Smoking meat is a little more involved than just placing meat in a smoker and letting it go. The process and preparation of getting the meat ready is over half of the battle and will go a long ways toward determining the resulting flavor of the meat.
There are many ways to bump up the flavor of the meat and while much of this is personal taste, few people would eat smoked meat if nothing was added before hand such as marinades or dry rubs. Many people will not even eat smoked meat without barbecue sauce so knowing how to increase flavor is very important to your smoking meat education.
Let's cover these flavor enhancements one by one and talk about what each one does and how to do it correctly without over-doing it.
When I say marinades, I am thinking of a flavorful liquid that meat sits in, usually overnight. The liquid would be of a high flavor profile and soaks into the meat as it sits there in the fridge. It may also have properties that help to tenderize the meat.
Many people just buy some type of marinade from the store while others will just mix together things from the fridge such as soy sauce, Worcestershire, orange juice, and even soft drinks such as Coca Cola.
I don't get into marinades as much as some folks but, when I do, I usually prefer a simple bottle of zesty Italian dressing. It works well and is extremely easy.
All in all, you can use whatever you like and chances are, if it is a flavor that you like, you will probably like the way it tastes in the meat.
This is a process that has gained a lot more popularity over the last few years and is simply soaking meat in a salt/water solution for a number of hours to draw moisture into the meat.
There is quite a bit of argument as to what actually happens during the brining process and why it works the way it does but I am not so concerned with that as I am that it actually does work and it works very well.
The main type of meat that I wet brine is poultry. A Thanksgiving turkey placed in water, salt and sugar along with some other flavorings for ten to twelve hours will end up being the most juicy bird you have ever tasted. Even if it is slightly overcooked, it will still be moist and juicy.
Somehow, moisture is drawn into the fibers of the meat and trapped there. Anything else that is in the water will be drawn in with it which is why I like to add flavorings to the water such as molasses, Worcestershire, Tabasco, wine and even a little Zatarain's crab boil occasionally for a really flavorful and juicy turkey.
This is similar to wet brining except that you simply add salt to the surface of meat and it draws moisture to the surface. The moisture then mixes with the salt and resolves the salt creating a brine solution of its own.
This mixture is then reabsorbed back into the meat locking in the juices that were already there and introducing more flavor to the inside of the meat.
As a general rule, you use ½ teaspoon of coarse kosher salt per pound of meat.
Dry brining is most often used on steaks and chops but can also be used on fish, briskets, ribs, even chicken and turkey.
Read more about brining
Simply put, injecting is using a needle and syringe to inject flavored liquid down into the meat right before cooking it. It is a good way to add lots of flavor to the meat very quickly.
I see this a lot from people who enter competitions.. they don't have a lot of time to sit and brine things for hours on end or spend a lot of time letting things soak in marinades so they inject. It's fast and it's easy.
If you look in the sauce aisle at your supermarket you will find any number of bottle of injection liquids and any of them are probably pretty good. It would also be fairly easy to create your own from what you have in the fridge. Things like soy sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire, juices, wines, etc. mixed together will work great.
If you mix something up, just keep playing with it, write down what you do so you can adjust it later, If it taste good to you it will probably taste good injected into the meat.
For instance, I like to mix wing sauce and butter together and inject that into chicken legs and/or thighs for some really souped up hot wings.
You will need a meat injector and you can find these on Amazon or almost anywhere that sells cooking tools and accessories.
Apply a little olive oil to the rubber parts on the plunger before attaching the needle to the plunger assembly. Pour the marinade into a clean container to prevent cross contamination and fill the injector by placing the injector needle into the marinade with the plunger pushed all the way in. Slowly pull the plunger out to allow the marinade to be drawn into the injector.
Each type of meat is different so you will have to use your own best judgment as to needle placement. I recommend 1-2 ounces per pound of meat. Place the injector into the meat at a 45 degree angle and slowly depress the plunger as you pull the injector out of the meat. Depending on the size of the meat you are injecting, evenly space the injections so that you have the correct amount evenly placed all over the meat.
Just to give an example, In a 12 pound turkey, I would place 4 ounces in each breast, 2 ounces in each leg, 2 ounces in each thigh.
I love dry rubs on meat.. this is my preferred way to add lots of flavor to every bite. Rubs are generally a combination of ground and powdered spices mixed together and rubbed onto the outside of meat either the night before or right before it goes onto the smoker.
The supermarket will have tons of rubs and you can find a lot of them online but my problem with most of them is that they are too salty. I just don't think a rub should be based on salt.
If you have the time and the patience, you can concoct your own just make sure to write everything down accurately. Every time you add something try it out and continue this process until it gets perfect. Be sure to get advice from your family and friends and encourage them to be brutally honest.
To apply a rub to meat, I recommend a binder to help it to stick.
My favorite thing to use is regular yellow mustard, like the kind you'd put on a hotdog. Just apply a very thin coat to all sides of the meat and then apply the rub.
The mustard acts as a sticking agent for the rub and once the meat is cooked you will find that the mustard flavor is no longer there but the rub remains.
You can also use barbecue sauce, molasses, jams, olive oil, butter or other wetting agents to create a better surface so the rub will stick to the meat.
Note: A few years back we put my rubs into a bottle and started selling them, they are now in more than 30 stores and you can also order them directly from our warehouse.
I usually prefer barbecue sauce to be served on the side and warm but some people like for it to be added to the meat.
Let me just make one thing clear.. adding barbecue sauce to meat does not make it “barbecue”.
If you do like a little sauce on ribs or other meat while they are cooking then typically you will do so toward the end of the cooking process for best results. Barbecue sauce added to ribs about thirty minutes before they are finished cooking will have time to caramelize and get all good and delicious by the time they are served.
I like to mix a little honey with my barbecue sauce if I am using it as a glaze. The honey will add a nice sheen to the meat and make it even more beautiful and tasty than it already is.
If you do decide to try your hand at making something up.. be sure to write down everything that you do in case you need to make some changes to it later.
Note: If you'd like to try my own bottled barbecue sauce, you can do that. Carried in more than 30 stores or you can order it online.
Meat has a tendency to dry out while sitting in the heat of the smoker for long hours. To help keep the meat from drying out it is good to apply a mop every hour or so which can be as simple as apple juice, melted butter, or even plain olive oil.
I recommend that you acquire a plastic spray bottle for your mops which will allow you to quickly raise the lid of your smoker, spray the meat and close the lid. Fast is a good thing for this process so as to not allow more heat than necessary to escape from the smoker.
If you are looking for the best mop recipe, check this one out at https://www.smoking-meat.com/jeffs-butter-and-rub-mop-sauce