Smoking low and slow is a growing trend, allowing you to add an extra depth of delicious flavour to your barbecue.
Smoking on Charcoal Barbecue
Smoking on a charcoal barbecue is really easy to do, especially if you are already comfortable barbecuing with indirect heat. Begin by filling a chimney starter about one-third full with briquettes. When they are fully lit, pour all of the charcoal on one side of the cooking grate (if desired, use a charcoal basket, which holds the coals close together so they burn more slowly) and place a large disposable foil pan on the other side.
Then, carefully add about 2 or 3 cups of water to the pan. The water in the pan is important because it helps to maintain a low cooking temperature. It also adds some moisture to the food, which in many cases will cook for hours and hours, so it could dry out otherwise. Allow 30 minutes to 1 hour for the coals to burn down to the correct temperature and the water to heat up. Next, drop damp wood chips or dry wood chunks directly onto the coals. Then place your food on top of the cooking grate over the water pan and place the lid on your barbecue. Expect to add more coals every hour or so to maintain the heat.
Smoking on a Gas Barbecue
You can purchase a metal smoker box that sits on top of a dedicated burner that makes smoking simple. Just turn on the burner and add as many damp wood chips as you like. You can control how quickly they smoke by turning the knob of the burner higher or lower. Some of the boxes have a separate compartment for water, which will provide a steaming effect on the food, too. The metal will conduct the heat of your barbecue to the soaked wood chips you pile inside the box. The holes in the lid will direct the fragrant smoke over your food. When the wood chips have burned out, you can simply open the lid and add more, if you like.
You can also make your own smoker box. Here’s how: Place drained wood chips in a foil pan, cover with aluminium foil, and poke holes in the foil to allow the smoke to escape. Place the pan directly on the bars over an unlit burner or two, preferably in a back corner. Put the cooking grates in place. Turn on the barbecue, with all the burners on high, and close the lid. When smoke appears, begin cooking your food, adjusting the temperature of the barbecue as needed. You can’t add more chips to the pan, but at least it’s a start.
Smoking on a Weber Smokey Mountain
A water smoker allows you to smoke meat at temperatures well below 300°F for many hours. The Weber Smokey Mountain is basically an upright bullet-shaped unit with three sections. The charcoal burns in the bottom section. For smoky barbecue aromas, add a few fist-sized chunks of hardwood to the coals right from the beginning. The meat will absorb the smoke best when it is uncooked.
The water sits in a pan in the middle section, preventing any fat from dripping onto the coals and, more importantly, keeping the temperature nice and low. The meat sits on one or two racks in the top section.
A water smoker has vents on both the bottom and top sections. Generally, it’s a good idea to leave the top vent wide open so that smoke can escape. Use the bottom vents as your primary way of regulating the temperature. The less air you allow into the smoker, the lower the temperature will go.
Generally speaking, if the ring in the bottom section of the smoker is filled with lit charcoal, and the water pan is nearly filled, the temperature will stay in the range of 105° to 120°C for 4 to 6 hours. This is an ideal range for barbecuing food like pork ribs, turkeys, and standing rib roasts.
Chips or Chunks?
Either will do nicely. The main difference is that chips burn faster than chunks. If you plan to add just a handful or two of chips for a light smoke over 20 minutes or so, then the burn rate is not a real issue. But if you want to smoke your food for an hour or more, it might be more convenient to use chunks. Depending on their size and the amount of air getting to the fire, they will burn that long, or even longer. If you soak chips in water for at least 30 minutes before adding them to the fire (no need to soak wood chunks), you will prolong their burn significantly and they will smoulder more than flame. Just be sure to drain the wood of water first so you don’t extinguish the fire.