I’ve already written a number of How To’s on maintaining and starting fires in your smoker. And also a number of other grilling tips articles, but there have been a few things that have been on my mind I wanted to share.
I realize that this is nothing new to the experienced backyard or professional smoker, but this is aimed at the novice that is just starting to dabble with smoking meats.
So, let’s get started here.
1) When you use a meat thermometer during the cooking process, put it in and leave it in. I’ve heard a few say, and read a few write on forums that they keep opening the cover and poking the meat with a quick read thermometer. Stop it! Every time you poke the meat and withdraw the thermometer, you create a little volcano that erupts with all those delicious and needed juices inside the meat. Once it flows out, you don’t get it back. If you keep doing it throughout the cook, you’re just drying the meat out more and more every time you poke it.
The inside of that meat is hot and cooking, changing molecules and creating pressure. As a good analogy, just as if you would stick yourself with that probe, you’re going to lose important juices too.
What you want is a digital thermometer that has a long cable that is made for high temperatures. You can buy these at any BBQ store, or department store selling kitchen equipment. They are far more accurate than the dial type thermometer. They’re made for both grills and ovens. You can see an example of them in the picture. I myself have 3 of them and need more still.
2) Now, as mentioned above, opening the cover. Let’s talk about that. Don’t dawdle around when you open your smoker to add or remove a probe, or stir your beans, or whatever it is you need to open your smoker for. Two things happen when you do this.
A) You are letting a lot of the heat out of the smoker. It will take time to have it build back up to temperature.
B) You are letting air, (fuel for the fire), get to the coals and/or wood, causing it to burn quicker and creating a higher temperature. So if you open the lid for 10 to 15 seconds, the temperature drops 50 degrees immediately, and within a couple minutes, it’s back to your maintained temperature. But if you’re dawdling around, and keep it opened for 4 to 5 minutes, you’ve let the fire get way too much fuel, (air), and when you close it, and the temperature regulates again, it could end up being 10 to 20 degrees warmer than it was before you opened it.
3) Here’s a money saving tip. This doesn’t apply so much to charcoal briquettes, but to lump charcoal. A serious smoker eventually gets away from the briquettes and moves on to the cleaner and more efficient lump charcoal. But the good (heavier weighted) lump can get pretty expensive. So what you can do is close your vents completely once you’re done cooking, which will snuff out your fire. Later, when you go to clean out the fire bowl, or box, you’ll see that there are a number of good pieces of lump left. I keep a large bag, (maybe an old charcoal bag), and throw these pieces in there. After about 3 cooks, I have enough coal to start off a cook that could last several hours. Maybe you’ll add some new stuff in, but if you can get a free cook out of every 4 cooks, you’re money ahead! Beats throwing it in the garbage.
So, follow these tips, and you’ll be happier, wiser and better off for it!