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Hello and welcome to another edition of the smoking meat newsletter and it's time again for my answers to your most pressing smoking meat questions.
I have selected some questions that get asked time and time again and delved into them with some clear and straight-forward answers.
I hope you enjoy this and most of all, I hope you learn something that you did not know before.
Questions and Answers
Q: Jeff, I'd like to know how I should go about cleaning my smoker and how far should I go with it?
A: The answer to this question will vary depending on who you ask but as for my smokers, I keep them fairly clean without going overboard with it. I am mostly concerned with the grates which is what actually touches the food.
I brush down the grates after every cooking session while the food is a little more pliable and easy to remove. After it sits there for a few days, it will become more difficult.
I also empty the water pan, charcoal pans, grease tray, etc. after every cook so it will be ready for the next time I want to smoke something.
A big part of keeping the smoker clean is in preventive cleaning such as lining the water pan with foil and placing shallow pans beneath the food on a lower rack to catch the drippings.
These two things alone will keep your smoker fairly clean.
If your grates get really dirty and need a good thorough cleaning, you can place them in your home oven and run a self-clean cycle. This will ramp the oven up to about 900+ degrees and burn off anything that is on the grates. They will usually come out shiny and clean.
Once a year (usually in the spring), I will take all of the grates, bowls, pans, hooks, etc. out of my smoker and brush the inside walls lightly with a stiff nylon brush to remove anything that is loose and then I'll wash it lightly with warm soapy water and then rinse it well.
This, of course, requires that you re-season the smoker before using it but you'll know that it is good and clean and ready for a long year or cooking.
To season the smoker: Spray or wipe a thin coating of cooking oil onto the inside walls and grates of the smoker.
You then set your smoker up for a cooking session and run it at 225-240 degrees for about 2 hours or so with smoke but NO food inside.
This step is to coat the inside walls with smoke residue, burn off any cleaning chemicals that might have gotten lodged into the metal or grates and dries out any residual water that might be left from rinsing the inside of the smoker.
Q: I asked which is better for smoking wet chips or dry you never answered. Would like an answer.
A: This question confuses folks simply because so many smoker manufacturers recommend soaking the chips and chunks before using them in the smoker. Folks like me, recommend using them dry so what do you do?
I believe the reason these smoker manufacturers want you to soak the wood is to delay the wood from burning up which makes the smoker use less wood. This may work to some degree but then you also get a lot of steam and the wood dries very quickly so the effect is very short lived.
A better way to slow down the burn is to simply limit the oxygen rather than wetting them.. this works a lot better in the long run.
If I am using splits of wood or fist sized chunks, then they go right on the coals (charcoal smoker).
If I am using chips, I either place them dry in a special smoke box made for chips or I wrap them dry in foil with a couple of small holes poked in the top. Both of these options should limit the oxygen that gets to the chips causing them to smolder and smoke without burning up too quickly.
Q: Jeff, I accidentally deleted your latest newsletter. Can you send it to me again?
A: I get this question a lot and I would like to point out that we archive every single newsletter on the website. Sometimes it takes a week or so to hit the archive but it does get there.
We also post the latest newsletter on the front page of the website and so if you lose it, delete it or just can't find it, simply go to the website and you will find it right there on the homepage.
Q: Hey Jeff, I'm almost fed up with smoking meat. I've tried almost 2 months straight and my smoker won't get over 100 degrees and it takes a long time for the meat to get cooked. I have a Brinkmann. Any suggestions?
A: Well, I certainly don't want you to give up and I will try to give you a little help here to hopefully get you on a better path.
First and foremost, the Brinkmann that I assume you have is what we refer to as the ECB which stands for El Cheapo Brinkmann and it is a little tough to use.
Having said that, I have written a page on some modifications that you can do to help it work better. That page is located HERE.
That instructional page will show you how to get more air to the charcoal pan which will in turn make your fire burn a little hotter.
Here are a few more suggestions to help you with that smoker:
- Do the mods on this page as suggested
- Make sure you are using lump charcoal instead of the briquettes. The lump burns hotter and create less ash.
- Start your lump charcoal in a charcoal chimney and dump it into the charcoal pan.
- Put a lot less water in the water pan so that all of your heat is used to cook the food instead of heating water. Some folks use it dry and you can do that but it will radiate a lot of heat toward the meat on the grate if you leave it dry so I recommend only filling it to about 1 to 1.5 inches deep. Yes, you will have to fill it more often but the payoff is worth it. Use a large ketchup bottle, a garden watering can with a long spout or a 2-liter bottle to refill the water pan easily through the access door.
- Use hot water for the water pan.
- If you find yourself getting frustrated, then simply move the meat to the oven and enjoy the smoke flavor that was able to get into your food in the time that it was in the smoker. With time you will figure out how to keep the heat in check and as your skills improve, you will probably want to move on to a better smoker which is a little easier to control.
- Let the meat sit on the counter for about 30 minutes so it's not quite as cold when you place it in the smoker.
Q: When i do ribs i have such a hard tim getting that film layer off? I normally buy my ribs from costco and they seem pretty well trimmed. Any advice?
A: You can find instructions on how to remove the membrane at https://www.smoking-meat.com/february-28-2013-how-to-master-smoked-pork-ribs
If you have trouble getting a good grip on the membrane to remove it, try using a paper towel or even a clean pair of catfish skinning pliers. It takes a few times to get the hang of it, so don't let it frustrate you!
Sounds like the ribs you are purchasing are trimmed St. Louis style which just means they are spare ribs with that thick brisket bone that runs along the entire rack already cut off and they're squared up on the ends.
This makes them look more like baby backs and this trimming makes them cook more evenly.
Q: I'd like to build my own smoker. Do you know of any plans online for free or cheap?
A: How does free sound to you?
Our very own forum has a section called “Smoker Builds with sub-forums such as:
- Side Firebox
- UDS Builds
- Reverse Flow
- Other Builds
- Smoke Houses
- Fridge/Freezer Builds
Each of these subforums have from 250-700 threads each complete with pictures and walkthroughs on building your own smoker especially if you are handy with a welder. You can find the stuff you need and subcontract out the cutting and welding if needed and build your very own custom smoker.
Some of the instructions such as the ones for the UDS (ugly drum smoker) simply require you to find the drum and other materials you need and you can put this together yourself with very little equipment.
This is a very busy part of our forum and at any given time we have several members right in the middle of a smoker building project and they love to post pictures of their progress. The rest of us can learn by watching and asking questions.
You can read without having a membership however, at some point you'll probably want to ask a question or comment and that requires a username and password.
It's free, quick and easy to sign up and then you can post and read to your hearts content.
It's probably one of the best resources we have to help you excel in learning how to smoke meat. See you there!
Q: I made the smoked mac and cheese yesterday. My son ( a total mac and cheese snob) and I did not like it but everyone else loved it. I thought it was to smokey. I have a master built electric smoker and used pecan for flavor. I have also smoked other things and think it is to smokey. How can I get a small amount of smoke flavor? My son thought cook most of what I make in the oven then finish cooking in smoker? Any thoughts.
A: Perhaps a good option for you and your son would be to start it out in the smoker for about 15 minutes then simply move it to the oven to finish.
In this way, it gets a little smoke right at the beginning and gives the smoke a chance to mellow out a little while it cooks in the oven.
I haven't personally tried splitting it up like that so it may not make a difference whether you start it in the smoker or finish it in the smoker but only allowing about 15 minutes of smoke should really dial back the smoke flavor you are experiencing.