I don’t know about you, but for me this summer it’s been all about learning how and what to apply smoke to, and when not to. While the picture above is hardly intended to say that the best smokers available are Grilldome products, the kamado-style cookers do a great job. I’ve been using a bunch of hickory and mesquite chunks, both soaked in water and not. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned these past few months.
1. Almost everything that you can cook on the grill tastes better with real hardwood smoke. It’s hard-to-impossible to replicate in the oven. Doneness-yes. Flavor-absolutely not.
2. It is possible to oversmoke meat and render it nearly inedible.
3. I like to smoke stuff at the lowest possible temperature that the grill will hold. Make smaller fires than you think you need.
4. You only need to smoke stuff for an hour or two. This is the most important point that has finally hit home. It sure makes BBQ easier. If you don’t believe me, just watch BBQ Pitmasters, and see how they do it. They smoke only for a small part of the time, then they cover the meat to do most of the cooking, ending with some kind of a finish. That could be glaze like BBQ sauce, or vinegary basting liquid that you mop or brush on. Call it cheating, but why not smoke it first then finish in the oven? I mean, can’t you break BBQ (I mean slow and low, not high and hot) down into 4 steps?
1. Prep: brine, dry rub, injection, marinade.
2. Smoke: 1-2 hours depending on size. And let me stop you before you say something stupid like “liquid smoke.”
3. Cook: depends on cut and size. This is when you baste, especially for really lean cuts.
4. Finish: glaze, sauce, etc.
Within every step, there are infinite iterations, and that’s what makes it all different. If you cut out step 2, you can cook it in the stove and get about the same result. And this is where the obvious differences lie regarding the difference in hardwood charcoal and gas. The more you add the aromatic hardwoods (hickory, peach, apple, cedar, mesquite, etc.) the less you can compare charcoal to gas.