Heat, air, and smoke. There’s something almost primal about the satisfying taste experience of eating food infused with the flavor of wood smoke. As Chef Ben Vaughn says of smoking, “it only takes a little effort to turn the average cut of meat into something spectacular.”
Not just a flavoring technique, smoking is also a great way to turn a basic cut of meat into a world-class meal. “Smoke-cooking is a technique that falls between smoking for flavor and just plain cooking with fire,” says Chef Chris Schlesinger in Licence To Grill. “The object … is to tenderize the meat as well as flavor it through long, slow, indirect cooking with wood smoke.”
Want some easy smoker recipes? Look no further:
- Smoked Pork Loin Recipes
- Smoked Chicken Recipes
- Smoked Brisket Recipes
- Smoked Pork Shoulder Recipes
- Smoked Fish Recipes
There are a multitude of smoking methods available to the home cook:
- Electric smoker
- Gas grill equipped with a smoker box
- A pie tin or small loaf pan filled with wood chips
- An “envelope” of hole-punched aluminum foil filled with wood chunks (courtesy of Adam Perry Lang, Serious Barbecue).
Regardless of how you’re smoking your food, there are some basics that will help you achieve that perfect smoke flavor every time.
Pro Tip: Pitmaster Jason Ganahl of GQue BBQ believes biscuits should always be the “first cook” on any new smoker.
Known as “the biscuit test,” Ganahl suggests any new smoker be tested with biscuits as a way to learn the hot and cool spots. “If you’re going to spend good money on fancy gadgets, you want to make sure you know how it works, what it does, and the best way for you to use it!”
Sidenote: Cooking & Smoking With Kids
Traeger Grills, the company that invented modern electric smokers, has built a cool guide to teaching kids how to help in the kitchen, with age-appropriate tasks and recipes. Cooking is a family value here at Insteading so we thought this is a great resource to pass along.
Electric Smoker Recipes & Cook Timing
According to Char-Broil®, when smoking meat in an electric smoker, the internal temperature is more important than how long you smoke. That said, it’s difficult to plan ahead without some idea of how long your brisket or ribs will take to cook.
“Probe thermometers are your absolute friend,” says Jim Mumford of Jim Cooks Food Good. “They allow you to monitor your meat from afar without opening the smoker and letting all of the heat out.” Mumford recommends keeping two thermometers on hand: one for the meat and one for the air temperature in the smoker.
He notes that a thermometer helps to monitor through ‘the stall’ period of cooking large pieces of meat like pork shoulder and brisket. At ~160 degrees F, the temperature will stall for minutes to hours as the moisture begins to leave the meat.
Additionally, he recommends maintaining a smoke/air temperature of 250 degrees F for best results. “This gives the best balance of cooking time without drying the meat out.”
How To Choose Wood For Smoking
There is much debate about which wood is best to use when smoking with chefs debating the merits of heavy, “assertive” woods versus light woods. However, there are some general rules of thumb when it comes to choosing wood.
For example, large cuts of meat like brisket or pork can take heavier woods like hickory and oak. On the other hand, lighter foods like fish, chicken, and vegetables will taste best with fruit woods. In short, here are some general rules about the most common wood for smoking:
- Hickory has a flavor ranging from sweet to strong and is reminiscent of bacon. It’s a hardwood that burns hot and slow. Make sure to start slow with hickory chips because if you use too many they can create a less than desirable bitter taste on your meat. Hickory also combines well with lighter woods.
- Maple has a more subtle flavor than hickory but it also burns hot and slow. As far as heavy wood goes, maple is by far the sweetest.
- Applewood fruity and mild, applewood is a good choice for smoking chickens and other bird meats. Applewood smoke takes several hours to add flavor to meats, so it definitely requires a low and slow method.
- Peachwood burning hot and relatively long, peachwood has southern roots and adds a sweet and light flavor to the meat. Make sure to use fresh cut wood as the flavor will dissipate over time.
- Cherrywood with a mild, sweet flavor, cherry wood tends to that burn relatively hot for a long time. Cherry wood also combines quite well with hickory wood.
Easy Smoked Pork Loin Recipes
Pork loin roast comes both bone-in or deboned. A loin roast is sometimes confused with tenderloin. Despite the name similarity, they are not one and the same.
A typical loin roast is sold in pieces that are 2-4 pounds. The tenderloin is a smaller, long cut that usually weighs about a pound. The term roast simply refers to a large cut of pork. That said, pork loin is easy to smoke and yields tasty results. Here are some of our favorite pork loin recipes:
- Apple-Smoked Pork Loin (courtesy of Eating Well)
- Bourbon Brown Sugar Smoked Pork Loin (recipe adapted from Steven Raichlen’s BBQ USA)
- Porterhouse Pork Chops with Sweet Honey Glaze
- How to Smoke Pork Tenderloin in a Smoker
Easy Smoked Chicken Recipes
Before smoking a chicken, some chefs like to either cut it in half or use a technique called butterfly or spatchcock (splitting a chicken by removing the backbone so you can flatten it). This will increase the surface area that absorbs smoke, allows for quick, even cooking, and provides a crispier skin. Want some guidance with your spatchcock? Check out Saveur’s step-by-step video to spatchcocking a chicken.
When smoking chicken, choose wood chips that complement the bird. Pecan, mesquite, cherry, and apple are all popular woods for poultry. Make sure you don’t overpower your chicken with a heavy wood like hickory. You can still use it, just do so sparingly and consider mixing it with a lighter wood.
- Whole Slow-Smoked Barbecue Chicken
- Easy Smoked Chicken Quarters Recipe
- Simple Smoked Chicken Brine Recipe
- Award-winning Thunderbird pecan smoked chicken wings recipe
Easy Smoked Brisket
This easy brisket recipe from Jason Ganahl will give you a perfectly smoked brisket in 5 hours:
Ganahl likes to use a whole packer brisket that has both the flat and the point intact so he can make crispy, burnt ends out of the point meat. He uses a full basket of charcoal and a couple of strips of hickory wood and simply seasons the meat with a rub and then lets it smoke.
Easy Smoked Pork Shoulder & Pulled Pork
Matt Curmi, executive chef of Wildwood Grilling says pork shoulder (also known as pork butt or Boston butt), is a great cut for smoking for several reasons. First, it is fairly inexpensive and is a larger cut, usually weighing in at 5 -12 lbs. Larger cuts hold up to the long slow smoking process better.
Second, the pork shoulder has enough fat in it to prevent a dry result. Third, the shoulder is a working muscle, so it is a tougher cut. Only a slow cooking process like smoking, can break down these tougher fibers.
Smoked pork shoulder is great for sliders because it can be easily shredded and is very shareable. The fat content causes this meat to be fairly rich so it can be suited to smaller portions.
This recipe is great for anything that could benefit from some smoked pork. Smoked pork tacos, nachos, pulled pork, and BBQ plates are just a few ways to cross-utilize this base recipe.
- Easy Smoked Pulled Pork Recipe
- Apple Smoked Pork Shoulder Sliders with Huckleberry BBQ Sauce and Cedar Smoked Apples
- Alabama Pulled Pig
- Electric Smoker Pulled Pork
Easy Smoked Fish Recipes
If you’re wondering if you should try a fresh trout or a salmon filet on the smoker, the answer is yes! Smoked fish is incredibly moist when slow roasted in a smoker, and the meat of the fish will infuse perfectly with the flavors of sweet smoky wood.
When paired with seasonings of fresh herbs and aromatic citrus, smoked fish is a tasty treat that you can feel good about eating. If you’re wondering where to start, try a hearty skin-on filet such as salmon, mackerel, or sea bass.