Every professional cook who smokes food on a regular basis has his/her own smoking secrets, which the world will perhaps never know. However, there are many others semi professional and part-time cooking enthusiasts who are only too happy to share their tips for perfect smoked foods. While you may be able to discover many interesting variations in course of your culinary journey to the heights of smoking expertise, it definitely doesn’t hurt to learn some of the tried and tested tips that highly experienced cooks have shared with the wider community. Here are 7 such tips for perfect smoked foods.
Ensure that the foods are dry before putting them in the smoker
In the article on common mistakes made by amateur smoking enthusiasts, we noted that foods should never be allowed to thaw inside a smoker, as these lead to growth of bacteria. We may add that in order to get the best possible results, one should remove the moisture which forms over the foodstuff as it gradually thaws. Putting a soggy foodstuff into the smoker will result in the moisture soaking in the smoke, producing a layer of sooty and bitter precipitate that will ruin the taste of the food.
Though drying out may be done in various ways, the most convenient is to pat the food till the moisture is completely lost.
Leave the skin on the poultry
While a perfectly skinned poultry will also come out fine, it will tend to shrink to an extent in course of its time in the smoker. This can give the distinct impression of a smaller dish, and may cause you to smoke two or more birds to convince the guests that there is enough to go around.
To avoid this, many veterans who know how to use electric smokers fully well, leave the skin of the poultry on, thereby preventing excess heat from shrinking the meat inside. This may seem to go against conventional cooking logic, since poultry most obviously can’t be served with the skin on. Thankfully, smoked poultry skins can be removed without difficulty, and the well-proportioned bird then served for the guests to enjoy.
Don’t experiment with the amount of wood
Sometimes amateurs tend to think that the amount of wood prescribed is too little for the task at hand. Further, sometimes they have their own conceptions of the relative “efficacy” of one wood over another, and if they can’t get one, they add a higher quantity of another to “compensate”. Compensation, if at all applicable, is never a simple question of adding x pieces of wood A to make it equivalent to y pieces of wood B. What one basically ends up doing is producing too much smoke, thereby reducing the taste and flavor of the food.
Most manufacturers and recipe books suggest a certain amount of a certain wood, and give a number of alternatives. If the type of wood available in your area is not mentioned, simply find out if your wood is hardwood or softwood. See the prescribed quantity for hardwood or softwood, and follow it diligently. Even if you are making a mistake in doing so, the mistake will be smaller than say that of adding too much softwood to compensate for hardwood or vice versa.
Start off with foods that take a long time to cook
Spending long hours regularly checking your smoker may not be your idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon, but it is one of the safer things to do. While there are plenty of tips for smoking foods that take minimal time, chances are that these are meant for expert chefs who know how to modify the temperature and texture of the smoke at short notice. If you don’t have such abilities, you would want a foodstuff which isn’t affected by half an hour of smoking at the wrong temperature or with less amount of wood, since that half hour is only a small part of the total of six or seven hours for which the foodstuff was smoked.
In general, pork chops, thick chops, whole chicken and briskets take a sufficiently high amount of time for you to be on the safe side. However, briskets tend to be more complex preparations, and should be avoided unless you have some experience in smoking.
Sauces are for the end
Whatever sauce you may have, it is very likely that it is meant to be applied only towards the end of the smoking process. This may imply the actual end (as in when the foodstuff has already been removed from the smoker) or in the final hour of smoking, when the food is almost done. However, unaware of such tips for smoking foods, folks shifting from other cooking methods tend to apply the sauces earlier.
This sauce acts as a magnet for smoke particles and moisture and produces an unwholesome layer of particulate on the food that tastes neither like the foodstuff nor like the sauce. While some of the best electric smokers tend to mitigate this situation somewhat, it is always ideal to either use the sauces at the end or if unsure, not use them at all.
Smoke chicken wings and backbones with larger pieces
While chicken wings and backbones may not be dishes in themselves, they can be smoked in the spare areas in the smoker while smoking larger pieces of chicken. While these can be served as accompaniments to the main chicken preparation, it is better to freeze them and use them later in soups and other similar dishes to impart a smoky flavor.
Only smoke raw sausage, not pre-cooked ones
One of the less known tips for smoking foods is that precooked sausages must never be smoked. Purchase only raw sausages for smoking, as these behave in a manner similar to how normal meat behave. However, precooked sausages tend to contain compounds which are accumulated when the sausage goes through chemical processes in large scale industrial plants. Such compounds, when exposed to smoking, can break down and produce carcinogenic products that will not only ruin the taste, but also ruin your health.
No matter what the electric smoker reviews may say, many amateur smoking enthusiasts blame and abandon their electric smokers after making a few mistakes. This not only reduces a perfectly good smoker to a piece of backyard junk, it also robs the person of the opportunity to cook many fabulous foods using the smoker. Following these simple tips for smoking foods, one will not only avoid mistakes, but achieve standards of smoking that will be the envy of the local cooking club.