Below is a "tutorial" I wrote for a friend a couple of years back on getting into smoking meat. Recently, several people have asked me how to get started in this great venture. I've made no secret of how much I enjoy it. So for the benefit of those who are interested, here is a primer on smoking meat!
My comments are related to the Weber Smoky Mountain Smoker. They would be very similar to any other smoker.
Use a charcoal chimney with wadded up newspaper under it to heat your charcoal. Kingsford is best. You want a quality brand that burns the longest. On Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, Lowes sells their double pack of 20 lb (40 lbs total) charcoal for cheap. That’s when I stock up.
Some meets need to be soaked in a brine (overnight in the fridge is best, but at least several hours or more). The meat needs to be totally covered with water.
There are dozens of brine and rub recipes on the internet and any place else you look. I use water, kosher salt, and brown sugar. Most experts recommend letting your rubbed down meat sit at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes before putting on the smoker. This is the time I spend putting the smoker together and getting it ready.
To assemble the smoker, first put the white charcoal in the bottom, next comes the big bowl of water (filled with water almost to the top), then the racks. I’ve only used one rack and I’ve cooked for a crowd. Then the lid. Spread a big handful of soaked wood chips over the hot coals. You can put fresh herbs in the water to add to the flavor. Near the charcoal area is a side door to add more coals. I’ve only had to add more coals once. For several hours of smoking, you probably won’t need to add hot coals. Watch the thermometer on the outside of the lid. The thermometer indicates the range you want to stay in. Either open or close the vents on the lid and at the bottom of the smoker to adjust temperature. There is also a rubber gasket on the side to insert a digital thermometer into the meat while it is smoking. I’ve never used that feature. After a few times, you learn to know when the meat is ready. I always insert the thermometer before I stop cooking, though. I recommend doing a whole chicken first. That is the easiest, idiot-proof way to learn and also the quickest. Keep the lid closed and don’t open anymore that really necessary.
Now, sit back with a nice glass of wine, close your eyes, and enjoy the aroma coming from the smoker. One of life’s simple pleasures!
When you take the meat off, close all vents and let the smoker cool enough to handle (several hours). Then clean the rack and the water bowl. I use an SOS pad and my backyard faucet to do this. Dry and put back together. Make sure the charcoal is COMPLETELY dead and cold before bringing it in the house. I keep mine in my three season room. One night, late, I was letting Morgan out and I smelled a strange smell coming from the smoker. The darn thing had reignited and was burning again, albeit small. Not a good thing to do in a closed space!
I also keep a big plastic tote to store all my smoking supplies in – thermometer, wood chips, smoker manual, silicone gloves (you gotta have a pair of these). Another neat tool is an injector. It is a syringe you use to inject marinade into the meat before smoking.
There are all kinds of models and types of smokers. When I was researching, I talked to a lot of people, surfed the web, read reviews. For me, the Smoky Mountain is the best. A lot of pros that travel the competition circuit use them. I like the ease of use and the results I get for very little effort. Once a year you scrub down the inside of the big cylinder part. You don’t want to do this too often because that does add to the flavor. But it should be done once a year.
Some recommend putting a pile of chicken skins and “throw away” meat in the smoker the very first time to season it. I didn’t do this and don’t feel it is necessary.
One last “I wish I knew” bit of advice. About the third or fourth time I used the smoker, it just wasn’t working. I could not get the temperature up. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong, when it had worked so flawlessly before. Duh! You have to empty the old charcoal dust from the charcoal bin or it will stop air flow!