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Smoking meat is a low heat, long cook method to make choice cuts more delectable than ever, but it is not for the impatient.
A golden rule for smoking your meat is that if it smells good, it will taste good, and to always smoke the meat for the allotted time. Less is more in terms of wood, and the best smokers pair their wood with their recipes.
You need time and expertise to smoke meat, but it is not overly difficult to learn. When smoking your meat, common mistakes are using too much wood, dousing the wood with lighter fluid, and not matching the wood with your meat.
Here are some other common smoking mistakes you should avoid for delicious smoked meat all year long.
1. Not Waiting Long Enough
Smoking meat takes a long time, at least 2 hours for fatty meats, and sometimes up to 8 or 14 hours for tougher cuts like brisket. Smoking meat is not a process that does well under time constraints; you shouldn’t rush it.
You may try to add more heat to the smoker to make up for lost hours, but this will only result in overcooked, unpalatable meats. Smoking meat is not a good choice for someone in a time-crunch or under a deadline to get the food on the table.
If you think the long smoking process (known as the low-and-slow method) will cause you anxiety about getting the meal served up in time, opt for a quicker grilling method.
2. Using the Wrong Wood
You can pair your wood type to the meat you’re smoking, and some combos aren’t very palatable. Be mindful of what you’re smoking and what you’re smoking it with to ensure the two are compatible.
It’s not just the type of meat you choose, but it’s also the rub or marinade you’re using. Most recipes have a recommendation on what wood type to use with the meat.
You can pair a sweet marinade, like a BBQ sauce, with cherry or applewood to maintain that sweetness. If you want a more complex choice, you can use a spicy, smoky wood like mesquite with a sweet-tasting pork dish.
Fruit woods are always a solid choice for smokers. If you want more variety, alder is lovely for fish and poultry, use cedar with salmon, and hickory is an ever-popular choice for pork, turkey, or venison.
Avoid choosing woods that may overpower delicate dishes, like walnut wood with fish.
3. Opening the Lid Too Often
It may be tempting to check on your meal’s progression but avoid it as much as possible. Whenever you open the lid, you let out heat and some precious smoke. A dish prescribed to take 6 hours in the smoker could take as much as 8 if you continually open the lid.
Check the meat an hour into the smoking time and then a little before it is supposed to be finished. Most smokers have a separate gadget to reload their wood chips, so you don’t have to open the lid to refuel.
4. Not Controlling the Temp
One of the top smoking mistakes you can make is not being vigilant enough with your smoker’s temperature. For the best results, you want to keep your smoker’s temperature within the range of 225°F to 250°F. Smoking meats is cooking them, in barbeque slang, low-and-slow, which means on a low heat for a long time.
You control the temp by the air vents, and if you don’t know what you’re doing or you’re not observant of this detail, your meat will come out undercooked or overcooked. Open the vent at the top of the smoker to release excess smoke, and use the vent on the bottom to control the temp.
If you need to lower the temp in your smoker, you can open the bottom vent. When you need to heat it quickly, close it, so it works like an oven, trapping the heat.
Ensure that your smoker’s temperature stays in range and smokes your meat for the allotted time. Before serving, use an instant-read thermometer to ensure the meat is at an optimal and safe temperature.
5. Smoking the Wrong Cut
If you’re a beginner at smoking meat, start with something simple, like ribs (beef or pork), instead of something more complex like a brisket. Some cuts of meat need rubs or brining beforehand to help them reach their full flavor and texture potential. A good example is when preparing a turkey dinner where brining is a must.
If you’re smoking a lean cut of meat, ensure that it doesn’t dry out in your smoker. Since lean cuts aren’t fatty, the meat won’t be continually hydrated, so you must spray some liquid onto the meat as it smokes.
You don’t want to open the lid an excessive amount, so time marinating sessions with a quick check of the meat’s progress. Have a spritzer or marinade brush handy, so the few times you open the lid to check the progress, you can blast the meat with marinade, too.
Choose a cut that you find delicious, and that’s on par with your skill level. You can do a lot of research before starting smoking, and many recipes have cooking recommendations.
6. Using Lighter Fluid
Another top smoking mistake is using lighter fluid to ignite the wood. Lighter fluid is full of chemicals, and if you coat the wood chips with it, your meat will taste like chemicals as well.
Not only does it taste foul, but it smells awful as the chemicals cook off, and it can be potentially dangerous. Those petrochemicals can wreak havoc on your health; it’s just not worth it.
There are great alternatives to lighter fluid, like chimney starters. A lighter cube and some bunched-up newspaper are much better options than chemical-laden lighter fluid.
7. Too Much Smoke
When you’re going for that delicate balance of meat and smoke, you don’t want to overdo it. Too much smoke can ruin any recipe. Using too much wood or not having proper ventilation in your smoker can make your meal taste entirely of smoke with no meatiness to it at all.
When it’s closed, look for tendrils or wisps of smoke coming from your smoker, not clouds, and keep a close watch on both vents, the top and the bottom. Start with 2 oz. of wood and work up from there. You may have to adjust the dampers to find the perfect combination for your smoker, but it’s worth it to customize it.
8. Overcrowding Your Smoker
You also have to watch out for overcrowding inside your smoker along with too much wood in your hopper. If you put too many meat cuts in, the smoke won’t have any ability to circulate through the chamber.
Putting too many items in your smoker can cause longer smoking times and uneven cooking. This unevenness is compounded if you make the mistake of starting with cold meat.
Smoking your meat can make it taste more succulent and tender, with a delicate balance of smoke, wood, meat, spices, or rubs.
Smoking isn’t for a pitmaster who likes to poke and prod their meat, always opening the grill’s lid. The result can be some of the most delectable food on the planet if you have the patience.