Smoking meat has always been something I could do every day. There really is no better way to cook meat when it comes to flavor and presentation. Of course smoking takes a good amount of time and patience. It also requires a specific grill and access to a certain kind of wood.
I like to use hickory when smoking, but have had excellent results with apple and pecan woods as well. Finding the wood has been tricky at times. The best way is to call tree removal services and find out if they have cut any down. Usually they will let you have the tree for free if you will clear it away. Of course that requires that you have a chainsaw and axe to cut the tree up yourself. A truck, which we don’t have, doesn’t hurt either. Another way is to call local barbecue restaurants and see if they have any extra wood they can part with. I have also found bags of wood at outdoor stores like Academy Sports if you are in a pinch.
When it comes to smokers, there are really two general styles on the market for consumers. The vertical box and the halved oil drum. Each has a separate fire box attached to the side. I prefer the oil drum style because you can also use it as a standard grill and it is easier to control the amount of heat. The vertical styles are slightly better at distributing the smoke.
For the professional there are a ton of options, but I have had fantastic results with my oil drum style smoker. I also had excellent results with a 22-inch Weber round grill. For those of you who want to try out smoking meat, but don’t want to invest in a smoker yet I will explain how to use a normal round grill to smoke below.
Regardless of the type of device the process is very simple. Get a good fire going in the fire box, reduce the amount of air to control the temperature and set the meat off the heat in the larger chamber to cook very slowly. I usually check the fire every half hour and end up adding a log once an hour. Beneath the meat place a pan of water to add humidity and catch the dripping fat. Now sit back drink a beer or two and relax. A four-pound chicken will take about 3 1/2 -4 hours to cook. Bigger items like pork shoulders and beef brisket can take up to nine hours. The chicken is done when a meat thermometer reads 165-170 degrees at the thigh. Remove the chicken and let rest for a half hour before cutting.
Here is how to smoke on a standard 22-inch Weber grill. You will need a charcoal chimney, or other device to start charcoal, a bag of hickory chips and a drip pan. Start a fire in the grill. Meanwhile soak the hickory chips in cold water for a half hour. Drain water and place a handful of wood chips on a piece of tin foil. Repeat with the rest. Fold up all the packets of hickory chips and punch holes on one side. Once the fire is ready, spread it out to the two sides of the grill. Place the drip pan with water in the center of the grill. On a Weber grill there are two sets of vents, one on the base and one on the lid. Close these all down until just slits. As the cooking goes you can open or close them to adjust the air flow and heat in the grill. Place the chicken on the rack in the center of the grill over the water and as far from the fire as possible. Add a packet or two of the chips on top of the charcoal and cover. Keep an eye on the heat and replace the wood chip packs every hour or so. Use the charcoal chimney to keep back up charcoal ready to go as the fire dies out. This method works really well for any type of meat small enough to fit in the center of the grill. It will cook faster because of the proximity of the fire so your smoke permeation is not as good as in a true smoker.