The low ‘n’ slow barbecue movement has taken the US and Australia by storm, and it’s finally hotting up in the UK. Although smoking used to be about preserving foods to stop them from going bad, it’s now all about taste and texture. More and more, people are craving the combination of succulent meat with that familiar smoky flavour.
As chef Neil Rankin says, smoking focuses ‘less on convenience and more on fun’, since it could take hours to cook the perfect tender piece of meat. We’ve put together this quick guide to low ‘n’ slow barbecuing, so you can learn the tricks of smokers and impress your guests with beautifully-cooked meat.
Choose a good smoker
First thing’s first, you’re going to need a smoker. A normal barbecue just won’t do, because you need a container that’s going to hold in the smoke.
If you want to save money, you can build a smoker yourself. It’s fairly straightforward – basically, you’ll need to track down some scrap bricks. Perhaps you might have a few lying around from previous renovations or construction? Alternatively, why not ask for some scrap from your nearest builders’ yard? You’ll need an area for a small charcoal fire, a place to keep the meat close to the flame to get colour, and an area to sit the meat further away to slow-cook it.
If you don’t fancy getting your hands dirty, there are plenty of smokers to choose from, in a range of shapes and sizes. You could buy a small table-top drum smoker for as little as £50, or a large box smoker could set you back thousands.
Select your fuel
We’d always recommend using charcoal as your smoking fuel, as that’s what’ll get you that moreish, smoky taste. Gas and electric smokers are cleaner and more hands-free, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get all the lovely smokiness you’re aiming for.
If you really want that signature smoky tang, you can use hardwood. It’s important to soak the wood in water for at least an hour before you use it, so it’ll burn for hours. If you light dry hardwood, it could burn away in as little as 20 minutes.
But, an easier way to get that smoky flavour is to use wood chips, like Big K’s Hickory Smoking Chips – simply soak in water and add on top of your usual charcoal. They offer a deep smoky taste that’s like bacon, whereas other woods, like maple, give off a sweeter and milder taste. Hickory’s best for beef, pork and cheese, whereas maple suits chicken and vegetables.
Pick your meat
This is pretty much down to personal taste, but ribs, brisket (shoulder of beef) and pork shoulder are the most popular meats for a low ‘n’ slow smoke. This is only the tip of the nice-berg, you can also smoke lamb, poultry and even cheese – the possibilities are endless.
What is the best thing about smoking? It turns traditionally tough cuts of meat into mouth-wateringly tender pieces of meat. The low ‘n’ slow method reduces toughness and gives meat a delicious melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Control the temperature
If you’re using the low ‘n’ slow smoking method, temperature is king. Regulating the heat is essential, so you need to be able to control the temperature of your smoker to between 100-120 degrees Celsius, depending on the type of meat.
Make sure you get yourself a good probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat you smoke on your barbecue. Most meats need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 65C, and poultry 75C. However, for a truly melt-in-the-mouth tender piece of meat, you want a higher final temperature – around 85C.
You’ll also want a smoker thermometer to sit inside the smoker so you can keep an eye on the temperature. Don’t underestimate how important this is: it could be the difference between a culinary success at your next BBQ and a disaster.
Regulate the smoke
As if you didn’t have enough to do already, you’ve got to make sure you control and sustain the amount of smoke that’s surrounding the meat. You need a thick stream of smoke at all times to enhance the flavour. You should also ensure that the smoke keeps moving around, otherwise it can cause a build-up of creosote and turn the meat bitter.
Keep an eye on moisture
We all know that a piece of meat is better when it’s moist. So, that means you need to ensure that your smoker is steaming as well as smoking. Most smokers come with a water pan that must be kept full at all times during the process. If you have a large smoker, you’ll probably need to refill it a few times during cooking. You could add a marinade before cooking, which will help keep the meat moist, but it’s entirely up to you. Yes there’s a lot to remember, but every little action will lead to some big flavours.
Calculate your cooking time
There are 3 things you need to think about when you’re smoking low ‘n’ slow:
- The type of meat
- The thickness of the meat
- The temperature of the smoker
On average, you’ll need 6-8 hours to get the right texture and flavour – but brisket could take up to 24 hours!
Sometimes a little simplicity can go a long way. In the barbecue smoking community, some people follow a rule known as the ‘3-2-1 rule’. This involves 3 steps:
First 3 hours: leave the meat to smoke
Next 2 hours: wrap the meat in aluminium foil
Last hour: remove the foil to crisp up the outside of the meat
Our top tip for knowing you’ve cooked your meat correctly and mastered the low ‘n’ slow method? You’ll see a pink ring around the meat just inside the dark outside layer.
As we’ve said, the best smoky flavour comes from using the right charcoal. Choose Big K charcoal and our Hickory Smoking Chips for a perfect start to your low ‘n’ slow journey.