This Tip entry is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to smoking, but instead just some tips that you might not know about. I will give some general tips and a few that are more specific to the Big Green Egg and probably other Kamado grills like the Egg too. If you don’t own a Kamado grill you can simply skip past the Big Green Egg sections. GENERAL:
There are wood chips and wood chunks. In general the chunks take longer to get going, and then give you more smoke over a longer periods of time than chips. The chips tend to give you a quick blast of smoke that comes and goes quickly.
The wood chunks can come with the bark on or bark off. Conventional wisdom has it that the bark can lend a bitter taste to the smoke, but not everyone agrees. If I find pieces of bark on my chunks I will try to pull them off. If I can’t pull them of with my hands or with a putty knife, I will bring them down to my basement and use my bandsaw to remove the bark. I designed a push stick for wood chinks that lets me keep my hands a safe distance away from the saw blade.
Soaking the chips or chunks slows down the initial ignition process. Then once the wood ignites it tends to smolder and make smoke for a longer period of time.
When I was using my horizontal barrel smoker I always used the wood chunks on it and they were not pre-soaked. The cooks on this smoker were low and slow and I would add two chunks that were each 1/2 fist-sized every hour or so. I never used wood chips on my smoker.
On the gas grill I would use wood chips only, never chunks. My gas grill had a smoker drawer intended to hold wood chips and it had a burner under it to help heat the chips.
On the gas grill I would pre-soak the chips, but the time depended on the type of cook I was doing. If it was a quick cook I would soak the chips for 5 or 10 minutes only. A 5 minute soak would give me smoke suitable for quick cooks like steaks or burgers. A 10 minute soak would give me smoke suitable for a slighter longer cook like chicken wings. For longer cooks like roasts I would give the chips a 60 minute soak.
On my grill chips soaked for about an hour would last 45 minutes. If my cook was going to last longer than this I would start a second batch of chips soaking timed to be ready when the first batch finished.
You can soak the chips in a disposable fool pan or bowl, you just need to measure out the appropriate amount of chips to suit your needs.
Stephen Raichlen’s Best of Barbecue product line includes a really neat wood chip soaker. It has two baskets so you can get two batches going at staggered times. The baskets were exactly the size of my grill’s smoker drawer, eliminating the need to measure. They directions mentioned the baskets could be placed on the grill too. Where I had a smoker drawer I never need to do this.
There are 3rd party smoker boxes sold at grill stories.
You can make your own smoker pouch by wrapping some soaked wood chips in heavy duty aluminum foil. Use a pen to poke holes on the pouch to allow the smoke to escape.
SOAKING-BIG GREEN EGG:
It seems pre-soaking the chips (or chunks) is a lot less used on the Big Green Egg. I am thinking it is because there is a lot less combustion air going into the BGE due to it’s more controlled tightly sealed environment. Smaller amounts of combustion air mean the chips are going to take longer to start and they will last longer.
I was happy with the thought I might be able to get away from the added step of soaking wood chips. So far I have never soaked wood chips used on my BGE.
If I am doing a quick cook like steaks or burgers, I will throw a handful of (dry) wood chips directly on the lit coals just before adding the food. This gives me a quick blast of smoke, perfect for these quick cooks. Just be sure to stand down wind.
If I am doing a longer cook I will either distribute the wood chips throughout the charcoal pile or add a handful or two of chips at regular time intervals. I generally do NOT use the former method of distributing the chips throughout the pile. If I don’t use it all I am left with wood chips in my charcoal and I may not want smoke the next time I use that Egg.
SMOKE & FOOD TYPES-Pt. 1 Wood Types:
Most people pair their food with a species of hardwood, not unlike people do with food and wine.
More advanced smokers will sometimes use blends of woods to achieve their desired results.
Mild foods like chicken, turkey and fish tend to be paired with wood that produce milder smokes. Foods with golf flavors, such as beef or lamb, tend to be paired with woods producing a stronger smoke flavor.
A detailed discussion of wood pairings is way beyond the scope of this blog. There is much info to be had online and in BBQ cookbooks. These go into great detail on pairings and often include more exotic woods than I mentioned here.
There are 8 to 10 hardwood species of wood used for smoking here in the use. Cherry, Apple and Alder fall on the mild side and are often paired with chicken, turkey or fish. Pecan has a medium level of smoke flavor that will pair well with almost any food when used in the proper amount. Maple also falls in the medium range. Oak is medium strong. Hickory has a strong smoke flavor and is the smoke flavor many people think of when they think of BBQ. Mesquite has a very strong flavor and can be an acquired taste.
You can pair a mild flavored food with a strong wood, just use less of it so the smoke doesn’t overwhelm the food. I like oak wood whose smoke falls between medium and strong. If I use it with chicken, I use less of to it and if I am using it with beef I use a little more.
Until you find the right amount of smoke to use, go light. Too little smoke makes for food that is still very good. Too much smoke and the food can be positively inedible for some folks.
In my experience mesquite tends to be a love it or hate it thing. I fall into the hate it category. It has a very unique taste which I really dislike. In very small doses I can eat food smoked in mesquite, but if the amount used is more than a kiss of smoke I can’t stand it. Try it for yourself and see. Tread lightly because the flavor of mesquite can easily overwhelm the flavor of your food. Also don’t be surprised if you run into people who hate the flavor as much as you like it.
SMOKE & FOOD TYPES-Pt. 2 Food Types:
The type of food you are cooking affects the smoking process. Different foods absorb smoke differently.
Ground meats, such as ground beef, absorb a large amount if smoke. This can have a manor affect depending on the length of your cook. If you are trying to add some smoke flavor to a quick cook ground beef item, this works to your advantage. You can get a good amount of smoke flavor into your meat in the under 10 minutes you have. A longer cook like slow smoked meatloaf, which lasts for one or more hours, is a whole different story. Meatloaf uses ground beef, and often adds one of more other ground meats, and you must tread lightly. I generally use about half as many would chunks as I might normally use. Or I will use wood chips instead of chunks.
Meats with casings don’t absorb much smoke at all. If you are making smoked hot dogs, you must use skinless hotdogs or your end results will taste like boiled hotdogs. Don’t ask me how you know this.
Sausages are another example of this. In the casings a sausage won’t absorb much smoke. You take the sausage out of the casing and you need to be real careful. First of all you now have ground meat which absorbs more smoke. Secondly most sausages are using smoked meat already so you may not want to add much additional smoke flavor.
Foods with membranes don’’t absorb smoke well. This is why most competition cooks will take the membrane off the bone side of the ribs. In addition to being able to get more smoke flavor in their ribs, the membrane doesn’t taste great or eat great.
OTHER SMOKING TIPS-General:
The smoke ring, the red/pink ring that extends down from the surface of the meat into the outer area of the meat is a chemical readtion of the proteins in the meat when exposed to smoke. Some people mistake the smoke ring for the meat being undercooked. This actually makes no sense. If something was going to be undercooked it would be the deepest part of the food. Not the surface.
Once the food reaches a temperature of 135-140 degrees (57-60C) it is not able to absorb any more smoke flavor. This is why many low and slow recipes have you foil the food at or above 140 degrees (60C). The meat has already absorbed as much smoke as it is going to.
Many people do not let the food warm up at all before going on the smoker. Going straight to the smoker allows the food to start off at a lower temperature and extend the length of time the food remains below the 140 degree (60C) mark.
It pays to learn the characteristics of your grill or smoker when you add smoking wood to it. Using wood chips soaked for one hour in my gas grill’s smoker drawer started producing small amounts of smoke in 15 minutes. This was around the time the grill took to warm up to my target temperature. For the next ten minutes it made a small amount of smoke which got heavier after that. This was fine for a long cook, where the food was going to be on longer that 10 minutes. For quick cooks where the chips were soaked for 5 or 10 minutes I’d add the chips much closer to when I added the food. If you put these chips on too soon the smoke would be used up when the food went on. So take some time to learn the behavior of your setup.
As you stand out by your grill, any kind of grill including Kamados, you will be breathing in smoke. This tends to desensitize you to smoke flavor, so go lightly on the smoke flavor, You may taste the food and think there isn’t as much smoke flavor as you wanted. Meanwhile your guests, who weren’t exposed to the smoke from your grill, will taste plenty of smoke. Part of the taste sensation is smell so if you have become desensitized to the smell of smoke by standing out by your grill, you are going to taste less smoke in your food.
OTHER SMOKING TIPS-Big Green Egg:
It doesn’t seem like you get as deep of a smoke ring with the Big Green Egg. I’ve never seen an explanation of why this is, but I have seen this first hand and I do have a theory that seems to fit the facts. The tight seal of the BGE helps keep the food very moist. This is a fact. To get the best sear you need to mop up the moisture ion the surface of the meat. This is a fact. What I think is happening is meat smoked on the Egg is retaining more moisture inside, which prevents the smoke from penetrating as deep and creating a deep smoke ring. This is my theoryy.
You need to tread lightly on the amount of wood chips or chunks that you use on the BGE. I think it is the tight seal of the Egg, coupled with less amount of combustion air and exhaust air being required.
One thing I like most about using the Ceramic Grill Store Adjustable Rig for smoking cooks isn’t the extra grid space, which is nice, but the ability to remove the entire assembly, food and all from the Egg. I don’t like to spread wood chips or chunks through my charcoal. The Egg is so stingy on charcoal at low temps I don’t want to add too many chips into the charcoal. If my next cook doesn’t use wood smoke this creates a problem. The AR gives you two ways to add more smoking wood. If you get the oval pizza stone (used also for indirect cooking) and the sliding D-shelves, the squared off sides give you a gap where you can add smoking woods. If you want the wood to go more towards the middle of the charcoal pile, then you can remove the entire AR and food. I have a corian sheet I land the hot AR on. I can close the lid and gather the wood. Then I can open the lid add the wood and put the AR back on all in one piece.
I hope some of these Tips on smoking have been helpful to you. Post a comment here is you have any others you think I should include.