As always, when it starts getting close to a major holiday, my email box gets slammed with questions about smoking the food. There's just not enough hours in my day to answer every email but I will try to answer some of the general questions here in this section to help you be as successful as you can in cooking for your family and guests.
I will also share some favorite links below to various articles that will help you in smoking various types of meat such as ribs, brisket, pork butt, burgers, hotdogs, bacon-wrapped fatties, and even appetizers just to name a few.
Do I have to use the water pan in my smoker?
Apparently a lot of you have gotten a new smoker recently and you are wondering what the water pan is for and when to use it. I am going to make this very easy for you and tell you to ALWAYS use the water pan unless you are drying meat/making jerky.
The water pan serves three main purposes:
It adds humidity to the air inside the smoker thereby reducing the natural drying effect of heated air.
It creates a barrier between the fire and the meat to support the indirect method of cooking required for smoking meat
The steam created by the water helps to maintain a more stable, low and slow temperature that is perfect for smoking meat.
Most smaller backyard smokers will come with a water pan and I highly recommend that you use it.
If you are throwing wood chips on top of the hot coals to get some smoke then I suppose soaking them a little might make some sense but there is a much better way to get good smoke from wood chips that does not include water.
Wrap a handful of dry chips in a 18 x 18 piece of aluminum foil. Poke a few holes in the top and lay it on top of the coals, or over the flame/element to create good smoke.
What wood is best for smoking different types of meat?
This is a preference thing but I can give you some guidelines as well as let you know a little about what I have found to be very good. In general, the stronger tasting woods are mesquite and hickory with the lighter tasting woods being the fruit varieties such as apple, pear, plum, etc. Alder is also a very light tasting wood that is used a lot in smoking salmon.
Between these two categories, there is a plethora of woods that are mild tasting and can be good on almost everything. Some of the mild woods are pecan, cherry, maple and oak.
My favorite woods are mesquite, pecan and cherry and you will hear me talking about using these quite often. I use these three woods on pork, poultry, beef and even fish depending upon what I am in the mood for that day.
I can tell you the cherry is great on pork and beef ribs alike. Orange wood (if you can find it) is great on chicken. I love using plum wood on the Thanksgiving turkey. These are just a few that I have found to be amazing and my guests have echoed my sentiments when I used these woods.
I love using mesquite on brisket and pulled pork for that really robust smoke flavor.
You can also mix and match woods that you like to create different profiles. One of my favorite mixes is 1:1 mix of pecan and cherry.
I recommend that you keep a notebook of what woods you like and don't like with different types of meat instead of trying to remember it for later.
I just bought a new charcoal smoker. How much charcoal and how much wood should I use?
This type of thing is sometimes confusing for newbies but just remember that in small to medium charcoal smokers, the charcoal is strictly for creating the heat. The wood chunks, wood chips or a packet of wood chips are placed on top of the coals for smoke.
Use a charcoal chimney and place 2-4 lbs of lump charcoal (depending on smoker size and how well it holds heat) into the firebox or charcoal pan.
My general rule is to add smoke for about half of your estimated total cook time. If you are smoke cooking a whole chicken and you estimate the time to be about 4 hours at 225 degrees then simply add smoke for 2 hours.
It does NOT hurt to add smoke for the entire time the meat is cooking. This is what would happen by default in a wood smoker and there is no better flavor anywhere.
Why does the meat on my smoker always gets done faster than what you say it will in your newsletters?
I would suspect that your smoker temperature is running hotter than it should be. The factory thermometers that are installed on the smokers are renowned for being off by as much as 50 degrees even on top of the line, expensive smokers.
It is important to test the thermometer in boiling water if possible to make sure it is reading within a degree or two of 212 degrees F.
You can also test the smoker temperature at grate level using a thermometer that has been tested in boiling water to make sure it reads within a degree or two of 212 degrees F. The difference between the test thermometer and your factory smoker thermometer will let you know how “true” it is.
For instance, if you find that your smoker thermometer runs about 40 degrees off on the hot side, you then know to run it at around 185 to cook at 225 degrees.
My question is not addressed here. What is the best way to get an answer?
Great question! I do try to answer a lot of the questions that come in but as I've mentioned earlier, I just can't do it all by myself so that's where the forum comes in handy.
If you have a pressing question even if it's on Memorial Day and you have the meat already on the smoker, the SmokingMeatForums.com is the place to get a really fast answer.
With more than 88,000 members and a staff of more than 30, we are the number one place to go for your outdoor cooking questions.
If you are not a member, go ahead and sign up now for free so you'll be ready for anything.
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.