How To Smoke Meat: The Kick-Ash Guide
You don’t need a smoker to smoke meat at home!
Been waiting all this time to learn how to smoke meat because you don’t own a smoker? You’re in for a pleasant (and economical) surprise. You can smoke meat right on your charcoal grill, no fancy smoker is required. All you need is some wood chips, charcoal, a drip pan, your favorite cut of meat, and this blog, and you’ll be on your way to being the smoke master you've always dreamed of being in no time.
Step 1 - Set up your charcoal
Move all your charcoal over to one side of your grill. Smoking is all about indirect heat, so you want your charcoal on one side of your grill and your meat on the other.
The easiest and most foolproof way to make sure your charcoal stays where it’s supposed to be (don’t want it falling over into the other side while it’s hot and your meat is already on the grill - what a mess) is to use a divider like this in your charcoal basket. The divider hooks into the grates of your charcoal basket and creates a wall that even the mightiest charcoal can’t squeeze through.
Step 2 - Set up your drip pan
Set your drip pan in place and fill it with water. The water pan is a critical part of smoking meat in a charcoal grill because it helps regulate temperature and adds moisture, which allows more smoke flavor to stick to your meat and helps it stay juicy, too. Add the pan, then pour the water in - FYI - unless you have nerves of steel.
Want to get creative and inject more flavor into your smoked meat? Instead of water, use apple juice, wine, beer, or fruit juice.
Step 3 - Light the charcoal
Light your charcoal and let it burn until the interior of your grill reaches a consistent 225-250 degrees. A steady, low temperature is key to creating that fall-off-the-bone tenderness and succulent flavor in smoked meat.
PRO TIP: If your grill doesn’t have a thermometer built in, an easy way to keep an eye on the temperature is to insert a meat thermometer into your grill’s top vent.
Step 4 - Add wood chips
When your grill has reached the right temperature, add your wood chips right on top of the charcoal. It’s a myth that you have to soak the wood in water before adding them to your grill. Any water absorbed by the wood would need to evaporate before the chips could begin to generate smoke anyway, so soaking the wood only prolongs the wait before dinner. Skip the soak and throw them right on.
Step 5 - Add your meat
Add your meat to the side of your grill opposite the charcoal and close the lid. The vent on top of your grill should be open slightly to allow smoke to escape slowly. Proper smoke flow is important, because too much smoke buildup can cause your meat to burn, and too little smoke kinda defeats the purpose of smoking meat in the first place.
Step 6 - Watch, maintain, and wait
This is the part where you crack open a beer and grab a good book. Depending on what cut of meat you’ve chosen to smoke, it can take as long as 24 hours to fully cook. So you’ve got time to kick back and relax.
Check about once an hour to make sure your temperature stays in the correct range, and you may need to add more wood to your coals or more water to your drip pan as time goes by.
How long to smoke meat on a charcoal grill
Smoking is an all-day affair for most meats. While smaller cuts may cook fully in as little as four hours (you can even smoke burgers in one hour), larger cuts like a brisket can take up to 20 hours or even more to reach full flavor and optimal tenderness.
Want to know how long to smoke your favorite cut of meat? Check out this blog from our pals at Food Fire Friends.
Choosing the right wood
The right wood can be the difference between disappointment and a mouth full of goodness. Not all wood is created equal! The type of wood you choose will make a big difference in the flavor of your finished product.
In general, lighter, fruitier woods go better with chicken and seafood, and woods with more intense flavor - like hickory and mesquite - go better with beef and pork. Of course, this is totally subjective. Try out different wood/meat combinations and see which you like best.
You can learn how to smoke meat at home!
Some people spend a lifetime perfecting the art of smoking meat. But you don’t have to wait decades to get it right. With these tips, you’ll be smoking meat on your charcoal grill in no time, to “can’t-get-enough” tasty results.