Food is one of life’s pleasures, so it’s worthwhile finding out the best ways to prepare your meals. While there are many excellent dishes you can prepare using conventional cooking equipment that you’ll find in your kitchen, sometimes it’s beneficial to branch out a little, and try something that’s a little more adventurous — and much more tasty.
In that category, we can file smoker cooking. If you’ve ever had an outstanding piece of meat or plate of vegetables that seemed to have a whole other level of flavor, then chances are, it was prepared using a smoker. And the good news is that you don’t necessarily have to visit a BBQ joint to get your fill of smoker-produced meats and other dishes. It’s a style of cooking that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home.
In this article, we’re going to look at everything you need to know about using a smoker to prepare your meals. We’ll run through exactly what smoker cooking is, the different kinds of smokers, the various types of combustible materials you can use, and some delicious recipes! By the time you’ve finished reading, you might just be ready to begin your foray into the wonderful and tasty world of smoker cooking.
What is Smoker Cooking?
Before we dive too deep into the finer details of smoker cooking, let’s first look at what smoker cooking is. Essentially, it’s all in the name — the smoke of the fire plays an active role in the outcome of the dish, which could be meat, fish, vegetables, or something else. The food is cooked at a low temperature, for longer, with the use of the smoke enhancing the flavor and texture of the food.
It’s interesting to note that while this is a modern cooking trend, it’s not a new process. It’s been around for thousands of years — it was, in fact, the go-to way to prepare foods way back when. In the olden days, they didn’t cook their foods this way to get the best flavor. It was about preservation. We have refrigerators to keep dishes fresh. They didn’t. Using smoke and low temperatures to cook the food provides a preservation effect (though it’s only for a small period of time).
There are many different ways to smoke and cook a dish, as we’ll see below. However, the general principle remains more or less the same: the goal is to get a delicious flavor and texture. And there’s a reason why people who begin smoker cooking become addicted to the process — it really does create a delicious dish.
What Kinds of Smokers Are There?
There’s more than one way to smoke some meat. Once you break things down, you’ll find that there are a number of different smokers available. They all have their unique features! Much of the decision-making process comes down to how much experience you have and the effect that you’re trying to achieve.
Offset smokers, also called stick smokers, are probably the most common type of smoker available — they’re generally cheaper, which means they attract the interest of beginner smokers who are just initially curious about the process. They generally do require more work than other smokers because you need to monitor the fire almost constantly. Wood is the only source of fire, and it can be difficult to maintain a wood fire! The good news is that while you might have some difficulty in the first place, you’ll quickly learn the art of smoking foods.
Charcoal smokers use, as the name suggests, charcoal as the fuel source. You’ll need to get the coals lit. Once they are, you’ll control the temperature using external nobs. There’s a little more versatility with these types of smokers since you have the freedom to add some wood chippings to the coals to get more smoke (though you don’t have to).
Pellet smokers use advanced technology, and that means that they’re more hands-off than other smokers. In fact, with some models, you won’t need to do anything at all — you can just plug it in and let it do its things. This can be convenient, but you also lose some of the charm of being directly involved with the smoking process. Still, it’s a guaranteed good dish with minimal work, and that’s a pretty big plus!
Again, as the name suggests, these types of smokers use gas as the fuel source. And that’s a big plus because it means that you’ll have a constant source of heat that won’t waver — it’ll also distribute it evenly, which isn’t something that other fire sources will necessarily do. Of course, gas doesn’t produce smoke, so you’ll need to add your own, but that’s not a big problem. Depending on the size of your gas tank, you might need to have a couple handy if you’re planning to cook things really slowly — they don’t last forever!
The smoking process usually means that you’re cooking over an open flame. But that’s not always the case. With electric smokers, there is no flame. It’s all heat and smoke. The heat of a coil interacts with the wood chips and water to produce smoke. The effect on the meat is very different from what you’d get if you cooked over a flame, and there are many types of electric smokers, too, all of which have different qualities.
The water smoker can win a lot of plaudits on sites that publish reviews. This is in part because the heat and moisture of the smoker, which is sometimes called a bullet smoker, evenly distributes the heat and smoke. They’re also versatile — you can slow things down significantly with a water smoker, but you can also cook things quickly.
Different Types Of Wood for Smokers
Pellets have become a go-to favorite for many smoker-enthusiasts. They’re made from hardwood that has been ground down and then firmly packed together, which means that the burning process is slow. They’re also pretty adept at producing a consistent level of smoke without a build up of ash. If you’re going to use pellets, then make sure you’re not using ones with chemical additives. It’ll compromise the quality of the end product.
Wood chips are just wooden logs that have been put through a shredder. Wood chips tend to produce a delicious flavor, but do burn quicker — one good way to get around this is to soak the chips in water for around thirty minutes before using. The natural smoke flavor they produce is truly great.
Saw dust has many advantages, including being cheap. The burn is slower than chips, but faster than pellets, though they also offer less heat than both. It’s good to have a decent supply on hand so you can restock as needed throughout the day.
Why Smoked Food Tastes So Good
Smoked food is, to many, the best food that you can have. It just tastes so good. Part of this is explained by the process. While it’s possible to throw some burgers on the grill and let the heat do its thing, it’s unlikely that you’ll end up with a truly amazing piece of meat. That, like all good things, takes time. You could be cooking the meat for hours, allowing all the flavors to really come to the fore.
But there are many elements that make smoked food taste so good. Part of it is that it takes skill and effort. You can’t just put a smoker in the hands of a complete novice, and expect them to produce something special. It’s about selecting the right meat, figuring out the best way to cook it, having the best tools, and staying committed during the cooking process — if a person does this, then they’ll end up with a smoky, tender, outrageously delicious dish.
The Science of the Smoke Ring
If you stay in the slow cooker world long enough, then you’ll come across the term ‘smoke ring’ again and again. So what does this mean? The smoke ring refers to the thin crust of pink that you’ll find between the exterior of the meat and the browner meat. It’s the part of the meat that has people salivating. And for certain, it has a pretty big visual appeal — even people who weren’t hungry suddenly become ravenous when they see the smoke ring.
You’ll get the smoke ring from a smoker. So what causes it? It’s all about the chemical reaction between the nitrogen dioxide that’s part of the smoke, and the myoglobin that is naturally found in the meat. The mixture leaves no room for oxygen to enter the picture, and it’s oxygen that turns the meat browner. It’s worth noting that there are some types of smoker methods that are better than others. If you’re using wood bark or sapwood, then you’ll have a better chance of achieving the picture-perfect smoke ring than if you were using sawdust.
What Kinds of Foods Can You Smoke?
Once you’ve invested in a smoker, you’ll find that you want to use it again and again. And not only will you want to, but you’ll be able to. That’s because there are so many recipes that you can make using a smoker. Meat dishes might get most of the fame, but you can also smoke vegetables, fish, and even make desserts. Below, we’ll run through some of the best things to smoke.
First thing’s first: if you’re going to dedicate the time and effort to cook meat in your smoker, then make sure it’s worth your effort. Only the finest quality meat will do! But enough of that — what do you have to look forward to? Beef brisket is the classic — you’ll find yourself making it again and again. And it’ll get better every time you make it, since you’ll be improving your skills and putting your own spin on the dish.
BBQ ribs and a whole ham will also win you plenty of fans should you ever host a BBQ. In truth, though, you can throw virtually any meat and slow cook it in a smoker, and be impressed by the results. Remember that having a smoker is about having fun, so play around, and see what you can come up with.
Vegetables aren’t going to be the star of the show at the BBQ, but they will play an important supporting role. You can’t just eat all the time! The good news is that there’s a long line of vegetables that you can put into the smoker and get delicious results. In fact, it’d be easier to say what you can’t put in the smoker. If you like the taste normally, then give it a try. Some of the best options include zucchini, peppers, squash, corn on the cob, and cherry tomatoes. Put them all in and come up with a vegetable medley.
If you were surprised that you can cook vegetables in your smoker, then you might be even more surprised to learn that you can make desserts! Truly, the smoker is the gift that keeps on giving. Of course, you’re not really making the dessert in the smoker — you’re just giving it a final push towards tastiness before serving. You’ll have prepared the dish earlier in the day. In fact, most any dessert that can be heated up will work. Some classics include smoked pumpkin pie, smoked bread pudding, or banana tatin, which is a bit like having a smoked banoffee. Delicious!
As we’ve seen, there is oh so much to love about smokers. They’re fun to use, they connect us with the past, and, most important of all, they produce outstandingly delicious dishes. If you’re looking to step up your cooking game, then a smoker is the way to go. No one ever regrets buying their first smoker! In fact, quite the opposite happens. People can’t believe that they went so many years without this device in their life.