Smoking Meat Recipes & Instructions

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Smoking meat is a traditional slow method of cooking over an open fire that dates back thousands of years. Cuts of meat that are usually tough are actually popular for smoking: beef brisket, beef ribs, lamb shoulder, pork butt, and pork spareribs. This slow cooking method is an excellent way to tenderize the meat and give it that distinctive smoky flavor we all love.

Types Of Grills & Smokers

Today’s smokers can be powered by wood, charcoal, gas, or electricity.

A wood-burning smoker is by far the most popular with traditional (or passionate) pit masters. The wood smoker does require practice to maintain a consistent temperature of 220 to 240 degrees during the smoking process. The trick to using these smokers is adjusting the airflow with the air inlet and air exhaust. Once this is mastered, the smoke must move through the smoker, flavoring the meat, and escaping thru the air exhaust. Among the most popular wood used in this smoker are: apple, mesquite, oak, pecan, and other fruitwoods.

Barbecue smokers are also popular and widely used. The difference is to build a fire of hot coals on one side of the barbecue and set the meat on the rack as far away from the fire as possible. Wood is usually added into a smoker box and a water pan on top of the coals to create steam. The steam helps keep the temperature a consistent 220 to 240 degrees. Remember, the trick is to cook “low and slow” when smoking. Some pit masters suggest adding wine or fruit juice to the water pan for a more complex layer of flavor.

Gas or propane smokers are by far the easiest to use for the novice smoker. They are fast to assemble and set up. And, they are hot in 10 minutes and ready to smoke. A large coffee can be cut down for a quick-heating smoker box if the smoker didn’t come with one.

Electric smokers do a very good job of smoking meat also. The vertical models tend to be compact and are well suited to apartment or condo living, or if you live in a community where open flame cooking is not allowed. Electric smokers will allow the experienced pit master to smoke a piece of meat nearly unattended. Look for electric models that have temperature adjusting controls and adequate thermometers.

How To Start Smoking Meat

Start by soaking the wood chips for an hour in water. This is critical for the chips to smolder rather than burn when they are heated.

If smoking on a charcoal grill, build the fire on one side of the grill and set the smoker box over the fire. Position the meat on the opposite side of the grill rack after the grill reaches temperature and the wood chips begin to smoke.

When using a gas grill, it may already have a smoker box that fits directly over the burner. If the grill doesn’t have a smoker box, one can be made from two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Form a pouch holding 1 or 2 cups of soaked wood chips. Seal the top and poke several holes in the pouch with a pencil or sharp object to allow the smoke to escape.

Smoked Meat Temperature & Times

In a perfect world cooking times and temperatures would all be the same. But, smokers all cook differently, weather, altitude, and humidity all affect cook time and temperature. So, given that, here are a couple of approximate temperatures and times for smoking.

  • Beef brisket: cook at 225 degrees, 1.5 hr./lb.
  • Pork butt: cook at 225 degrees, 1.5 hr./lb.
  • Whole chicken: cook at 250 degrees, 4 hr.
  • Chicken thighs: cook at 250 degrees, 1.5 hr.
  • Baby back ribs: cook at 225-250 degrees, 5 hr.

The Best Smoked Meat Recipes

Most likely the smoker will come with a recipe booklet. But, in case it doesn’t here are several of my time-tested favorites.

Kansas City Rib Rub Recipe

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. mustard powder
  • ½ tsp. powdered cayenne

To make the rub ahead of time, dry the brown sugar overnight on a cookie sheet before mixing with the other ingredients. Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container until used. To add more spice to the rub use hot paprika.

Season the pork rib slab with a generous amount of the Kansas City rib rub several of hours before smoking. Allow the ribs to rest at room temperature.

Texas Style Barbeque Sauce Recipe

  • 4 cups ketchup
  • 1 bottle Shiner Bock beer
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup blackstrap molasses
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 tbl. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbl. soy sauce
  • 1 tbl. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. (adjust to taste) cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a pot and stir until blended. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, or until desired thickness.

Chipotle Garlic Chicken Marinade Recipe

A popular spicy marinade for chicken headed for the grill or the smoker. This recipe works equally well on individual pieces of chicken or whole chickens.

  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 1 tbl. Chipotle pepper powder
  • 1 tbl. Paprika
  • 2 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
Last Updated: June 28, 2012
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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