Getting Started With My New Smoker
March 9, 2013 7:49 AM   Subscribe

I just bought an electric water smoker on Craigslist. I am excited about the possibilities for DIY bacon and home-smoked salmon and brisket, but I have never used a smoker like this before and don't really know how to get started.

What are some easy, straightforward things I can prepare that would ease me into the world of smoking? I have done the Alton Brown smoked salmon in a cardboard box thing before and it was delicious, but that is the extent of my BBQ / smoking knowledge.

I am leaning towards a Boston butt or some other chunk of pork - we're not huge fans of smoked poultry but are certainly open to trying something new. Ideally this would be a recipe that I could finish this weekend, so maybe something to brine/rub overnight and then get started early Sunday morning.
posted by rossination to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Incredible timing-- I have a pork shoulder in my electric vertical smoker right now, and chicken thighs to go in later. (Also seitan, but we won't talk about that.)

This is my go-to recipe for shoulder. (Highly recommend the source book as well.) Today I'm doing a coffee rub for the first time. Bone-in, bone-out, doesn't matter. If it's boneless, tie it. It's super hard to go wrong. Just make sure you cook by internal temperature, not time.

I've found an hourly mist with apple juice and cider vinegar works wonders for the crust. If you have an electric kettle, refill the water pan from that so it doesn't lose too much temperature.

Use wood chunks, not chips. Soak them first. I usually use hickory, but today it's apple. I tend to avoid mesquite unless it's mixed with hickory, 30/70%.

I'm not the biggest fan of smoked poultry, but my wife doesn't eat mammals so today I'm doing this. Works pretty well, and is super quick.

Maybe this goes without saying, but make your own BBQ sauce. I made this and this last night.
posted by supercres at 8:00 AM on March 9, 2013

I have experimented a great deal with homemade brines for smoked salmon, and [surprisingly] I vastly prefer a store-bought brand to anything I have made myself: Smokehouse Trout and Salmon Brine. I’m not sure what their secret is but the salmon turns out delicious and moist every single time. If you have any leftover salmon scraps after your meal, make some smoked salmon deviled eggs. Yum. I brine the salmon for 6-8 hours then smoke it for 2 hours (though my electric smoker is a different brand than yours, so your cook-time may vary).

I agree fully with the previous poster about using wood chunks instead of the chips. Don’t uncover the smoker to check the doneness of whatever you’re cooking until you’re close to the end of the projected cook-time, or else you’ll lose all the smoke.
posted by tr0ubley at 8:17 AM on March 9, 2013

You really can't go wrong smoking a pork butt. A simple rub on it and away you go. I have a Traeger pellet smoker, so while not entirely the same technology as what you are using, they are both smokers. Their recipe guide has always been a good starting point for me.

Things to smoke this weekend that are easy:
- a block of cheddar cheese (really), on low, for 2 hours or so.
- pork tenderloin, just smoke for 1-2 hours, then finish in the oven if your smoker can't get up to 250 or so. Just a sprinkle of garlic salt on it, slice thin and dip in chinese mustard.
- salmon or trout, use a simple brine tonight, hot smoke it tomorrow, great all week (if it survives).

I made pastrami (yes, pastrami is just smoked corned beef, you know this?) the other week following the rub recipe here, and five pounds of it disappeared in as many days.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:07 PM on March 9, 2013

Weird. I just made pulled pork last night, though charcoal, not electric. I've mentioned this site before, but the guy has a great amount of information on smoking and BBQ. One thing I got from him, and I used it last night: when doing pulled pork, the meat needs to get cooked to a seemingly absurd temperature, like 190f or higher. The thing is, around about 140 or so, it'll just stop getting warmer, and it will mock you for hours. This is perfectly normal, and, at the expense of chewy barkish exteriors, you can get through the stall by wrapping the whole thing in foil. Cook normally until 140-150, then wrap it in a ton of foil. It will cut a couple hours off the cook time. Do be careful when removing the wrapped shoulder at the end, it will be full of hot, delicious fat.

The other thing to try would be to tinker with the temp. How low can it run? If you can get it to run under 60-80f, the world of cold smoking is a lot of fun. For me, that means filling the water pan with as much ice as will fit, and building the smallest possible fire. Smoked cheese is fun, especially a spicy cheese like pepper jack. Shellfish, like scallops or shrimp are fantastic. Cold smoke them, then cook them as you would raw shellfish (sauté with butter is nice).

Have fun. I'm thinking of switching to an electric, less hassle.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:18 AM on March 10, 2013

Oh, and if you're into more elaborate things, you might check out Charcuterie, which is great book for getting started with curing as well as sausage making. There's a lot of good information in there, and that's how I got my start, making the bacon from that book.

One other thing, and maybe you're aware of this already, but make sure to dry off whatever you're going to smoke, and let it sit in the fridge awhile. Smoke adheres better to dry surfaces, not wet. If, for example, you're going to smoke cheese, let the cheese sit out for a while before hand, so that it gets a bit dry. Much better results.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:07 AM on March 10, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Ghidorah, I've been eyeing Charcuterie. Does it have info about smoking, or just curing?
posted by rossination at 11:53 AM on March 10, 2013

Rossination, Charcuterie has a chapter on smoking, though it's not the main focus of the book. Still, aside from the chapter on sausage making, I think I've used the smoking section (and brining) the most. Like I mentioned, the smoked seafood is pretty awesome, and I've gotten really good results with smoked salmon. There's a lot more about cold-smoking in Charuterie than in most books that focus on BBQ.

For BBQ, I've got a couple other decent books. Elizabeth Karmel's Taming the Flame and Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned are pretty fascinating books. The first is a general how-to for using the grill, complete with some great recipes and technique information. The second is really what got me into as making my own sauces and rubs. It has great recipes, but there's also a lot of information on how to make your own. My copy is horribly battered and covered with various stains, compared to a lot of other books that don't get nearly as much use.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:49 PM on March 10, 2013

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