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ENTERTAINING
 

Part II: Smoking Meat:
Buying Your Smoker And The Stuff With Which You Will Make Magic –OR- Your spouse is going to kill you at the sight of all the junk you bought.

By Eric Stein
 

 

So, which offset smoker is right for you? In the low-end price range there are a few contenders available. Your local big-box stores pretty much all carry smokers which are only slightly less than adequate and are more apt rust to pieces on your deck, in your yard, or wherever you decide to place them than other products out there. Some of these units are not all that bad; they just tend to be made of lighter steel and thus don’t retain heat as well as they should. Additionally, factors like the vent positioning and chimney location are really not ideal (yes, where the chimney is located does make a difference).

 

At the other end of the price range – in Ferrari™ country – there are the Klose™ and Tejas™ smokers which, for the most basic models, will set you back at least $800 -  and that is for a pretty basic model. Smoking is fun, but not quite so fun that I would say that you need to start with a $800 dollar smoker. I would hate for you to dislike it and have to fire sale the thing (I’m full of these puns). But, if you want to go big (and I definitely want to one day, that’s for sure) these are the ones to look at since they won’t “do you wrong”, as they say.

 

As you have probably deduced, you are being steered towards the “middle” price range. After spending an inordinate amount of time hanging around in barbecue chat rooms and seedy “mesquiteries”, I have determined which model is – in the opinion of this author and numerous other authorities - really the best for less than $750. And, since I bought it, I can attest to its “best-ness”. Barbecues Galore™ (hereinafter BBQG) sells a model called the Bar-B-Chef™ which I believe, pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar, will do more for you than any other smoker (oh yeah, it also doubles as a standard charcoal grill, so it’s really a multi-tasker). The Bar-B-Chef™ (hereinafter, BBC) sells for about $250 and is constructed of painted heavy-gauge stainless steel.

 


(photo courtesy of BBQGalore.com)

 

The Bar-B-Chef Offset Smoker.

  

First off, let me say that I am in way affiliated with, nor do I own stock in, nor am I friends with any employees of, nor am I even a huge fan of BBQG. Okay, that very last thing was a lie, I am a big fan, but I am no shill. What I have figured out – now that I am on my second smoker – is that, for the money, there is nothing even close to its quality out there. So, if you are looking for reliability and versatility and value, you will find it in the BBC. That being said, here is all you need to know about the BBC: It is big and heavy. That means that it will hold a lot meat, a lot of charcoal and a lot of heat for quite a while. And, as many of my chat room buddies have pointed out, “low and slow” is the name of the game. By the way, if you are looking for a third party endorsement, check out the comments about the BBC from the About.com™ barbecue spokesperson, Derrick Riches; the only poke he gives it is that it may need modification and the folks at BBQG took his comments and incorporated them into the design – leaving almost no flaws.

 

So, once you have decided to purchase the smoker, these are the things you will need to buy when in order to get started:

 

  1. The smoker. Obviously.
     

  2. Charcoal. As I mentioned before, to cook you are going to need hardwood charcoal. There are many manufacturers and I have used about four and found no massive differences, although some do seem to burn a little longer than others and smell less funky – in general, avoid grocery store brands. (As I will point out later, you don’t need to use hardwood for the breaking-in process, so get yourself a starter bag of briquette in addition to your hardwood charcoal)
     

  3. A chimney starter. They look this:

 


(picture courtesy of Weber.com)

 

  1. At least one - and preferably two - digital probe thermometers. You want the ones with the probe on a long wire. The digital probe thermometers are indispensable in the smoking process as far as I am concerned. I have two, one is wireless so that I don’t have to stand by the grill to see what is going inside of it. Some die-hard purists will tell you that you “just know” when the meat is done. Yeah, right. Whatever. Buy the thermometers.

Pyrex™ Digital Probe Thermometer
(photo courtesy of Kitchen contraptions.com)
 

  1. A long lighter (one of those fireplace lighters is ideal) no sense in burning the top two or three layers of skin off if you can avoid it.

A BBQ lighter from Cutlery Made
(photo courtesy of cutleryandmore.com)

 

  1. Some tongs. I would go for at least two pairs – one longer and one shorter – for handling meat, charcoal etc. I personally use three pairs for various purposes. Also, remember that spring loaded tongs are your friends.

OXO Good Grips™ spring loaded tongs
(photo courtesy of homemadetoday.com)
 

 

  1. Some really good gloves which are fireproof-“ish”. My favorite TV cooking personality, Alton Brown, recommends welding gloves. They really are pretty good. But they are hard to come by. Try for the silicon gloves, they will suffice.

Silicon Glove from OrkaMitt™

(photo courtesy of ecookshop.com)

 

  1. Aluminum foil. If you lived during the 20th century you probably already have this. If, however, you are less than six years old, go get some. And don’t play with fire, little kids are not allowed to play with fire.
     

  2. At least one Pyrex™ style glass baking dish – this will be used to ferry meat and catch drippings, etc.
     
  3. A grill brush. If you already own a grill, you probably already have one. If you own a grill and you don’t, you need to understand that not cleaning your grill is a very naughty thing to do. Go buy one if you don’t have one – you won’t need it to smoke, but you will need it afterwards.

 

  1. Meat. At some point, this whole exercise in masochism is going to require that you break out the meat and cook it. Not immediately, but you may as well be prepared.
     

Speaking of meat, we may as well address what type of meat to go with for your first smoking experience. Getting the meat ready for cooking is fodder (I told you I have a lot puns) for a later discussion, for now, we will just look at what you will buy. There are a small number of cuts which are ideal for smoking. They are as follows and we will be cooking Pork Shoulder for our first try since it is actually pretty easy:

 

  1. Beef Brisket (this is generally considered to be the “widow maker” in barbecue circles as it really does weed out a lot of amateurs. It is an unforgiving piece of meat and it requires serious time, attention to detail and perseverance. Sounds good, sign me up).

 

Beef brisket
(photo courtesy of brawleybeef.com)
 

 

  1. Pork Shoulder (this goes by a lot names, so be wary, lest you get some other section of the pig which is not so suitable. Basically, you will be looking for a four to six pound pork shoulder – the upper part of the pig’s front leg – with either bone in or out and you will want to make sure that it has a nice fat slab on one side so that it can be rendered sufficiently moist during the cooking process – more on that later, though). Some other names include: Picnic shoulder, pork arm picnic, pork picnic shoulder roast. The Boston Butt is similar but has a slightly different flavor – it does however, make for good eatin’ (as they down south).

Pork Shoulder
(photo courtesy of foodsubs.com)

 

  1. Ribs (this is kind of a no-brainer). Specifically, get back ribs (also referred to as baby back ribs). Try and remember to remove the membrane. You can find racks of ribs in three packs for a very economical price – remove the membrane. You have been warned.

Pork Baby Back Ribs

(photo courtesy of foodsubs.com)
 

  1. Chicken or Turkey (typically whole birds are ideal, but wings are good too.)
     

  2. Beef Ribs (these are big and I have not yet ventured to cook them, but I am heading down that road). They are generally referred to as “short ribs”.

Beef Short Ribs
(photo courtesy of foodsubs.com)
 

  1. Fish – this one is tricky and I have no idea how to do it. So, like any good journalist, I will ignore it. As with poultry, pictures aren’t necessary, you know what fish looks like.

 

As you can see, there are a lot of choices for what meat to smoke. Once you have bought all the necessary items, next you have to build the smoker, prep it and prep the food for cooking – that, we shall discuss in the next installment.

 


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