Grilling and smoking is a combination between science and art. Here, we are giving you the recommended guides, but it all depends on how much time and effort you put into your BBQs.
Let’s jump into the basics!
Equipment – Smoking Meat for Beginners
First of all, if you are going to start smoking you need a smoker, right? There are many types of smokers out there in the market. Here are the most common ones:
- Propane/Gas smokers
- Charcoal Smokers
- Offset Smokers
- Pellet Smokers
- Electric Smokers
They all have the same purpose but their usage and the flavor change a lot. If you are starting and want to go easy you can go with an Electric or Pellet smoker, as the fire control is a lot easier.
These are the ones in the market but you will for sure see some creative people using anything as a smoker. Smoking is all about low and slow and controlling that fire over a long period of time. As a rule of thumb, if you can control the fire, then you can smoke on it.
In addition to your smoker these are essential and nice to have tools you should have around:
- Sharp knife
- Set of tongs
- Set of thermal gloves
- Instant read thermometer
What to smoke? – Smoking Meat for Beginners
Now that we have our equipment ready. The question is, what can I smoke? That’s easy. You can potentially smoke anything you want. You have to be creative and brave enough to try.
We are looking for cuts of meat that go well with low and slow. Tender meat will probably still be great but they are sometimes better done at high and fast. Again, it all depends on you, try it out and let us know what you think.
If you want to start easy, go with pork. Why? It’s cheaper than beef. This is important in case you make some mistakes and besides, the cooking time will be less.
Now, if you are a beef person, go with Ribs on your first attempts. You can try the 3,2,1 method to start with. Aim to understand how your smoker works and how to control your temperature over a period of time. Once you are ready, your graduation will be cooking a brisket.
Here are some things we like to smoke at TheSundayGrill:
A good tip is to bring your meat to room temperature before you start cooking. This way you won’t have to worry about the heat getting to the center of the meat and your cooking time will decrease.
Types of wood – Smoking Meat for Beginners
The type of wood you use will help determine the flavor of your food. You might want to use a specific wood type depending on whether you are smoking ribs or brisket. You can mix wood and charcoal or just use wood. It really depends on you and what you have around.
We have put together this chart to help you with your wood selection. As we always say, try different things and find what you like.
If you don’t have one of these or there is another wood you want to try out you can relate to our rule of thumb: “Any hardwood that bears a fruit you can cook on”.
Once you have selected your type of wood, you have to decide in which size you want it. You may find 3 options in the stores. Chips, Chunks, and Wood Pellets.
Chips are good if you are smoking for only a few hours as they don’t last long. A way to maximize their usage is to soak them in water right before you put them in the smoker.
Chunks are good if you are going to be smoking for hours, as you won’t need to replace them as frequently as the chips. They produce more smoke. Soak them in water but this time leave them in the water for about an hour before you start your smoker.
Wood pellets you will want to avoid if you don’t have a pellet smoker. They will be consumed by the fire and provide little to no smoke.Smoking Meat for Beginners
Temperature – Smoking Meat for Beginners
Controlling your temperature will be your best skill as a pitmaster and is key for smoking. You will smoke for a long period of time. Controlling your temperature won’t be as easy as if you are just grilling for an hour or two.
If you have a Pellet or Electric smoker you should be fine. The temperature is set and controlled by the software.
Don’t worry. We got you covered. Controlling your temperature is really simple. It comes down to one thing, and that’s controlling the air that comes in/out of your smoker.
If your temperature is too low, you have to increase the size of your air intake. If your fire is too high, then you need to check your exhaust and keep it open. If you still need to go lower then you need to cut back that air intake. When smoking, you should be looking for a thin blueish smoke almost invisible. That smoke color is a good indication that you are doing it correctly.
The proper way to learn how to control your fire is to go out there and practice. We recommend you start doing it without meat. Just jump in, get a good bed of fire and start going up and down. Then try to hold those temperatures for a period of time. It might take some time, but with practice everything is possible. We guarantee it is not rocket science.
The Stall – Smoking Meat for Beginners
This is a phenomenon you should be aware of, especially when cooking big cuts of meat. It’s widely known to pitmasters but if you are starting you might think there is something wrong.
The Stall is this: There will be a moment during the cooking period where you will notice your meat’s internal temperature will stop rising. It might even drop a little bit before it eventually rises again. You will see this happen when you hit the 145-165 F range.
This is perfectly normal and it happens because the meat “sweats”. The evaporating juices cool down the meat. It can take several hours for the exterior of the meat to be dry enough to break the stall and the temperature to start rising again. It is the pitmaster’s ultimate fight. The meat will be trying to cool itself and you are trying to keep that heat up.
We have three options to win this fight. You can just let the smoker at the same temperature and let it battle alone, it will eventually win. As a second option, you can bring your smoker to a higher temperature like 300 F to break quicker through the stall. Finally, you could take your meat out, wrap it up in aluminum foil or butcher’s paper and return it to the smoker.
Either option you choose, just remain calm and don’t panic.
BBQ seasonings – Smoking Meat for Beginners
There are thousands of BBQ seasonings out there. You can buy them at any store and there are people with their own signature rub claiming it´s the best BBQ rub.
There is a lot of debate here. Some people prefer a wet marinade and others dry rubs. Which one is better? That’s entirely up to you. Traditional BBQ is made with a dry rub. There are many types and brands, some are sweeter, some are hotter.
Our advice is to try different types with various meat combinations and find the one that better fits your palate. Another alternative is making your own rub. Here are some ingredients you could combine you make a base for your own dry rub:
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper.
- ½ cup brown sugar.
- 1 tablespoon salt.
- 1 tablespoon chili powder.
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder.
- 1 tablespoon onion powder.
You can leave it as is or you could go with something spicier or sweeter.
When is it done? – Smoking Meat for Beginners
It will be done when it’s done. In our guides you´ll see us continuously cook by temperature, not time. When you smoke you have to cook using a thermometer, not a clock. Time depends on a lot of factors. The size of your meat, your type of smoker, the temperature and so many other variables.
Use a meat cooking chart instead and bring your meat to the desired temperature. Make sure you are probing the thicker part of your meat when checking for the temperature.
The Bottom Line
Smoking meat is not difficult and, if you give it a try, we are sure you will end up loving it. It requires a decent amount of time and some nice weather. With this guide, you would be able to have a good baseline to start this adventure.
We recommend you start slowly and understand your smoker first. Definitely don’t start with any expensive cut of meat. Once you feel ready, check our recipes. You can start by learning how to smoke ribs using the 321 Method or maybe a Santa Maria-style Trip-Tip!