Smoked, Pulled & Served: A Short Introduction to Smoking
Updated: a day ago
Let’s have a conversation about smoking. No, I don’t mean the nicotine habit you may have – I’m talking about that low-and-slow, mouth-watering, crowd-gathering method of cooking meat. I’m talking about that smell that spreads like wildfire, that captures the attention of anyone in the area and leaves them wondering where it’s coming from and how they can get in on it. Smoking meats, born of necessity for preservation and later modified to provide decadent meals for those with patience, is somewhat of a cult nowadays. Practiced and perfected for years by pit masters around the ‘States, finding delicious smoked meats used to be a matter of following the crowd – now, anyone with a bit of time on their hands and a cabinet of seasonings can draw their friends and family in for a weekend of decadence.
Smoking, in this context, is mostly in relation to barbecue, but make no mistake: smoking has many uses. Preserving food for later use, making alcohol… even tea, in parts of the world like China, is often smoked to dry the leaves and add flavor. That being said, let’s get back on topic. While just about any meat can be smoked, and will respond well to smoking, there are a few barbecue staples that most folks go to. At the Butcher Block, we butcher and sell several of those cuts: pork butt, tri-tip, whole brisket as well as separate flats and points, pork ribs, beef ribs, whole chickens… you get my point. What most of these have in common is a high fat-to-lean ratio – the fattier the meat, the more flavor you get from smoking. Consider brisket, for example; that liquid that pours out when you first cut into it? That’s the fat, gently melted by the low heat of the smoke, which has worked its way throughout the meat to create a tender, juicy, fall-apart texture that just can’t be achieved by other methods of cooking.
Speaking of fat and tenderness, smoking for barbecue comes down to those two main factors: flavor and texture. What smoking does is, essentially, make a tough chunk of meat something delicious and fall-apart tender. Low heat – and I’m talking low-low, usually in the 200 degrees Fahrenheit range – produces smoke from wood which slowly works itself into the meat, cooking it through and leaving behind the flavor of hickory, mesquite, oak, or whatever type of wood you choose. Rather than aggressively heating and toughening up those meat fibers, the smoke gently cooks the meat and melts the fat which spreads throughout, lending additional tenderness and flavor.
Look, I could go on for pages about smoking and barbecue. People have filled books discussing its history, technique, methods, and nuance, and there are likely many more to come. Hopefully, this short overview has at least piqued your curiosity, if not left you with a craving for barbecue – I certainly know what I’m having for dinner.
That’s the scoop with me, Coop, wishing you happy smoking.