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Smoking meats

Barbecuing is an excellent way to enhance the flavor of any cut of meat

By SHIRLEY SPLITTSTOESSER - Grit Magazine | Apr 6, 2021


Grit Magazine

Barbecue raises the flavor of meat and fish to a new high-and creates an atmosphere of relaxation for the cook. In the United States, now as in the past, a barbecue means a large party. For example, politicians used barbecues to lure voters in the 1800s, and Scarlett O’Hara met Rhett Butler at a barbecue in Gone with the Wind.

A good barbecue nowadays starts with setting up the smoker or grill, continues with a gathering of family and friends for an afternoon of relaxed food preparation, and finishes with an evening of great eating.

Grilling, barbecuing and smoking are technically not the same. Temperature, cooking time and smoke vary. Grilling involves cooking over high heat (350 F or more) for a short period of time (an hour or less). Barbecue techniques, cooking time and temperature vary with location in the United States.

Smoking involves smoke and low temperature. The food may or may not be cooked. Smoking is one of the oldest known methods of preserving meat, fish and other foods. Smoking today is popular for the flavor it gives rather than for long-term preservation. So remember, smoked, barbecued leftovers need refrigeration.

The term “barbecuing,” as used in the United States, has come to have a variety of meanings, including the activity of grilling or smoking food, or even just a backyard party. For the purposes of this article, the terms “barbecuing” and “smoking” are used interchangeably, in reference to cooking with a low temperature (200 F or under) over a long time period (two to several hours) amid a cloud of hardwood smoke.

Prepare the smoker

Unlike conventional ovens, smokers don’t need to be preheated. A few minutes more or less in the low heat of a smoker will not make a difference to the meat. This adds to the leisurely atmosphere of barbecuing. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for regulating the temperature in your smoker and in placement of fuel and wood.

Charcoal is frequently used in barbecuing, although there is growing popularity in creating your own coals by burning down chunks of fruitwood and other flavorful fuel. Typically, wet hardwood chips or chunks are set directly on the hot coals to create smoke. Electric or gas smokers also use hardwood pieces to create smoke. Other smokers/cookers rely on a low-oxygen wood fire to create both heat and smoke. These devices typically have a firebox that’s separate from the cooking/smoking chamber.

Prepare the meat

Depending on the recipe, meat may be soaked in brine or marinated overnight or for a few hours before smoking. A mixture of herbs and spices, called a dry rub, can be put on overnight or just before smoking; it’s up to you how long to let the rub sit. Barbecue sauce that is applied at the beginning of smoking will become darker and crustier than if slathered on near the end of the cooking time. Place meat to be smoked on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes to moderate the chill of the refrigerator.

Finish the meat

Most barbecued meat is taken directly from the smoker and eaten. However, there are a few reasons to finish smoked meats in the oven or slow cooker. For instance, the cook who prefers lightly smoked flavor can remove the meat from the smoker after an hour or two; the cook may prefer to start early with the aim of eating much later; the weather may turn bad; or the smoker may misbehave by delivering a low temperature.

Probing for heat

A meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of smoking. Please note that a meat thermometer is different from the temperature gauge on the smoker, which shows the air temperature inside the smoker. A meat thermometer shows the temperature of the meat. There are two basic types of meat thermometers: instant-read and remote.

With an instant-read meat thermometer, the smoker is opened while the thermometer is inserted, read and removed. This results in loss of heat. The remote type is more efficient and has a probe attached to a 30-inch flexible cable ending in a temperature gauge, or ending in the receiver cradle that transmits the information to a hand-held temperature gauge. The probe is inserted into the meat and stays there, continually sending the temperature reading through the cable to the gauge outside the smoker. The remote thermometer can be set to sound an alert when the meat has reached the desired internal temperature.

‘Better than wild’ salmon

Most fresh salmon purchased in stores is farm-raised. It costs less than wild Pacific or Alaskan salmon, but it seldom has their fullness of flavor. However, if you add “better than wild” salmon dry rub to ordinary farm-raised salmon, you’ll think you bought wild salmon.

1 pound salmon

“Better than wild” salmon dry rub (recipe follows)

18 inches cheesecloth

3 tablespoons cooking oil

Prepare the smoker and maintain the temperature at 165 F.

Wash and dry the salmon, then massage the dry rub onto it. Brush or spray both the salmon and the cheesecloth with cooking oil.

Position the salmon, skin side down, on the cheesecloth, and place it in the smoker on a grate away from the heat source. Insert the meat thermometer probe into the salmon. (The cheesecloth will darken during the smoking process but will stay intact and allow you to easily remove fragile, cooked fish from the smoker. Cheesecloth lets smoke permeate, is inexpensive and is discarded for easy clean up.)

Cook for about 3 hours, or until salmon has reached 145 F – the USDA recommended safe minimum internal temperature for fish. When done, the salmon will be opaque, moist and flaky when checked with a fork.

“Better than wild” salmon dry rub

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon garlic salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

In a small bowl, stir together all the ingredients. Put a lid on the bowl and shake well to combine.

King loin

Smoking changes pork loin from peasant to king. The change has to be tasted to be believed. Taking the time to make your own brine, dry rub and barbecue sauce will give you true bragging rights when the compliments roll in.

2- to 3-pound boneless pork loin (also called pork tenderloin)

Pork loin brine (recipe follows)

Carolina dry rub (recipe follows)

Mustard-style barbecue sauce (recipe follows)

3 tablespoons cooking oil

Place pork loin in a plastic bag or a nonreactive dish; pour in Pork Loin Brine until loin is immersed. Refrigerate overnight. (Freeze unused brine for future use.)

Prepare the smoker and maintain the temperature at 180 F.

Remove the loin from the brine and wipe it dry; discard the used brine. Rub all sides of the loin with Carolina Dry Rub, mop it with a generous amount of Mustard-Style Barbecue Sauce, and then spray all sides with cooking oil.

Put the loin on the smoker grate over a pan of water. Insert the meat thermometer probe into the meat. Cook for 2 hours, then mop the loin on all sides with barbecue sauce again, and turn. Cook for a total of 4 hours, or until the loin reaches 160 F – the USDA recommended safe minimum internal temperature for pork. (I, personally, recommend smoking until the internal temperature is 170 F.)

Pork loin brine

1 gallon water

21/2 cups kosher or canning salt

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ginger

1 tablespoon powdered garlic

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon rosemary

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix until salt and sugar are dissolved.

Cover and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Carolina dry rub

1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup paprika

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

11/2 teaspoons garlic powder

11/2 teaspoons onion powder

In a bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Mustard-style barbecue sauce

1 cup prepared yellow mustard

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons chili powder

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons butter

11/2 teaspoons liquid smoke

In a saucepan, combine the mustard, sugars, vinegar, water, chili powder, and black and white pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Stir in the soy sauce, butter and liquid smoke. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Pour sauce into a bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend. Refrigerate any unused sauce.

Smoked beef roast

Rare, medium or well-done, smoked beef roast is delicious at all levels. A meat thermometer will let you choose the level of doneness.

To brine or not – that is the question. Brine adds flavor, but smoked beef roast is delicious either way, so it’s completely up to you.

3-pound beef roast (any type will smoke well)

Pork Loin Brine, optional

Carolina dry rub

Mustard-style barbecue sauce

3 tablespoons cooking oil

If you choose to marinate the roast with brine, immerse it in the Pork Loin Brine overnight. Discard the used brine.

Prepare the smoker and maintain the temperature at 180 F.

Wipe the roast dry, rub it generously with Carolina dry rub, and then mop it with mustard-style barbecue sauce. Spray all sides of the roast with cooking oil.

Put the roast on the smoker grate placed over a pan of water. Insert the meat thermometer probe into the roast. Cook for 2 hours, and then mop all sides of the roast with barbecue sauce again, and turn. Cook for a total of about 3 to 5 hours. The USDA recommendations for beef are: 145 F for rare; 160 F for medium; and 170 F for well-done.

Smoked bacon

Make a high-priced bacon from the least expensive bacon you can buy. No rub or sauce needed.

2 to 4 pounds unseasoned bacon slices

Prepare the smoker and maintain the temperature at 160 F.

Place bacon slices on the smoker grates and smoke until the bacon has a smoky coating. Smoking time will be about 2 hours. The bacon will not be fully cooked, but smoke will permeate the bacon to add a light, smoky flavor.


Brats take on a new level of flavor when smoked. Natural casings allow smoke to penetrate to the meat inside, but casings on most store-bought brats won’t. Smoky flavor will cling to the casings. Put brats in the smoker beside other meat being barbecued. Brats are great snacks to keep in the refrigerator – if any make it that far.


2 tablespoons cooking oil

Carolina dry rub, optional

Mustard-style barbecue sauce optional

Prepare the smoker and maintain the temperature at 180 F.

Rub the brats lightly with cooking oil before putting them on the smoker grate.

Using Carolina dry rub on brats and/or mopping with mustard-style barbecue sauce in preparation for smoking is an individual taste.

For your first experience in smoking brats, leave some brats with no coating, put combinations of dry rub and/or sauce on others, and form your own opinion.

Cook for a total of about 2 hours, or until the brats have reached 160 F, which is the USDA recommended safe minimum internal temperature for ground beef, veal and lamb. For more recipes fresh out of the oven, visit us at www.grit.com.

Excerpted from GRIT. To read more articles from GRIT, please visit www.grit.com or call 866-803-7096 to subscribe. Copyright 2021 by Ogden Publications Inc.

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