Dreamy's Delights

It's all about the food!

I’m Smokin!

on July 7, 2012

Before I talk about the food, I need to mention that I completely blame Cat Quirion for the fact that I’m a smoker. If she hadn’t forced me to eat that tri tip at her house I would have never started smoking. Now that you’re all wondering what the heck I’m talking about… I’m talking about using wood smoke to flavor/cook food.

Cat and her husband Brian invited us over about two years ago and served this amazing smoked tri tip as part of the meal. They took us outside and showed us this cool looking stainless steel box. Jene, being the amazing husband proceeded to get me one for Christmas. You can get one from Sausage Maker for a few hundred dollars. It’s super easy to use and smoke gives a new level of flavor to food.

Now, you WILL smell like smoke but instead of “Oh ick!” you’ll hear “Oh wow, what smells so GOOD?”

One of the benefits of smoking food is that it uses low heat. This means that foods, especially meats, stay super moist and juicy. It can take a long time (plan on at least 12 hours for an 8 lb pork shoulder or a 13 lb turkey) but it is WELL worth the wait. I refuse to cook Thanksgiving turkey any other way! To give you an idea of how amazing it can be… I don’t like white meat because it gets dry so easily. The white meat of a smoked turkey is so moist you can see the liquid oozing out of it. I still prefer the dark meat but I’ll at least eat the white meat this way lol.

The pictures above show the smoker, finished pork shoulder, and the smoker loaded with two chickens and two pork shoulders. One of the things smoking does is give the food a beautiful mahogany crust, called “bark”. It’s one of the best parts of the food because it’s got the heaviest layer of seasoning and the most smoke. It’s caramelized and just generally yummy.

So now I’ll explain how I get this result! First, have a smoker. It’s possible to smoke on a grill but that takes a lot more work and I’m too lazy to explain it in this post.

Next, choose what you want to smoke. I’ve smoked chicken, pork, beef, onions, mushrooms, and grits to name a few. Today I’m smoking some chicken legs.

The ideal seasoning happens the day before you smoke. Seasoning your meat the day before allows the flavors to soak into the fibers of the meat overnight and permeate the whole thing. About 4am this morning, when I couldn’t sleep I seasoned the chicken legs with Tandoori Seasoning from Penzeys Spices. The easiest type of seasoning is a dry rub. It’s a blend of dried herbs and spices that is just rubbed into the meat. This works well for the smaller cuts of meat such as chicken legs, tri tips, and fish. Another method of seasoning is the marinade. This is a liquid blend that can include dried or fresh herbs, spices, oil and some sort of acid. The point of the acid is to start breaking down the meat fibers and make them more juicy and tender. Acids include vinegars, buttermilk, and citrus juices. One of my most recent marinades is the following:

2 shallots, minced (I used my dried shallots again)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh lemon thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Brazilian rum or tequila (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix everything together in a gallon zippy bag and add your meat. I’ve done this with chicken breasts and tilapia fillets. Both came out excellent. A quick note about marinading fish… Fish only needs to sit for a few hours. If you leave it sitting too long you have ceviche! (That’s fish cooked in acid liquids rather than with heat and a post for another day.)

Before I wrap up the section on seasoning I want to mention injecting of liquids. This basically involves a giant hypodermic needle.

This is the The SpitJack Magnum Meat Injector Gun (with 4 needles) that  I found on amazon.com and thought looked all kinds of cool and slightly sinister. Basically you load it up with liquid and inject that into the meat. This is an excellent way to get flavor all the way through large cuts such as pork shoulder or a whole turkey. The larger bore needles allow you to inject chunkier mixes so that you can get things like chunks of garlic into the meat. The smaller needles are for either purely liquid mixtures or smaller pieces of food. I could have (in a perfect world that didn’t happen at 4am) injected each of the chicken legs I’m smoking today. However, since my world is not perfect and I’m working with a couple dozen chicken legs, I did NOT painstakingly inject each one lol.

After everything is seasoned and sitting in the fridge over night, pull it out about an hour before you plan on smoking. The meat needs to warm up a bit before going in the smoker so that it 1. doesn’t drop the temperature in the smoker too much and 2. smoke faster.

While the meat is warming up start the wood chips soaking. (You can’t smoke food without the wood chips!) There are several flavors of wood to choose from… apple, cherry, hickory (very traditional), mesquite, alder and maple. There are more than that but that’s what I could remember for now. 🙂 Today’s wood of choice is cherry. Cherry wood is sweet and light and goes with pretty much everything. A good choice when mixing poultry and beef. This list at about.com is a great resource for learning about the various types of wood. The purpose of soaking the wood in water is to allow the wood to burn very smokily and sl0w. The minimum soaking time is about half an hour. Longer is nicer but not required. Oh… I almost forgot, you don’t have to use water, you can soak the wood in beer, whine, fruit juice etc and give extra flavor to the smoke. However, water is cheap and easy so that’s what I use.

The next step is determining what to put in the water bowl. This is a large bowl that goes in the smoker below the meat and above the smoker box. It accomplishes a couple of things. It helps catch the juices dripping from the food and it helps add extra moisture to the smoker and keep the meat nice and juicy. There is the option of plain old water, which is just fine. However, this is a spot where you can get creative. Today we’re using beer in the bowl. It will simmer and the steam will rise and add another layer of flavor to the meat. In the past I’ve used white wine too. You can also toss in a chopped up onion and some garlic if you want. It’s something that can be played with to your own preferences.

Finally, you can put the meat in the smoker. For small cuts like thin fish, chicken wings, chicken legs, mushrooms, etc. a grill basket is a wonderful thing.

It will look something like this and should have removable handles. Why removable handles? Because it won’t fit in the smoker otherwise 🙂  Load it up and put it in the smoker.

Next is the question of temperature. This is something that is debated by pit masters. I personally, prefer the  very low and slow method. I try not to get my heat over 220F. My husband tends to smoke things a bit hotter at 225-250. I think he’s impatient to taste the food. There are even people out there who smoke at over 300F. I’d rather wait and have the luscious, melt in your mouth texture from the super low heat.

Now you put some wood in the wood box, close the door and wait. For the chicken legs and tri tip today (hah! snuck that one in there) it should take 2-3 hours, maybe less. We’ll add wood to the smoker box roughly once an hour. For longer cooking cuts, probably once every hour and a half to two hours. I like my smokey flavor to be mild. The more often you add wood, the smokier the meat gets. Again, this is personal preference. One of the things I love about smoking is how versatile it is. You can tweak it in so many ways to suit personal preference.

I’m away from home now and will post the pictures later. I’m going to have to disinfect myself after using Darren’s laptop 😉

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