A Brief History
Today, there are few pleasures in life that are as timeless as they are delightful –– not to mention legal –– and food is one of those. Sure, we eat to survive, but it is so much more than that. Once you start to savor and enjoy your meals, you’ll get to view food in a whole new light and come to appreciate it much more, but this article is not about food in general, but rather meat –– or smoked meat to be accurate. You might be immediately put off because you think it will take a lot of effort, but it will not. Even if it did, smoked meat is definitely worth it, because it is unlike anything you have ever tasted.
Here is everything you need to know.
Choosing the steak
Smoking meat is an art, one that requires finesse and delicacy. But before we get to the process itself, we need to talk about just what kind of meat you’re going to be using, because not all are born alike. You need a piece that would really benefit from the slow cooking. For that, you need marbled meat –– containing a lot of fat and connective tissue –– because those tastes really delicious when cooked. You can never go wrong with beef brisket or ribs, which really soak in the smoke and give you stunning flavors. Pork shoulder is another exquisite meat that tastes much better when smoked.
Getting the right smokers
Now, you cannot talk about smoking meat without smokers –– you actually can use your good old fashioned grill, but a smoker would make your life significantly easier. There are different kinds out there, each with its own pros and cons, but nothing trumps the best electric smoker when you’re talking about properly smoking meat. It is easy to use and control, and it is basically a press of a button to cook your food, while having the option to turn the dial to control the temperature. Barbecue aficionados on the other hands might prefer a charcoal smoker because of the unique flavor it lends the meat, and you can even get an electric charcoal smoker for that rich flavor as well as the benefits of the electric one ––though you will need to use charcoal for every time you want to smoke food.
Can you use a grill?
As mentioned earlier, yes, you can use your grill to smoke meat, but it will require some delicacy. For starters, you have to remember that you can’t leave the steak directly over the heat source or else it will get burnt, and you also need to cook it for hours to get that smoky flavor –– and for it to cook in general. You can use a charcoal grill if that’s what you have at home. After heating the coal, you will want to put some wood chips on top for that rich flavor. Then simply close the grill, while leaving breathing room for the smoke so it wouldn’t ruin your meat.
Choosing the wood
Believe it or not, part of the art of smoking meat lies in wood selection. Each different kind imparts a different flavor to your steak, and it will take awhile for you to figure out just what your favourite kind of wood is. Until then, it helps that you know generally speaking what your options are. Mesquite, for example, is a bit risky. It gives the strongest flavor and it is pungent, making the meat quite smoky, so you need to be careful with it. It is best used with smaller cuts that would not take too long to cook, or mix it with other woods if you plan on cooking the meat all day. Alder on the other hand gives this sweet flavor that is mild and delicious, and this is why it is best used with fish and poultry. Hickory pairs best with red meat for its strong flavor –– particularly try it with ribs. If you want to cook larger cuts that usually take all day long, oak is your best option; its flavor is pretty subtle and isn’t as strong as hickory or mesquite. Applewood is known for its fruity smoke that is excellent for pork and poultry.
While this might seem like a bit much just to cook some steak and eat a meal, it is not. Once you experience the taste, you will understand why smoking meat is such an art and why a lot of people go through much trouble to do it just right. The great thing is, you can do it too, if you get your hands on the right tools and dedicate some time for it.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you enjoy smoked meat? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
McWhirter, Nicholas and Daniel Vaughn. The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue. Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, 2013.