I first got my smoker in October 2018. Its a little one, and so has some limitations. I can fit 4 chickens on it, but only 1 brisket. I can get 2 racks of pork ribs, and 2 pork butts on at a time. The firebox is a bit small, but despite its limitations, I can produce a super yummy piece of meat. At least, according to my family. Little Man, age 9, declared me a “master smoker”. Someday, I’ll upgrade to something a bit bigger and maybe even easier to use. But for now, this is what I use. Here are 4 things I’ve learned about smoking meat.
1. Your smoker is it’s own animal.
Any advice given by someone else who has a different smoker, different wood, different cuts of meat, or different location must be taken with a grain of salt. A book like Franklin Barbeque will share how he makes crazy good smoked meat, but it won’t work like that for you, who is using a different smoker, different wood, and in a different location.
2. Salt and pepper make for great seasoning.
Nothing else needed. Franklin has rub recipes in his book. I found some good ideas and variations over here, and if you search for smoker rub recipes, you’ll find no shortage. But I am a bit of a minimalist, and when I smoke a piece of meat, I want the smoke and the meat to hold the lime light, not the rub. So my go to rub is salt and pepper. Honestly, I slather on the sticky bit (vinegar sprayed on, mustard, apple sauce, the options are limitless) and then sprinkle on salt, then grind the pepper directly on. Its amazing!
3. Use small pieces of wood.
I smoke using a wood fire. By and large, I get enough wood just from us trimming our trees, and this also makes sure I have small pieces. I got an axe for my birthday so I can more easily make smaller pieces! And then I found out how hard it is to split wood… Large pieces introduce big temperature variances. When a large piece finally catches, there is a big spike in the temperature, and when smoking a piece of meat, you want a steady temp. Perhaps in a bigger smoker, the temperature variance is better handled by the additional space? But in my little smoker, I aim to use pieces that are no bigger around than my wrist.
4. Its worth “modifying” your smoker to get better air flow.
Because air flow is that important! Between making sure the fire keeps burning to moving the smoke and heat through the smoker to cook the meat, you need good air flow. My smoker’s fire box came with a drawer so you can empty ashes easily, whether charcoal ashes or wood ashes. And the drawer has an opening that can be opened or closed to allow air or limit air. But I found that the opening wasn’t big enough to allow enough air through. I played with drilling extra holes (the metal is just too thick for this to work easily) and, finally, I just took the drawer out. Its more work to empty the ashes out at the end, but I get much better air flow. And now I can add wood without opening and closing the cover, so air flow stays more consistent.
When I want to use it as a charcoal grill, I put the drawer back in to slow down air flow for the charcoal, otherwise, it burns through the charcoal quite fast and hot. I end up using a lot more charcoal and stuff will burn!
Another modification I made: I extended the 6 inch smoke stack to 4 feet with dryer duct. And I sealed it with duct tape. I remove it to put the cover on the smoker, but I use it when I smoke meat and when I use it as a charcoal grill.
I’ve certainly learned other things about trimming brisket, timing and temperature for different cuts of meat, and what wood to use, but those are far more general and there is lots of tips on these things out in the wide world. But this is 4 things I’ve learned about smoking meat that I hadn’t seen else where as much. So though I’d make my own list.