Tips on Makin’ Smoke

Most people know that the secret to turning tough cuts of meat into tender, juicy, and delicious barbecue involves cooking it in a smokey, low heat environment for a long time. Low and slow as the saying goes.

Over the years I’ve tried lots of different smokers and seen many more being used by others, including competition BBQ teams. Just about anything can be used if the temperature can be controlled while introducing smoke. At the Georgia State BBQ Championship I even saw a guy using the interior and front trunk of a VW Beetle for a smoker. You couldn’t see what was inside, however, because the windows were blacked out by layers of smokey residue.

Several years ago I got tired of tending to hours of charcoal and wood fires and began trying to create smoke with my Weber propane grill. The problem is, wood won’t smolder and smoke at the low temps needed to cook a pork butt slowly.

My solution turned out to be creating a separate “hot” fire for the wood chips, and a “low” fire for the meat. I took an aluminum pie pan, punched some ventilation holes in it, built a small charcoal fire in it, and once the coals got hot enough I piled on the chip. I then lit off the gas burners, adjusted for a temperature of about 225 degrees, and let it do the low and slow magic while the charcoal kept the smoke rolling.

You don’t have to introduce smoke for the entire cooking period. After an hour or so the meat seals off and doesn’t accept more smoke so one small charcoal fire was usually enough. I did, though, have to add more pieces of wood.

A-Maze-N Smokers, box & tube.

Couple of weeks ago I got into a BBQ discussion on Facebook and a fellow mentioned a device called the A-Maze-N smoker. It comes in two forms, a box like maze and a stainless steel tube. Each is perforated with lots of holes and you fill either with food grade wood pellets. A blow torch or gelled alcohol is used to get them burning and after a few minutes you blow out the flame and they continue to smolder and give off a good amount of smoke. I purchased the 12″ tube version and discovered it would generate about four hours of smoke. The box versions hold more pellets and will last longer but they take up more space inside the grill.

I found my tube smoker on eBay and paid about $30 including shipping. The pellets can be found most places that sell grills and supplies. Just make sure they’re food grade and not for heating.

I’ve used the tube three times now, once for a Boston butt, once for making pastrami from a corned beef, and once for “cold” smoking some baloney and Colby cheese. While the results have been great I wondered if it was really necessary to spend $30 on the device.

smoke aSo today I took a small pie pan, punched a few holes in it, dumped a handful of pellets in and set them on fire. Things were looking good until I closed the grill lid. Wasn’t long before the fire went out and the smoke stopped coming. I haven’t given up, however. I’m thinking the culprit is not enough holes to allow air flow. Next attempt at being cheap is to get me an empty tin can and head for the drill press. You need holes, well holes I can make.

Update to follow!

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