That delicious aroma hits your nose – the charred smell of meat smoking over a wood fire. Your mouth starts watering. The BBQ sauce options dance before your eyes. This is heaven on earth.
But you’ve only ever had someone else’s smoked meats. And this year, you’ve decided it’s time to make your own. But where do you start?
What is Meat Smoking?
Smoking meat is basically the art of grilling over a lower temperature burn for a longer period of time. Usually this grilling is going to be over a temperature of 200 to 250 degrees, and, generally it’s going to be over charcoal or wood, though gas can be used. And this is done through indirect heat, rather than that flame we’re used to on regular grilling experiences.
What’s the Difference between Smoking, Grilling, and Barbecuing?
A pretty direct way of looking at it is that grilling is done in a matter of minutes, barbecuing will take hours, and smoking could actually take up to two weeks.
Grilling is what we do for a backyard party, generally. This process is designed to char the outside of the meat, vegetables, fish or even fruit that we cook over the open flame. The temperatures for grilling are the highest of the three, which is why it takes the least amount of time to cook. Grilling seals in the flavors, but only the outside of the food is ever exposed to smoke.
Barbecuing is done at lower temperatures, usually taking several hours longer than grilling. In this process, the meat is basically cooked with smoke. This method uses indirect heat, usually produced by charcoal or wood chips. Both barbecued and grilled can be eaten immediately after cooking. Generally, when you hear the term “smoking” of meats in the non-commercial sense, you’re talking about barbecuing.
In the old days, they had smoke houses, in which they would cure the meat for weeks. These smoke houses were used for curing fish or meat, as well as the storage of these food items after they had been smoked — sometimes up to a year. We still have smoke houses, but they work a bit more efficiently than their predecessors. Of course, we also have smoking grills, and those generally produce edible food much more quickly, and with less maintenance throughout the process. If you’ve ever purchased smoked salmon, smoked pork or any other smoked product, these foods have been prepared in modern smoke houses and cooked afterwards (generally poached) in order to be preserved and consumed safely.
Is There a Difference Between a Grill and a Smoker?
There is a subtle difference between a regular grill and a smoker grill. A regular grill can technically be used for barbecuing, grilling or smoking, but a smoker grill will make the difference in the moisture levels of your meat as you smoke or barbecue it. Because regular grills have direct heat, you have to raise the lid and stir the heat source a bit to prevent your food from over-cooking. A smoker grill, however, has an external indirect heat source, and this prevents you from repeatedly exposing your food to oxygen, which can dry out your food. You can do overnight smoking with a smoker grill, but that’s probably not a good idea with a regular grill, unless you prefer daytime sleeping.
Where to Purchase a Meat Smoker
Of course, now comes the tricky part — finding the right smoker. Home Depot grills are a good place to start. They offer a variety of options, ranging from your super basic, easy to use grills up to the more advanced types. Other places to look could include Lowes, Williams Sonoma, Walmart and even Best Buy.
Where to Purchase the Right Smoking Wood
The next step would be finding the right wood. Different meats and foods are cured and smoked better by different woods. They add flavors, some burn hotter or shorter than some, while others should only be mixed with certain woods to dampen bitter overtones or subtleties that would benefit from variety. Home Depot wood selections are a good place to start with your smoking experiences. Again, do some research and learn what wood to use for which foods you’re cooking.
Go online to review sites to find the best smoker grill options. Read up on wood types and how they affect flavors and the smoking process. Generally speaking, you can walk into a store like Home Depot or Lowes and find the right one for you, just by asking a few questions. Be sure to know what you’re looking for beforehand, like whether or not you intend to barbecue, do the long-haul smoking projects, or if you’re really just looking for a fun way to grill out on the fourth of July.