Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

eGCI Team

Q&A -- Smoking Meat At home

Recommended Posts

I need a reality check here. Sometime in May, I will be doing a marathon chicken smoking routine on my WSM. I would like some comments on my strategy.

Here is the deal... To benefit the scholarship fund for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, you can purchase a "pen" of chickens from a Chicken Committee member for $50. A "pen" is six chickens, 4 to 4 1/2 lbs each. Like an idiot, I purchased two pens. (All I have at the present time is a crappy apartment refrigerator with the freezer on top.) A friend and my sister are in a similar situation except that my sister has a big chest freezer that will be the "chicken way station". That being said, smoked chicken meat in the freezer is like pantry gold so we are going to smoke some of said chickens and process into neat little packages of smoked chicken meat. So, one fine weekend in May, we will have a chicken smoking party.

First we will cut up the chickens. We will only smoke the thighs, legs, and breasts. The rest will go into a couple of big stock pots.

Chicken pieces will be brined for about 3 hours before going on the smoker.

With the WSM cranking along at about 250F, top vent temperature, we are ready to go. (I can keep that temp for about 12 hours easy with no fuss. I can add more charcoal and wood and go much longer.)

Load the top and bottom racks with pieces with the Maverick remote thermometer in a chicken piece. Thigh or breast? I dunno. When that reads 160F, pull off that batch and put on another. From what I have read, that may take about 3 hours. So, it looks like we can brine the first batch, put them on, put the second batch in the brine, when the first batch comes off, the second batch has been in the brine about the right time, and so it goes.

I am thinking that we might divvie it up so that one batch is all breasts, another thighs, and another legs. That might give us better control over temperature. I haven't found a whole lot of guidance on how long the various pieces need to cook. I am also thinking that we might just smoke thighs and breasts and bag up the legs for a big pan fried drumstick fest later since the legs may take up more room in the smoker than they are worth for the meat yield. Remember, we are going for smoked meat production here. (Well, we might nosh on the odd piece to temper the beer consumption.)

Does anyone have any idea what to do with that gorgeous mahogany chicken skin? From experience, I can say that you don't want it put away with your smoked meat. Over time, it gets too strong. Perhaps we save it and freeze it for making smoked cracklin's when we do the leg fry? I have never done that but it sounds like it would work.

Then the bones from the picked chicken pieces go into another stock pot for a batch of smoked chicken stock. (Waste not, want not.)

Another question... Looking at the "grill extenders" here, I am toying with the idea. But I do wonder if putting that much meat would overload the heat capacity? Probably not, but I don't have any experience putting that much meat in a WSM. Logically, the link does describe that it will take longer to get to temperature after adding the meat and will take more fuel. I don't think that will affect the quality of the final product but I just don't know. Does anyone have any experience with these?

Any other ideas out there on this "production line" project?

You don't have to buy "pens" of chickens to do this. When those chicken pieces go on sale at a ridiculous price, some of you may want to consider having a chicken smoking party for the same reason. That smoked chicken meat is dynamite in salads, quesadillas, sandwiches, you name it. If you have packets of it in the freezer, you have a quick meal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Linda -- I have not smoked large quantities of chicken in a while, but I do recall that loading up or crowding the smoker can take substantially longer than 3 hours to cook. I think I remember an occassion when I had mine overloaded and it took well over four hours. The advantage is you are saving some time by not taking the lid off and having to reheat the unit (if you have a remote meat thermometer). Perhaps you can find a 55 gal barrel and create one of the Monsters in the link. Hah!

Your idea of doing the breasts and thighs/legs separately makes sense. If you combine them, there will not be a problem with the breasts drying out (due to the water pan), but you may save some time by doing them apart.

What plans do you have for the smoked chicken stock?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would suggest de-boning, and skining the chicken halves, sans the legs, and tying them into a roast. Tie three halves together, and wrap the roast with the skin.

You would have extra bones for your stock, and save room in the cooker.

I'll be happy to provide a few digital images, if you need some extra clarification, of this procedure.

woodburner

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

woodburner... I am interested to see this "constructed" roast.

Richard... I do NOT think I will be doing the 55 gallon drum reconstruction. :raz: I am glad that you have reconfirmed my suspicions that I should not push it and just go for "batches".

I have done smoked turkey and chicken stock for years. You may want to put a little bit of skin but don't add too much. I usually just go with whatever skin gets left from the picking. This stock makes a great soup or, even better, chicken and dumplings. That is another use for the smoked chicken meat. Thanks for reminding me of that. After many years of trying to duplicate my great aunt's dumplings, my sister figured out the secret. Aunt Minnie's dumplings were sinkers. Not those fluffy things that turn to mush on the first reheating. The secret was getting some cheap grocery store brand biscuits, flatten them out on a well floured board, working some extra flour into them, cut them up and throw them into the bubbling broth. Perfect dumplings. Now, we know that Great Aunt Minnie never used cheap grocery store biscuits, but we don't have her recipe and this at least gives us the final result.

Also use the stock for rice, a base for tortilla soup, Whatever. The possibilities are endless.

Let us not forget that smoked meats have by-products. One of my favorite recipes is this posole that uses BBQ as an ingredient.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Linda

Cooking breasts at the temps you plan should take aprox 3 hours to reach 160º internal. The thighs and legs would take aprox 4 hours at the same pit temps but your finish temp needs to be closer to 180º internal on those pieces.

Jim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am about to smoke my first boston butt.I have a smoker with a side firebox and plan on using kingsford mesquite charcoal for my heat source with hickory chunks for the smoke source.

What i need are some pointers on:

Do i have to brine?

How many briquets of charcoal should i use to start the initial fire?

Do i have to use a water pan?

Any help would be greatly appreciated

Thanks

Eric Prater

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eric:

You don't have to brine, but you'll be glad you did, if you have time.

If you have the Weber chimney (which is larger than the usual kind, but is highly recommended, at least by me), use about two-thirds of a chimney-full to start. If you have a standard-size chimney, start with a full load. Either way, keep the firebox vents open until you get a feel for the temperature.

There's some controversy about the moisturizing and thermal stabilizing effects of a water pan, but this much is agreed: keeping one under your butt will save a lot of clean-up.

There are a number of good threads on butt smoking. You'll probably find them both informative and amusing. Here's a couple:

I Have Much Pork

Behold My Butt!

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This thread addresses some of the science in smoking and may be interesting to some of you. As of the date of this post, it is still active so you may want to check in from time to time.

Richard Kilgore started out asking about fuels and the whole thing kind of drifted, but in a good sort of way.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd really like to thank col klink for making such a great course.

Being born-and-raised in Texas, I have long admired "real" BBQ. In 2004, I bought my first house, and now I have amentities like a driveway, back porch, carport, and shed. This summer, I had decided, would be the summer I'd learn to smoke.

So I bought myself a Char-Griller, just like Klink's. About $170 at Lowe's, not bad at all. I bought it on Wednesday or Thursday of the past week. Friday (my wife had the day off) I assembled it (a bitch! Poking those "perforated" holes out was NOT easy. I had to bust out the drill to get one of 'em.).

By about 4:00 pm, the grill was assembled. Now to "season" it. Everything was coated with some kind of gunky grease (they called it "vegetable oil", it looked like axle grease to me). The cast-iron grates, I coated with lard then cooked on the gas grill for 15 minutes (my oven's not self-cleaning) then stuck in the oven for about two hours. They came out perfectly black, slick, and quite well-seasoned. The smoker itself I fired up for about four hours, keeping the heat around 300 degrees for the first half, then around 225 for the second half, for practice.

It's all assembled, time for a gin & tonic:

smoker1-004.jpg

Seasoning the smoker:

smoker1-006.jpg

After the smoker was seasoned, I made a BBQ sauce (from the Cooks Illustrated "New Best Recipes" cookbook -- the quick sauce, it's great) and the dry rub outlined in col klink's course. Who knew that we had sumac -- a big bag of it, even. Kudos to my wife Marissa for being into Indian cooking! :cool:

I applied the dry rub to the 8 pound untrimmed brisket I'd gotten at Kroger's (who knew?) for about 20 bucks. The brisket I got looked positively lovely -- just loaded with fat on the top. Anyhow, I rubbed that baby down, wrapped it in foil, and refrigerated overnight.

Just my luck. The next day (Saturday) called for an almost certain chance of thunderstorms all day long. I put it off, and around 3pm decided that it wasn't really going to rain. I still pulled the smoker downhill and put it near the edge of my carport just in case. Of course, about five minutes after starting up the fire, it started dumping rain. Oh well -- nothing better to do anyway, let's smoke!

(p.s. I apologize for the lack of pictures of any later step, I just didn't get around to it or something)

So the wood's fired up (I used a combo of hickory and mesquite chunks, which is just what they had at Home Depot). I cut the brisket into thirds as per the instructions and threw it on the fire. The Char-Griller I bought does have a (cheap, coil-type) thermometer built into the lid. I used my probe, too, but sort of abandoned it half way because I don't think it was working right.

I checked the fire faithfully, about every 15 minutes at first, then about every 30 minutes once the fire "matured" a bit. Keeping the fire low was surprisingly difficult -- even 225 was not easy to maintain. It wanted to go either much higher or much lower. The thermometer on the Char-Griller actually marks 225, which is handy -- just keep the needle on that big red line, I said.

About six hours later, it was getting late so I took it off. I let it rest, then cut into the point piece, a couple of inches from the end (which was black and charred, and presumably tough -- the "burnt ends"). It was deliciously flavorful and palatable with the BBQ sauce, but dry and tough otherwise. Disappointing. I put everything away and went to bed.

This morning (Sunday), I got up and was much more clear-headed, the gin and tonics having left my system. I thought about the phenomenon I've noticed when braising -- if it's tough, give it more time. It seems to get tough before it gets tender. I also remembered a post I'd read on another message board -- a guy who said he finishes his BBQ brisket in a 200 degree oven.

So I had nothing to lose -- I was not pleased with the results of a 6-hour smoke. I wrapped the three pieces of brisket in two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil, put that on a sheet pan, and threw it in a 200 degree oven. This was about 9:00 am, and I was a bit foggy.

About three or maybe four hours later, my grumbling stomach reminded me that there might be brisket about. I took it out of the oven, let it rest a bit, then cut off a piece. Awesome. Unbelievable. Moist and tender, and perfect smoke flavor. Something had happened. Something wonderful.

Admittedly, the ends of each piece were still burnt and barky. But the middle 3/4 of each piece was right up there with some of the best brisket I've tasted. I was proud.

So I took some of the brisket over to my parents, along with the BBQ sauce, some burger buns, and a fresh bag of potato chips. They agreed that it was truly a delicious brisket.

My dad sat there on the back porch, sipping his rum and coke and munching on little croutons of the flavorful-but-chewy burnt ends.

Life is good -- thanks, klink!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You're welcome. And congrats!

Congratulations are not in order just yet! I suspect I got lucky with this one. The first time I roasted a chicken, for example, it was phenomenal. The next four times, not so good. I intend to fire up the smoker every weekend where it will be possible between now and the end of summer. I want to feel confident in what I'm doing.

So... some questions:

1. Do you ever need to finish a piece of smoked meat in the oven, as I did? I have a buddy in Texas who's an experienced smoker, and he says he pretty much always does this.

2. Do you have any thoughts on the notion of installing (?) some kind of damper (a big slab of aluminum foil?) between the firebox and the grill?

3. If using wood chunks (as I am, and will probably continue to do), about how much wood would you say is the ideal amount in the firebox?

4. Is there a way to avoid having quite so much of the burnt ends? Admittedly, I think much of that problem was my inexperience with heat control.

This upcoming weekend I'll probably smoke something different, just because I'm not ready for another brisket. I'm thinking pork shoulder or some sort of fowl (I'd really like to learn to smoke a duck, which might not be too bad as I'm pretty experienced with duck cookery).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

bleachboy, I can't address the questions you have related specifically to your grill since I use a Weber Kettle.

But, several things I've learned.

I've always let my meat go until it was done, and never had to put it in foil in the oven.

Brisket. As long as it's not too big to go on whole, there is no need to cut it in pieces. I rarely do, although last time, the brisket I had was such a big hunk o meat (over 18 lbs). Did you do any mopping on the ends? I rather like those crispy bits, but I know what you mean. Had you not cut it, you'd only have had two ends.

For your next project, go out and get a bone-in shoulder. One with as much skin on it as possible. I tend to do my shoulders naked -- without rub. For more on the shoulder, go to Behold my Butt. A shoulder will have quiet a temperature stall at a certain point (usually 160 ish, as I recall), but be patient. That the time when the collagen is changing to that melty state.

And, somewhere here, quite some time ago, I recall reading the temp at which meat quits absorbing smoke smell, so there is a real advantage to putting the meat on as cold as possible. I usually stick it in the freezer when I start the grill.

I've also learned to put as much meat on at a time as is possible since it's the same amount of work to smoke a couple of shoulders, a shoulder and a turkey, etc. as a single hunk of meat. Leftovers freeze beautifully; reheat in a low oven, covered with foil and a bit of broth. I find leftover shoulder to be so versitile.

Finally, give =Mark's South Carolina Mustard Barbeque Sauce a spin. Fab.

So, I'll await a report, and don't hesitate to keep that Butt thread going. I'll be posting an addition to that it a couple of weeks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So, I'll await a report, and don't hesitate to keep that Butt thread going.  I'll be posting an addition to that it a couple of weeks!

Will do! I have never actually seen a bone-in pork shoulder around here (and never one with skin on), which is wierd because Tennessee is pork shoulder country. I am going to call around tomorrow and see if I can source one out, as well as maybe some apple wood for a milder smoke flavor.

I'll try to drink less during the smokin' process this time, so that I'll remember to take photos. And I'll spend some time thinking up new awful "butt" jokes. :biggrin:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At my local supermarkets and meat markets, I have to ask for them. They have them "in the back room" but not usually out. Wonder why?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
At my local supermarkets and meat markets, I have to ask for them.  They have them "in the back room" but not usually out.  Wonder why?

That's what I did to get an untrimmed whole brisket, too. :)

Indeed, I just got back from the store, and the butcher said they do indeed get bone-in whole pork shoulders. They didn't have any in the back, but he said their meat shipment comes in tonight and to call him tomorrow morning.

I'm already getting excited about smoking again!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So... some questions:

1. Do you ever need to finish a piece of smoked meat in the oven, as I did?  I have a buddy in Texas who's an experienced smoker, and he says he pretty much always does this.

2. Do you have any thoughts on the notion of installing (?) some kind of damper (a big slab of aluminum foil?) between the firebox and the grill?

3. If using wood chunks (as I am, and will probably continue to do), about how much wood would you say is the ideal amount in the firebox?

4. Is there a way to avoid having quite so much of the burnt ends?  Admittedly, I think much of that problem was my inexperience with heat control.

This upcoming weekend I'll probably smoke something different, just because I'm not ready for another brisket.  I'm thinking pork shoulder or some sort of fowl (I'd really like to learn to smoke a duck, which might not be too bad as I'm pretty experienced with duck cookery).

Sorry about not getting back to you sooner!

1) No. If I keep the temp stable in the smoker and the weather doesn't kill my fire, I keep the meat in the smoker.

2-4) With a stable fire, these will go away.

I think you'd have better results if you switched to firewood instead of chunks. You can make chunks work but since they're smaller than logs, they're going to burn more quickly and burn hotter. See if you can't find some firewood and try using that. I'm not saying throw out the chunks, they're great when the fire needs a little boost or use them as large, clunky kindling.

You'll also find with firewood fires that you can open the lid of the smoker and the temp returns to normal more quickly.

I love getting nice fat rounds of firewood. That way I'll need to chop 'em to smoke. How many people do you know can say they need an axe to cook?

Oh, but it is nice to have a heat buffer. A aluminum pan of water catches the drips and does provide shielding when the fire really gets going. If your fire gets too hot you can also add cold water to hold the temp down.

By the way, smoked duck is quite delicious. Damn delicious. Likewise goose.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello, I have a smoker very similar to the Char-Grill that is pictured upthread. I also have some lovely pecan firewood... but I can't get the @#$%#&%^# wood to actually light and stay lit. Am I simply too destined for a group home to try to smoke a butt or brisket? Is it kosher to put some lit charcoal underneath your wood to keep it lit until you've built up some heat equity?

What am I doing wrong!!!???

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm sorry to hear about your problems!

I too have had similar issues with some really knotty cherry wood. Some wood is just obstinate. However, there are things that can help. Line your firebox with some firebricks and that will definitely help your fires along. The bricks act as a heat sink and they make tending the fire a lot easier. You'll find that fires burn more effeciently and the fires burn more completely at the end.

And to answer your question, no, it's not illegal to throw some coals under the logs to get them started. Just make sure to light the coals with a chimney -- lighter fluid is definitely not kosher (in my book at least).

Good luck!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think you'd have better results if you switched to firewood instead of chunks. You can make chunks work but since they're smaller than logs, they're going to burn more quickly and burn hotter. See if you can't find some firewood and try using that. I'm not saying throw out the chunks, they're great when the fire needs a little boost or use them as large, clunky kindling.

You'll also find with firewood fires that you can open the lid of the smoker and the temp returns to normal more quickly.

After this weekend, I agree. When I smoked some butts this weekend, I kept 'em in the smoker for the full duration -- in this case, about 10 hours. I spent WAY too much time adding fuel to the fire, and even had to go buy some more wood chunks at some point because they were burning so fast.

Marissa brought me home a book about grilling seafood this weekend that actually lists a source for wood-for-smoking in the back that's about 20 minutes away from my house. The address was listed as a P.O. Box, so I'm not sure how valid it's gonna be, but I'm going to check it out this weekend and try to buy some apple and hickory firewood. I won't be smoking this weekend (social obligations) but weekend after that I'll probably try my hand at some fowl.

Thanks again for the course, Klink, couldn'ta done it without ya!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whew! I've read the whole course, all these Q&As, the Behold my Butt thread, the brisket roll your own thread, I have a pile of oak firewood, and I have a brand new Char-Griller Smokin' Pro like the one pictured above. I've smoked on my Weber kettle before, and think I'm ready for the big time.

One thing that I'm not clear on, having seen just the one reference to this - do I need to season the smoker before starting? I was going to smoke tomorrow, but if I have to spend several hours seasoning it, I'll need to change my plans, not to mention my menu.

By the way, before I realized how much was already here, I started a thread specifically on the Smokin' Pro here.


Edited by Abra (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Season the cast-iron grates (the way you would season a cast-iron pan), but that's all you need to do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Season the cast-iron grates (the way you would season a cast-iron pan), but that's all you need to do.

Before I used my Smokin' Pro for the first time, I fired it up for a couple of hours first with no food on it. An obscene amount of that axle-grease looking "food-safe oil coating" dripped out. It may be food-safe, but it sure smelled like burning garbage. I would recommend taking this step.

I did also season the cast-iron grates by rubbing them with lard, then putting them on my gas grill at a high temp until most of the solid lard had absorbed/dripped off, then put them in the oven for about another hour-and-a-half or so.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The manual for one of my smokers recommends a 60-120 minute "dry run" before first use. I thought this was possibly because its interior is stainless steel, but I'm not really sure. Either way, it's not a big deal to do so and it certainly can't hurt anything.

=R=

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×