A Year of smoking

no…not that type of smoking


Earlier this spring I decided to up my BBQ game. I’ve been grilling for quite some time and although I’ve still got plenty to learn in terms of marinating meat and cooking it to juicy perfection, it was time to branch out.

So I bought a Masterbuilt smoker from Amazon. I got it at a steal, it was on sale for $100. It’s no green egg (one day I will own one of those beauties) but it’s a good starter smoker.

Unboxed it in our living room. I went ahead and put in the racks, the water tray and the smoker box.

The Wood

Boxed wood set from Amazon

One of the fun things about smoking your meat is you can get different types of wood to use in your smoker. I bought this box set from Amazon.

I didn’t know much about wood and this box set lets you experiment a little. It comes with 2 bags of hickory, one bag of alder, and one bag of apple wood.

Alder and apple wood give off a more mild smoke and pair best with delicate meats like chicken and fish.

Hickory, I’ve been told, is a medium wood. You can use it for almost anything and it won’t be too overpowering. The flavor is stronger than alder and apple wood and it’s good for larger cuts of darker meat, like pork and beef.

The First Smoke

I was so excited to start my first smoke. There was a dish I’ve been meaning to make for a long time, bacon wrapped chicken lollipops. I tried this dish once before on a charcoal grill with my fellow BBQ enthusiast Eric Lam but we failed miserably.

The grill gets way too hot, the bacon catches on fire (bacon has a ton of fat), and pretty soon your chicken lollipops become nothing but miniature fire balls on your grill. We swiftly concluded the best way to make this dish is in a smoker.

I started by prepping the wood. Any good smoke requires that the wood chips be soaked in water for at least an hour or so before putting the wood chips into your smoker box.

While the wood chips were soaking I prepped the chicken. I removed the chicken skin from the drum sticks and wrapped them in bacon.

Next step was to drain the wood chips and load them into the smoker box. After that place some water in the water pan. Water is a very important part of the smoking process. It’s what gives you the long smoking times and the condensation allows the smoke to ‘stick’ to the meat.

Next step is to grab a beer, turn on your smoker and wait for a good 5–6 hours. I set the smoker to about 200 degrees so I could get a nice long smoke. Another thing you can do to further reduce the temperature and increase the smoke time is to add a drip pan right underneath your meat. You can even put some wine, beer or whiskey in your drip pan to add to the flavor in the smoker.

I didn’t use a drip pan for this smoke. I didn’t have an aluminum tray with me so I just covered one of the racks with aluminum foil so the bacon fat wouldn’t hit the electric coils.

Most people say you shouldn’t open the smoker door much (if at all) during the smoking process or you’ll let all the smoke out. Since this was my first time using the smoker I opened it up every hour and a half or so just to make sure everything looked ok. I also used the opportunity to brush the chicken legs with some BBQ sauce.

After a good six hours of smoking I pulled out the chicken legs brushed them with some more BBQ sauce, sprinkled on some pepper and popped them into the oven. I use the oven to make the bacon a little extra crispy. Just pre-heat the oven to about 400F and let them bake for about 6–7 minutes.

The end result:

Smoked bacon wrapped chicken legs

Ribs

Next up was ribs. I like my ribs juicy, tender and flavorful; the meat should just fall off the bone.

I found this three stage recipe online. I only made one change to it. Instead of using apple juice in stage 2 I used whiskey.

The ribs right before stage 2

After about six hours of cooking we were out on our porch, iced tea in hand, with a plate of ribs and sides of corn bread and potato salad. Yup that’s how we do dinner in the South. Frank Underwood approves.

The finished product

Salmon

After ribs we tried to go back to something lighter, salmon. Andrew and I found a salmon recipe online. Andrew prepped the salmon by fileting it and brining it.

We then tried to smoke it. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the smoker to achieve a low enough temperature and the salmon cooked way too quickly before enough smoke could get onto it.

Attempt at smoked salmon

It still tasted good but it wasn’t what we were expecting. Maybe a larger drip tray with some wine or water in it could have helped. Some people also suggested leaving the smoker door cracked open a little to get a lower temperature and allow the smoke to circulate some more.

Well you win some and you loose some, many (tasty) lessons were learned.

A whole chicken?

To finish off the year Rosemary and I decided we’d smoke an entire chicken. It’s actually fairly simple. All you need to do is brine the chicken, season it with a lot of paprika, pepper and other complimentary seasonings. We also stuffed the inside of the chicken with a bunch of mushrooms and placed it in a bed of vegetables.

The result was pretty good! The chicken was nice and moist and you could taste the smoke.

The carrots, surprisingly, absorbed the most smoke. They tasted awesome! The potatoes on the other hand were pretty fail. They did not have enough time to cook through and tasted pretty bland. Probably pass on the potatoes next time around.

Summary

The smoker was one of my best purchases for 2014. There’s still a whole bunch I need to learn and experiment with but its produced a lot of great food for me and my friends. I’m looking forward to using it even more in 2015!

Andrew Sy approves!

Andrew Sy, local Bay Area food critic.

End

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