As someone that started off not too long ago smoking meat I looked back and asked myself, what were some basic tips I wish I had known when I started to smoke meat. Here are a 5 tips for smoking meat and some other smoker tips for beginners that might be helpful as you start your journey with the smoker.
Everything below is not in any particular order just a variety of thoughts for you to review. Most of it applies regardless of the type of smoker you are using so this should be of value to many of your. Happy reading and enjoy!
Tips For Smoking Meat #1 – Log Your Smokes
As I started my food smoking journey, one of the tips for smoking meat that has been helpful was logging my smokes. This is something I wish I had started much earlier into my time smoking. There is no way you can remember each smoke, what worked and what did not work. Each smoke is going to have its own nuances, maybe it was cold one day or windy another.
So do yourself a favor, it will help you over the long haul and allow you to fine tune your process. Get a notebook, could be anything, doesn’t matter, and start to log each smoke. I log everything from weather, charcoal used, meat type and cut, wood type, start time, pull time, rest time. Log what works for you but log each smoke. If you are new to smoking meat it will give you reference points and will help you learn your craft and duplicate things when it works.
Tips For Smoking Meat #2 – Fuel – Specifically Charcoal
Another of our tips for smoking meat is around fuel, specifically we are going to look at charcoal. Frequently you will see people have varying opinions on what brand and type of charcoal to use but I think the one thing many will agree on is the quality. Buying cheap or store brand charcoal is usually not the deal it looks like. In many cases it burns too fast, or creates more ash but is rarely the deal you think it is. You don’t have to break the bank buying charcoal but I would suggest buying a quality brand that fits your budget.
If you are looking for a great deep dive into charcoal reviews take a look at this video. This guy does a great job breaking down the different charcoals. After seeing this I made the switch to B&B products. During 2020 it was tough finding charcoal with any consistency so I took what I could find. Recently I have used the B&B char logs, which I feel burn better than the lump and briquettes. Overall I keep a variety of the char logs, the lump and briquettes, all for varying reasons. Check out B&B products but look at this video if you are looking for ideas around what charcoal to use.
Tips For Smoking Meat #3 – How To Time A Smoke
Another crucial tip for smoking meat is when to start a smoke. How long does it take to smoke a pork butt or how long to smoke a chuck roast? Ever find yourself asking that question? It is a very common question on many of the Facebook groups I am a part of. Anyone that has been smoking forever will say, don’t smoke to time but to internal temperature and when its done its done.
Yes, while I agree with that overall thought it is easier said than done. If you have guests coming over or a family to feed, you want to have a general idea on when to start. Most will agree that the general rule is 1.5 hours per pound on the meat you are smoking. Now that will vary depending on what temperature you are smoking at, but in this case, use 250° as the baseline temperature. That will not take into account how you deal with The Stall but it sets a starting point when you are trying to figure out how long a smoke will take and when you may want to start.
As mentioned above, there are aspects that should be taken into account depending on what you are cooking. If you are doing a chuck roast, you are going to pull that around 180° as opposed to if you are going to shred it, that will be closer to 200° -205°. A shredded chuck roast, may stay on for an extra hour or two while getting to that higher temperature. There will always variables in each different meat you smoke.
I can honestly say I probably never start early enough. One thing you can do if you are looking to start early but afraid of finishing to soon, you can always wrap your meat in either foil or butcher paper and then in some towels and throw it in the cooler. It lasts far longer than you might think, gives the meat that time to rest and takes some of the pressure off as far as trying to finish in time.
In just about every case you do not want to smoke to a specific time but the IT. The guide of 1.5 hours per pound gives a good gauge as far when you need to start. How and when you finish is ultimately dependent on what you are smoking and to what temperature and if there is a stall involved and how you tackle it.
Tips For Smoking Meat #4 – Let’s Talk About Meat Binders
I wish someone told me about this tip for smoked meat when I was starting out. I had a hard time coming to grips that I could rub mustard all over my chuck roasts and pork butts and never actually taste it.
So some will call it the great mustard conspiracy, others will ask why are you ruining your steak by coating it with mustard and some will just roll with it.
But why the mustard? The easy answer is it acts as a glue for your rub. It will ensure that the majority of your rub will stay in place and not fall off the meat. The second reason is that most of it will evaporate during the smoking process leaving you with only the spices in your rub. The third reason, you probably already have some in your refrigerator and finally, its cheap. Some will say the vinegar content of the mustard helps the spices penetrate the meat and others will dive into other scientific aspects but at the end of the day, it works and you rarely, if ever, are left with a mustard taste.
There is an ongoing joke among those that do not use mustard as a binder, that some marketing genius in the mustard industry convinced someone in the smoking industry that mustard was a great idea for a binder. Who’s to say they are wrong?
So why not something else? Well there is no reason you cannot use some other condiments as binders. I recently did a brisket and I used olive oil as my binder. As you start to deviate from the mustard, you will start getting into other condiments that you can use but may start to incur some additional flavor into your meat. There is nothing wrong with that, of course but it is something you should be mindful of, especially when you factor in the flavor blends with the binder and the rub you are using. Another common binder you will see used is a Worchester sauce, of the three this would certainly add the most flavor to your meat.
The other option is no binder at all. I have done that as well. You will not get total coverage of your rub, but pretty close. What ends up happening is you do you not get the rub on as thick as if you were to be using a binder. Most meats have enough moisture on them to allow the rub to bind on its own. You may not get the rub on as thick and you lose some in the transfer process but not enough that once on the smoker you can’t recoat in place.
So go ahead, use the mustard. It will not leave much, if any, taste once it has burned off, or experiment and see what you like to you use. You never know what flavor combos you will come up with.
Tips For Smoking Meat #5 – What Meat Should I Smoke First
So if you are new to smoking, do not start off with a brisket. That is a long smoke, could be an expensive mistake if you screw it up and has a lot of opportunity to run into issues. It took me a year before I was ready to try a brisket. Here are some ideas of other meats you may want to start off with as your first meats.
Pork butts are a great place to start. They are very forgiving, they care cheap on a per pound basis and taste great. Word to the wise, the ones they sell at Costco are actually a 2 pack.
Chicken thighs are another great option. Brine them for a bit and let them go on the smoker. Again a cheap option, easy to do and are done in a matter of hours. It is worth noting that you are better off with the thigh than the breasts. If not done correctly breasts are going to dry out faster than the thighs.
Your other option, granted a little harder than the other two are chuck roasts. They are easy, (great practice for that eventual brisket), yet inexpensive and have a ton of flavor. If you are not on top of it these can get dried out too but sure are a great place to start if you are looking for a beef product.
Looking for some other ideas on what to smoke that are easier for the beginners out there? Take a look at some of these suggestions:
One aspect I did not do here was a review of smokers, there is so much more info out there to research and so many smokers ranging from electric smoker to pellet to charcoal and more that others have done a great job with that info out there on the internet.
I hope this article for 5 Tips for Smoking Meat was helpful for you. Check out our other recipes and we are always appreciative or likes, shares and comments on our recipes and articles. Thanks for being here and keep that smoke rolling!