Smoking meat on your barbecue pit is a primal experience. When done properly, the combination of meat, fire, smoke and time can be an almost religious experience. Unfortunately, there is a lot of specialized lingo and strong opinions in the world of barbecue that can make it hard for a new guy to figure out how to get started.
My name is David Somerville and I want to help you cut through the hype and start making amazing smoked meats TODAY.
In order to help you start learning as fast as possible I have included three downloadable Master Classes at the end of this article. Those of you who are serious about learning also need to sign up for my free online bbq school, the Brisket Boot Camp.
There are a few fundamental principles that you need to embrace before you can start making amazing barbecue. These might seem trivial at first but it took me many years to figure them out.
Guiding Principles for Meat Smoking for Beginners
Less is More
The biggest mistake beginners make when smoking meat is trying too hard.
They want to smoke some meat so they load up the smoker with wood chunks and get billows of white smoke rolling out of the cooker. They want massive flavors so they pack a dry rub into every nook and cranny of the meat before it hits the smoker.
Amazing barbecue is created when the meat, smoke and spices work TOGETHER. Do not try to rig the system by over powering one of the elements. Use a LITTLE smoke for flavor. Use a LITTLE dry rub for seasoning. Barbecue is about the meat. Go easy on everything else, stand back and let the meat be the star of the show.
Respect the Meat
Take some time to understand the grain structure, fat content and connective fibers in the cut of meat you are working with. Different cuts need to be treated in different ways.
Cuts like a pork butt have a ton of fat and connective tissue and need to be cooked until those fibers break down and melt away. This is going to take some time and you will need to bring the meat to an internal temperature of around 200F.
Cuts like a pork loin are extremely lean and have no internal connective tissue. The lack of fat and connective tissue means that these cuts will dry out turn into hockey pucks if you cook them the same as a pork butt. On the lean cuts you will need to take them off the smoker when they hit an internal temperature of around 150F.
You are going to know the exact temperature of your meats because you are going to invest in MANY instant read digital thermometers. You will need to buy about five of them because I swear that gremlins will hide them as soon as you need one. While there are many brands of digital thermometers out there you will want to have at LEAST one Thermapen. Thermapen’s are the best digital thermometer that you can buy. They give you lightening fast, and ACCURATE, results you can trust.
Be Awesome, Smoke Happy
This is pretty important.
When you start making barbecue listen to the people that matter to you and cook to their tastes.
There are a LOT of angry folks on the internet who are going to tell you that if you don’t do “XYZ” with your barbecue then you are an idiot and your barbecue sucks. Ignore those folks. I don’t know why they are so upset and you shouldn’t waste your time trying to gain their approval.
A case in point, ribs.
Almost every barbecue “expert” out there is going to tell you to cook them until you can cleanly bite through the meat with just a little tug. If you cook your ribs longer than that and they are “fall of the bone” tender then you screwed up and might as well have cooked them in a crock pot.
The reality is that almost all regular people LOVE ribs that are fall off the bone tender. Who in the heck complains about tender meat? It is a blast to bite into a rib and watch a clean bone pull away in your hand!
And do you know what else they like? Barbecue sauce 🙂 Give it to them!!
Cook barbecue that YOU like. Cook barbecue that your FRIENDS and FAMILY like.
There are no hard and fast rules that must be followed when smoking anything.
Take the time to enjoy the process and celebrate those folks who are important to you.
Be Awesome, Smoke Happy.
Getting Started: Downloadable Masterclasses
I have put together a few downloadable PDFs to get you started smoking meats TODAY.
The first PDF shows you EXACTLY how I set up and use my kettle grill for smoking. There is a lot of detail in there about vent settings and temperature profiles. You can make seriously awesome barbecue with just a simple kettle and this PDF shows you how.
The second PDF is a masterclass in smoked pork chops. I am using the same kettle based technique as in the first PDF and I show you a powerful framework for approaching this classic piece of pork. Although the PDF is about pork chops you can apply the concepts to many other cuts of meat.
The third PDF is an introduction to serious low and slow barbecue that shows you how to smoke beef ribs. I am using the same kettle based technique as in the first PDF. This PDF is meant to show you the power of doing the simple things correctly. Quality meat combined with salt, pepper, smoke and time is a powerful combination.
Before you can begin smoking meat you are going to need some meat and a smoker. If you don’t have these already then check out these two articles: