Smoking meat can be an intimidating process because you're dealing with long cooking times, usually large and expensive cuts of meat, and the constant risk that something will go wrong. Sooner or later, everyone has a smoking fail. It's just going to happen at some point. You can minimize the chances that disaster will strike by avoiding some of the most common smoking mistakes. We'll help you with some tips and tricks we use to make sure our smoking experience is a success.
Mistake #1: Not Being Patient
The biggest mistake that people make when smoking is getting impatient. Smoking meat is a long, slow process you can't rush. Too often, people will increase the temperature to speed up the process which doesn't work to smoke your food. Instead, you will grill your meat, which isn't what you are trying to accomplish. Being patient when smoking, and cooking your meat low and slow, is key.
Opening the Lid too Often
This is one of those mistakes that come from being impatient. Every time you open the lid, you're letting the accumulated smoke escape. That accumulation is what provides the flavor, so you're letting the taste of your meal blow off in the breeze. Opening the lid is a sure-fire way to end up with a lackluster flavor.
The other issue with frequently opening the lid is that the temperature fluctuates. When you're smoking meat, the temperature needs to be within a fairly narrow band. When the lid is opened, it causes the temperature to drop. Opening the lid too often can lead to longer-than-necessary cooking times and a loss of moisture.
Avoiding Impatient Mistakes
There is usually a reason you are opening the lid while smoking meat, so the trick to avoiding this mistake is simple. A remote meat thermometer can be a great solution to cooks who fret about overcooking meat or try to rush the process. You can even get remote thermometers with multiple temperature probes so you can monitor more than one item, location, or even the temperature of your smoker. This is an affordable way to take control over cooking temperatures when you are smoking, grilling, or cooking in the oven.
Mistake #2: Using the Wrong Type of Wood for Your Meat Choice
Choosing the type of wood for the piece of meat you want to smoke is a mistake many people make. The type of pellets you use in the smoker will contribute unique flavors you want to enhance the type of meat you smoke. Sometimes, the wrong type of wood will give your meat off, unpalatable flavors.
One of the common mistakes is adding pellets of one type of wood to a hopper with another type of pellet wood. Not all wood types mingle well and the proportion of one type can overpower and change flavors.
Avoiding Wood Type Problems
You should always clear the hopper and auger out when you change from one pellet type to another. It takes a little time to do, but you'll be rewarded with more predictable results. Selecting the type of wood to use for your meal can be as simple or as complex as any other step when smoking. Some things work with lots of types of meat, while others are only appropriate for one or two proteins.
There is nothing wrong with experimenting, and we'll never say that there are hard-and-fast rules for using wood pellets to smoke various cuts of meat, but there are some traditional uses of certain wood types.
Common Wood Types and Uses
There are some types of wood you are likely to find in your local stores. But we recommend pellets from Traeger for their high-quality and reliable consistency. Here are some common types of wood and proteins you're likely to smoke with them.
- Oak – This is a common type of wood that's usually mixed with other wood types. Use for beef and fish, but avoid chicken and pork where the mild flavor will be lost.
- Hickory – Probably the most useful wood for smoking, hickory is great for wild game, beef, chicken, and pork, but it can overpower seafood. Hickory is often blended with oak.
- Apple – You'll see applewood pellets on their own or mixed with oak fairly often. This is a delicate, light smoke that's appropriate for chicken and pork, but won't give any flavor to beef or wild game. Apple smoke can pronounce off-flavors in fish.
- Mesquite – This spicy shrub can add tons of smoke flavor to hearty wild game, beef, chicken, and some types of fish. The smoke flavor tends to overpower pork.
- Alder – Traditionally used for smoking fish, alder gives your meat a delicate smoke flavor that is even effective on beef, lamb, and duck.
Mistake #3: Not Controlling the Temperature Properly
This is where things go wrong for lots of people. In order to get good, consistent flavor from your smoker, it's vital that you keep the temperature at the right point without allowing it to vary. Practice and experience with your smoker will help you to learn how to keep the temperature perfect. Some of the mistakes people make is placing too much meat on the grill, opening the lid, and changing the set temperature too often.
When you set meat on your smoker grill, you want to make sure that air can circulate around the meat. Stacking too much meat on your smoker not only limits the flavor, but also causes temperature fluctuations.
Temperature Control Solutions
You should make sure that the thermometer device on your smoker is working correctly if your smoker has drastic temperature changes. Other issues could be moisture in the pellets and blockages in the auger system. It's a good idea to use a back up thermometer to make sure the thermometer for your smoker temperature is accurate. Don't try to use pellets that have gotten wet, just throw them out.
Try to set your temperature and let the smoker do the rest. Avoid opening the lid because the temperature will drop. You should also consider where your smoker is located. In really cold or really hot locations, keeping the temperature consistent will be more of a challenge.
Mistake #4: Overcooking or Undercooking the Meat
One of the tricky things to learn about smoking meat is how to get the perfect amount of smoke. It's possible to get the correct temperature in your smoker, but have too much or too little smoke. Pellet smokers are easier to control than offset smokers. The key to correctly smoking with an offset smoker is to get very thin blue smoke from the stack. White smoke indicates incomplete burning of wood and it will put creosote on your food. Creosote leaves a bitter and distasteful flavor you don't want to be remembered for.
Under-smoking leaves you with bland, flavorless food. Under-smoking usually happens when temperatures are not correct or the lid is opened too often. Sometimes, the type of wood you use won't give enough flavor to be noticeable in your meat.
What does over-smoked meat taste like?
Over-smoked meats are bitter and the flavor is overpowering. When you are smoking meat, less is more. You will get the ideal flavor you are looking to get by limiting the smoke. Making good choices about the type of wood you use for the meat you are smoking is important to avoid over-smoking meat. Over-smoking happens more due to failure to regulate the smoke, not smoking for too long.
Can you smoke meat for 24 hours?
It seems crazy to smoke meat for 24 hours or more, but it can be done. Sometimes, like when smoking an entire pork shoulder, you'll want to smoke for 20 to 30 hours in order to get the internal temperature up, create juicy pulled pork, and get enough flavor into the meat. You should always monitor your smoker while it's cooking. It's a terrible idea to fire the smoker off and go to bed.
Over and Under Smoking Solutions
Learning to keep your smoker making the ideal quantity of smoke can be tricky and it takes practice. Too much smoke is a bad thing and can lead to undesirable results. Always keep an eye on the color of the smoke. You should barely even see the amount of smoke from the stack. If you have thick, white smoke, you need to clear out the firebox until you have glowing coals.
Mistake #5: Not Letting the Meat ‘Rest' After Smoking
This mistake is one of the most common to make and it's an understandable one. When that perfectly smoked piece of meat comes off the grill, you just want to tear into it as soon as possible. Resist the temptation and let your meat rest. If you start slicing into your meat right out of the smoker, it'll be tougher and less juicy than if you let it rest.
Solutions to Resting Meat
A great trick to boost the flavor and moisture in your smoked meat is to wrap it in aluminum foil and place it in an empty ice chest for an hour or longer. The ice chest will keep the meat warm and the foil will trap juices in the meat. We like this trick because the ice chest also captures all the delicious aroma – making it easier to resist the desire to dig in.
The Key to Avoiding Smoking Mistakes: Practice and Patience
More than anything else, you should practice with your smoker. The more you use it, the better you will get at achieving consistent results. You will learn subtle differences between smoking beef or wild game, techniques for smoking juicy turkey legs, and all kinds of other skills, but it takes practice. The most important lesson you will learn is to be patient and enjoy the smoking process. It should be a relaxing experience you look forward to sharing with family and friends.
The Bearded Butchers are dedicated to providing as much information as we possibly can to help you understand how to best process and prepare meats of all kinds. To help you, we maintain a blog and Youtube channel with lots of free, high-quality information. The Bearded Butchers and Beardedbutchers.com are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that The Bearded Butchers may receive a commission if you click on a link above and make a purchase on Amazon.com.