OPINION – I don’t mean to brag but I’ve become a pretty popular guy lately. This approval didn’t happen overnight. It’s been steadily building over the past 3 years.
A growing number of friends and neighbors — even people I’ve never met before—have expressed a sincere desire to come visit me. I’m not offended in the least that their interest was clearly sparked by my decision to take up smoking.
My smoking habit began innocently enough. Cooking with fire has been a longtime passion of mine. I have loved cooking with my Dutch ovens and grilling steaks, burgers and brats. For many years our Thanksgiving turkey was cooked on the rotisserie over my gas grill as a family tradition.
Grilling with propane or natural gas is much different than true BBQ, which is done over indirect heat from charcoal and over a much longer period of time. Both methods produce amazing food, but there is a real art to learning to cook “low and slow.”
My grilling never failed to please our dinner guests, although I realized that true masters of barbecue did their best work with a smoker. Smoking represented a higher level of outdoor cooking that I intended to experience.
As my wife Becky and I were walking through a C-A-L Ranch store one evening, I spotted a Smoke Hollow all-in-one barbecue that appeared to offer the best of all worlds.
This thing was a monster that included a sear burner, a 3-burner propane grill, a charcoal grill, and a smoke box. It had over 1,000 square inches of cooking space. But it was the smokestack that won me over.
It took 2 stout young men to help me load and unload it from my car. The assembly took me the better part of an entire Saturday. When it was finally done, it was a thing of beauty.
Now it was time to learn how to smoke.
One distinct benefit of learning a new skill in the Information Age is being able to Google instructions and YouTube videos that explain exactly what to do. My success to failure rate was much better than when I was first learning how to grill.
Another huge advantage was that my neighbor Robert Sorenson, who has been an executive chef, was willing to teach me a number of his best culinary secrets. Robert taught me how to properly brine my poultry and pork and which dry rubs, marinades, spices, and fresh herbs created the tastiest results.
The single most difficult thing to master was regulating the temperature over long periods of time. I learned how to keep a steady supply of charcoal going so I could add coals when necessary to keep the temperature in the right zone for the right amount of time.
I learned which types of wood produced the best flavor of smoke and which ones to avoid. For instance, mesquite wood works well with beef and poultry, but must be used sparingly to avoid overpowering the food.
Hickory, cherry, pecan, and apple wood were perfect for poultry and pork. Alder was the best choice for what has become my signature dish—smoked salmon.
Knowing what I now know, I would not recommend the Smoke Hollow all-in-one cooker to aspiring smokers. It’s very labor intensive and its size makes it difficult to move around. For the best results, you need a smoker that is efficient at maintaining a very consistent temperature over many hours.
Good quality barbecues can be found for under $300 but most will require more effort to maintain the optimal temperature.
Here are a few recommendations for those who want to take their outdoor cooking to the next level:
The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is a great choice for entry-level smokers who don’t want to spend a ton.
Traeger Pellet Grills are a bit more expensive but deliver consistently remarkable food.
If you don’t have 1100 bucks to spend on a Big Green Egg, the Char-Griller Akorn Kamodo Grill is highly efficient at about a third the price.
Just remember that the cost of a smoker is usually in direct proportion to its convenience. Highly automated models are not cheap. A good quality digital meat thermometer will be your single most important accessory.
It’s an amazing feeling to pull a perfectly smoked rack of ribs, or batch of chicken leg quarters, or salmon fillets off the smoker. But the most satisfying part is watching the people around you enjoy them.
- Meatless Monday: Fire up the grill
- Perspectives: Win friends and influence people through cooking with fire
- Relationship Connection: My wife won’t get off of my case
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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