Helpful Smoking Techniques
First thing I would recommend is to take some time and get to know your equipment. If you have been smoking for any length of time, you know that each and every smoker is different; there are hot and cold spots. The larger the smoker, the more hot and cold spots there will be. If you smoke year round, you alreaady know weather is a big factor that effects smoking. You might also be interested in knowing the pit will smoke differently in high and low humidity. Wind and temperature will also affect smoking. On a cold day, you will end up using more fuel than a hot day. On a windy day you will need to limit your airflow to your pit and you can expect it to most likely run hot since more air produces more heat and less air means less heat.
Fresh ingredients and proper food handling safety are a must when you are smoking. Smoked meats are exposed to bacteria more so than with any other cooking process. If you have questions regarding proper food handling, be sure to check out our safe food handling for more information on recommended food handling practices that you should followed.
Season The Pit
Like a new cast iron skillet, a new BBQ pit should be seasoned before using it for the first time. It is suggested by most manufacturers that you rub or brush the inside of the pit with a vegetable cooking oil, but actually some even use lard. Once the inside of your new pit is throughly coated in oil, light the pit and bring the cooking chamber up to about 220 degrees. Cut the airflow in the pit to about 1/2 and let it smoke. A few hours is good. However, the longer the better. Another good idea is to spray or rub the oil at the joints of where the firebox meets the cooking chamber. This will help you keep the paint in those spots.
Build The Fire
There are many backyard chef's that have great fire building techniques and you should use whatever method works best for you. I will, however, toss my method into the mix as well.
Currently I use Kingsford charcoal briquettes. I will be experimenting with lump charcoal next season to see if there is any real noticable differences between the two. I use the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. If you will be primarily using charcoal for your heat source, then I recommend using one of these to start and burn down new charcoal before adding it to your pit. There is a great tutorial on using a chimney starter on The Virtual Weber Bullet web site located here http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/chimney.html
In most pits you will probably use charcoal so you will want to add some wood chunks or chips, such as hickory or mesquite, for flavor. For my smoker/grill, I prefer to use Western Hickory Wood Chunks. When I am smoking during the winter months (it gets awfully cold), I use wood chips in my electric smoker. I do not soak either the wood chunks or the chips and I have an article that addresses whether to soak your wood or not.
If it's a windy day keep your air vents near closed. Remember more air means higher temperature. On some of the water smokers, you may even close the air vent completely. Typically there is more than enough air coming from the bottom and sides of the smoker. In an offset, air leakage into the cooking chamber through the doors can give a convection type effect. Increasing the air draw from the firebox. In controlling your fire, there is no substitute to knowing how to control airflow in your smoker.
Another method becoming increasingly popular to increase burn times and to bring your cooker up to temp slower and more accurately is popularly known as "The Minion Method", so named after Jim Minion, a competition cook who perfected this method on his Weber Smokey Mountain. This method starts with stacking an appropriate quantity of un-lit charcoal in your cooker, then using a chimney starter, light a relatively small amount of charcoal. Once the lit briquettes have gotten hot, add them on top of the pile of un-lit charcoal. The remaining charcoal will start and burn slowly throughout the cook. It will take many hours to burn through your charcoal this way. This is an extremely useful method if using forced draft temp control, such as the BBQ Guru. The BBQ Guru will bring the cooker up to temp, and only burn what it needs throughout the cook.
You will find our useful Cooking Times and Temperature Chart available to act as a guideline to help you determine how long and at what temperature to cook various cuts of beef, pork and poultry.
Using Aluminum Foil
Using aluminum foil during the cooking process is a very controversial topic amongst bbq experts. Using foil on fibrous pieces of meat will have the following benefits:
Decreased Cooking Times: Using aluminum foil on fibrous cuts such as pork shoulder, or beef brisket will aid in collagen breakdown resulting in less cooking time.
Limit Smoke Absorption: Smoke should be viewed as a spice and as such you will want to achieve just the right amount of smoke flavor. By wrapping your meat half way or 3/4 of the way through cooking will limit the amount of time the meat is exposed to smoke.
Some backyard chef's view this as a crutch while others will argue that it is a very necessary part of the cooking process. This is something that you will have to decide whether it works best for you or not.
Use Of The Water Pan
Using a water pan in some smokers, and in some offsets, has been argued to add moisture to the air surrounding the whatever you are cooking. By adding moisture to the air, it is said that you are adding moisture to your meat. In the old smoke house days when meats were smoked for days at low temperatures, this was definitely a possibility. The reality is that at temperatures of 220+ degrees, the air will not hold the moisture. The water will actually end up on your meat, and can result in ash and soot sticking to the surface of the meat. Water used in smokers is to aid in temperature control of the cooking chamber. Many have started using sand in place of water, which will actually help in the fuel efficiency of your smoker. Keep in mind that it is very easy to burn up a piece of meat using sand in place of water, and you should know your smoker before you try this.