Charcoal smokers do a great job at cooking meat so nicely that it falls off the bone. It is succulent, delicious and juicy, provided you have used the charcoal smoker correctly. Several people unfamiliar with the workings of a charcoal smoker are unable to use it properly. You do not need to worry because this article will cover everything necessary about charcoal smokers. Let us begin with understanding what a charcoal smoker is.
A charcoal smoker is a cooking device that uses indirect heat to cook food. The heat generated by chunks of burning charcoal adds a smoky flavor to the food. It is crucial to note that a charcoal smoker and a charcoal grill are two different things. Although, recently, brands that manufacture grills with a smoking component included in them are emerging. So, it is not surprising to see a charcoal smoker referred to as a smoker grill.
There are four crucial areas in a charcoal smoker.
You should be familiar with these areas before you use a charcoal smoker.
It is the area that generates heat, so you have to fill it with burning chunks of coal. Depending on factors such as size, weather, and smoker capacity, you have to fill the firebox with coal from time to time. People also add wood chips to the coals because the wood has a distinct aroma, which gets transferred to the meat.
The water pan
The water pan is located above the firebox and filled with cold liquid. The part of the charcoal smoker maintains the temperature, preventing the smoker from getting too hot. It helps to keep the meat moist and tender by producing steam and absorbing excess heat.
The cooking chamber
The food is placed in this part of the charcoal smoker, usually in a cooking grate and wrapped in foil.
The lid is on top of the charcoal smoker to trap an appropriate amount of smoke inside the cavity. This smoke later penetrates the food, giving it an irresistible flavor. The lid also allows the smoke to escape as and when needed.
The inner workings of a charcoal smoker are easy to grasp. It cooks your food at a consistent temperature over indirect heat. The cooking process should continue till the internal temperature of your food is the same as the air surrounding it.
The only way to get that unique, smoky BBQ flavor is letting your food cook with this “low and slow” method. This kind of gradual, consistent cooking makes the process different from standard barbeque grilling, where food is engulfed in flames and cooked in little time.
To use a charcoal smoker, you have to get a few things in order. All you need is high-quality coal and wood chips. A charcoal smoker runs of few ground rules, which are easy to follow after some practice. Here are the steps to using a charcoal smoker.
Start with getting your fuel ready
Use any ordinary charcoal briquettes because they burn at the right temperature. Do not use boutique lump charcoals as they become too hot for the smoker to handle. A combination of any local charcoal and some wood chips should be just fine for smoking meat.
There are a few types of wood chips like mesquite, cherry, maple, hickory and alder wood. These all have a unique flavor to them, but some emit more heat than others. Regardless, you have to soak them in cold water for thirty minutes before putting them in the smoker.
Prepare your water pan
Fill it up to three-quarters of the water pan, and your food should be nice and tender.
Use a charcoal chimney to light the coals
It is a straightforward procedure for people who own a charcoal chimney, but in case not, you should stack the charcoal in a pyramid shape inside the smoker. You may use a small amount of lighter fluid as well. Burn the coal until you see a thin coat of white ash on it. At this point, you should add the lit coals into your smoker and continue the process.
Add the meat
Place your meat on a regular barbeque grill grate in the charcoal smoker. Some smokers have more than one grate, which is convenient if you are cooking a large quantity. Ensure that your meat is well marinated before placing it in the smoker.
Adjust the temperature
The range between 220 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for cooking meat in a charcoal smoker. A couple of dampers or vents will help you maintain this temperature within the charcoal smoker. The air enters from the lower dampers, rushing into the smoker and increasing oxygen within it.
The coals burn hotter with the extra oxygen while excess air escapes the smoker from the top dampers. If you notice that the smoker is overheating, you can close the bottom damper and open the upper damper. You can do the reverse if the temperature is too low. Most charcoal smokers have a built-in thermometer, so monitoring the temperature is simple.
Add your wood chips to the mix
After twenty-five per cent of your food has finished cooking, you should add the wood chips. Remember that these need to be soaked in cold water beforehand. Now you have to place them in the firebox and let them burn slowly, allowing your meat to absorb the aroma.
Charcoal smoking is a long, drawn-out process, so it needs a lot of patience. One rack of limbs cooks for six to seven hours, so larger pieces take even more time. Use a meat thermometer to check the doneness of the food. It might be a meticulous process, but you will get the hang of it with practice.
These were some bits of base-level but sufficient information about using a charcoal smoker. The first time using a charcoal smoker is confusing, but you will get the hang of it. There is hardly any other method that would give you the same soft and tasty meat, so go ahead and try it.