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The mighty meat smoker explained by Big K

BBQ Smoker ribs lie crisp and cooked to perfection in a meat smoker

Before barbecues, charcoal briquettes and even the mighty meat smoker, early humans were big fans of eating raw meat…until their deliverance by fire. Isn’t it strange when you take a step back and think: we’d still be gnawing our teeth into bloody, raw muscle and sinew if it weren’t for some troublemaking ancestor who decided to challenge the status-quo of Paleolithic culinary traditions by tossing a hunk of meat onto an open flame. Even if it happened by mistake, and the other tribes people thought it was a terrible idea, this unsuspecting, club-wielding character probably didn’t know that his flaming blunder would go on to become arguably the greatest trend ever invented.

Today, we’re going to delve into one beloved BBQ technique – the art of meat smoking. Not only that, you’re also going to be getting some handy tips on how to set up your own meat smoker – and yes, it is most definitely going to make you a highly cultured individual with a smashing reputation for being a bona fide BBQ honcho.

 

A man holds up a cut of beef shoulder to absorb the smoke from a meat smoker

 

Throwback to meat smoking origins

Yes there are many indoor meat smokers in the UK – and outdoor smokers too. However, rewind the fabric of space-time there was a point where meat smoking didn’t even exist as a concept…until luck intervened. In the ancient past, people didn’t have chimneys. In fact, domestic chimneys don’t start appearing in the historic record until around the 12th century, where evidence of chimneys started popping up in Europe. In the sans chimney epoch, meats would be hung from the ceilings for protection from pests. In a quirk of food-related fate, the meat started to become cured as a result of the smoke that would accumulate inside these primitive dwellings.

 

How a meat smoker works

Although the practice of smoking and curing meats the old-fashioned way is still practiced, people now have devices that get the job done. Enter the meat smoker. A meat smoker, simply put, is an apparatus that helps you cook food within a chamber at relatively low heat (around 90 degrees Celcius to 110 degrees) for extended periods of time.

The heat source is kept away from direct contact with the meat and is only used to fuel the smoldering wood chips or pellets and create an indirect heat output for cooking. The wood chunks smolder rather than burn, and this process could go on for many hours – or even days. Different types of wood are used to give the food its distinct smoky flavour.

 

How to smoke meat in a charcoal smoker?

First off: consistent temperature is the key here, people. So you must use high quality with a consistent heat output. Enter Big K professional restaurant grade charcoal and charcoal briquettes. No hard sell here. You need quality and that’s a fact.

Charcoal smokers come in various shapes and sizes, from barrel garden meat smokers to offset home smokers. No matter the equipment the objective is the same – the infusing of a smoky flavour profile into the meat. In many smokers, we can regulate the amount of heat produced by regulating the amount of air driving the combustion process. This air lights up the coals creating heat. This heat travels into the main chamber and cooks the food. It also helps the wood chips to smoulder, releasing the smoke needed for that OMG flavour. Finally the smoke travels up or around to the meat and vents through the exhaust on top.

 

A man adds a second rack of ribs to his meat smoker on the bottom grill gate

 

Vertical, or Barrel Charcoal Smokers

Fondly known as the bullet smokers, these tall and narrow smokers are small in size, portable, and can be easily used in your garden. Fired-up charcoal is placed in the bottom of the smoker and wet wood chips are added to create smoke. Food is placed on the smoking grill on the top and could be placed in a few levels because of its vertical shape. A water pan sits in the middle of the coals and the food. The positioning shields the meat from the direct heat of the coals and adds moisture to the smoke. An air vent near the smouldering coals controls how hot the coals burn and an exhaust, right at the top, releases the smoke after it passes through the meat.

 

Offset Smokers

The most traditional smoker of them all, the offset smoker, gets its name because the firebox is offset to the side and lies below the main chamber. When the wood or charcoal is combusting in the firebox the smoke and heat are drawn into the main smoking chamber and out of the chimney. Water-soaked wood chips are added to the charcoal to help produce more smoke.

 

What’s the best meat to smoke?

 

Beef Brisket

Brisket is a worldwide, all-time favourite, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be making some yourself. Make sure there is ample fat and marbling in your cut because these are the elements that keep the meat moist and delicious during a long smoke. Beef brisket is best prepared with a dry spice rub, such as Norfolk Smoke Pit’s brew and briskets coffee blend.

 

Pork Shoulder

Pork is one of the fattiest meats available, so it’s a must in for low ‘n’ slow cooking. The great meat to fat ratio ensures a succulently moist, fall off the bone pulled pork that is delicious as it is even without any sauces or rubs. For a result that will have you drooling in your dreams, give your pork shoulder some Good Ol’ Rub to give it a spicy kick!

 

RIBS RIBS RIBS

Some would argue that ribs are the holy grail of all smoked meats, and there’s a lot of popular opinion to back up the claim. You could smoke your ribs with sauce, dry spice rub, or merely salt and pepper – and the results will be guaranteed to give you a foodgasm in every bite. Check out this lip-smacking BBQ ribs recipe smoked with Big K coconut shell briquettes by celebrity chef Theo Michaels and you’ll know what we’re talking about.

 

A selection of meats hang over the top of a meat smoker to absorb the smoky flavour

 

How to make a meat smoker out of bricks?

Let’s cut to the construction chase. Here is a step-by-step guide to building your own meat smoker out of bricks!

 

The Materials You Will Need

Bricks

8 paving slabs

Cement

Sand

A cement spatula

A stick to mix

Leveller

Water

One Charcoal Tray

One Grill Tray

A Pipe or flat piece of wood

 

Where shall I erect my smoker?

It’s ok to tuck your meat smoker away. You are not going to be smoking your meat at a very high temperature meaning that it’s a long and slow process that does not need your constant attention. So find a secluded spot in your garden where the smoke won’t flow indoors and you’re good to go. Let the building begin!

 

Preparing the mortar

Take five parts of sand to one part of cement. Add a little and mix in more a little at a time. Combine the two ingredients with the water to produce a hard, pasty mortar.

 

Start with the smoker base

Hammer in some nails at the corners of your smoker base and join them up with some string. This will mark the dimensions of your smoker base. This will fit 4 of your paving slabs when laid into a square.

Lay your mortar in the square formation of the marked-out area. Proceed to lay the first layer of bricks on the mortar. Try to get the bricks as even as possible to one another. Use the leveller to make sure it’s laid perfectly.

The bricks should be laid in a way that one end of the brick meets the middle of the sidelong brick and so on. Continue layering this way for around 4 or 5 layers. Make sure when each layer is laid down that its level, just as you did with the first layer

Once you’re finished with the bricks, paste another coating of mortar over the bricklayer and position the 4 paving slabs on the mortar. Check each of the corners to see if they align and check the level again.

 

Start creating your layers of bricks

Once you’re done with the base. It’s time to create the structure of the smoker. Envisage a U-shaped structure, the open area will be the front section of your smoker.

Start creating this structure layer by layer, coating mortar on each brick and placing it down at an equal level. Line each brick up till you have a square-shaped wall. Layer the bricks till you have about 7 layers. This may depend on the size of the bricks. You could eyeball the height, as you need to keep room for the charcoal tray, cooking tray, and the space above that for the smoke to work its magic.

 

Mounting your charcoal tray

To install your charcoal tray you have to create a ledge to serve as a resting place for your tray. This can be easily achieved when you turn a few bricks of the inner sidewalls inwards, towards the middle. This will create the space to rest your charcoal tray. Make sure your charcoal tray is smaller than the opening of the entrance to the oven so you can allow an easy in and out.

 

Creating your ledge for the grill tray

Stack three more layers of bricks and position the next layer as above by turning the bricks to create your ledge for the grill tray

As with your charcoal tray, ensure the grill tray is small enough to fit inside the oven, and on the ledges, you created

 

Final step

Keep building up the layers of bricks for another 4 or 5 layers. Then add a coating of mortar and place the remaining 4 paving slabs on top. Make sure the mortar seals any openings making it airtight.

 

Finishing touches

Scrape down any excess mortar on the walls. This could be done as you layer the bricks as cement hardens quite fast. Make sure all surfaces, including the paving slab roof, are scraped down thoroughly.

This is a basic smoking structure that will keep your DIY skills in check.

 

Two cuts of brisket lie on a meat smoker grate after cooking

 

How to make a meat smoker at home

Being indoors and smoking meat are not activities you would usually associate together, unless of course you were a caveman without a chimney. Large smokehouses and smoking traditions have imprinted a grand image of smoking meat with whole hogs and cows being smoked for hours and even days at a time. The good news is that you don’t need to be the owner of a smokehouse to do this because you can inject the insatiable flavour of smoke into your meat or fish right from your countertop.

 

Things you will need

A drill

Food Thermometer

Aluminium foil

Wok with a lid

Circular grill grate to match the circumference of the wok

Wood chips soaked in water for half an hour.

 

Step by step instructions

Take your drill and find a drill bit that’s slightly thicker than the largest part of your thermometer. Drill a hole at a 45-degree angle on the lid. That will allow your thermometer to be stable during your smoke and have it close to your cut of meat. Also, you don’t have to remove the lid to check your temperature, ensuring no fluctuations in heat.

Place your grill grate on the wok and close the lid and you will realize that the seal between your wok and your wok lid is not airtight. Smoke will escape as it stands. To overcome this problem we are going to plug it with a simple solution – aluminium foil. Crumple up a long sheet of foil and make a ring around the circumference of the wok. This will act as a seal between the wok and the lid and contain most of the smoke during your cook.

Use your aluminium foil to make a boat-like structure to hold the wood chips. This will act as a barrier from the bottom of your wok to avoid direct contact with the woodchips and potentially ruining your wok. Pack the wood chips in the foil boat, lay them in the bottom of the wok, put the grill grate on top, and close the lid tight. Adjust the aluminium ring to tighten the seal.

Now you have a perfectly working indoor smoker. Put it on your stone and turn on the heat. After a few minutes, you will see smoke starting to form. Now is the time to use any small piece of cured meat or fish and put it on top of the grill grate, close the lid, and watch the heat indicator of your thermometer spike up. You could manage the heat by taking it off the stove or reducing the intensity of the heat. This way you could maintain a certain temperature, which is essential for smoking.

Meat smoking is an art and now you have all the wisdom you need to become a meat smoker extraordinaire. Why buy a home smoker when you can build one? Whether it’s an indoor meat smoker, a garden meat smoker, or an offset meat smoker, each apparatus has its own merits, and the best part is you can build them yourself. With this blog, you have the tools to get cracking.