you, definitely takes patience and practice to do it well. However, like in many arts, the right tools and equipment make that process a whole lot easier.
– What you’ll need –
Obviously you’ll need a smoker. Technically you can hot smoke in any sealed container that holds heat, but a purpose built smoker Will be fuel efficient and much easier to control. We will look at the different types of smoker in another post.
– A Chimney Starter –
A chimney starter may look like a giants tankard but they can speed up your set up process and save your eyes from some smokey woes.
Fill the chimney with your small fuel of choice, then light a small fire underneath it. The chimney holds the fuel vertically so the flames are able to rise quickly and burn the coals evenly. Your aim is to have fairly consistent white coals and the chimney starter speeds up that process. Even better is that the chimney is portable. Start the fire away from people at the back of your garden and fill your smoker or grill once the harsh smoke has passed and your fuel is ready.
– A Probe Thermometer –
One of the biggest worries about cooking anything on the BBQ is food safety. Do not fret, there are tools to help, although common sense goes a long way too.
I would recommend getting a duel probe thermometer. Stick one probe in the centre of whatever meat you’re cooking ( to measure internal temp) and sit the other on the grill to get an accurate measurement of your smokers temperature.
You may ask why you need to measure the internal temperature of your smoker when many come with thermometers built in. Well, there are some built in thermometers that are great but unfortunately many are not super reliable. Your smoker will have some spots hotter than others and a more reliable probe thermometer will help you to understand what’s going on and where.
– Fuel –
You’ll need a fuel source to cook low and slow but there is no simple answer as to what works best. In reality how well your smoker stores heat and controls the flow of oxygen contributes a lot towards how fast and hot your fuel will burn.
There are some things to look out for that can help you achieve a long and consistent burn no matter the fuel. First look for consistency in the size and weight of the fuel. Some charcoal is cheap for a reason, the bits are likely to be different sizes meaning they won’t all burn at the same rate. as a general rule of thumb when it comes to fuel you get what you pay for.
Fuels you’ll find include lump wood charcoal, which are the most common type you’ll find. you can also use charcoal briquettes these are Machine made so will likely be more consistent In shape but quality may vary. Offset smokers also called stick burners also use wood as a fuel. The wood should be a hardwood safe to use with cooking and free from any chemicals. Some fuels come impregnated with lighter fluid or flammable chemicals and should be avoided. Your possibly expensive cut of meat Will be sat in that smoke for hours and chemicals may taint the flavour.
– Wood –
Your BBQ flavour comes from your fuel, your meat seasoning (if any) and whatever wood you decide to burn on the coals.
Wood in BBQ is a seasoning itself and the best way to find what you like is to try them yourself. Common woods include oak, apple, cherry and mesquite. Not all woods can be used in a smoker, some soft woods leave a residue that’s not great for your health too. Dried, non oily hardwoods are your best bet.
The size of the wood you burn helps you control how much smoke you subject your meat to. You may think you need loads but often a few hours is enough as you may wish to wrap your meat in paper or foil, making the smoke somewhat redundant. Wood chunks are my preferred choice as they smoulder over a long time, this means I don’t have to open the smoker to add more. Wood chips are also an option, smaller in size they burn more quickly but are perfect if you want a light smoke.