Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What's a smoker?

A couple of my non-USA friends asked me about the smoker I was using to make ribs and beans the other day. So let's check it out! What's a smoker? THIS! And yes you should have one.


American BBQ is practically a religion and it varies across different regions of the country. Texas BBQ is completely different, in terms of technique/ingredients/spices than for instance, someone plank-smoking salmon in the Pacific Northwest. If you walk into a dive in North Carolina and ask for pulled pork what you will get would be completely different from BBQ in Nashville. Everyone thinks their own regional BBQ is "right."

I think they are all right.  And what we all have in common is that we march out there with some kind of meat in hand, make a fire, and then cook it. We love doing this. It's totally a thing here in the States. A smoker is just one kind of method to make BBQ.

The very best source to sort this all out is Steven Raichlen the author of The Barbecue Bible and host of many many TV shows about cooking meat on fire. We love this guy. Some people watch sports - we watch this guy cook meat in a million different ways. He is fun, approachable, and detailed. If you've never made ribs or smoked a chicken before this guy will walk you thru every step of the way.

You end up with perfectly cooked ribs.

We used the recipe in this book to make our ribs the other day. Even tho we didn't follow the recipe exactly we use the techniques. It works out perfectly every time.

The smoker we have is an offset barrel smoker. It is not fancy and is about 12 years old.  It's pretty beat up, the handle is broken but I love it and I'm probably taking it to the grave. It's absolutely perfect and gets the job done.

You see that little roundy part on the far left? That's where you put the fire...actually it's kinda where you put the charcoal to generate heat to cook the meat and then you put wood chips on top of the fire or charcoal to generate the smoke that flavors the meat. It sounds more complicated than it is.

 The smoker in action... Bubby's eye view.

It's simple to use, works great, and makes for a fun afternoon of sitting around with the dogs making meat.

You can also just use it as a charcoal grill. Most folks in the States have a gas grill out on their patio that is fueled by propane. It's an easy peasy way to immediately cook meat over a hot fire. So for instance when we have burgers we just light the gas grill, wait a couple minutes for it to heat up, make the burgers, and turn the grill off. Super easy.

But if we wanted to grill them over charcoal we'll get this smoker set up, make a charcoal fire in the main body of the thing, and then cook the burgers (or steaks) directly over the charcoal. What's the difference? Depending on who you are it's either a heresy or convenience. I'm telling you.... Americans are very seriously about cooking meat over fire. We just do whatever works for us. A multi-purpose took like this off-set smoker gives us lots of options.

Seriously. Look at that!

Now if we want to smoke a big ol' fresh ham roast like this.... we use the offset box to make a fire. The roast is not directly over the heat source but it still cooks. The sticky glaze on the fresh ham roast kind of captures the smoke flavor and makes it delicious. And the longer cooking time makes it amazing. In this post you can see the video of the smoke and how it all works.

To be sure there are a million different kinds of smokers. Most folks have some iteration of the one we have but you can get very very fancy ones. The guys around here who do hog roasts use custom made, superbig smokers that they pull around in trailers. And yep - they cook a whole hog. It's glorious. You can see an example of this in Michael Pollan's extraordinary documentary on the Netflix called, "Cooked." He shows an old school North Carolina hog roast that is just heavenly.

You can also get an electric version. This kind of cabinet version uses electric heat cook the meat but allows you to add wood chips to add the smoke flavor. I do not have one but I know some folks who do and wow can they smoke a chicken in it! Theirs is something like this - it is also the best rated one on Amazon. If other folks have one and recommend it I can add the links.

I also use the smoker to make our bacon. After curing the bacon and letting it dry, I make a small, smokey fire (in the offset section) using apple would and let the bacon smoke for most of the day.... it's soooooo beautiful.
You can see it here - with video!
And here....

I think a lot of American have some kind of BBQ out on their patio but some folks have extremely elaborate set ups. For most of my adult life I've had at least two gas grills and a smoker and they don't just sit idly by. My dream within a dream is to have an entire outdoor kitchen, a smoke house, and a huge pit for whole hog roasts. But for now I'll stick with my good ol' offset smoker.

Happy Thursday everyone. Non-US folks.... does this make sense? What questions do you have?

Editors note: Yay! Affiliate links in this post!  I'm supposed to tell you that I get a tiny portion of the sale when you click on one of the links, go to the Amazon page, and purchase something. It can be anything - this book, a cool smoker or BBQ , or something you need from Amazon anyway.  Do you need anything Amazon? You can support this blog by just clicking one of these links. Or using the black Amazon search box on the right side of this page. It doesn't cost you once cent more but helps me with the "cost" of this blog. If you like this blog, or if I've helped you at all in your farming efforts, just make a purchase from Amazon from one of the links, my store, or the black Amazon search box on the right side of this page. Thanks!


David said...

Great post. The variety of cookers, regional techniques, sauces, protein preferences makes BBQ a fascinating and nearly endless topic to explore.

Unknown said...

Sounds amazing. We just have a gas grill, which we use all the time in summer so we don't heat up the kitchen (i even bake bread in it). But we fo want to build some kind of smoker. I LOVE smoked fish. I always buy it if i see it. Thx for explaining :)

Kate said...

Would you share the cure you use on your bacon? I have tried a couple and HATED them so much I had to give the bacon to the dogs (sacrilege!!!). I am trying to cure without nitrates and may have to give it up....

Chris said...

I've watched movies with jokes about how seriously Americans take their BBQ'ing, but I never understood it fully until I saw this post. While I don't think Aussies are as elaborate in their cooking style, we do take BBQ'ing seriously in a whole different way. It's a national pastime in other words. So much so, nearly every public garden space, has a BBQ or ten, built in.

Aussies are happy with a slice of bread, a sausage with onion rings and sauce. I was raised on the stuff, when it came to BBQ's. The more elaborate cuts were saved for the grown-ups. Only I still prefer the sausages. ;)

Your BBQ meats look very delicious and I'm sure, taste that way too.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thanks, Chris! and yep... it's very very serious here. even with our multiple grills and the smoker we are pretty much just amateurs. but we like our results - and there is always something to learn. thanks for coming by!

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