We're the "Cookin' Cousins", love smoking meat, and have answered that question countless times in our 40+ years of backyard research developing smoker recipes with various meat smokers.
Yep, driving our neighbors nuts, smoking meat...it's a primal thing! So how do we do it?
Well, there's actually six secrets that we've learned to help you attain, in our humble opinion, one of life's greatest pleasures. But first...
Did you know that, historically, barbecue is the method of roasting meat over hardwood coals, slowly, with low heat and a constant exposure to the aromatic smoke? Yessir, real barbecue! Read on, and we'll put it all together, starting with...
To get the best results smoking meat, buy the best meat you can afford. The quality of the meat does make a big difference, and we prefer "Prime" or "Choice" grades of beef for that beautiful marbling. You get the wonderful flavor that our primal instincts crave!
You want plenty of marbling (the white fat running through the meat). The more fat, the better it tastes! Health-wise, if you do not make high-fatted beef a frequent staple, you're fine.
Fresh! Whether you want to roast a whole hog, or a shoulder cut, get the freshest meat you can find. Period. Now, which cut?
Spare Ribs, Country Style or Baby Back Ribs? It's your choice! It's all good but...we prefer traditional spareribs, especially St. Loius Style, for our smoker recipes.
For the "Cookin' Cousins" barbecue pork recipe, we like the shoulder (12-16 lbs./5.4-7.3 kg). It has a ton of flavor and the fat needed to keep the meet moist and tender. Fat is good...especially when smoking meat for extended period of time. If you can find a whole shoulder cut, all the better!
Are all chickens the same? Nope. If you were raised on a farm or before the '70's you know what we mean. When smoking meat, those yard birds are unbeatable for flavor!
We're talking about "range chickens" where the birds range freely, have plenty of fresh water, exercise, and scratch the ground at will, with lots of grain for the peckin'. A good eatin' bird will go to market at about 180 days. Most chicken today is fast grown (80 days)...
...stressed out and raised in confined cages, fed goodness knows what and "mechanically" processed for mass sale. No comparison in taste, so we like to buy "free range" chicken when it's available.
No free-range chicken available? Well...get the freshest, plump, 3-5 pound bird you can find. If you don't want to mess with cutting and cleaning, buy the chicken parts you most enjoy. Look for the freshest dates!
Frozen the only thing around? Buy the most recent dated package, suck it in, and we'll make it taste great anyway!
Are all turkeys the same? Well, basically. If you have ever eaten a wild turkey, you know that they have a very different flavor from the domesticated bird. However, either turkey taste great! Because most of us do not have access to that wonderful wild fowl, let's talk about buying the readily available domestic breed.
Natural/Free range/Organic? Yes, there is a better flavor with a free range and/or a turkey fed organic feed. To say nothing of the potential health benefit. These turkeys are available both fresh and frozen. But there is nothing wrong with the mass produced bird, if cost is a real consideration.
Fresh or frozen? It's actually a personal, or financial, preference.
Fresh, due to the shorter shelf life and special handling required to assure safe delivery to the customer, is more expensive. However, if preparation time is a problem (thawing), this is a good alternative.
Frozen turkeys are considerably less expensive. They are immediately flash frozen, after processing, to 0°F(17.8°C). So, once thawed, you have a turkey that's as fresh as the day it was processed. We generally use frozen turkeys and defy any who can taste the difference!
Our smoked turkey recipes use only smaller birds (8-16lbs./3.6-7.3kg). Why? A large bird takes too long to heat past the danger zone of 40-140°F/4.4-60°C. You don't want to ruin the occasion with sick folks!
We have found that 1.5lbs/.68kg per person feeds all, with enough left over to make us tired of turkey...for a while. If you need more, smoke two or...
If you have a big bird you can simply cut the legs and thighs from the breast and smoke them alongside. We've done it, and it works great.
Use the best quality, and freshest spices you can. There is a huge difference between the old, been-in-the-cupboard-way-to-long, "buck a bottle" spices, and the top quality stuff (this is one important difference between a "tenderfoot", and top competitors). We learned this smoking meat secret the hard way!
You can review our rub secrets at our Barbecue Rub Secrets page.
We've all done it...bought cheap, paid dearly. From the barbecue grill, meat smoker, to our barbecue tool set, most of us try to "make do" with usually frustrating results. Well, now it's time to upgrade! Let's start with the smoker...
There are many great smokers out there, and only your personal needs should dictate your choice. You do not have to spend a fortune to get a great unit!
You may wish to consider portability, as some backyard smokers can weigh over 100 pounds.
We found that a large door in front is far easier to load, check temperatures, and unload.
You can get black steel, or stainless steel. Stainless steel doesn't rust!
We used the following criteria for our favorite backyard smoker:
Thermometer; Instant read and oven types - When smoking meat, it's imperative you keep track of the inside temperature with an oven thermometer. Also, you need to check the meat towards the end of the cooking time, with a meat type "instant-read" thermometer, to ensure the meat is done to perfection. Nobody likes uncooked chicken or pork! And you don't have to spend a fortune for the best...
One of our very favorite accurate, instant read thermometers is the CDN Proaccurate Stainless Digital Thermometer. Two instant-read thermometers that that we know to be faster, and choice of professionals , are the Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen - Instant Read Thermometer, and the far less expensive Thermoworks Super Fast Water-Resistant Digital Pocket Thermometer.
A good oven thermometer is a must when smoking meat. Our two favorites are the Taylor 503 Connoissuer Line Oven Thermometer, and the Taylor Precision Classic Oven Thermometer. They are both very accurate, durable (stainless steel), and exceptionally reasonable in price.
Tongs - Long and strong is the secret! If your BBQ set didn't come with a good pair, you'll really appreciate our two professional grade choices; the Lodge Camp Dutch Oven 16-Inch Stainless Steel Tongs, or the Oxo Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs. Both are strong stainless steel construction, and long enough to keep your paws out of the fire!
Insulated Food Gloves These things are fantastic for handling, or "pulling" the finished meat! You can use the old "tried and true" technique of pulling the meat with fork-'n-tong, burning your fingers trying to remove the unwanted fat and gristle, but the ease of using food gloves will convince you that this is the only way to do it right. For any piping hot BBQ meat we love our insulated barbecue gloves.
Chimney Starter - For the charcoal grill folks, this is the best way to start, and maintain, the coals. If you've never used one of these ingenious tools, you're going to love the experience! There are a grunch of these seemingly simple tools out there, but...
We believe that the best hassle-free starter made is the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Period.
Turkey Cannon Cook your turkey in half the time? Really sweet, juicy white meat? Yep! You can smoke, grill, or oven bake, an exceptionally succulent bird, with this ingenious tool. Our smoked turkey recipe can easily be adapted for this method. We love it! An extremely easy way to roast your bird to perfection every time. The Turkey Cannon's unique infuser allows you to use your favorite beverage (wine, beer, apple juice, etc.) to infuse the bird with moisture, and the flavors, of any added herbs or spices.
Boy, is this smoking meat secret important. All great barbecue recipes are predicated on controlling the heat! Follow the suggested temperatures in our recipes...religiously, and use a darn good oven and meat thermometer. Check that meat! Use an "instant read" meat thermometer to ensure safe minimum temperature.
The timing is directly related to temperature; the lower the heat, the longer to cook but, don't cheat! Maintain heat control, and base the timing on the meat's internal heat, period. This barbecue tip could have been titled, "Patience". You will need a bucket-load of this to properly barbecue chicken, ribs, brisket, and prime rib, et al.
The smoke gives the meat that incredible, "make-your-tongue-want-to-beat-your-brains-out", flavor. But...
When smoking any meat, always use only seasoned (never "green") hardwood chips/chunks like hickory, Oak, Mesquite, Cherry, Maple, fruitwoods, etc., to suit your taste. Generally these are readily available, in season, wherever barbecue accessories are sold, and we have found all to be good. If you can not find what you want, our underlined blue links are a great source.
Never use softwoods such as the conifers fir, pine, spruce, cedar, cypress, oleander, etc. They are bitter tasting and some trees and bushes/shrubs are toxic to humans, so stay with the known traditional woods used by the experienced "tongers" (those who wield the tongs at the fire).
So, whether you have a grill, or a smoker, we will guide you to your smoking meat fame.
Barbecue Ribs on a gas grill? Great. We'll show you a simplified method to smoked ribs nirvana, here.
Barbecue Ribs on a charcoal grill? You are just a few sure-fire steps away from barbecue rib heaven, here.
Barbecue Ribs in a smoker? Fantastic! Gas or charcoal, this is the easiest way to barbecue rib fame, here.
Barbecue Chicken on a gas or charcoal grill? Great. Real barbecue chicken with the least hassle!
Want to do Beer Can Chicken? Wonderful! One of the greatest American backyard culinary inventions!
Chicken in a smoker? Fantastic! Gas or charcoal, this is the easiest way to barbecue chicken fame, here.
Our Free Smoked Turkey Recipe For Your Smoker is Magic! A surefire smoked turkey recipe with no hassle at the grill or smoker.