Since I suspect
that many visiting this site might be new to smoking and in particular
smoking with an "Offset Smoker" I am going to outline some of
the basics and misconceptions that tend to be presented to all of us starting
important, BBQ or Barbecue is NOT "grilling." You "grill"
when you cook hamburgers outdoors. Although the Barbecue term is somewhat
regional, you will find cookbooks, places on the Internet, etc. that refer
to "Barbecuing" when it really means grilling. Most everyone
has invited guests over for a Barbecue and it was clear the results would
end up cooking hamburgers and possibly hotdogs. While there are many definitions
and opinions, for the purpose of this site, Barbecue (or BBQ) means smoking
over low heat (usually around 220 degrees but the government
recommends 250° to 300° F for safety) and with at least some
To add to
the confusion, the Silver Smoker and most offset smokers will refer to
grilling. Typically this is just an extra grate placed directly over the
fire in the firebox. Keep in mind that this is a "sales" thing
that adds another "feature" to your smoker. In other words,
you can also grill hamburgers as well as smoking meats. The feature is
a good feature but not the main purpose of the smoker. Grilled meat cooked
over charcoal and wood make for an excellent taste, not found in the typical
gas grills. For the purpose of this site I will only consider the smoker
for smoking foods and not for grilling.
The Best -
Weber Chimney Starter
THAT YOU DON'T DO
Some things that everyone agrees on are few and far between. Here
are a few:
Fluid is a no-no. Don't use it. If you have, don't admit it. Use a "Charcoal
Chimney Starter" instead.
use Self-lighting briquettes. Use a "Charcoal Chimney Starter"
use just "any old kind" of wood. What might be appropriate
for your fireplace might not be good for your smoker. Some manufacturers
believe that using the wrong firewood will create a permanent off-taste
in the smoker that is near to impossible to eliminate. For now, use
commercial woods found at the store designated for the purpose of smoking
meats. You will learn later what woods are good and which ones are bad.
If you can't wait, take a look at this page for a general
overview and at this page for a detailed
description. The two most common "types" of woods for
smoking are Hickory and Mesquite.
keep opening the smoke chamber and fiddling with the meat.
underestimate the "wind." Oxygen is part of the fuel and wind
can have a dramatic effect of temperature control. If a smoker is usually
too hot, face the smoker so the Firebox Damper is away from the wind.
If it is the reverse, position the smoker so the Firebox Damper is into
the wind. If you have no problem with too hot or too cold of a smoker,
then position the smoker at a 90° angle to the wind and you will
have consistent results that you can rely on regardless of wind direction.
Position the smoker before you load the charcoal basket and don't change
its position during the smoking process.
THAT ISN'T A DAMPER
every offset smoker there is a smokestack "damper." The manufacturers
point to this feature as a way to control smoke and temperature. In reality,
all the pros consider this "damper" to be nothing more than
a "cover." When smoking you leave it "wide open."
You never partially close the smokestack damper when smoking. You control
the temperature with the "Firebox damper" and leave the smokestack
damper wide open.
many discussions that you'll find on this subject and generally the thoughts
are that when you partially close the smokestack damper, it creates "creosol"
(creosote) on the meat. Whether this is creosote or not, the results are
a bitter taste to your meats. Use the smokestack damper to keep out bugs
and rain when not in use.
THE SAME STYLE
Silver Smoker is interesting since I've seen at least three different
brands that look identical in design. There are some subtle differences,
but for the most part, the structural design varies little. Other similar
smokers are the Hondo, Black Diamond and Brinkman Smoke 'n Pit (SnP).
There seems to be many more "no-name" brands that are likely
made by one of these companies. Char-Broil has bought out New Braunfels,
so Char-Broil is also selling the Silver
Smoker under the same model name. I believe the basic design can be
attributed to the New Braunfels Smoker Company and distributed by Char-Broil
under many different names.
politics and religion, you should be aware that everyone is not in full
agreement on smoking techniques. I will outline the most common differences
and expand on them somewhat.
Some people have strong faith in using water while smoking and others
see it of little or no use. One group strongly believes that water adds
tenderness to the meat and the other group believes that it adds nothing.
Also in these two groups, there is a general consensus that water helps
to maintain the temperature stability. For the most part, those that
don't see water as a benefit believe that you can help to make the temperature
stable by using "sand" in your water-pan instead of water.
I tend to believe that it adds nothing to the tenderness of the meat,
but does help to stabilize the smoker temperature for hot spikes. I
am still testing the advantage of water and for now, will fluctuate
between using water and not using water.
Some believe that wrapping meat in foil at any point during smoking
is a crime. Many believe that wrapping brisket and ribs at some point
during the cooking process produces tender meat. I like to wrap my brisket
with foil during the last few hours of cooking and keep it wrapped until
it cools. I also like the method that the administrator, Kevin, over
at HomeBBQ.com uses
for ribs. It is called a "3-2-1 method." You smoke for 3 hours
unwrapped, 2 hours wrapped in foil, and then 1 hour unwrapped again.
Another method and works for baby back ribs is the 3-1-1 method.
Some believes that you should only use 100% wood for smoking. Others
believe that you should use very little wood (mixture of charcoal and
wood), as the flavor is too strong. I think that this has a lot to do
with the smoker that you are using. The expensive smokers "breath"
a lot better than the discount offsets and allow for a cleaner burn
of 100% wood. Even this modified and tuned smoker tends to make the
meat too "smoky" in my opinion. I use about a 10% mixture
of wood to charcoal (10% wood 90% charcoal). I concentrate on burning
wood or wood chips at the beginning of the smoking process. Also understand
that there are some people that burn 100% charcoal with no wood. Keep
in mind that the slow cooking of meats on the smoker can extend up to
many hours absorbing the flavors verses grilling a steak for a few minutes
On The Wood
Some think you should never use wood with bark on the outside due to
giving an off-flavor. Others think that it enhances the flavor or makes
no change to the meat smoke flavor. I don't have an opinion about this
but tend to use wood bark before I place the meat in the smoker or while
the meat is wrapped in foil.
Charcoal is wood that is heated in ovens that contain little or no air,
causing the hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen in the wood to escape, leaving
behind black, porous charcoal.
Lump Charcoal is solid pieces of hardwood treated as above. They can
not be damaged by water and will return to their original characteristics
once dried out.
charcoal is the briquette and Kingsford is the standard brand name that
makes this type of charcoal. Making the shape into a briquette requires
grinding and shaping with some bonding agent. Typically this bond is
made by "clay" soil. These briquettes can be damaged by moisture
and may not return to its natural shape once dried out.
believe in using only Lump Charcoal. It is considered cleaner burning,
hotter, added flavor, less ash, and in most cases as easy or easier
to light than briquettes. Some are sold on a certain type of wood used
to make the Lump Charcoal and some are sold on a particular brand.
likely you've seen lump charcoal in stores but were not aware that it
was different. Most beginners would consider it just another "off-brand"
form of briquettes. However, lump charcoal has irregular shapes and
look like burnt pieces of wood once you open the bag. There is not a
"standard" brand as there is with Kingsford, but all bags
will have, "Lump Charcoal" or "Hardwood Charcoal"
with "natural" typically printed somewhere on the bag. The
larger Wal-Marts and hardware stores carry the lump charcoal. (Don't
confuse "pellet charcoal" with lump charcoal. Pellet charcoal
is used for a specific purpose for unattended automatic firebox feeders.)
use a little of both (not usually on this site or for testing). I use
briquettes for lining the bottom of my fire basket and in the starter
chimney. I use lump charcoal to fill the rest of the basket. Besides
lump charcoal burning hotter, due to its irregular shape, it allows
much better airflow and may get very hot. This is particularly noticeable
when adding just a few chunks at a time verses having a basket somewhat
packed and settled with lump charcoal beforehand. I use a combination
of lump charcoal and wood to control the temperature once the basket
is well lit.
a Clorox company, has a very interesting
Method was named after Jim Minion and made famous on the Weber Bullet.
This is a way that you load and burn the charcoal. The result of this
method is long, consistent burn times over many hours. In this method
you load unlit Kingsford and then put a chimney of lit Kingsford on
top. This makes for a very long burn with little or no attention to
the fire. For unattended low temperature smoking this seems to be an
accepted method by most. Some believe that they can sense an off-taste
due to the unburned briquettes. For me, this is a very desirable method
but at this point, the way my fire basket is designed, it does not work
well and I suspect that I will be making more mods to accommodate this
method. I use a somewhat modified Minion Method that I will describe
elsewhere on this site.
Review the government's publication on Barbecue
Food Safety or print the brochure
in Adobe PDF format. For my tuning, I used three digital thermometers.
The thermometer that comes with most smokers are mounted in the top of
the smoke chamber and generally read higher than at the "meat level."
I always use a digital thermometer to check the internal temperature of
the meat to check for doneness.