Capturing Meat's Full Flavor - The Importance of Proper Smoking
There are certain meats that taste best smoked. According to famed grill manufacturer Char-Broil, the best meats to smoke are fatty cuts such as beef brisket or pork shoulder.
Ribs are another main dish that are best smoked. Quite frankly, ribs just don’t taste the same without smoking them. And when we say smoking the meat, we mean properly smoked.
GO BIG OR GO HOME
Food processing companies are equipped with large-scale smokehouses to cure high volumes of meat. As noted by New Braunfels Smokehouse in Texas, the person with ultimate control over how the meat is smoked is called the “Smoke Master.”
The term Smoke Master should not be confused with the title “Pitmaster”, which is a term for a different specialist. As documented in the article “What Should We Call the Barbeque Greats?” in Texas Monthly, Pitmaster refers to a master BBQ chef. Those who complete specialized classes can call themselves a “Certified Pitmaster.”
The two types of smokehouses typically used by meat processing companies are batch smokehouses and continuous smokehouses. In both cases, the systems circulate air at a specific temperature, humidity, and smoke density to influence the flavor of the meat while curing it.
In the case of batch smokehouses, workers place meat on stationary racks where it will remain for the entirely of the smoking procedure. Per ScienceDirect, in the case of continuous smokehouses, workers hang the meat on hangers or sticks which are then conveyed through the various smoking, heating, and chilling zones within the smokehouse.
In the case of these large processors, most batch meat processing ovens smoke meat via dry-sensor temperatures of 100 °C or less. As such, the meat-processing ovens are rated for a maximum temperature of approximately 110 °C.
TYPES OF SMOKE
According to the EPA, the most common way used to generate smoke for these large-scale ovens is through the use of a smoke generator fueled by pyrolyze hardwood chips or sawdust. The timbre of the smoke can be influenced by the species and age of the wood.
In a process called natural smoke, after the smoke is created, it is ducted via a smoke tube into the air recirculation system of the smokehouse. This is the most traditional way of adding smoke.
There is also a process for adding smoke flavor to meat that is called liquid smoke. The common way to administer liquid smoke is by introducing this concentrated smoke into the smokehouse air recirculation system via a fine aerosol.
With liquid smoke, alternatively the concentrated smoke can be injected into the meat. Liquid smoke can also be applied by dipping the meat in the smoke concentrate. Liquid smoke is also known as artificial smoke.
When compared to natural smoke, liquid smoke is far more economical. It dramatically decreases processing time. Additionally, it increases microbiological safety by reducing the possibility of contamination from toxic compounds. Such compounds include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
All in all, administering liquid smoke rather than going through a natural smoking process has the advantage of having a low carbon footprint as that it emits less pollution to the environment when compared to traditional smoking.
WHAT ABOUT THE LITTLE GUY?
Ever since craft brewing took off, there have been many similar DIY craft hobbies to pop up. It should come as no surprise that there are numerous meat enthusiasts who have embraced the art of smoking beef, pork, poultry, cheeses, and even vegetables at home.
But where do these little guys fit into the puzzle? How does a regular joe go about properly smoking meat? These question might pertain to you if you’re interested in venturing down this road yourself.
Not surprisingly there are a lot of ways not to smoke meat at home. As outlined in the New Yorker article “Smoking is for Everyone” by Helen Rosner, there are many makeshift ways to smoke meats at home. These include trying a low-and-slow heating process in the oven, wrapping the meat in tin foil and placing it next to wood chips in an outdoor grill, or boiling the meat in water on the stove followed by broiling it in the oven to finish the process.
Each of these alternative means of smoking has their plusses. But, as Rosner points out in the New Yorker piece, they all ultimately come up short. A standard oven simply isn’t capable of the airflow needed to properly smoke meat. The “wood chips in the grill” method doesn’t allow enough smoke control to be effective.
So, what’s the solution? There must be a way to properly smoke meat at home, right?
It is possible to properly smoke meats at home. But it involves an investment, however not necessarily a big one. For a few hundred dollars you can go from amateur to semi-pro.
If you want your meat to taste as good as the big smokehouses produce, or perhaps even better, you need to invest in a proper smoker.
There are several types of home smoker units. They come in different sizes and feature different heating elements. Often described as “backyard smokers”, these devices include electric smokers, charcoal smokers, wood smokers, and propane smokers.
Propane cabinet smokers are a very simple-to-operate solution for smoking meat at home. Respected food writer Meathead Goldwyn explains in his book “Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling,” most barbeque competitions don’t allow propane cabinet smokers because they make the process too easy.
However, Goldwyn, who was elected to the Barbeque Hall of Fame in 2021, proclaim that he loves propane smokers. Once you have hooked up the propane and thrown in a few handfuls of hardwood chips, all you have to do is light the burner and you’re ready to smoke.
While some hobbyists soak the woodchips in water first to produce a higher volume of smoke, Goldwyn does not advise soaking the wood as that dry wood produces a better quality of smoke. It’s a matter of quality over quantity.
From the perspective of most dilettantes, the simplicity of operation and premium quality taste of propane cabinet smokers is actually a big selling point. There’s nothing wrong with making the process easy if it gets the same, or even better, results.
PUT A PRICE TAG ON IT
Propane smokers are not the cheapest option, but with the benefits of consistently delicious results and ease of operation, the cost is relatively modest. You can pick up a good quality propane smoker for $200 to $400.
Electric smokers are generally the least expensive, ranging from $40 to $100. Although easy to use, electric smokers don’t always get the best reviews for flavor.
Wood smokers are credited with having the potential to provide the best flavor, although they require the most attention and it’s easier to make mistakes. If you are smoking a sizable slab of meat, such errors could be costly.
Wood smokers and charcoal smokers typically run from $200 to $600. Of course, there are more expensive models in all varieties of home smokers. High end smokers can go for as much as $6,000 or more. Brand names that stand out in the industry include Weber, Big Green Egg, Masterbuilt, Camp Cher, Broil King, Char-Broil, and Traeger.
OTHER SMOKED MEATS
If you are considering joining the growing ranks of home meat smoking enthusiasts, more likely than not you are a fan of the divine flavor of all sorts of smoked meats.
BULK offers a line of delicious wood smoked meat sticks. Their melt-in-your-mouth flavor is enough to thrill any smoked meat enthusiast. We offer smoked meat sticks in Original Beef, Original Pork, Jalapeno Pork, and Cheese & Jalapeno Beef.
BULK also offers certain Game Sticks that add a whole new dimension to the deliciousness of smoked meat snacks. Our Elk Sticks, Venison Sticks, and Buffalo Sticks are locally smoked in the heart of Missouri for an absolutely amazing flavor experience.