Smoking 101

This post was written by Jeff Ratzloff on September 20, 2009

The Cheyenne from Yoder SmokersIn the world of BBQ; smoking is king. The world of technology has crept into the world of BBQ smokers and made it easier for the novice to get into the game and taste like a pro. To many people “BBQ” will include throwing some burgers on the grill; the purist will tell you that is grilling and has nothing to do with BBQ. However, I am not here to give you a lecture on what BBQ means nor give you a history lesson; just some tips on the sometimes intimidating world of smokers.
There are many choices even when it comes to smokers. Some people like to use the propane type smoker and just add some wood or smoke flavor by some other means during the cooking process. There are many propane smokers available on the market and are great choices for someone that is not interested in really perfecting the art of smoking. I like propane grills for situations when quick cooking is required or desired.

The first thing to note about smoking: it takes a while. Depending on what you are cooking; plan on spending quite some time on getting it right. From preparing the meat to getting the cooker ready to smoke is all about practice and patience. The basic rule of smoking is cooking low and slow. Allowing the meat to use its own juices and fats to create a tender tasty feast is what it’s all about. Typically, temperatures between 200 and 240 degrees are the perfect range according most pros and websites you will find. I would strongly recommend purchasing a remote thermometer as the units on the smoker may not be the most accurate in the world. There are several on the market that will allow you to monitor several different parts of your smoker so that the heat is consistent.

Getting the charcoal started is job one. I have a barrel smoker with a side fire box; which is a common smoker and readily available. Keeping the temperature is important; so what I do is cover my fire box with a layer of charcoal that is about 2 or 3 bricks deep. This will usually get me through about half of a smoking cycle depending on the outside temperature. Only light one end of the charcoal. This will allow the flame to crawl across the bed of charcoal and wood and provide a more even heat. Lighting all of the coal at one time will produce a fire that is too hot to start and will take quite awhile to cool down enough to start cooking. Some folks do not like to use lighter fluid when smoking. I have heard claims that it makes the meat taste of gas. Using newspaper or commercial fire starters (readily available at your local BBQ store) to light one end of the coal is the next best alternative.  During the cooking process, the coals will burn across and allow you to add more to keep the temperature in range.
Picking the correct wood: This is all up to individual taste and depends greatly on what you are cooking. I have 3 or 4 personal favorites in no particular order that I will outline with some characteristics:
• Mesquite wood. This is great for pronounced smoke in your meat. It is a pretty strong and hearty taste that will add a little tang to your project. I like to use this with a brisket or even when smoking steaks.
• Apple wood. This gives a great mild fruity taste. Great for chicken or pork.
• Cherry wood. This also provides a great fruit taste; a little stronger in my opinion that apple; great for pork.
• Pecan wood. I had just started cooking with this last year and I found it to add a great flavor. The best way I can describe it; a little nutty, kind of like drinking a dark beer. I have used this on pork, chicken, and beef and enjoyed it each time.
There are several different schools on adding the wood as well, it is all personal preference. The important thing to remember; the meat that you are cooking will get the majority of the smoke in the first 4 to 5 hours and reach it’s saturation point. I personally add the wood right to the charcoal. I use chunk wood and spread out 4 to 8 chunks on top of the coal to allow a constant smoke. During the summer; I will also soak my wood chunks in water for about an hour or so before cooking. This will allow the wood to burn a little slower and release a good consistent smoke.
So you have the charcoal lit, your wood picked out, and your temp set. Now what? Start smoking! The general rule is smoking 1.5 hours per pound anywhere between 200 and 240. Keeping an eye on the heat is the most important and sometimes hardest job; but when you get to the end, checking the internal temp to ensure it’s done will be the next step. Below are the recommended internal temps for most meats.
• Chicken internal temp needs to be about 175.
• Beef is cooked anywhere from 160 to 180.
• Pork needs to be in the 170 range.
• Ribs are hard to get a good reading and will usually take about 4 to 5 hours to smoke at the 200-240 range.
• Salmon and most fish are cooked at about 140; but I like to run mine up to 160.
Smoking is fun and a great way to spend the day. If you are doing it at home, mowing the lawn or just sitting down with a cold brew are great ways to keep an eye on the smoker. Give it a try and I guarantee that you will be hooked. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake; it is not rocket science. Lastly; use a little Heffys and you will taste like a pro!


This entry was posted on Sunday, September 20th, 2009 at 7:50 am and is filed under Recipes and Tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Smoking 101”

  1. giant bikes Says:

    September 28th, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I’ve been looking for a while for nice recipes. Gracias.

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