Used to prepare red meat, white meat, and seafood, smoking is a staple method of preserving meat as well as an integral part of American cuisine. Historians believe that smoking meat can be traced back to the primitive caveman. It is unknown how ancient man discovered that smoking preserved meat longer, however, this method was passed down from generation to generation. In Medieval times, many farmers and hunters used the smoking method to preserve meat. The process of smoking meat in smokehouses where the meat was hung, smoked, and stored. Today, people enjoy the delicious smoky flavor and have dedicated space in their homes for a smoker. From its humble beginnings, refinement, nuance, and regionality have taken hold.

Humble Beginnings

There are a wide variety of methods for achieving that smoky goodness. The possibilities are vast, from liquid smoke to smoked salt, BBQ to cold smoking, and many other options in between and beyond. Which smoking method is best paired with dry-aged meat? By conducting their own research, DRYAGER™ has come to their own conclusion: smoking dry-aged meat, low and slow, provides a crisp outer bark and succulent inner flesh accompanied by intense flavor and aroma.

Smoking for several hours at low temperatures to render deliciously smokey and tender meat. With great ingenuity and skill, the first official smokers were built of inverted steel troughs, barrels, and other inexpensive and readily available materials. Utility and technology have soared, and smokers are now available in various styles. The methods used in smoking meat have come a long way since smoking in caves to in-ground BBQ pits. Today there are a variety of smokers on the market that make smoking meat an easy process for the home chef.  

One Technique – Many Vessels

What constitutes a good smoker? In the US and throughout Europe, two options have prevailed in private and professional kitchens.

The classic barrel smoker is crafted from round, thick-walled steel barrels with a large horizontal cooking chamber and a smaller fire chamber. Wood or lump wood charcoal is placed within the fire chamber as the heat source, and the meat is placed in the cooking chamber, which is typically fitted with racks. A small chimney allows the smoke to vent while grease and other liquids drain into a grease catch underneath. While cooking, carefully monitor the flame height and temperature to provide consistency.

Excellent smoked meat

The pellet smoker is a specialized and modified variation of the barrel smoker. Pellet smokers run exclusively on wood pellets placed in an electronically operated pellet box instead of firing in a fire chamber, as with barrel smoking. Since temperature and combustion are monitored and controlled electronically, the meat cooks without the need to monitor it.

Excellent smoked meat

The Right Wood – A Skill and a Science

It is said that not every wood is good for the smoker. Woods sourced from conifers are unsuitable for smoking due to their high moisture and pitch content. The wood species not only changes the temperature and combustion levels it also affects the taste. Popular woods are oak, maple, mesquite, and hickory, as well as the nutty and mild fruit woods of cherry, apple, and peach. Each wood imparts a particular flavor, and a seasoned BBQ master skillfully matches the wood with the meat for the best outcome and superior quality and taste.

Perfectly dry-aged and smoked meat

Smoking Time - Low and Slow 

Smoking time and temperatures will vary depending on what type of smoker is used. While this may seem like the easiest aspect of smoking to dial down, there can be a long learning curve. From vessel size and capability to exhaust vent, top vent, adjustable lids, hot air, ranging temperatures, and long hours - it takes practice and continued knowledge to become a smoking and grilling master.

Smoking time and temperature charts are great for beginners, although they serve merely as guidelines. Many factors affect the smoking time of meat; some resulting in more time needed. Some factors are the cut of meat and whether it has the bone-in, thickness of meat, fat content, opening smoker to check the meat, and the ambient temperature and weather conditions. 

When it comes to cooking and internal temperature, it is important not to crank up the heat; the process is dedicated to low temperatures. For the right temperature, start with a big fire using the best charcoal, wood chips, and chunks. The wood chips generate smoke while the charcoal will burn slowly and have the best impact on flavor. The ideal temperature is between 200 F and 275 F; however, the size and allocated airflow in the chamber should termine which side of the spectrum to hold your smoker stable. For example, a smaller chamber with less airflow would require a lower temperature.

We recommend keeping a log with meat type, weight, smoker temp, duration, and ambient temperature. Keeping a log will shorten the learning curve. 

Which Meat is Suitable for Smokers?

Today, beef and pork are the most popular meats used by smokers; whole chicken and turkey are also common, especially in the American South. Fish is also commonplace in the smoker, especially firm-fleshed fish such as trout or salmon, sturgeon, and catfish are placed in the smoker. But it isn't just meat that graces the racks of smokers, with vegetables of many varieties being an excellent option for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Smoked vegetables have long been a favorite in Mediterranean kitchens and are truly a testament to the versatility of smoking.

Dry-aged steak from the smoker

Smoked Dry-Aged Beef

A beautiful dry-aged steak does not require much time in the smoker and is a great candidate for smoking that takes an already excellent and flavorful product to the next level. Because of the drier structure of the meat, the smoke can penetrate quickly and deeply. The dry-aged meat becomes even more delicate and tender due to the smoke, and the pungent smoke of the wood beautifully complements the buttery and nutty flavors of the beef.

Bacon - Hot or Cold Smoke?

The difference, and the result, lies in the temperature. In cold smoking, which is especially traditional in Europe, the temperature of the smoke is about 68° to 86°F. In this method, bacon is left to hang in the smoker for several weeks, resulting in a product that is smoked but not cooked.
In hot smoking, for example, in a BBQ smoker, the temperature ranges from 126° to 176°F. After 20 to 120 minutes, the smoked bacon is ready. Changes in hot smoking reach beyond just flavor but change on the protein fiber structure; the meat is tenderized, the fat softens, and the meat is left with a full flavor.