About five and a half years ago my wife bought me a smoker for my birthday. Sometime before she had brought up the idea to me and I was a bit lukewarm to it. You see, I wasn’t sure I wanted to put the time and effort into another new hobby and have it become a bit of an obsession. Besides, I already had a battle tested Weber that keeps going like a German automobile and that doesn’t even take into account my less than healthy relationship with bourbon and cigars. If you know me, I’m a HUGE carnivore. I LOVE meat. All kinds. Basically, I’m an animal lover. I LOVE eating animals. Healthy or not, I don’t do lots of fruit and vegetables. At least not nearly the amount that I should be eating. I just kind of feel like vegetables are what my food eats.
Basically, I’m an animal lover. I LOVE eating animals.
So of course my wife ignores our conversation about me not wanting a smoker and surprises me with one for my birthday. Now it wasn’t just any smoker. She went and got me the biggest smoker that Weber makes. The 22.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker or WSM for short. This is not the most expensive smoker on the market but after using many different smokers, I now personally feel that it is one of the best for smoking meats. I know there is an army of Big Green Egg fans out there that would disagree, but I’m here to tell you different. If you want to get a true smoking experience and you just want a smoker, the WSM is the way to go. The Big Green Egg is an amazing grill and it’s extremely versatile but it’s not the best smoker. You can smoke on it for sure, hell you can even make pizza and brownies on it, but long overnight smokes are much more difficult. There is also the cost. The BGE is a fortune and even the largest one has more size limitations than the WSM.
So after I claimed I didn’t want a smoker, I’ve got a beautiful new WSM and I’m ready to go. I built it and immediately started seeking out as much information on smoking meats as I could possibly find. The internet is a wonderful place and a wealth of information. You can read for weeks. There are dedicated sites, there are forums and chat groups, mailing lists, recipes for rubs, sauces, injections, glazes, smoke wood combinations, charcoal methods, and the list goes on and on. I like to do a bit of research on things that I enjoy and this would be no different. I finally came across an extremely valuable resource in www.virtualweberbullet.com. This is a site dedicated to the WSM. It has everything you could want as far as information goes. The BBQ community is a pretty friendly group as long as you’re not in a competition. People take great pride in their BBQ skills and are usually more than willing to chat and exchange suggestions or ideas. After reading lots and taking notes I was ready to fire up my new tool.
My ribs are to the point where I can’t post pictures on my social media accounts because my phone blows up with friends asking if they can come over if they see I’m making them.
Becoming a Pit Master takes a lot of practice and a lot of patience. Smoking is a time commitment. It takes a solid hour to get the smoker built and up to temperature just to be ready to start smoking. That doesn’t include the time it takes to prep your meat. It may need to be thawed, it may need trimming, it may need brining, and it most definitely needs a rub applied to it. The benefit to all of this hard work is that you can not only show off your hard work and effort to your friends and family, they get to smell it and taste it for themselves. There is no better reward than having guests over that tell you that your bbq is the best that they’ve ever tasted. It gets even better when people hear stories about your bbq from other people and ask you to make it for them. My ribs are to the point where I can’t post pictures on my social media accounts because my phone blows up with friends asking if they can come over if they see I’m making them.
After getting into this hobby/addiction/love affair with smoked meats and my smoker, there are now a few things I’m really good at. There are also a few things that need work. My smoked salmon is terrible. None of the beef ribs I’ve attempted were my best work. The ham is a decent effort. I use a bourbon Dijon glaze and it turns out pretty well, but it’s also pretty hard to screw up a smoked ham. Chicken has to be one of the easiest things to smoke and it also takes the least amount of time. Wings and breasts only need about 2 hours on the smoker before they are ready to eat. My smoked pork loin only takes a few hours as well and it’s ready to go. I inject that with an amazing apple juice concoction that I got from Myron Mixon’s bbq book. You can smoke a whole chicken in about 4-5 hours. I stuff a can of IPA or scotch ale up the chicken butt and rub the whole thing with a Cajun seasoning.
Pulled pork comes from pork shoulder or pork butt (depending on who you ask and where you’re from) and is a pretty straight forward process. It just takes longer because it’s a larger piece of meat. A good time gauge is roughly 1-1.5 hours per pound. I’ve pretty much perfected baby back ribs. I make my own rub out of the mostly standard ingredients and they take about 4-5 hours. The WSM can easily accommodate 6 racks of ribs on its two levels of cooking grates. I use the same rub for my ribs that I use on my shoulder and pork loin. The turkey I smoked for Thanksgiving was amazing. I brined it for 3 days prior to smoking it then rubbed it with a Cajun seasoning. We had 12 people and 9 told me that it was without question the best turkey that they’ve ever had in their entire life. Four of them were over 60. Even my mother who can be a bit picky and claims to not like smoked meats OR Cajun went back for a third helping that night.
Brisket is by far the hardest thing to smoke. Every brisket is different and every brisket cook is different. You can do the same thing every time and it won’t be the same. Same rub, same amount of charcoal, smoke wood, amount of water in the water pan, and same exact cook time and it will never be the same as before. Things like weather (outdoor temperature) and the size of the brisket are all variables that work against you and your quest for a perfect brisket. I usually do a simple Texas style rub of Kosher Salt and course ground black pepper. After trimming it I rub it 24 hours before and let it set in the fridge overnight. Brisket takes a lot of practice and usually is done overnight. This means that you usually stay up late and start it around 11pm or midnight with you having to get up at least once to check the fuel level and make sure the temp is where it needs to be in the middle of the night. It takes commitment, but trust me, the payoff is worth it.
There are plenty of other options besides the WSM. As I mentioned earlier, there is the BGE. There are also electric smokers. These are kind of the set it and forget it smokers of the bbq world. Kind of like a crockpot, you set it up, add your meat, and the smoker should do the rest. Some people prefer this method since it is much less labor intensive but there is also a faction of bbq aficionados that feel that you don’t get as much smoke penetration and smoke flavor from these kind of smokers. Smoking meat has become so popular in recent years that you can now find multiple options at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. If you have a classic Weber kettle model, there are also some accessories that will enable you to set your grill up as a smoker with great results. That’s a great way to dip your toes into the world of smoking without having to buy all new equipment.
If you’re even the slightest bit interested in smoking or getting into smoking, I hope this has provided a small overview of what you are getting yourself into. It’s an extremely rewarding hobby. Most people love bbq and everyone has to eat. Even when you screw up it’s usually not so bad that people won’t eat it. Hell, that’s what bbq sauce is for! The best thing about mistakes and bbq is that you learn from it and you get better the next time you do it. Unless you are attempting a new process or a new rub, you rarely fail make something better than the last time you attempted it.
Smoking is also a great excuse to sit around with some friends and relax. Drink a few beers, have a glass of bourbon or two, enjoy a cigar, or just take a nap while you enjoy the smell of the smoker working.
There is an endless amount of information and opinions available. My advice would be to pick one and start there. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you will get. If you have any questions or would like to see some pictures of my bbq efforts (among other things) check out my Tumblr or follow me on Twitter or on Instagram.
Feel free to ask me any questions that you may have, I’d be happy to answer them for you.
PS – Here’s a little bonus clip of BBQ brisket porn for your viewing enjoyment.