How to Use a Charcoal Smoker – Tips for a Better Feast
If you trace back the origins of smoking, you’ll find an astounding line of history that extends for over 500,000 years, when humans were finally able to use fire at will. Even though it seems like it’s pretty intuitive now, people had to wait until they are on a picnic or at a campsite to grill because backyard grilling was not permitted back then.
The modern charcoal grill was developed in the early 20th century, and it has garnered a lot of popularity since then.
Different types of charcoal grills were designed to accommodate different needs and tastes. It didn’t take long for people to figure out a way to slowly smoke and cook their meat through charcoal-fueled devices that generate low and indirect amounts of heat.
Even though grills may be similar in some aspects to charcoal smokers, the methods they use to cook are quite different. Whether you’re used to grills or haven’t used a charcoal smoker before, you’ll find our brief yet informative guide quite handy.
Cuts of Meat
While there are a lot of people who are adamant about what they use in their smoking sessions, the cuts or types of meat that you should use is completely up to you as it’s a matter of preference. Some cuts of meat are more popular than others, such as ribs, shoulders, and brisket.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy the delicious taste of smoked sausage, turkey, chicken wings, and even fish if you want. Other odd, yet proven successful, foods you can use are olives, nuts, and certain types of cheese.
The reason why smoking was used in the past was to mainly preserve certain types of food to give them a longer life span. Their true potential can be seen when you’re cooking brisket and similarly resilient cuts of meat that don’t taste well when cooked quickly by a grill.
Choosing a Charcoal Smoker
There is a reason why charcoal smokers are amongst the most popular types of smokers out there. In addition to being more widely available than any other smokers, they are authentic and get the job done without compromising the quality of the meat.
As mentioned by the master BBQers, handmade smokers are considerably better and more durable than mass-produced smokers.
Charcoal smokers come in different sizes, so you have to choose something that makes sense in terms of utility because you have to able to control the flow of air and the temperature inside the smoker.
If space is a problem, make sure to choose a smoker that is small in size and can work as a grill if needed to save time and space. However, you have to make sure that the one you pick isn’t too small to cook all the meat at once because smoking can take a considerable amount of time.
Preparing the Charcoal
The first thing you should do as you begin to prepare your smoker to handle some meat is to heat the charcoal. You’ll be using the charcoal chimney to heat and burn the charcoal before you can add it to your smoker.
While you don’t have to use a chimney, it’s a very convenient and practical piece of equipment that can make your sessions more fun. If you don’t have a charcoal chimney, you should use the smoker to heat the charcoal before you introduce the meat.
Mixing of Charcoal
As you are close to getting done with heating the charcoal, preferably a good type, you need to prepare some unlit charcoal too. Take some unlit charcoal and place it at a corner of the smoker, and once the hot charcoal is ready, pour it on the unlit charcoal.
It’s important to understand that this process is one of the most important steps in the smoking process. Since you want smoke and indirect heat to cook the meat, you should place the meat on the opposite side of the smoker so no flames could reach it.
You might need to arrange your coal properly and have it all on one side to avoid having unevenly cooked meat in your smoker.
There are other ways to arrange the coal, such as putting charcoal on both sides, placing the meat in-between, or creating a circular shape with the charcoal then placing the meat in the middle.
Adding Wooden Enhancers
One of the most interesting steps in smoking is adding wood. It is one of the things that can give the meat a deliciously unique flavor. The best-smoked meat is made when wood chunks and chips are used in the smoker.
The most common types of wood used are oak, cherry, and hickory woods.
While you’re free to experiment with other types, be careful when you’re choosing them because softwoods can create murky smoke that can actually ruin the flavor of meat instead of intensifying it with smoke.
The vapor and heat from smoke can actually be extracted with a little water. If you’re using an authentic smoker, you’ll find that it comes with a water pan. If you’re using a grill to make ends meet, you should opt for a foil baking pan.
You’ll want to fill the pan to its 3/4th with cold water and place it at either the center of the smoker or on the opposite side of the meat. The water will make sure that meat and vegetables are getting heat from all directions, evenly cooking them all at the same pace.
The reason why the water has to be cold is to reduce the temperature of the grill to ensure that you’re not cooking the meat too fast.
Keeping the Temperature Right
It’s important that you keep an eye on the temperature of the smoker by using the temperature gauge or a thermometer. You want the temperature to be maintained at around 220 F, but it’s allowed to increase a bit, as long as it doesn’t hit the 250-mark.
There are various things you can do to reduce the temperature if it gets out of hand; you can add new unlit charcoal or close the lower vent a bit more.
Charcoal smokers are not in any way new, but they are here to stay, thanks to their unrivaled smoking capabilities.
Using charcoal smokers is quite easy, but you might have to spend some time experimenting with the different methods and ingredients to create the perfect smoky blend you desire.