Smokey BBQ Basics

Smoking Without a Smoker

Have you been wanting to learn how to smoke food but don’t want to go buy an actual smoker? Fear not! There are some great ways to smoke without forking out the dough to buy dedicated equipment. Let’s take a dive into the world of smoking food.

Smoking Basics

The whole idea of smoking is about getting a good smoky flavor without overcooking the food. To accomplish this, we need to cook the food in the temperature range of 225F to 300F for an extended period (usually using charcoal), over several hours. We then want to create a lot of smoke. To do that we need to soak wood chunks or chips in water until they are saturated. You can also soak fresh herbs or fruit peels as well. The combination of the coals with the soaked wood will allow for the low temperature smoldering and smoking that we are looking for. 

How to smoke without a smoker

Today we will focus on a simple charcoal grill (which can be found at Walmart for $15-$25) or a gas grill that you may already have. You will also want to decide what wood you will want to use for this adventure. Different woods will yield different flavors and complement foods in different ways. For example Mesquite will produce a sweet and earthy flavor. It is largely used in Texas-style brisket but goes great with other beef cuts, lamb, and venison. Hickory will produce a similar flavor to Mesquite. Pecan produces a sweet smoke flavor, but be careful because Pecan can become overpowering. Walnut and Oak burn slow and even, have mild flavors and are great all-around woods. Fruitwood of any kind will be mild in flavor and pair well with most foods. 

As a side note: never use wood that has been painted, stained or treated, and avoid soft woods such as pine. They do not make good smoking woods because they are sappy and contain terpenes, which creates an odd taste and can make some people feel ill.

Charcoal grill 

First, start by getting your briquettes burning and hot in a pile in the grill. Then using long-handled tongs, arrange hot ash-covered coals around a foil pan that's filled with about 1 inch of hot water (this is to help keep the food from drying out). Then add the water soaked wood chips or chunks to coals. Check food, temperature, and water pan every 45 to 60 minutes and add briquettes as needed.

Gas Grill

This technique takes less time then using briquettes and so we will not need to use water to keep the food moist. 

Using the water soaked wood chips, pace them in a foil pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and poke several holes in the foil cover. Place this over the burners that are in use and place the food on the half of the grill that does not have the burners lit. Check food, temperature, and water pan every 45 to 60 minutes. Do not replenish wood chips.

General tips

If using a charcoal grill, keep the water pan full to help maintain temperature and add moisture. Begin with the grill vents open and close them slightly if the temperature climbs too quickly. If the temperature drops, open the vents back up again. If that doesn’t help add more briquettes. Don’t Peek! Heat and smoke escape each time the grill is opened and it will take longer to eat your yummy food. Start with a small amount of wood and add more to your smoky flavor preference. 

Usually we think of red meats, poultry, and seafood when we think of BBQ, but you can smoke cheese, veggies, chilies, rice, garlic, herbs, and spices. There are several recipes that can be used for any of these foods. We encourage you to find your favorite recipe and email it to us and we’ll share it in a future issue!

But if you you don’t want to go digging around the internet for your first recipe right now, here is a tried and true recipe that anyone can appreciate, especially the beginning pit master!

First, you’ll need to get a hold of a beef brisket. Brisket is one of the smoking bbq hallmarks. It comes from the lower chest of a cow and is a little tough due to the connective tissue. But smoking it tenderizes this cut of meat and brings out the flavor. 

You’ll need: 

  • 1  brisket (about 6 lbs)

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1/4 cup ketchup

  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

The night before, you’ll want to combine the paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, apple cider vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce. Apply the mixture all over the brisket and refrigerate overnight.

When you get started the next day, you will need to preheat your smoker to 275F. Then place brisket in the smoker and cook for 6 to 8 hours, adding smoker chips or chunks as necessary (hickory would be a great choice here).

Once the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 200F, it's ready to be removed and enjoyed!

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