Hello and welcome to this edition of the smoking meat newsletter. It is late July and it's hot but I still have the smoker going fairly often and I hope you guys have found some great ways to stay cool this summer while you cook outdoors.
I am always looking to give you guys and gals the best smoking meat information I can muster up and I thought this week we'd do some live (well.. as live as it gets here) questions and answers. It seems like every time I do a question and answer session, I get a ton of email from folks telling me how much they enjoy it.
You send in hundreds of questions every week and while I can't always answer all of them personally, I do try to answer as many as I can and my assistant answers some as well.
So let's grab a handful of those from the electronic mailbag and I will answer them for you right here in the newsletter.
It might just be the very thing you were wondering about.
If you like this sort of thing then let me know and perhaps I can try to do it a little more often. If you don't like it then feel free to let me know that as well;-)
My amazing, one-of-a-kind original rub recipe and original barbecue sauce recipe will.. enhance everything you cook, wow your friends and family and the purchase price helps to support this website and newsletter. Check out the recipes HERE!
Questions and Answers
Spare Ribs Too Tender
Q: I am still relatively new at smoking but have done spare ribs a few times. This weekend I decided to try the 3-2-1 method for the first time and due to the size of the ribs, I had to use a rib rack to fit them on my Kamado Joe. Temp was running about 225 to 235. I mopped on some apple juice around 1.5 hours into the smoke and then wrapped in foil with some apple juice after the 3rd hour. When I took them out of the foil in about 2 hours the meat was falling off the bones so the last hour was not used. Does using vertical racks change the time compared to smoking bone side down directly on the grill? Had about 6 to 8 lbs between the 2 rib sections. Thanks for any help you can give.
Forgot to mention I used your rub and sauce recipes for the first time, sauce on the side for anyone that wanted it. Both were a big hit, especially the sauce.
A: I have not experienced a difference in cooking time due to using rib racks vs. flat on the grates. However, while the 3-2-1 method is a tried and true process, I do recommend that you adjust the numbers once you have done it a time or two to suit your own liking and your own cooker.
Each smoker/grill cooks a little different, handles heat a little different and each has more or less radiant heat involved so things won't always cook exactly the same from unit to unit.
In that particular cooker, it sounds like you might want to go to perhaps a 3.5-1.5-1 or even a 4-1-1 might be better for you.
You may also notice that some ribs are thicker than others and you may want to trim a little time off the 2nd step if they are less thick than usual.
I do feel that the last hour back on the grate is very important as it tends to firm everything back up on the outside without de-tenderizing the inside.
The time in the pan is a process which super tenderizes the ribs and the outside of the ribs tend to get really soft. That last hour back on the grates recreates the crispy outside and it also allows you time to add a little sauce if you are wanting to do sticky ribs.
Play with the times and take good notes and you should have your own personal process in no time at all. Now you have a great excuse to cook more ribs ;-)
Brining with Dr. Pepper
Q: Love your newsletter and magazine!
I have seen brines using soda like Dr. Pepper or Coke. I am not a soda drinker, so it wouldn't be the first thing on my list to use as brine. Is it the sugar and what does it really do!
A: We combine liquid and salt to make a brine and then soak the meat in that for several hours to add moisture to the meat. When it is finished cooking, you end up with a much juicier end product.
The flavors, sugar, etc. that you can add to the brine are just an added bonus but not really required.
I have always liked to use flavored soda for the liquid in my brines due to the fact that the acid tends to help break down the meat especially in things like brisket, pork shoulder, etc.
The cherry flavor in the Dr. Pepper is quite subtle but I still like it and I think it adds something to the end product that is worth trying.
I recommend that you give it a shot and see what you think.
Q: I'm so glad I found your website and some of your recipes look awesome. My problem is that I have a Big Chief Smokehouse with a max temp of 160°. Is there anywhere on your site I can find recipes to help me with my smoker. Most of what I smoke entails finishing on a BBQ or in an oven. Are my options that limited with this kind of smoker?
A: I am afraid that the Big Chief smokehouse is made specifically for smoking things that require lower temperatures such as sausage, bacon, beef jerky, and fish.
Most of what we do on the website is geared toward “hot smoking” which is in the range of 225-240 degrees F which is what you need to cook/smoke ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey and even some fish and wild game.
It is perfectly fine to smoke the food for a couple of hours then finish in the oven to get that smoke flavor but it is much more efficient and nice to be able to do all of it on the smoker without having to move it during the process.
If you are wanting to continue with a very similar type of electric smoker but with higher heat capabilities, then you might consider the Smoke Hollow which gets great reviews on amazon.
If you are interested in smoking things that require lower temperatures, we have an area on the forum specifically for that type of thing and there may even be folks that use the same smoker for that purpose.
Q: I'm new to the site. Like it a lot. I have a question perhaps you can help me with.
I bought the Weber Smoky Mountain Smoker. I love it and get great results from it. My only complaint is that there no thermometer to check the smoking temperature while I'm cooking. I've done well approximating but I was wondering if you had any suggestions on a thermometer and its placement so I can regulate and monitor the temperature while I'm cooking. I believe the newer models come with a temp gauge but mine does not.
A: I love the WSM smoker as well and I agree that the thermometer is a nice thing to have right there on the smoker.
You can order the thermometer that normally gets installed on these if you like. You will have to drill a hole in the lid to install it but as long as you are careful and you paint the bare metal after it is drilled, you should not have any rust issues.
I cannot vouch for this store as I have not ordered from them personally but they do seem to have the parts that you need.
If you want to go an alternate route, you can buy any replacement dial thermometer at amazon, Lowes, Home Depot or even your local hardware store and it should come with instructions for mounting it to the lid of your smoker.
I would definitely test it in boiling water or ice water to make sure it is reading within a degree or two of 212/33 degrees F (respectively) before installing it.
These normally are installed in the lid which is slightly above grate level but it does give you a pretty good idea of what temperature you are running.
Another option that I like to employ is to use the “Smoke” by Thermoworks which is a high quality, digital, dual probe, remote thermometer designed to keep you updated on the temperature of your smoker as well as your food from more than 200 feet away.
It comes with a small clip that holds a probe at grate level and this gives you a very accurate reading of exactly what your food is experiencing in terms of heat.
These run about $99 and are wonderful and well worth the price.
I do recommend that you follow the instructions given in the manual and do not wash the probes under running water. I use antibacterial wipes to wipe mine off and then a damp paper towel to rinse and have had no issues.
If you try to clean the probes and wires under running water, they will eventually fail.
How Long to Smoke Whole Chicken
Q: Jeff, read your recipe (smoking chicken). There is no mention of ‘time'. How long should I plan to smoke to obtain 165°F… What are your thoughts on injecting the chicken..? Thanks – As Always..!
A: If you are smoking at normal temperatures of 225-240°F then you are looking at 3-4 hours depending on the size of your chicken(s)
You can also smoke them a little hotter if your smoker is capable of this (275°F or so) and get them done in around 2 to 2.5 hours.
Chickens do not benefit from the slow cooking like many of the other meats that we slow cook and the only real good reason for doing them slowly in the smoker is to give the smoke ample time to flavor the meat.
The slightly higher cooking temperatures will help to crisp up the skin as well.
Regarding the injecting of chicken.. I prefer brining over injecting whenever possible as it seems to get the moisture into the chicken without making a lot of holes and the liquid is more evenly distributed inside the meat. The downside is that it takes a little more time.
Q: I smoked a pork loin on Sunday- it weighed about 5 lbs. I used the BBQ rub from your book, smoked the loin about 2.5 hours at 220 degrees and it was a little dry. Just wondering if I smoked it too long?
A: I say this a lot but it bears repeating and that is, in smoking, we usually cook to a certain internal meat temperature rather than by the clock. We use time to estimate but ultimately, the meat is not done until it has reached it's perfect done temperature.
For pork loin and almost all lean pork roasts, that temperature is 145°F per the latest USDA safety standards for pork roasts.
At that temperature, I would expect the loin to be at it's perfect stage of moist and tender.
It sounds like the loin might have been cooked too long. However, I would expect a pork loin to take about 4 hours or more at 220 degrees which leads me to wonder if the thermometer on your smoker is reading correctly. It is very common for smoker thermometers to be off by 50 degrees or more even on the more expensive smokers. My Meadow Creekreverse flow smoker thermometer, for instance, reads 40 degrees or so too low and by knowing this, I can just mentally add 40 degrees to what it says to know the exact temperature.
I would double check your smoker thermometer with another tested thermometer to see if they jive as it could be cooking hotter than you think explaining why the pork loin got done so quickly.
Another possibility is in how the pork loin was cut. I would expect a normal pork loin to be in the 8-10 lb range and you said that yours was a 5 lb loin. This means it was probably cut in half. I am wondering it was cut in half lengthwise, giving you a pork loin that is about 2 inches in diameter rather than the 4 inches in diameter that it would normally measure.
As you can see, there are several possibilities and there is no way to know the exact problem without knowing more details but this should help you to pinpoint the problem and make corrections for next time.
Adding Smoke Beyond 140 Degrees F
Q: A neighbor down the street has been sharing his smoked meats with us for some time, prompting my wife to ask if I wanted to get a smoker. A couple weeks ago we took the plunge with a very basic offset smoker. In fact, it may cause you pain to read that it's a Char-Broil unit. :)
Well…I've used it twice and the meats (pork shoulder, spare ribs, and chicken) have turned out pretty well. A key has certainly been investing in the Maverick ET732. What a life saver.
Being new to the smoking scene, it didn't take long for me to find your site, which has proven very helpful.
I have one big question: I've had a pretty easy time getting meat heated up to the 140 range, and even beyond. From various sources, I have seen guidance that one should stop “smoking” (using wood) around that point. But…if I stop using wood, the briquettes alone don't seem to have enough oomph to get the food over 170 and approaching 200.
I've resorted to the oven, which doesn't bother me, but what can I do to keep the heat going?
A: Allow me to shed some better light on the “smoking above 140°F” topic..
Meat tends to take on smoke better when it is cold and uncooked and does not take on smoke nearly as well once it reaches 140°F and above.
Having said that, it certainly does not hurt to apply smoke for the entire time you are cooking.
In wood burning smokers, you would use wood splits and logs to provide the heat- and smoke just happens by default. These type of smokers will give you the best flavor of any smoker in my opinion.
I recommend starting your smoker with lump charcoal but then using small splits of wood in tandem with lump charcoal to cook/smoke your food. I think you will find that it not only cooks better but also will give you a flavor that is second to none.
There is also nothing wrong with finishing up in the oven if that works for you ;-)
Order Jeff’s Rubs and Barbecue Sauce TODAY!
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Smoke, Wood, Fire: The Advanced Guide to Smoking Meat – Unlike the first book, this book does not focus on recipes but rather uses every square inch of every page teaching you how to smoke meat. What my first book touched on, this second book takes it into much greater detail with lots of pictures.
It also includes a complete, step-by-step tutorial for making your own smoked “streaky” bacon using a 100 year old brine recipe.