Along with jazz, the blues, William Faulkner and college football in the SEC, smoked BBQ is probably the greatest contribution the south has given the world. Lovers of this style of eating can enjoy it in the same way wine connoisseurs enjoy their favourite labels, including regional styles, techniques, types of wood used and the creativity that makes it great.
More and more, men are taking up ‘smoking’ as a hobby from the comfort of their own home. For the man that has time, patience and a love for great food, it can become a passion to be shared while celebrating with friends and family. Like any hobby, the toughest part is getting started. So we’ve created a quick beginner’s guide to get you pointed in the right direction. All we ask is an invite on a Sunday evening once you’ve mastered that brisket.
Smoking vs. grilling
There’s often confusion with regards to the difference between smoking and grilling, as many define both as BBQ. The real difference between the two comes down to temperature and technique. Smoking or smoked BBQ is done using very low heat, usually from around 68° to 225° F. Grilling on the other hand is done at higher heat, the usual 400-550° F. All of this said, many of the techniques used to make the great smoked BBQ dishes you know and love often are the result of some form of combination of the two.
Buying a smoker
This can be the most daunting task to get started as there are so many options on the market today. The best option is to pick the one that best fits the time you have when smoking and your own habits of attention to detail. For example, you can purchase electronic smokers that you simply enter your desired temperature to maintain your heat. However, this may not be a great fit if you are doing your smoking away from your house without a power outlet. But if you’re okay with putting in greater effort and want the classic taste of the low and slow meat, then a charcoal will be your best option.
The final option is typically a propane powered smoker. This option are easy and convenient and typically are a little more budget friendly. Thus, propane is a good option for novice smokers as they are easily and typically allow a ‘set it and forget it’ means to manage your heat.
Where you will be doing your smoking will also determine the type of smoker you choose and how mobile you would like it to be. We would recommend a simple upright style with legs that will allow you to easily move the smoker and manage the food until you get into your groove as to how to best use a smoker in your cooking environment. There are multiple smokers in the market that meet this style which are typically about the size and shape of a small bar fridge.
Our recommendation for a true beginner is an electric smoker like the Smoke Hollow 30-Inch Electric Smoker. It’s easy to use, large enough to cook a larger recipe, allows a low setting for non-meat items like cheese or veggies and is listed at a very affordable price.
Setting up your smoker
A great idea once you get your new smoker is to ‘season’ it. This means running the smoker with a wood of your choice over a long period of time to give the cooking environment the aroma you want without the metallic or steel smell of the manufacturer. This is also a good idea to get used to using the smoker without the risk of ruining a beautiful cut of meat. Simply run the smoker with the wood of your choice for approximately eight hours to get it ready for the day you are ready to use it.
Selecting your wood
The type of wood you choose can certainly have an impact on the taste of your food. There are multiple options out there, including cherry wood, apple, hickory, mesquire, etc. This is quite literally a matter of taste and preference. Hickory and apple are popular choices due to the fact that they compliment most meat options. Although it is popular in Texas and Oklahoma, we would recommend against mesquite. The taste is overpowering and in our opinion, a bad option.
Wood can be purchased at your local outdoor store, home improvement centre and of course online.
What to cook first
Like any new skill, you need to learn to crawl before you can walk. In smoking, this means starting with a meat that is a little more forgiving. In other words, don’t make your first foray into smoking a large brisket for a house full of guests. Start with something simple, such as chicken thighs. This is a favourite meat and cut for many expert BBQ enthusiasts not only because of the taste but also because it isn’t that complicated. Chicken thighs are a little more fatty so they still provide a moist bite even if they are slightly overcooked.
The one constant in smoked BBQ is that you are always experimenting and tweaking. This is part of the fun of it all. There’s lot of room for creativity and to find what works best for you. That’s why it’s a good idea to start with a simple recipe and meat so that if you screw up, it won’t ruin Sunday night dinner.
Sources for recipes and tips
There are multiple books and sites you can use to provide you years of enjoyable smoking with a variety of recipes and flavours. Here are some of our favourites.