How to smoke… the easy version Part 1: Buying your smoker

How to smoke… the easy version Part 1: Buying your smoker

Using a smoker and smoking your own food can be a nightmare of a task to get round for the first timer. It is super easy to google ‘Smoking food’ and disappear down about 4 or 5 different rabbits holes simultaneously. Electric smokers, coal fires, offset, upright, chamber smokers, smoker box, liquid smoke (don’t.) the list goes on. With this article I am aiming to simplify it a little bit for you if you were looking to get started as at it’s core… it’s fairly straight forward. Two main areas are vital for success, managing and understanding your pit and timing. Get these two aspects down and you are going to get at the very least, results you can be happy with.

First of all it’s about buying a smoker that suits you. For beginners I would advise not spending too much as you don’t need to spend around £1000 on a unit that you might not actually like using. I bought my offset smoker for £80 and there are a variety of ways you can modify your cheaper unit to get the results of a smoker worth 5 or 6 times its value, but I will go into more detail on this at a later date. There are plenty of places jumping on the bandwagon and selling upright and offset smokers which is great for anybody looking to get going as you can go to your local Range or garden centre and pick up a fairly functional unit for under £100 like I did.

So to bust some serious amounts of jargon and give you two easy to digest recommendation I will explain it as best I can! So if you are asking yourself, what should I buy? why? how do I decide? Hopefully this will help you come to a decision and get you started.

Upright smoker/ Water smoker

So I haven’t actually got one of these (at the moment) but it’s on order and I am well versed enough in how to use one so bare with me. These smokers rely more of providing a levelled environment for your food with a steam element that should keep your food moist throughout the cooking process while still giving it a great platform for the smoke to penetrate the food.

Construction: Usually these smokers consist of two levels of cooking grates, a level for a water pan and then finally at the bottom your coal basket. Sometimes they will have hooks in the lid if they are big enough to hang meat from and utilise the space better.

Function: Lighting the coals/ wood chunks in the basket will heat up the water pan and create steam that will engulf the food and add an element of moisture not present in all smoker types, so a great option for those worried about drying their food out. A temperature gauge is usually located at the tip of the lid for central heat reading and an air flow valve at the bottom of the unit, aligned with the coal basket.

Beginner rating 0/5:

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Offset smoker

Old faithful. I have been using my offset smoker for just over a year now and it has been an interesting learning curve but I can now get some brilliant results from this pit and it is literally my prized possession. Controlling and managing your fire is paramount in an offset as it is in any smoker but get it wrong and you will have a lot of wasted food. It is all about creating a levelled heat that can spread across the chamber gradually rather than a huge blast at 300+ degrees that just dies a death really quickly, which can be challenging to begin with but aside from this, it is a great way to get started.

Construction: A large main chamber for cooking with one or two grills, lined up next to a fire box and a chimney at opposite ends of the cooking chamber. Airflow valves will be located on the fire box as well as a cap on top of the chimney to allow you to control the heat via the air through flow. A temp gauge is more often than not located further towards the chimney rather than in the middle of the actual cooking chamber, which pissed me right off so I added another one pretty easily (£15 from Ebay delivered) and now I get much better readings. Usually you will have a good solid frame with two legs and a few wheels to help you in moving the unit around.

Function: Adding your pre lit coals to your fire box and closing the door will provide you with a good enclosed cooking environment, this will gently smoke and caress your food with indirect heat from one side, so rotation meat during a cook can be essential for good results. Closing and opening your valves to adjust the temperature is also essential as I alluded to above. In its purest form it is pretty straight forward in its function really! Sometimes a water pan can be added near the entrance of the firebox but I have found this isn’t as effective as in an upright smoker. Lining the bottom of the unit with foil is advised for simplifying cleaning up any excess fat.

Beginner rating 0/5:

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Hopefully, this makes it a little bit easier to understand WHAT you are actually looking at when shopping for your pit. In the next part I will cover what kit you need to get started, then how to actually use an offset smoker in more detail and how to manage your fire to get the best results… so make sure you subscribe and keep your ear to the ground. Next chapter will be up next week!

Phil.

Rainy day ribs-Smoke without fire

Rainy day ribs-Smoke without fire

Bank holidays in the UK tend to fall foul of a particularly unfortunate pattern. The weeks leading up to it will be scorching hot with an unrelenting heat and cloudless sky, then like a flash as soon as the bank holiday is within touching distance the rain starts like a switch has been flicked. Dampening picnic and BBQ plans alike and trapping us in our houses with ITV2 and it’s one thousandth play of Jurassic park 2 or Uncle Buck.

That being said it’s not all bad. Theres nothing wrong with rolling with the tide as it were, making lemonade from the lemons we should quite frankly expect by now! Get to the butcher and get something you have fancied cooking for a while, grab a Blu-ray you fancy watching and settle in for some extreme pre-winter comfort food. It’s a win-win situation.

For me it was a rib recipe I have wanted to try for such a long time it seems crazy that I haven’t got around to making it yet. I make no secret of being a passionate advocate of year round BBQ and rain or shine I don’t think you can beat biting through the bark of a rich, crispy piece of beef or chicken that is fresh off the coals. Sometimes however it is just not possible for everybody to get out there and fire up the grill, so this is my way of bringing that kind of experience indoors without setting your moms curtains on fire.

BBQ Ribs – serves one as a meal or 2 to share.Double amounts if needed.

What you will need: 

  • 6 individual meaty pork ribs. (You can use a rack you just need to cut them into sections of four)
  • 2 stock cubes
  • salt
  • A bottle of your favourite BBQ sauce. I usually make my own but for this I had a bottle of Jim Beam Cherry bourbon BBQ sauce that I wanted to try out.
  • Saucepan
  • A slow cooker

Method:

  1. Get a large saucepan full of salted water to a rolling boil and add the stock cubes. Stir until fully dissolved. Pre-heat the slow cooker on ‘low’.
  2. Add the ribs to the boiling water and leave for 3 minutes.
  3. The water should have a white to grey froth on top of it, this process stops that fatty residue tainting your sauce.
  4. Quickly pat dry with some kitchen roll and press the meaty side of the ribs into the ‘rub’.
  5. Lay them into the slow cooker and pour in the sauce. Making sure they are well covered.
  6. Leave for 4 hours and then half remove the lid for the final 5th hour.
  7. By now the sauce will have reduced a little, exposing the end pieces of the ribs and creating a bit of a bark while leaving the meat smokey,loose and almost desperate to slide straight off the bone.
  8. Serve with corn on the cob rolled in cayenne, sweet potato fries and plenty of french’s mustard.