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smoked meats in smoking food at home

YOUR HOW-TO GUIDE TO SMOKING FOOD AT HOME

You’ve always loved having smoked pork butt at your local smokehouse.  Maybe you’ve even dabbled with the idea of learning the how to’s of smoking food at home on the drive back.  But that’s where it ended, am I right?

Today I’m going to attempt to calm your fears and take the intimidation factor out of smoking food at home.  And I’m not just talking about meat! 

I’ll even give you tips on how to smoke food at home by turning your grill into a smoker!  But, wait until you see all the incredible kinds of smokers you can purchase for home use!  I know you’ll want one of them too.

And in Part Two of this comprehensive How-To Guide to Smoking Food at Home, I’ll be sharing the recipes you’ll need to get started smoking and never stop!

Here’s what we’ll be covering in Part One:smoking foods times and temperature chart

  • PDF Download of the Smoking Times & Temperature Chart provided by the Smoked BBQ Source
  • How does the smoking process work?
  • Methods of Smoking Foods
  • What woods to use for smoking food at home; Adding aromatics
  • How to use your grill as a smoker
  • Wood plank smoking
  • Types of Smokers –  how they work; pro/cons of each types and what might be best suited for you
  • Smoking meats & fish
  • Best vegetables and fruits for smoking 
  • Cold smoking process and smoking cheeses
  • My smoking cookbook recommendations

 

SMOKED BBQ SOURCE SMOKING TIMES & TEMPERATURES CHART

Just click on the image to download the free printable Smoking Times & Temperatures Chart provided to you courtesy of smokedbbqsource.com They’re a wonderful resource for all your bbq and smoking needs.

 

HERE’S A LIST OF FOODS THAT CAN BE SMOKED THAT JUST MIGHT SURPRISE YOU

  • hard-cooked eggs
  • nuts
  • ketchup/mustard
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • smoked milk for ice cream making
  • salt (I personally love to have this in my kitchen)
  • butter
  • and even ICE!  (you know, like at those fancy bars)

 

JUST HOW DOES SMOKING FOOD WORK ANYWAY?

  • Smoking works by using low temperatures between 180º F and 220ºF and long cooking times to cook and flavor foods
  • Smoke is created by water-soaked wood chips/chunks and aromatics like fresh rosemary or orange peels
  • The smoking materials are evenly set among the coals or in the smoker box for a gas grill or smoker
  • Low heat makes smoke as the wood smolders, rather than actually burning, imparting the characteristic smokey flavor
  • Covering the heat/smoke source allows the heat and smoke to circulate and penetrate the food, thereby providing a slow method of cooking

 

DIFFERENT METHODS OF SMOKING FOODS 

  • Dry Smoking – uses indirect cooking with a low, smoldering wood fire to slowly cook foods while infusing smokey flavors
  • Wet Smoking – the more common method, uses a pan of liquid to release moisture for moistness and help tenderize meats and aids in the “smoke” sticking to your foods
  • Cold Smoking – the food remains raw, rather than cooked, throughout the smoking process.   Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking are typically done between 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F). In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavor, but remain relatively moist  (cheeses/desserts)

 

WHAT WOODS TO USE FOR SMOKING FOOD AT HOME

I’m sure you’ve heard of “Hickory Smoked Bacon”, right?  And that, of course, means it’s been smoked with hickory wood. 

Each type of wood lends its unique flavors to smoked foods.  So, I’m going to give you some pointers on which woods are best for the various types of foods you’ll be wanting to smoke at home.  Here’s some of the great food and wood pairings to get you started:

  • Hickory: a Southern BBQ favorite, it adds a strong flavor to pork, beef and lamb.  Hickory lends a sweet, but robust aroma – but don’t get carried away, as too much hickory can create bitter undertones
  • Maple, Oak, Pecan, and Walnut:  all four woods will make fabulous smoke, but all are much milder than mesquite or smoked fish hanging in smokerhickory, but they bring a balanced flavor to any meat.
  • Mesquite: burns hot and slow, infusing foods with the most intense flavor of all the woods. It leaves a sweet and earthy smoke that’s a must for cooking a Texas-style beef, but it’s also great for lamb and venison too.
  • Fruit Woods: Choose from apple, cherry, peach, plum, orange, lemon and grapefruit, they’re all great.  But, because they’re a soft type of wood, they burn quickly and infuse meats with just a hint of the fruit that the trees bear.  This makes them great for smoked fish, chicken, ham, veggies, and even cheese.
  • Alder and Cedar: Native to the Pacific Northwest, these mild woods are traditionally used to smoke salmon, but also add delicious flavor to poultry and pork.  They can be ordered online from retailers for use in other areas of the country.

 

ADDING AROMATIC INGREDIENTS – An Exciting Way to “Mix” it Up!

When you take a few moments and think about how you normally make a recipe, don’t you add some seasoning?  Maybe some fresh herbs, citrus zest or wine?  It’s exactly with same when it comes to smoking food at home.

Tossing in some aromatics adds another dimension to your smoked foods that using only wood can’t. 

The general rule of thumb here is that herbs with woody stems and a higher oil content impart the most flavor when usedlemon peel for smoking food at home for smoking.  Woody stemmed aromatics must be soaked in the same method as wood chunks/chips.

Tender herbs such as basil or oregano can work really well too.  They don’t need to be soaked, but you do need to use them sparingly and place them in with the wood chips. 

Here’s some suggestions to give you inspiration:

  • rosemary branches (soaked for 1 hour)
  • whole bay leaves (on branches is fine, but they’ll need to be soaked)
  • whole garlic heads
  • coffee grounds (great for beef brisket)
  • cinnamon sticks (great for mid-eastern or Jamaican recipes)
  • grapevine cuttings (soaked for 1 hour)
  • grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime peels  (just the peel)
  • tender herbs like basil, oregano, sage, thyme and dill  (dill is great with salmon; thyme/sage for pork)
  • nut shells like walnuts, pecans or almonds

 

 NOW LET’S EXPLORE WOOD CHUNKS AND CHIPS

how to smoke foods wood chips in bowl of water
Courtesy of BHG.com

As we’ve discussed, different types of wood can add a variety of flavors to smoked food recipes.  And the cool thing is, they can also be found in the form of wood chips or chunks. 

CHUNKS –

  • easy to find, these tennis-ball-sized pieces of wood give off more smoke and burn slower than wood chips
  • chunks work best when used in recipes that need to smoke longer than 30 minutes 
  • don’t necessarily require soaking in water before use

 

CHIPS –

  • their fast burning times makes them ideal for recipes with shorter smoking times
  • soak chips in liquid to cover them for at least 60 minutes before inserting into smoker
  • you can use an alternative liquid like fruit juices, wine or beer for soaking your wood chips to add a more complex flavor

 

HERE’S HOW TO SMOKE FOOD ON YOUR GRILL – NO SMOKER NEEDED!

Smoking food at home is fabulous and a bit easier with a real smoker, and I’m not going to tell you different. In fact, a little later in this article, I’m going to tell you all about the different types of smokers on the market.  

But first, let’s talk about starting out really slow, and giving your grill a try at smoking food at home, shall we?

smoking food at home foil packet of wood chips
Courtesy of BHG.com

GAS GRILL PREP VS. CHARCOAL GRILL PREPARATIONS

  • the beauty of charcoal as your fuel is, that you can place your pre-soaked wood chips/chunks or smoking woods directly on the coals
  • for gas grills, you’ll need to assemble a “foil-packet”, kind of like when you’re cooking fish “en papillote” (wrapped in paper)

PREPARING AND USING A FOIL PACKET FOR WOOD CHIPS (as pictured from Better Homes & Garden.com)

  • drain chips and place them in the center of a large double-thick piece of heavy-duty foil, leaving at least 4 inch border along all four sides
  • fold the sides into a packet and tightly seal the edges; with a sharp paring knife, cut slits in the top of the foil
  • foil packets should be placed on preheated grill, directly over heat source
  • close grill lid and turn gas to high until smoke begins to escape
  • be careful, as the wood chips may briefly ignite when they first catch fire

 

OR, YOU CAN USE A FABULOUS SMOKE-BOX AND SKIP THE “DIY” ALTOGETHER

I wouldn’t bother investing in a smoke-box, unless you have tried smoking food at home and want to do it more often.

smoking food at home in a smoke box on a grillBut, if that is indeed the case, then a smoke-box option is the perfect solution to not purchasing a dedicated smoker, just yet.  If you’ve gotten this far smoking food at home, you’ll end up wanting one of those baby’s sooner or later.

But for now, a smoke-box might just be the perfect “next step” in your smoking food a home adventures!  

Check out this Weber 11.4-in L x 5.6-in W x 11-in H Stainless Steel Smoker Box with a Hinged Top

  • Hinged lid with large tab allows you to easily add chips while smoker box is in use
  • Fits most Weber grills and most larger gas grills
  • It’s placed on the burners, under the rack of a gas grill
  • Perforated top lets out smoke once the wood ignites 

 

TIPS YOU’LL NEED TO SMOKE FOOD AT HOME ON YOUR GRILL

We’ve come this far, and now it’s time to get your grill ready to smoke food at home!  I’ve also included some helpful tips to keep you safe and bring success in your adventures into smoking foods on your grill.

  • Just a reminder here. Make sure to soak your wood chips and chunks in water for at least 1 hour and any aromatic twigs for 30 minutes
  • Drain and lay soaked wood on newspaper or paper towels to get rid of any excess water before adding to the grill
  • Fill a shallow aluminum pan with one inch of chosen liquid. Using tongs, place the pan in the bottom and arrange hot ashen coals around the pan
  • For charcoal, add pre-soaked wood and aromatics among the coals. For gas, place smoke box in the position recommended by the manufacturer 
  • Arrange food prepared for smoking on the grill rack and cover with lid
  • Make sure to check the water pan every hour to add liquid as needed to keep the pan full
  • Keep an eye on the temperature inside the grill also, you don’t want it to be hot, but it needs plenty of smoke

 

bacon smoked food at home

 

JUST A FEW MORE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW…

  • Although tempted, don’t add any more soaked wood during the last half of the recommended smoking time. There is such a thing as “too much” when it comes to smoking food at home. It can lead to a bitter taste in your foods, yuck!
  • Start with the grill vents open. If the temperature climbs too fast, close the vents a bit to reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the fuel source.  But, if the temperature starts too drop to much, just open the vents again.
  • Other than checking the water, don’t peek! Heat and smoke escape each time the lid is taken off, sacrificing aroma and flavor and increasing the total cooking time.
  • For a nice, white smoke, make sure you start with clean grill grates. Dirty grates will cause a blackened, sooty smoke that can give your smoked foods an unpleasant flavor. 
  • If you use wood chunks, you have the ability to control how much smoke and heat they produce.  You can adjust their output by moving them to hotter or cooler parts of the grill during the smoking process.
  • Lastly, when smoking food at home, more is not more!  Don’t overdo it with your smoking woods, as there is such a thing as overpowering your food with “smokey” flavors.

 

HOW TO SMOKE FOOD ON A PLANK

There are several varieties of wood that are fine choices for “planking”.  The most common, of course, being cedar.  But you could also use maple, cherry or red oak too.

I found a really great buy on Amazon, that includes a lovely selection of woods for your to try smoking food at home.wood plank for smoking food at home

Wildwood Grilling –  6 Pack (5″ x 11″)  Grilling Plank Variety Pack 

  • 6 Flavor Variety Pack – includes Western Cedar, Alder, Hickory, Cherry, Maple, and Red Oak wooden planks in addition to a free e-book of recipes.  
  • ​100% Natural – Wildwood Grilling doesn’t use any chemicals or additives , only all-natural American timber. 
  • ​Sourced and Manufactured in The USA and are inspected in a certified food safe facility. 

Planks, unlike wood chunks, need to be soaked for at least 30 minutes before being preheated or used for smoking food at home.

Here’s Why:

  • An un-soaked plank can catch fire and become a safety factor; soaking planks provides a layer of moisture that prevents it from combusting during the smoking process
  • Steam from the soaked wood will help cook the food while still providing a smoky wood flavorsalmon smoked at home on plank
  • It allows you to incorporate another layer of flavor by replacing the water with fruit juices, beer or wine

 

It’s Time to Smoke

You’ll follow the same general smoking instructions as above for smoking food at home.

The difference is that your food will be smoked on top of a plank of wood, as opposed to directly on the grill rack.

 

NOW LET’S “DEMYSTIFY” THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SMOKERS

Now, I know you’re going to say that I already showed you how to smoke food at home without any specialized equipment, save for perhaps a smoke box. 

Well, technically, that’s true.  But the real smoking magic comes when you start mastering the art of effectively using a smoker that’s just right for you.  

First, I’m going to give you the rundown on the different types of smokers there are.  Then I’ll tell you how they work to smoke your foods, and give you what I think are the Pro’s and Con’s of each type.

Lastly, I’ll give recommendations as to who is best suited for each type of home smokers.

 

GAS SMOKERS 

masterbuilt brand propane smoker how to smoke foodsIt doesn’t matter where you get your gas.

Whether you have a direct gas hookup at home, a propane tank buried in the ground (like I do), or count on the convenience of a refillable gas bottle.

They all work the same across the variety of gas smokers, although you must check your exact model for its specifications. 

How do they work?

Most gas smokers are built ‘cabinet-style‘ with the burner and vents at the bottom and the chimney and dampers at the top. 

Similar to electric smokers, a gas smoker doesn’t naturally produce smoke.  You’ll need to add wood chips to create the smokey flavor characteristic of quality smoked foods.

Pros 

  • Gas smokers are as simple to use as an electric smoker and propane is a widely available fuel.
  • The temperature of a gas smoker is easy to control.  It’s also much easier to change the heat than with a charcoal or pellet burner.
  • You can get your gas grill started much faster than a charcoal one. You can go from cold to cooking in around 15 minutes, which is excellent if you are strapped for time.

Cons

  • While gas does produce more combustion chemicals, which gives more flavor than an electric grill, it’s a common complaint that “everything tastes like bacon”.
  • Because of the extended smoking times required of many meats, most seasoned “smokers” start with two gas bottles.  Coming out and finding your smoker has died is not fun! If your first bottle is running low, you’ll want to check it every 30 minutes to avoid running out of fuel. 

 

Who should buy one?

  • Great for pit masters who want more of the flavor-enhancing combustion chemicals than you would get with an electric smoker. And, there’s none of the cleanup associated with charcoal smokers or the cost of a pellet smoker.
  • Gas bottles are quite portable and the smokers themselves tend to be quite light,  so it’s suitable for camping or cookouts. 

 

CHARCOAL SMOKERS

how to smoke foods charcoal fueled smoker

Charcoal smokers come in a range of shapes and sizes, from the little tabletop models, all the way to the to eye-catching ceramic kamado ovens.

Wood pellets and charcoal both tend to give the most flavor when smoking foods.  The trade-off for this extra flavor is that charcoal smokers tend to be a little more labor-intensive than electric or gas ones.

They require more set-up, babysitting, and cleaning, but proponents are convinced this is the best method to smoke foods.

How is Charcoal Made?  

When wood is super-heated, above 1,000°F, most of the non-carbon organic compounds are burnt off.  The resulting ‘char’ left behind burns cleanly and doesn’t produce a lot of smoke. This char is then formed into little briquettes we call charcoal.

How do charcoal smokers work?

Charcoal provides the heat for a charcoal smoker. The chemicals produced, such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, add to the flavor of the food.  Additional smoke is created through the use of wood chips, which are typically set above the charcoal to smolder. 

The amount of heat created is regulated by air intakes near the coals. The more air that is allowed into the firebox, the hotter the charcoal will burn.

Most charcoal smokers suspend the food above the coals.  They draw the heat and smoke across the food using a chimney and air dampers at the top.

Controlling the flow of air and smoke is vital to smoking with charcoal. Too much air and the food will be dry and tough, smoked fruitstoo little air and the smoke and ash will make the food bitter.

Pros 

  • Charcoal smokers are considered the gold standard when it comes to getting a deep smokey flavor.
  • They come in a broad range of styles and sizes, making it easier to find one that suits your available space.
  • Charcoal adds to the taste of the food, and the nitrogen oxide it releases is vital to achieving an authentic smoke ring.

Cons

  • Charcoal grills need a lot more babysitting and a little more practice and know-how than electric or gas grills. If you want a ‘fire and forget’ smoking operation, you’ll have more luck with an electric smoker.
  • You’ll need to light the charcoal and let it ash over before adding it to the smoker.  It’s really a two-step method, so it can take some time before you can start smoking.
  • The ashes produced by charcoal entails more clean-up after your food has finished smoking. 

 

Who should buy one?

If you are serious about smoking food, then the charcoal smoker is the one for you.

Their designs can be as straightforward or as complicated as you want. That makes it easy to find the model that’s perfect for your space and needs.  While it may take some time and effort to get consistent results, it will be entirely worth it.

 

how to smoke foods wood pellet smoker

 

WOOD PELLET SMOKERS

Pellet smokers are a comparatively high-tech combination of oven and smoker. They combine the extra smokey flavor of actual combustion with the supreme convenience of an electric smoker. 

One of the benefits of a pellet smoker is that it’s an oven, grill, and smoker, so it’s an all in one cooking solution.

How do they work?  

Pellet smokers use sawdust compressed into what looks like chicken feed.

These pellets sit in a hopper on the side of the smoker and are fed into a firebox by an auger drill. Inside the firebox is a heated metal rod which causes the pellets to combust, creating both smoke and heat in the cooking chamber above.

Pellet smokers use built-in thermometers to keep the temperature stable.  Changing the airflow and amount of pellets being fed into the firebox to creates a consistent heat.

Pros

  • Pellet smokers combine the flavor enhancement of actual wood smoke with a cooking system that’s less hands-on
  • They are versatile, acting as a smoker, grill, and oven all rolled into one
  • The wood pellets burn down to nearly nothing, providing quick cleanup by emptying the firebox

Cons

  • They don’t come cheap! Expect to pay at least $400 for an entry-level smoker that’s worth the money
  • The heating rod that ignites the pellets, the fans, and the drill all run on electricity, so you’ll need a socket nearby
  • Wood pellets aren’t nearly as easy to find as charcoal or gas, so you’ll need a stockpile, just in case

 

Who should buy a pellet smoker?

If you are reasonably serious about smoking, and want a high-tech solution, then the pellet grill is a great option. It’s also the most versatile of all the smoker varieties. If you only have room for one piece of cooking apparatus, then one that can cook, smoke, and grill is ideal.

 

how to smoke food electric smoker

 

ELECTRIC SMOKERS

Electric smokers are the perfect “start it and forget it” smoking solution. You don’t have to worry about burning wood or charcoal, dealing with a propane tank, or much of a clean up. 

Using an electric smoker entail setting the temperature and time, then grabbing a cocktail while it does all the work for you.

How do they work?

Electric smokers use a heating element, rather than some form of combustible fuel, to create heat. Because there is no actual combustion involved, the smoke is provided by the addition of wood chips, which are suspended above the heating element.

Most electric smokers are built vertically, with the heating element at the bottom and the wood and water pans between it and the food racks.

The water pan serves two functions First, it creates water vapor, which enhances the smokey flavor of the food. Secondly, smoked peppers on grillit creates an indirect cooking environment, shielding the meat from most of the direct heat and keeping the temperature, and smoking time, ‘low and slow’.

Pros

  • Electric smokers are easy to use, which makes them a great “beginner’s” smoker
  • No additional fuel source, like gas, pellets, or charcoal is required, which is a money saver 
  • Good quality electric smokers can be relied upon to retain a consistent temperature, and they don’t run out of fuel. This means you don’t have to babysit them, so you can get on with other tasks, occasionally returning to refill the water bowl
  • Moist environment inside smoker is excellent for smoking delicate food like fish, cheese, vegetables, and sausages

Cons

  • Produces a “different” flavor from other smokers due to the lack of combustion and low smolder temperature of the wood chips
  • The lack of combustion gasses means your meat won’t form a smoke ring, caused by the presence of carbon monoxide and nitric oxide
  • The moist atmosphere inside an electric smoker makes it much harder to get a crisp crust on chicken skin or ribs

 

Who should buy an electric smoker?

Electric smokers are best suited for people who can’t use gas, wood, or charcoal burners near where they live.

They also suit people who would prefer to just put food in a smoker, set a timer and walk away.   They can be safe in the knowledge that their food won’t get ruined, even though they aren’t constantly checking up on it.

 

kamado grill how-to guide to smoking foods

 

KAMADO GRILLS

This type of cooking vessel has been in use for nearly 3000 years.  Many people don’t immediately recognize the name Kamado, but they will recognize the famous Big Green Egg!

While the Big Green Egg is the most recognizable brand of Kamado grill, it is certainly not the only one on the market. There are plenty of excellent brands to choose from, and they make amazing smokers.

I’ve chosen what I’ve found to be the “King of the Hill” when it comes to Kamado grills.  This gorgeous blue monster is not only an incredible cooking appliance, it’s super stylish too!  But, it’s also at the highest-end of the price spectrum, with “sale” prices starting at $1,000.00.  That, combined with its verified performance warrant the high price tag.

How kamado grills work

The distinctive egg shape of the Kamado grill is much more than just a stylistic choice. Based on ancient clay ovens, the shape and the thickness of the ceramic walls aids in heat and moisture retention. 

Fire produces heat at the bottom of the cooking chamber, and the food is placed on a grill grate above it. The amount of heat produced is controlled by vents at the top and bottom of the grill.

Generally, if you are smoking with a Kamado grill, you’ll be putting wood chips and a water dish in there as well. Some models feature a deflector plate, like the model shown above, that sits just above the fire and reflects some of the heat.

The smoke and heat rise up over the food and are directed back onto it by the shape of the grill.

Pros

  • Decreased airflow inside a Kamado means there is less chance of your food drying out, and remain nice and juicy
  • Kamados are very multi-purpose and, besides working as a smoker, can also grill, bake, and even double as a pizza oven
  • Can be used in cold months because the thick walls of the Kamado grill are a great way to ensure a consistent temperature

Cons

  • Great as they are, Kamado grills are not cheap. Expect to pay around $1000 for a top-end model
  • They only have two vents,  so temperature control can be a little tricky. If you overshoot, the thick ceramic walls mean it will take a while for the grill to cool
  • Because the fire sits below the food, adding more fuel and ash collection can be more difficult

 

Who should buy a kamado grill?

It takes a little time to learn how to best use Kamado grills, but once you do, they are an excellent and versatile cooking system.

If you want something that you can bake the bread for your sandwich and smoke the meat that goes in it, then this is the grill for you.  It’s also the only type of smoker/grill that can truly be used all year long, in any climate.

 

OFF-SET SMOKERS

how to smoke foods offset smoker

How do they work?

The ‘offset’ part of offset smoker comes from the fact that the firebox is offset to the side and below the main cooking chamber.

When wood or charcoal is burnt in the firebox, the smoke and heat are drawn across the food in the cooking chamber and out of a chimney. 

In a standard offset smoker, the chimney is situated opposite the firebox.

Some offset smokers use a ‘reverse flow’ system, which uses baffles to force the smoke and heat to travel both under and over the food.

Reverse flow offset smokers are relatively easy to spot as they have the chimney mounted above, not opposite, from the firebox.

Pros

  • The big barrel cooking chamber of an offset smoker makes it easy to cook large amounts of food
  • Some models offer a grill plate that can be attached above the firebox, giving you a two-in-one grill and smoker
  • Firebox is separate from the cooking chamber, allowing addition of fuel to the fire without letting out the heat and smoke

Cons

  • There are tons of cheap, poorly constructed models out there that leak, have bad heat retention, and dry out your food. Check consumer reports and spend your money wisely!  A good quality offset smoker is worth the money!
  • Starting up an offset smoker is a long process. Expect it to take an hour for you to get it up to temperature and start cooking. 
  • It’s also not a simple ‘fire and forget’ system like the electric smoker. There’s a definite “learning curve” to getting the best from your offset smoker.  That means a lot of practice to learn how to use it. But, when you do get it right, you’ll be proud of the smoked foods you can produce

 

Who should buy one?

Offset smokers are an excellent buy for someone who wants to put the time and effort into getting the best from a fantastic, but not easy to use, smoker.

Offset smoking is as much an art form as a science, but if you’ve got the patience, it can produce massive volumes of fantastic food.

Just make sure you actually have enough room in your yard before you buy one. They are not small!

AND THAT’S A WRAP ON ALL THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SMOKERS THAT ARE AVAILABLE

But, before we start the next section, I want to show you one other option.  It‘s especially great for those who don’t have the space outdoors to keep a large smoker, or maybe you live in a condo or apartment.

It’s a fabulous way to “dip your toes” in the art of smoking food at home!

stove top smoker for smoking food at home

 

SMOKING FOOD AT HOME – Let’s start with meat!

There’s no need to spend top dollar on tender, choice cuts when smoking. Fattier, tougher cuts often work best, thanks to the science behind smoking.  Smoking renders tough cuts of meat into one that are incredibly tender after hours of low-and-slow cooking.

Remember, that’s why barbecue was invented in the first place. To find a use for those cheap and tough cuts of meat that nobody wanted. They found that smoking their tough meats turned them into a tender, juicy meal.

 

THE BEST CUTS OF MEAT FOR SMOKING

Here’s the old stand-by’s that will give you solid and reliable results: 

Brisket is generally considered the king of barbecue cuts. It’s cheap, chewy, and difficult to make with other methods. But when raw pork roast for smoking at homesmoked for 10 or 12 hours, it’s turns tender and delicious, especially when that smoky crust is done just right.

The downside is to brisket is that it’s one of the more expensive BBQ cuts and is less forgiving for beginners.

Pork Butt (Boston butt, pork shoulder, picnic shoulder, among other names) is the second most popular choice for smoking, after brisket. Popular in the South as the traditional cut for pulled pork, it’s got tons of fat and connective tissue, making for a very soft, juicy cut.

Pork butt is also cheaper than brisket, and more forgiving. If you’re smoking for the first time, try a pork butt for the best results.

Ribs have the right ratio of fat, meat and connective tissue holding them to the bone to soften up after a long smoke. They also don’t need as much time on the smoker as large cuts. Like brisket, however, they can be unforgiving if not done right, and can take some getting used to.

 

SEASONING YOUR MEAT BEFORE SMOKING

There’s usually about one thing that everyone can agree upon when it comes to seasoning meat.  And that’s salt!spices on slate in spoons

Salt does two things: it penetrates the meat and helps tenderize it, making it easier to chew and more pleasant to eat. It also makes it juicier, helping moisture migrate further into the meat and stay there during cooking, so it doesn’t dry out too quickly.

Second, salt brings out the flavor in foods. That’s why I wouldn’t dream of making most desserts without a dash of salt. An old saying is that meat is flavorless if it lacks salt and fat. Thankfully, a good barbecue recipe has all three.

A good rule of thumb when deciding how much salt to apply, is to go with about 1/4 – 1/2 kosher salt per pound.  After salt, the most important seasoning is pepper. Pepper adds some spice that helps balance out the salt, ensuring a well-rounded profile on the palate.

 

WET AND DRY BRINES FOR MEATS

For most brines, all you need is a hefty dose of salt applied evenly into the meat, and given adequate time to penetrate. This is commonly called a dry brine.

Salt is about the only seasoning that will penetrate the meat.  Additionally, salt literally attacks tough proteins to help break them down through a process called denaturation. That means that the salt gets pulled into the tissues of the meat naturally. 

wet brine, on the other hand, is a solution of salt and other spices – mixed into water. Sometimes it also contains acids, such as vinegar or lemon juice, to further tenderize the meat.

Letting the meat marinade in brine for several hours, or up to 24 hours, allows it to absorb more moisture.  As the salt penetrates the dry vs. wet brined meat cookedmeat, it brings water with it, thereby keeping the moisture inside the meat during cooking.

You’ll want to add a rub to your meat just before smoking it. The base of a good rub is usually salt, sugar, pepper, garlic, and onion.

From here you can add any spices or herbs you like to make your very own unique flavor.  Many dry rubs also include sugar, which adds some sweetness and helps the meat caramelize.  Pretty much everything from chili powder to jerk seasoning can be used in a dry rub, it’s really just a matter of personal taste. You can get a little crazy, the sky’s the limit. 

 

THE BEST FISH TO SMOKE AT HOME

In general, fattier fish, like salmon or sea bass, absorb smoke better than leaner fish do. While any fish will be delicious stuffed whole smoked fish on rackcooked in a smoker, I really love tuna steaks, salmon, sea bass and trout for tender, moist smoked fish.

HOW TO SMOKE FISH IN A SMOKER 

You can prepare your fish in any number of ways, including doing a whole, cleaned fish that’s stuffed with leaks, lemons and fennel, like these beauties!

They needed to be tied up in order to keep from splitting apart.  You can see the skin split down it’s back, but it doesn’t ruin the finished smoked fish.

When choosing a wood for your smoked fish, you want to stick with a mild type, perhaps a fruit wood or alder.  They won’t overpower the delicate flesh of the fish like a hickory or mesquite would.

You can see how lovely and crispy the skin got and separated from the meat.  It’s just divine for an outdoor meal in the backyard or terrace.

 

TIPS FOR SMOKING FISH AT HOME

  • Preheat smoker and add wood chips; let chips heat for 45 minutes. Place fish in smoker and cook for about 3 hours at 175ºF – 200ºF
  • Most fish fillets will be done once the internal temperature reaches 160°F. You can use an instant read digital thermometer to check the temperature throughout the cook time to be sure
  • If your fillets aren’t thick enough to use a thermometer, calculate the smoke time for about 3 hours plus 30 minutes per pound of fish

 

THE BEST VEGETABLES FOR SMOKING

Many vegetables absorb enough smokiness in their short times in the smoker to give them a flavor profile that can’t be matched. 

One of my favorites, garlic, just needs to have the top removed, drizzled with some EVOO and wrapped loosely in selection of vegetables smoked at homefoil.  I smoke it for about 40-45 minutes directly over the heat source, or until it’s nicely softened.  It’s amazing spread on grilled French bread with a salad for a lovely Summer repast. 

Here’s my list of vegetables that I think do well in a smoker and take on enough smokey flavor to make it worth the trouble:

  • Artichokes: 1 hour at 200ºF
  • Asparagus: 90 minutes at 225ºF
  • Brussels Sprouts: 45 minutes at 250ºF
  • Cabbage: 2 hours and 15 minutes at 250ºF
  • Cauliflower: 2 hours at 200ºF
  • Cherry Tomatoes: 2 and a half hours at 225ºF
  • Corn on the Cob: 2 hours at 225ºF
  • Bell peppers: 90 minutes at 225ºF
  • Onion: 90 minutes at 225ºF
  • Zucchini: 1 hour at 250ºF
  • Squash: 1 hour at 250ºF
  • Eggplant: 1 hour at 250ºF
  • Carrots: 90 minutes at 225ºF

 

 

 

THE BEST FRUIT FOR SMOKING

After reading this far, this one shouldn’t be a surprise, as grilled fruit is one of the tastiest treats you can serve for a Summer get together. 

Smoking the fruit low and slow is even better. You get the added smoke flavor plus the natural extra sweetness of the fruit from the heat.

Cut in half and core or pit your fruit of choice.  Then set a target temp between 200°F – 225°F. Let them go for about 30 minutes and smoked fruitsyou have a really fabulous smokey dessert on your hands.

For a great accompaniment to fish or cocktails, try smoking lemons and limes.  Here’s my list of what fruits fare the best and can absorb the smokey goodness of smoking food at home.

  • Avocado – when halved with skin on, they turn out creamy, smokey and make a wonderful “smoked guacamole”!
  • Peaches – no surprise here, as they are also great grilled
  • Berries – they may need a bit more than 30 minutes to truly absorb enough smokiness, but, not too long or they’ll get tough
  • Mango – the flesh turns into a parfait-like texture that’s just dreamy
  • Pineapple – another staple of the grill that fares equally well in the smoker

 

COLD SMOKING METHOD – How to Smoke Delicate Foods

As I explained at the beginning of this article, cold smoking keeps the food raw, rather than cooking it. 

This means that it could be a dangerous method of smoking if you’re not experienced.  Trying to cold smoke meats like salami can be tricky.  That’s a much more complicated procedure that requires the meat to be cured before smoking.  It’s better left to the professionals!

Here’s a list of the kinds of foods that can more safely be cold smoked at home:

  • tofu (yes, it works really well!)
  • nuts
  • vegetablessmoked cheese on plate
  • hard boiled eggs
  • olive oil
  • garlic heads
  • cheeses (brie / mozzarella  / monterey jack  /  gouda  / swiss   / gruyere)

 

SOME QUICK TIPS ON COLD SMOKING CHEESES

  • Cold smoking is best done on a cool day if you’re using a grill for a smoker.  It makes it much easier to control the temperature, since it needs to stay below 90ºF for cold smoking.
  • How long does it take to cold smoke cheese? It depends on the density/hardness of the cheese you select. They should be smoked anywhere from 30 minutes for the softest, like mozzarella to 4 hours for the hardest, like gruyere
  • The flavors of a smoked cheese will develop further if tightly wrapped after cooling. Store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.  

 

smoking food at home meats on grill

 

THREE SMOKING COOKBOOKS I LOVE!

PROJECT SMOKE – The Barbecue Bible for Smoking Meats (paperback) – by Steven Raichlenproject smoke cookbook cover how to smoke foods

A complete, step-by-step guide to mastering the art and craft of smoking!

  • 100 recipes for smoked food that roars off your plate with flavor
  • how to choose the right smoker (or turn the grill you have into an effective smoking machine)
  • understand the different tools, fuels, and smoking woods
  • master all the essential techniques: hot-smoking, cold-smoking, rotisserie-smoking, even smoking with tea and hay

Masterbuilt Electric Smoker Cookbook 800: Ultimate Guide of Smoked Recipe Cookbook by Roger Kitchen  KINDLE EDITION

(**On the date of this post’s publication, the Kindle Edition is available for FREE for Amazon Kindle Unlimited Members)

how to smoke foods cookbook coverbookThis book is written by the Masterbuilt manufacturers of fine smokers, grills and accessories.  It’s filled with great information and recipes that is sure to tickle your taste buds.

Where you’re using a Masterbuilt smoker or not, you’ll find these recipes a great addition to your Summer outdoor cooking menus. 

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Smoking Foods (Paperback) by Ted Reader

  • features over 100 recipes for smoking all types of foodidiots guide to smoking foods cover
  • additional recipes for rubs and sauces
  • features expert tips for smoking success
  • the common smoking mistakes of beginners

 

 

IS YOUR HEAD SPINNING WITH FACTS ABOUT SMOKING FOOD AT HOME?

I can’t believe how many important things I needed to tell you about smoking food at home!  Talk about a comprehensive two-part article!   And just wait until the Part Two, where I give you all the recipes you’ll need to “get smokin'”!

I hope you found my how-to guide to smoking foods to be helpful and most of all inspirational!  Go forth and get smokin’!

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