Smoking has long been used as a preservation method for food. However, it is the flavor it brings, rather than the acidic protection it offers that has made smoked meat a treat the world over.
Traditional materials for smoking include woods like alder and oak, hickory and mesquite, and all varieties of fruit trees. Uncooked rice, tea leaves and even corn cobs can also be used, depending on the flavor you are trying to achieve. Most North Americans are familiar with the robust flavor of hickory smoke, but should not discount the subtleties of cherry wood or maple. Once you are confident with a standard smoking recipe, why not change the fuel and see how it affects the finished product? Whatever material you decide to smoke with, please be sure it is clean and free of paint or preservative products. You wouldn’t eat paint chips, no sense smoking your meat with them.
Smoking can either be hot or cold. For obvious reasons, (mainly the fire involved,) using your grill as a smoker will result in hot smoking. This method is suitable for things like bacon, ham hocks, some sausages and varieties of fish. Hot smoking takes place when the product reaches a temperature ranging from 150 F and 185 F. The heat should be carefully controlled, as smoking to over 185 F will cause products to shrink and become dry. If done properly, hot smoked foods will be fully cooked, well flavored and moist.
There are many small commercial smokers designed for home use, but don’t be fooled into thinking you need one to smoke your own food. As a professional chef, I have never used a conventional smoker, and have had much success with contraptions built on grills and stovetops both at home and in restaurants. Turning your home grill into a smoker is a simple project that any novice cook can undertake, so don’t be daunted! Once you get a taste for home smoked meat, you won’t look back.
The best grills for home smoking are gas, with at least two burners and a temperature gauge. Indirect heat and careful control of temperatures are the two secrets to success with smoking on a grill. Sole Gourmet Grills, are a great example of rigs that are well suited to smoking. Most importantly, they have a large cooking area, which will allow you to you have adequate heat under your smoke tray, but also provide enough space for whatever it is you are cooking as well. They have a good solid lid that will seal in the smoke and heat, ensuring optimum flavor penetration, and a stainless steel finish that will be easy to clean. If you’re looking to get a little more high-tech, the Echelon Fire Magic Grill, comes with heat zone separators and wood chip smoke drawers. The wood chip drawers are ideal for smoking, as they have their own dedicated burners, which will make indirect heating a breeze. Of course, you can build your own smoke trays, but I must admit, a grill that comes with them is a treat.
If you are building your own smoke tray, I recommend a stainless steel container or cast iron pan. The easiest way is to line whatever pan you choose to use with aluminum foil to protect the surface and make clean-up a little easier.
Be sure that your grill is capable of maintaining a consistent low temperature of between 225 F and 250 F. Anything higher than that is likely to over cook and dry out your meat. Ideally, the lid of your grill should remain closed through the smoking process, but if it runs too hot, propping the lid open a little is permissible.
To set up the smoker, turn on one element low and let the grill heat up to about 225 F. Ready the smoke tray with whatever your chosen material is. Always dampen the wood chips slightly to ensure they smolder but don’t burn. Place the smoke tray over the heat and wait until it starts to smoke. Then place your meat on the opposite side of the grill and close the lid. Monitor both the temperature of the grill and the meat, being careful not to exceed 250 F and 185 F respectively. Turn the meat several times throughout the process to ensure even cooking and smoke exposure. When you have achieved the color and degree of doneness you desire, simply turn off the heat and open the lid. Let the meat cool gently but thoroughly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Sanders is a professional chef and freelance writer who lives and works in British Columbia. She received her culinary training in Vancouver, and went on to work in some of the city’s finest establishments as a cook and pastry chef. Her primary area of expertise is dessert, but she has a deep affinity for any food that can be consumed with a good glass of wine.
After several years of intense restaurant work, Katie decided to pursue a quieter life in the country. She now lives and works in Canada’s most prestigious wine country, the Central Okanagan.