Smoking food, it turns out, is a lot of work.
Actually, I take that back. It’s like bread: If you have time and understand the process, it’s not that difficult. However, it is an undertaking.
And it takes a long time.
Have I mentioned that it takes time?
We started the fire around eight o’clock in the morning and finished smoking about twelve hours later. I spent the day at the kitchen window, staring out at the metal beast, watching the smoke drift from the chimney, and fretting. Did the fire need more wood? Was the smoke too thick? Should I give the fire more air? Less air? Was the thermometer giving us an accurate reading?
Accessing the firebox was tricky. Because it’s at the very bottom of the barrel, under the racks of food, every time I wanted to add more charcoal or wood, I had to enlist my husband’s help.
Very carefully, we’d lift the top half off, making sure not to jostle the racks full of water pan and food, tend the blaze, and then re-situate everything. By mid-afternoon my clothes reeked of smoke (kind of nice), and by evening my eyes were watering (not so nice).
But things went just as planned! I forgot to inject the brisket, and I rubbed the outside with a bit too much S&P, but the process itself was spot-on. Mid-afternoon, we hit the stall — when the internal meat temperature refuses to rise above 160 degrees — but then we wrapped the meat in foil and let it go for a few more hours. Right at the 12-hour mark, the meat registered 203 degrees, perfect! We rested the meat in a cooler for 30 minutes (it should’ve been a good hour, but our beds were calling) before cutting into it.
And wouldn’t you know, everything was just as the experts said it would be. There was a smoke ring! The meat separated when stretched! We were able to identify the deckle and flat, and we could taste the flavor differences!
I had made a sauce, of sorts, to serve with the meat, but no one ate it. They all prefered to devour their meat, slice after slice, straight up alongside the still-warm pan of buttered buns. The meat was so tender and juicy and smoky. It almost tasted like ham.
Also smoked that day:
I cut about six tomatoes in half, drizzled them with olive oil, and added S&P. After a couple hours in the smoker, I divided them into two portions and stuck them in the freezer. Later, I’ll chop them up and add them to chili.
Sweet bell peppers and poblanos
My younger son charred these directly in the coals at the very end, and then I scraped off the black, seeded and chopped the peppers, and froze them. These will also go in chili, or maybe I’ll add some to a pot of beans or a butternut squash soup.
I smoked two pounds of beef in beer. Later, I finished it off in the crock pot with potatoes and carrots. The kids didn’t like it that much — I think the beer flavor may have been too strong — but I did.
Since I left them in the smoker longer than the recommended hour and a half, the smoke flavor was intense … so I divided them into smaller portions and popped them in the freezer. Whenever I want a kick of smoke — in chili, soup, or ordinary baked beans — I’ll toss in one of the bags, my own little flavor bomb.
I’d like to do more smoking — I want to try a roast, and we have a couple fresh hams in the freezer — but, because I need my husband’s help to lift the smoker and it’s hard to find days when we’re both home the entire time, I’m limited in when I can do it.
Isn’t it fascinating, all the myriad ways there are to prepare food? Smoking is such a tasty, fun way to go.