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Ready for Real BBQ? Time to Learn How to Use a Smoker Grill

East Coast Energy Products Of Monmouth County Explains How To Make The Most Out Of A Smoker Grill

1. SET UP TWO TEMPERATURE PROBES

To keep your grill stable at 225°F, you're going to have to keep an eye on the temperature. Most built-in smoker grill thermometers are cheaply made and notoriously inaccurate since they only measure the temperature at the top of the grill rather than where the food is. That's why Meathead Goldwyn, legendary barbecue expert and author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling, grilling enthusiast, recommends buying not one, but two digital air probes, which function as "oven" thermometers, accurately tracking the temperature fluctuations as coals burn down, airflow is adjusted, and fuel is added.

2. LIGHT CHARCOAL IN A CHIMNEY STARTER

When your meat is ready to cook (pro tip: Cold meat will absorb smoke better than room-temperature meat), it's time to fire up your smoker grill. Start by lighting a full load of charcoal in a chimney starter until just starting to ash over (this will take about 15 minutes). Goldwyn prefers to use wood as a supplement to coals, using them to add flavor rather than a main source of fuel. As he writes, "Wood fires are too hard to manage in a [smoker grill], and they can easily spoil the meat with too much smoke, creosote, soot, or ash."

3. OPEN THE INTAKE AND CHIMNEY BAFFLES, THEN ADD LIT COALS

Oxygen is one of the fuels that your smoker uses to create heat, so controlling the intake of oxygen through the grill's vents is a simple way to control your grill's temperature. Most smoker grills have both an "intake baffle" (located near the firebox) and a "chimney baffle" (located at—you guessed it—the chimney). Set both baffles so they're fully open before adding the fuel—you'll adjust the intake baffle later, after the smoker heats up.

Dump the coals into the firebox and wait until the smoker grill reaches your desired temperature (for most slow-smoked barbecue, that's between 225°F and 250°F) before adding the meat to the smoker. Be sure to keep the smoker and firebox doors closed as much as possible, since opening it triggers temperature fluctuations and allows heat (and smoke) to escape. When the temperature probes indicate that the smoker has reached your desired temperature, add the meat to the smoker and close the door again.

4. MAINTAIN YOUR TEMPERATURE

At this point, you'll want to adjust the intake baffle to start controlling the heat, since this baffle controls the flow of oxygen to the coals (and thus has the greatest effect on cooking temperature. The chimney baffle, on the other hand, controls the smoke and the temperature differential in the cooking chamber—to a certain degree.

Keep the chimney baffle wide open for now, and close the intake baffle halfway or more, gradually adjusting it "until the temp stabilizes in the 225-250°F range on the hot side of the smoker, writes Goldwyn. As the cooking continues, the temperature will eventually drop because of coals fading out. Replenish as needed with fully lit coals from the chimney starter.

7. GIVE IT TIME

Real barbecue takes time, so you'll want to carve out several hours—up to 24 hours for whole pigs and other large cuts—to slow-smoke your meat to tenderness. When it comes to barbecue, you're not looking for medium-rare beef, you're looking for that tender, crazy-moist texture through and through. Chicken theoretically is done at 165°F, but you may want your legs to go further than that and get crazy tender. Around 180°F is when [collagen turns to gelatin] (http://www.scienceofcooking.com/meat/slow_cooking1.htm) inside the meat, which is exactly what you need for that perfectly soft texture. For a brisket, you might want to go "as high as 195°F or 200°F," says Chris.


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