Summer, bring out your smokers

Eric Davis

Mayhood’s Sporting Goods

CHENANGO COUNTY – With the onset of summer, a lot of people will start to enjoy nice weather by cooking food on their grills. While some foods are definitely best cooked over the direct heat provided by either charcoal or propane, other foods seem to be better when cooked on a smoker.

A smoker can be a neat, alternative way to prepare a meal of any size. From a small meal, such as a rack of ribs, all the way up to whole pigs, smokers can be pretty versatile. Smokers also offer another way for people to enjoy their harvest and might be a worthwhile investment for any sportsman or sportswoman.

Smokers are typically classified as either a cold smoker or hot smoker. Cold smokers have the fire separate from the smoking chamber and use almost no heat and rely on the smoke to cure the meat. This is the method commonly used for smoking fish, such as salmon.

Due to an allergy to fish, I don’t eat any and in turn, I don’t smoke any so I do not have any experience using this technique. It can be used for other meats but due to the low temperatures used, you should do some extensive research into it as consuming improperly handled meats can be extremely bad for you.

Hot smokers use both the heat and the smoke in combination to cook and flavor the food. It relies on heating wood, either as chips or chunks, to the point where it smokes without actually catching fire and burning. This smoke infuses flavor into the food. Much like wine is paired with some foods, the type of wood that is used is often selected based on what meat is being cooked.

Hickory and mesquite are commonly used for about any type of meat. Alder is often used for fish. Other woods that are used include pecan, apple, and cherry. Typically a hot smoker will be operated at temperatures in the ball park of 250-300 degrees.

A common mantra is ‘low and slow’ for smoking, which means a low temperature used for a long cook time. While cook temperature is important, the cook time will often vary even for two of the same pieces of meat. If the temperature within the smoker gets too high, the meat will often overcook on the outside and will tend to dry out. The most important factor is the internal temperature of the meat. This ensures that the meat has been cooked to the proper temperature and is safe for consumption. A regular meat thermometer will work but a wireless digital thermometer is very handy. This allows you to put the thermometer into the meat and to do other things without having to constantly check on the meat.

Hot smokers come in a wide variety of configurations and can be powered by a few types of fuel. Charcoal and wood are typically used for large, offset style smokers. You usually see these set up as displays in home improvement stores. They look like a barrel with a smaller barrel attached to it. The smaller barrel is where the fuel and smoking wood is placed and the larger area is the cooking chamber. Smaller vertical smokers are often powered by either propane or electricity. These have smaller cooking chambers but allow for the use of multiple trays for jerky making or sausage smoking. Electrical units are often considered to be easier to control the temperature compared to the propane-powered smokers but where you use them is limited to where you can plug them in.

Another type of smoker that has grown in popularity is the pellet smoker. They typically look like a regular grill but have a hopper on the side. They run on wood pellets, similar to those used for heating. You can pick the wood type that was used for the pellets to help add flavor in addition to that created by the smoking wood. These operate using an electrical heating element so the location where they are placed can be somewhat limited. You can use the pellet powered smokers to grill although the lack of direct flame causes the food to lack the grill marks that are iconic of grilling. Pellet grills can also be used for baking and can add unique flavors to baked dishes.

In terms on preparations that are needed to get ready to smoke something there are a couple of steps to take. Make sure your meat is completely thawed the day before you plan to smoke it. The night before you can add your rub to the meat. Some people like to make their own rub while there are plenty of options to choose from at any store that sells smoking supplies. Then put the meat into a refrigerator for the night.

If you lack the space to do this in your fridge, you can wait and add the rub to the meat about an hour before you plan to put it on the grill. The rub won’t penetrate the meat as far as it would overnight but will still add good flavor to the meat. Take the meat out of the fridge an hour before you plan to start smoking it, this allows the temperature of the meat to rise slightly and will reduce the cooking time required to reach the internal temperature that you are looking for.

About 15 minutes before you plan to start smoking, place either wood chips or chunks in a bowl of water. The soaked wood will take longer to start smoking when placed in the smoker. Start the smoker and let it get to the cooking temperature you’re looking for. Remove the chips or chunks from the water. Make a pocket with aluminum foil, put the soaked wood inside of it, and then slit holes in the foil to allow the smoke to escape. Place the foil pocket above the heat source right before putting your meat on the smoker.

Now you just need to monitor the cooking temperature for flare-ups and the meat temperature. Once the meat hits the desired temperature, remove from the smoker and let it rest for at least 15-30 minutes. Ideally, put it into a pan and cover with foil to keep moisture in the meat. After it has rested, you can start preparing the meat to be served.

As summer goes on, a smoker can definitely help you enjoy the nice weather and can help you find new ways to use wild game meat.

– Mayhood's Sporting Goods

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