Few things are more enjoyable than taking a weekend day and enjoying a good beer or two while smoking meat, and watching our horses graze on the Kentucky bluegrass. That’s why you’ll find several smoking recipes on this blog.
Over the years we’ve discovered a few secrets and flaws related to smoking meat.
First of all, you need to understand what you are trying to accomplish when smoking meat, fish, poultry or anything for that matter. Your purpose is not to create a smoke trapped environment where the smoke simply lays on the meat. If you do this, and you probably have, your meat will certainly absorb some of the smoke flavor but it will also taste somewhat, or very, bitter! Your guests may not say much, or they may even think that’s how smoked meats are supposed to taste, but they aren’t!
By trapping the smoke, and not having adequate smoker ventilation, you actually create creosote. This black oily substance produces the bitter taste and a terrible aftertaste. This occurs because you have “too much smoke” sitting on your meat in your smoker. (You can test this by taking a clear glass of ice water, placing it in your exhaust smoke stream for a minute or so, and seeing if you get a black build up on the glass. That same build up is adhering to your meat.)
The solution to this problem is opening your exhaust wide enough to allow the smoke to pass over, not lay on, your meat. Many good smokers have fans which move the smoke through the smoker and out the exhaust pipe to create the proper smoking environment, though even these smoker can create creosote if the exhaust area is not clean or open wide enough, or the smoker temperature is too high thus creating immense amounts of smoke.
This leads to a second major issue when smoking, the heat. I know many people tell me they smoke great ribs in 2 hours versus my 6, or can get a pork shoulder done in 4 hours versus my 16. Well hell, I can get both done in an hour if I wanted to, but they will taste nothing like smoked meat is supposed to taste. They might taste okay. Ribs cooked in an oven wrapped in foil can taste good with a decent sauce spread over them, but they are not great tasting “smoked” ribs!!!!
Every truly good cook or chef that smokes meats knows that only low and slow smoking creates the ultimate infusion of smoke to meat. Additionally, low and slow reduces the risk of occasional periods where the smoker gets boughed up with smoke and imparts a touch of the creosote layering on the meat I mentioned earlier.
Lastly, let me talk about injections or marinades. I know many folks who say they don’t need to inject a marinade in a pork shoulder, or marinate a brisket, or let a rub sit on their ribs for a few hours. Yep, their methods may taste good, but do they really know the difference between good and great?
Trust me when I say there’s a difference between good smoked meat and great smoked meat. Comparative analysis over 50 plus years has allowed me, and many others, to know the difference. The only way to create great smoked meat is low and slow, good ventilation that moves the smoke over the meat and taking the extra time to prepare the meat with injections, marinades and rubs. Do it and you too will see the difference.