Nothing beats cooking outside and we Brits all love a BBQ. However, there’s a subtle difference between shoving a few sausages on the grill and the art form that is taking the time to smoke food to perfection.
Humans love smoked food because it plays to our primal nature as descendants of cavemen. Historically we have used fire for cooking and it is only in the last century or so that the developed world has moved over to gas and electricity as an alternative.
The smell of a wood fire often brings back happy memories of childhood – from Bonfire Night and watching the flames of a wood burning stove at Christmas time to sitting around a camp fire in the great outdoors.
Smoked food has had a renaissance in the last few years and what started as the preserve of Michelin-starred chefs has become a popular flavour across many supermarket staples including butter, cheese and salt. We even choose different woods to cook over to impart different taste notes to our food – Certainly Wood’s apple wood is the perfect choice to give a delicate smokiness to the likes of chicken and fish. Not only does smoking make food taste great, it also helps meat become more tender.
To smoke food properly – especially if you’re opting for meat – it’s an all day job. It’s the perfect way to spend time with friends at the weekend or on holiday as it’s a really rewarding experience. What’s more, you don’t need to invest in an expensive smoker as long as your BBQ has a lid - a kettle BBQ, for example, is just the job.
How to build your fire
The first thing you need to do is build your fire. Use natural ‘ingredients’ and avoid possible chemicals from such things as lighter fluid or paraffin firelighters. For the best results use kindling, Flamers natural firelighters and our kiln dried logs.
Get your fire started and wait until you have a good base to the fire. Hold back until the flames are no longer visible and the embers have turned white hot. You then need to carefully push these coals to one side for cooking over, then add more kiln dried logs to the other side to maintain a good hot fire.
Now place your grill back in your BBQ. Your next step is to get a foil tray of water and place it on the grill over the coals. This will help to maintain the temperature.
Another thing you’ll need to do is to fill a charcoal starter (or BBQ chimney as they’re also known) with our smaller logs placed vertically in the chimney and with a single Flamer in the base, light it so they’re ready to add to your BBQ when the temperature starts to drop. Alternatively, you could keep a second fire on the go in a fire pit or the like. You’ll need a constant supply of white-hot coals throughout the smoking process – smoking is not for the faint-hearted!
You’re ready to start smoking!
What food to smoke
Go for bigger cuts of meat than you would for a traditional BBQ such as a whole chicken or a rack of ribs.
Try to marinade chicken and poultry in a brine for at least a day before cooking. With beef and pork, opt for a rub instead.
Don’t forget the veggies and vegans – corn, potatoes, whole heads of cauliflower or cabbage work a treat. You can even smoke salt and spices as well as nuts. However, timings and temperatures are a little different for whatever you choose to cook, so do your research in advance. Beef and pork require a little more heat than chicken, for example.
You can wrap whatever you’re cooking in foil for part of the cooking time to keep the juices in initially. However, one of the main rules of smoking is to never turn your food and to remove the lid as little as possible.
Place your food on the opposite side of the grill to the coals and add your lid. Keep the vent on the lid open as the flow of air will help to maintain the temperature.
How to keep it hot
If you’re going to take your smoking seriously, we’d recommend investing in a digital thermometersuch as the ThermoPro – with its dual probe it lets you monitor both the temperature of the BBQ as well as the meat.
By monitoring the temperature inside your BBQ, you’ll know when you need to add your next lot of hot embers. Don’t add too many at a time – the general rule of thumb is around six per hour.
The aim is to keep your BBQ at an optimum temperature of around 110oc to 130oc – as we said earlier though, check what temperature is right for the food you’re smoking. We’ve included a handy infographic to help with this, courtesy of Bro BBQ.
Once your food has achieved the correct temperature, it’s ready to eat, which is a good thing as you’re probably desperate to try the fruits of your labour after all this hard work. Don’t fret if the temperature of your meat seems to flatten out at around 70oc – it’s just part of the process.
How to serve smoked food
If you’re taking the time to create a mouthwatering masterpiece, forget the bagged salad and jacket potatoes. Instead, why not make your own baked beans or try American cornbread. Potato salad made from roast new potatoes is delicious or coleslaw made with mango and sesame. Find these recipes and many more here: