Getting Started with Smoke
~Chef Perry Perkins~
Smoking meat is as old as, well...smoke and meat.
Some of the best meats to slow smoke are those that aren't much good for any other cooking method.
Two of the kings of BBQ, pork shoulder and beef brisket, are real jaw-wreckers if not cooked low and slow, mature poultry is another great choice. There are plenty of meats that are great to smoke, but for starters, let's just look at the bog three...
One of the best meats to make your bones on (so to speak), is a good, fresh pork shoulder. These lovely hunks of pig are usually inexpensive, and very forgiving to the smoke learning curve, and experimentation. You'll want to smoke, using hickory or pecan, at around 215-225°F, for 90 minutes per pound.
In many parts of the country, beef brisket IS BBQ. Indelibly tough and bland when cooked with conventional methods, brisket magically transforms, after a long bath in smoke, into a melt-in- your mouth, sweet, savory, smoky treat. Sliced thin (Texas-style) or chopped for tacos are my two favorite ways to use brisket.
One of the great things about brisket is that it's crazy-simple, with very little prep or advanced techniques required. Bring to room temp, season simply with salt, pepper, and garlic, and smoke with oak for 90 minutes per pound, at 225°F. (See "Using the Crutch", below.)
Chicken, while still pretty easy, requires a little more forethought than shoulders or brisket.
First of all, whenever possible, find a plump, fresh, 3-5-pound bird free-range bird. Not only do you not have to worry about what chemicals are floating around in your hen, but the taste and texture is vastly better, than some shriveled, frozen bird from the supermarket.
Like any BBQ, the secret to perfect chicken is, you guessed it...low and slow smoking! Around 235°F, for 60 minutes per pound, is what you’re looking for.
For chicken, with its more delicate flavor, I like a lighter tasting wood-smoke, like apple or cherry.
Pull the chickens out of the smoke when the meat is still slightly undercooked, around 150°F, move it over the direct heat of a hot grill top, and crisp the skin on all sides.
Some folks skip this step if they're planning to shred the chicken, but I think that the crispy bits of skin really kick up the flavor of a pulled chicken sandwich, so it’s worth a little extra work!
Chef's note: If you don't have enough heat left in your coals, when the chicken is done smoking, you can do this step under the broiler, as well.
4 More Tips for Mastering the Curve:
Rule of thumb for Low & Slow:
Make your own luck…get a thermometer.
The most important thing to remember, if you want to smoke great meat, is to smoke! Smoke a lot, try different recipes, different techniques, different cuts…and try them often!
As a third-generation chef, Perry P. Perkins focuses his love of cooking on barbeque, traditional southern fare, and fresh Northwest cuisine.
Perry runs the non-profit organization, MY KITCHEN Outreach Program, which teaches nutrition, shopping, and hands on cooking classes for at risk youth.
His cookbooks include La Caja China Cooking, La Caja China World, La Caja China Party, and the NEW “La Caja China Grill.”
You can follow the rest of Chef Perry’s cooking adventures at ChefPerryPerkins.com