Smoking is a healthier way of cooking all types of meat. It is also the most reliable way to transform beef, pork, poultry, or seafood into a tender, flavorful dish. Sure, cooking at low temperature takes longer, but it’s way more hands-off than, say, pan frying or regular grilling.
Still intimated? Here are the smoking basics starting with Beef and Fish. (We have some excerpts from a Men's Journal Article along with feedback from our own Experts).
If you've ever enjoyed beef brisket, smoked low and slow, you know the benefits that come from sending beef into a smoker. It might take longer than other meats, but it's worth the wait for the kind of flavor you can't get pan frying or tossing a piece of meat on your grill for a few minutes.
""You will always have several rounds of trial and error and definitely some highs and lows"" but that's what makes it fun when you're playing around with smoking different cuts of cow, says Strip House's Corporate Executive Chef Michael Vignola.
Quality over quantity
Always begin with a quality piece of meat. ""It's a real bummer if you've worked for 12 hours and end up with a tough piece of meat,"" says Scott Roberts, pitmaster and owner of Texas's legendary The Salt Lick.
Temperature is key
Always make sure to bring the brisket to room temperature before beginning cooking process, says Roberts.
Rub with love
""When we are smoking, it's key to rub your spices into the meat. Whether it's salt and pepper or an ancho coffee rub, do it with love and really massage it into the meat well,"" says Vignola.
Cook it immediately after rubbing
""If your dry rub contains salt, put it in the smoker immediately – don't wait or linger,"" Roberts says.
Keep it moist
When using your smoker, add a small pan of liquid to the bottom of your smoking chamber, suggests Vignola. This adds just enough moisture to the dry slow cooking process. ""Some of our favorites are apple juice, Budweiser, coffee and chicken stock,"" says Vignola.
Slow and low
Smoking is not something you can rush. You are better off smoking it early, wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap and allowing it to steam while keeping warm above a low flame. This will ensure a super succulent end product, says Vignola.
Once brisket is done, make sure to wrap it in a breathable material, like butcher paper. Let the meat rest for one hour in a 140-degree smoker or oven, just like you would let a steak rest 15-20 minutes prior to eating, says Roberts.
Mark Kotlick and his family have been smoking fish at Calumet Fisheries since his grandfather bought the business in 1940, and understand how small-scale smoking works. ""We're artisans, so we're only smoking 100-300 pounds of fish at a time,"" strictly over an open wood flame in a brick smokehouse. That may sound intimidating, but you can recreate nearly the same conditions at home with some wood, a charcoal grill, and a good, fatty fish.
Starting with the fish, Kotlick says that the fat is what's going to help the fish keep its smoky flavor and not dry out during the two-day process. ""You're not going to smoke walleye or perch or mahi mahi, you need to smoke a high oil fish. Salmon is high in omega 3 fatty oils so that's a good choice."" Lake trout, sturgeon and sable (aka black cod) are all good options, and large enough that you can cut them into thick filets or steaks.
Calumet Fisheries is also known for their smoked shrimp, which can be smoked much like fish, except without the brine and often quicker. If you're smoking shrimp, you want to make sure to get ones that are large count, around 10-15 per pound. ""The only other trade secret is to smoke the shrimp shell on—headless, shell-on shrimp. If you don't leave the shell on it'll dry cup and curl up in a millisecond. The shell keeps the moisture in and cooks the shrimp.""
Another easy bit of shellfish to smoke at home is oysters. ""We smoke our oysters out of a home made gravity bong,"" says Peter Gevrekis of of the tea-smoked oysters he serves at New York's Desnuda. Gevrekis says brine-heavy east coast oysters are the best. ""You want that brine to interact with the smoke.""
You want to get the right wood. ""Mesquite and hickory, those are all meat smoking woods that'll give the fish a flavor you don't want."" Instead, use a more delicate wood like alderwood, oak or cherry.
However, for the oysters, you can just build a bong out of a water bottle. There are a few instructional videos and diagrams out there, but we're sure you can dig deep to your college days to remember how it's done. Then instead of drugs, you're going to burn tea and other flavorings. ""We use lapsang sushang tea and szechuan peppercorns. You can probably smoke other fish like that as well, it's a deep smoky flavor,"" says Gevrekis.
There are three steps to smoking your own fish: brining, drying and smoking. The oysters come brined, but for the rest, mix about a half cup of salt and a cup of sugar per two cups of water (though you can always add garlic and other herbs), and soak fish depending on its thickness–you should need no longer than half an hour for ½ inch thick filets, and longer for thicker steaks or whole fish. You can always adjust depending on how heavy of a flavor you want in your fish.
Next, you'll need to dry the fish. Remove from the brine and rinse under cold water, then pat dry and leave out in a dry, cool area for about an hour. You can use this time to get the grill going, and to soak the wood chips you'll be using. Smoking is about indirect heat, so you want to group the coals to the sides of the grill, and then place the wood chips over the coals. Then you can place the fish on the greased grill rack, cover with the grill lid and leave the vent a little open so the smoke starts swirling out. As for how long it takes, unfortunately, it just depends. You'll want the fish to be flaky and tender, so check often, and add more wood or coals if needed.
For the oysters, the process is a little different, since the meat is so delicate. Shuck the oysters and place them on small plates. Then, use the bong to fill a cup with smoke, and overturn the cup on top of the oyster, letting it sit and infuse with the flavor.
Smoked Salmon Salad
Kotlick says one of the easiest ways to serve smoked salmon (aside from just putting it on a cracker and eating it) is flaking it on top of a fresh summer salad. ""I use fresh vegetables and good greens, whether it's kale or spinach."" Mix in whatever is in season and flake some of the smoked salmon filet on top, then toss with a light lemon vinaigrette.
On a sandwich
You can also use smoked salmon in place of canned tuna in your favorite tuna salad recipe. Mix about 12 oz. of smoked salmon with minced celery, red onion, whole-grain mustard, and just enough mayonnaise to hold it all together, and enjoy on a sandwich or crackers as an appetizer. The best part is this can easily be done with almost any smoked fish, like whitefish or trout.
Desnuda serves its smoked oysters as is as an appetizer on their own, under glass domes that unveil the oysters at the table. It's an elegant way to serve them that will absolutely impress your friends. However, smoked oysters can also be paired on toast points with a dab of sour cream and lemon juice. Or serve on top of deviled eggs, because deviled eggs can always be richer, right?
The fun is in the process says Todd Gorell of The Stove Center on Cape Cod ""Each cook is an experience in and of itself. You have a chance to be creative and make tweaks each time you fire up your Traeger.""
We have seen the hobby of smoking really expand outside of traditional area into New England and right here in Falmouth and Bourne.
The Stove Center and Boston Barbecue Company, located in Cataumet MA on Cape Cod is a Platinum Dealer of Traeger and the only Timberline Dealer South of Boston. We carry all the accessories as well including Meat Church Sauces and Rubs.
1220 Route 28A Cataumet MA 02534
It's no secret that pellet grills are the easiest way to smoke food. Check out the article ""Why You Should Own A Pellet Grill"" by our good friends over at Stove & Grill Parts. This article goes over everything from how a pellet grill operates to typical features and price points."